Comments update

As I mentioned in a previous post, the “upgrade” to the blog vastly increased the number of spam comments it received (it has also made it much harder to create “3 across” image “galleries” like I used to do. Now inserting an image automatically creates a new line, and you can’t format ‘around’ an image, because the software treats images differently. Of course, in the old version, the image was treated as if it was a character, so you could simply type dashes and insert more images after an image, like so:

[image] – [image] – [image]

Trying to do that in this “improved” version results in:

[image][image]                  – –

|                           [image]

Or worse!)

Ahem, where was I? The “upgrade” also comes with a supposed “best spam comment blocker in the world”, for which you need to register and get a key code. Except to register and get a key code, you have to be a member of WordPress. I don’t suppose the monkeys in charge of 1&1 Blogs have noticed that THEY ARE NOT WORDPRESS. They use WordPress software, but host the blogs themselves. Anyway, as I have no intention of creating a ‘blank’ WordPress blog just to get a key which I can then apply to this one, I have re-allowed comments, but they will all be moderated. I can’t monitor this blog 24 hours a day (and in some cases may go days or weeks without looking at it), so please be patient if you have posted a comment and it isn’t showing up. I have set it so that “previously approved” people will have future comments auto-approved, but I don’t know how reliable that will be.

The new press regulations

New press regulations going through parliament will apparently force newspapers to make their stories “factually accurate”. While some may see this as a blow to free speech (opinion-as-journalism is a long, if annoying, tradition that’s almost as old as British newspapers), we may be able to turn it to our advantage. On what subject are the papers, even (sometimes especially) the “quality” papers, constantly spouting ill-researched, lazy nonsense, safe in the knowledge they will never be challenged?

bcomicoverI took this picture ages ago, for a totally different purpose, but it will suit…

Apparently papers found to have been lazily mouthing off with the first thing they thought up will be fined up to a million pounds (though no doubt that will only happen in severe cases of “he hasn’t been convicted of anything, but look at him, he’s probably capable of it…”). No doubt the money will just go straight to the government, but it would be nice if a paper jabbering “The Dandy cost 2p and was the first comic with speech bubbles” was forced to pay a million quid to The Phoenix, allowing them to launch a second title (if only to run it for 22 issues then do a “Great news inside, chums!”).

But enough jokey wishful thinking, every fan of British comics ought to rally around the flag, and start going through any comic related articles with a fine tooth comb. And as for any tabloid journalists who end up here in the course of their Googled-during-tea-break “research” (try looking at the original comics themselves, eh?), I have only this:

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Blog update 2

Well, the “upgrade” to the blog has been completed. It now has an ugly design and less customisation options. Also, the old version of the blog recieved maybe 10 spam comments ever, allowing open comments on this new version attracted about 50 spam comments in less than 24 hours. So unfortunately people will now need to register an account and log in before they can post comments… which really ought to improve the tiny numbers I’ve been getting, eh?

Edit: I discovered that a (very) wide range of new themes can be installed! Of course, I chose and customised one to look as much like the old blog as possible… preferred red to brown, though. If and when my other blogs “go” they can still be blue and green.

Now I need to see about some sort of anti-spam addon/plugin/app, so I can have open comments again and not force people to have to register.

Edit 2: I just discovered there’s not actually a way for people to “register”. Just treat comments as temporarily disabled

Blog update notice

My host has informed me that sometime in March my comic blog (this one) will be “migrated to WordPress”. As far as I knew, it already was a WordPress blog, though hosted on their site and with several features (namely the ability to upload your own image for the heading image, or to embed stuff, or to install WordPress add-ons) removed. The email then waffled some stuff about “installed applications”, which led me to hope that they would start allowing the use of WordPress add-ons, but apparently that was actually about their own web design packages.

Anyway, the update will apparently only take the blog offline for an hour or two (and this host is well-known for it’s uptime and reliability), but there is the risk that it will mess something up and cause the images to stop working or something. If that does happen, It will probably take me quite a long time to fix everything, but I’ll do the newest entries first. 

