Friday, August 31, 2007
When Toxic was launched, Egmont UK were of the consideration that readers were no longer interested in comic strips. However, the strip content of the magazine was very popular and steadily increased over time. Team Toxic; a strip featuring a mad scientist, two monsters, a zombie, and a robot, was created in-house by the editorial team and I was commissioned to write scripts, with Jon Rushby on art. Originally a single tier strip running across the foot of four pages, the strip proved popular enough to soon graduate to two full pages (and four pages for special issues such as Christmas and this anniversary edition). With issue 14 I took over the art duties too, giving Jon more time to provide illustrations of the Team characters to appear throughout the magazine. The talented husband and wife team of Lorna Miller and Chris Watson colour the strip and the various illos in the mag.
Issue 100 features a competition for readers to create a new villain for Team Toxic to face. The winning entry will then appear in a future Team Toxic strip, drawn by myself.
The other regular strip, Rex, a story about a boy and his dinosaur, by John Short and Alex Paterson, began in issue 17. There have been other strips too, including Pig Brother by Mervyn Johnston, Chester the Chimp by Jaspre Bark and Paul Palmer, and currently The Bogies (a merchandise tie-in).
A publication reaching 100 issues is an impressive score in this day and age, particularly for a children's title. I'm proud that Team Toxic has been a part of that success but the main accomplishment is that of Matt Yeo and his team at Egmont for coming up with such a winning format. As a result, Toxic has clearly influenced rival publications, such as the late Marvel Rampage and the new Dandy Xtreme. Maybe I'm biased, but I still think the original is the best.
Ian Wheeler has interviewed editor Matt Yeo for the Down the Tubes website. Read it HERE.
Toxic No.100 is on sale across the UK in newsagents, supermarkets, airports, railway stations etc for £2.25. (Comes bagged with several free gifts.)
Official Toxic website: http://toxicmag.co.uk/
Monday, August 27, 2007
Richard Branson's Virgin Comics have announced the November launch of a brand new Dan Dare comic. The full colour US-format comic will be written by top comics creators Garth Ennis and drawn by Gary Erskine. Full details are revealed on John Freeman's always on-the-ball blog Down the Tubes and the official Virgin Comics website is here.
Virgin's news that Dan Dare is "back" is a little disingenuous as it seems to ignore the excellent thrice-a-year Spaceship Away comic which has been featuring brand new Dan Dare adventures for the past several years (and hopefully will continue to do so).
The long awaited first issue of Bulletproof is finally here! A stonking 80 page black and white anthology for just £2.50 from comic shops. Featured creators include Alan Grant, Nigel Dobbyn, Jon Haward, Alan Burrows and more. I'll be reviewing it here later this week, but deadlines beckon for now, so here's the cover to whet your appetites!
There are also a couple of old titles returning in the form of compilation books. Following the success of the Jackie books of the last two years, The Bumper Book of Look and Learn is published soon, along with The Best of Look-In (which is out now).
Sunday, August 26, 2007
UPDATE 27/8/2007: Today's column from Rich Johnston (Dying in the Gutters) provides more info as Rich was sent copies of the shows. Whilst I'm eagerly looking forward to the documentaries, I'm not too confident when I hear they claim that The Dandy was "the first comic to use the modern-day speech balloon". I hope it's only Rich who's mistaken on that and not an error in the programme itself. British comics were using speech balloons years before The Dandy appeared in December 1937, as the cover to this 1919 issue of Comic Cuts proves:
Some might think I'm being pedantic, but my feeling is; if you're going to do a job, do it right. Make a few glaring errors and people lose faith in the rest of the information they're being given. However, I'm sure my worries will be unfounded and the overall result will please us all and will give British comics the respect they deserve. Anyway, here's the press release:
September 10, 17th & 24th
BBC Four 3x 60 mins
How we grew up with comics and how comics grew up with us……
From the Beano to Bunty, Commando to Viz, the Eagle to 2000AD, British comics have captivated generations from the Thirties to the present day.
Now BBC Four delves into the world of the British comic, exploring the art and craft of the industry in a celebration of this British comics tradition.
The series features those who wrote and drew the original strips, comics experts and a range of fans whose lives have been shaped by reading ‘classic strips.’
