Wednesday, 1 February 2012

SHOUTING AT CLOUDS...'COS MY SHOES ARE TOO SMALL...


The Sunday Times, September 11th, 2011

Human nature constantly amazes me.  Certain members of the U.K.
comics' so-called 'creative community', always the first to bleat on about
freedom of speech or expression and their opposition to any form of censor-
ship (when it comes to their own personal projects), are also always among
the first to try and bully into silence and submission any dissenting voices
to their own self-serving view of things.

Comics are in a bad way.
Sales are declining all across
the board (with the possible
exception of Manga) and the
future doesn't look particularly
good.  There are many reasons
for such a situation, but we all
know what they are so there's
no point in repeating them
here.  Suffice to say that a
significant number of those
who used to buy comics no
longer do so, and the reasons
they give for abandoning their
weekly or monthly fix are that
comics are now too expensive
and, basically, rubbish.

One clueless chump claims
that those people have simply
outgrown comics, although this
fails to take into account why they
continue to seek out publications
from an earlier age that they haven't
yet read, as well as re-acquire those
they once owned, either in the form
of original issues or sturdy reprint
volumes.  For myself, I love comics
- when they're done right.  When I
pick up a comic from years ago
('60s, '70s or '80s), even if it's one
I've never read before, I can
usually find something I like
and which entertains me.

 Whether it be the artwork, the story, or the mood - or some other,
indefinable, quality, there's something that makes the exercise of reading
it worthwhile.  I'm hard-pressed to repeat the experience when perusing a
modern comic, whether it be a British or American one.  Which is not to
say that there are no good comics out there, only that they're increas-
ingly harder to find.

Some of my recent
posts have come in
for criticism in some
quarters (mainly those
with a vested interest),
suggesting that if I (or
anyone else) don't
like something, then
I should just ignore it
and move on.  (A bit
like witnessing a con-
flagration and not
shouting "Fire!")  It's
therefore fairly safe to assume that they don't like what I've written, which makes their reluctance
to follow their own advice in such matters all the more curious.

Instead of practising what they preach, they devote themselves to
sarcastic, supercilious, banal comments on their Twitter accounts (thus
convincing me that such forums are aptly named, apparently catering
to more than a fair share of twits), and creating false identities for the
purpose of leaving feeble attempts at insults on my posts.  (Most of
which I don't bother publishing because they lack the courage to
affix their real names to them.)

I have read and
collected comics for well
over 47 years, 15 of which I
worked as a full-time freelance
comics contributor.  Ignoring
my professional involvement
for the moment, my 'civilian'
interest in (and devotion to)
the medium surely qualifies
my opinion as informed and
considered at the very
least, yet a few of those who
disagree with me constantly
seek to dismiss my 'expertise'
in the subject as ignorant
and worthless.

As we all know, The Dandy is currently dying on its @rse.  D.C.
Thomson won't let it, of course, because they take pride in being the
publishers of the world's longest-running weekly comic.  However, what
could possibly be the cause of its poor sales?  Consider the facts.  They
relaunched it amid much fanfare and within a few months it had lost half
its readership.  All the old tried and tested reasons for declining sales were
trotted out to explain (away) the situation, despite it being obvious that
they couldn't account for such a dramatic loss of sales in such a short
space of time.  That's clear to anyone with a brain.

Could the fact that the comic
now featured some artwork
which wasn't quite as polished
and professional as in previous
years be responsible in some
way?  Artwork which was basic,
flat, crammed, repetitive, unclear
and, in some cases, distinctly
amateurish?  Stories that were ju-
venile, uninventive and, worst of
all, unfunny?  Lettering fonts that
were inconsistent, indecipherable
and, let's face it, incompetent?
Could it be because the comic
bore little resemblance to what
it had once been at its best,
instead looking like some kind
of 'underground' comic magazine with a poorly-rendered Dandy
masthead pasted on?

No to all of the above, according to the editor and some of the new
artists who were behind the drastically altered look of what had once
been - along with its companion paper The Beano - one of the Nation's
top-selling humour periodicals.  New look - half the readers.  No such
thing as cause and effect then, eh?  Must just be a coincidence.

The Dandy is part of our Nation's
heritage.  It's been around longer
than Superman (in published
form at least) and is held in fond
affection by those who have long-
since ceased to purchase it for
themselves, but continue to do so
for their children.  (Although even
that custom is now on the wane.)
It's as British as the Bulldog and the
Spitfire, and we are all concerned
with its current ailing state and in-
vested in the hope that a cure can
be found to restore it to its former
glory.  Small wonder then, that
passions run high and that news-
papers devote so much space to
reporting on the suspected cause of its infection.