Why manga is not going to “save” comics

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You almost can’t have a discussion about the state of comics in Britain or the USA without somebody piping up with something along the lines of the following:

“The weekly anthology format is dead, manga, on the other hand…”

“US comics are all superheroes. It’s not like manga, which…”

“Comics have lost their way. The kids are all reading manga, so…”

And so on. If you ask me there’s a great deal of nonsense talked about how manga is some sort of magic potion that will put British comics back on their feet. After all it works in Japan doesn’t it? And just look at those shelves creaking under the weight of so many of those paperback sized volumes! Remember when the corner shop had that many comics in the seventies?

Let’s begin by looking at the format of those paperback sized books. Apparently “kids love that chunky format” and anyway “the weekly anthology comic is dead”. Well in Japan the nearest equivalent of “that chunky format” are books called Tankobon.

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They’re a tiny bit smaller and have pointless dust jackets that keep springing off.

Tankobon are what the US comic fans would probably irritatingly call “trades”. IE they are collections of a number of chapters of one story. Ever notice how the end of every chapter of a manga book contains some cliffhanger or major plot revelation?

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Read right to left, by the way!

Why would they go putting a cliffhanger in the middle of a book? Because the stories were not originally published in this way. They were originally published, one chapter at a time… in a weekly anthology.

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You wouldn’t want to bind a year’s worth of these.

I had a book at one point that said “manga” “in total” sells 5 million copies “an issue”, but there is also monthly anthologies as well. On the other hand Wikipedia says that Shonen Jump, the most popular of the weekly anthologies has a circulation of 2.8 million. That’s the best-ever selling issue of The Beano (1950) plus the best-ever selling issue of Viz (1991?) and then a few hundred thousand more. Weekly anthologies are dead? It’s all a matter of perspective!

According to Bakuman, which I should think gets the technical details of the manga industry right amid the expected dramatic licence, reader surveys are everything to the editors in Japan. An unpopular series will be ruthlessly dropped whilst a big hit will run and run, even to the point of silly artificial extensions to the story. Britain dropped that sort of thing in the 1840’s! Of course only a popular series will make it to Tankobon format, and only the most popular of those will ever escape Japan. Nearly all the Japanese-originated manga on the shelves in Britain is only there because people bought it in a weekly anthology – in their millions.

But, you say, that is Japan! Kids and casual readers in Britain today aren’t after serial stories that they have to remember to buy every week. The days of title-loyalty are gone, today people want something they can buy the odd issue of – ideally something that has a complete story in it. Why can’t British comics do more of that? Why cant…

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…oh, yeah. Those.

Yes, those. Remind me again how many pocket libraries are still going?

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(NB: Actually two pocket story papers are also still going – but they’re aimed at old women and so I don’t own any!)

 Of course, part of the popularity of manga is it’s style… or is it? What is “manga style”? Big eyes and pointy chins?

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Like this, yeah?

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And this is textbook

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And that’s pretty typical too

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And, wait… they don’t all have big eyes.

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Neither do they!

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“Small eye syndrome” makes it’s way into the most popular series!

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Chins aren’t always pointy…

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This could be Corporal Clott!

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If there was no text in this picture would you even call it manga style at all?

All of those are pictures from my own collection, which is not exactly huge by any standards. And I’ve only stuck to ones originated in Japan and not taken anything from the UK small press!

The fact is claiming there is a “manga style” is as absurd as claiming there is “British style”, “American style” or “European style”. Reading comics is as popular in places such as France and Belgium as it is in Japan, yet when was the last time you heard anybody saying Ligne claire was going to save British comics?

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Though Ligne claire Hurricanes have saved Britain.

I would suspect many of the people claiming that “manga” is some sort of miracle cure that will put British/US comics back on their feet are working with this equation in mind:

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I don’t know about the USA, But surely us Britons ought to know better than that? Does this terrible ebay auction composite image I’ve knocked together ring any bells?

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It didn’t work for them!

“Ah” you say, “what about Scott Pilgrim?”. Well every rule has it’s exceptions, and the Viz ripoffs very nearly had their own exception in the shape of Oink! (ironically it lacked both the swear words and vicious social satire that made Viz so popular, but that’s because it wasn’t just a cynical copy!). Oink! only failed because of prudish 1980’s WH Smith staff putting it on the top shelf. The rest of the cynical “if it worked for them it’ll work for us!” publications, however, collapsed because they were simply poor copies cashing it in – and the readers knew it!

