Report – Rebels and Empires: The Future of British Comics
With a panel that represented some of the best of British comics from the past 80 years, moderator, Rich Johnston (from the comic review website, Bleeding Cool), asked, what is the future for British comics?
- The traditional news-stand is a challenging environment for British comics up against licensed product.
- Bookshops, comic shops and the Internet are giving children access to new and classic British comics.
- Beano’s free app has resulted in sales increases for digital and print versions of the comic.
Championing new British comics was Tom Fickling. The Phoenix is home to creator led strips, it gets kids reading and carries no ads.
Kieron Gillen is a British based comic book writer for US based companies.
Representing classic British comic strips was Ben Smith from Rebellion, the games company that bought IPC titles, notably 2000AD, from Egmont.
Finally, Mike Stirling, the former editor of Beano (the comic that celebrates its 80th anniversary next year), and now editorial director of Beano Studios.
Much of the discussion centred around the traditional news-stand, now dominated by the supermarkets, and how important it was to comics.
“It’s challenging,” said Mike, “being up against high powered ‘licensed’ product that can do well for short periods, you have to guarantee the retailer will make money”
The Phoenix was picked up by Waitrose; Tom saying, “It wasn’t because they thought it’s a middle class publication, but because they thought it an interesting project.” He added that the problem now is that when you are publishing a traditional comic is the curse of the cover mount; you are often put behind another magazine that has a big piece of plastic stuck to the cover.
Bookshops, comic shops and the Internet are giving children access to new and classic British comics. Kieron admitted falling out of comics as a child, after reading everything available in his hometown of Stafford. Now, with their smart phones, kids find the world of comics much easier to access. He came back to comics in his mid twenties. “It was like rediscovering music you haven’t been paying attention to since being a kid.”
Mike said that (Beano).com was different to the comic, with a free app that had additional content and features. It has resulted in increases in both paid digital downloads and paper versions of the comic. The app was definitely aimed at kids.
The book market is increasingly important for comics; Beano has had the top selling annual for nine of the past ten years and a successful relationship with Puffin with Dennis the Menace. Meanwhile graphic novel sales are still growing at 10% year on year. Kieron sees the monthly US comic as almost a loss leader that pays for content that becomes a graphic novel, so that you have to consider both formats when writing.
Ben was pleased that Rebellion’s long running project to reprint all the ‘Judge Dredd’ strips as graphic novels continues to sell in huge numbers. Now on volume 26, each edition of the ‘Judge Dredd Case Files’ still hits the bestseller lists. “The old comics were printed on appalling bog paper… now (as graphic novels) they’ve never looked so good.”
Founder & Head Writer
Comic Book Writer
Head of Books & Comics Publishing
Head of Beano Studios
David Heslop Creative
Producer & Director