back to article What happened to comics for kids? Hell, what happened to COMICS?

In central London, there’s a giant-sized superheroes, space ’n’ science fiction shop. Among the pricey objects on offer – £479.99 for a replica Alien egg, for example, or £152.99 for a Star Wars dart board – there are action figures, t-shirts, books, DVDs and - even now - comics. On packed shelves of glossy colour mags, we have …

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Totally agree

Every Saturday I used to but the Eagle (the 1980's one)

I think that the psychotic computer Max from the thirteenth floor had a huge influence on my career choice. I would even go as far to say that Max of Maxwell towers was the first BOFH.

And don't get me started on Doomlord - I think I might of cried when Doomlord realised that mankind wasn't that bad and he went back to live at Mrs Sousters guest house.

Nowadays comics seem so expensive, and less clever - although I still buy X-Men (for my sons, honest) and spiderman (for the wife)

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Re: Totally agree

Noticed on iBooks the other day that there are 2 volumes of The Thirteenth Floor available to read on the iPad.

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Re: Totally agree

For me, it was Starlord. I only started reading 2000AD when it merged. Strontium Dog and Robusters (and to a certain extent the ABC Warriors) all started there.

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Re: Totally agree

Ditto. I really miss 'comic books.' Never imagined a future in which they'd cease to exist, replaced by bloated, over-priced, collectable brochures.

By the way, the article neglects to mention the great work of the 1980s-1990s independents: Nexus, Zot!, Dalgoda, Elric, and many others, plus the whole Jim Shooter Valiant universe. Shooter was the last publisher who actually understood that comics were about fast-paced *storytelling*. And that period - the heyday of publishers like First, Eclipse, Kitchen Sink and Pacific - was just about the last hurrah for comics as pure narrative entertainment.

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Four words

Alan Moore - Halo Jones.

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Re: Four words

I remember that one with a lot of fondness. I think I've finally given up hope that I might see the rest of the story, but what they did complete was legendary.

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Re: Four words

and the Ian Gibson artwork is still wonderful. along with the Sam Spade stuf.. absolutely my fave bits. shading past Simon Bisley, but only just.

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Add two more

Ian Gibson

His artwork on Halo Jones, especially towards the end of Series 3 (the last one published in 2000AD) was superb.

Great comics need a great writer and a great artist. Dredd is another example, and I'm mildly shocked to not see one name among the list of "great artists" cited as working on the story: Carlos Ezquerra - the co-creator of the strip!

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Happy

Re: Four words

Halo Jones was and is indeed brilliant.

Can I add Warren Ellis - Transmetropolitan? Or indeed Ministry of Space, for the Dan Dare retro feel?

Like all art, there ARE good ones out there if you look hard enough.

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Re: Four words

Am I the only one who was left cold by Halo Jones? It just didnt reach me.

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Re: Four words

Bought a hardback reprint of that a few years ago - the ending still brings a tear to my eye.

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Re: Four words

It has to be Simon Bisley for me, if only for the full-page frame in 'Judgement on Gotham' where the Sandman, from Batman's universe inflicts Judge Death's greatest fear on him, and he is surrounded by cutesy cartoon characters.

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Re: Am I the only one who was left cold by Halo Jones? It just didnt reach me."

Yes.

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Re: Four words

I once bumped into Alan Moore in Charing Cross, and not wanting to be the fawning fanboi acolyte that I am, just asked if he was the man. He confirmed, and then I thanked him from a heartfelt place for writing Halo Jones...he seemed pleased.

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Re: Four words

I bought that for my daughters 10th birthday.

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Re: Four words

Never such a fan of Bisley. Good cover artist, but his flowing, multicolour work didn't work as well it strips.

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2000AD

2000AD is as good as it ever has been in the past, over the last few years the quality of the stories has been excellent. It's now available as same week, DRM free, digital downloads and there's an excellent iPad subscription available too - if you're looking for great comics then head over to http://www.2000adonline.com/

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with 2000AD, just a comics fan who would be happy to see more people reading it.

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Re: 2000AD

I miss some of the subtlety of the old days in 2000AD. Its no longer a comic you would give to a bright 6 year old because some writers are being deliberately "edgy" with lots of blatant sex and nudity, as opposed to implied sex, which there was never any shortage of.

Sometimes there's a lot to be said for creative limitations, and that one seemed to me to have some considerable advantages.

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Re: 2000AD

I'll give that a go. The article has inspired me to give 2000 ad another shot after 10 years away.

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Happy

Engaging comic-book-guy mode....

I get that, since El Reg is a mainly-tech-focused site, you have to write that piece with someone who knows little or nothing about comics in mind, but it would help if you didn't, along the way, ignore various massively important factors in the comics marketplace.