Another commonly heard view, primarily relating to US comics, is that they’re “all about superheroes”. Manga on the other runs over a huge range of genres – including wizard battles, basketball, romantic comedy, political tirades, war, noir, space adventures and even creating manga. And that’s just my own collection! And so, runs the argument, “doing manga” will introduce a range of new genres and bring in new readers.

what?

To say US comics are “all superheroes” is like saying British comics are “all slapstick and WW2”.

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And current affairs, obviously.

The mainstream titles available in ordinary shops now might be, but it was not always like that – and need not be like that again! British comics of the past encompassed a vast range of genres including detectives, football, nurses, romance, schools (boarding to secondary modern), horror, spies, horse riding, sailing… Even sprinting got a look in! There are many reasons why we aren’t seeing the launch of new and varied comics – but “they’re not paperback sized and full of screentoning” is not one of them!

And even if it was, would it really help? Imagine a company that took it upon themselves to licence translations of Japanese manga, and at the same time commission hundreds of new local titles in the same format and style. If “manga is going to save comics” was really true, that company would be raking it in wouldn’t they?

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Pictured: This is not what “raking it in” looks like.

The fact of the matter is that sales of all periodicals are falling. Comics, newspapers, car magazines, music magazines. All of them.

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Pictured: Publications that are in trouble

In the end, manga is not some magic potion that the British comics industry is going to take and suddenly everything will be alright. The reason comic readership in this country is so low and so high in other countries is simply down to the culture. Publishing and retailing are businesses, and they are only going to take on things that will make them money.

In countries such as Japan and France comics are part of mainstream culture and are read by a huge cross-section of society. Any publisher who shut the door on the idea of starting a comic, or a shop who tried to prevent a new comic from being sold by charging ridiculous shelf rental prices, would be committing suicide. But simply copying the format and style of the comics in those countries (though there is a place for both!) is not going to help a great deal.

So what will save British comics? What will create a new generation of avid readers? What will turn people who haven’t touched a comic in 20 years to have another go and be pleasantly surprised?

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One of these is a start

That’s right – you! Do you work with anybody who has young children? Ask them “when are you starting them on The Beano?”. Know anybody who is off to see the latest Green Lantern film? Remark “of course, the comic is better”. In fact, when somebody says they are off to see the latest Harry Potter you could always slip in “Who needs Harry Potter, I’ve got Billy Bunter!” – you never know XD.

The publishers won’t touch comics if they aren’t popular, the retailers won’t stock comics if they aren’t popular. So let’s make them popular. Success won’t be won by idle expectation, we need to be Alan Sugars and not scratchcard addicts!

 

More posts to come!

The other night i looked at the hit statistics for my website as a whole, and was a bit surprised to find this blog is far and away the most popular section! (The only thing getting anywhere near as many hits was my porn webcomic Agent Smoke, for obvious reasons). So not to let down my loyal readers i’ll begin working on some new posts over Christmas hopefully.

 The sad closure of Borders has allowed my collection to expand with some nagging items i have been putting off buying, including a Classical Comics book (Which is not “Classics from the comics” or “Classics illustrated” but something different – classic stories drawn in long comic strip form rather than the condensed form of Classics Illustrated, with full colour artwork rather than bright primary colours). I hadn’t realised they were available in shops and will be collecting some more – The good thing about these is there’s three versions, the original text, a “modernised” text which still follows the original, and a “simplified” version that tells the story in easy language. I think i’ll be going for the middle-of-the-road modernised ones for Shakespeare and the original text for 19th century stuff.

I’ve also gotten a few more of the big Commando volumes, “The Adventures of Jane”, the iconic 1940’s “pin up” strip (factoid: she first got properly naked on D-day!) and some Roy of the Rovers books.

