The news that 2000AD and Judge Dredd Meagzine publisher Rebellion has bought Egmont’s classic comic archive certainly gotten a lot of comics fans into a frenzy, with many creators already brushing up their pitches for all-new takes on adventures characters such as THUNDER comic’s Adam Eterno, Action‘s Dredger and others. But might a revival of Fleetway Editions best-known humour title – Buster – actually be a more viable commercial proposition?
It’s only natural to assume that given its publishing history and the list of what it now owns, Rebellion is going to look first at collections from the best-known classic comics such as Roy of the Rovers, Action and Misty… But Fleetway Editions also had huge success with numerous humour titles, including the creator-led (and creator owned strip led) Oink!, Cor!!, Whizzer and Chips – and, most prominently, Buster, first published in 1960.
The history of Buster is convoluted, not least because Rebellion’s ownership is down to the title still being published when IPC (now Time UK) and Egmont reached their “January 1970” agreement in the 1990s, demarcating ownership of brands and characters originally published by Fleetway Editions.
In a nutshell, with some exceptions, any comic or character first created and published before January 1970 by Fleetway is owned by Time UK, such as Lion, Wham! or Tiger and characters such as Zip Nolan, Frankie Stein, the Steel Claw and Janus Stark. Any comic or character first created and published after January 1970 by Fleetway is now owned by Rebellion, including Action, Battle and more. (More information here)
There are grey areas, although I’d be very surprised if Rebellion didn’t have have some kind of definitive list of both brands and characters they now own, as part of their deal with Egmont. But Buster is one title where a lot of work sorting out who owns what was done, and given that humour comics – originated like The Beano, or licensed such as Simpsons Comics – remain strong news stand sellers here in the UK, I’d argue an all-new Buster might stand a good chance of commercial success, combining not only a print edition but digital offering too, one that would have a strong appeal to a core and media savvy audience of eight to twelve year olds.
Of course, if Rebellion are thinking that there’s a more urgent need for a “young” 2000AD title – reviving the short-lived Wildcat, for example, which could be better cross promoted across exiting titles, then that’s perfectly understandable. After all, when selling in your title to the news trade is going to cost you at least £20,000 – on top of your editorial spend and print costs – you’d expect a canny publisher to be cautious about launching a new title.
Even with a name spanning five generations (given Buster launched in 1960 and was published until 2000), such a title would still have to compete with known, current brands large and small – not just The Beano and TOXIC, for example, but licensed humour comics too, which have the added advantage of recognition on TV or on film. It’s challenge, of course, that 2000AD, Commando, The Beano and The Phoenix face with every issue however, and based on the amount of news items I receive from Rebellion for their exiting titles and new books, are clearly aware of how much work is needed on that front.
So, why revive Buster? What’s the appeal? After all, some of the characters such as “Ivor Lott and Tony Broke“ might seem very dated today. Even the mix of humour and adventure strips Buster used to offer might seem dated to some, so perhaps any revival, if it happened, on the humour strips Buster has in its armoury, which includes characters from a wide range of companion comics of the time – School Fun, Cheekly Weekly, Cor!!, Whizzer and Chips, Shiver and Shake (well, Shiver, anyway, which was the better part of that comic).
For me, although there’s an awareness of the other Rebellion-owned titles, I’d argue Buster is the best known humour title of the brands they now own, crossing several generations. There’s no issue over who owns many of the characters featured (unlike Oink!, where many of the strips were creator owned). In terms of format, its humour strips most emulate The Beano, which remains a success for DC Thomson, and which is about to undergo another revamp and further extension into the digital realm in the next few weeks.
Like The Beano, I’d also see Buster as offering a set of characters that could potentially be spun off into other media (Buster himself, for example), just like Bananaman and Dennis the Menace. Let’s not forget Rebellion has its own games and books publishing divisions, and reprints of Buster strips by the latter would be better supported through promotion in an ongoing comic title.
I’m not alone in my opinion – or should that be, hope, either.
