GUEST POST: Why Are All-Ages Weekly Comics So Important?

Comics appear to really be going through a resurgence at the moment, especially here in the UK. Aside from the big superhero movies and the endless perpetuation/dilution of geek culture, comic books and graphic novels are finally gaining respectability, standing shoulder to shoulder with their fellow book genres in awards, reviews and beyond. It’s obviously been long overdue, those of us who enjoy comics have been well aware of their literary worth for a long time, but it’s nice to see the general public start to remember about comics.

However, some comics are being woefully forgotten about.

Most children who grew up in the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s had a bounty of weekly, easily-accessible comics to sail them through childhood. From the more weighty Valiant and Eagle, to the gleeful silliness of dandy_comic1The Dandy and The Beano, not to mention Bunty, Mandy, Whizzer And Chips and the like. There was an almost embarrassing wealth of riches, all for sale in your local newsagent, catering for every taste.

And yet, something went wrong. When the children who read those comics grew up, they left them behind. They had kids of their own, and didn’t introduce them to comics. They got proper jobs and could pick Bart Simpson out of a line-up but that’s as far as their interest in cartoons, let alone comics, could go.

As a result, comics faded away like Marty McFly in a Polaroid. Titles which once sold millions now reduced to merging with each other before sinking. Licensed titles began to take over, big name brands with serious financial sway behind them began to buy premium shelf space in Tesco and Sainsbury, guaranteeing their comic/magazines prime position to grab a child’s attention. Don’t get me wrong, I love licensed titles, they’re the natural progression of a brand or character, but the balance was lost. The original content titles, the weekly comics bringing you fierce imagination and humour from the country’s best artists, were fighting a losing battle.

Weekly comics had one weapon in their arsenal – the covermount. The cheap plastic toys they could tape to the front cover, because when you’re a kid, supposedly, a comic is great, but a comic with a toy is amazing. Or, give away three toys, you’ll have to plastic bag the comic along with them so no-one can actually see what’s inside, but that doesn’t matter so much since it’s the toys kids will be after. And it’s easy to snort at this idea, that comics weren’t being judged on their content anymore, instead on the very breakable toy they came with, but this became reality, any major title will tell you. You stick a toy on, you’ve a better chance of selling.

As a result of this struggle to compete, it came to a point where only The Beano and The Dandy survived as original content weekly comics. Two years ago, The Dandy died too, after 75 years in print.

phoenix issue0134 coverThe Beano currently holds its own, in a sea of Peppa Pig magazines and One Direction specials. It’s certainly not a lost cause though, there are still original titles out there (such as Mega and Toxic), but they’re slightly more magazine-y than comic-y. One almighty effort to revive children’s comics is being made by The Phoenix, who have been producing original content weekly comics for the last two and a half years, as well as doing a ton of workshops and even collected book editions, all to reignite a fire for children’s comics . Their distribution is through Waitrose, comic shops and online (www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk), but what they’ve achieved so far is nothing short of incredible.

Now, when this discussion comes up, it’s often argued that ‘kids have moved on’ from comics. With iPads and the internet and 24-hour cartoons, comics have just had their day when it comes to the next generation. It’s a flawed argument. The problem is not that kids don’t like comics, it’s that kids can’t get them. Ask any comic artist who has done a workshop, or gone into schools to teach picture book making, they’ll tell you – as soon as kids get hold of comics, they’re all over them. Comics are a natural medium for storytelling, fantastically direct and requiring perhaps less effort to read than novels. They’re a gateway for literacy, an engaging and exciting revelation for kids who haven’t been exposed to them before.

It was these efforts to keep the flag flying, along with other great all-ages comics from across the seas such as the Nickleodeon Magazine and Heeby Jeeby Comix (http://heebyjeebycomix.blogspot.co.uk), which inspired me to start up Moose Kid Comics (www.moosekidcomics.com). Perhaps now the balance was changing, the rise of the webcomic and self-publishing had proven that the artists can take the reigns and prove their point by themselves, and that’s exactly what we set out to do. Nearly 40 artists joined in, creating 36 pages of full-colour children’s comic goodness, the kind of children’s comic we wished still existed. And then we released it online, for free. Just a one-off, for now, but looking for waysmoosekidcomics1 to make it more regular.

It is a statement. A declaration that while comics may be finding new audiences, children’s comics need to too. Otherwise, we will be a nation of comic-reading adults, with no next generation inspired enough to come through and create the next comics.

I would argue that the weekly children’s comic, filled with original content, whether digital or in print, is essential for our industry. And losing it would be a real tragedy for the children who never even knew it existed.

Guest Blogger: Jamie Smart

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2 comments

  1. I absolutely adored my Mandy & Judy comics when I was little (early 90s), and my brother’s Beanos. Even as a kid you could see the brilliance of the art, and the fun and zing of the writing. And to keep bringing out those stories every week! I wish I still had my comics, but they at least introduced me to an art form, which I eventually followed as a reader. I don’t have children, but I wish I had my childhood comics around for when I do. Although clearly the little sods wouldn’t be allowed near them and they would be for me to hole away with and read.

  2. Loving this article! I think what’s contributing hugely to the resurgence in kid’s comics is that the latest crop of absolute belters have cottoned on to something really important – that kids can handle more sophistication, more character development and ‘smarter’ humour than a lot of adults give them credit for. The Phoenix is a great example of a comic that doesn’t talk down to kids, and one that adults can feel confident in their kids reading something that’s actually engrossing and engaging rather than ‘disposable’.

    We’re hugely in support of comics over at ReadItDaddy, and always will be – and we’re truly loving the sheer quality of what’s around at the moment for kids.

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