Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Who says British comics are dead? (Updated)

There's a misconception by some that the British comics industry is dead. I've even known some to say "There are no British comics any more". I can only presume this idea came about due to the reduction of 'traditional' comics available in newsagents. True, there are far less UK comics available in your local WH Smith now, but there's still The Beano, 2000AD, Judge Dredd Megazine, VizCommando, and all-new strips by British creators in magazines such as Toxic, Epic!, Doctor Who Magazine, Doctor Who Adventures and a few more. 
Admittedly it's definitely a far cry from the heyday of the traditional British comic periodical, but the industry is certainly not "dead". The 'business model', for want of a better term, is more variable now, and some publishers use other ways to get comics to potential readers. Aces Weekly uses the digital-only route, resulting in a very reasonably priced comic that so far has run to 112 issues as 16 volumes of 7 comics. London-based Titan Comics have several titles for teens and adult readers that are available through comics speciality stores. Children's comic The Phoenix mainly uses a subscription method of selling the weekly by mail, plus selected outlets such as some branches of Waitrose and Waterstones. Some comic shops also stock it.
What The Phoenix has also done is to use the European method of serializing strips in the weekly anthology, then collecting each strip into individual books. These superbly designed books by modern new creators such as Jamie Smart, the Etherington Brothers, and Gary Northfield can be bought from High Street bookshops or from online sellers. 
At the moment, those books are on special offer at The Phoenix website so hop over there now and see if any take your fancy:
http://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/product-category/comic-books/     
Titan Comics is also using this method, collecting their comics story arcs into graphic novels. Rebellion does the same with many of its 2000AD strips. What this means is that there is a lot of product out there, and plenty for readers to choose from. 
There are also new graphic novels that are produced especially for the format of course, such as Bryan Talbot's Grandville books and Darryl Cunningham's Supercrash to name but two. Some books are co-produced in Britain and America, such as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen titles by Knockabout and Top Shelf.
Then there are the numerous small press comics which may have tiny print runs but often have great content. 
If I had more time I could expand this article considerably by naming many more titles, but I think you get my point. In short, it's unfair to judge the state of the British comics industry just on the few titles that are available in newsagents. The industry now is far different and more diverse than it was in our childhood and it's definitely not dead.

A small selection of recent British graphic novels and comics...













The evidence speaks for itself. Fact is, British comics have always evolved. If they hadn't, they'd still be 8 page Edwardian tabloids with 50% text stories and short slapstick strips about jolly tramps falling down coal holes. 

It's not enough to rely on distribution to newsagent and supermarket retail chains now, who charge a huge 'shelf rent' on top of the percentage they take from the cover price. Publishers have adapted to suit changing conditions, and a focus on bookshops, comic speciality stores, subscriptions, and digital comics are the solutions to keep the industry alive. 

Update 18/6/2015: As someone just reminded me, these days there's also another avenue of retail; the comics conventions. With the vast increase in the number of comic shows across the UK (so many that they sometimes clash) it's become an excellent way for publishers and creators to sell their comics directly to the readers. Independent publishers have been doing this for a long time now, and the mainstream guys such as Panini, Titan, and Rebellion also often have tables at the events. Unlike the early fan-centric conventions, modern comic/media shows attract the general public, including families. An ideal way for publishers to 'cut out the middle man' and interact directly with their audience.  

**********

Periodicals, graphic novels, digital comics, albums... the UK comics scene has evolved beyond the shelves of corner shops. My blog is mainly about comics of the past so I don't focus on contemporary scene as often as I might but the following sites often feature a healthy amount of British comics news...

Down the Tubes: http://downthetubes.net/

Forbidden Planet International Blog: 

Comica:

Bear Alley Books:

As always, your opinions on this subject are welcome, so please leave a comment below.

24 comments:

Bruce Laing said...

I would like to have got hold of Jamie's Bunny Vs. Monkey book, but alas, postage is only for U. K. only. :(

Lew Stringer said...

It's available on Amazon UK but I don't know if they'd deliver to Australia?

Bruce Laing said...

I'll have a look at Amazon, and if they ship to Oz, I'll buy this in the next week or two. Just added to my wishlist. :D

Colin Noble said...

Nice article Lew. You missed out mentioning a few of the comic publishing companies such as DiamondSteel comics, Vital Publishing, Accent UK, Treehouse and Black Hearted Press to name but a few.

I am sure there are more that I haven't named, but I am sure that people get the idea. UK comics is far from dead especially when we have such active talented people such as Frank Quitely, Hunt Emerson, Brian Bolland, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, Jim Baikie and Ian Kennedy out there.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks Colin. You're right, there are many more comics I could have included. I just rattled off the ones that came to mind when I wrote the post last night but I'll expand upon it later. There's no denying the evidence that the industry is still alive and producing some great comics.

Darren Price said...

I miss the old football comics that were available as a kid. Would love to see a return of the old Football Picture Story Monthlies that I grew up with.

ChanneZeroX said...

I'm one of the naysayers on ComicsUk forums who about a year ago had been bemoaning the absence of comics on the newsstands, but your blog has really opened my eyes about the scope and quality of British Comics for those who can make the effort to look... many thanks, Lew

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks CZX. Glad to have helped.
It's just a matter of getting the word out really. A lot of us in the business take it for granted that everyone knows about graphic novels, indie comics, digital comics etc, but we shouldn't make those assumptions. People have been conditioned to think that newsagents/supermarkets are the only source for comics, and that used to be the case for decades, but things have moved on. Of course it doesn't help that most towns do not have a comic shop, and some of those that do only sell Marvel/DC imports and toys.

