Friday, December 23, 2011

Comic Cuts - 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

The tree is up and decorated, there's tinsel around all the light fittings and dangly things that brush the top of your head every time you walk through the living room. It's Christmas time in the Alley!

I've had a busy week on the run-up to Christmas, having decided to try and get Bear Alley Books back on track while everyone else is worrying about wrapping gifts and getting cards in the post. I had all my presents and cards sorted out a couple of weeks ago — which is shockingly organized for me as I usually leave everything to the last minute. See last week's column for a typical example. Mind you, at the tail end of last week the Guardian phoned at 9 o'clock Thursday night and asked for a piece on Joe Simon which was needed before noon the next day, so I wouldn't want anyone to think that I'm a complete slowcoach. The piece was posted on the Guardian website around 3 o'clock on Friday afternoon.

Since then I've been working on the last few original art boards that make up Pages from History, the C. L. Doughty collection. Not as easy a task as you might at first imagine; although they're lovely to look at, a scanner is an unforgiving way to treat a page. These boards are forty years old so you would expect a little wear and tear. The most time-consuming part is the lettering, which has been stuck onto the artwork with cow gum. It's slightly raised and has spent forty years rubbing against other boards so it is discoloured and, occasionally, needs a lot of restoration. Then there are the missing pages, the ones where the art boards disappeared long ago — I spent Monday morning scanning the printed versions and trying to make them look as good as the original artwork pages. Thankfully there was only four pages... although I managed to screw up the scanning and ended up doing the job twice.

As I write, artwork for 82 pages of the book has been cleaned up and there are 11 pages of original art still to go. The introduction is written in rough and those pages have been laid out, albeit in rough. There will also be a gallery of historical illustrations, but I've no idea how many pages that will run to until I start laying the pages out. Some are vignettes whilst others were designed to stretch across two pages of a magazine and I don't want to shrink them down too far. After all, one of the reasons for doing the book is to make the most of this unique opportunity to work from original artwork.

I managed to track down some sales figures for this year's annuals a couple of weeks ago and I can now provide an update. The latest total sales figures for Beano Annual 2012 is 108,325, for Moshi Monsters Official Annual 2012 99,955 and for Peppa Pig: Peppa and George's Annual 2012 74,145.

There was an interesting comment in a recent article in the Daily Mail (13 December) by Craig Brown which notes:
Girls have a greater number of annuals to choose from, but with a more limited range. Most feature Cheryl Cole in some shape or form.
__She is on the cover of the Mizz Official Annual, which includes The Crush Clinic ('Your top 8 lad worries — sorted!'), the Pop Princesses Annual ('all you need to know about becoming a Pop Princess!') and, of course, the Cheryl Annual 2012, which offers Cheryl facts, Cheryl's favourite recipes, Cheryl's top tips to being a princess of pop, a free Cheryl calendar and instructions on how to 'throw your own Cheryl slumber party with Cheryl makeovers and manicures!'
__Nowadays, Cheryl Cole (any relation, I wonder, to Old King Cole?) is obviously a vital part of any child's Christmas. One of the few annuals not to mention her is the It's A Girls' World A To Z Annual 2012, but its AZ of contents is packed full of substitutes, from A for 'accessories, autographs, Adele, animals' and B for 'beauty tips, Beyonce, boys' all the way through to Z for Zac Efron...
__The more cynical adults behind today’s Christmas annuals seem equally determined to imprison children in a shallow fantasy of beauty tips, accessories, ‘hot lads’ and Cheryl Cole. Curiosity, charity, aspiration and adventure are all missing. The world they offer seems infinitely smaller, and infinitely more dismal.
I can't argue with that, although I would argue that many of the same things have appeared in annuals since the 1960s. The difference is that annuals used to be a lot bigger and the pin-ups and fashion features were part of a broader range of contents. I'd go as far to say that they were the filler between the strips and stories. Unfortunately, the strips and the stories were the most expensive part of the books compared to an agency photo of a pop star or a hints and tips column written by a sub-editor. I can't even begin to guess how much it cost to put together those early Eagle Annuals or how that compares to the budget of a modern annual but I imagine the difference is huge. Yes, the sales are less these days but isn't it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy? You save money by putting less in because the circulation is falling, but the circulation falls all the more because the final product doesn't really satisfy the readership, so the sales fall and the publisher cuts costs, etc., etc. A vicious circle.

Today's random scans are a trio of Johnny Dekker crime yarns and a Scion gangster with comic connections, the first three being written by Mick Anglo and the latter painted by Philip Mendoza under the pen-name Ferrari. Not as Christmassy as I'd originally planned but I really haven't had much time between work and shopping.

Next week: A Leap Into the Future continues. Hope you all have a good time over the festive season. Eat, drink and be merry. That's what I'm planning to do!


  1. I'm so out of touch here that I have to ask who the heck is Cheryl Cole? But I have to agree with all you say about the annuals of yesteryear compared with those of today. A sad situation. Gary Dobbs has been running some strips from the old annuals at his Tainted Archive blog on Sundays. A recent one from a Girls' World annual was "A Book for Belinda". For Christmas Day, he'll be running another Girls' World strip, "Christmas Casualty".

  2. I did an in-depth review of a 1940(dated) girl's annual not so long ago:
    It's a thumping great tome with hours of interesting reading in it! I'll be reviewing another couple of 'proper' (weekly comic associated) annuals from 1940 on Christmas day... hopefully!



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