It’s been a busy week!

I have been in touch with a number of people in the comic industry this week and they unanimously agree; they would like to see the return of quality children’s comics too. It is good to see there is a general consensus in the industry, but I understand there are some massive hurdles to overcome. If we can get children and their parents interested in comics again, and gather some public support, maybe the hurdles won’t seem so huge? (For in depth information on those hurdles have a look at the Down the Tubes forum Creating Comics in the UK: The Hidden Costs.)

Laura Howell “the first female artist to produce a regular strip in The Beano(taken direct from her website) writes “I was an obsessive reader of girls’ comics when I was young, including Bunty, Mandy, Suzy, Nikki, Tammy … I find it very sad that girls of your daughter’s age don’t have access to titles like that anymore.” Like myself, and many others I have spoken to, Laura loved the cliffhangers in the serialised stories that work so well in weekly comics. She continues “I think girls still have a need and want for the types of narratives that used to be found in Bunty … Girls’ manga has that same episodic, relationship-based structure.” More anecdotal proof that the girls are reading Manga, and I’m not surprised, it sounds great! For example, comic artist, Rebecca Burgess wrote about the comics in Japan, describing some of them as “chunky phone book sized magazines (I’m not kidding!) aimed entirely towards girls aged 7-12, all full of romance, drama and fantasy stories, which come out every month, and have long, on going dramas that normally last for 4 years or so.” How cool does that sound? No wonder the girls are hooked!

Neill Cameron, comic artist and writer, considers himself officially on Board! (Yay!) He writes, there’s “a lack of good quality original comics in this country for children … girls are probably particularly ill-served in this regard. It’s definitely something I was aiming for with Mo-Bot High – to create a story that was exciting and funny and full of cool, awesome action-packed stuff, but to try and do it in a way that would appeal to girls as much as boys.” He would very much like to see more comics widely available, “I’m greedy, I don’t want just one comic. I want a great swathe of comics; a newsagent’s shelf-full! And I do think that in that dream shelf-full there’s a real place for comics aimed primarily and principally at girls; comics that focus on character and emotion as much as, or even more than plot and action.” Wouldn’t that be great to see, loads of comics on the newsagents shelf again, tapping into the zeitgeist of today’s generation of children. Comic artists, Emma Vieceli and Nana Li, agree there is a gap in the market. Nana Li writes “I’ve heard creators express the same disappointment about the lack of original British comics for girls … I’m coming at it from a manga background where at least half of the readership is girls … it seems to be an easily overlooked readership group.” Along with Neill Cameron, they both pointed me in the direction of The DFC, which is to return next year as The Phoenix (as mentioned in my previous post).

The Phoenix is a brand-new weekly comic, launching in early 2012, packed with great stories for girls and boys, aged 8-11. Ben Sharpe, the editor writes, the “main focus is on adventure, story and character depth, and visual wonders.” He mentions how comics can aid literacy, and reading for meaning. Children can easily follow the stories in comics, Ben continues, “The form is so much less intimidating than pure text, and stories can be followed even if you do stumble on the occasional word or sentence … children are much more intent on figuring out those meanings when the story is a good one. Which is our primary mission! … The Phoenix is about sharing as many brilliant new stories as we can with the world.” I can’t wait, it sounds excellent, and there are so many writers and artists talking about it, I think they’re excited too!

We bought The Dandy last week, also aimed at girls and boys. I wrote to Robin Etherinton of The Etherington Brothers, after admiring their strips, he writes “there is very real need to break down any mental barrier between boys/girls comic material … children of both sexes respond to GOOD STORYTELLING and INTERESTING CONCEPTS and GREAT CHARACTERS … If the story is engaging it will draw everyone into it’s gravitational pull.” Good point, I read boys comics as well as the girls ones when I was younger – I think we all did! Plus, look at the popularity of Harry Potter and Doctor Who, which both appeal to boys and girls. 