For example - the issues you talk about here affect only the anglophone comic marketplace. Go take a look at the FrancoBelgian, Spanish or Italian markets and you'll see a different picture. Even more so in Korea or Japan (ignore the whole "manga"/"manwha" thing, they are all collectively comics).

Factors that have screwed over anglophone comics:

1) in the 50s, in the US, Fredric Wertham's "Seduction Of The Innocent" - this preposterous load of old bollocks lead to the effective dominance of the superhero genre by killing off then-massively-popular horror and crime comics on the basis that they were a bad influence on children (and clearly comics are only for children, despite their origins being rooted at least partially in mainstream newspapers aimed at all ages).

2) shortly afterwards, the UK government had a similarly-themed moral panic and passed similarly-daft legislation banning the distribution of US comics, which had a massively beneficial effect on UK comics.

3) fast-forward around 20 years and television starts to kick the crap out of comics in the UK, as kids begin to lose interest. TV-themed comics are the response, and they hold off the inevitable doom for a while longer.

4) In the US, the same thing is happening; all the exciting and interesting stuff is happening in underground counterculture stuff (Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, etc). Anti-drug legislation shuts down headshops, killing off distribution channels for underground comics, but the industry sees a bit of growth in non-superhero comics.

5) A move towards more-action oriented comics happens in the late 70s and early 80s in the UK, showing two contrasting responses - in the UK, a number of publishers are growing up who want to push creative boundaries, leading to the likes of Warrior, Deadline, Crisis and more - these comics being intended to exist with entirely separate audiences to long-term stalwarts like the Dandy or Beano. Conversely, in the US, the rise of the Direct Market model (whereby comic specialist shops are the "customers" as far as the publishers are concerned, and all good comics feature superheroes) led to an increasing tendency to try and catch trends. See for example the effect that the release of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns in 1986 had (every superhero going was now being reinvented as a dark, grim and gritty character). Eastman & Laird's release of TMNT as an independent comic was another high-profile creator-oriented comics title, alongside the positively loopy Dave Sim's Cerebus, that established a merit to publishing outside of the generally-conservative US publishers.

6) A bit more background here - the Direct Market in general is predicated in part on the notion that comic shops can operate at a profit by selling back issues at a markup (see every news story ever about an issue of Action Comics #1 or Tales of Suspense #15 selling for stupidly large sums of money). US publishers were targeting collecting-oriented readers, occasionally playing silly buggers with things like sprawling stories that crossed over into other titles (the notion being to encourage collectors to buy things they wouldn't ordinarily read to get "the full story") or variant covers (again, encouraging multiple purchases to get "a full set"). This peaked in the 90s with the Marvel of the time (who was, corporately speaking, a different entity to the Marvel of today, who in a lot of ways is different enough to share only the name and legal ownership rights with the 90s iteration) gaming the market hugely with a frankly daft preponderance of variant covers of "New instant-collector-item issue 1" titles for comics like X-Men. They massively saturated the market with crap, and a whole load of barely-competent comic shop retailers took an enormous bath in the resultant collapse of the collector market. There are numerous accounts of UK specialist retailers being wiped out in this way, so it wasn't just a US issue.

7) Fast forward to 2012 in the UK when the Dandy, after several attempts to reinvigorate itself, finally announced that it was ceasing paper publication (but likely continuing to exist in digital only form). Meanwhile UK newsagents still carry the Beano, Simpsons comics, Transformers magazine (including comics) and several other kid-oriented comics on a weekly or fortnightly business. There's also the Phoenix, which has hands down the strongest creative team I've seen on a kid-oriented comic.

The reason I mention all of this is that the article berates an entirely non-existent "adultification of comics", which is incorrect. In some markets (particularly the anglophone one), some publishers (particularly Marvel & DC) decided to focus on what they call "mature" audiences - though in doing so frequently they were actually targeting adolescent audiences who wanted Naughty Things like Boobs, Swearing and Violence in their comics. Some of them also published genuinely mature comics - Sandman and Hellblazer spring to mind as titles which ticked all the Naughty Things boxes but managed to tell nuanced & sophisticated stories with magnificent art at the same time. Kids comics have struggled to retain the interest of their audience in the face of more interactive entertainment, but they still exist.

The fact that when you go into a heavily US-comics-oriented comic shop, you are confronted with product aimed at the US comics marketplace is more a commentary on the relative profitability of the ever-dwindling adult collecting-oriented US comics fan who has the money and willingness to spend it on what amounts, these days, to 32-page pamphlets featuring 10-14 pages of adverts and a cover price of just shy of £3. That is not a problem with All Of Comics - it's a problem with the part of the market you've chosen to examine.

