The 8-14 years age group is where male and female comics began and it’s an audience we’ve lost, primarily because creators and editors preferred to work for older ‘more sophisticated’ readers. We’ve paid a truly terrible commercial price for ‘comics growing up’ and for deserting our original young readers: low circulations and so many titles disappearing from the newsstands. Those young, loyal readers protested in vain when comics ‘grew up’ and everyone – particularly editors – just ignored them, to their shame. So those kids walked away, never to return.
I can still remember the exact moment on 2000AD when I knew I would have to change my writing style and adapt for an older, vocal fan market that Tharg was increasingly favoring, rather than the core comic audience. It was on Sláine: The King and it’s probably one of the reasons why that story is particularly popular with fans today. Yet I felt uneasy at the change of direction and where the comic was going. But the alternative was that I would have been slowly phased out, as were other writers from that era who were increasingly seen as ‘old school’ and not cool enough for fans.
As far as I’m aware, I seem to be the only creator who acknowledges this is the principal reason why 2000AD lost so many of its readers. With the archaic British system of buying all rights and paying low rates as a close second. A lack of control over our characters disheartens creators and so we leave to work for other markets where our work is properly respected and remunerated.
Many of today’s creators don’t seem interested in working for kids. There’s also a general sense that it’s ‘too difficult’, and changing demographics and new technologies are blamed for the collapse of comics. Those are transparently convenient excuses. Thus, Commando and French comics for all ages are still out there and doing rather well. Actually, it’s surprisingly easy to write for a younger age group – if creators leave their egos at the door.
You’re writing for them, they’re not reading for you.
I go into this subject further in my regular column, The Last Word, in the current issue of Comic Scene and also in an interview with Phil Vaughan on the Comic Scene podcast. And I explore one way I can do something about it. But here’s a brief video that shows us all just what we have lost. It’s very moving; in fact, I find it difficult to watch because it reminds me how far we’ve let young readers down. Theo is being interviewed by his dad, Chris, about Judge Dredd the Cursed Earth:
— BristleKRS (@BristleKRS) January 31, 2019
Here’s Chris’s comments to me:
‘It’s been a real struggle finding actual comics, rather than free gift bagged toy franchise promos, for my kids growing up. There’s Phoenix and the Beano, both of which are great, but slim pickings for those of us who grew up with dozens of titles every single week! So now he’s taken to exploring vintage 2000AD, it’s a bit of a boon. It’s astonishing – he’s devouring this stuff so quickly, it’s properly turning lights on in his head and giving him ideas and making him think about stuff. And it’s totally age-appropriate, the early stuff! And plenty of his young pals are the same. THE MARKET IS THERE! Sure, they’re into video games and YouTube stars and tablets and whatnot, but ultimately they want stories that tickle their imagination. And that can be a film, a book, a TV show… or a comic.’
It would be nice to think that one day someone will decide to grasp the nettle again, go back to the true source, the true heart of comics: adventure comics for this age group, male and female.
As Chris says: the market is there.