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Thursday, March 05, 2009

The DFC coming to a close?

Random House, the parent company of David Fickling Books, publishers of The DFC, have announced that the subscription-only comic is to fold unless a buyer can be found within the next few weeks.

The official announcement came on Tuesday morning:
Children’s Comic, the DFC, Up For Sale

The DFC, a weekly comic (launched May 2008) for boys and girls is up for sale, following a decision by The Random House Group to cease publication.

Philippa Dickinson, MD RHCB, said: "We are very proud of the DFC and the reaction it received from families, schools and especially the children who have enjoyed reading it. It is an innovative concept which we have been very happy to back. There can be no successes without taking risks, after all. Unfortunately, in the current economic climate, we have decided that the DFC is not commercially viable within our organisation.

"David Fickling, the staff at the DFC, and all the comic’s contributors have worked tirelessly to produce what is an amazing weekly publication and we would be delighted if a buyer could be found who would like to take the DFC on as a going concern."

If no buyer is found, the title will close on March 27th.
There has been little time for reaction. Jamie Smart's post on his blog perhaps sums up the situation best—especially with regards to how the closure of the comic will affect freelancers who have found a regular home in the paper:
It's a real shame to announce that The DFC is to cease publication, effective within the next coupla weeks. You may have heard about this already across the comicky internet, there have been rumblings about it for a couple of months. Unfortunately it just wasn't doing well enough for these crazy economic times.

This is genuinely a big loss, to British comics in particular. The DFC was the best comic of its kind, putting out weekly serial strips and one-offs, all of different styles and tones. The variety was at times fantastic, and the art exceptional. They really found a formula that worked, and deserved to become an institution. Not least, all the artists involved were absolutely lovely, and the editorial staff were easy-going yet focused, obviously deeply passionate about the stories they wanted told.

No one knows what happens from here. Maybe a buyer will step in and save The DFC at the last minute, or maybe the rights to our characters will end up being exploited elsewhere. But it was a noble and admirable project, as enjoyable to read as it was to work on. It deserved a lot more.

This wacky economy thing is curious how it filters down, and to be honest I'm starting to become very concerned about how it's impacting me. With the loss of The DFC that's half my work disappeared. I still have The Dandy, and a few other things on the horizon, but realistically to stay afloat I need things to turn around, and fast. I can't afford to spend weeks drawing comic books, so I don't see myself doing that anymore. I've spent the past month in a weird haze, doing occasional work but mostly getting to the end of the day and not being entirely sure what I've done. I'm spending huge amounts of time working up projects and sending them out to various outlets, but this is a slow and very wearing process. Fact is, everything's drying up.
Jim Medway, whose 'Crab Lane Crew' is due to return to The DFC in issue 40, due out on Friday, argues on his Paw Quality Comics blog that the title may have tried to be all things to all people...
Some will argue it was trying to be too many things at once - attempting to entertain too large a cross section from 8yr old girls to 14yr old boys. Yes, in a more buoyant time it might have existed as 2 or 3 different titles, more specifically targetted. I was always somewhat frustrated by the subscription model they adopted - it relied on benevolent (and fairly well-off) parents to commit £12 a month on your behalf, rather than being something you could simply purchase, with coins, from a newsagent. But then how do you launch a new title onto the shelves when the very priviledge of being in WH Smiths swallows up 35% of the cover price? Or the stability of the shelves is not as predicable as a year ago (loss of Woolworths)?

While really depressed that this brave venture hasn't been able to gather the momentum and subscriptions it deserved, I'm proud to have been amongst all the other creators, and feel grateful to the editorial team for the opportunity and their honorable treatment of those slaving away on the drawing boards and computers. My own competance has come on leaps and bounds thanks to their encouragement, enthusiasm and deadlines.
Emma Vieceli echoes the sentiments in Jim's last paragraph:

This is of course tragic news and I could easily sit here and mourn its loss, be saddened by the abrupt end and curse the gods of comics for allowing such a thing to happen.

