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Friday, August 17, 2012

Comic Cuts - 17 August 2012

I've spent the whole week battling a general lack of enthusiasm, punctuated every now and then by the urge to get on with things which soon wore off. I usually write in three sessions during the day with the morning and afternoon sessions separated by a quite lengthy break to give my eyes a chance to readjust. Then there's an evening break and I'll come back to the computer after Mel has gone to bed.

So I've managed to work reasonably well in the mornings (Monday and Wednesday were OK), but the afternoons have been a bit of a washout, although I did do some gardening Monday and my Mum was over on Tuesday, so work wasn't an option. My late night sessions involved mostly catching up with mail, looking at things people were pointing me at on Facebook and listening to one or other of the Edinburgh Fringe podcasts that pop up daily - Richard Herring's Edinburgh Fringe Podcast, Peacock and Gamble Edinburgh Podcast, Amnesty's Secret Comedy Podcast (twice a week) and more general news from the Edinburgh Fringe Show.

The Guardian turned down a couple of pieces – one due to lack of space and one due to it being covered by someone else – which is always disappointing, although I did get a couple of nice books from Egmont Kustannus in Finland which had appeared last year and contained some work I did back in early 2010. It's a crying shame that there are classic British comics being reprinted in Scandinavia but hardly any here in their home land. They're doing The Steel Claw next and a second Ian Kennedy war strip collection. Planeta DeAgostini in Spain were doing a bunch of reprints (Kelly's Eye, Trigan Empire, Steel Claw) back in 2010-11... I don't know if they're still running but there were at least five Steel Claw volumes.

This news coincides with the revelation that D. C. Thomson are closing down The Dandy. The coincidence that the announcement was made just as a 75-year anniversary history of the comic was released shouldn't escape people; but there's no getting away from the fact that sales of The Dandy, the older but always the less popular in the Beano/Dandy pairing, have gone down from 2 million copies a week at their peak to just a few thousand.

The figure quoted by all sources of 8,000 is the weekly circulation figure from late 2011 following the revamp. An ABC audit set the figure for July to December 2011 at 7,489. The latest ABC figures for January through June 2012 have yet to be announced, but I'm guessing from the news of Dandy's demise being leaked ahead of their appearance that the next set of figures are going to be even worse.

The groundswell of support from the  comics' community began immediately after news spread of The Dandy's tenuous position. The Guardian broke the news on Monday evening and the majority of comments from the public could be summed-up as: (a) surprise at learning it was still going; (b) shock at the £1.99 price. Jamie Smart, one of the chief architects of the last Dandy relaunch, commented:
The last two years of The Dandy have been an absolute triumph for British comics, a confident love of sillyness, slapstick and mess. A great wave of ridiculous characters and stories, an unashamed love of all things absurd.
__It also ushered in a host of new artists, fresh talent, being given their first break in the industry. It wanted to try new ideas, new things, giving us free reign to be as silly as we wanted. It was a playground...
__So, to see this news emerging, it’s pretty crushing. It’s no exaggeration to say The Dandy is a British institution, and a pillar for British comics. It has been essential to our culture. As the artists involved towards what may be its final days, we are INCREDIBLY proud and honoured to work on such a comic, to be given the opportunity to entertain children. We believe we have delivered real quality comics, and that The Dandy has been a shining light in what is a shrinking industry.
__So here’s what you can do. Go and buy The Dandy. Go and buy The Dandy every week. Every week until the end they’re forecasting. Grab a copy for your kids, grab a copy for yourself, or hey just grab a copy as a possible collector’s editions if you want. Just buy The Dandy. Chances are many people haven’t seen it since they were kids, so have a look and see what we’ve been doing. See how much heart we’ve been putting in.
Sun cartoonist Steve Bright, as Lew Stringer noted, was the only newspaper commentator to mention the human cost of closing The Dandy. Artists and writers and editors pour their hearts into the comic and their characters and – whether you like the results or not – this isn't the easiest of times to be losing a job.

And that's potentially what will happen. On Thursday, D. C. Thomson released the following statement via Twitter:
DC Thomson is continuing to develop its magazines operation & portfolio to create an efficient business model that will build on the strength of our existing brands and products. There are many challenges within the industry at present, but we’re excited that the digital revolution has also given us an opportunity to innovate and develop.
__We’re celebrating the fact that The Dandy has been in print for 75 years and we’re doing a lot of planning to ensure that our brands and characters can live on in other platforms for future generations to enjoy.
__We will release a special edition of The Dandy to mark its 75th anniversary on 4 DEC 12. This issue will be the last printed and will include a reprint of issue #1. There’s still a healthy appetite for The Dandy so we’re making it relevant for a new generation.
__There are exciting plans in the pipeline to take the title in a different direction and ensure that the next 75 yrs are just as popular.
__We’re counting down 110 days until the 75th anniversary bash & we’re working on some tremendously exciting things for The Dandy's future. What comes online then that will set the tone for the future. We’re excited that the digital revolution has given us an opportunity to innovate and develop and we’re confident that future generations will continue to enjoy The Dandy.
How The Dandy will be developed post-print will be revealed in the months ahead, but I'm not convinced that a web version will satisfy the fans who have clung onto the print version through thick and thin. The major problem faced by D. C. Thomson will be how to extract revenue from the title once it moves online. The Dandy does have "heritage brands" (as marketing folks like to call them) like Desperate Dan and Korky the Cat, but young kids have shown an unwillingness to pay for things – and free web comics are plentiful – and parents might not cough up for an online subscription in these straightened times. How D. C. Thomson overcome these problems... well, we will just have to wait and see.

And one must ask "Whither Beano?" The two papers – three counting Beano Max – are considered a unit for advertising purposes and the loss of The Dandy may make advertisers, already few and far between, even more wary of spending their money on the printed comic.

The frustrating thing is that, at the same time, the category "Children's Comic Strip Fiction" was the second highest genre in growth in the first half of 2012. 2012 sales figures reached £1.3 million, a rise of £0.6m or 86% over the same figure from last year. It was beaten only by biographies of royals, which rose by 133% thanks to the interest boosted by the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. I don't know if the figures have been skewed by one particularly popular series (£600,000 would only be 75,000 copies of a £7.99 book) or whether that's a general trend, but let's hope it continues.

More sad news this week was the passing of Harry Harrison, whose science fiction I read from the age of 14 or 15. The Stainless Steel Rat, Deathworld, Make Room! Make Room!, Bill the Galactic Hero and many others. Harry was a very good satirist - his comedy novels should be read as satires on the military. He did, of course, also write for British comics. I'll try to sort out a quick cover gallery for Sunday – so if there isn't a post tomorrow, you'll know why.

For the same reason I'm a little short of scans this week: I picked up another Wilbur Smith novel on Saturday, a 12th printing of Hungry As The Sea from Pan with a cover by Kevin Tweddle. Secondly (and finally!) we have a Digit Book movie tie-in of Poe's Fall of the House of Usher. My thanks to David Ainsworth for sending over the original scan.

(* Dandy website image is by Jamie Smart; statistics for Children's Comic Strip Fiction sales via Laura Sneddon.)

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