An Obvious Market
“I obviously believe there most definitely is a market for a humour comic but in what format is the big question,” says Joe Matthews, whose had some success with his own Funny Monsters Comic and has just released his first comics album, a smashing re-telling of A Christmas Carol with younger readers in mind. “Bringing back Buster would get it a fair bit of publicity that would be very helpful. It’s a perfect title to revive, but the characters would need to be carefully selected to be relative for todays kids, ‘Vid Kid‘ probably wouldn’t work too well, for example.”
“I totally believe that such comics could work again,”if they could be pushed directly into schools who are really seeing the potential for comics as a tool to promote literacy,” enthuses Tim Quinn, currently slap bang in the middle of being part of Liverpool’s Beatles Week, whose humour comic credits began with DC Thomson’s Sparky but include numerous comics for many other publishers, including Marvel UK.
“It’d be great to see it back, and the name might resonate with parents so they’ll pick it up for their kids,” agrees Lew Stringer, a regular contributor to various comics, including the magzine-styled TOXIC, Doctor Who Magazine and one of the original Buster’s artists, too, drawing “Pete’s Pimple” and “Tom Thug” (both survivors of the title’s merger with Oink!), and “Specky Hector’s History of Comics“, which began in 1990 and appeared in the comic’s final issue. He’s also the writer of the brilliant Blimey! It’s Another Blog About Comics.
“The main problem,” he feels, “is there isn’t the same comics culture amongst young kids as there was 40 or 50 years ago. Today’s generation haven’t developed the routine of being loyal to one comic every week or month.”
“I think it’ll only grab the nostalgic readers initially,” he feels. “As we all know, anyone launching any new title onto the stands is facing a monumental uphill battle, and enough investment to build an audience for years before, perhaps, it even breaks even. So I don’t think the brand loyalty of Buster will be enough to push it ahead of any other launch title. That said, it did have something special about it, and if that could be recreated along with some creative thinking about how to market it, it could be a good title for us all to cross our fingers for.
“It had a very strong image, and that’s so important to stick in people’s brains,” he adds. “Just saying Buster makes you think of Buster himself, that huge green hat. So I think people who read comics in those years will certainly remember Buster fondly. What it did, it did well, but I don’t recall it ever particularly pushing the boat out or trying to be overly unique.”
It would be a mistake, Lew counters, to pitch any new Buster at the ‘nostalgia’ market.
“I think comics fans would only buy it if it mirrored the Buster they remember, which might mean it’d look too dated for a wider modern audience. Pitch it at the kids, not the nostalgists.”
But would Buster‘s original mix of humour and adventure strips be a mix worth reviving?
“It seems to me that the initial reason IPC started segregating the style of their comics into adventure and humour titles in 1969 was to encourage readers to buy more comics,” Lew argues.
“Personally, I always preferred the variety of comics that included a fair balance of humour and adventure stuff,” Lew continues. “Obviously you wouldn’t have something like ‘Hook Jaw’ running alongside ‘Ivor Lott and Tony Broke’, but lighter adventure strips like ‘Galaxus‘ and ‘Fishboy‘ would work.”
Obviously we’d all like to see a cover to cover strip revival of Buster if it happened, but if Rebellion were less keen on the costs of such a venture – even though it could, potentially, run some reprints of original strips alongside new material, would Buster work in the same format as TOXIC or MEGA, that way rotating both Buster‘s humour and adventure characters?
(Buster could then also be a powerful promotional publication for Rebellion’s other projects…)
“I think a new Buster would need to include a few features,” Lew feels, “If only to woo over readers from other mags, and to reflect the interests that kids have now in video games etc. I’d hope it’d still be predominantly comic strip though.”
“A mix of reprint strips and new strips might look a mish-mash and may appeal to us comic geeks but not to the kids of today,” Joe concurs, and noting the success of Egmont’s best-selling boys title TOXIC, adds: “Having a mix of comic strips and features is a good idea.
“I would like to see it a mix similar to VIZ rather than TOXIC, although we can see that TOXIC is working.”
