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:

watching

Pulp Detective

I spent the past couple of weeks in Japan, and while I was there I swept up great armfuls of comics ancient (well, 30’s) and modern. Japan probably has the biggest comics industry in the world, in terms of the output of actual comics (the US industry makes most of it’s money from films, videogames and pyjamas). Among the many publications I picked up was this one:

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Which is a ¥760 monthly (this is a second hand copy, which is why it has a ¥100 sticker) called Lynx Novel. I was quite surprised to discover that it actually only contains a minority of comic strips – most of it is three column illustrated text stories! No doubt British fans of Japanese comics would call it a “Light novel serialization anthology”*, or some such guff. Of course we all know the correct term – it’s a STORY PAPER!

Anyway, I planned to do an article on this comic, angrily asking why we can’t have such things here. Unfortunately I can’t do that article yet, because I was buying far too much stuff and had to ship some of it home by surface mail, this among it. Of course, there’s no rush to create such an article is there? I mean, what’s going to happen? It’s not like somebody’s going to launch a new story paper in Britain while my back is turned, is it?

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…shut up.

Yes, that is precisely what has happened! And it’s a themed story paper too. Lynx Novel is about gay romance, but Pulp Detective is about prohibition-era gangsters. I know which one I prefer to read… in text form, anyway. On first impressions some things about Pulp Detective look a bit off, namely the illustrations look far too colourful and cartoony for the hard-boiled action they depict. Also all of the stories are set in the same time and place, when I was hoping for trips to Victorian London or modern America. But these things will grow on you, honestly!

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A map of Bay City, where the stories all take place.

With the stories all set in the same place, there’s plenty of potential for crossovers and characters meeting each other, or one story being pushed along by events in another. I don’t see anything like that in the first issue (and rightly so – it’s got to find it’s feet first!), but the possibility is there, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t happen.

 

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Typical spread

It’s a good thick publication too, with about 130 pages (Lynx Novel has 4-500, but that’s Japanese comics for you) that will take a decent amount of time to read. A perfect train station / airport buy for those long trips, I’d have thought. As you can see above, the illustrations look almost like Franco-Belgian comics, and for some reason they have speech and thought bubbles (something the Starscape Storypaper also did, which I found a bit weird). A lot of them are decently atmospheric, for all that, and the exaggerated, cartoony features do at least allow characters to stand out clearly. The style of the illustrations appears to be the first thing a lot of people coming to this comic notice – but don’t let them put you off, really!

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Different illustrators are used for each story

The first story features the main character, police detective John Munro, in the first part of what promises to be a long-running serial (each part of the serial is very long, though, a mini-novel in itself) as he takes down the mob piece by piece. The second story is told in the first person, by private detective Henry Reed. While the first story moves around the city, the second really focuses on one man’s experience of it. There’s plenty of fairly authentic 30’s American slang too, though a mini-glossary is provided.

 

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Taken pictures with the camera again, it’s not too good XD

The third story in this issue follows another private detective (and has illustrations that are much better suited to this sort of tale… also the cars in it look a lot more like they’re from the early 30’s rather than the mid 40’s!). This story is complete, and in each issue the complete story will follow a different character, showing yet more aspects of both the high and low life in Bay City.

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Comparisons of the cars

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Most of the third story’s illustrations are like this.

Pulp Detective issue 1 is on sale now from most branches of Smith’s (even, amazingly, Ely – who don’t always bother with 2000AD or Commando). It’s also apparently being sold in several smaller newsagents, though I have seen at least two reports of them saying they sent it back to the distributors saying it “wouldn’t sell”, or even that it “wasn’t selling”, only 2 days after they’d received issue 1!

YOU TRAITORS!

Have an ask around your the newsagents in your own area (or at least those that, according to the official website’s store finder, are supposed to be selling it), and refuse to do business with any that say the same, eh?

Issue 1 costs £3.25, which is cheap compared to ¥760! I really hope this comic is here to stay, it’s easily overtaken The Phoenix (“yet another magical fantasy” is getting old… I say, as Zara’s Crown is getting underway) and is up there among Commando and Spaceship Away as my favourite British comic.

Also, knowing what side their bread is buttered on, the publishers don’t want to have this comic running in “isolation”, like DC Thomson’s output, and are advertising the MCM Expo on the back cover!

