Sunday, 14 August 2011

Where to Now?

My comments yesterday and a few days before seem to have stirred up a few responses. Some people are telling me that there might still be a future for comics outside of 40 year old men. I even had an e-mail from a young girl who collects comics, when she can afford them. But I do stand over my comments. However, I'm going to reply to Paddy who says that his nephew loves comics but the problem is that they're too expensive. I think it's slightly more than that. I think there has been a change in the culture. I grew up in the late 40s/early 50s when comics were part text, part cartoon strip - I'm thinking here of Wizard, Victor and so forth. Comics from the States were practically unheard of in my part of the world, although when I went on holidays to Newcastle I was able to buy the Lone Ranger and an early Green Lama drawn by Mac Raboy as well as repints of Mars, God of War and Space Ranger which I think might have been in Planet Comics. I would take some of them into school and swap for comics with some of my friends who got different sorts of comics too. But there was a real interest there and we talked about comics and took an interest in the stories. I don't get the same sense now. Children may like comics but they need some sort of incentivasation to buy them. I stopped in a petrol station the other night and saw the Beano on sale and it was nothing like what I remembered - or worked for . It was slick and glossy with a free gift attached to it. It was seeling for far more than I remember. So I take Paddy's point about cost. My 15 year old son likes comics too and any time I'm in Belfast I usually buy a couple of comics or him and his sister - for Michael it's the World of Marvel or Iron Man - but I can pay over £5 for two comics. But this is what's on offer and what the children expect now. Paddy is right when he says that production costs have made the production of a comic expensive. I'm sitting here with a copy of Heavy Metal here in front of me and goodness knows how much it took to produce that. But does it sell - even by a subscription outlet. Lately I've taken to buying some of my magazines through Newsstand Online but I notice how limited certain sections - such as SF - are and how high-level some of the magazines are. But Paddy if you want to produce a worthwhile comic which children will want you have to meet the production values of your competitors - and that includes Heavy Metal - and you have to sort out distribution. You have to ask yourself "Why should somebody buy my magazine and not the new Dr. Who comic?" and are you going to cover the costs with sales, even online. As you say Paddy, some comics aren't making it. I'm also sitting here looking at somics such as Jet from 1959 which a friend of mine, Des Shaw, reprints. They're 6d which is only a couple of pence but my son wouldn't buy them because they're not flashy enough and they don't have some sort of free gift. And even if you were to print one issue would you make enough to cover another issue? The only way you're going to fund it is through maybe a grant and you're not going to get that here in Northern Ireland I would think - no way! So where to now? I'm still willing to sit down and talk about production of something. I've agreed to meet with Andy Luke sometime in October and while I would like to go to the Belfast Bar Camp I'm going to be on Rathlin Island. But maybe sometime. I'm off to watch some television. I was right about Arsenal yesterday - especially with Gervinho being sent off. My wife was furious! But get back to me on you ideas about comics. I'm always open to offers!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Any Future - Children's Comics

A couple of further thoughts on what I wrote yesterday. I was wondering if children read anything like the British comics I used to read as a child and as a younger man. All my friends used to read them when I was at school and we used to bring in comics to swap when we'd finished with them, I used to buy two issues of one comic so I could do this in case I didn't get them back. I had thought at one stage of course of doing a black and white comic in the style of the old Lion or Valiant or Buster and then dismissed the idea as it would never sell. This is not the 1970s. However, just to see what was selling I happened to be in town this morning and called into Easons, which is really the only newsagents in our high street and had a look at the children's section. Do you know they didn't even have the Beano and the Dandy - these were the staples of childhood reading. They had a number of franchise comics like the Simpsons all done up in plastic bags and some others with a free gift. The only thing that actually "looked" like a comic was a Dr. Who publication and it wasn't even a comic more of a magazine with features. I think there was one strip in it. And no other comic publications. Plenty of Tattoo magazines though. Where have they all gone? Are the only ones now interested in British comics solely 60 year-old men? I rest my case and it's a frightening thought. Where's all the creativiely gone when all we have is formulaeic Dr. Who magazines? I'll go and watch the football. Arsenal are drawing with Newcastle which'll not please my wife who is a huge Arsenal fan. Still as I point out her, it could be worse. She could support West Ham!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Is There Any Future?

A number of people have approached me about starting some sort of comic here in the United Kingdom - they say I'm too cynical about the comis scene and we should try to get together and bring something out in the style of, say, Heavy Metal or Eppo. I'm really worried that some of the younger creators are starting to look at me as a grand old guru of the comic world or even believe that I know what I'm talking about! Yes, I did work on my own comics in the late 60s and early 70s producing things like Tales from the Shunned House and Mincemeat Pete for Fool Moon and yes Dark Matter is coming out in Italy next month carrying one of my early strips with David Lloyd but the world has changed a lot since those heady days. As I said in my last blog, American comics are dead and I suspect they are in Britain as well. As I hinted in the last blog, the culture which allowed those publications to happen has fundamentally changed. Even in British comics. I was talking to Adrian the other day - who does Space 1949 - and we were speaking about the comics we used to buy when we were growing up. I'm old enough to remember when comics were still part text but even the British black and white comics I used to buy don't exist any more, except in nostalgia sales. Lion, Valiant, Wizard, all have gone. The only ones who are interested in them now are 60 year old men. And the comic shops are full of 40 year-olds on their lunch break - surely that can't be right? I had thought of pulling Fool Moon together again - Adrian and I had seriously talked about that - but there's no way that we could produce something like Heavy Metal. We had thought of producing something less ambitious but where would we get the money for it, how would we distribute it, how would we compete against the likes of Marvel and DC? Because that's who we'd be up against. Another option was to produce something like Lion or Valiant that I used to buy as a young man - a black and white magazine-comic in the style of the old IPC publications. It might be possible to scrape together enough advertising - because no government grant is going to fund it, we've learned that through bitter experience -to print a limited edition but then what would we do with it, how would we sell enough to produce a second issue? It's all very well to say "I did that" but another to do it as a sustainable business option. I'm not giving up my day job. A friend of mine reprints very old comics which used to sell in the 1950s for around 6d - Swift Morgan, Star Rocket, Space Heroes etc. and it might be possible to certainly print something like that, as they could be done in black and white very cheaply but again what to do with it? And who would buy it? You're up against Kindle, iPads etc. all of which Marvel and DC use and have cornered the market. A couple of years ago we talked about something like that and applied to the Creative and Innovative Industries Fund, partly run by the Northern Ireland Arts Council. It didn't take us long to realise that the Council wasn't really interested in anything even vaguely creative or innovative - certainly not a graphic format. Much of the money is handed out to statutory bodies, the rest to people like established businesses, goldsmiths and that sort of thing. We also approarched the educational department to use comics in education but they didn't even bother responding. Children aren't really interested in comics any more is their idea. So I suspect that British comics, like the American comics is dead. So is there any future? Maybe - I've still never given up. There has to be something but maybe now isn't really the right time to go looking. Of course if there's a millionaire reading this with some money to give away - it doesn't have to be all that much - I'm still up for writing a few graphic novels! We live in hope!