Comics Britannia is a rich mix of interviews, strips and archive illuminated by a unique graphics style which literally allows you to step into the comics world.
Comics Britannia forms the centrepiece of BBC Four’s Comics Season, which also includes Jonathan Ross in search of comic legend Steve Ditko, Adam West Batman series, The Batman Story and Modesty Blaise.
Programme One: The Fun Factory
COMICS BRITANNIA explores the world of the children’s humour comic and the revolution which began with the first publication of the Dandy in 1937.
The series explains why colourful, cheap publications like the Dandy, and then the Beano enchanted a generation living through the effects of the Depression, WW2 and post-war Austerity.
Comics Britannia revisits the golden age of comics in the Fifties and early Sixties and looks at the work of great comics artists Dudley Watkins, Davey Law, Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid, revealing how a new subversive and anarchic humour emerged from the pages of the Beano and the Dandy.
Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, writer Jacqueline Wilson, Oscar winning animator Nick Park and Cartoonist Steve Bell discuss their passion for comics, with some surprising revelations!
Programme Two: Boys & Girls
Following the Second World War boys and girls adventure comics emerged to capture the imaginations of the growing baby boomer generation.
Comics Britannia tells the extraordinary story of the bohemian vicar who founded the most ground-breaking comic to emerge in the immediate post- war era – The Eagle, complete with its very own super hero, Dan Dare.
The programme looks at attempts to create the equivalent for girls —comics featuring ballet and boarding schools, such as School Friend, Girl and Bunty.
Meanwhile, the boys grew up with their comic book heroes achieving impossible feats of courage and endeavour on the fields of sport and battle, with the larger than life exploits of Captain Hurricane and Roy of the Rovers.
But comics would soon have to reinvent themselves and follow their readers as they grew older. Titles such as Mirabelle and Romeo were introduced to appeal to older girls who had once loved Bunty & Girl.
Into the Sixties and Seventies the industry responded to a changing Britain with a new generation of comics such as Jackie, Tammy and Battle aimed at meeting the new demands of teenage readers.
Fans of comics in this episode include comedian Frank Skinner, ex footballer and pundit Mark Lawrenson, cartoonists Posy Simmonds and Gerald Scarfe, and writer Jacqueline Wilson, who all reveal their childhood favourites.
Programme Three: X-Rated : Anarchy in the UK
[NB 10pm tx]
COMICS BRITANNIA X –RATED reveals how during the Seventies and Eighties a generation grew up reading a new kind of comic. Directed at older, adult readers, these comics had strips with darker, more satirical and sexual material. There was a new sophistication in the writing and artwork which began to see comic books evolve into a new phenomenon – the graphic novel.
From the bedroom of brothers Chris and Simon Donald in Newcastle came the outrageous Viz which by the Eighties was selling a million copies nationwide and was responsible for inventing the Fat Slags, Roger Mellie, Johnny Fartpants and Sid the Sexist.
At the same time in the late Seventies, 2000 AD was published, sending Punks into Space and creating the iconic anti-hero Judge Dredd.
Out of this comics ‘new wave’ emerged a major talent, writer Alan Moore. Working with leading artists, he created ground-breaking work such as V for Vendetta, Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The programme interviews Moore and the group of other writers and artists who spearheaded the adult-oriented revolution in British comics: Simon and Chris Donald, Dave Gibbons, Carlos Ezquerra, Kevin O’Neill, Alan Grant and David Lloyd.
Super comics fans Frank Skinner, Stewart Lee, Andrew Collins and
Charles Shaar Murray are also on hand to offer their take.
Contributors available for interviews:
Kevin O’Neill & programme 3
Jacqueline Wilson & programme 2
Pat Mills & programme 3
Frank Skinner & programme 3
Mel Gibson & programme 3
Charles Shaar Murray
Official website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/comicsbritannia/
Friday, August 10, 2007
I picked up a curious item on eBay recently which only cost a couple of quid. It's a D.C. Thomson comic that pre-dates The Dandy!
The Midget Comic was a one-off 36 page free gift given away with the women's story paper Red Letter issue dated 21st August 1937 (according to The Complete Catalogue of British Comics by Denis Gifford). "Midget" is appropriate as it only measures 14cm by 10cm in size. Nevertheless, it's a busy little publication packed with strips and features.
