Jinty, issue from 18th August 1978. All images in this post are (c) their respective publishers / creators, as applicable, and are included here merely to provide specific examples of tone or style.
I had a fantastic weekend at the Caption comics convention this weekend past in Oxford, and came out of it - as I often do after getting to spend time with fellow creators - feeling really excited and energised and full of ideas about comics. We did a panel on the Phoenix which I found really fun and interesting, and can only hope the audience enjoyed remotely as much. I was asked towards the end of the panel what one thing I'd want to make happen in comics if I was suddenly granted Magical Godlike Comics Powers,and my answer was... more Phoenixes. In a perfect world I'd want to see whole SHELVES of kids' comics available, with different areas of focus and emphasis but the same focus on quality, joy, creativity and imagination that the Phoenix (and indeed the Dandy) represent.
For starters I'd like to see a joyously demented, anarchic children's humour comic along the lines that the frankly brilliant Jamie Smart starts to outline in his brilliant blog post on this subject from last friday; something wild and gross and a bit disturbed but with a strong focus on character, channeling the spirit of the long-departed-but-still-sorely-missed Oink.
But for me personally, what I'd like to see even more than that would be a new comic (or indeed comics) with a more specifically girl-focussed approach; a new spin on the classic British girls' comics like Tammy, Jinty, Bunty, Misty et al. I've daydreamed idly about such a thing for years, but the events of the last week, and reading this great article by Jacqueline Rayner in the Guardian on girls' comics of yesteryear - crystallised a lot of my vague ideas and made me really think there's potential to do something cool here. Now, there are a lot of issues surrounding creating a new comic, and I'd like to go through a few of these, point by point...
Character design sketches, (c) 2012 by Kate Brown
Girls' comics. Comics for girls. I absolutely believe you could produce a fantastic, contemporary update of those comics; bringing together great UK indy comics talent with voices from YA fiction, and encouraging all kinds of creative cross-pollination between the two.
And look, I realise there's all kinds of potential minefields here. I'm not usually a fan of imposing arbitrary gender divisions in publishing, in art, in toys, or really in anything. What I'm describing here as A Comic For Girls is, essentially, just something with a greater emphasis on character and emotion than on action-based plots. And yes, I know girls like action too. And I know boys like character and emotion. Honestly, this is a comic for Sensitive Boys as much as anything. A comic I would have loved to read as a kid, and indeed would love to read now. But as I say, mostly focussed towards girls. Mostly stories about girls. Some elements of fantasy or adventure if they fit, sure, but mostly that focus on character, and emotion, and personal drama.
Swapped by a Kiss by Luisa Plaja
As I say, great creators from indy comics, and voices from YA fiction. To throw some names at you off the top of my head, to give you an idea of the sort of thing I'm imagining: cartoonists like Adam Cadwell, Kate Brown, Marc Ellerby, Emma Vieceli, Sarah McIntyre, Andi Watson, David O'Connell. Jamie Smart, come to think of it - let's get that guy drawing a comic about an orphaned gymnastics prodigy. THAT I would want to read. Writers like Luisa Plaja, Susie Day, and Jacqueline Rayner. Hell, let's see if we can get Jacqueline Wison to do a strip. Can't hurt to ask, right?
Chloe Noonan, (c) 2012 by Marc Ellerby
I really cannot overstate enough that I have not spoken to ANY of these people about ANY of this, and am in no way attempting to volunteer anybody for anything; I'm just trying to give an impression of what I as a reader would love to see, and what I as Fantasy Comics Editor think would work. Would work like GANGBUSTERS.
The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones, by Susie Day
Now here's the thing; you could put together an awesome small-press anthology of fresh, modern takes on the classic British girls' comic TOMORROW. Artists and writers would be falling over to volunteer their work for it, in the classic unpaid-except-for-a-few-copies-of-the-book model of small press comics. And the result, the comic itself, would be AMAZING.
But that's not what I want to see. For one thing, I'm a bit of a believer in paying people - incredibly talented, dedicated, hard-working people - for their work. And besides, given the calibre of people I'm talking about here... it's not really a question anyway.
So: in order to get the creators, you need MONEY. That is a thing. We'll come back to that.
Tammy AND Misty - from 10th July 19814) EDITORS
To make a comic as strong as this would need to be, you would need not just brilliant writers and artists as described above, but also top-class editing. The particular nature of what I'm proposing - doing something for an audience that's potentially new to comics, and using creators who themselves may be new to comics - makes this even more important. You need great editors going over the stories and scripts, focussing on language and character and tone and plot. But you ALSO need editors going over the art - editors with a strong visual background, a solid grounding in comics, identifying any problems with storytelling and helping the creators ensure their ideas are coming across visually with as much clarity and directness as possible.
