Sunday, 20 September 2009

Next Big British Comic, continued

The Guardian's comic reprints last week exercised a lot of discussion on the comic groups I read, and I threw in my two penn'orth. Here were some thoughts I shared:

Lew Stringer wrote:
> Here's a question: I know a lot of comic fans would rather eat their
> own eyeballs than read a British comic, and didn't even read them as
> children. What was it that put you off them and what would encourage
> you to buy a new type of comic for your kids?

I wrote: This is the hard question. I can answer for myself, what I'd buy. But that's
pointless, cos I'm a 47 year old man (so old that I just had to work out how old
I am on my fingers, I genuinely didn't immediately know!) and I'm not the

I get positive responses from the kids I teach to new comics that actually
exist. They respond to Marvel superhero comics (which I get randomly from the
£1-for-5 box at FP), they like things like IDW's Transformers comic, based on
the cartoon, and anything with string dazzlingly imagery like that. That draws
them into the stories and they would read more (but not, I think, at £2.50 a
pop, and since they have no comic shop near them they don't get to browse). Some
older ones react the same to Manga, and in the case of Manga they do buy it. If
I find a manga reader they're most often female, they usually have one friend
who also reads manga, and they've usually started collecting lots of books and
have got the school library to get them in. (Naruto is very big in a good few
high school libraries).

So, from my anecdotal research, I'd say stuff as exciting as that would capture
8 to 12 year olds, and Beano already captures 6 to 10 year olds. I feel I can
envisage the content that would grab the audience, and I think I know where to
find the creators who can deliver it.

So could the DFC.

As for what puts people off comics. I'd say limitations put people off comics.
Strips that are restricted to a narrow genre, eg superheroes. That puts me off
and must put most people off.

It's like turning on your TV and getting a choice of Daredevil, The League Of
Extraordinary Gentlemen, Batman & Robin, Tank Girl and Elektra. You'd soon start
to think TV was a crap invention.

Ditto comics just for kids. The Beano and Dandy have, to their credit, let some
literate writers sneak some tolerable and challenging work under the wire in the
last decade, but it's still the exception that proves the rule. If all the
writing aspired to be as good as Asterix, I could defend it without question.
But when the average strip is Ball Boy or Pirates Of The Caribeano, it deserves
the scorn it gets.

Bryan Talbot wrote:
> Just a thought - seeing as the DFC sold in tiny numbers, if a widely
> distributed free comic was published, it could keep initial costs down by
> picking up the quality strips from there at a fraction of the cost of new
> ones and reprint them, along with new material.

I wrote: Okay, here's a guesstimate at the maths. A comic, distributed around the country
so we get it into the hands of half a million kids. That's going to cost about
50,000 pounds a week. It's a rough guesstimate but it's not far off.

Someone tell me how realistic that is, and we could build the model from there.

Lew Stringer wrote:
> ...I've always felt that kids
> drop comics like a stone once they feel they're too old for them. No
> child wants to be seen reading something they consider is "too babyish".

I wrote: I find many kids, especially teenage boys, do this with all reading material.
Reading any book is uncool for many 13 year old boys, whether it's a comic,
graphic novel, Philip Pullman or Dostoyevsky.

But you can still excite the young (7 to 12) and engage the engage-able (12+
smart kid, also reads novels and still watches Doctor Who), while gaining the
respect of the old. I really believe it's do-able. It's just the "getting out
there" (which covers more than just "marketing") and the devil in the detail of
the content (ie it has to be something that someone of my age probably can't
conceive of).

John Ridgway" wrote:
> Take a look at to see what they are doing. It is still
early days for them and they are limiting themselves to Dutch and Belgium
contributors, but it seems to me they have a decent balance for the content. 36
pages per issue, fortnightly, 4 euroes.

I wrote: Just flipped through Eppo Stripblad (they have a nifty flash-animated flip
through version on screen). It looks very trad European, I've bought similar
comics in Spain, Norway and France. It's great, and in a long established
tradition. But some of those strips are so old, boring and starchy (there's a
reprint of Beetle Bailey which si not the oldest looking thing in there) that
they'd only have a market if the habit of reading comics had remained unbroken
for the last 50 years.

So our equivalent of Eppo Blad is The Broons & Oor Wullie Section in The Sunday

I don't think that's the model I'd use to relaunch comics in the 21st century,
but it's a good reminder that our artform lives, just not over here.

chebbo@ wrote:
> I do think it would need to be in newsagents though to have any hope of
> finding a large readership or at the very least in comic shops.

I wrote: Newsagents are prohibitively expensive to get into. That is why most comics are
now a plastic bag containing a toy and a comic that looks like it was put in as
an afterthought.

And most people don't have a comic shop.

beeemcee@... wrote:
> I've been looking at ideas for launching a British comic for the past year
> or so. I set up the distribution and print deal for Crikey! Magazine ...