Chums: 1906/7 and 1932/3

Announcement:

The British Comics Wiki is launched! Go to www.crystal-knights.co.uk/
click

The Post:

Having built up quite a collection of food, i was able to save some money recently. And, trying to ignore my need of new shoes (“the weather’s warming up anyway, it won’t rain much”) i decided to buy a Chums volume i’ve had my eye on. It was £45 (well, 40 as the woman very kindly gives a student discount), as opposed to £2.99 (and £10 delivery) for the 1906/7 volume… but then again that was from Ebay, which is often cheaper, and in horrendous condition. It even smells like it’s been near a fire at one point, my more adventruous nature would like to think it narrowly escaped the blitz, but more likely it was in an attic near where the chimney went up for many years.

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Anyway, Chums was initially started by Cassell & Co. in 1892, pre-empting the perhaps better-remembered Boys’ Friend for a large-format story paper with serial instalments, in addition to a complete story of decent length, and the odd factual article. Then again Chums was most likely a penny when it started, whereas the Boys’ Friend was a halfpenny in the 1890’s, that would have accounted for sales success.

Following the style of the times, the size of the paper was what we’d today call arbitrary. Or perhaps “two thirds tabloid”.

chums size

Volumes of The Boys’ Friend 1903-4, Chums 1906-7 (the covers are only very slightly bigger than the comics within)  and a typical “half tabloid” (roughly A4 give or take a few mm’s – though older ones described as the same were actually a little bigger, especially in height, due to cheaper printing quality needing more ‘run off’ room.) comic.

The 1907 (i’ll call them by the later year now to save myself so much typing!) volume, despite being very rickety (it needed repairs i may cover in another post), contains a lot of fascinating material. The typical content of an issue seems to have been longish instalments of at least two serials, a complete story, sometimes a second complete story, as well as an “editors chat” (sometimes a page, sometimes two columns). At least one humourous comic strip, usually with it’s panels “scattered” on a text page and miscellaneous oddments of knowledge or snippets of interesting news and events.  A bit like a less-childish Chatterbox, really. Some issues would include a longer article in place of the second complete story, these articles usually profusely illustrated with photographs and related to some subject of direct interest to the readers, such as scouting.  Still more issues didn’t feature either, though, simply taking up the room with a lot of small articles or jokes.

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The 1907 volume also reproduces the covers and adverts, in fact it’s just the same as the paper that was sold individually in the shops. There is, actually, the possibility that this is a bound volume of the paper that was bought every week by somebody and then bound together using the “official covers” that could probably be bought seperately. However the beginning of the book (mainly the bit of ‘tracing paper’ over the contents, as was the style of the times) suggests otherwise. I’m sure the advertisers and cover illustrators didn’t complain about the extra exposure anyway.

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Two typical spreads from the 1907 volume. Note the comic strips (and the sometimes “scattered” layout of them), the short articles with bold headings and the adventure stories. Aside from the comic strips, covers and heading pictures for the stories (in a lot of serials this seems to have been the same each instalment) illustrations of the text stories are actually quite few and far between. The odd complete story seems to have quite a few, though. Perhaps it was just what would fit in once the story was done… or if the illustrators had time to provide any!

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Photographs are actually a more common sight in the older volume than the new. Several articles on ships (this the HMS dreadnought, the insitigator of a whole era of naval warfare) and monarchs / heads of state feature them. The reproduction is actually quite good compared to the high-contrast, murky reproduction in some other papers. (It’s certainly better than the flash makes it look in this picture!)

Onto the newer volume now, covering 1932 to 1933 (the volumes start from roughly September). This one features no covers or adverts reproduced, and judging by the contents the quantity of factual articles, sage editorial advice, comic strips and amusing snippets had been reduced to almost nothing, a whole issue could seemingly pass without any of those. To make up for this, the quantity of exciting adventure stories was greatly increased. Serials were still the norm, with complete stories appearing in every issue. The number of illustrations, especially in the complete stories, was greatly increased too.

The reason for the apparent vanishing of the factual articles and such-like may be down to the fact this is a bound annual sold by the publisher, and not the individual issues. The articles may have been left out, providing only the stories. Or else the page count of the issues themselves may have been drastically reduced. The reasons for this are not too hard to work out – by this time Chums was published by the Amalgamated Press, presumably they had bought Cassell & co. out, and they wanted to run this “rival” into the ground. Or else sales were just dropping off anyway. That said the paper did seemingly continue into 1941 (so says a book i have), so perhaps it avoided “Graveyard week”. I bet the final volume, with inevitable war stories, makes fascinating reading! Another interesting note is that Chums’ seeming ‘main rival’, the Boys’ Friend, had actually vanished in 1927 (though if you ask me, from the limited exposure i have had to both, the Boys’ Friend was better!).

