It’s hard to credit but, strangely, there are some out there who claim the British comics industry is dead, ignoring the huge number of successful independent comics out there and a still-thriving news stand.
Now, before anyone comments, I know that many of the comics available in your local supermarket do not include comic strip and many of those that do reprint material from the US and Europe rather than originate (but most of their readers will be unaware of this), and some publishers originate everything inhouse. But that still leaves a lot of material aimed at children and teens that does need drawing and writing, even if the publishers are working from a style bible.
There are, certainly, very few ‘traditional’ cover to cover, fully originated comics out there – but The Beano, 2000AD, Phoenix, Commando and, to a lesser extent, the recently-revamped Doctor Who Adventures, are continuing the kind of editorial route echoing a time when titles aimed at a younger audience were very differently packaged compared with the more feature-dominated magazines you can pick up today.
The advent of “packaged comics”, regularly including free gifts that necessitate a comic has to come in a plastic bag, turning it into a product rather than something to read, has been an unwelcome development in recent years, the result of supermarkets increased market share in newspaper and magazine selling, meaning purchase is more than ever dependent on brand rather than content.
(If the brand isn’t one recognised by the target audience, this makes it well near impossible to gain a toehold on newsagents shelves, and the costs of even trying to get a toe hold in the first place are enormous, as Pete Nash found with his weekly Striker comic back in 2005 and I discovered working on Print Media’s STRIP, although that title also had problems behind the scenes that almost destroyed my love of creating comics, and are still unresolved).
My advice to those who want to break into the business and find there aren’t openings for a comic strip, look at what a comic/magazine is running and see if there’s work available providing illustrations or text features.
Many big names in comics today – Dan Abnett, Nick Abadzis, David Hine, Andy Lanning and others, to name but a few, cut their teeth writing “junior” comics such as The Real Ghostbusters, Care Bears and Thundercats, often thanks to Richard Starkings at Marvel UK, and previous generations have had equal success on “young titles”, helping them learn their comics craft.
It was a starting point many seem to ignore these days, in my view.
Lew Stringer and others have often argued the British comic industry continues to evolve, but it’s far from dead; and I agree. The success of independent publishers such as Tom Ward (creator of Merrick: The Sensational Elephantman comic with Luke Parker)and Kate Ashwin (creator of Widdershins) with crowdfunding their projects – to name just two talented individuals – should surely be encouragement to creators out there, along with support for individual publishers by their fans via services such as Patreon. British comic events such as the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and Thought Bubble do much to put comics and comic creation out to the public and reveal just how vibrant and energised those involved still are, for all the difficulties they face trying to earn a crust.
The continued expansion of digital comics also enables British creators to reach a worldwide audience, and projects such as Dave Hailwood and John Kirkham’s 100% Biodegradable anthology has not only increased its digital sales with every issue but also attracted some great talent to its pages.
The traditional comic industry may have changed, but many comic creators have left it behind in favour of new ways to create comics. All power to them.
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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.