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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Comic Bounce could save The DFC

... so says Caroline Horn in a news item published in The Bookseller (5 April). The growth in sales of graphic novels could see the title relaunched. David Fickling, founder of The DFC, has said that he is exploring different options for the comic's future. "It's a special creation that should come back and needs to come back in some way."

That way could be along the graphic novels route, which has already been given a recent boost by the introduction of a dedicated graphic novels section by Borders' stores. The new section was launched in early March and has resulted in an overall boost in sales of 800% for those titles on display. According to Borders' children's book buyer J. P. Hunting, "Some of the top sellers so far have been the Horowitz adaptations, and the Star Wars Clone Wars series has been selling well. We're very happy with how the sales have started off and expect sales to increase further as people become more aware of the area in store."

For those of us who are fairly long in the tooth, the growth of the graphic novel has been promoted as the saviour of comics before, back in the days when there was a British comics industry that didn't consist almost wholly of titles aimed at the nursery-age group. Twenty years ago, 2000AD was selling around 100,000 copies a week, the Judge Dredd Megazine perhaps half that number, and Crisis had been launched with early sales averaging around 65,000. Nowadays, 2000AD probably sells around a fifth of what it did 20 years ago and the Megazine may be selling half that figure.

The success of titles like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns prompted a lot of coverage in newspapers: graphic novels were the latest fashion accessories. But once you'd read those two, and picked up a copy of Maus, there wasn't much else on the market for adults. Publishers rushed to get new titles out, leading to some interesting releases from the likes of Gollancz and HarperCollins, but they were overwhelmed by the avalanche of Star Wars, Star Trek and Marvel collections that briefly filled the shelves. The early promise of the "comics aren't for kids" headlines rapidly fizzled out and the only headline news graphic novels made soon after was that they had became the most popular targets for shoplifters.

Twenty years on we're actually in a slightly better position: there are more titles out now that are worth picking up. Watchmen may have climbed into the best-sellers charts briefly, but now it sits alongside the likes of Alice in Sunderland and Tamara Drewe; Rebellion, publishers of 2000AD, have a slate of collections out that help fill the void in the young teenage boys' market; collections of Commando and War Picture Library may be aimed at the 'nostalgia' market by publishers, but they're also being picked up by boys in the same age bracket as 2000AD; publishers like Warner Books and Egmont are publishing graphic novels for an audience roughly the same age with their adaptations of Anthony Horowicz's Alex Rider novels, Dave Almond's The Savage (illustrated by Dave McKean) and the upcoming Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing; Classics Illustrated and the Classical Comics are pushing comics back into the classroom...

What it adds up to is a comics savvy audience. Reading comics seems to have skipped a generation but it's now making a comeback.

Now it's up to the publishers to have the right product on the market that will sustain this new interest. It's a shame that The DFC folded when it did, before any collections of material from the weekly comic were released. Ideally, The DFC would have been available on the newsstands each week, rather than by subscription; the first collections should have come out quickly to capitalise on the early publicity, especially when they had such an ace up their sleeves as Philip Pullman, and collections put out as soon as enough material from each strip became available.

Of course, when I say "ideally" I'm basing my whole publishing model on a gut feeling and I'm talking in broad strokes. The British comics industry rarely reprinted material in collections of any description (once you mention the Look & Learn Book of the Trigan Empire and the Billy's Boots Summer Special you start to struggle); but in an industry where back issues are not an option, you need some way to bring new readers up to speed on characters and collections (graphic novels, whatever you want to call them) are an ideal way of doing that. This was always the European model for publishing long-running comics: launch an album of old material when the characters were about to appear in a new adventure in the weekly comic. In Britain, to boost a long-running but flagging title, you launched a whole new comic: if it was a huge success it would be allowed to run, if not, it was merged with an established comic bringing new readers to that title.

I've no evidence that the above publishing model would have saved The DFC and I'm not the person/publisher risking their money. It's easy to yell "That's not the way I'd have done it," when you've nothing to lose. It really is easy: look... the recently released Roy of the Rovers Souvenir Special that's available in W. H. Smiths right now. That's not the way I'd have done it. The back cover boasts "12 pages of Roy of the Rovers action inside". There's actually 14 and they're in two batches of eight and six pages taken from the weekly comic, so they start mid-way through a story and you'll never know if Melchester win at Wembley/make it back to the top of the league. Most of the other stories end on a cliff-hanger so it's not a good reading experience. The daft thing is that there must be plenty of stories from Annuals and Summer Specials, complete in themselves, that could have been used featuring the same characters. Or a longer chunk of Roy so that we could see what happened at Wembley rather than pondering over his odd change of hairstyle.

Put all this grinching down to frustration and having high hopes that we can see weekly comics back on the shelves in newsagents one day.

2 comments:

Peter Gray said...

I agree..

complete stories should of been used...as this is a one off special at the moment..taken from Annuals etc..
If it was a monthly special then it can have continuing stories in order..

Lets hope the DFC can come back..

Dominic Fox said...

The books that are interesting me are the compilations of Silver Surfer, The Punisher and Ghost Rider.
Commando comics are others that I collect as does my 19 year old brother. We were both 'educated' into comics at a young age.
James O'Barr's The Crow is another favourite of ours.
Yeah - and 'Guns n Roses' a western comic novel.