Where did all the comics go?

Like many of their peers worldwide, writers and wordsmiths around the UK are the product of a love of words which, for many, was first born of the stories and tales of the much loved comics of one’s childhood.  Many people across the generations grew up reading comics that, in many cases, had often been beloved by their parents’ generation when they were children. 

For the larger part of the 20th century names like The Beano, the Dandy, Bunty, Buster, Twinkle and others were a weekly treat for generations of children across Britain.  Bought alongside sweets at the newsagents up and down the country (or in some cases because of the candy that came as a free gift) the characters in many of these comics became iconic figures known and loved by millions. Even today, a statue of leading Dandy character Desperate Dan holds pride of place on Dundee High Street in Scotland. 

But here, not even two decades into the new century and the weekly comics appear to have almost entirely faded into obsolescence, vanishing from newsagents shelves across the country.  Comics for girls Twinkle and Bunty ceased publication in 1999 and 2001 respectively.  As for Desperate Dan and the Dandy, a figurehead during World War 2 and had endured paper shortages and fascism, this fell at last in 2012, retreating online to become an internet-only publication.  Of all its peers, only the Beano remains on news-stands across the UK and in many areas of the country can only be obtained via subscription or in electronic form. 

So how did these comics, which once boasted a circulation in the millions every week, dwindle to almost nothing?  One answer perhaps lies with the changing demographics of the country as British women have fewer children and an increasing number opting not to have any at all.  Indeed, in 2008 for the first time ever, the number of people over 60 outnumbered children in the UK

However, that isn’t the whole picture. Within the 5-15 age bracket that might be expected to consist the core market for publications of this nature there are still 8 million potential customers.  So why aren’t they reading comics?

The Last Panel – The Changing Patterns of British Youth

The most obvious answer is that, compared to yesterday’s youth, children today have access to technology and content undreamed of by earlier generations.  As recently as two decades ago, even kids from more fortunate backgrounds did not enjoy even a portion of what is available today. 

Outside of comics, Children may have had perhaps a few hours of television broadcast for them on limited terrestrial TV channels each day.   Those lucky enough to have satellite or cable TV might have had access to one of the early TV channels dedicated towards children, such as The Children’s Channel, but even these tended to broadcast only a half days’ worth of programming. 

Furthermore, other past-times and technologies began to compete with comics for the attention of young minds.  Despite the best efforts of media outlets, parents and a complete crash in the market (which lead many to think it was a fad), video-games rose to dominance as one of the favourite forms of entertainment for children.  But like toys, books and other distractions aimed at children, the access to these things for children was drastically limited by the money of their parents.  Consoles were expensive and home computers typically limited to one per household, if they existed at all.

However, the past two decades have seen an incredible explosion in the opportunities and entertainments available to young people.  Technology has become so cheap that many children now enjoy TV’s, consoles and computers in their own rooms.  Developments in User Interfaces for technical devices have led to machines so simple to use, that literally a child can, and does use it; often with more success than their parents.  But the greatest change has come with the Internet.  Now practically a utility on par with electricity, water and central heating, Internet access offers kids and big kids alike access to an incredible world of information and fun barely imaginable to earlier generations. 

As a result, today’s child has access to a huge array of entertainments.  For example, children’s channels such as the BBC’s cBBC, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network boast impressive websites for young visitors to spend hours on.  Games and social spaces, such as Club Penguin, attract children in their droves.  Musical performers on Youtube and other social media sites can benefit from a host of young admirers watching their performances.  And in purchasing the wildly popular computer game Minecraft, industry watchers suggested that Microsoft may just have purchased the loyalty of every 8 year old in the world for a mere 2.5 billion dollars

All of this is not to say that the comics industry is dead.  If anything, comics are more vibrant that at any time in their history.  The market for the traditional British comic may have sharply contracted, but as producers of Japanese Manga and American comic publishers such as Marvel and DC Comics have shown, the appetite for drawn comics remains as potent as ever.   Indeed, comics are so in demand that major superhero franchises, such as Spiderman, Xmen and the Avengers, continue to make huge box-office returns at the cinema.

Work for Writers

All of which is to say that, while opportunities in traditional childhood comics may have dwindled, there has never been a more open time to get into writing comics.  Anyone can start a website on today’s internet and put a comic on it.  And from there, it’s quite possible for ambitious and talented individuals to go further, bringing their comic back into the realms of print and physicality in a way that was all but impossible even a decade ago. 

Even writing entertainment for children may have changed, but all those games, shows and websites require content and text and plenty of work remains to be done by those with the talent, desire and who perhaps never quite grew up themselves.  

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