(Also – from the brief flick i had it appears that none of the AP staple characters of Bunter & co., Sexton Blake, Nelson Lee etc appared in Chums. I did notice the familiar styles of Eric Parker, illustrator to Sexton Blake’s golden age, illustrating a story though)

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The spines. Actually a terrible pic but you can just make out the publisher’s names – as well as the shiny new card of my home-made repairs to the 1907 volume. The spine was just a sheet of cloth and some very crumbly 101-year-old card when i recieved it.

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Two typical spreads, the short factual articles and anecdotes are now reduced to tiny box-outs that can be ignored. Comic strips are replaced by single “gag panels” too (not that the 1907 volume didn’t feature those in great number too, but in the 1933 one they are rarely seen at all). The rest of it is wall-to-wall swashbuckling adventure! The choice of these two spreads was actually not brilliant, as there’s hardly any pictures. They are a lot more common in this volume though – honestly!

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Another thing that is a great deal more common in the 1933 volume is coloured plates. Some do appear in the 1907 volume though, and not in an “even pattern” either, so it’s probable that they were lost (i’m sure there’s the odd page missing too, i havent read a great deal of it yet. Despite immense quantites of PVA glue not all the pages are attached). In the 1933 volume though they are all present. I don’t know if they were sold with odd issues of the weekly paper (Chatterbox was apparently often sold with an optional plate – and only some of these plates appeared in the published annuals, meaning private-bound volumes had more) or just specific to the annuals. Photographs seem to only appear on the rear of the coloured plates too, and not in the actual comics. 

The content of the adventure stories in the 1933 volumes has two overriding themes when you turn to a random page. Flight is the first, the 20’s and early 30’s being a golden age of aerial navigation, without ground control or radar anybody who could afford a flying-machine could take to the skies whenever the fancy took them, and charge about at leisure. A close encounter with another aeronaut being the occasion for a friendly wave and maybe a little stunt display – and not terrified screams from air-traffic control, perhaps the scrambling of fighters and a front-page headline “NEAR MISS DEATH MANIAC! – It wouldn’t have happened if we all had ID cards” on every paper the following day.

The other common theme is war, most especially “The World War”. The stories are somewhere between later reflections on the horrors of the trenches, and the stories of “Let’s get ’em! hurry up it’ll be over by christmas (notice we don’t say what christmas)!” that appeared during the conflict. So whilst the stories still provide the right amount of thrilling adventure and characters devoted to duty and doing everything they can to fight the enemy so long as they have breath in thier body, the tales still muse on the horrible toll, and the fact that not all of your friends, or you, will ever return home. Which if you ask me is the perfect balance – because if you want realism, go outside.

As an aside, just look at the picture below, taken from the very last complete story in the book – wouldn’t look out of place in Charley’s War, would it?

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A final oft-seen theme in the book, primarily in serial form, is the boarding school story. This was, after all, the age of the Magnet and Gem. No obvious Charles Hamilton spotted… but he had his hands full writing for the Magnet, Gem, Penny Popular and who knows what else each week. So i doubt there is any.

Another interesting thing that appeared in the 1907 volume is this fold-out coloured plate, that was just tucked in near the back. It appears to be from the Boys’ Own Paper? I might frame it one day, even with that crease.

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Welcome

This is my new Blog about British comics, storypapers and classic children’s books. Unlike my other blog, the Union Jack Index, this one will be heavy on images and rather shorter on text, concentrating (essentially) on showing off classic stories and artwork of a byegone era

My collection is rather small, compared to some, but varied. Posts are going to encompass everything from early issues of The Halfpenny Marvel from 1894 (well until i get something older for the collection) up to the very latest 2000AD, Commando or Viz.

I have rather a lot on my plate at the moment, though. Ranging from working on two self-published comics, going back to university for my final year, and some other misc. nonsense that crops up. That means updates may not happen very often for the forseeable future, but i’ll try to get a few up soon.