If you want to look at modern UK comics publishers aiming at kids, look at the likes of the Phoenix or the Thought Bubble Anthology (published by the organisers of the annual Leeds-based Thought Bubble Festival). Go and check out the ComICA festival, including their comics mart, the Comiket. Take a look at the magnificent books being published (on real paper, no less) by the likes of Nobrow Press. And for Christ's sake don't bother with the over-rated tat-bazaar that is Forbidden Planet, and instead get yourself along to either Orbital or Gosh! Comics, both of which are great shops that carry a wide range of material.

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Re: Engaging comic-book-guy mode....

Wow.

That was fascinating.

Thanks.

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...over-rated tat-bazaar that is Forbidden Planet

Anyone else old enough to remember "Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed" when they were in Berwick Street?

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Re: Engaging comic-book-guy mode....

For those Edinburgh residents who know their comics, Deadhead is the place to be - indeed the book shop owner in Black Books is based on the owner of Deadhead.

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Re: ...over-rated tat-bazaar that is Forbidden Planet

Yup, I asked me dad to take me there for ages- I was only eight - which he finally conceded to, only to be pulled out and taken home after five minutes of browsing because he thought everyone looked like a peado.

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Re: Engaging comic-book-guy mode....

@dogged

You're welcome :) It's not often that my knowledge of comics is actually put to any use (every now and then it comes up in a pub quiz context, but that's about it) so it's nice for it to be of some relevance to a conversation now and then. The history of comics is generally a lot more interesting than the in-story histories of the characters that are most widely known - and the history of comics involves a lot more villainy too, of a sometimes very ingenious sort; for example - I've read about one publisher in the 30s in the US who cut a deal with an organised crime syndicate to get cheap paper in exchange of letting them use the paper deliveries as a distribution network for their moonshine operation. And that's before you get to Smilin' Stan Lee vs Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby, or Bob Kane vs Bill Finger, or Marvel's "signing this check in order to draw your pay constitutes entering into an additional contract with the publisher wherein you waive any and all rights you might have had to either the physical copy of the work submitted or the ideas and contents featured therein" policy, or the "no royalties on foreign republications" deals...

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Re: ...over-rated tat-bazaar that is Forbidden Planet

"Anyone else old enough to remember "Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed" when they were in Berwick Street?"

YES - and very good they were too.

Even "Forbidden Planet" were pretty good a few years ago, though judging by their online catalogue they're no longer worth bothering with.

Disclaimer: I am massively disinterested in comics and graphics novels, but DTWAGE and FP (but no longer) were the places I went for my SF fix.

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Re: Engaging comic-book-guy mode....

Indeed. Being French and having grown up with the Franco/Belgian type of comics, I was extremely disappointed when I moved to the UK. It all feels the same: action heros and violence, irrespective of the actual story line. As a kid, the excellent, clean artwork and great though simple story lines of Gaston Lagaffe, Boule et Bill, Asterix, Tintin, Buck Danny, Lucky Luke et al meant we just couldn't put the comics down. Then growing up, you get into more convoluted but enthralling stories like Les Passagers du Vent, the XIII series and dozens of others.

The problem with UK/US comics is that none of them are meant for a very young audience, they are way too heavy a read. By the time kids are old enough to read great works like AD2000 or Sandman, they've already been lost to Nintendo and other game consoles.

Import continental comics in the UK and maybe you can have kids interested in stories again.

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Re: Engaging comic-book-guy mode....

The Direct Market movement wasn't entirely bad. I started collecting shortly before it started. At that point it was a good thing. You paid a bit more for the comic, but there was an upgrade in the paper quality and hence the color. Initially they used only their really good writers, artists, colorists and letterers to produce well written series. Yes Dark Knight was one of them. And I got the Marvel war chronicle whose name I have now forgotten. And I followed Crisis on Infinite Earths with baited breath even as I cursed the real world foolishness it was to destroy the ability to move characters elsewhere when someone wanted to re-imagine them without disturbing a known brand that might continue to be profitable. Some of the 4 issue miniseries had really good stories with really cool art: Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, and the one that is still my favorite (there was one 3 month waiting period for an issue, but when we got it we immediately understood why) Green Arrow (a number of pages in nothing but colored pencils including an absolutely gorgeous two-page spread).

But you're right. They jumped the shark by moving to make Direct their primary channel instead of a highly profitable but secondary channel to the primary. I could collect the occasional Crisis series, but not several of them at the same time. Eventually real world bills and debts over took me and I stopped collecting all together. They would have been better off keeping it to a small number of series with me continuing to pick up my monthly copies of Batman, Detective Comics, and Brave and the Bold with a smattering of Spiderman thrown in as well.

Ah, those were the days.

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Re: ...over-rated tat-bazaar that is Forbidden Planet

Yes indeed, +1 for Dark They Were... Hell, +1 for the old Forbidden Planet when it was in New Oxford St.

