By lokiofmidgaard Comments
The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.
- Kosh, Babylon 5
Britain used to have a comics industry. I guess it still does after a sort, but it's nothing like it used to be. It used to be the case that there were dozens of titles coming out each week from multiple companies and covering a wide range of genres. Now, outside of around 4 or 5 titles, we're mostly down to licensed stuff tied to various cartoons and the like. I can accept that, I guess, as a sign of the times, but what really saddens me is the wealth of material currently languishing mostly forgotten, so little reprinted, most only available if you can track down the back issues - and compared to the US back issue market, it tends to be harder and more expensive to track down a full run of a British title. I'm guessing most comic readers today, even the British based ones, don't even know most of these old titles and characters even exist, and those that do only know them through short run minis like Albion (hugely underrated in my opinion, but I do have the advantage of being able to spot most of the Easter Eggs), or through analogues of them used in series by various British writers. Consider that writers such as Paul Grist, Ian Edginton, Garth Ennis, Brian Bolland, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison all remember these characters with a level of fondness that prompted them to pay homage to them in their own work; the best of the old British characters are every bit as vibrant and worthy as Marvel or DC's top characters. So, for those of you who might be reading this, and who were wondering what new comics you might want to check out, I urge you to hunt down and try what few collections there are, and discover these characters for yourself. Dan Dare and the 2000 AD characters are lucky ones - they are generally well served with TPB collections, and well worth trying. But look out also for the Charley's War series, the quintessential British war comic, and hunt down copies of King of Crooks (so titled because they couldn't use the name of the main character, the Spider, in the title for trademark reasons) and Steel Claw: The Vanishing Man, both sadly only the first installment in what proved to be incomplete reprint runs. Seek out the Albion Origins hardcover that prints a selection of stories featuring various characters who later turned up in that series. If you are very, very lucky, you might be able to track down copies of the Cursitor Doom or Phantom Patrol complete TPBs, though I sady doubt it, as they had very limited print runs. They are different from the US fare, paced more dramatically due to the need to fit stories into weekly installments of three or four pages, more than a little quirky in most cases, and yes, you'll have to get used to the art being in black and white. But they are also truly wonderful adventures, featuring tales and characters somewhat darker than the average American hero of the same era. Most people quite literally don't know what they are missing.
Seeing a few comic site reports claiming that the DC reboot and impending cancellation and relaunch of Uncanny X-Men will make Hellblazer's 280 or so issues the current longest uninterrupted comics run has gotten me quit annoyed. Terrible journalism.
Apart from the fact that Archie would beat out that 280 with his current uninterrupted 621 run from 1942 to date (and no, the title change from Archie Comics to Archie circa #113 doesn't negate that, or else Uncanny X-Men has the same title change problem; nor is it negated by not being a superhero title, since Hellblazer isn't one either), the reporting completely ignores non-US comics. The British Beano has been coming out uninterrupted since 1938, and recently passed the 3500 mark, The Dandy since 1937 is also passed 3500, and Commando, by dint of a somewhat accelerated publishing schedule, has clocked up over 4300 issues since 1961. The French Spirou is up around the 3800 mark. All of these wipe the floor with both the paltry 280 Hellblazer issues, as well as Uncanny's 540 or so. And before anyone says "but the European titles are weeklies" - yes, but (1) that qualifier wasn't included in the claim that Hellblazer was going to become the longest uninterrupted run, (2) Uncanny went bi-weekly for a time and Action Comics weekly, but neither got disqualified on that count when figuring out run lengths, plus, even if the European titles weren't weeklies, Dandy, Beano and Spirou would still be well ahead given their runs started in the 1930s.
The US has plenty of achievements in terms of things like "firsts" and "longest runs" but it annoys me when people who haven't done their research try and lay claim to ones that don't belong to them.
It's no secret that the number of people buying comics took a dramatic downturn sometime during the 1980s into 1990s. Marvel used to consider anything selling under 100,000 as a struggling title, but nowadays few titles even break that barrier. The most common reason posited for this downturn was the introduction of the direct market about a decade before. For a while specialist comic shops that bought comics on a non-returnable basis were a boon, as they boosted sales, but as readers got older, a percentage stopped buying, either losing interest or finding other financial concerns taking priority. This had always been the case, but in the past new young readers had replenished the reading base. Now, however, they didn't, or at least not in numbers sufficient to sustain the existing market. The theory was that since comics were no longer available in drug stores and supermarkets there was no way for new readers to discover them; to hunt down a specialist comic shop you already had to be interested in comics.
It's an interesting theory, but I don't think it holds water. I'm sure the direct market has in the long term negatively impacted on sales as suggested above, but I don't think it is the main reason for the massive downturn. And here's why I believe that: the UK's native comic market saw a markedly similar downturn almost simultaneously (actually, I'd argue a worse one, since the plethora of titles that used to be published has dwindled to a handful), but in the UK comics never left the high street. They remain to this day available in newsagents shops and supermarkets, yet the sales figures have dropped just the same as they did in the USA. (NB - US imports of Marvel, DC, etc, are still only available in specialist shops. I'm talking about home grown product, produced by and for the UK market).
So, if we take "specialist comic shops removing the easy introduction to comics" out of the equation, what else might be behind the fall? What else changed in the 1980s and early 1990s? The most obvious option I can see is the boom in other forms of home entertainment - video tapes (and latterly DVD), home computers and computer games. In the competition for people's available time and spendable budget, comics are poor relatives to videos/DVDs and digitised adventures, and have only become poorer competition as comics have gone up in price while those other forms of entertainment have come down. I can't help but believe that this, which holds true for the UK as well as the USA, has a lot more to do with that plunge in sales than the direct market ever did.
Use your keyboard!
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