The full colour covers look very much like the early work of Dudley Watkins, but are unsigned unfortunately as per usual DCT policy back then. Inside, the contents are mainly feature-based, with text stories, jokes, magic tricks, party games, and pranks to play on other children.
Despite being called a comic, the strip content is minimal, with only six full pages of comic strip (out of 36 pages) plus four tiny two panel gags elsewhere. Proof if need be that even back then "comic" didn't mean comic strips throughout. In fact it's more likely that "comic" was originally an abbreviation of "comical", which may be why "comic strips" are called "cartoon strips" in the UK. Therefore today's modern British comics such as Wallace & Gromit Comic and Dandy Xtreme with their mixture of cartoon strips and fun features have more in common with the original format of "comics" than we thought!
The contents of The Midget Comic include one character I recognized amongst the other one-off gag strips: Nosey Parker, drawn by Alan Morley, which would later appear in the Sunday Post Fun Section and in Sparky. I assume Nosey perhaps appeared in Red Letter which would explain his appearance in this free comic. (Can anyone confirm this?)
The cover of the comic features a clever bit of simple "magic". The tramps Nutty and Sam (who also appear in an interior strip) are looking at a window which has the blind down. "Do you see that, Nutty?" asks Sam. "Hold the picture up to the light and YOU'LL see too!" states the caption, - and once held up to the light an illustration from page two shows through - a policeman tucking into a big pie, watched over by the cook. (His wife? His lover?) A scene pre-dating Aunt Aggie providing Desperate Dan with cow pie, but drawn by the same artist, Dudley Watkins. Could this have been the inspiration for those many cow-pie moments?
All in all, it's a fascinating little piece of comics history and probably worth more than the £3.50 I paid for it. Although un-numbered, this wasn't the first D.C. Thomson Midget Comic though; there was a similar free gift given away with The Rover in 1933! You can see the covers of that little comic here, plus Dudley Watkins' first work for Thomsons. According the the aforementioned Denis Gifford book even prior to that there were four issues of a 32 page Midget Comic given free over four weeks with The Wizard in 1930!
Presumably all these free Midget Comics provoked a positive reaction from readers and may have been one factor which encouraged the publisher to launch a regular weekly comic, The Dandy, in December 1937. The rest, as they say, is history.
Monday, August 06, 2007
The first issue of the revamped Dandy hit the newsagents last Thursday, and the fallout is all over the internet. Now re-branded as Dandy Xtreme, and published fortnightly instead of weekly, the publication has changed its ratio of feature and comics material to favour articles on "gross stuff" and video game cheats. Dandy ComiX is a 16 page pull-out within a 20 page magazine, and on the whole, the vociferous fans on the net are not happy about it.
BBC News featured an interview with editor Craig Graham where he explained:
"Following extensive research, we discovered The Dandy readers were struggling to schedule a weekly comic into their hectic lives. They just didn't have enough time.
"They're too busy gaming, surfing the net or watching TV, movies and DVDs. They still enjoyed The Dandy, but if they were going to buy it themselves they expected more than just 'a comic my dad used to read' ."
This failed to convince some people. The forum at Eurogamer.net had one poster reacting: "Since when do kids require a lifestyle guide?". Another person there said: "It's a terrifying thought that kids are 'too busy' to read a short comic...if that's the case what hope is there for them reading books?"
Over at the blog Summet or other the blogmaster commented "I guess there's just more to distract kids these days. We used to have an hour of telly, now they've got whole channels, computers, consoles etc. so maybe comics just have less appeal to the kids of today than the bored kids of yesteryear."
People on the World of Stuart forums were less forgiving. "That's sad on so many levels" said one. "I cried a little inside when I saw it was called 'Dandy Xtreme'. Korky the Cat must be rolling in his grave" said another. (Er, Korky isn't dead!) Then things got more unpleasant: "What a load of horse-shit. And what a sad situation for the industry to be in. Like fuck six-year-olds have any kind of "busy schedule" that they somehow can't fit a fucking comic into. The Dandy isn't War and fucking Peace—it's a thin comic that takes fuck-all time to read" ranted someone with time on his hands, whilst another snootily added "I guess it never occurred to them to try and tell decent jokes in amusing stories".