And for bonus points, Compedium in Camden? Especially the 2nd shop that was exclusively weird magick books. Of which, how about Jimmy Page's book shop just off Ken Church St.

Never mind the comics, book shops aren't what they used to be either.

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Re: Engaging comic-book-guy mode....

Upvoted for saying it much better than I would have done. Tx.

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Re: Engaging comic-book-guy mode....

Gosh comics definitely my retailer of choice when I'm in that London. Forbiden Planet has all the customer service of a super market, and tattoos and piercings do not substitute for eye contact and interest from a sales person.

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I used to read and collect 2000AD obsessively, until it lost it's sense of humour and got all angsty. There's a limit to how much angst and ultraviolence you can endure without any humour to leaven it. Very little in my case. Has it regained it it's sense of humour yet?

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Go

Maybe not as much as there used to be but there's definatley more humour in it these days and there's some great story telling too - I know several people who had given up on it in the past who are now back reading regularly. You can get DRM free digital copies for £1.99 from their shop so woth having a look: http://shop.2000adonline.com/categories/comics

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Good to hear, I'll give it a look again

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Agreed.

The current crop of tales are ace, especially The Cold Deck.

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bring back DR and Quinch

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Anonymous Coward

Money

They got too expensive, then the "colletors" inveted a market for themselves by attributing arbitrary values for comics which were mass produced. For example months aftre New Mutants 87 (or 86) was released it was claimed to be "worth" £60-80.

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Re: Money

Hmm I've probably still got the first run of New Mutants back in the parents' attic...

Have to admit, after being an avid comicbook reader and minor collector from school all the way through Polytechnic, I kind of gave up after the likes of Jonathan Ross bubbled the market.

Still, I do enjoy the odd Hellblazer or Hellboy trade paperback.

Even pick up an issue of Concrete whilst over in the States this year.

Now if only they could finally sort out Marvel/MiracleMan ...

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Re: Money

When comics became 'collectible,' it was the beginning of the end. When some guy reached past me to grab the *entire rack* of the current Spider-Man issue, because it had a hologram on the cover, I knew it was over.

Most of the fans I've known over the past decade or two have been all too happy to grab the latest wad of tripe just because they thought it would increase in value. I tried to explain that garbage never ages well. That the comics of the 1960s acquired huge value because they were a) intrinsically good, and b) in short supply on account of not having been preserved in large numbers. And that neither factor applied to anything they were buying. Nobody listened.

A 'comic book' used to be 10 cents' worth of disposable entertainment. I used to scribble on them, pick up the best panels with Silly Putty, lend them to friends, lose the covers, keep them piled them two feet high, and sit on them in the back of my parents' car. Now I have them sequentially arranged in hermetically-sealed plastic bags... to remind me of how great things used to be.

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What happened to comics?

simple: kids watch telly or play console games. They dont read anymore.

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Achtung!

You can still get 'Commando' :-)

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Re: Achtung!

I used to sneak my dads copy to read. Also loved its Sci-Fi sibling - Starblazer.

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Go

I obsessively read Battle..

... and had every comic except the one with the last episode of Charley's war in. Never did find out how that finished...

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Re: I obsessively read Battle..

The Allied Powers won.

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Headmaster

"Never did find out how that finished..."

After the end of the Great War stories there was a second run in which a 40-year-old Charley volunteers for re-enlistment in World War II. It was planned to carry on deeper into the war, but sadly Joe Colquhoun's health began to fail to the point where he couldn't keep up with the art and it was felt that nobody could replace him. As a result, the story was wrapped up when Charley is wounded in the retreat from Dunkirk and leaves the forces. The last episode ends with him starting to tell the story of his service in the First World War, after which Battle began reprinting the stories from the beginning.

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Childcatcher

Dying on its arse

I've been entering the hallowed doors of Forbidden Planet for nearly 30 years now (from Denmark Street to New Oxford Street and to the current Shaftesbury Avenue location), and gradually, especially over the last two or three years, I'm finding fewer and fewer reasons to bother. The latest DC reboot is just terrible, Marvel is meh, and everything else is fucking zombies (often literally fucking). I lost track of 2000AD after spending a year abroad a few years ago (I had every issue from prog 86 onwards and still regard Nemesis, Halo Jones and Zenith as pretty much the best mainstream comics stories ever), but when I thumb through a copy these days it seems to be treading water.

So this month sees the last issue of The Boys, and after that I think I'm done, and I don't think its because I've changed particularly, rather I've come to the conclusion that comics only work if each generation actually outgrows them; when we stopped doing that (and i'm and obvious case in point) and the market decided to actually accommodate the "mature reader" , it sewed the seeds of its own destruction, which is why Forbidden Planet now makes its money off selling 500 quid copies of Thor's Hammer to idiots and its comic shelves shrink every year.

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