Losing the print version of The Dandy, which was announced this week, presents a real hole in the market, and one which may well get wider. What The Dandy did, and did very well, was be silly. Gloriously, ridiculously, silly, a real mixed bag of the absurd. And while we still have The Beano, it always felt like The Dandy was its ever-so-slightly childish younger sibling (despite being older), bounding around, stomping on what few rules The Beano had. Especially since the relaunch, it was making an art out of anarchy.
The support for The Dandy, since we're losing it, has been quite overwhelming. I've lost count of the number of people who've told me they're going to buy one (or more) copies, that it's a tragedy, that they kind of forgot it existed. National media coverage stirred not only a nostalgia, but a real need for that childish surrealism we all took for granted when we were kids, but lose sight of a little bit when we grow up. There was a palpable need to reconnect with it again, and a very real fear of losing it.
Every cartoonist has their own ideas what a comic should be. I think when something this culturally important happens though, it's important we step to one side and take a look at what went wrong, and where we can go from here. Since this is comics we're talking about, there's a great swell of enthusiasm from creators and readers alike to push the art forward, to do SOMETHING to support comics. And while we'd all love to start up our own comics, the very real and very large problems of money, printing, distribution, all stomp those dreams into the ground.
Here's what I think comics can do. These are just my opinions, but I believe them very firmly, and would invite any discussions/ideas on the subject.
I'd like comics to claim back the sense of anarchy. The very deranged ethic of Oink! comic, swerving dangerously all over the place, linking stories in with each other, mashing ideas together, creating whatever seems to work at the time without any fear or caution. At the same time, I'd like us to learn a lot from American models. The Adventure Time comic is a great example, it looks beautiful, it's fun and crazy, and the style is something kids really attach to. Even looking at the world of Marvel, with their range of superheroes, each with their own stories to tell.
And this, I think, is key. Stories. Really strong, well rounded stories, led by really strong characters. Silly, daft, ridiculous characters, but strong in their design. A roster, or a family, a line-up even of instantly identifiable characters, to follow every week and get completely lost in their worlds. If you ever come up with an idea for a cartoon show on TV, do you know how long it takes? Years and years (trust me on this), even just to get through development. And in that time, characters and motivations are really thought about, worked through, tried and dropped. At the end, if you have a TV show that works, it's because of all the love and effort that's gone into it. So how do you get that same love and effort for a comic?
Simple. Creator owned content. 99% of the time, comics and magazines don't allow creator owned content. At all. As a result, if you pitch your idea and it's taken on, you either give away the rights and earn a living, or you don't. And while we in the comics industry all work hard, and love the work we produce, there must be something to be said for working on a character you have very real personal investment in. The work would be better. Even if only in tiny, subtle ways, your character would come through that little bit stronger. In allowing this, a publication would have a happier, more productive workforce, creating better ideas, looking around for other ways to exploit these ideas (perhaps TV), and bringing a share of any potential revenue back to the publication, as a thanks for being the first to host these delirious ideas. That, to me, sounds like a very mutually beneficial arrangement.
Because it's a mistake to think viewing characters as 'properties' is a bad thing, is a sell-out. 'Properties', to me, are the ideas which sparked off because they were good, and found a variety of mediums to explore. New ways to play with the characters. In no way could that be a bad thing, just the same as exposing your idea to as many people as possible can not be viewed as a bad thing. It's like raising a weird, boggly-eyed creature from birth, then setting it free in the woods. You don't know what's going to happen, but hopefully it'll make some people laugh and others shriek and cry.
The emphasis of all this, as I said, would be silly. Gloriously, wonderfully, silly. The kind of stories children would make up themselves. And lets involve them in it, teach them how to draw the characters, put cartooning tutorials online, show their work off in the comic. Make ourselves a community, to reward the readers.
Doing this all online would be the cheapest and easiest way. But if you'll humour me for a second, I'm going to explore print instead.
I love printed comics. I love online comics too, but i tend to flick through them without really paying attention, and they can easily get lost in amongst the competition. With a printed comic, it requires a certain type of concentration, and a certain affection on the part of the reader. A US comicbook size comic. With a beautiful cover every issue, a different character to showcase. It would sell at supermarket checkouts for a cheap price, the perfect impulse buy, there for adults and children alike to flick through, laugh at, and add to the foodshop. We would print sampler issues and include them with newspapers, give them away at underground tube stations just like they do with free papers, something to read on the way home. Give samplers away every month in schools. We would flyer, oh the flyering, and internet campaign our little socks off.
Oh the internet, we would use that too. We could use crowdfunding to raise the money for issue one, the more we make, the more the artists get paid. Every funder above a certain level gets the comic, a goody bag (man i don't care how old you are, 'goody' and 'bag' are still two of the most exciting words in the universe), and a page of original artwork from the comic! A piece of history. Something really special. The website itself, with integrated apps and whatever else you need, featuring extra exclusive content, constantly changing reasons to come back to. A support act for the main event, the comic book.
Is this feasible? It's far from easy. We would need a publisher to take us on, or a sponsor, or a rich benefactor who just wants to see people laughing again. Someone to take charge would be good (hey I'm passionate about this, but time spent organising is time not spent drawing, and i know from experience that can be frustrating). Someone who knows their marketing would be great too. The problem we've heard about existing comics is not the content, people love the content when they get to see it. The problem is getting it under their noses in the first place. One of the reasons the big licensed comics like Simpsons, Moshi Monsters etc sell so many is because they have the almighty weight of hugely successful TV shows/toys behind them. That is something ordinary comics don't have, and they suffer massively for it.
So that's the dream. Character-led comics. Creator owned properties. A mutual love of comics. And above all, the silliest, most gloriously stupid thing you've ever read.