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.