As CLiNT breathes its last, what’s the future for British comics?

CLiNT Volume 2 Issue 8

This month sees the demise of Mark Millar’s CLiNT, the initial announcement made via US comic site Comic Book Resources, prompting bemusement from comic news sites that more regularly cover comic titles on the British newsstand. (Even now, downthetubes has still not received the statement on the title’s cancellation from Titan itself publised on CBR, despite requests, and it would seem the way the news broke rankled with larger sites who had been regularly asking the company about CLiNT’s future).

Seemingly ignoring 2000AD and the huge number of British anthology titles that went before it, editor Mark Millar remained upbeat about CLiNT to the last, arguing the project has paved the way for new projects for various creators (Death Sentence and Chronos Commandos, both now published by Titan Comics first saw national light of day in the comic magazine, for example).

CLiNT is, and was, a British comic that looked like no other,” he argued as he thanked both contributors and the Titan team involved, “with contributors as diverse as Johnny Romita, Frankie Boyle, Dave Gibbons, Jonathan Ross, Tommy Lee Edwards, Ian Rankin, Muriel Gray, Leinil Yu, Jimmy Carr and Steve McNiven, plus interviews with basically anybody we just absolutely loved at that particular moment. A lot of that extra content is down to my co-editor on the book, Andrew James, who has worked so enormously hard since he took over and been an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Publisher Nick Landau agrees, enthusing that “CLiNT has spawned many comics through both the Millarworld and Titan universes, way more than we could pack into CLiNT itself… and you will continue to see us every month in these titles. A bit like CLiNT, but even more so…”

Given the difficulties bringing any new title to the British newsstand, that CLiNT lasted 23 issues is in itself a success. But even with its celebrity tie ins such as strips written by Jonathan Ross, Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle, alongside first run publication of many episodes of Kick Ass 2, that number of issues puts it on a par with many comic anthologies cancelled during the “hatch and dispatch” days of IPC, when comics such as Thunder and Jet were deliberately merged with a stronger title to boot that comic’s sales.

So, with its demise, what does its fate say for the future of comics on the British newsstand, if anything? After all, some might argue that such a high profile casualty might give other publishers cause to ponder the wisdom of launching a similar title.

Along with British publication of many of Mark Millar’s stories, CLiNT deserves credit for a number of terrific debut strips from new talent (all listed here on Steve Holland’s excellent Bear Alley, where he also offers a cogent analysis of the title’s success and failure). But it’s clear it had frequency problems, often seen as the death knell for a comic even in comic shops, where fans are a little more forgiving if a title is delayed (although not much). This can’t have helped its credibility as far as WH Smiths is concerned: distributors, perhaps rightfully, brook no excuses when a magazine is delivered late and it can impact on orders.

Delays in publication also add to promotional costs: in today’s marketplace, in order to gain shelf space in newsagents, it’s not a matter of having a quality product, more a matter of how much you can afford to spend to take space in a competitive market where there is always another magazine waiting for a chance to gain some traction. (To me, this is madness, even though it’s helped boost profits – the quality of some titles on sale in WH Smiths, and I’m not just talking comics, is woeful. But because the publisher has paid for space, they get it, not because their title is any good).

That CLiNT was on sale on the news stand would not have helped orders through comic shops in the UK, either – possibly CLiNT‘s best sales point, given its comics content – as comic shop owners are naturally wary of ordering titles available sooner on the high street than in their stores. (One major buyer recently told me an order of 100 copies of an anthology title was actually good for a comic shop).

But despite the demise of CLiNT, there are still plenty of comics out there vying for attention and there doesn’t seem to be any drop off in enthusiasm from publishers in launching new titles, albeit ensuring costs are kept manageable, with a high number of feature pages rather than comic strip content, which is more expensive per page to produce. Distributors tell me that while magazine sales in some sectors – lads magazines, women’s magazines etc – are declining, comic sales are steadier than most. (Of course, if you’re publishing a licensed comic that isn’t Ben 10 or Tank Engine Thomas, that title’s ongoing success is definitely dependent on the ongoing success of the brand it’s based on).

Just call in at your local WH Smiths to see what I mean. The pre-school sector is buoyant, Immediate Media leading the way with titles such as Octonauts. Junior titles abound an the latest ABC figures show Egmont’s TOXIC – a canny own brand mix of features and comic strip - is enjoying increased sales, suggesting Immediate Media’s similarly constructed title, Mega, might also hold its own. DC Thomson continues to push The Beano and has just launched Dennis the Menace, and The Phoenix, even with its limited distribution through supermarket Waitrose, appears in rude health, backed by a determined publisher.Commando 4630

Titan continues to publish a range of licensed comics, and while 2000AD may not have the sale it used to (although, officially, its exact sales levels remain known only to insiders and rival publishers), but like Commando, Britain’s last surviving pocket library title, Judge Dredd Megazine and the frequency fouled up STRIP, it still gets its slot in WH Smiths.

So, is there still a future for comics on the British newsstand?

While the demise of CLiNT is disappointing, I’d argue that while many publications on the British newsstand today are far from being the same kind of comics published in the past, perhaps over reliant on licensed caracters and, content wise, features rather than the Unique Selling Point, the sector remains strong as far as key publishers are concerned and there is plenty of life in the printed comics form on the news stand yet.

I’d still like to see more use of strong comic characters and  strips that are a better ‘return draw’ (no pun intended) in newsstand comics – but perhaps we’ll have to look to the many independent creators we regularly champion here for much of that, given cost concerns.

My opinion is, of course, open to challenge – and as usual I welcome reader comments – but is backed by those with far more credibility than myself, such as DC Thomson CEO Ellis Watson, who recently sounded a note of caution on the race to digital publication, warning print should not be neglected despite the growth in electronic revenues, an argument supported by an analysis of digital sales figures by The Guardian, revealing that while in percentage terms digital sales are on the rise, the actual; numbers of sales remain small. So while comic publishers are often bullish about the success of the digital editions, I think many are still finding their way in this sector, just like larger publishers.

Further Reading on downthetubes:

TOXIC comic sales up, but bad news for other news stand titles in latest ABCs

View the downthetubes British Comic Sales figures data
Please note these figures do not include all comic titles on the UK new stand – you would be amazed just how difficult it is to find out which titles are being published by some companies!

See also:

• Comic Book Resources: Mark Millar’s CLiNT ends its run

Bear Alley: CLiNT – An analysis by Steve Holland (Recommended reading)

The Guardian 19th Ausgust 2013 –  Digital magazines: how popular are they?

The Drum: DC Thomson Publishing CEO Ellis Watson warns against forgetting about print as digital revenues grow

• BBC News, April 2013: WH Smith continues to boost profits amid falling sales

ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations), the industry body for media measurement

 

About John Freeman

Editor, writer, curmudgeon and founder of downthetubes, John has worked in British comics publishing for over 25 years, starting at Marvel UK as the designer, then editor of Doctor Who Magazine. He worked on the Marvel's "Genesis 1992" books with Paul Neary, which included Death's Head II and Warheads; has written comics for Marvel UK, Judge Dredd Megazine, Lucky Bag Comic, STRIP Magazine and ROK Comics; has run the Lancaster Literature Festival; created a virtual 3D chat world for VZones; been Managing Editor at Titan Magazines, editing titles such as Star Trek Magazine, Star Wars Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine; edited some of Titan's British comics collections including Dan Dare and Charley's War; currently works for audio comics publisher ROK Comics as an editor and writer; and is also writing "Crucible" as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and "Death Duty" with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.