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This is the first year to start without The Dandy on the shelves of U.K. newsagents since 1937, making it strange times indeed for the kids’ comics market in the British Isles. For most industry-watchers over here, as the decades passed, comics came and went, and all were vulnerable to the specter of sudden cancellation, with little certainty in the field other than there would always be The Beano and The Dandy. Waking up to a world without one or the other in it was once as unthinkable as a night sky without the moon.
The U.K. comics scene has been heating up of late, and we can only hope that 2012 will see a British Invasion of the comics variety. The BBC has coverage of the latest development: The launch of The Phoenix, a weekly children’s comic published by David Fickling (whose David Fickling Books is an imprint of Random House). The name is apt: The Phoenix is a reprise of an earlier attempt, The DFC, which garnered a lot of praise but shut down after 43 issues. The Phoenix is launching with a nice lineup of stories and talent, including Neill Cameron, Simone Lia, Gary Northfield and Jamie Smart (who draws Desperate Dan for the long-running weekly The Dandy). Unfortunately, it’s print-only and not available digitally, so most U.S. readers won’t get to see it just yet.
Meanwhile, Strip Magazine, a monthly comic dedicated to serialized action tales, has released its second issue. Unlike The Phoenix, Strip is available digitally as an iPad app, which means we Yanks can read it, too. (I think the high point of my year was learning that The Beano and The Dandy are now available as iPad apps.)
If you’re not quite ready to let go of Christmas yet (hey, it’s supposed to be 12 days!), check out the classic British Christmas comics that Lew Stringer (another talented artist) has posted at his blog. It’s a fascinating look back in time. Dandy artist Andy Fanton posts a more modern Christmas comic (very much in the Dandy style) at his blog.
And finally, we had the U.S. release last week of Nelson, the collaborative graphic novel by 54 creators, each of whom contributed a chapter about one day in the life of a young woman. The contributors include Roger Langridge, Duncan Fegredo, Warren Pleece, Posy Simmonds and Darryl Cunningham, and publisher Blank Slate is donating the proceeds from the sale of the book to the homelessness charity Shelter.
The Forbidden Planet blog is one of my favorite comics blogs, but because it’s UK-based, sometimes I read a glowing review of a book I can’t get over here in the States. (This is, of course, a familiar problem for me.) So I saw Richard Bruton’s review of Dave Morris and Leo Hartas’s Mirabilis, thought “That looks nice,” saw that it was part of The DFC, a short-lived experiment in children’s comics, and was about to move on. But something made me click the link to the Mirabilis home page, and I’m glad I did.
Mirabilis is available for the iPad, which means even Yanks like me can read it, and I highly recommend it. It’s a slightly grown-up version of the classic British children’s story, with a standup guy stumbling into a supernatural situation and winding up on a quest with his two pals (one of whom starts out as an enemy). I’m tempted to say “If you like Harry Potter, you’ll like this,” but that’s a bit facile. I liked the world of the earlier Harry Potter books, and I like the world of this comic. The figures are actually a bit stiff, but I didn’t really notice because of the richness of detail, the imaginative supernatural world, and the beautiful color. The writing is first-rate and quirky in the way the British do best.
The iPad app itself is beautifully designed. It sets the mood of the story and organizes the single issues of the comic (the first trade volume comprises eight issues). The first issue is free, the second is 99 cents, and subsequent issues are $1.99, which is an interesting pricing structure. It makes it relatively inexpensive to get started with the story. More issues will be added to the app as the trades are published, and the entire story is four volumes (32 issues) long. That could run to money, but it’s cheaper than import fees…
Sarah McIntyre is one of a group of talented British comics artists who created work for the short-lived children’s comic The DFC; McIntyre is the creator of Vern and Lettuce, a whimsical story about a sheep and a rabbit. That book has not yet been published in the U.S., but happily, the web is everywhere, so anyone can enjoy McIntyre’s travel diary of her recent trip to China. McIntyre is blessed with an effortless style, a sharp eye for detail, and a willingness to go out and actually talk to people, so her diary is a delight to read. She drew all the characters as animals—it’s faster, she says—but it also gives the comic a whimsical air, and she includes photos of people and places as well. It’s the next best thing to being there!