Friday, May 20, 2011

Comic Cuts - 20 January 2011

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I did a bit of a double-take earlier this week when I received an e-mail from the British Library asking whether they could archive Bear Alley as part of their UK Web Archive. I hadn't actually heard of the UK Web Archive but it has apparently been running since 2004 and has so far archived some 36,500. You can read more about its history and aims here, although I have to admit that I was a little confused by the constant reference to "UK" archive when the example they pointed me at was an Australian blog all about Sydney which doesn't really "reflect the diversity of lives, interests and activities throughout the UK, and demonstrate web innovation". A minor point. If they're actually covering the whole of the world wide web it makes it even more amazing that they've stumbled across Bear Alley amongst the 325 million websites that make up the internet.

Having quickly checked with various contributors, I've agreed to have Bear Alley archived, so we'll be joining the 0.01% elite that are currently being preserved by the British Library.

The British Library aren't the only ones that have been keeping an eye on my activities. The house we now rent (I can't believe we've already been here ten months!) had a garage conversion which I now use as my office. A path runs down one side to a side gate and there are trees running down the side of the path between this house and our neighbours. The office has a flat roof which local cats use as a short cut, so, every now and then, you can hear the pitter patter of little feet as a cat runs across the roof. Scared the bejesus out of me the first time I heard it, moreso the first time two cats met on the roof and had a catfight right above my head.

One particular cat has made our garden his own domain. Because his gold collar looked like the kind of 'bling' that's common these days, we've nicknamed him Blingy. As nicknames always develop and evolve, last week I was calling him 'The Blingmeister'. This week it's 'Snoop Catty Cat' because I was typing away the other day, turned my head to look out the window and found him staring straight at me. This isn't my best animal/rapper joke... I've yet to tell you about the Koi carp called Fishy Scent. I'll stop making jokes now.

A bit of actual British comics news. I'm sorry to see that Disney have put the skids under Marvel Heroes with their decision to disallow companies reprinting Marvel characters to create home-grown strips. Here in the UK, both Marvel Heroes and Spectacular Spider-Man, published by Panini UK, had strips originated by British creators. From now on, all strips featuring Marvel characters can only be created in the US.

Tony Ingram, in an article over on Down the Tubes, makes the valid point when he says this is a "sad loss as those magazines currently act as a gateway into Marvel for younger readers who then move on to Panini's reprint titles and possibly to the US originals." I've often argued that one of the reasons we no longer have the boys' adventure comics that we had when I was growing up is that vital links were severed in the chain that saw children introduced to comics pre-school; there were comics for all ages that you could progress to, whether it was humour comics or adventure comics aimed at a slightly younger age range. The ultimate example of this was, I believe, the Eagle group of titles, which had Robin for the very young and, as the readers grew older, they could progress to Swift (a unisex humour/adventure comic) and then to Girl or Eagle.

I'm not sure why this model failed, or whether it did fail. I do know that when Longacre Press revamped Swift in 1960 to aim it at a slightly older age group and then cancelled the title in 1963, there was a break in the chain that fed Girl and Eagle. Girl folded in 1964 and Eagle followed in 1969. I'm sure there were many other factors involved in the older titles folding (Girl's sales being undermined by the launch of Princess, for instance), but I suspect that the break in the chain caused by repositioning Swift was one of them.

"On the face of it, Disney's decision makes little sense," says Tony. "It will deprive creators of work and Panini of revenue, which admittedly isn’t [Disney's] problem (and may even be seen as a plus by them, since Panini are in competition with them in other areas), but more to the point it will deprive a section of their fan base of that way in to Marvel I mentioned, which can’t be good for business in the long run. And the only justification for it seems to be creating a uniform brand under Disney’s total control."

I couldn't agree more. There are almost no comics aimed at the junior school age group, and if schoolkids get out of the habit of reading comics, where will the next generation of Marvel readers come from in the UK? Isn't it ironic that Longacre Press (aka Odhams Press) was the publisher of the Power Group of comics that, for many fans, launched Marvel characters in the UK in the 1960s. Now, fifty years on, Disney are seemingly about to repeat the same mistakes that Longacre made.

Oddly enough, Panini UK may have resolved the potential problem as they're due to launch a ThunderCats comic to tie in with the new TV show that's due to hit the small screen in the autumn. I imagine it will be aimed at roughly the same age group that previously bought Marvel Heroes and should do well if the show is a hit. (The second dose of irony isn't lost on me... the original show inspired the long-running ThunderCats comic published in 1989-91 by Marvel UK.) Hopefully we will now see the next generation of comic readers growing up without the urge to move onto Marvel's older superhero titles. If there's a positive spin to be put on this, that could be good news for 2000AD, if it can hang on a few more years.

To be published in June
Bear Alley Books: Sales of Eagles Over the Western Front have been slow but steady. I'll be putting up the ordering information for volume two early next week in the hope of catching you all with some money in your pockets when pay day rolls around at the end of the month. I'll post a note here on Bear Alley when the info. goes up.

I've been hard at work on the next book but I've no idea how long it is going to take to write as I'm doing a little bit here, a little bit there, with only the occasional full day to work on it. I'm also trying to squeeze in some work on the next index, so there's a lot going on behind the scenes even if that's not reflected in the sedate way the Bear Alley Book website gets updated.

If you haven yet to pick up those missing issues of Comic World magazine, please get in touch soon as I've now run out of spares of nine issues. You can find a gallery of the covers here; I still have copies of the remaining 34 issues, although I'm down to only one or two copies of some, so grab 'em while you can!

Today's random scans...

A long, long time ago I did a cover gallery for John Wyndham... I think it was the first cover gallery I ever posted on Bear Alley. Well, I recently picked up a Penguin box set labelled The Best of John Wyndham. The covers were all by Peter Lord, as was the box, and they were so nice that I couldn't resist buying them... and sharing them with you. Rather than cram them in here, I'll do a second post, so you'll find them if you scroll down.

Next week, and, indeed, over the weekend, we'll have more from Paul Temple. See you next week.


  1. Hi Steve

    Congratulations on becoming part of the UK Web Archive -- a well-deserved honour, presumably because you cover material that doesn't get written about anywhere else.

    David Simpson

  2. Steve,
    On your comments regarding the lack of comics for the younger readers I do so agree. Disney is just ignorant, but of course they care nothing for the history of U.K. comics or of a bit of innovation in reaching a wider audience.
    You have to wish Panini luck with their new venture and hope that it night go some way towards filling the void for the kids.
    I did also like the cat and the bling thing. Could be a lot worse staring in your window, heh.

  3. Hi Steve,

    I'm afraid you've got me to blame for the British Library thing; they got in touch with me about a month ago asking to archive Existential Ennui – which they since have – and as part of the process they asked if there were other blogs I could recommend to be archived. Naturally I thought of you! Glad they've followed up on it. If there's any website they needs preserving in perpetuity, it's yours.



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