Tuesday, 21 August 2012

AN IDEA: Awesome New Comic, For Girls.

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
 
1) GIRLS' COMICS.
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

2) CREATORS
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

3) PAYMENT

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 1981
4) 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.

5) MONEY

Want to find some money to make a comic? Kickstarter. There you go, that simple. Job done.

I'm being glib, and obviously there are many, many comics projects on kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms that never reach their funding goals. But honestly, I'm pretty confident that the kind of comic I'm describing here? If you could get the right people on board, and pitch it in the right way? (Awesome new comics for girls! Creator-owned, with all kinds of cool and exciting rewards for donors!)

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?

Brilliant anthology comic ink + Paper, cover art by editor David O'Connell

8) 'WE'?

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 neill@neillcameron.com - 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!

19 comments:

  1. That is SO AWESOME, NEILL!!!

    I totally agree with everything you say! And yes, it'd need Kickstarter funding, that's a great plan; there are too many creators doing pilot projects for no pay, but this doesn't have to be one of them.

    And I agree, I'd love it to take off and keep running, but even four issues would make amazing gifts for friends.

    Really excited about all the positive ideas that you, Jamie, Gary and others are putting forward, so exciting! Thank you for taking the time to write it all out, and so well! :D

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  2. Thanks Sarah!

    Yeah, that's the thing. I think you could set out to make four issues and that's a sane, realistic, achievable goal, that you could SUCCEED AT. And then from that success, you pause and look at what you want to do next. But you've made something awesome by that point, and put it out into the world, and it's not all this giant monumental task too big to even contemplate...

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  4. Just another thought about having Jacqueline Wilson on your dream team. She does already have a successful magazine - http://www.jw-mag.com/ - but one idea might be to talk with her (and her people) about doing a sort of comics off-shoot from it. This could have several problems - they might insist on it having a Nick Sharratt/Jo Moore overall look to it, and they might have rights issues - but if they were open to creator-owned work, it would be amazing publicity to an already existing fan-base.

    Then again, it might be better to start from scratch, and you never know, she might still be supportive. Just thinking in writing. :)

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  5. Such a great entry!!

    I think focusing on kids, making them love comics from an early age, is really important. Especially girls.
    I wish I could have had access to more 'girl' comics, when I was actually a girl (I'm not complaining though, here in Greece we've had lots of amazing french comics!!)

    I'd looove working on a YA comic for a change, in the future too.

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  6. Such a great entry!!

    I think focusing on kids, making them love comics from an early age, is really important. Especially girls.
    I wish I could have had access to more 'girl' comics, when I was actually a girl (I'm not complaining though, here in Greece we've had lots of amazing french comics!!)

    I'd looove working on a YA comic for a change, in the future too.

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  8. Total agreement with you here Neill, I've been mourning the loss of girls' comics for years and it's my no.1 Dream Project too (yes, I saw that Guardian article too - reminded me I MUST find a way to read some issues of Misty. It sounds ace.)

    I think the rise of Manga has proved beyond a doubt that girls are still up for episodic, character-driven storytelling. Soap opera comics, if you like. Much as I don't watch the soaps myself, there's a lot to be said for that cliff-hanger format you get at the end of each episode - that's what kept me loyal to all the girls' comics I read as a child. You just HAD to know if Lonely Lucy's cruel uncle was going to send the injured foal she'd been hiding in the airing cupboard off to the glue factory or not. A lot of people have speculated, and I tend to agree, that this was one of the problems that hit the MINX line for girls that DC put out a few years ago. They were all self-contained stories, so if the first one you picked up was one you didn't like, the chances are you wouldn't investigate any of the rest. And if you DID like it, there were no more volumes of it to continue reading (the only exception being the Plain Janes, but even those two volumes are pretty self-contained).

    But one thing I have found in schools - and tell me if this has been your experience too - is that a lot of kids are weird about the word "comic". "Comics" are The Beano, silly stories for young kids. Past the age of about 12, you read Manga or graphic novels, but not "comics". Maybe that's for the marketing people to decide, I dunno. But I would be leary of labelling anything for girls of around 10 upwards as a "comic". Then again... is part of our mission to reclaim the word and make it cool again? Hmmm.

    Anyway, yeah, I'll draw or write or even put my eight years of editing experience (did I mention I was an editor at a children's publisher for eight years?) behind this if SOMEONE, SOMEHOW can make it happen.