After listening to Woodrow Phoenix talk on this subject at Caption (and a lot of his points are covered in an interview here, which I thoroughly recommend you read) I'm increasingly inclined to think that comics almost need to see these as two separate roles; script editing and art direction. And finding good, experienced editors who are strong in both areas? That's going to be tough. A quick exchange with Sarah McIntyre on twitter earlier threw up the following list of names. Ben Sharpe and Will Fickling, at the Phoenix. Nick Abadzis. Woodrow. Rob Davis. Lizzie Spratt. Louie Stowell.
And here's the thing about people that good: they tend to be pretty busy already. And even if they were available, you know what you'd need to get them? MONEY. There it is again. Alright, let's talk about that.
Want to find some money to make a comic? Kickstarter. There you go, that simple. Job done.
You'd hit your goals. You'd SMASH your goals.
However, in this particular case, "just" making the comic isn't really the hard part. Which brings us to...
6) MARKETING AND DISTRIBUTION
Now this is where it gets tricky. Actually getting a new comic TO it's intended audience. Which is to say: children. Girls and boys. They're not on kickstarter, they don't have credit cards... they may or may not have much disposable income at all, in fact. Ideally, you'd want this comic to be widely - and CHEAPLY - available on newsagents shelves and by supermarket checkouts up and down the land.
And that's where you go past anything that I honestly believe is realistically achievable using Kickstarter. At this point you need all the infrastructure and the reach of a good old-fashioned Actual Publishing Company; you need good people whose full-time jobs it is to deal with this stuff, who have rosters of contacts and experience and industry knowledge.There's no way a project that you and me put together on Kickstarter is ending up on the shelves in Tescos. There's no way it's getting onto the shelves in my local Londis, come to that. Well, maybe there. But only by stealth.
So the DIY kickstarter ethos can take us a long way, but just kind of falls off at the end these. Or does it?
7) PRINT / DIGITAL / BOTH
I think what IS achievable within the scope of a Kickstarter project is to create a digital version of this imagined comic, and take that to market. Find the right partners, the right technology platforms... it's doable, trust me. I've got me some ideas. And this is a really interesting time for digital comics, and I have a strong suspicion that for the kind of audience the comic would be for, this might be the preferred avenue anyway.
And we could ALSO make a print version. We couldn't get it in every supermarket in the land but we could make something brilliant, and beautiful, as a reward for people who backed the project. We could maybe even hook up with a Respected Publisher of UK indy and / or children's comics, and do it that way. And even if it didn't set the sales world on fire, due to the arguable disconnect between those kind of channels and the audience we're reaching out for here: if nothing else we'd then have that to show off as a demo tape, a sampler - something we could then potentially take to the magazine publishers with a view to doing it on a bigger scale. Or not. And even if we didn't, we'd have made something awesome. Imagine this: even if we only made four issues, but delivered them weekly; so when it launched you'd get this one glorious month, getting a comic every week and having all these brilliant stories complete by the end of the month.
Four weeks. We could manage that, right?
I've increasingly slipped into using 'we' to describe this idea, as if it's something I'm actually planning on trying to do. But - look, I'm pretty much at the limits of what I can achieve just staying on top of my current workload for the Phoenix. Just writing this blog post has eaten up a whole evening when I really should have been drawing pterodactyls. And honestly, I wouldn't want to be doing anything else. In terms of what my skills are, and how I can contribute, I genuinely think that working on the Phoenix, drawing Pirates of Pangaea and doing the How To Make (Awesome) Comics strips, is the single best thing I could be doing. So this is not an idea for me; or at least, not an idea for me right now. And yet...
"And yet: Misty"
So I guess this blog post is just my way of throwing the idea out there, and seeing if anyone is at all interested. For future reference, say. Girls' comics. Awesome comics. Awesome comics, for girls. Who's up for that?
If the concept I've been outlining here sounds like something you'd be interested in reading - or even more excitingly, in contributing to, then please do drop me a line. I'm @neillcameron on twitter, or my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org - and it would be great to hear from you; just to get that sense of if who else is out there who might be interested in such a thing.
And one last point: it's easy to get carried away with these new ideas, but important to remember one thing: anarchic, hilarious humour comics? That's the Phoenix. Strong, girl-focussed storytelling? That's the Phoenix. While we all daydream about ways to make a brighter tomorrow for comics, I really think that the best thing anyone can do right now is support the Phoenix. Comics fans: take out a subscription. Creators? Send them your brilliant ideas for stories. Let's make it such a success that publishers are LINING UP to make more kids' comics.*
*And then let's make the Phoenix even more awesome anyway. IN YOUR FACE, fairweather publishers!**
**I may have drifted off-message at the end there. Girls comics, yay!