Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A (better) IDEA: Awesome Comics, For Girls. (And Boys)

 Jinty, issue from 23 April 1977. "THE ROBOT WHO CRIED". Come ON.
Again, all images are (c) 2012 their respective publishers and creators, and are included here merley to provide examples of style and tone.

Yesterday I wrote a long blog post outlining an idea for how I think the classic British Girls' Comic could be updated in a way that would be interesting, exciting and relevant for young readers today. I was kind of throwing the idea out there as a way to gauge interest, both from readers and creators, and the response on both fronts has been amazing already (oh my goodness, some of the people who've been in touch...), and has only strengthened my conviction that there's the potential to do something really awesome here.

I covered a lot of ground in that post, and a lot of it I felt really solid on - the kind of creative approach I think would work, the need for strong editing, and some of the particulars of how it could work financially and logistically. (If you didn't, I'd urge you to go back and read the original post before proceeding, just to give context to the following.)

The Baby-Sitters Club, graphic novel adaptation by Raina Telgemeier.

Anyway, there was one area I felt less than 100% solid on, and admitted as much, and that related to the fairly fundamental and somewhat problematic issue of it being labelled as "A Girls' Comic" or "A Comic For Girls". As I mentioned, I'm uneasy about any kind of arbitrarily imposed gender segregation in comics, as well as in toys and media in general, specifically media aimed at children. I remember a couple of years ago seeing a photo someone posted of the kids 'comic' section in Tescos; a mess of plastic-bagged plastic-tat-distribution-mechanisms split down the middle into a bright pink "Girls' Zone" and a blue "Boys' Zone". Just the sight of it made me feel sad, and angry, and faintly nauseous. And a couple of bits of feedback I spotted to yesterday's post had me horrified that some had thought that that was what I was suggesting. I mean, I really don't even know how to respond to that, other than to say: please refer to every comic I have ever drawn, ever. And at the risk of turning this again into an extended advertisement for the Phoenix: the way that fine publication approaches this issue, presenting stories and features purposefully and proudly aimed equally at girls AND boys, is something that I'm incredibly proud of, and something I really work hard at in my own contributions. 

All that being said, and with the understanding that what I'm proposing would not be in any way intended as a further contribution to the pile of pink princessy putrescence that passes for so much of media targeted at girls; that it would be a funky, diverse and awesome character-focussed comic taking in a broad range of subject matter and interests: is there still a problem? Is there a problem that's just unavoidable, inherent to any conversation that uses the phrase "...for Girls"?

You know what, turns out there is. And it was brilliantly put in this post by Lauren O'Farrell and Sarah Leavesey, over at the Fleece Station blog. Both Lauren and Sarah make some excellent points, and I'd really encourage you to go and read the whole thing, but Sarah puts the issue best in summing up:

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think that labelling a comic as ‘for girls’ is such a great plan. I think the idea comes from a really well intentioned place because I think comics can still be an enormously male oriented space. But labelling stuff ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ is actually really divisive. In saying ‘this is a comic for girls’ you effectively say ‘this is not for you’ to others who might be interested. And you also say to girls ‘all this other stuff, over here, that’s not really something you’ll be interested in.’

It's a fair point, and one I wholeheartedly agree with. I think it's worth just backtracking a second and describing why, aware of this, I was using phrases like "Girls' comics" in the first place; and also perhaps some of the reasons why the idea of reviving them creates so much enthusiasm and excitement amongst other readers and creators.

The term "Girls' Comic" immediately harkens back to the publishing history of titles like Jinty, Tammy, Bunty, Misty, etc etc - as previously discussed, and again, please go and read this brilliant post by Jacqueline Rayner on the subject if you haven't already. And those comics were, unequivocally, Girls' Comics - that is absolutely how they were conceived and marketed at the time, so we can use the term accurately there at least. Now, I can entirely understand why one might have felt left cold by such comics, or by the perceived notions of femininity they represented. (I myself had little to no interest in comics about football or war or other such traditional 'boy' stuff as a child. I mention this not to suggest the cases are equivalent, as after all I had plenty of comics about transforming robots and farting pigs and such to keep me busy while still firmly in 'boy space', but merely as a point of comparison). However, I think by simply dismissing those Girls' Comics you do them - and the many readers who loved them, a disservice. I think it's inarguable that a lot of girls (and boys) DID enjoy them; enjoyed the greater focus on emotion and character, the stories featuring girl protagonists, the greater focus on real-world settings that reflected the readers' own lives, the stories relfecting a wide range of interests - sport, family, friendship, mystery and intrigue), the beautiful artwork and brilliant stories. And this is really just my point: that kids who'd really respond to material like that - girls AND boys, can't keep repeating that enough - should get comics too.

The War at Ellesmere, (c) 2012 by the brilliant Faith Erin Hicks

So those are the strengths of the material itself; but the other thing is the potency, or clarity of the phrase "Girls Comic" itself. You say that, and immediately people know what you're talking about; it's got that link to the past, and it makes for a nice, marketable hook. You say "a new, updated Girl's Comic", or "it's like Jinty, or Misty, but relevant for today's kids", and people immediately know what you're talking about. It's a problematic phrase but a convenient shorthand, an attention-catching idea to get people talking. I've struggled to find a way to express the idea in a more accurate way without going on for a page and a half of prevarication and qualification; "it's a comic that deals with areas of subject matter or narrative approaches that may traditionally be perceived as 'feminine' when applying retrogressive normative gender identities" doesn't quite trip off the tongue in the same way.