At Boards.IE things were a bit more restrained and level headed. After someone posted "The Dandy that we all grew up with is finished" another replied "It's a shame in one way, but at least they're still going. Fortnightly is better than nothing". Another correctly stated "I'm not going to get to worried at this point as they have repackaged the Dandy a number of times over its 70 year run".
At http://iampat.blogspot.com/ the comment was somewhat sarcastic, mocking the marketing claim about children's hectic lives: "Already children around the country are emitting sighs of relief. those that did read it every week can now use that time to catch up on some much needed sleep".
Over at http://www.drownedinsound.com some people appear to have read a different Dandy Xtreme to anyone else. "What kids wanted from the Dandy was pretty much the same comic that's been going for seventy years, not some shit with computerised pictures of desperate dan on the cover. Horseshit" (Horseshit indeed, as Dandy Xtreme features no CGI pictures of Desperate Dan, anywhere. Dontcha love the internet for spreading misinformation?) Someone else on the same forum added "I read The Beano and The Dandy religiously for five years even though they never, ever made me laugh. Thus, I'm not sure what purpose either serves/served, other than to give away free sweets". Another commented "Children do not require a lifestyle magazine. They have no lives". Scary!
The opinions of serious minded people continued on the unfortunately titled http://coxsoft.blogspot.com featuring the view that "The Dandy was never more than a 10-minute read, which is the reason I never bought it as a kid. Plus the art was lousy and the stories daft".
http://gymedia.wordpress.com/ had thoughtful albeit scaremongering musings on the subject: "Eight-year-old kids should never ‘be in the loop’, they need not know of a single trend and the only must-do should be occasional homework and fun-having. If we don’t do something about this vile trend of the ‘adultification’ of children we’ll end up with an even meaner, more aggressive society than we already have. We’ll have kids that have no childhood and no ignorance of the horrors of the world".
http://norock.tumblr.com postulated "I suspect, like when Look-In turned into Now, the resulting product Dandy Xtreme will last about two months before they pull the plug".
Missing the point and thinking The Dandy was canceled, someone at http://www.djhistory.com moaned "The dream is over. I can't believe it lasted this long - it was crap even when I was a kid".
http://whoopdedoo.net sez "The relaunch of the Dandy reeks with a desperation that Dan would be proud of, but the worry is that it will be the comic’s last chance before yet another one of my childhood loves bites the dust and skips off into the desert sunset".
http://benbaker.tumblr.com wondered "Exactly how stupid ARE kids today?"
On the forum at The Dandy's own official website, Mike of Glasgow yelled "New Dandy=rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Not too keen on change obviously.
A calmer reaction came from MikeyB who commented on MySpace "If something is to survive in the modern world it needs to be able to change. Well done Dandy for FINALLY getting bold! I wish Dandy the best of lucky and hope it remains the world's oldest comic".
Over on the Comics UK forum the Dandy makeover has provoked quite a debate. Beano artist Kev F explained " In the thousands of kids I have worked with since January this year, I have met a few dozen Dandy readers and two 2000AD readers (you could make that 7 or 8 2000AD readers if you include the teachers, and one headmaster, who booked me in the first place). Not a scientific report, but my view from the chalkface. Possibly helping to illustrate why The Dandy may be having to change its marketing".
On the same forum, Peter Gray's reaction was more adverse: "The Dandy should of ended........the magazine should just be called Extreem........it was really horrible!the ugly Dad was not nice nothing wrong with him......the sister with bad BO...it all was just pointless.....not funny.......and sick.."
"Big Simon" then commented "Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful... DUMBED DOWN Dandy..... Now it includes page after page of 'barfing', 'pimping', 'gross farting', 'kicks in da butt', 'megga farts', 'Dude, you got wacked!', 'turds' and 'eggy pumps'... Do MOST kids really speak like this? Mine certainly don't. Incredibly, on page 7 there is even a photograph of a child pretending to lick sh*t off his hand! See it if you don't believe me!"