I wrote: I said I'd seen Crikey in our Borders, and I'm delighted that it seems so
relatively inexpensive. Is it approaching break even? And are you going to be
able to do it bi-monthly, or even monthly?

I think Borders, though there's not one in every town, could be a perfect way to
start. I remember how Viz had to grow in the late 80s despite being shut out of
Smiths. So I soon learnt the newsagents where Viz could be found, usually dodgy
ones full of porn mags, then it found its way into Virgin record stores, and
finally WH Smith saw how strong the sales were and let it in, then it sold a

So great oaks from small acorns. Nice work Brian.


I wrote: We've talked a lot about the Guardian comics facsimiles this week (today's
Whizzer & Chips is brilliant by the way, and yesterday's Tammy included a strip
by Jim Baikie), but has anyone suggested the obvious thing?

If the money can be found to print an old facsimile, why can't we run new
comics? I mean a comic edition of the Dandy or Toxic or 2000AD in Saturday's
paper, with clear instructions that if you liked that you should go to the
newsagents and get it every week, or subscribe, or "place an order" as we used
to say.

I know the DFC sort of did that, but then they sort of didn't. They ran small
serialised samples of their strips in the Guardian and took months before the
"DFC" teaser was explained. Then, if the readers were hooked by then, they told
them to fork out 30 quid or forget it. Whereas other existing comics are easier
to get.

Maybe it's too obvious and there's some problem, just saying.

Lew wrote:
> Exactly. Also, Beetle Bailey and other newspaper strips are actually
> quite popular in some countries and quite often turn up in weekly/
> monthly comics. Different tastes and all that. I mean, even the
> bloomin' Phantom is massive in Norway and Australia but it's never
> really worked here in the UK.

I wrote: That's the strength and the curse of British comics. We love the new and get
easily bored of the old. So while your Europeans will still endlessly devour
Carl Barks Donald Duck, Beetle Bailey, and stuff that looks a lot like it did in
the 1960s, we've always wanted to move on.

That's where the 2000AD creators came from, and the waves that followed them,
but that's why we grew tired of Tammy, Jackie, Bunty, Tiger, Eagle et al as soon
as they grew unfashionable.

You can see a parallel in music. France and Norway have a vibrant folk music
scene, far outselling their new modern music. In this country anyone who dons a
woolly jumper and whips out an accordion is rightly frowned upon.

In the country comics have to be the new rock & roll, we have no room for old

John Freeman wrote:

Do you set out to be offensive when you put to paper, Kev, or are you simply
ignorant? Because you just managed it. There's a massively popular folk scene in
the UK - I'm not a fan, personally, but there is. As for your comment about old
people, you're not exactly a spring chicken.

I've read your posts over the past couple of years here with increasing
irritation: you drop in with some comment as if you're the only person who know
about it, ignoring the huge amount of work the Forbidden Planet International
team, Lew Stringer, Baz Renshaw and myself - and many others - have been doing
to promote British comics, even though you tell me you're aware of it. Now
you've labelled anything presumably not being drawn by anyone under the age of
25 (or 12, perhaps) as 'old' and by implication, outdated. By that logic, we
shouldn't be reading Grandville, anything by Alan Moore and much of 200AD.

British comics has always been a wider church than you appear to think it is,
with a huge number of vibrant creators of all ages.

It wasn't the fault of the creators that the comics you cite went out of
fashion, it was the editors and publishers behind them who got stuck in their

If I've misinterpreted your comments, my apologies, but your latest post finally
made me lose my rag.

I replied:

> Do you set out to be offensive when you put to paper, Kev, or are you simply

Ignorant, that'd be me.

No, of course I regularly try and boil my comments down to simplistic soundbites
to stimulate the debate, and often play devil's advocate.

Comparing old fashioned looking comics to folk music I thought illustrated the
point I was trying to make, while inevitably being rude to people who like old
fashioned looking comics and/or folk music (and as anyone who reads my Facebook
posts knows, I like some execrable 1970s music and seem to read nothing but old
comics, so who am I to talk).

To the future. I am inspired by the talk here of working towards a new
mainstream comic (which is, I think, what people are talking up). May I throw my
ignorant and annoying hat in the ring?


Before I cast myself as some sort of ageist, I want to make it clear I'm not.
The new wave of Beano creators are Laura, Gary, Lew and Hunt, whose average age
is, well my age (two are older two are younger). It's not their age that marks
them out as vital and innovative, it's their attitude.

Some of the comic creators whose work I most admire, Lee+Kirby, Carl Giles,
Uderzo+Goscinny, did their best stuff in their 40s and 50s. And Bryan is a fine
example of someone whose work simply gets better with every piece, as happens
with so many film directors and novelists.

So when I characterised comics that fell from popularity when they fell from
fashion I was bemoaning their lack of originality, not the age of their
contributors. Just thought I'd spell that out in an irony-free post.

Kev F

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