So, last week was a very strange week, a week when the spotlight fell onto British comics with the news of the demise of The Dandy, the weekly children’s comic which has been part of the fabric of British culture for 75 years.
In a slightly surreal and thoroughly unexpected twist, I was asked to offer my opinions on the matter on Sky News, alongside journalist, curator and all-encompassing comics expert, Paul Gravett.
Now, I haven’t worked for DC Thomson, home of the Dandy and it’s sister comic, The Beano, for little over a year now. My comic creation, Derek the Sheep, ran in the Beano and BeanoMax for 7 years and I drew Pinky’s Crackpot Circus for The Dandy for a few months back in 2008. But, I have been creating kids comics professionally for nearly 10 years now and currently I write and draw comics for the brilliant new children’s weekly comic, The Phoenix, as well as a monthly strip for National Geographic Kids AND I’ve just finished writing and drawing an epic 80 page book of children’s comics for Walker Children’s books, called Teenytinysaurs. So I was very keen to take part and champion what I see as a very crucial time for Children’s comics in this country, bigging up the success story of The Phoenix and kids books in general and try to dispel any myths about children rejecting reading in favour of video games; a tired argument trotted out any time there’s a slight seismic shift in comic plate tectonics.
For the two or three hours before I went on air, I wrote down many notes listing what I viewed to be the problems, the solutions, the misconceptions and the past, present and future of British comics. I memorised them as best I could, and blustered my way through what was essentially not enough time to blurt out everything I wanted to say.
Check out the video link here.
On the back of this TV interview, Radio 5Live invited me to chat about the subject in the evening, then Radio 2 and Vanessa Feltz beckoned the next day, where I was given a little more time to evangelise my opinions on the state of children’s comics, the public’s awareness and perception of comics and their future. And live draw a very bad cartoon of Vanessa being held aloft by a cheeky squirrel. Eep! no pressure…
I was also asked to write 300 words on the subject for a National newspaper, which unfortunately, I don’t think made the cut, but it sums up my views on the state of comics and kids reading as I see it in this country, and so I’ll post them here (slightly tweaked):
After 75 years, perhaps The Dandy is dead, but does it ring the death knell of British comics? Are Xboxes and the internet killing off print comics? Have kids really given up reading for good?
A resounding “NO” I say! Kids love reading! Just see how excited they get when a new Diary of A Wimpy Kid, or Captain Underpants book hits the shelves. And just try to prise their Harry Potter books out of their vice-like grips. No time for reading? Not likely! Give them a comic to read and you won’t see or hear them for a good half an hour.
The Dandy may be faltering, but other fantastic comics, like The Phoenix are keeping the flame alive, enthralling young readers with wild and crazy adventures and loopy new cartoon creations for the next generation. Where big stores like WHSmith are pricing children’s comics off the crowded and messy shelves, with their big cut of the comic’s profits, The Phoenix is navigating it’s own path through subscription and by selling through independent bookshops and comics champion Waitrose, who cultivate and love the product, giving it pride of place near the till for all to see.
Likewise, Walker Children’s books see the value in beautifully told children’s comics alongside their famous catalogue of picture books, encouraging creators like Andi Watson and Viviane Schwarz to run wild with their imaginations, thus getting comics onto the prominent shelves of retail bookshops across the country.
Even outside children’s comics, into the realms of teenage and mature comics, with SelfMadeHero and Blank Slate printing Graphic Novels of international renown, British comics have rarely witnessed such a burgeoning, explosive scene. Are British Comic dead? Far from it. They’re evolving into something very exciting for a new generation.
During this crazy 24 hour period, other cartoonists, including Anita O’Brien curator of the Cartoon Museum in London and the estimable Jamie Smart, writer and artist on The Dandy and at the vanguard of it’s recent valiant re-launch, were proffering their own well thought out opinions on the future of British children’s comics on TV and radio and in the National Press, some more optimistic than others, all hoping that the Dandy would live to fight another day (ably summed up on the Fleece Station Blog by Lauren O’Farrell).
Unfortunately, it was all for nothing, as DC Thomson announced the end of the printed version of the Dandy and it’s release as a digital comic, come its 75th birthday. Sadly, there’s no word on whether this means continuing work for the current Dandy creators, or if it will just showcase old material from it’s very large archive.
The fascinating result of seeing and hearing all the various opinions in the news and elsewhere, is how it has stoked up the fires and passions of comic creators and observers all over the internet, from blog posts figuring out the next big step for British comics by fellow studio mates Sarah McIntyre and Jamie Smart, to debates right across twitter and facebook. To the point where I think in a few months down the road I truly believe something exciting and tangible will burst forth into the great chasm left by the Dandy, to fight the good children’s comics fight alongside the likes of The Phoenix, The Beano and Walker Children’s books.