But that’s not important. What’s important is to remember that the DFC did not fail. It achieved so much and, if economy hadn’t stuck its smelly nose in, would have continued to do so. We never planned on a rocket journey for the magazine, but a gentle cycle ride, gathering followers and reputation as it went….it was expected to take time. The world economy, it seems, did not have time to give. Random House can’t really be blamed if they just don’t have the money to support the DFC any more…and the team certainly can’t be blamed for anything as I’ve never worked with a more enthusiastic, fun, awesome bunch of editors, creators and publishers. While it was here, the DFC was true to David Fickling’s vision - and what a vision it was. Pure comics. No ads, no cutbacks on quality - just well produced and high quality fun. The feedback and support we’ve seen from readers and their families, and -hell-from the creators ourselves have proved beyond doubt that the DFC was a success….and who knows what will happen from here. Friends and contacts that were made won’t be lost. And I can’t see many of those stories burying their heads forever….and David Fickling himself? Something tells me he will bounce right back with ten times more awesome.

Thank you to everyone who supported us and the comic. You’re all wonderful.

It would seem that most creators believe the comic will fold—with issue 43—and finding a buyer is unlikely.

If it folds The DFC will be seen as a brave and noble experiment.

The first inkling for most people of the imminent arrival of The DFC was a series of supplements published by The Guardian newspaper in late 2007/early 2008; "The Comic" featured "Good Dog, Bad Dog" by Dave Shelton, "Monkey Nuts" by the Etherington brothers, "Robot Girl" by John Aggs and "Cora's Breakfast" by Nick Abadzis.

As the launch on 30 May 2008 approached, the quality papers ran numerous stories on the upcoming paper. David Fickling had a newspaper-friendly ace up his sleeve in the shape of Philip Pullman, author of the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy and the 'Sally Lockhart' mysteries. Pullman's "The Adventures of John Blake" debuted in the first issue and guaranteed several feet of copy in the wake of the release of The Golden Compass.

The format was a reinvention of the old anthology comic that many of us read as children. The 36-page, no ads format could sum up most weekly comics from the 1950s onwards. Advertising was never a major part of comics except towards Christmas. Mind you, it didn't need to be when circulations of above 200,000 were the norm.

The lack of advertising may have been an aesthetic choice but it was unlikely that the paper would have attracted anything but internal advertising anyway. As a subscription-only title, its circulation was always going to be pegged. The subs could be paid in various ways, including an £11.99 monthly direct debit; I've a feeling the latter only came in at a later date. That meant a yearly or six-monthly subscription had to be found in the early days and while many people like myself may have been able to find a spare £3 a week for the paper, a spare £70 for six months was never really on the cards.

The DFC launched strongly. I linked to a number of reviews when the first issue appeared and the positives far outweighed the negatives. The major problem would have come on the run-up to November when renewals would have become due. Apparently there were problems, as noted by Lew Stringer, who recalls:
As a subscriber I experience problems several times with missing issues. The first 25 issues were impressively bang on time, every Friday morning. After that, things started to go wrong, with renewals not starting with the issues they should have, copies missing, and subscription confirmation emails not arriving. Other subscribers I've spoken to experienced similar problems, which makes me wonder just how widespread this problem was and how many subscribers it cost them.
The introduction of a monthly subscription would have exacerbated any existing problems. It also meant that people had a reasonably quick jumping off point rather than having to wait six months before making their decision whether to discontinue their subscriptions.

The main problem with subscriptions is that, after the initial rush of publicity, you need to continually keep the title in front of the public. Word of mouth will only get you so far—and certainly it doesn't hold a candle to standing in a newsagent flicking through a copy. There was an experiment in November when a single issue was distributed through Tescos supermarkets. How successful this was is unknown; perhaps it staved off the inevitable for a few months more, perhaps it didn't. The fact that the experiment isn't being repeated makes me feel that it was not as well received as the publishers hoped.

I've worked on a subscription-only mag which we advertised with a giveaway in The Guardian. The advantage of Look and Learn over The DFC was that it cost virtually nothing to put together. The art and text already existed and had been paid for. Publishing 36 pages of all new material a week is a costly business and it requires revenue to keep it going. The DFC had two potential revenue streams—the subscriptions for the weekly comic and, over time, collections gathering the same material in graphic novel format. Presumably this was the route Random House hoped to follow.

Unfortunately, the current economic crisis has put the skids on what has been a mini-golden age of British comics. Print costs soared in 2008, hit first by the high price of oil and then by the collapse of the pound against other currencies. Cheap foreign printing is no longer as cheap as it used to be and niche books—the category most publishers consider comics reprints to be in—are the first to suffer. Random House has made no announcements of titles derived from The DFC and that, too, could have been a second factor in the sudden demise of the comic.