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I hope they will have a table there too. My promotion of it will be vocal!

In fact, I may even cosplay as a 30’s gangster…

Visit the Pulp Detective website here: www.pulpdetective.com

 

* – American spellings and all

New format for Commando

No, don’t worry, they haven’t added any colour to it! (Mind you, if Commando sales are increasing and if The Phoenix can establish a bridgehead, could a re-launch of The Victor, “The new colour weekly from the makers of Commando!” be an outside possibility?), instead they have improved the printing dramatically.

A while ago, DC Thomson closed down their in-house printing operation to save money (this also bought about the end of the Beano and Dandy libraries). The new outside printers seemed to have trouble with Commando, with issues becoming creased along the spine.

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An old “in house” issue, a new printer issue and one of the latest.

As you can see, the most recent change has made the issues much thicker, with a good, square spine and no creasing! In fact the 64-page Commando issues are now as thick as 96-page issues of The Boys’ Friend Library from the 20’s and 30’s!

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Alongside a BFL from 1937.

The paper the new printers had been using was also slightly “crinkly”, but they have now switched back to a more ‘pulp’, newsprint type that really allows the ink to stand out.

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An old issue, note the creasing up at the centre and shiny paper.

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Now, much better!

Commando is not included in the ABC sales figures (in these dark times for British comics, they are eagerly scruitnised and speculated over!), probably because it’s “four every two weeks” schedule is “weird”. But according to information from the Commando CO there has been an increase in sales recently – no doubt due to the reprint books, publicity surrounding the 50th anniversary and the National Army Museum exhibition. Commando pages also work perfectly on the screens of digital readers such as iPads, where it has also proved popular. Perhaps the profit from the digital version is being invested back in the paper editions? It’s an encouraging sign.

Also encouraging is the fact that, on a few recent occasions, I have complained about the “stupid” WH Smith staff only putting out three of the four issues. But when I went to buy the most recent batch I actually got the last issue of the (non reprinted) Falklands War story. They weren’t failing to put out certain issues – they were selling out! In fact on occasion, when I have gone into Smith’s on the ‘other week’ there has been only 2-3 comics left in the box! May be feel some cautious optimism?

Incidentally another batch of 3-in-1 reprint books has been released. But I appear to have accidentally deleted the picture I’d taken of them!

A comparison

…of Japan’s best weekly adventure comic and Britain’s best (only!) weekly adventure comic.*

It’s no secret that I hold Japan up as an example of how the comic industries of all countries ought to function. Thick, cheap weekly anthologies with exciting serials, which are then collected into better-printed book form for fans to collect. I’m not suggesting that Britain ought to start copying the Japanese art style or stories, though. And our comics don’t need to be as thick either, if we’re going to stick with detailed Commando-type artwork. But they do need to exist!

With sales dropping or barely holding across the board (mind you The Beano did recently gain just over 1000, which is a step in the right direction.) some drastic gambles may have to be taken. And of course comic fans all need to do their bit to promote the art form to non-readers in everyday life.

But enough of that, on with the comparison!

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The Phoenix issue 8 and Shonen Jump issue 12 (for 2012)

Here are the covers, and I think The Phoenix easily wins out,  with a big bold image and minimal text, as opposed to the “bit of everything” Japanese clutter. Some otaku hold that Japanese writing** is “more artistic” and so cluttered covers work better in that language. Well actually in Japan it’s considered “artistic” to scatter odd English around designs (usually it makes no sense). Cluttered covers are just ugly whatever language they are in!

Of course, the ideal is to have a strip on the cover. But we just aren’t getting that these days.

But enough of the fronts, lets look at the sides…

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That’s about the size of it.

Yes, Shonen Jump is still a weekly! It can be such a huge size partly because of the style of manga art, with many panels featuring only talking characters with basic backgrounds. Also manga usually uses screen tone to add shading, rather than time-consuming cross hatching. Oh and of course (at least if Bakuman is anything to go on) artists and writers only work on one story at a time, for which they are paid a decent wage and also receive royalties from sales of the collected books. This means they can concentrate on “their” story entirely. Most if not all of them also have assistants doing the donkey-work of, say, drawing the windows on distant skyscrapers. It is in effect the famous “studio system” used on Dan Dare raised to a state of perfection.