Unfortunately, said infection seems to be of the 'superbug' variety and is
resistant to treatment, or even shame at being responsible for the malady
which afflicts one of the Nation's best loved comic icons.  In the absence
of any effective antidote to the condition, the only hope is to resort to the
ultimate solution, drastic as it may be:  amputation.  Cut off the source
of the infection and consign it to the furnace.

We fervently pray that D.C. Thomson decide to operate sooner rather
than later, while something still remains of the patient to save.

******

UPDATE:  A
certain person has
commented on his
own blog about some
of my recent posts,
describing them as
repetitive.  He then
trots out the same
tired, 'one-size-fits-
all' excuses that he's
resorted to so many
times before (com-
pletely unaware of the
irony) in an attempt
to explain away in
general terms the specific circumstances of The Dandy's current situ-
ation, ignoring and distorting the pertinent aspects in the process.

Oh, and he's indulging in his usual habit of ascribing motivations of
his own invention to those of a different opinion to himself, in an attempt
to 'explain' and dismiss their point of view as irrelevant.  All delivered in
his usual smug, patronising style.  Just how would we all manage with-
out him telling us what we think and why we think it?

Here are specific reasons why the examples
he cites do not satisfactorily account for things.
I am not someone picking up a comic after
20 or 30 years and being appalled by the
fact that it's no longer anything like it was in
'my' day.  I have never not bought comics.
I gave up on The Dandy when they first
revamped it into a 'yoof-style' magazine
(because it was rubbish), and I gave up on
The Beano only because of their insistence
on attaching a pile of tacky poo from time to
time and wanting to charge me anything up to
£2 or £3 more for the dubious privilege.

I don't dislike some modern comics because
they are 'modern' - I dislike some of them
because they are not very good.  If I don't care
for a strip, my assessment is based on whether it is pleasant to look at or not,
whether one can tell at a glance what's happening on the page without hurting
one's eyes, and whether it has been drawn to an admirable standard of crafts-
manship.  Oh, yes - and whether it's funny.  Not because it doesn't look like
the comics I bought as a 7-year old.  When I decided that I didn't like The
Dandy, I was comparing it to what it had looked like only the week
before, not how it had been way back in 1937.

That's why, even 'though there is an element of truth (as there always is
in the best 'misrepresentations') to what he says in a general sense, it falls far
short of explaining the specifics.  Not all those who decry the current incarnation
of The Dandy are folk who stopped buying it years ago in their youth;  a sizable
number are people who want to purchase it, but don'tsimply because they
don't consider it to be very good.  (And that accounts for at least half of the
comic's former readership in 2010.)

I haven't always liked
every strip in even my favourite
comics;  some I liked more than
others, some I didn't like at all.
However, even if I liked only two
or three strips per issue, I was
still getting value for money
because comics used to be the
least expensive way available of
passing an enjoyable half hour.
That's no longer the case and
publishers would do well to
remember it. 

Anyway, there's no point
bothering with someone who
refuses to recognize the facts,
and who - despite however much he protests to the contrary - has a vested
financial interest in 'talking-up' the comic and keeping on the good side of
those who supply part of his livelihood.

He also seems to forget that I have witnessed first-hand the expediencies
that some comic editors are prepared or compelled to indulge in.  I used to
visit the offices of IPC every week (sometimes twice) for almost two years
(working in the building from about half-six in the morning to nine at night),
and know full-well that certain people were sometimes utilized only
because the preferred choice was unavailable   

Thankfully, I'm not in thrall to the same financial or 'insider' social
considerations that he seems to be, and am therefore free to think
and speak as I want to.

******

If you like nice art, why not give Thomas Haller Buchanan's
delightful blog a visit?  Loads of lovely pictures and fascinating thoughts.
Click on http://mydelineatedlife.blogspot.com/ for your passport into
a veritable Wonderland. 

16 comments:

Poetry24 said...

Really enjoyed this post, Kid.

I don't remember needing to have it explained, that the Dandy was 100% funny. It just was. We used to swap comics with friends, until we were all familiar with the current round of story-lines. But many kids, today, are spending their time, interacting with digital something or other. What was our world isn't theirs. Unfortunately, the all singing, dancing, flashing, bells and whistles alternatives to comics, have numbed youngsters to the layers of subtle sophistication we enjoyed.