    (By the way, the foal is fine. She smuggled it out of the window when her uncle went to answer the door for the gasman. But now he's squeezed through a gap in the garden fence and has wandered into the path of an oncoming lorry. Stay tuned!)

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  9. Great idea! At the end of your four issues you could ask the readers to write in and get them to tell what you think - and maybe offer a few prizes too!

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  10. One idea for a digital version of the comic - have it available in PDF format so it can be easily be printed and stapled into a paper comic. This could be in A4 format and stapled along the edge, or folded into A5 format and stapled in the middle. Or even more ambitiously - an A3 version (for those with access to an A3 colour printer, perhaps in their office) to be folded and stapled to A4 format.

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  11. Yes indeed! As a kid I loved humour comics like Oink (a LOT) and MAD, but also those soap opera style things you mention: Elfquest, X-Men and Teen Titans. It was all about the interaction between the characters and their personal struggles! (As well as cool stuff like superpowers and magic). Girls (and boys) need more stuff like THAT. I'd certainly be up for contributing!

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  12. LauraH - I think you've hit the nail on the head with that point about the word 'comic' not being cool. A renaming or creation of a new type of 'comic' with a better name would work wonders.

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  13. I was talking online about girls' comics with Lew Stringer just yesterday.

    >It really makes me sad that there hasn't really been anything for girls since this point. On TV in the 80s there was Jem/Wonder Woman/She-Ra as well as these girl's comics that perhaps didn't move with the times perhaps, then a massive void until, and some will dislike this, but shojo/girl's manga translations really did fill the gap via bookshops only up until a few years ago. We give our young female-centric readers photo stories and pop gossip as tweens, and non-gender-biased adventure comics - both of which are fine, but I miss the format of Look-In that amalgamated everything so well at the time, would it work now?

    >I do believe it is a UK-centric, victorian attitude that prevents girls from socially enjoying comics ("they're babyish") which headed their demise, but stylish artwork such as the illustrations for Hed Kandy album covers, or just fashion illustration in general would certainly pick up new readers in my opinion.

    >And oh crikey, it's princess princess princess everywhere. Minus Tank Girl in comic shops ofc...!

    Digital, print, however, whatever - I believe it can be done, and needs to be done. <3

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  14. Funny when one long-standing staple of UK comics switches to online hosting, the need for girl's comics is on the upsurge at last.

    Japan underwent a similar change 40 years ago - when TV was a hot rival for the manga market, the publishers simply made more anthologies and titles to compete. While there were male artists working on girl's manga at the time, they soon left their posts to work on the new anthologies, but at the same time gave female manga artists to bring their own stories and style to the abandoned girl's strips, which heralded a massive boom in comic readership into the Seventies and thereafter. (And when those female readers grew up, a new genre emerged for them in kind, 'josei'/ladies manga, filled with more mature themes for women)

    I would really love to see something similar happen in the UK and Ireland, as there must be plenty of fine draftswomen out there with their own technique and talents to bring to comics, but can't get their foot in the door because their work doesn't resemble the likes of 2000AD, Marvel or DC comics. One can't live on glossy teen mags forever.

    I see a rule book being thrown away somewhere, but the excitement for this can't burn out!

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  15. Volunteer me as much as you like! I love this plan. I also have the 'urk, busy' thing, and you rightly outline lots of logistical stuff that would need to be figured out, but sod it, this is so exciting and could be so amazing. Will be in touch!

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  16. I'd go for it! I drew lots of serials in the 70's and 80's for JINTY and MANDY and others. I'd love to get back into that stuff!

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  17. Hi Neil

    I just thought you might like to know that we've recently kicked off a "Get Misty Back In Print" campaign over on Facebook.

    There are also a number of creators in there, writers and artists, who would be interested in working on a relaunch or a new girls' comics of the kind being talked about here.

    Maybe we should try and hook all these things up together?

    Here is a link to the group if you are on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/getmisty/

    Nic

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  18. This is an awesome idea. Seriously.

    I have two daughters who LOVE comics, devour The Phoenix in seconds and seem to spend weeks rereading classic Marvel series from the 70s and 80s. But I'm very aware of how few comics there are that speak to their experience as girls growing up in modern Britain.

    I'd love to be involved if anyone can get this off the ground *

    Nick.

    * On the writing or editing side. But don't ask me to draw anything, please - you wouldn't like it when I draw things.

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