70 years after Dan Dare & the Eagle – do comics have a future?

When I started 2019 the team at ComicScene were optimistic.  The magazine had been picked up by newsagents like WHSmith and McColls, meaning we could promote comics beyond comic shops, and the future was bright.

Then the first comic shop of the year closed.  A major UK comic title folded – and then another.  US indie publishers merged. Comic Cons got cancelled or underperformed.  Comic book movie and TV series launched, then the plug was pulled.  A mixed picture from kickstarters.  Price increases in comic shops.  The High Street at its lowest ebb.  Alan Moore left comics (yikes!).

There was some comic light throughout the year.  Beano sales increased, albeit through subscriptions. Comic shops opened or reinvented themselves.  Rebellion and DC Thomson produced new comics and revisited their back catalogues. UK comic ‘To The Death’ was launched. Back issues of comics sold at record levels at auction. Comic exhibitions opened and were well visited. ‘Avengers Endgame’ became the biggest movie of all time.  Small press publishers experimented even more!  You can read comics online if you’ve run out of shelf space. University courses on comics continued and expanded. Specialist bookshops increased, many stocking graphic novels. Fanzines started to appear again.

ComicScene Magazine is still here (13 issues, 2 zines, 5 books and one Annual later) against all the odds and we even won a few awards along the way (thank you to anyone who nominated or voted for us – a complete and humbling surprise!)

Now you don’t launch a magazine about comics without picking up some market intelligence.  And that information mirrors a conversation I had with John McShane, formerly of AKA Books and Comics in Glasgow, when he and I reflected on how many dedicated comic fans were left in the UK.  The figure he had come up with was about 10,000. How many still actually read comics? A third, if you’re lucky.

Now Viz is still up there, at about 45,000 sales. A comic which always had a wide appeal. The Beano’s recent sales announcement was around 40,000 – only 16,000 in newsagents with subscriptions overtaking shop sales (The Phoenix also sells more by subscription). Spider-Man and DeadPool are the heroes of choice on newsstands with healthy sales boosted by their movie popularity.

Around 50,000 sales is the exception not the rule, even with plastic coated toys attached, for pre teen titles.

In terms of teen titles start with sales from 500, even with national distribution and, well, expect under 4000 newsstand sales on average. That includes comics with major TV programmes behind them, or a long heritage of dedicated fans. This doesn’t take into account subscriptions (as in the case of the Beano) or digital sales.

The sales figures remain a long way from the Beano hitting a record breaking 2 million. A million sales of the Eagle featuring Dan Dare Pilot of the Future almost 70 years ago. Even sales in the mid 80’s when Tammy, 2000AD and Roy of the Rovers were still selling 90-110,000 copies a week each – when a drop below 100,000 usually meant cancellation!

Of course times have changed. The worrying trend for comics is parents/carers are going online for their news and magazine sales are dropping. You look in any train or bus station and will see many adults scrolling through their phones instead of reading a paper or magazine. So they are not impulse buying a comic for their kids as they look through the shelves of WHSmith (“I want this one!”).

It’s well known that adults introduce their children to comics in the first instance, so a change in their habits is more worrying. They don’t need a comic to keep the kids quiet anymore. An iPad will do. And teens can spend hours on their X Box, sure, but they have so much more entertainment now to keep them amused then we had in the 1980’s – the cinema multiplexes, soft play centres, trampoline parks, YouTube, Spotify, Netflix and streaks on SnapChat!

Today U.K. and even US publishers are seeing an interest in ‘retro’ publishing with some reprints of classic comics outselling their contemporary issues. It’s great to see, with some wonderful volumes being produced. However, if we simply dwell on nostalgia of the past will comics have a future?

Where will the next generation of comic fans comes from?

The next generation of comic writers and artists – or authors, programme makers and computer programmers?

The next generation of people who will show an interest in your kickstarter, web comic or comic shop?

The next generation of smash hit movie plots?

As DC Thomson said in the this weeks Beano – ‘the fight for the future is on’.

ComicScene have been doing our bit over the last twelve months – running the online news site, producing Podcasts with Dundee Uni, sharing social media posts from others who also have, for considerably longer, fought the good fight (some even reciprocate my posts – thank you!). We’ve also been producing the magazine – putting money where our mouth is!

ComicScene has been running articles and started sharing some great comics I and the team of writers have experienced over the last year. I’ve been speaking to library organisations, many of who love the magazine, to help guide their graphic novel collections and stock the magazine. I’ve even cut our subscription rate per issue to make the magazine more affordable than our production costs twelve months ago allowed.

I know kids love comics. I know it’s great for improving their reading and imagination. They just have to have access to them. Many have considered ways of achieving that. Libraries, for example, provide copies free online. Book shop sales of a graphic novel worldwide can be in the region of 200,000 sales.

ComicScene has come up with an idea, in print, and it would be great to get you on board. To create that initial spark that will lead people to explore comics a little more.

So from November ComicScene is adding more pages and launching a pull out ‘all ages’ comic – you can read it, of course, but I’d prefer you to pull it out of the middle of the magazine and ‘pass it on’.

Pass it on to your niece, nephew, kids, grand kids, great grand kids. Or leave a copy in your library, school, community centre, soft play, local coffee shop, Doctor, Dentist or hairdressers. Anywhere a kid may pick it up and take an interest.

From Monday 2nd September to the end of October ComicScene is going to continue the half price summer sale of digital and print back issues. If you’ve never tried ComicScene before this is a good time to get on board and every back issue you buy will support the project further.

Think of it as an alternative kickstarter – with immediate results!

Then as I said you can also subscribe. Buy two issues if you want to keep your collection in mint condition and pass on the other! More details of that and what’s to appear in the November issue of ComicScene on Monday.

I am excited – I hope you are too!

‘The Legion of Comic Fans’ may be depleted but we are not down and out. As we approach 70 years of the publication of the Eagle and Dan Dare let’s create another comic revolution. If you love comics I hope you can join us.

It’s going to be a Corker!

Tony Foster




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