Kid said...

Very true, Martin. However, I venture to say that the way to win them 'round is not to give them something (in this case The Dandy) which is inferior to what it was at its best.

Thanks for commenting.

Mr Straightman said...

At the risk of repeating myself (what's new?), I think one of the biggest problems with the modern incarnations of the Beano and the Dandy is that, poor sales or not, they're market leaders by default because there is next to no 'home grown' competition. When IPC were publishing several weekly children's titles, it seemed (to me, anyway) that the twin behemoths of the industry - IPC and DC Thomson - fed off each other in the most positive and helpful way imaginable. Whatever one company did, the other tried to equal it, or in some cases better it. For example, when Sparky decided to drop the nursery school approach and go a bit more zany, IPC obviously thought "we can top that" and along came Krazy and Cheeky. Continuing the circle, DC Thomson launched Nutty to take over from those recently deceased titles. It wasn't just the funnies, either - IPC's Misty and Thomson's Spellbound both covered broadly similar ground. You wanted surreal slapstick? It was there on the shelves. Robust, big-hearted fun? It was there. More serious stuff, action, war, love stories, ghostly goings-on? The comics could accomodate you. There really was the "something for everyone" the covers frequently promised. These days, it's more a case of "only one thing for YOU", or worse, "nothing much for anyone".

Kid said...

That's really where the problem arises. After all, comics were printed mainly as a way of keeping the printing presses rolling of giant publishing empires, because it was cheaper to keep them running than not.

With modern technology, things are done differently nowadays, so that's no longer required it seems. What we really need is a return to a 'Big Two' who are in constant competition with one another for the hearts, souls and pocketmoney of readers.

Anonymous said...

100 per cent spot on Kid. Their attitude towards you springs from them working for the Dandy and thinking they know best. They lost thousands of readers after the relaunch and still can't see the connection. Great blog.

Brian Collins

Kid said...

What annoys me, Brian, is the nonsense that a couple of them insist on peddling that anyone who criticises The Dandy is a parasitical vulture hoping it dies so that they can crow about it and say "We told you so!"

Nothing could be further from the truth: it's because we care about the comic and are concerned about the deplorable state it's currently in that we're so vocal in our opinions, in the hope that something will be done.

They always say that people are the last to smell their own farts. Perhaps that's why they can't see the reasons for the 'room' suddenly clearing, eh?

Stu Munro said...

Well, you certainly raise some interesting and well conceived points. It's good to see the older generation showing concern for the state of comics. I don't have the answers, and it's not my place to suggest anything, but your blog (and ongoing rivalry with the artists) always make for an entertaining read. Keep it up!

Kid said...

The 'ongoing rivalry' you speak of, Stu, is one of their making, not mine. Actually, I don't think it's good for the public to see professional contributors (them, I mean - I'm 'retired') squabbling for all to see, but I reserve to right to spring to my own defence.

The controversy over The Dandy was well under way before I chipped in with some mild observations. Who'd have thought the opinions of a mere comics consumer would lead to such bad-tempered sniping by a few individuals whose 'flabby egos' (to quote one) so obviously outweighs their talents?

Kid said...

Also, have you noticed the pattern? Anyone who doesn't see things the way they do, or who fails to hail their artistic genius, are described as being 'bitter, envious, twisted, ignorant, or a failed wannabe'. (Or even a crank to be avoided. I think one of them's making them up himself now.)

It must be nice to think so highly of oneself that any dissent to one's opinion must be down to jealousy or whatever. Or is it just the natural reaction of those who are basically insecure?

Andy Fanton said...

Hello, Kid.

I currently work on The Dandy, and I remember exchanging some pleasant emails about your memories of Portsmouth when I first started, and I enjoyed visiting your blog to see some classic comics from before my time, and thought all was well with the world - how nice these comic people are, I thought!

And they are, by and large. I'm all for constructive criticism, indeed it can only help us grow as artists, but I don't see much constructive about comments like 'It's not even fit for lining the bottom of Polly the parrot's cage, as the idea is to take sh*t out, not put it in'. Nor do I see much constructive in people setting up 'hate pages' to personally insult artists (I notice even I have one, where I'm called a 'reprehensible sh*thouse', for seemingly nothing more than daring to share some of my work on my own blog. The very nerve of me, eh? Whatever next?)

I can only speak for myself, of course, and offer my view as I see it, but I've never claimed to be at the apex of my abilities. I am still a relative newcomer, although I am full-time now.