(Sidenote: I'm doing my best here, honest I am. I reached a point in discussing this stuff yesterday where I was groping around for an example of what I was trying to get at and ended up at "y'know... sort of like Mo-Bot High", and came to the worrying realisation that this whole discussion has very likely come out of me sublimating just how much I want to make more Mo-Bot High. A classic British Girls' School Story, but with Giant Robots. I really, really want to make more Mo-Bot High, you guys.)

A reader of awesome comics.

So the question is: do the problems with the phrase "Girls' Comic" outweigh the convenient shorthand it provides? And I think there's a pretty compelling case that they do. The last thing I was intending to propose was a project that would in any way worsen the already-dire sitation of gender stereotyping and cultural segregation that Tescos and their ilk seem so keen on inflicting on our children. If the term itself is divisive, or ends up alienating or excluding the very people you'd want reading the comic: then you'd probably try and find a better term.

Misty, (c) 2012 Egmont UK. Apparently featuring a Faustian tale of demonic show-jumping, and DEAR GOD HOW COULD YOU NOT WANT TO READ THAT?
In discussing the issue with Sarah and Lauren on twitter (where Sarah is @UndercoverOwl and Lauren is @deadlyknitshade) I suggested 'YA comic' instead, and I think it works as an alternative, although if anyone has any better suggestions I'd be really interested to hear them. You lose that potency of the term "Girls' Comic" as a hook, but you know what? Maybe it points the way towards one that's even better. "It's like a Girls' Comic, but for boys too." that is starting to sound interesting. Something that, just like the Phoenix, is aimed at all children. The point of distinction - the thing that makes This Idea not The Phoenix - isn't one of gender but of age to some extent - pitching maybe just a couple of years older (with the understanding that all kids are different, and read at different ages, and that I know plenty of 30somethings and older who adore their weekly fiery avian comics fix) - and of approach. Can't we dream of having more than one awesome comic? Isn't there room for the Phoenix to get a cool older sister?

 Murder She Writes, (c) 2012 by John Allison. On another sidenote, this comic is insanely brilliant and you should all go and buy it immediately.

Anyway, I think there's the seed of something potentially really exciting there. UK YA Comics. Girls' Comics, For Boys. Awesome Comics, for Everyone. I feel like this puts the idea on much more solid ground, and I'd be really interested to hear what others make of it. As I mentioned yesterday, this is not a thing I am proposing to take on myself any time soon, for all the aforementioned reasons of workload and happiness where I am, but I'm making notes and taking names and I look forward to having a lot of very interesting discussions about it all when the time comes.

And lastly: you know what's been brilliant? Both Lauren and Sarah kind of calling me out, but doing so so eloquently, so passionately, and so politely - and in a way that focussed on the strengths of the approach taken by the Phoenix and indeed by Pirates of Pangaea. It's a confusing thing to have one's own work kind of thrown in one's face as an example of A Better Way of Doing Things. Confusing, but rather wonderful.


As before, I'm really interested to hear from comics readers and creators who might be interested in the kind of thing I'm talking about here. The discussion is ongoing on twitter on the #awesomenewcomic hashtag, or please feel free to drop me a line privately at, or indeed add your comments to the discussion on yesterday's blog post.

And seriously: subscribe to the Phoenix. You know how great the Phoenix is? The Phoenix is so great that it had, in an early issue, a story by Adam Murphy about a princess who was wearing pink and it was THE BEST THING YOU GUYS. Seriously, it was funny, and clever, and brilliant. Go subscribe.

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
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

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


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

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.


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...


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?


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 - 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!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Spooky Pirate Ghost Dinosaurs!

This is just a quick art post to alert anyone who may have missed it to the fact that Pirates of Pangaea RETURNS this very week, in issue 33 of The Phoenix! Available from Waitroses, indy book and comic shops everywhere (find your nearest stockist HERE) and via subscription.

It's the start of a mini-epic spookalicious new adventure for Sophie and Kelsey, and to further entice you to pick it up I thought I'd share a couple of pages of the unlettered artwork from the first episode here. Enjoy!

Huge thanks to everyone who's said nice things about the new strip already, either on twitter or at Caption this weekend. Dan and I are delighted to be back in the comic, and really hope people enjoy this new adventure... 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Save The Dandy!

I read this very disspiriting article on the Guardian last night, indicating that The Dandy, Britain's longest-running comic*, may be facing closure. And... that sucks. There are few enough great comics for children to read in this country, and the last thing we need is to lose one of the best. My son's just coming into the right age range for it and he loves it, and it drives me nuts to think that it might not be there any more.

The recently-relaunched version of the Dandy features work by lots of brilliant, talented, hilarious British cartoonists, and feels like a fresh new take on the format that, frankly, deserves more of a chance to grow and develop and evolve. So: I'm going to go out and buy the Dandy. You should do so too. 70-something years of publication**, and it goes down on our watch? Nuts to THAT.

So yeah, I got up this morning and drew Desperate Dan. See above. My version came out looking a bit more like the old-school version than Jamie Smart's current model, but I guess that's just the way I draw. Mr Smart's work on the character - and indeed all his OTHER work on the Dandy - is just utterly brilliant: funny, inventive, anarchic and inspiring, and if you have kids you should absolutely make a point of introducing them to it.

Go buy the Dandy!***

* that's correct, right? I didn't really research this.
** I really didn't research this. 
*** look, just go buy the Dandy!