"Conor B" who is closer to The Dandy's target age group said "Bought it. Read it. Loved it".
Paul Twist added "I would've loved a comic like that 20 years ago. Oink! had The Plops, after all. I agree it's a shame that The Dandy is, to all intents and purposes, dead, but kids of today aren't the same as kids of 20, 30, 40+ years ago - we've had all the arguments before so I won't say any more".
DJDogfart said "Should've spent my 2 quid on a pint of beer.... Rubbish, I give it 6 months tops". (Prompting me to reply "If you're old enough to buy beer you're too old for The Dandy".)
Reedee said " It doesn't really feel like The Dandy at all. As others here have mentioned, what surprised me most was that this now appears to be a publication aimed solely at the pre-teen boys market".
Sidnny summed it up with "Please excuse my ignorance, but I assume that this revamp has occurred because DC Thomson is trying to save The Dandy from folding due to poor sales. If that is the case, then I applaud them for trying their best to save it. And from what I can gather, this has not been their only attempt".
And the debate raged on...and on...
Big Simon said that his 7 year old was disappointed with the changes, which was fair comment. However, most of the adverse comment across the internet has come from adults whose main opinion seems to be something like "It's not like it was when I was younger". Of course it isn't! The point many of those people have missed is that British comics have always adapted to suit changes in society.
As for the claim that kids don't lead hectic lives, the lives of kids today can be more "hectic"; not in a stressful way, but in the fact that they have more opportunities for playing sports, or going out for the weekend (many parents didn't have cars 50 years ago), and more leisure distractions in DVDs, PC games, etc. (Few of my friends' kids read comics. They're too busy playing squash, horse riding, playing PC games, or doing the tons of homework they have now.)
It's hardly surprising that comics now often feature computer game news, cheats, DVD and movie news, as they're now in direct competition with the numerous computer game mags and suchlike. Kids aren't in newsagents on a Saturday morning anymore. They're down the games stores looking at the latest x-box or PS3 offerings. (Which again brings us back to my old opinion: get comics into games stores, publishers! It's where your target audience is!)
As for my opinion of Dandy Xtreme: it's pretty much as I expected. (It was clear that The Dandy was heading this way for some time, as features and "gross humour" had steadily increased over the past several years.) I liked the Whizzer and Chips two-in-one format (16 page Dandy Comix inside 20 page Dandy Xtreme) and the 1946 Desperate Dan strip was a nice surprise (not sure how the kids will react to such an old strip though). My regret is that less comics pages means less work for The Dandy's artists. Not good, but sadly part and parcel of a freelancer's life.
To quosh some myths that have sprung up this week: Dandy Comix is not "mostly reprint"; 5 out of 16 pages are. This is not the first time Desperate Dan has gone to using reprint (it turned to reprint for many years after the original artist, Dudley Watkins, died in 1969). Nor does the comic contain "a French reprint strip"; Captain Hookless is British and brand new.
Admittedly, I didn't care much for the magazine section, but then I'm 48 so I'm not expected to. I thought the "gross humour" was mostly harmless, but I thought the pic of the kid apparently licking crap off his hand crossed a line that should not have been crossed. (Actually it's chocolate spread with the looks of it, but the inference is that it's something more unpleasant.)
I can understand why DC Thomson have made these changes to The Dandy. Toxic has successfully been reflecting the current "gross humour" trend for the past five years and Dandy Xtreme does seem to be very much trying to get a slice of that action. Whether it'll pay off or not remains to be seen.
Some people are saying that "it's no longer a comic" because of the number of non-comics pages. However, a little research proves that when The Dandy started in 1937 it had 28 pages... but only 15 of them were devoted to comic strips! Likewise, comics from the "golden age" of the early 20th Century, such as Illustrated Chips, only had 50% comic material.
As Jeremy Briggs said on the Down the Tubes Blog "What to us is the traditional British weekly comic full of picture strips with speech balloons really only gained its dominance after the Second World War and in particular in the early Fifties. Before that what we would think of as the weekly British adventure comics were the story papers. They had pages upon pages of text stories with a couple of spot illustrations per story, and maybe a couple of pages of comic strip to break up the monotony of the solid text. Even the more visual humour titles had text stories in them".