This particular issue contains 21 stories in about 500 pages (most of them aren’t numbered). The Phoenix contains 11 stories in a mere 32 pages. Though of course the length, style and pacing of them is so completely different a direct comparison is meaningless. Also the Phoenix’s editorial content is a ‘story’ in itself!

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Like so

Starting off, we have the latest information on “Phoenix land”, with the ongoing case of the missing feathers. One of the fictional editors of the comic has been arrested on suspicion of stealing them, which has not gone down well with the rest of the team. And then we’re into the first story. The stories in The Phoenix are all full-colour and the paper quality certainly beats Shonen Jump hands down. Mind you I’m wrong in the head so I actually prefer thin newsprint, but I’m not going to start claiming it’s better!

The first story is Pirates of Pangaea, which is actually pretty close to the “sort of thing” you’d see in manga! A fantasy world of dinosaurs and crazy pirates. Mind you though Pirates of Pangaea doesn’t feature a mysterious child with an ancient power locked within him, or elaborate, wordy mind-games. No it features shooting at rampaging raptors with flintlocks and then running like mad!

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A blonde guy teamed up with a “dumb animal” that’s more intelligent than him, shades of Tintin eh?

The other ‘serious’ adventure story in The Phoenix is The Lost Boy. This one is actually drawn in a kind of combined British / Japanese style. And it also features a seafaring adventurer on a mysterious island!

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Sweet sugar lumps!

The other “flagship” adventure story is the more comedic Long Gone Don, created by The Etherington Brothers. This pair are for my money not just the most talented writer and artist working in British comics at the moment, but are among the best in the world! The complex and detailed art is a joy to behold, the dialogue is fantastic and the stories rattle along at a good pace. The one criticism I can perhaps offer is with art that deep and detailed they ought to go about including some “where’s wally?”-style mini visual gags. That’d make their work just about perfect, and would encourage people to stare at it for longer, too!

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Crazy invention time!

The Phoenix also contains some purely comedy stories, such as this one by Jamie Smart. To put it diplomatically Jamie is a “marmite” artist. A little like a modern version of Eric Parker, in fact, in that he sure can turn ’em out. He’s almost made The Dandy his own of late – which has bought about some highly polarised opinions. I’d better reserve my own judgement on the matter, lest accusations of jealousy start flying around.

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What would the Rev’d Marcus Morris have made of this?

One of my favourite parts of The Phoenix is the educational Corpse Talk. The basic premise is that the skeletal, rotted remains of famous historical figures are dug up and interviewed about their lives. Like ya do. This week it’s the Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, and previous bodies in the chair have been Marie Curie and Genghis Khan. I should think more than one kid has got better marks on their history homework as a result of this! Plus just look at how many panels have been crammed in, it’s like 1950’s Jonah!

The feature content of The Phoenix includes the usual “letters and pictures from readers” section that has long been a staple of British comics (though of course the best letters sections appeared before 1930). I can’t see anything that looks similar in Shonen Jump. The Pheonix also contains a series of articles about creating your own comics, and encourages children to have a go themselves.

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 Mind you this one is about sound effects, which are overused, over dramatic and over here!

To my mind this is the most important part of the comic. It will hopefully instill in the readers not only the desire to try it for themselves (all kids draw, but if my own experience is anything to go on very few of them attempt to make comic strips. Though to my own young mind it seemed the logical thing to do.) but also an appreciation of the art form of comics and of the effort that goes into making decent ones. If The Phoenix can be sustained (apparently it’s secure for two years… are you doing your bit to make it run beyond?) and if those kids can inspire others at their schools to draw comics too we might see the long-wished-for comics “revolution” in Britain within the next 15 years!

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More Etheringtonism

The Phoenix also contains puzzles, including the ongoing series The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan. Some of these are harder than others and really require you to get yer brain in gear. This issue’s are a bit easy though. Readers are invited to “help” the adventurer by sending in the solutions to the puzzles, and if “chosen” by him receive prizes.

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Yep!

Finally one thing Shonen Jump definitely does not have is text stories! Text-filled story papers were the predecessors of British adventure comics, and even once the adventure strips started to appear in the late 30’s there was a long crossover period of mixed text and strip content. By contrast I’m not sure Japan ever had what could be considered an equivalent to story papers. But then most histories of manga begin in the late 1940’s and ignore everything that went before as being “too nationalistic”. Mind you certain ivory-tower preachers are attempting to act like British comics only began in 1976 and nothing that came before is worthy of note.

