Friday, May 30, 2008

The DFC has arrived

Issue No.1 of Britain's brand new weekly children's comic, The DFC, arrived today on schedule. The subscription-only comic is intended to be published every Friday, but the problem of relying on the Post Office is that the Post Office isn't always reliable and some subscribers are still awaiting their copies.

The comic comes within a distinctive DFC envelope which, once the rubbery glue is easily removed from the flap, is ideal for collectors to store the issue in. Enough of the packaging. Does The DFC live up to the hype? Read on...

I was pleased that the A4 comic is not printed on glossy paper, but instead is on high quality matt stock which makes the 36 page publication feel more substantial. The first issue kicks off with the much publicised Philip Pullman strip, John Blake, drawn by John Aggs. The title character himself is only seen in one panel, but that's excusable as it's the mystery surrounding him that is the main plot of this introductory adventure.

Next up is Super Animal Adventure Squad by James Turner. Easily the funniest strip in the comic, but unfortunately is only one page (whereas John Blake and some other strips receive five or six pages each).

Another single page humour strip, Vern and Lettuce by Sarah McIntyre, is charming and beautifully drawn and coloured. I suspect this strip will be more popular with girls, although I'm only judging that from this initial strip of course. For balance, I think the style of Monkey Nuts by the Etherington Brothers will appeal more to boys, but hopefully all children will get a kick out of the comic.

The DFC has quite a task ahead of itself. In trying to appeal to both boys and girls it risks alienating both if some are too put off by certain strips. The Boss looks like it may successfully appeal to both sexes, and could be a good modern day equivalent of a Children's Film Foundation type adventure.

What impressed me most about the first issue is that there's not one badly drawn strip in it. Everything is top quality material, and with the likes of Laura Howell, Dave Windett, and Jamie Smart in future issues it looks likely to remain that way. (Jamie is already here in a small way; providing illos for the contents page and drawing a puzzle page.)

The main drawback as I see it is that practically every strip is a serial. (This is because they're intended to be republished as separate books in the future.) Unfortunately it means that in some strips, such as The Spider Moon by Kate Brown, there's six pages of very little happening because the whole adventure has presumably been paced as a graphic novel. Considering that today's kids will be mostly unfamiliar with continued strips, having seven cliffhangers a week to suddenly deal with may be expecting too much. It also leaves the reader feeling a bit undernourished story-wise, in my opinion. One less serial and a few more humour strips instead wouldn't hurt.

I have a theory (probably mentioned on this blog before) that the most successful British comics over the last 100 years have been those which broke with formula and did their own thing, becoming very influential on the medium: Comic Cuts, The Dandy / The Beano, Eagle, 2000AD, Viz. In The DFC's favour, it breaks with the current tradition of comic/magazine hybrids and tv tie-ins and brings a sensibility from children's books to comics. Time will tell if it'll be a trend-setter.

The DFC reads like a posh kids' comic, with polite dialogue and mannerisms.There's no "traditional" slapstick, no cheeky kids, no Beano rip-offs, and certainly no fart gags. Surely today's "streetwise" kids will hate it then? Personally I'm not sure that many "streetwise" kids even read comics (or anything) today. I grew up on a council estate in the sixties where most of us seemed to read comics, and I still live near there but these days I never see any children, or even, come to that, their parents, buying comics on the estate. Society has changed, the so-called "underclass" don't buy comics, the old "working class" is now more affluent and middle-class, so The DFC may have the right idea in aiming at a different attitude than the comics of old. One reason the old weeklies eventually failed was because they didn't move with the times or shift their focus. The DFC feels modern and is more akin to a European comic than a traditional British one, but that's not a bad thing.

Overall, The DFC is a quality product. If it can be seen by enough kids, I'm sure it could work, but I do have reservations. The subscription-only method is an excellent way to circumvent retail giants and avoid their spiraling charges for shelf space. However it does make the comic invisible unless one chances across the website or hears of it through the media. I hear that publisher Random House are committed to it though, so hopefully it won't go the way of similarly-ambitious Nineties weekly Triffik! and suddenly have the plug pulled leaving contributors in the lurch.

I've initially subscribed for the first 13 issues but on the strength of this first edition I'll probably extend my sub later. The DFC has a struggle ahead of it, as would any new title, so I hope it finds the readership it deserves and thrives (which in turn may encourage other publishers to produce more comics). Good luck to all involved.

The official DFC website can be found here:


Peter Gray said...

I agree with a lot of what you said..
I've also ordered 13 weeks and will do more.

impressed with the paper...needed more humour strips...less serials...look forward to Laura and Jamies work later.

Lets hope schools will get involved with it...

Jamie did a semi fart gag on the see a cloud coming out at the bottom!(of the maze)

Emsie said...

Hi Lew! ^_^
I'm so happy to see these positive reviews. And from someone like yourself I know the creators will all be very pleased! You make an interesting point about the 'nice' nature of it...time will tell if we're all underestimating young readers I guess. hehe.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks Emma, and congratulations on your (future) DFC strip 'Violet' starting in The Guardian yesterday.

One thing I'll add about The DFC is that it's interesting to see it using a (mostly) new generation of comic artists. In that respect it reminds me of the early days of 2000AD, - and that worked out pretty well for them. :)

The tone of The DFC is totally different to 2000AD of course but let's hope it achieves the same impact and success.

alex milway said...

I'm still waiting for my issue to arrive unfortunately. I really want this comic to succeed, but it's a good point you made about the series aspect of the strip. A week is quite a long time to wait for the continuing sections, particularly when all you have to start with is just a few pages.

Still, I can't wait to see it!

Peter Duncan said...

I read DFC on Friday evening with my daughter, age 11.

I think she enjoyed the humour strips more than the serials - fewer serials but more pages for each would be our verdict.

She did say on Sunday that she would like to draw comics so it had some impact on her.

We'll be keeping the sub going for a while anyway.

the erudite baboon said...

Hi Lew, just wanted to say I'm a big fan of your comics, so hearing that you enjoyed Super Animal Adventure Squad really made my day. Thank you!

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks James. Yes I really liked your strip and wished there had been more of it. I'm sure it'll prove to be very popular!

Lew Stringer said...

Hi Alex, Weekly serial strips never used to be a problem for readers. (Comics such as Lion, Valiant, etc featured around 10 serials a week at only 2 or 3 pages each.)

The problem now is that this generation are totally unfamiliar with weekly serials. Plus some serials are paced for the graphic novel collection, rather than the fast paced episodes of old, so might be a bit slow to begin with.

alex milway said...

Hi Lew!
I think you're right about not being used to the short serial format.

I've just finished reading my way through all the Charlie's War collections, and I really loved being able to consume it all in one go. I did try imagining (I'd only have been a few years old at the time) what it would have been like to read them in little sections. I came to the conclusion that I' wouldn't have enjoyed it so much. I'd still have loved the amazing art and really brave storylines, but I certainly wouldn't have felt so consumed by the work.

I suppose maybe I'm just used to graphic novels. I do think it's great to have a beginning and an end within your hands.

My DFC comic still hasn't arrived yet either - apparently I subscribed just a tiny bit late for the postmen to get it to me on time!

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