Thursday, August 17, 2017

Doctor Who and the Bookshops

I thought I'd give a plug for Panini's wonderful Doctor Who graphic novels as I rarely mention them here. These weighty large size softbacks reprint the Doctor Who comic strip serials from Doctor Who Magazine into handy complete collections. There's often also behind-the-scenes features on the strips as back-up articles too.

There have been more than 20 books in this line published over the years, and the newest is Doorway to Hell, gathering recent 12th Doctor stories, including his encounter with the original Master! It'll be out in September officially, but the DWM team say you might find some in shops already.

As there are still older stories to be reprinted, you never know what will turn up in this series. The previous book was Emperor of the Daleks, collecting a 7th Doctor story from the 1980s issues of DWM!

I know a few fans have said they'd like to see some of the 3rd Doctor strips from Countdown / TV Action collected into a future volume. There are no plans to do that yet, as far as I know, but Who knows...? 

The idea of books collecting comic serials has been the norm in Europe and Japan for many decades, and it's good that the practice has been employed in the UK for a few years now too. I really think this is one way forward for British comics at the moment. With these Doctor Who books, plus collections from Titan, The Phoenix, 2000AD, and Rebellion's Treasury of British Comics line, and all the new graphic novels published by companies such as Self Made Hero, bookshops are becoming the place to go to discover comics. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Children's newsstand comics: state of the industry 2017

Over on his Down the Tubes website, John Freeman has the latest circulation figures for British newsstand comics and children's magazines. (Or at least the ones that supply their info.) It makes for grim reading, with most titles having suffered sales dips since last year.

Of course, the reasons for the decline are many and varied. It's never as simple as some people think it is. Content is one reason of course (a branded comic will only appeal to fans of that brand for example), then there's price, distribution, and the complex ways of suppliers deciding which shops get what, regardless of what a retailer might prefer.

In my opinion, one major drawback for publishers today is the unkempt way in which their mags are stuffed into shelves. Not always by customers having a browse, but by the actual retail staff. Take a look at the photos here that I took a few months ago. For the most part, the displays are unattractive and very few titles stand out. 
Admittedly, the fact they're bagged with toys doesn't help, but bear in mind it's the retail giants that have insisted on that. The design of the shelves isn't helpful either, but again, that's deliberate. The more a publisher pays the retail giants for stocking a title, the more prominent it's displayed. (In theory anyway, if the shelf-stackers have read the memo and can be bothered to follow it.) So the shelves are designed as to not give every title equal visibility. As for titles that haven't paid the higher fees for display, - they're relegated to the darkness at the back of the shelves. One rule for the rich... and people wonder why new publishers don't launch a comic.

Incredibly, comics and children's magazines are sometimes displayed out of the reach of their target audience! It's the parents they're pitched at, so bang goes the days of a child discovering a comic that catches his/her eye. Yet even if a child did manage to notice a title that seemed interesting, they couldn't browse through it because it's usually bagged. Therefore the plastic gifts become the main attraction. "That cheap water pistol that was with a mag last month broke five minutes after using it. Oh, there's a similar one with a different mag. That'll do." 

How can that build reader loyalty? (Or brand loyalty, as that seems to be the key phrase these days.) 
How's a kid going to notice that Lego Batman comic on the top shelf?
I'm really not sure what the solution is. We have a generation (and their parents) who have grown up expecting UK comics to be based on a brand, and expecting them to be bagged with gifts. Previous generations had developed a habit of going to the newsagent every week to buy their favourite comic and read about their favourite characters. Today's kids haven't developed that habit, and instead have the privilege of lots of other things to distract them at the weekends.

There's also been a change in society's attitudes since the heyday of comics. Years ago, children as young as 8 would venture out on their own or with their mates, and after the Saturday movie matinee at the local ABC cinema they'd spend the rest of their pocket money on stuff they'd discovered for themselves, including comics. Parents put trust in telling their kids not to go off with strangers and to be home by dark and, for the large majority of kids, everyone was relatively safe. This isn't conjecture. Myself and my friends were part of that generation. It's what we did. The freedom of the 1960s.

