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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Price of War

(* Jeremy Briggs is back with a look at the steadily increasing cost of Commando...)

Commando Prices

A bucket, a spade and a Commando comic. For many of us, our initiation into these little black and white digests was during the annual family holiday to the seaside. How many young minds imagined the beach they were sitting on being attacked by troops coming off landing craft, with defending machine gun nests concealed in the dunes, and Spitfires attacking Stukas in the skies above?

No doubt adults saw those seaside newsagents and confectioners as brash and tacky, but to young eyes they were a treasure trove of toys, sweets and comics. I could take you back to the exact spot in the seaside resort where I got so many copies of Commando and the two Picture Libraries, Battle and War. Physically that little newsagent's shop is long gone, demolished to make way for expensive sea view flats, but it lives on in my memory. As do the cries of "Banzai!" or "Gott In Himmel!".

Today, more years later that I care to remember, the cries are just as likely to be "By the gods!" or "Tarnation!" as World War Two often gives way to Roman antiquity or Wild West America. Commando is still there if you look hard enough for it. Many are lost in newsagent's shelves amongst the chaos of the A4 sized nursery and primary school age comics with their "free" gifts, but some shops have special clip on display racks that push Commando and the other remaining D C Thomson digests to a more prominent position.

Today's issues of Commando are, to all intensive purposes, the same as the very first issue in 1961. Little has changed save for the price and, perhaps surprisingly, it still doesn't take in external advertising. Traditionally October has been the month when the price of Commando goes up, but this year it looks like we have been let off for good behaviour, with the annual price rise this year only being 5p rather than the more typical 10p of recent years.

Issue 1 June 1961 1/- (decimalised to 5p)
No price increase until 1971
1971 October 6p
1972 No price increase
1973 No price increase
1974 No price increase
1975 January 7p
1976 April 8p
1977 October 9p
1978 November 10p
1979 October 12p
1980 October 14p
1981 October 16p
1982 October 18p
1983 October 20p
1984 October 22p
1985 October 24p
1986 October 26p
1987 October 28p
1988 October 30p
1989 October 32p
1990 October 35p
1991 October 40p
1992 October 45p
1993 October 50p
1994 No price increase
1995 No price increase
1996 December 55p
1997 November 60p
1998 October 65p
1999 October 70p
2000 October 75p
2001 October 80p
2002 October 90p
2003 October £1.00
2004 No price increase
2005 October £1.10
2006 October £1.20
2007 October £1.25

As for sales figures, with no requirement for external advertising there is no advertising pack for the title to give its circulation numbers, but Commando writer Sean Blair told us recently on Down The Tubes that it sells over 1,000,000 copies a year. Remembering of course that there are actually 96 issues published each year, that means that the average sales figure per issue would be around 10,500 copies which doesn't sound quite so impressive. Yet that does mean that monthly sales figures are in the region of 84,000 and for any title these days that is a healthy number.

The other thing to consider from the above list is the cost of a Commando in relation to the weekly comics of the day. While it is not a direct comparison of like against like, if you walked into a newsagent looking for a comic, any comic, to read then for a long time buying a Commando was the expensive option. In July 1961 when the first Commando cost 1/- or 12d, Eagle cost only 5d. In 1973 when Hotspur cost 3p, Commando cost 6p. When 2000AD arrived in 1977 at 8p, Commando cost 9p. During the Falklands War in 1982 Warlord cost 14p while Commando cost 16p. As the weekly comics started to die out, in 1988 the very last issue of Battle cost 28p while Commando was 32p.

Today however the last of the old adventure weeklies, 2000AD, is £1.90 while the most popular of the new bi-weeklies, Doctor Who Adventures, is £1.99, so at £1.25 Commando is now much cheaper. Of course the modern A4 comics are glossy and colourful while digest-sized Commando has remained much the same as it was back in 1961.

Yet with the successful Commando: The Dirty Dozen reprint book and its three follow ups, plus at least one more promised for 2008, the Commando brand is probably more visible to the general public now than it has been for many years. So for all the suggestions that Commando is rather old fashioned perhaps Britain’s only war comic is having the last laugh after all.

(Commando is © D C Thomson Ltd.)

4 comments:

Daza said...

I'm always impressed by the distinctive wrap around cover layout. It's a design classic, and still look crisp and dynamic all these years later. DO we know who designed it?

Steve said...

I've no idea who did the actual design (almost certainly somebody in-house at D C Thomson's art department) but I imagine the man ultimately responsible would have been Commando's first editor, Chick Checkley.

Anonymous said...

As a follow on from my earlier comment..since the collections were huge here in NZ last Xmas..they were closely followed by the Anzacs collection....the local comic book store actually now has the regular issues prominently displayed, which they hadn't before. They are $NZ4.95. about 1.80 quid.
2000AD on the other hand is NZ$7, or 2.50 quid.
We receive them here some 10 weeks after the UK publication.
John

Steve said...

£1.80 sounds expensive -- as indeed does £1.25 -- but I wonder how that compares with the average price of a children's book these days. I seem to remember buying paperbacks for 12 1/2p shortly after the conversion to metric while Commando was 6p, or roughly half price; if I'm right to say that the average children's paperback costs around £4.99 these days (while adult books nowadays seem to be £7.99), that's a quarter of the price.

In those terms, Commando is better value for money than ever, and you still get 8 great adventures a month for a tenner.