Comic Heroes, the specialist comic news and features magazine published by Future, is no more. The title will cease publication with its 24th issue, on sale in two weeks, its digital companion title, Comic Review, already no longer being published.
Subscribers to the title are being offered the option of transferring their subscription to SFX, the science fiction media title also published by Future.
I had thought that putting out a heftily priced tome about comics with added goodies might have been a long term winner – the similarly-formatted Prog Rock magazine has run for much longer with ongoing success, for example. But it looks like the ‘niche’ nature of the title runs counter to the new direction the company has undertaken after a poor financial year.
The cancellation follows Future’s announcement that it was to cut 200 jobs and sell off its sport and craft magazine portfolio, as the ailing publisher reported a £30.6m pre-tax loss in its first half year. The Guardian reported in May that the company had brought in former AutoTrader financial chief Zillah Byng-Maddick as chief executive to transform the business, and said that it is to cut more than 170 jobs at its UK operation. Byng-Maddick’s solution to the company’s woes, in addition to job cuts, appears to be a re-focusing away from the content and niche titles for which it is well known and a drive to boost advertising revenues. Editorial changes, re-structuring away from content types toward a single content and marketing team that will produce all content, has been met with dismay from bot staff and outsiders.
“From the City’s point of view this sounds like common sense,” noted David Hepworth. “But for journalists, who tell their friends they work in cycling or movies or computer games, the removal of this fig-leaf to reveal just another elf swinging a pick on the slopes of Mount Content is a bit of a reverse. Magazine people traditionally give their first loyalty to a subject area, their second to a title and then only latterly to the company that happens to own the title. That’s all gone.”
At the end of May, Future sold its portfolio of sport and craft titles – which include Procycling, What Mountain Bike and The Knitter – to Radio Times and Doctor Who Adventures publisher Immediate Media in a £24m deal. The portfolio includes 17 titles and a range of websites and made operating profit of £6.4m and revenues of £23.7m in the year to the end of September last year.
Sadly, no such option seems likely for Comic Heroes, to the disappointment of its loyal readers.
“I really liked Comic Heroes and supported every issue,” commented comic creator and blogger Lew Stringer. “(I enjoyed writing a couple of articles for it in it’s early days too). I know some fans have complained about the price since day one. Heck, even my local newsagent said it was too expensive (why would a retailer try to dissuade customers? Go figure). But I always felt there was a lot of info in there for the money. Hopefully SFX will now carry more comics-related material to compensate.”
“It’s sad news,” noted freelance writer and editor Joel Meadows, who is currently working on a new edition of his own media magazine, TRIPWIRE, with plans for more frequent publication in 2015. “I’ve been doing a decent amount of work for them since it started.”
“I was a subscriber! I loved the weekly review comic,” commented O-Men creator Martin Eden.”So now we have no comic-related magazine [in the UK], apart from Bleeding Cool magazine… I miss Comics International.
“It’s a great pity as it was always a good read,” said John Carpenter. “I thought it’s premium price, and the screen boom in superheroes, would have kept it viable. Maybe if Future’s finances weren’t so wobbly then it might have survived. The digital Comics Review spin-off, which was starting to look a little, ahem, thinner of late, was canned a few weeks ago.
“Maybe it’s fate was sealed when they did away with the cardboard sleeve and casual punters could do their flicking for free in WH Smiths.
“[The print edition of] Bleeding Cool lacks the same appeal and suffers from basic and unattractive layouts,” he feels.
Despite its demise, there are alternatives online (including this site, albeit with zero budget!). Comics journalist Laura Sneddon points to Imagine Publishing’s digital only Uncanny Comics as a good alternative.
“It’s cheap and cheerful,” she says, “but I’m betting it’ll expand given how successful it’s been.”