The real shame is that what few strips I've seen from The DFC looked good. I'm convinced I would have loved the paper had I been subscribing to it. The reviews I've seen have all been positive and certainly the creators involved in the paper have shown a devotion to the title that goes beyond the usual cashing the cheque. Sarah McIntyre perhaps sums up the feelings of contributors in this post:
I'm not looking forward to the inevitable flock of British naysayers, those guys who sit around on internet blog sites and say 'I told you so'. Yes, David Fickling took a huge risk with this comic. But he also started up a lot of careers in comics that are going to go far and got us really excited with his enthusiasm and dedication. And I respect him so, so much for that, and want to say that I am proud of him and fond of him and I hope the rest of the comics community will be supportive to all the people who put so much of themselves into this project. Thanks so much to my editors, Ben Sharpe and Will Fickling, who helped me along from my first comic, when I wasn't sure what I was doing. Everyone on the DFC team was lovely. I would say I'll miss them but I think many of us are going to stay in touch.
More creator reaction:
  • Faz Chaudhury, colourist on "Good Dog, Bad Dog", has been working on a strip called "Dead Pets" for The DFC (samples here and here).
  • James Turner, writer/artist of "Super Animal Adventure Squad".
(* Illustrations © The DFC.)

8 comments:

Mike O'D said...

Steve,
What a damn shame. My 12 year old daughter loves coming home from school on Friday to her copy of the DFC - she sits on the sofa devouring it for an hour and it's the start of her weekend. Of course she has her favourites and her dislikes but the former outweigh the latter and overall it's a good mixture of imaginative adventure serials and whacky off the wall stuff. Don't know if there's any connection but it was around the time we started getting it my daughter's reading tastes broadened and she started reading a lot more. Let's hope someone steps in to keep it going, preferably at the newsagents as well (my daughter's school friends haven't got a clue when she tells them, it's DFC day today!).

Tell you what, Jonathan Ross could afford to bankroll it couldn't he? How about a bit of Comic Relief for the UK's comic reading kids, Jon?

Piley said...

Very sorry to read this Steve. Have been in there from the start, and as a 40-something thought it was a realy gem. Was hoping to introduce my son when he was old enough, but alas it looks unlikely now... only as a piece of history will he now find out about those stories.

It all seemed so promising too... my subscription number was over 48,000, but i'm guessing that maybe a significant amount of those 6 month subscriptions didn't get re-newed in these 'credit crunch' days.

I don't think a take over looks promising either. It's obviously not taking the money it needs, so who is going to be interested in taking on that... don't supose there are going to be many charity cases taking it on for the good of the kiddies either.

DFC? Done For Comic?? I hope not, but it looks that way. Shame.

Piley

Sarah said...

Thanks, Steve. We all really loved the DFC, and we're doing our best to make the last issue memorable. These have been good times.

Steve said...

Hi Sarah,

Comments posted here and directly to me prove that the DFC was much loved by its creators and I think the joy of working for the paper showed in the quality of the material...

... although I'm basing my comment above on a single issue seen plus the views of people whose opinions I trust.

I'm still hoping that some of the strips from the DFC will make it into book form. A logical move from Random House would be to put together a "best of" collection, although they may be a little shy given the problems of marketing the comic. But at least they could get that into Waterstones, WH Smith and other outlets that the DFC couldn't reach. Random House have been quite successful with their Eagle reprints. I guess it depends whether anyone in a position to green light a project can distinguish between the reprints aimed at the nostalgia market and a modern comic reprint aimed at entertaining modern children.

barnaby said...

Was much saddened by this news. The DFC is brilliant, both my boys love it and have done since it first emerged cryptically in the Guardian.

Can't help wondering what it would cost to stage a subscriber buy out.

The web is a powerful tool and I would be happy to evangelise the DFC to everyone we know. and would be happy to stick a decent chunk of cash into it.

And... although I imagine that the DFC does not yet make money, it is much loved.

I have seen paypal based ways of running something like this where people pledge a maximum sum.

Steve said...

Barnaby Gunning just posted a link to his new blog "Save the DFC". The link didn't work so I've deleted the message (just in case you're wondering what happened to it, Barnaby).

The correct link is Save the DFC

barnaby gunning said...

thanks steve - I am sooooo useless.

Anonymous said...

My son is distraught. He has autistic spectrum disorder and Fridays have become DFC days for him. He loved it.