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Thursday, 1 March 2007

Are Games really Killing Comics?

2000AD artist Ian Gibson's renewed claim that computer games are killing comics, comments reported in the BBC's feature on the comics' 30th anniversary, have been savaged up by some games press web sites such as Games Radar and Addict3D, the latter pointing out that 2000AD is owned by gaming company Rebellion, and their tie-in games help promote the comic to game fans.

"The comics market, sadly, is dying," said Gibson, feeling Judge Dredd's natural audience has switched to the stronger appeal of games. "The PlayStation has taken over and comics can't compete."

The death of comics has been argued over for years in the UK. I think it's a false argument and energies are better spent devoted elsewhere. But for the record, I certainly don't think computer games are to blame for a decline in comics sale. I'd argue the real causes lie more at the door of the comics publishers themselves, in their over reliance on licensed material, high price points and failing to retain their readership by narrowing the appeal of their product.

While news stand comics sales are not in the hundreds of thousands every week that they were in the past (up to the late 1980s) there are still plenty of comics out there and there are now more 'adventure'-oriented comics in the market than there were just two years ago. In addition to 2000AD, both Doctor Who Adventures and Doctor Who Magazine offer strip stories featuring the BBC's Time Lord. Panini have a swathe of superhero titles on offer, and Titan has joined in with its Batman title, with more DC reprint titles to come.

The humour market is also still healthy -- as the sales figures, and the continued publication of, Simpsons Comics, The Beano and TOXIC surely testify. (I'm sure Titan wouldn't be launching Shaun the Sheep if it didn't think there was an audience for it).

The younger children's market is similarly buoyant with plenty of titles from several companies, including the BBC and Redan.

Of course, in terms of origination, an over reliance on licensed and reprint material means there are few opportunities for artists to flex their muscles on an adventure strip, apart from 2000AD, Panini's A.T.O.M. (I'm assuming A.T.O.M. isn't reprint) and the small number of originated superhero strips the Tunbridge Wells-based company commissions. But there does appear to be a renewed interest in comic strip among publishers, even if Egmont have just launched a title, Lazer (www.lazermag.co.uk), which features no comics at all, in contrast to the brilliant TOXIC (www.toxmag.co.uk). (A feature-only magazine is much cheaper to originate than comics and it's worked for Prestige - Action GTX has no strip and despite being a pretty poor title, it's made it to its twenty-third issue).

Personally, I don't think computer games, for all their obvious appeal, can be solely blamed for their decline of comics. I met up with Barney Farmer last night, writer of the brilliant Viz strip Drunken Bakers (www.drunkenbakers.com), a freelancer who also has considerable experience in writing strips for titles such as Maxim and the much-mourned Zit, and our shared prognosis was that as well as companies' failing to promote comics in the same way as games have been marketed, comics publishers also lost the will to reinvent their products in the 1990s, in marked contrast to the determined efforts of at IPC to reinvigorate its line in the 1970s with ACTION! and, later, 2000AD. Simply copying the success of another title also showed a distinct lack of imagination, too.

I also hold the view that licensed titles may well be great in terms of sales while the license is "hot" -- as Marvel UK discovered when it published The Real Ghostbusters and Transformers -- but when a license goes off the boil, where does readership of a licensed title go? Once the title is dead, they will of course seek out similar titles, but nothing will replace the loss of their favourite comic.

That's where an anthology title, like Lion and Valiant of old and, today, 2000AD should succeed, and retain a loyal audience. By aping trends in popular culture rather than depending on a licensed character, a skilled editor should be able keep a title fresh but not stray so far from the core elements that make an adventure title a success and broadly enjoyed by its readers, even if their favourite strip may be being rested or ended.

While there's a market for comics based on games licenses, like the Halo title announced by Marvel which will include art from Simon Bisley and French artist Moebius, it's my view that licensed comics should not be the only titles in a comic publisher's armoury. They need their own characters they themselves can exploit in other media (as Dark Horse and Virgin are exploiting their titles as film and TV products).

They also need to promote those characters in a way that not necessarily matches the huge promotional budgets of games publishers, but certainly spend as much on their own brands as they would buying the rights to a hot license.

That some comics publishers do not recognise this remains a mystery to me…

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Jack Lord is Kirk!

With all the excitement over the announcement that there will be a new Star Trek film, casting discussions can begin in earnest. But what about the casting of the original Star Trek series this film will apparently reboot, with new actors in the iconic roles of Kirk and Spock?

Way back in the 1960s, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy weren't the only actors in the frame to play Kirk and Spock. Hawaii 5-0's Jack Lord was up for the role of starship captain while Martin Landau - who instead did Mission: Impossible - was up for the role of the alien Spock.

Artist Martin Geraghty came up with this "What If" image many moon ago, which I thought some reading this might enjoy...

Jack Lord is Kirk!

Steve Jobs Reinvents... Iran

Since I'm clearly in a silly mood, here's one of my occasional pastiches of Apple's Steve Jobs at work re-designing the world, etc.

Steve Jobs reinvents... Iran

Fun while shopping

Okay, nothing to do with comics, but this e-mail joke tickled me, cited as evidence of what can happen if a wife or girlfriend drags her husband or boyfriend along shopping.