The children I know don’t seem to have had much exposure to comics as they were twenty-plus years ago when the choice was enormous and comics were the ‘norm’. When I think back at the stories I used to read in Bunty etc, I can’t re-call them individually (too long ago), but I know they were not all about Gymnasts and Ballerinas. The one story that has stuck with me after all these years involved child abduction, impersonation and burglary all wrapped up in a doll – I was terrified!! (If you know it, please tell – late 70’s/early 80’s.) Both girls and boys, enjoy strong characters, adventure, and excitement, a variety is the key. There is space in the market for quality comics aimed at girls and boys such as The Phoenix; but why stop there? I’d like to see a modern girls comic too, with a mixture of genres, great characters and serialized narratives to inspire another generation of comic readers and creators.

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Now I know I’m not alone!

Great news! I am very pleased to find that I am not alone in lamenting the lack of comics for girls in the mainstream.

My limited research has taken me to new places and I have discovered the joys of online forums (I’m new to those too!). John Freeman of the Down the Tubes website has very kindly furthered my cause by promoting “Bring back Bunty” on the Down the Tubes forum, which has gained some interest and very helpful comments – thanks for all those links guys, and thank you John!

I’ve heard from several sources that many KS2 girls are into Manga. Kev F Sutherland, a comic artist working in schools, says “based on the schools I visit … more girls read Manga than boys, and the content seems to be what attracts them. And if they don’t actually read the manga comic books, they all – and that’s 99% all – draw in a manga style. So, under the surface or running alongside things, manga art and comic-strip storytelling, is part of their cultural life.” I have seen this first hand in my daughters’ school, the older girls do indeed draw in a Manga style, but I had never questioned it before…

Are the girls interested in Manga because of a lack of original British comics in the mainstream? Kate Brown, comicker and illustrator, said there was a lack of choice when she was younger, until she found Manga; “One thing I loved about the Japanese comics, was that I did not feel like they had been committee-built, market-sourced, “made to order” works. They felt like they had been made by people who had the same interests as me.”

As the kids are still interested in comics, it looks like they are finding alternatives to mainstream … Kate Brown suggests, “Publishers generally can’t take risks on much, let alone comics, of which there is a traditionally low readership amongst UK citizens. It would go doubly, I’d imagine, for something that would be perceived as a super-niche market… in a way, because it doesn’t exist already (or exists minimally), it becomes this kind of odd self-fulfilling prophecy! There are none because there are none… because there are none.” I tend to agree with the self-fulfilling prophecy, especially when you look at what is available in newsagents for children – a collection of identical, brand led, marketing tools lacking in substance.

A couple of the comic creatives I’ve been in contact with have mentioned the DFC, I had no idea it existed and I’m very sorry to have missed it. The DFC sounds like something we would have definitely been interested in. I hear it’s coming back as The Phoenix next January, which sounds exciting – I shall be watching and waiting.

I’m quoting Kate Brown again “The bottom line is that kids love comics. Everyone loves comics. It’s just matter of convincing people”. Thanks Kate, I’ll try!

I long for the choice of original British comics that I had when I was a child growing up in the 70’s and 80s. Hopefully if we can spread the word, my cause may gain some momentum and get publishers interested once again

Fingers crossed!

What she wants in a comic…

I asked Niamh this morning, what exactly she’d like to see in a comic – I thought I’d better research the audience first hand. I’d also like to say that I haven’t promted her responses, and she is still thinking about it, so I may add to this later on…

The very first thing she said was ‘funny’, this seemded to be very important and a main component for her. I imagine this is the same for most nine year olds looking at the popularity of The Beano.

She also listed the following:
Exciting; lots of adventures; serial stories; cliff-hangers; lots of different characters; stories about new films; and competitions.

I asked her what type of story would she like to read, she answered:
Fantasy worlds; historical stories (she likes books about the war, “Horrible Histories” etc.); spy stories; super-heroes (and super-hero-animals!); a range of different settings, adventures and stories; a mixture of characters (some naughty, she said grinning); crazy nonsense stories – she started spouting some very surreal stuff here (she’s full of good ideas), which put me in mind of “Hewligan’s haircut”… I must re-read that now!

She also thought it would be good to have story reviews, where children and editors can comment – she’s thinking online now. Plus, she’d quite like the comic to be themed sometimes, I’m not sure how that would work, but she’d like it.

I asked if she’d like to see re-print of stories that I used to read… She loved this idea and ran off to find me a recent copy of The Beano in which they’d done just that… maybe we could bring back “The Four Mary’s” etc. after all!

She seems to know what she wants.