With war comic Commando recently passing its landmark 5000th issue and many changes behind the scenes in its editorial department, downthetubes caught up with the veteran title’s recently-installed editor, Kirsten Murray, just part of her role as DC Thomson’s Heritage Brands editor, to ask her about the title’s ongoing success at a difficult time for British comics – and her plans for the future of the title… Interview by John Freeman
Kirsten Murray is a graduate from the University of Glasgow, having studied English Literature and History, before continuing her studies at the University of Dundee, where she graduated with a MLitt with Merit in Comics Studies in November 2014. She has been involved in various publications since 2009, having written for her university newspapers and blogs, and began working at Titan Comics in London in July 2014 as an editorial intern. She was kept on full time as Assistant Editor to the comics department. She aided in every step, from conception to completion, in various projects, particularly the Doctor Who line.
She then moved to become Commissioning Editor in the comics department at DC Thomson, where she worked primarily on The Broons and Oor Wullie. She developed stories and scripts, edited submitted scripts, artwork, and annuals, worked in the archives, and sourced new comics talent. This has become more prevalent as the company looked to expand the department and saw her rise to her role as editor of DC Thomson’s Heritage Brands.
downthetubes: Could you describe your role at DC Thomson?
Kirsten Murray: As editor of Heritage Brands, I am responsible for overseeing the creation of the Sunday Post strips (Broons, Oor Wullie, Wee Harry & Wor Nicky), and creating the annuals and gift books.
I am also responsible for overseeing the creation of Commando comics, approving pitches, commissioning the artwork and scripts, editing the comics, pitching new ideas to further all of the Heritage Brands, and overseeing the Commando brand and team as a whole. I will also manage any ‘Heritage Brand’ projects with other DC Thomson IP, should the opportunity arise in the future.
downthetubes: How does it feel being editor of Commando as it reaches its landmark 5000th issue?
Kirsten: It’s really exciting! I was lucky enough to begin working on The Broons and Oor Wullie as they reached their 80th Anniversary, which was full of fun celebrations, so to come on board the team behind Britain’s longest running war comic as we reached 5000 is quite a feat!
We made sure we created something we could be really proud of to mark the occasion. We had a stellar team of creators band together for the 5000th issue, and we hope our readers were pleased with the final outcome. Hopefully we can take the steam from the 5000th buzz and run with it!
downthetubes: You recently conducted a survey of your Commando readership, did it throw up any interesting information on Commando’s core fans and has it suggested things that might bring changes to the current format?
Kirsten: The survey was a great opportunity for us to really get to know our readers, which was our primary goal. Commando wouldn’t be at this landmark number of issues without the strong backing from our loyal readers, and we wanted to make sure we continue to do right by them for the next 5000 issues.
The answers really helped us confirm interest or count out ideas we’ve been toying with for the past couple of months, and will help us shape Commando’s future.
Even after 56 years, we think there’s a lot of untapped potential for Commando, and Heritage Brands as a whole. The brilliant and detailed response to the survey will help us grow, and hopefully even encourage a new generation of readers to investigate Commando, all while remaining true to the core brand values.
downthetubes: When Commando started, many of the people working on it would have seen active service in the army themselves. As someone who is a couple of generations detached from the last World War, what perspective on war and conflict do you think you can bring to the role of Commando editor?
Kirsten: I’m fortunate not to have been directly impacted by the World Wars, but conflict is unfortunately still very much present around the world. I do think there are hugely important lessons to be learned from history. While Commando might tell exciting action and adventure stories, it doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matters.
I think we have a duty to accurately portray the horrors that accompanied the heroics of war, hopefully shedding a light on the struggles millions of men and women from across the globe have faced for, well, millennia. In our upcoming projects, I hope I can continue this trend of telling exhilarating action stories while educating readers about the harsh reality of warfare and conflict.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” as the old saying goes, so perhaps it is Commando’s duty to ensure that, alongside entertaining our readers, the real consequences of history are never forgotten.
downthetubes: As a lot of the books you’ll be working on will be compilations of older material, do you see these as being primarily aimed at readers who will remember them from first time round, or is there the potential to pitch them at a new audience who might appreciate them?
Kirsten: I think reprinted editions do attract readers who may remember reading particular stories during their childhood. Nostalgia is a very powerful thing, and I hope the readers who have followed DC Thomson’s comic adventures for many years fondly remember reading any of our reprinted stories first time around.
However, there is definitely potential to appeal to younger generations too, provided we make the effort to be ‘retro’ and exciting, rather than outdated. Although we may be dealing with older material, the Heritage Brands team are dedicated to approaching Commando – and our other projects we may be working on – with a fresh point of view.
We really want anything we release to be more than “just reprints”, and we’re quite excited to breathe new life into our Heritage Brands.
downthetubes: Are you looking to make a bigger use of online platforms to capitalise on your back catalogue considering there is still interest in the comics published in the latter half of the 20th Century, especially now Rebellion are ramping up their “Treasury of British Comics” line which will hopefully generate more interest in older comics material?
Kirsten: Britain’s comics history is certainly worth boasting about, and knowing what’s hidden away in DC Thomson’s archives, I can imagine Rebellion’s “Treasury of British Comics” project will certainly capture the attention – and hearts – of many comics’ readers.
We think there is room for our Heritage Brands across various platforms, but certainly digital. We have already started looking into how best to use our social media pages and I imagine we will grow from there. The digital world is so accessible, it’s almost vital to jump on board, even when your brands predate the world-wide web.
downthetubes: As some of the competition has released the “Art of” books, is there the potential for DC Thomson to do something similar such as the Art of Ian Kennedy, Pete Sutherland or Denis McLoughlin, to name but a few?
Kirsten: I think a similar “Art of…” project would be very interesting to look into, particularly as some really prolific creators are woven into DC Thomson’s comics history. A celebration of the artwork in our archives would be fantastic to see in any form.
We are looking into various brand expansion projects to boost the notoriety of the likes of Commando, as well as our other Heritage Brands, and we’re finding that there really is a lot of untapped potential in the archives. I’d encourage comic fans to keep an eye on upcoming announcements from the Heritage Brands team!
downthetubes: What was the reason for the ending of the Commando compilations published under license?
Kirsten: Unfortunately, this occurred before my time at DC Thomson, so I would be unable to provide comment here.
downthetubes: Is there any news on the oft-rumoured collections of Starblazer many fans of the comic have asked about?
Kirsten: I’m afraid our extended Heritage Brand projects are currently marked Top Secret, but we are aware that Starblazer still has a very strong fan base. It came up quite frequently in our Commando reader survey, too! DC Thomson has a wealth of comics history stored away in the archives, which we’re certainly very keen to rummage through and explore further, but we’re also aware that readers have very fond memories of these titles, so we would prefer not to rush into any projects, taking time and care instead.
Again, we would recommend keeping an ear to the ground for future Heritage Brands news.
downthetubes: Comics publishing is a career with relatively few opportunities but you managed to break into it immediately after your graduation. What advice would you give to others wanting to do the same?
Kirsten: Like most industries, I don’t think there’s a clear cut recipe for success or formulae for breaking into anything. I often consider myself very lucky to have reached the stage I have, and to have had the opportunities I have had, even right after my postgraduate degree. Personally, I would recommend being passionate, read as much as you can get your hands on, be polite, and work hard – which doesn’t necessarily mean being educated to postgraduate degree level.
I found volunteering at comic cons with Rough Cut Comics or writing for comic sites just as useful as an extended reading list and focused study. Everyone forges their own path, but staying focused on that end goal will always help.
We would like to thank Kirsten for her time and wish her every success in her role. Find out more about Commando at www.commandocomics.com