Sadly, the letter below, allegedly sent by Tesco's Head Office to a customer in Oxford, is a fake -- it actually began the rounds of the net back in early 2006 and Wal-Mart was the original butt of the joke -- but what the heck, enjoy it anyway!

Dear Mrs. Murray,

While we thank you for your valued custom and use of the Tesco Loyalty Card, the Manager of our store in Banbury is considering banning you and your family from shopping with us, unless your husband stops his antics.

Below is a list of offences over the past few months all verified by our surveillance cameras:

1. June 15: Took 24 boxes of condoms and randomly put them in people's trolleys when they weren't looking.

2. July 2: Set all the alarm clocks in the Houseware section to go off at 5-minute intervals.

3. July 7: Made a trail of tomato juice on the floor leading to feminine products aisle.

4. July 19: Walked up to an employee and told her in an official tone, "Code 3" in houseware... and watched what happened.

5. August 14: Moved a 'CAUTION - WET FLOOR' sign to a carpeted area.

6. September 15: Set up a tent in the outdoor clothing department and told shoppers he'd invite them in if they would bring sausages and a Calor gas stove.

7. September 23: When the Deputy Manager asked if she could help him, he began to cry and asked, "Why can't you people just leave me alone?"

8. October 4: Looked right into the security camera; used it as a mirror, picked his nose, and ate it.

9. November 10: While appearing to be choosing kitchen knives in the Housewares aisle asked an assistant if he knew where the antidepressants were.

10. December 3: Darted around the store suspiciously, loudly humming the "Mission Impossible" theme.

11. December 6: In the kitchenware aisle, practised the "Madonna look" using different size funnels.

12. December 18: Hid in a clothing rack and when people browsed, yelled "PICK ME!" "PICK ME!"

13. December 21: When an announcement came over the loud speaker, assumed the foetal position and screamed "NO! NO! It's those voices again."

And; last, but not least:

14. December 23: Went into a fitting room, shut the door, waited a while; then yelled, very loudly, "There is no toilet paper in here."

Yours sincerely,

Charles Brown
Store Manager


If only Tescos and Walmart staff did write such letters, maybe then those stores would stock more comics...

Greatcoat restored on Wikipedia

I'm delighted to report that The Really Heavy Greatcoat entry on Wikipedia has been restored. While there was apparently no consensus on the debate about its inclusion (now closed), Wikipedia's editors ruled in favour of restoration on the grounds that, as I pointed out, it had wrongly been labeled "non notable", stating the noticability tag had been applied incorrectly.

"Noticability should be a tool to keep self promotion and the like out of Wikipedia, not to delete things just because editors have not heard of it or can't find information about it on the internet," ruled Martin Wisse, who has a great blog at www.cloggie.org/wissewords.

" A comic strip which has been around for twenty years is noticable enough to be included. In general, if editors are unfamiliar with certain areas, it behooves them to err on the side of caution rather than to decide from a short google search something should be removed. "

My thanks to Martin and everyone who pitched in to support the RHG. Artist Nick Miller tells me our special two-page 20th anniversary strip is almost finished, and that should be posted next week.

Monday, 26 February 2007

Greatcoat Support Grows...

(I amended this entry as the debate has now closed)

Some of the great folks over at Forbidden Planet International have just pitched in to the debate over Wikipedia about the proposed deletion of an entry about my cartoon strip, The Really Heavy Greatcoat.

In a posting on the FPI blog, one team member suggests that this might be part of some wider crackdown by some Wikipedia's editors on comics it includes. Personally, I don't think that is the case -- I wasn't aware there were moves afoot to crack down on comics on Wikipedia which in some areas seems keen to support them -- but what does annoy me most is that despite providing the "notability" required to justify THRG's inclusion, some editors appear to be ignoring it, which runs counter to the entire principle of the project.

Wikipedia's primary criterion for "notability" is

"Whether the subject of an article has been the subject of non-trivial published works by multiple separate sources that are independent of that subject, which applies to all classes of subjects".

By those standards, The Really Heavy Greatcoat ticks every box demanded: in addition to publication in print for years in Lancaster and through my own publishing efforts online, the comic has been independently published, in Comics International, by syndicated US cartoonist Michael Jantze's in an issue of his The Norm comic, and in the UK comics anthology Paper Tiger, to name but a few.

I'm guessing now that some critical praise (from, say, Alan Moore, or Dave Gibbons, who I would hope the Wikipedia editors might just have heard of!) might help swing this the Greatcoat's way, which would be a nice present as it celebrates 20 years of cartoon weirdness!

One for railway fans...

Railway cartoon by BobsiaOne of those fun profits from a search of the net while tracking down some eastern European cartoonists: right is a cartoon on the South Eastern Railways Group site by Bobisa Todorovic.

It's one of the winning cartoons of a competition celebrating railways in a 2004 international biennial exhibition, which was organised by the Belgrade City Department for Culture, the country's Railway Transport Enterprise "Beograd", the Belgrade Railway Museum, Federation of Cartoonists’ Organisations (Serbia and Montenegro).

There seem to be a lot of these international competitions, certainly more than there appaear to be in the UK and US, which once again indicates just how highly regarded cartoons and comics are elsewhere in the world. Sigh...

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