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:
This fella just read The Cursed Earth and has some important feedback for @PatMillsComics and his fellow Dredd heads! Comics: #NotJustForAdults 😜 pic.twitter.com/WSuKo0NBtv
— 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.
100% agreed with bells on, Pat. As a fan I’ve been saying this to anyone who’ll listen since the ’80’s.
There has to be a balance, and I’d like a bit less worthy grown-up comics reviewed in the graphic novel
section of The Guardian, and a bit more of Usagi Jojimbo in school libraries.
When I was a kid, I really really wanted grown-ups to take comics as seriously as I did, now I long
for the days of good trash ( Warren mags for instance ) to balance it out.
Sometimes I do want something adult to read, but most of the time, if I’m honest:
I want Dinosaurs eating cowboys ( or cowboys eating dinosaurs, I’m not fussy )
BTW Dave, have you tried your lad on Lucky Luke? If he liked Asterix & Tintin…
I’m going to press the dinosaur button at least with a forthcoming blog about ‘The Jurassic Man’. I thought it might be just a text exercise, but one dinosaur artist has come out of the woodwork already. It’s early days but he has definitely got the feeling of early 2000ad. Should be up in a couple of months.
I’m with Gwyn on ‘rough and dirty and bold, not shiny and clean’.
If you look at the old covers, they are so much better than the new covers. Bright colours with simple but punchy imagery, with some great design to them too. The covers today are all indistinct with too much blurry stuff going on around the characters who are supposed to be the focus. The art in too many comics is now too sophisticated and not primary enough.
Some stories suit this sophistication, like Deadworld, but mostly it gets in the way. I can’t tell who half of the characters are in most comics today, including 2000AD. The artists need to read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics about realism versus simplicity.
A good art editor can make all the difference. I had Doug Church on the early 2000ad issues and it shows. Artists usually need an art editor or someone with a critical eye. I think painted artwork after Bisley has increasingly worked against the comic – leading to blurred misty work with a lack of hard detail. But the more it’s talked about, the more it’s likely to improve.
My son is now 15, and whilst not such a voracious comic reader as I was, has read comics from the word go. My daughter too. There are kids books out there, but they are not easy to find. My daughter discovered manga and loves it (I bet there’s a post there Pat) and my son has mostly enjoyed the Battle collections I have, including of course, Charley’s War. Although Major Eazy May just be had the edge for him. I don’t have my old progs, but he loved Strontium Dog and Rogur Trooper. So there is still the appeal. Other suitable comics he’s a big fan of include Bone (though less so now he’s a bit older) and Yusagi Yojimbo.
Pat, have you ever considered touting the original Ro-Busters as a kids’ CGI-animation series? I can hear the cash registers chiming already, and it would be a superb gateway drug (as it was for me, in 1978) into your sly subversion.
Alas I don’t own the rights to anything I’ve created for 2000ad. Thus far no one seems to have cracked the uk comic animation film market. And regular uk comic films still need a hit.
I was specifically thinking of a TV show. There’s loads of crap CGI kids’ shows on the telly these days, so the technology is, seemingly, within the budget range. When I win the lottery, I’m buying Ro-Busters and me and Pat will be sipping cocktails at the BAFTAS.
Don’t worry Pat – you’ll get a cut. Not a big cut though – I hear UK comics writers work cheap.
Hey don’t get me started! The royalty situation is as bad as ever.
I guess most creators walk away. But it’s much harder for me as the creator of 2000AD.
My son (10), an avid reader of Biggles, has read the Commando annuals someone got for me, all the Asterix, Tintin and Victor annuals I can excavate from the attic and is now on the tatty Battle and War picture weeklies I found in a box when shifting the mound of 200ADs around. Perhaps I should start him on the early 200AD, but was thinking after he got to secondary school next year….. Take your point about the “suggested for mature readers” entirely, I recall it beginning to appear when Crisis and the Megazine were around and tastes were moving towards the “grown up” stories (however I also remember Necropolis from about the same time also being epic, can’t wait for the next one stuff, while at the same time being mature without being “adult”).
My son (10) used to love The Beano but it’s not so keen now. He likes reading my old annuals. It would be great if there was more comics out there for him to explore. Trying him with Dredd seems a good idea. Cursed Earth was epic!
I totally agree with this! Tharg should have created 3000AD or something for us oldies. I also didn’t reckon much to the free comic book ‘2000AD for kids’, because I thought it was well intentioned but babyish. Kids don’t want ‘kid versions’. They want dinosaurs eating cowboys. I still do! Bang on with the ego reasoning. So much ‘grown up’ stuff seems to be a ‘look how clever I am’ exercise. Kids comics are rubbish now. As well as old 2000ad, my kids read marvel stuff, and that is terrible. BAD writing. CRAP recycled stories. I think the market is definitely there. It would need to be rough and dirty and bold, not shiny and clean… and have a free brain bag on the first issue.
I remember in ‘Be Pure…’, Pat relating the story of an ex-2000ad reader who talked about, in the 1990s, of feeling that he or she wasn’t ‘cool’ enough for 2000ad (emphasise parenthesis) any more. That was my experience too. When I was a kid (I was eight years old when 2000ad came out) I had no interest in football or fashion – 2000ad was for me and I needed nothing else. I bought it every week until about 1993 or thereabouts, until it seemed that the comic no longer cared about me.
As I hit my 20s, 2000ad seemed to become desperate for a forced sense of credibility; ironic when you consider how, in the late 70s/early 1980s, it *was* at the sub-cultural forefront of music and fashion, but organically: borne of the sheer anarchic joy in every page.
You’re spot on, Andrew. I wish it was possible to undo the damage. I think Rebellion are doing their best. They’re more mainstream than past people. And I’m going to encourage talent via some upcoming blogs. It’s not the same, but it’s a start.
Inspiring words, Gwyn. I didn’t look at 2000ad for kids. The title puts me off. It’s also accepting the current status quo which is wrong. It’s like they haven’t understood what went wrong and how to put it right. I’ll try and give them a nudge via future blogs where I hope to recreate some past glories – like dinosaurs. See above.