Darren, interestingly I think you're the first person to mention those Football comics since I started this blog in 2006! Sadly I doubt they'll ever return. Newsagents are too hostile towards that small format, and footie comics in general were never big sellers (with a few exceptions). A modern style football graphic novel might work, but I dunno...

Thanks for commenting.

Phil Boyce said...

I was in Easons in Belfast today looking for a book for my dad for Father's Day and I came across the graphic novel section, all American DC and Marvel stuff. I asked the staff who were filling the shelves if they had any 2000AD books... they didn't even know what I was talking about.

You're right Lew, there's so much stuff out there but we just need to get the word out. Some people seem to think if it's not on paper and in the newsagent shelves it doesn't count and that's just rubbish. The world has moved on and every medium is consumed in many different ways and in many different formats these days - comics are no different.

Lew Stringer said...

Well said, Phil. The notion that the comics industry is only about traditional old style comics is as limited as thinking the music industry should only stick to vynil. Times change and people working in the comics industry have had to adapt just like anyone else in their field of work. The sad thing is it's taken Britain so long to catch up with European countries who have had comic albums in bookstores for 50 years or more.

Regarding Easons, perhaps if you asked for Judge Dredd books they might be able to locate them and relisted books in their ordering system? It's a shame a place as big as Belfast doesn't already have them on the shelves.

LEE said...

Quick mention also for Hibernia Comics and Bear Alley Books for their brilliant reprints of class IPC/DCT material
http://www.comicsy.co.uk/hibernia/
http://bearalley.blogspot.co.uk/

...and Improper Books, who are producing some phenomenally good original titles like Porcelain, Butterfly Gate and Night Post.
http://www.improperbooks.com/

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks for the links, Lee. I must admit I'd never heard of Improper Books. There are so many indie publishers around it's hard to keep up.

Joshua said...

Most of the covers you posted here are alien to me so I don't know if they exist or not but all I can go on is the evidence of my eyes when I go into a shop and see nothing but kiddie fare in plastic bags with toys. Comics ARE dead as far as I'M concerned.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes Joshua, they exist. You might need to look in a few more shops. Try Waterstones for example, or click on the links I provided.

Colin M said...

Informative post Lew and thanks for the mention too Colin Noble! Accent UK have certainly seen a surge in sales and interest in recent years as finally the general public seem to be catching up with comics and are looking to be entertained by well written & illustrated stories regardless of being a recognisable 'name'. We've been flying the indie flag for British comics at conventions & festivals for many years with 2015 set to be our best yet after enjoying strong sales at shows in Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Copenhagen and London with more to come, Blimey indeed!

Lew Stringer said...

That's great news, Colin. Can I check I have the right link to your site? It doesn't seem to be loading properly at the moment:
http://www.accentukcomics.com/index.html

As soon as I can access it properly I'll add a couple of cover images and a link to my post.

Anonymous said...

You can't include reprints of old Scream stories and Victir stories as new comics. Come on!

Lew Stringer said...

Very true, which is why I hadn't even mentioned them! What made you think I had?

Paul McScotty -Muir said...

Good too see so many comics out there, I think there will always be people who want to create and read these but when you have to "go look for them" that's when it becomes a problem imho not many folk will do that and as such sales will always be low and further issues limited. Comics need to get out their in newsagents / high street and for me its the likes of W H Smiths, ASDA etc that are killing comics off (if indeed the industry is being killed off) they have no interest or respect in them and stuff them in shelves with titles all mixed up. My local W H Smith no longer stocks Marvel Pannini book, the Megazine ( 3 copies only) is in with the pop and film mags (at the opposite end of where the "kids" comics are) and Viz is with the Men's interest mags. Its a hard slog of comic creators and companies and I think they are doing all they can its the shops that need to play their part now. Its a rapidly changing world and I think comics are just struggling at present to find their place init at present (but will)

Lew Stringer said...

One problem, as my local newsagent time me, is that WH Smith also supply many small newsagents and they decide what they stock. Publishers need to expand, and they are thankfully. I think publishers of children's comics need to look at toy shops and game stores as an alternative; places where kids are excited to visit. Pitch comics at kids again, not just their parents.

Meanwhile, it's good to see adult comics on the increase in the UK, thanks to comic shops, book shops, mail order, comic shows etc. we just need to spread the word so that people realise newsagents aren't the only place to find comics now.

Tony said...

Good article, Lew. But i just wanted to mention that Titan Comics, in addition to producing material for the comic shop market, are new reprinting their recent Doctor who material in a monthly Doctor Who Comic which I've seen available in several supermarkets as well as WH Smith. And they seem to be using a lot of new(ish) talent on these stories.

Lew Stringer said...

Fear not, Tony. I gave the comic a plug in previous posts:

http://lewstringer.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-new-doctor-who-comic-is-here.html

For this latest post I wanted to avoid the numerous comics that some might dismiss as reprints and focus on the all new material.

Phil Boyce said...

Fantastic article Lew, it's great to see so much going on in the British comics scene and such a shame some people shut themselves off from it just because it's not lined up in a newsagents. Just like in the 80s when I grew up with comics the shelves are still filled with licenced titles, but the other material which would've been there too is still about, it's just not in the same place as it was. Times move on and businesses evolve.

To dismiss this and anything not on a newsagent's shelf on printed paper is like dismissing iTunes from the music business.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks Phil. That's it exactly. The annoying thing is that if things were like they were 30 years ago you probably would see some of those indie titles in newsagents, just as Deadline and Warrior etc made it into the High Street back then. But the attitude and additional fees of distributors and retailers makes that unfeasible now. But like you say, material like that is still around, just in other outlets.

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