Possible candidates for Japanese story papers include books called ‘Yellow Covers’ that first started to appear in 1775 (the first British story paper was possibly The Young Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1777, but very little information is available on it). After these there was a genre of serialised stories called ‘Books for reading’. I’ve also seen an issue of a 1920’s “comic” (as described by my girlfriend of the time) called Boys’ Club. But I can’t find any information on it, and it was locked in a cabinet at a museum with all of the other information about it in Japanese.

Anyway, the Phoenix text stories are often extracts from children’s books, which means I don’t bother reading them as I won’t be buying the books. Occasionally however they run complete stories or mini-serials (including an adaption of The Minotaur). More of those, please!

The Phoenix is completely free of advertising, because it is funded by “anonymous backers” (why anonymous though, surely not ‘shame’ at being involved with ‘mere comics’? Stand up and be counted, true patriots!). By contrast Shonen Jump has quite a lot of adverts, even in the form of fold-out “colour plates”!

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 FURUKOOOOOOOOOOSU!

These adverts are generally for action figures, videogames or anime DVD’s. Almost all of which are based on the stories that have appeared in Shonen Jump! And yet in this country when a British comic character is adapted into another form (rather than a TV show being made into a ‘comic’ with hardly any comic) it’s generally either ignored or is met with a disgraceful shower of hate from hack journalists who have suddenly ‘discovered’ that the comics they read as a kid 30 years ago have changed since then. And this from supposedly ‘patriotic’ newspapers.

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Hand!

By contrast to The Pheonix, Shonen Jump contains only 3 pages of comic in colour. They are the first three pages of Haikyuu!!, a school and volleyball strip. It’s apparently a new strip, so this could be the very first part and the colour pages serve to introduce it. Of course in issues where a new story is not beginning it’s probable that a popular one is randomly chosen for the colour pages.

The Phoenix does not have any sport stories, but they were once a genre that ebbed and flowed through British comics. The Boys’ Realm became a sport-themed paper towards the end of it’s life, and even launched a smaller spinoff called The Boys’ Realm Sports Library, which I recently bought 6 months of. This issue of Shonen Jump has two, Hakyuu!! and Kuroko no Basuke (Kuroko’s Basketball).

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 Is a small tsu in Katakana also a ‘sound extender’ like a line is?

Of course the staples of shonen manga (boys’ comics) are the adventure stories. There’s some comedic ones such as Toriko, which is about a “gourmet hunter” who tours the world looking for ingredients to create “the ultimate meal”. If British TV companies want to save a few bob they could always combine I’m A Nonentity Get Me Back On Telly (are you sure that’s right? -ed) and Masterchef into one show in this way.

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Also it has Mexican wrestlers

Another comedy adventure tale is the famous One Piece, which is about a crew of pirates captained by “Luffy”, who has some sort of superpower. In this issue we have the 657th (O_O) chapter…

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 With some English

…and you thought Varney The Vampyre ran for a long time! Like the early-mid 19th century Penny Dreadfuls, a successful manga will be extended and extended to make more money rather than allowed to end at the point the writers probably hoped it would. This of course usually leads to people beginning to describe long-running stories as “annoying” or “crazy” as the writers just stick in whatever they think up first, probably having long since given up caring.

Of course in Britain from about the 1860’s – 70’s onwards stories had a set length and finished when they finished. It didn’t do our industry any harm for the next hundred years! And of course a story ending doesn’t mean that the same characters can’t come back in a new tale later, but it does free up the creators to think of something totally different if they want.

The main stock in trade of the shonen story is, of course, giant monsters, giant lasers or, er, both.

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Oroboros? It always makes me think of Red Dwarf!

Some stories actually have quite a lot of detail despite still being 20-30 pages a chapter. There must be quite a crew of assistants working on Nurarihyon no Mago.

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Fields of swords!

And of course there’s the epic battles with magic energy beams. I wonder how people don’t get tired of this stuff… but then again somebody who can’t read English would probably consider every Commando comic to have the same story XD.

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 DOGOOOOOO. Mind you if the Treens were watching this they’d know not to mess.

