Strip Magazine is BACK!

After a difficult birth and an even more difficult “childhood”, with waits of many months between some issues (and the entire consignment of one issue, which ended up being ‘combined’ with another, going missing in Italy. Anybody who finds those ought to hang on to them, might be worth a bit in years to come!), Strip Magazine has now finally reached UK Newsagents!

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The occasion is marked with a new first issue, which has an entirely new look and several new stories, though others are being reprinted for the benefit of new readers.

nstrip02The issue opens with the customary Cosmic Patrol strip. This is one that has not been seen before. I don’t know if they’re reprinted from somewhere else, but the artistic style suggests franco-belgian to me, as do the “strange” sound effects.

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In the same manner as 2000AD and The Phoenix, they have gone for a fictional editor to introduce the comic. In this case, an educated ape! (I wonder if it’s one of the apes from that Not-I-Spy-Honest strip in the original version? XD).

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The new “lead” strip is a re-creation of DC Thomson’s hero King Cobra! They kept this under their hats, I remember it being announced not too far in advance of the release date. I was worried they’d do the usual hatchet job, turning him into a “Patriotism as She is Spoke”, over emotional character who would be dropping to his knees and screaming “NNNOOOOO!” all the time. I voiced these concerns on a forum and got the usual response of “the character needs to be modernised”. For modernised, read americanised.

BUT, so far anyway, they have actually done a decent job (though he does shout “No!” in a speech bubble with a red outline). The new Cobra is the usual martial arts expert loaded with gadgets, such as wrist-mounted arrow firers and limited invisibility. He is also in contact with a woman “in the background”, monitoring CCTV images and police radios, which at least means he isn’t talking to himself XD.

Several references are made to “the old Cobra”, and the introduction blurb states that the original Cobra disappeared in 1982 (the year Hotspur was merged into Victor XD). The villain of the strip (costumed dictator of his own nuclear-armed country, no less!) recognises him too. There’s an interesting backstory here, and I for one can’t wait to read it!

One quirk of the original King Cobra was that his “human form” was really clumsy. I expect this aspect will be “modernised” (removed entirely), but Strip often gives me pleasant surprises. Mind you, the clumsiness wasn’t seen in all the old King Cobra stories. I didn’t know about it until I saw a reprint of one of the weekly strips in Classics From the Comics. It’s not mentioned at all in some annuals!

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KTHOOOM again

Black Ops Extreme also returns, in a brand new story! I think this is actually the best one so far (though the Embassy Siege one was good too). Though this “continues” from the old Strip Magazine, the stories are all more or less complete in themselves. The overall plot (disgraced former special forces soldiers have to undertake suicide missions for pardons) is pretty easy to grasp. No doubt it will slowly work towards them all being betrayed, almost killed, then escaping and going on the run XD.

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To reiterate – A BOSNIAN CARES MORE ABOUT BRITISH COMICS THAN BRITISH PEOPLE.

Next up is the Comic Cuts article, with news about what’s happening in the British comics ‘scene’. Of course, the biggest news at the moment is Strip Magazine itself! They talk about the origins of the UK version, the titles Print Media already publish in Bosnia (including Strip Magazin) and the endless troubles the test issues faced with customs. Hopefully things are smoothed over and the new version will reach shops in a timely manner, though as I write there have been some problems with subscriptions.

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Next is the fantasy story Crucible. This is quite confusing to begin with, lots of characters and elements of the world to take in at once (anybody else who is going to do one of these ought to read early Long Gone Don in The Phoenix, Broilerdoom is very strange, but introduced in an easily-understandable manner). Anyway, the story opens with the main character, Sylvana, looking for a job. She ends up being recruited with the usual motley crew of adventurers who are off on a quest. Then they get into a fight, with another crew of adventurers, whose “job” they “stole”!

Sylvana appears to have been punched in one eye, and it’s closed. But we don’t see the punching happen, is she perhaps blinded in one eye, and always has it closed? One of my friends is blinded like that, so I notice these things.

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Other artists draw both eyes… but then so do my friend’s fans XD

nstrip09Black Dragon is another reprint, but this time in colour! And it’s going to be continued, too. It’s set in an alternate steampunk(sigh)-ish world. Though it’s 2012 in this world, it’s all steam-powered airships, elaborate braid-covered uniforms and monarchies. This story was originally a one-off, but is now going to be continued!

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Strip Magazine also carries interviews with writers and artists, much like the Judge Dredd Megazine. Here Richmond Clements is interviewed about his work on Black Ops Extreme and Black Dragon, as well as work further afield. He also edits the 2000AD fanzine/comic Zarjaz, and helps to run the Hi-Ex convention.

nstrip11Next up is Denizens, an “eco” story which is also reprinted from the old Strip Magazine. There the first two installments were presented as a complete(ish) story, but now we have the first one repeated again. Unlike a lot of these stories, it actually has a scientific background and isn’t all about rune magic and leylines (which were actually dreamed up in the 1920’s, anyway). After a deforestation protester’s wife is killed accidentally, he creates a formula which causes rapid plant growth, then spreads it around the world, so nature can reclaim the cities.

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Books Spotlight primarily focuses on the books Print Media are producing. This one talking about Frontier, which I believe originally appeared in The DFC. They are also releasing Mirabilis (another DFC one?) and The Iron Moon in book form. Though some other DFC stories are collected in their own DFC Library book line. Hopefully a Phoenix Library is not too far away!

nstrip13After that, the final adventure strip for this issue, Warpaint. This IS the sort of rune-magic eco-mysticism that has terminally infected 2000AD (A “department of magyick” even showed up in Judge Dredd). Fortunately in Strip Magazine it’s safely quarantined in the one story. This is also a reprint, which ran through several of the old issues, but has re-started for the new version. Oh well, I suppose it will hook the 2000AD readers.

nstrip14On the back cover is Bogey Man Bob, another comedy strip, and another repeat, but a good one! And it is, of course, a strip on the cover (though The Beano currently has cover strips too, in a “new retro look”. Just like the “new retro look” they tried last year XD).

Strip Magazine is a bold attempt at launching a new comic into a country that has largely given up on them. It can be found in most of the larger WH Smith branches, as well as some comic shops and smaller ‘general’ newsagents. They maintain an informative web presence and always keep fans updated on distribution and delivery problems, as well as listing shops where the comic may be bought:

http://stripcomicmagazineuk.blogspot.co.uk/

There’s also a digital version for iThings, but no decent person is going to be lowering themselves to that, are they?

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!