“Personally I’d like to see the news-stands cleared of all the millions of cheap editorial glossy magazines, body-shaming, z-list culture titles,” says Jamie Smart, “And then replaced with fiction weeklies (not just comics), sci-fi titles, horror, romance, everything under the sun. But each representing its own genre. That’d be an amazing array of worlds you could pick and choose from. Make them pulpy too, none of this collectable nonsense, make them cheap paper, disposable, pass-around-able.
“So what I’m saying is I’m a fan of separate titles for separate genres. But children’s comics are uniquely placed to present an array of styles of content to kids, to help them choose what they might enjoy in the future. It’s a little harder to have a unique selling point if your content is a mixture of everything – easier, perhaps, to bill yourself solely as a humour comic, or an adventure comic. It all depends how it’s handled, and put together.
“But I could see Buster as a cultural representative yeah, holding court over some of his older strips, alongside presenting editorial pieces about video games and superhero movies. That could be really fun. He’d need a redesign, and a carefully thought out direction.”
Which Characters Should Return?
Which characters would be favourites for revival from the many, many characters that both launched in Buster and became part of its make-up as it absorbed every other Fleetway humour title down the years?
“Faceache would be my dream choice,” says Joe, referring to another unforgettable character created by the brilliant comic artist Ken Reid, a character that arrived with adventure comic JET‘s merger with Buster in 1971. “If ‘ Scream Inn‘ is included [a strip first published in Shiver and Shake, which featured numerous guest stars from other strips], that would be my second choice. Oh, and ‘Kid Kong‘, [who first appeared in Monster Fun] maybe updating Nan so she’s more modern looking and perhaps having Kid Kong as a refugee… ‘Lazy Bones‘… ‘Chalky‘, the new Banksy…”
It’s clear I’ve got Joe started down memory lane, and he’s finding it hard to choose – and Jamie is torn, too.
“This is really hard to choose. Much though I loved Beano and Dandy, as a southerner, I found the humour often got very regional and I felt a little excluded. Buster felt closer to home, and the drawing styles were really influential for me.
“I traced Sweeny Toddler over and over again when I was a kid, but I loved Joker, Odd Ball, Lazy Bones… Argh. Don’t make me choose! Maybe Sweeny Toddler, it fits my humour and my love for destructive comedy, I think I’d have a ball on that.
“Actually, this is starting to sound like a fun idea, let’s do it! Who do I email to put my name forward?”
For Lew Stringer, there’s an obvious choice – and we’re betting many other downthetubes readers will agree with him.
“I think there’s still some mileage in ‘Tom Thug‘, even though I did the strip for ten years,” he suggests.
“Poking fun at bullies and seeing them get their just desserts never gets old!”
Let’s just hope that Rebellion are considering a Buster revival, along with any plans they may have for for Action, Misty, Battle and other the other classic comics and characters. And not just because alongside a Buster revival, I’d personally love to see a reprint of “The Goodies” from Cor!!, drawn by Joe Colquhoun, or his “Fishboy: Denizen of the Deep” (later drawn by John Stokes)… there’s “Rent-A-Ghost“, “Pete’s Pocket Army” and “Leopard of Lime Street“, too (writer Jason Cobley and artist Paul Harrison-Davies are just itching to get their hands on that character)… and what about Judge “Sweeny Toddler“, which via Whoopee and Whizzer and Chips, became part of Buster’s line-up?
The potential to revamp Buster isn’t a project that Rebelliion alone should consider. Other British publishers – the main ones being DC Thomson and Time UK – own numerous ‘legacy’ comic characters, all up for a new take, feels Jamie Smart.
“All these publishers have rosters of characters sitting in their vaults,” he notes. “I think they’re starting to realise now that they could update and exploit them, as per Marvel. It’s an exciting prospect, and since TOXIC and Mega sell so well, perhaps this is the way to do it.”
• Should Buster return? Vote in our just for fun poll!
• For more about Buster, including a guide to its creators and characters, visit www.bustercomic.co.uk
Buster and all respective characters © Rebellion. My thanks to Joe Matthews, Tim Quinn, Jamie Smart and Lew Stringer for their help with this feature. Please check out their web sites for more information on their many projects and work.
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.