Shonen Jump also contains a few examples of other genres, including one which was once very popular in Britain… up to World War 1 anyway, the “work” story. The Boys’ Friend used to be crammed with tales about boys who worked in mines, factories or shipyards. And the immortal Sexton Blake used to regularly go undercover in all sorts of industries. In today’s Shonen Jump we have Bakuman, a story of kids working their way into the manga industry. The old work stories in Britain were usually detective stories at their heart, with the hero overhearing some villainous plot and working to foil it.

Bakuman is instead basically a romantic story at it’s heart (well there’s not much scope for villainy in the manga industry, a serial pencil thief is not that threatening). Moritaka Mashiro dreams of being a manga artist, he loves Miho Azuki who wants to be a voice actress. They promise that when Moritaka has made a successful manga that is animated, Miho will play the woman in it, and then they can be married. But apart from that it also contains many other amusing characters and offers many insights into how the manga industry in Japan works (which is how I’m even able to write posts like this!). The Japanese books are currently up to 16, the English have just reached 9. This chapter will probably be part of book 17.

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“Everybody Listen!”

Other styles of stories include the purely humorous story, as we’d see in The Beano. Just longer, black and white and probably serialised to a degree (and later made into an animation without mouth-foaming, traitorous ravings in the papers).

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Teacups for heads? It’s PC gone mad!

One of the longest running comedy comics in Shonen Jump is called, and breathe in here: This is the police station in front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward. It’s been running continuously since 1976, and in fact the artwork still looks more like 70’s manga than the modern kind.

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“I’m gonna try and do 3 rotations!” “Aagh stop rotating!” …or something like that .

The story is probably more like Only Fools and Horses (or maybe Stop The Pigeon) as the characters try to use the latest fads or wierd inventions to either get rich quick, or catch criminals more easily. Of course these always go wrong. Also like the stories of Billy Bunter or Sexton Blake the main characters never age even though the world is changing around them. But actually in this story a few characters do age. A baby born in an early story is now a teenager, but his parents are still the same age.

This particular story appears to involve a pushy journalist constantly interfering with police work by trying to interview everybody. However he then helps them arrest an armed robber by popping up at the resturant he is holed up in and trying to interview him. While he is still wondering what’s going on he gets arrested!

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Myootsukee.

There’s also a school story apparently told from the perspective of the teacher. The only British example of that I can think of (except for maybe “Singled out: Teacher” Bash Street Kids episodes in The Beano from the 2000’s) was in The Captain in 1899!

You will probably have noticed that most of the print quality in Shonen Jump is not fantastic. That’s because these weekly anthologies are seen as ‘throwaway’, in fact the trains and stations in Tokyo usually have discarded copies laying on the seats. Of course in Britain for most of history comics were also seen as “throwaway” and were used to, say, light the fire once the kids were done with them. This has found it’s ultimate expression in the replacement of the printed US Shonen Jump (which was monthly and had half the page count… somehow) with “Shonen Jump Alpha”, which is at least weekly but ‘expires’ and deletes itself. Of course any comic that goes purely digital from print ceases to exist as far as I’m concerned. But having them ‘expire’ really is a step too far. I haven’t bought a videogame since 2009 because of the Orwellian excesses of that industry. It cannot be allowed to creep into comics too!

Of course, it’s okay to dispose of the weekly anthology copies in Japan because the stories that the readers like will come out in better-printed book form. Virtually every story will be printed in this way, whether they sell or not! It is of course these collected books that we get in foreign countries.

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But a little bigger

Of course this can help with Japanese study… an aspect of comics that must also be promoted by fans to the unbelievers, and a reason why it is essential that more countries begin to produce a wide range of varied stories in the manner of Japan, and export them!

Imagine the proliferation of enthusiasm for learning other languages and the cultures that go with them if all nations produced interesting-looking picture stories that people wanted to understand. Comics have advantages over plain books in that the pictures help to explain what’s going on, and the dialogue and descriptions are “broken apart” clearly.

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The English words actually seem to fit some of those bubbles better!