People tend to compare today's comics with those of their childhood and sometimes that leads to unfair criticism. Stepping back and looking at the bigger picture - the entire 100 plus year history of British comics, - it becomes clear that children's comics have evolved for every generation. Whether we as adults like those changes is irrelevant. (It's like complaining that toys are no longer made of tin, or that tv shows aren't in black and white anymore. Society isn't static.) Whether the publishers have accurately reflected what kids want is important. In the case of Dandy Xtreme, time will tell.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Today's edition of the Daily Mirror announces that Andy Capp, the strip about the hard-drinking, work-shy Geordie is fifty years old tomorrow. The paper celebrates the anniversary with a spread reprinting a few choice examples of the strip from the last five decades. Unfortunately the reproduction of some of the strips (particularly the newer ones) is appalling, with low-resolution pixels breaking up the linework. An unintentional indication of how standards and care of presenting strips has fallen at the Mirror over the last half-Century.
Andy Capp was the creation of cartoonist Reg Smythe, who in 1957 was asked to create a new strip for the Northern editions of the Daily Mirror. The character he came up with reflected the post-war environment of the Mirror's mainly blue-collar readers. Everyone knew an "Andy Capp type", and some might even admit to his flaws in themselves.
Above: Andy Capp from The Daily Mirror dated Sept 18th 1962.
Initially a single-panel gag, Andy Capp later became a strip appearing on the Laughter gag cartoon page, then on its own, beside news items. It was common practice for the Mirror in the sixties to feature various strips and cartoons throughout the paper (as Private Eye does today) as well as having a page with a tier of three other regular strips (Garth, The Larks, The Flutters). The newspaper was well served for comic strips in those years. Today's attitude to comics sadly gives them far less prominence.
Andy Capp became a huge success with the readers and soon started appearing in all editions of the Daily Mirror across the country. By 1958 the first Andy Capp Book appeared; an twice-annual softback collecting the best of the gags/strips. The second one (1959) is particularly collectible as it was designed in the shape of a flask of beer. The "bottle top" of which featured a flicker book; hold it side on and flip through the 96 pages and a 48-frame cartoon of Andy swigging a bottle of beer takes form. Turn the book over and flip the pages again and it's 48 frames of Andy's wife Florrie "dodging the empty bottle".
The latter is a dark aspect of the strip which has long been dropped from the current version. Shockingly, Andy was a wife-beater. Apparently a situation for gags in the 1950s, it's now rightly considered unacceptable. Unsurprisingly, the tribute in today's Daily Mirror makes no mention of it. Yet back in 1958 the first Andy Capp Book leads with a cartoon showing Flo sitting on the floor of the house beside broken crockery with Andy proudly stating "Look at it this way, honey, I'm a man of few pleasures, and one of them 'appens to be knockin' yer about."
Another aspect of the strip that has vanished since the original days is Andy's once-permanent cigarette sticking out of his mouth. When Reg Smythe gave up smoking in 1987, so did Andy.
Andy Capp is probably the most famous British comics character in the world. Reprinted in newspapers across the globe for several decades, he has undoubtedly been read by more people than Dan Dare or Dennis the Menace for example. The Mirror claims Andy Capp may have influenced the creations of both Homer Simpson and Jim Royale (from the tv series The Royale Family). They're probably right! I'd also venture that he was also an influence on Coronation Street's 1960s character Stan Ogden, and that Hilda Ogden was inspired in part by Flo Capp. (Hilda and Flo even both had their hair in permanent curlers.) Andy himself appeared as a tv series in 1988 starring ex-Likely Lad James Bolam. An interesting series, but not too popular unfortunately.
In 1960 Fleetway tried to capitalize on Andy's popularity by calling their new children's comic Buster, Son of Andy Capp. Indeed, Buster did have a replica of Andy's distinctive checked flat cap obscuring his eyes, although the "Son of.." sub-title was soon dropped because I understand that Reg Smythe was never happy with the connection. (Andy and Flo were childless in the Mirror.)
Reg Smythe died in 1998 aged 81, but the strip continued under the capable hands of writer Roger Kettle and artist Roger Mahoney. Two men to fill Reg's shoes, but they do a grand job.