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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

DFC Up For Sale

Sad news for British Comics: David Fickling's wonderful weekly subscription comic experiment, The DFC, is up for sale, following a decision by The Random House Group to cease publication.

If no buyer is found, the title will close on 27th March, ending with Issue 43.

Launched as a weekly, subscription-only comic in May last year, David Fickling and his team have every right to be proud of the comic they created with the help of a host of brilliant comic creators ranging from 'big names' such as award-wining author Phillip Pullman and Garen Ewing to lesser-known but quickly-recognized talents such as James Turner and Sarah McIntyre.

"It's been a hard couple days for everyone involved," comments Sarah on her LiveJournal, which has resulted in a huge number of responses from fellow creators and DFC readers saddened by the news. "E-mails have been flying and phones have been ringing," she reveals, "mostly contributors expressing how sad they are about it, but also saying what a wonderful thing The DFC has been, how we made some amazing comics, some great friends, and that we will always be proud of it.

"I'm not looking forward to the inevitable flock of British naysayers, those guys who sit around on internet blog sites and say 'I told you so'," she added. "Yes, David Fickling took a huge risk with this comic. But he also started up a lot of careers in comics that are going to go far and got us really excited with his enthusiasm and dedication. And I respect him so, so much for that, and want to say that I am proud of him and fond of him and I hope the rest of the comics community will be supportive to all the people who put so much of themselves into this project."

Philippa Dickinson, Managing Director of Random House Children's Books said: “We are very proud of The DFC and the reaction it received from families, schools and especially the children who have enjoyed reading it. It is an innovative concept which we have been very happy to back. There can be no successes without taking risks, after all.

"Unfortunately, in the current economic climate, we have decided that The DFC is not commercially viable within our organisation.

“David Fickling, the staff at The DFC, and all the comic’s contributors have worked tirelessly to produce what is an amazing weekly publication and we would be delighted if a buyer could be found who would like to take The DFC on as a going concern.”

Restoring the Form

Back in September last year, publisher David Fickling, in part enthused with a desire to restore British Comics to a time when they did not almost entirely depend on the latest hot license, told downthetubes he had high hopes for the project, which utilised the networking and marketing opportunities afforded by the Internet previously unavailable to comics publishers.

"By using the Internet, you can market and reach everybody, more or less, and to enable your potential audience to receive the product directly and spread word of mouth about it in a very natural and experience-based way," he said. "It's a good way to reach people.

"This doesn't mean I'm not interested in selling it The DFC in shops: far from it," he added. "I'd love to sell it in shops and it will, eventually, it's just the order in the way things have to be done to make this work. It's a more practical way of starting the comic off, in way that's sustainable.

"The DFC is also a primer for something bigger in many ways, which for me is the restoration of the form," he enthused. "It's not about being clever and being Internet only as a gimmick. It's a river down which we can flow."

Creators Praise The DFC

I'm sad but not completely surprised," says Dead Pets creator Faz Choudhury, whose comic for the title was running in The Guardian but had yet to appear in the comic itself. "It's always a big risk trying something new and different, and starting up a new children's comic in the UK is not an easy path especially if you avoid the shiny plastic toy with free comic TV tie-in mentality that is all pervasive in children's comics these days.

"I'm sad that the Dead Pets won't get to appear in the comic itself, I was looking forward to being in there along with all my fellow DFC buddies. On the positive side, I was lucky enough to get to write and draw my own twenty-four page comic strip, have it published in The Guardian and get paid for it! I'm very lucky to have had that opportunity."

"It's a real shame that it's ended so soon," says James Turner, creator of the title's Super Animal Adventure Squad which has been running in The Guardian recently, "but it's been an absolutely fantastic experience and I'm really proud of what everyone at The DFC has achieved."

"It's a very sad day," agrees Frontier artist Andrew Wildman. "Sad times but David Fickling and the team should be acknowledged for creating the most significant children's comics publication since who knows when. In spite of its relatively short run (although 43 issues of anything is amazing these days) it will be held up as an example of what is possible. Its existence and passing has created a space for amazing new possibilities.