Of course book form reprints of stories from British comics are starting to proliferate now. But only haphazardly and occasionally in “best of” type books rather than full reprints. They’re also usually hardbacks with thick glossy art paper… even if the original artwork has been lost and the reproduction would have been just as good in lower-quality paperback. Of course this drive for quality of printing and binding drives the prices up to prohibitive levels, especially in a recession, and people stay away. Then series are left incomplete because of “poor sales”. Still if everybody reading this made up their mind to buy just one of the British comic reprint books this week…

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Serving suggestion

Of course it’s far more important that the risk is taken and that ‘vanished’ stories are once again reproduced thousands of times and distributed to the ends of the country, so that they may survive into future decades in an easily accessible form. But as usual those who “know the cost of everything and the value of nothing” win the day. Mind you unsympathetic shopkeepers don’t help. Classics From The Comics was just really getting into it’s stride, switching from purely reprinting 1/2 page humour strips to a little bit of everything from DC Thomson’s extensive back catalogue, even reaching back into the twenties! But bad distribution killed it off in it’s prime. It was probably the closest thing we have had to Shonen Jump, actually. Though only 100 pages and entirely reprints.

One other book Britain has had which was a bit like Shonen Jump was this one from 1989

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Intended as an annual, mind you.

It was a paperback reprint of a random selection of IPC / Amalgamated Press adventure comics from the 50’s and 60’s. It even had Jump-like print ‘quality’!

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A highwayman story probably originally from The Thriller Library

Even in 1989 this apparently didn’t sell well enough to be reprinted. But really it ought to point the way forwards, if the quality of the reprints is not going to be very good because of missing/deteriorated original artwork, cheapen the paper to match and knock it out for as low a price as possible! And of course all of us will then have to let other people know it’s out there!

It’s one thing to wish that we had regular big wedges of comic like Shonen Jump (not that thinner wedges of full colour like The Phoenix are a bad thing, we ought to be able to do both, really). But if we want it, all comic fans and creators have to stand together and do their bit!

*- Actually Doctor Who adventures is also weekly, and Doctor Who is an “acceptable” licensed character. But it only has 4-5 actual pages of comic strip per issue, the rest is dumbed-down articles with big pictures and “ooh scary!” captions.

** – The ‘fancier’ characters are actually almost all Chinese, though!

The post formerly known as “Where’s your phoenix?”

…because instead it ought to be called Where’s my Phoenix!

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My regular buys, though some have not so regular publication!

The Phoenix is a new, weekly British adventure comic that is distributed (apparently) in (some) shops. It launched on Saturday… not that you’d have noticed if you didn’t read the Times or British Comic websites. As it’s name sort of implies it’s a revival of a certain other comic, namely the ill-fated DFC of a few years ago. It’s been bankrolled by an “anonymous benefactor” and apparently has enough funding to guarantee it running for another two years. Though if I ever win the lottery that will be immediately doubled.

Anyway, as I said above the comic is supposed to be distributed in shops, or at least in Waitrose. Good luck finding it though! Wherever I’ve been on the internet I’ve only seen tales of dissapointment. Waitrose isn’t as common up north or in Scotland as it is around my way, so some people went on special journeys of no small distance only to be met with a blank wall!

I didn’t have such a trek to my nearest store in Ely, but had just as much luck! Aside from a proper dig in the typically messy comics section I also checked along the tills (where the special Waitrose magazine is sold). Having not found it on Saturday I carried on into Cambridge for the other bits I wanted to buy. In desperation I also checked for it in Forbidden Planet (nope!), Smith’s (nope! But they did manage to stock all four Commando issues this time around) and various other small shops (nope!).

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Picture related

However, I decided that as the comic was also available by subscription from the internet, perhaps the January 7th date was simply when those copies were posted. The actual physical copies wouldn’t be distributed to shops until the following Monday? Well I went in earlier today and… nope!

This time I tried asking at customer services too. The first person had never heard of it. Neither had the second. She rang up one of the “higher ups” who had also never heard of it. She then rang up one of the even-higher-ups who wasn’t in the office (this was about 5 o clock mind you). To be fair to them they did even offer to have him ring me back, but I just said I’d buy it online instead. Perhaps a mistake, I could have appealed to his patriotism… by calling him a traitor. And other such polite and persuasive arguments.

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Picture related

Anyway, I tried my best. But now I’m going to have to be reduced to buying it online. You’d think the people that run physical shops would be more worried about people buying everything over a wire wouldn’t you? One computerised logistics centre does the work of 100 supermarkets, the shop managers are under just as much of a threat as the checkout girls if they continue to lose sales.

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 Still you get a free binder. More shelf space I have to find!

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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!