However, I'm grateful for The Dandy for giving me the opportunity to work for them, and I'm working hard to improve my standards and up my game, because no-one comes to the table fully-formed in perfection. I recall even the great Leo Baxendale in his 'A Very Funny Business' book recalling how his first few strips, pre-Plum, were rather roughly drawn and not his favourite of his works. While I am proud of my work thus far, and pleased to have done so much in such a relatively short space of time, I'm also aware that there is always room for improvement. Anyone who thinks they need not ever improve is fooling themselves.

Surely, rather than just hurl abuse at us or demand we all be sacked is contrary to the very spirit of comics, where encouraging and supporting new artists, and indeed, new styles, is the lifeblood that's allowed the medium to last for so many decades?

You may not like some of the styles in the comic, and of course that's your right. But that doesn't mean they don't have the right to be there, or that The Dandy shouldn't be applauded for trying SOMETHING rather than standing still.

Personally, I'm going to carry on working and learning, because I too am passionate about comics.

Cheers,

Andy.

Kid said...

A thoughtful, well-considered, polite comment at last, Andy - even if it's at odds with the tone of your remarks elsewhere. Let's get this straight: I am not responsible for setting up any 'hate-pages', nor have I ever contributed to them.

And you're right about learning on the job. Some of my early lettering on 2000 AD wasn't as good as it should have been, but if it had resulted in a sudden massive drop in circulation, I'd have well-understood them paying for a one-way trip to Southsea. (Where I lived at the time.)

As for my comments about the parrot's cage, I'm surprised that someone who earns his full-time living in the field of humour can't recognise hyperbole for the sake of comic effect. It was a very funny and witty line, I thought, which is why I kept it in. Are you seriously telling me you think it worse than being told that cancer is too good for me, and that I've only ever f****d my mum? Just for initially saying that I thought the new direction of The Dandy was mainly responsible for its drop in sales?

You should also appreciate that it was written in response to snide, personal comments like these, and clearly false identities bombarding me with insults and hate mail. Although I can't prove it, I have also received a noticable increase in silent 'phone calls (thank goodness for answering machines), and must at least consider if the two things are related. (And no, I'm not specifically accusing anyone.)

Obviously you're only looking out for your career, but some things, dare I say it, are more important than even that. I'm talking about The Dandy itself. Of course the comic should be applauded for trying something different; but when it quite clearly hasn't worked, those responsible should 'man-up' and admit their responsibility in getting it so massively wrong. If you're willing to take the accolades, you should also be prepared to take the brick-bats. And I'm not even thinking of the artists so much as I'm thinking of the editors and DCT itself.

What The Dandy should do, in my humble opinion, is make it more like The Beano - which actually sells. Then they should release a new comic featuring the work of those artists like yourself, where you can perfect your craft. (And if you study the work of artists like Baxendale, Watkins, Harrison, etc., you won't go far wrong. They knew what they were/are doing.) People expect something of The Dandy, and, unfortunately, the new direction has failed to deliver.

However, freed from such expectations, a new comic could appeal to a whole new audience that aren't and never would be interested in The Dandy, updated or not. I really feel that's the direction in which DCT should have gone from the start.

I also feel that the current situation we're discussing would never have developed to the point it has if a certain comics contributor (he knows who he is) hadn't used it as an opportunity to try and settle old scores and stir up bad feeling against me.

All for initially saying that the new direction hadn't worked? Andy, you must know I'm right about that, even if you disagree with everything else I've said. Remember, I actually bought the new Dandy - a customer should be entitled to comment on his purchase, without having to worry about hurting someone's feelings (as long as that isn't his purpose in commenting).

He also shouldn't have to worry about someone using his comments in order to pursue his own personal agenda, which - to a great extent - is what happened here.

Pax Vobiscum.

Mr Straightman said...

Number of readers the Dandy has (at the last reliable count) - 7,448.

Number of POTENTIAL (and I'd like to stress that word) readers a free-to-maintain, free-to-access blog has - millions upon millions.

Just saying...

Kid said...

Have to be honest, I'm not a big fan of internet comics. There's just something about holding an actual comic that's hard to beat. (Especially when you're on the loo and want something to read.)

Mr Straightman said...

Just noticed the strapline on that Dandy annual - 'making the nation laugh since 1937'. Surely that should be 'making the nation laugh until the @rse-awful relaunches'?

Kid said...

Unfortunately, since about 2004 (at least), people have been laughing AT it, not WITH it.

Anonymous said...

Two words. Spot on.

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