"David stood up and demonstrated what can be achieved and I think that that is how it will be remembered," he added. "All those amazing characters are now 'real' in the world rather than just 'good ideas'. Thats the difference between those that wish for something and those that have the courage to see it through."

Paul Harrison-Davies is disappointed he may have to seek a new home for his new strip, AstroDog, which was being lined up to appear in The DFC. "It was a wonderful comic," says Paul. "Getting in from work on a Friday and seeing it on my table gave me a nice comfortable feeling that I'm really going to miss."

"A real shame, since it's the most positive comic creation to come out of the UK in the last twenty years," feels comic creator David Hailwood, one of several creators who'd been pitching to the title. "I'd hoped Random House's clever internet sales strategy would protect them from the recession, but unfortunately not. At least they've brought forth a wealth of talented creators to the public eye; let's hope they find a way to stay there!"

Indeed so: let's hope we haven't seen the last of Frontier, Mirabilis, Super Adventure Animal Squad, Mo-Bot High or any of the other wonderful comic strips The DFC has featured so far.

Crab Lane Crew by Jim MedwayCrab Lane Crew creator Jim Medway would concur with that. "Maybe at some point in the future there will be collections of some of the featured strips, and possibly even a new comic in another shape or form, but as it stands now this abrupt cancellation cuts off many serialised stories, some of them only a few episodes in, so I feel for those creators particularly," he notes on his blog.

"Crab Lane Crew will be just three episodes into a planned 12 forming Season 2 - I've drawn half of these, and am sure I'll complete the set, but not at the moment."

"While really depressed that this brave venture hasn't been able to gather the momentum and subscriptions it deserved, I'm proud to have been amongst all the other creators, and feel grateful to the editorial team for the opportunity and their honorable treatment of those slaving away on the drawing boards and computers," he also says. "My own competence has come on leaps and bounds thanks to their encouragement, enthusiasm and deadlines."

Subscription Issues

While no-one doubts the quality of The DFC's content and creative team however, the title was not without some logistical problems. Longtime British comics fan and DFC subscriber Lew Stringer, reports he had several problems getting his copies of the subscription-only title, which he has not mentioned online until now because he wanted nothing but the best for the title but ultimately meant he cancelled his sub. "The first 25 issues were impressively bang on time, every Friday morning," he notes. "After that, things started to go wrong, with renewals not starting with the issues they should have, copies missing, and subscription confirmation emails not arriving. Other subscribers I've spoken to experienced similar problems, which makes me wonder just how widespread this problem was and how many subscribers it cost them.

"I would have been happy to support The DFC every issue, but when too many glitches started hitting the subs, and the momentum of the serials was lost, I decided enough was enough.

"The final straw was the 'four issue' promo over Christmas that only delivered three issues, to me at any rate. I gave up on the comic after that.

"The quality of The DFC's material was very high, and it was great to see such a diverse range of strips in one comic," he, like others, acknowledges. "Although at times I felt the material was a bit too diverse. For example, having a joyfully innocent strip such as Vern and Lettuce and a dark, creepy strip such as Mezolith in the same comic made The DFC a tad schizophrenic." (Read Lew's full analysis - comparing the title with past comics such as 1980's Oink! - here)

• We hope to have more on this as the story develops - stay tuned. Several of The DFC's creative team, including publisher David Fickling, are members of the downthetubes forum -- why not join up if you haven't already, or stop by and wish them well?
Read the September 2008 downthetubes interview with David Fickling
Visit The DFC web site

1 comment:

Rod McKie said...

Nice, thoughtful, article, John.

I didn't welcome the thing when it began, because it seemed to be full of inexperienced comics writers and illustrators, even if some of the writers had big names for their work in other areas.

I don't think the publication took avantage of the resources it could have had; there was always a lot more talent out there than was reflected in its pages.

I took the same view of Virgin's venture into comic book publishing when it operated a sort of closed shop that treasured the names of "creators" over the actual content.

Having said that, I'm sad to see any new British comic bite the dust. Having seen Pete Nash's Striker comic flounder, and now DFC, I can't see anyone, especially in the current economic climate, venturing into the new comics business in the UK with any degree of enthusiasm.

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