Wednesday, 24 August 2011

More on the state of comics

We continue to debate the decline in sales of The Dandy and other British comics on the various forums. Here was my latest two penn-orth, re The Dandy on Comics UK.

I honestly think the discussion of the styles of artwork here is a red herring. Personally I like the newer innovative creators like Jamie Smart and the parody strips spearheaded by Nigel Parkinson's Harry Hill, and believe they are much more attractive to young readers than old-fashioned styles of strip, but I could well be in a minority.

The important factor is that we're discussing which comic strips will thrive in the comics market - when there isn't a comics market!

It's not like it was when we were kids, when comics publishers had a captive audience of kids who had to buy comics because there was nothing else of equal quality competing for their attention. In the 1960s and 1970s when there were a couple of hours of TV a day, which you could watch live and not record, or there were books without pictures, and that was it, comics were the most visually exciting entertainment available to kids (short of going outside and actually playing with actual other kids, but that's another story).

Since the advent of VHS & video games in the 80s, cable & satellite in the 90s, and the internet & CGI superhero movies in the last decade, we have seen the comics business lose the battle for kids hearts, minds, eyeballs and pocket money. In the UK.

In Japan comics have stayed vital and big business, for reasons we all wish we could work out and repeat ourselves. Black Butler, one of the few current manga titles with which I'm au fait (having helped present it with an Award at the Stan Lee Excelsior Awards in Sheffield this year) sells over half a million copies per volume and was adapted into an anime series within a year of release, but it made its name purely as a comic book. That suggests to me that kids will buy and read stories told in pictures on a printed paper page, if that comic strip story connects with them and is better than anything else around.

Quite why we've let comics die is a subject I debate endlessly. Was it just because movies and games are better and cheaper than comics? Then how do we explain Japan? Or even the French and American markets which, while smaller than their heyday, still manage to make a lot of creators a lot of money.

And how do we explain books? How do we explain the success of Harry Potter? Surely since the introduction of the radio 90 years ago, books have been obsolete. And since the BBC started adding pictures with this Television thing, doesn't it stand to reason that both books and the radio should be a thing of the past? And newspapers?

But somehow these obsolete forms of media cling on. It's only comics that have given up the ghost. And then only in the UK.

I do wish I knew the answer. And talking of changing the subject, Captain Clevedon No1 is on sale now (now from anywhere in the world via Ka-Blam).

Kev F

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