It's a far murkier world today, and with a fear of drug pushers and perverts preying on their offspring, parents daren't let kids out of their sight. (In fact, if an 8 year old was in town shopping these days on his own I think social services would have firm words with the parents.) Subsequently, that whole culture of kids seeking out comics for themselves has vanished. They're often chosen by the parent now. 

Some things don't change though. The Beano still hangs in there because it's always stood its ground and pretty much remained faithful to its original concept; a comics-focused publication that has encouraged reader loyalty with enduring and familiar characters. As it's been around for so long it's become a recognisable brand in itself. Therefore it sells on its own merits and rarely carries free gifts. 

The Phoenix seems steady, but it relies mainly on subscription and its presence in shops is minimal. (My local Smiths takes two copies, and stuffs them at the back.) However, perhaps its success should be an incentive for more publishers to follow that model, if they can find backers with deep enough pockets to sustain it. 

From my experiences meeting families at conventions I know that children do like comics, even if they haven't developed the habit of buying them regularly. That's why I think graphic novels and specials with a longer shelf life are the most likely way for newsstand / bookshop comics to survive. We can't turn the clock back to the 20th Century heyday of weekly comics, so there's no point yearning for that, but we can move forward with new ideas for the future.

If you have thoughts about this, either post them on John's article at or on my blog below.

Justice League of Britain

Licensing brands is a complex thing. Titan Comics have the rights to publish a UK Justice League comic, and Panini UK publish a Scooby-Doo comic, but here we are with Parragon Books (part of D.C. Thomson) publishing annuals for Justice League and Scooby-Doo

Such is the strange world of publishing. If you're interested in these books you can order them directly from the D.C. Thomson online shop here:

Monday, August 14, 2017

Comic Cuts Seaside Holiday Number (from 1923)

Back before the days of the Summer Special, weekly comics had a holiday theme to their regular issues. One of which being Comic Cuts No.1735, dated August 11th 1923, which was re-named for this week as Comic Cuts Seaside Holiday Number. Let's take a quick look at some of the content.

The cover strip was The Adventures of Jolly Tom, the Menagerie Man, and was drawn by Percy Cocking, one of Amalgamated Press' top artists. (He also illustrated Weary Willie and Tired Tim on the cover of Chips at this time, along with many other strips.)

The format of this "special" was exactly the same as any other week; 8 tabloid sized pages in black and white. (The standard format of comics of the time.) There was an equal balance of prose stories and comic strips, with the centre pages featuring lots of short strips. Here are three of them...

Page 7 had a busy layout of humourous stories, cartoons, ads, and the "Orfice Boy" recounting his trip to Margate...

On the back page... an sad reflection of how black people were regarded back then, re-presented here for historical purposes and to help give younger readers an inkling of what they had to put up with. I believe the artist of Comic Cuts Colony was Julius Stafford Baker. I'm sure the intention was just a "bit of fun" with no intended malice but it's still dehumanising a race. I've heard the argument that "everyone was caricatured back then, including white people". No. Not to the extent of the grotesque exaggerations of black characters, as one can see by comparing Comic Cuts Colony to the strip beneath it. In comics back then, white characters had slight exaggerations, whilst non-whites were completely distorted and depicted as almost sub-human (and referred to in racist terms). We need to ensure we never return to those days. 

There's a new PULL LIST available

Cover by Darrell Thorpe
An essential read for anyone who's interested in the British comics scene, The Pull List is a downloadable digital magazine that features previews, interviews, and reviews of recommended titles and creators.

Superbly designed, The Pull List No.7 is the latest issue and contains interviews with Rozi Hathaway, Matthew Dooley, Darrel Thorpe, Sarah Millman and more.

There are also features and opinions on recent shows MCM London, ICE Brighton, and ELCAF 2017. 

The back of the magazine features several pages of reviews, and the Cosmic Cliff comic strip by Marc Jackson. 

The Pull List provides a great service in informing people of indie and small press titles that they might otherwise be unaware of. It reminds me in that regard of Paul Gravett's Fast Fiction zine of the 1980s that provided a similar benefit to indie creators back then. 

How much does this splendid magazine cost you may ask? Just .99p (or more if you're feeling generous) and you can download it from here:

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