January 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
An adventure comic book featuring dinosaur islands and space adventurers has been rescued from closure by a grateful parent whose child used the cartoons to learn to read.
The Phoenix, which will be serialised in The Times next Saturday, is a revival of The DFC, a comic book founded in 2008 in an attempt to reintroduce children to serial adventures of the type that fell out of fashion in the 1970s.
The DFC was forced to close in 2009 when its backer, the publisher Random House, withdrew its support. But one parent was so impressed with the comic’s power to engage the interest of his child that he agreed to fund a revamped version. The new backer, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted the comic’s founder, David Fickling, a publisher who is best known for nurturing the talents of Philip Pullman and Jacqueline Wilson.
Children’s comics enjoyed their glory years in the 1950s when Eaglesold 900,000 copies a week. The market declined sharply in the 1970s and never recovered. The only two British comics to survive are The Beano and The Dandy, which have a joint weekly circulation of about 70,000.
Ben Sharpe, editor of The Phoenix, said the demise of the adventure comic book for children was peculiar to Britain. “If you look at France, Belgium, the United States or Japan, these story vehicles are still very common. I think it’s a lot to do with our cultural stuffiness.
“Story comics like The Phoenix used to be a main part of children’s reading experience, but as prices started to rise parents made a decision not to buy them any more. For the children it is an unsupervised reading experience, but parents rather overlooked that.”
The Beano used to run serial stories such as Billy the Cat until the 1970s, but it is now almost totally reliant on joke-based strip cartoons. The Phoenix will feature serials such as Pirates of Panagea that will run for 20 weeks.
The new comic, which is aimed at children between 8 and 11, shares some heritage with The Times. Its designer is Laurence Beck, the grandson of one of the men who styled the masthead of this newspaper in the 1950s. Reynolds Stone’s reworking of the coat of arms in the Times logo lasted from 1953 until its removal during a radical redesign in 1966. (The current masthead is based on a previous design from 1932.) Mr Sharpe said his comic already had 1,000 subscribers and that the backer had committed to the project for more than a year. “His youngest child, who wasn’t very interested in reading at all, learned to read through The DFC. They thought that something of this sort should still be in the world. They’re passionate supporters.”