The first issue of the DFC weekly comic arrived today, after the concentrated publicity burst of the last few weeks which saw David Fickling making good use of the connections a publisher specialising in children’s books has to try and drum up subscriptions and publicity through the media.
So let’s have a look at what the self proclaimed first ‘real’ story based comic in many a year is like. Firstly, on the purely production side, it appears to be straight A4 which makes it different from most of it’s wider peers – but given that it isn’t having to compete for shelf space, being subscription only, that probably doesn’t matter – if it ever goes newsstand however I think I might go for a wider format for fear of getting lost. The cover stock seems a little unusual also – as opposed to the usual heavy gloss on most comic covers it has a restrained matt finish and a decent paper weight. It looks pretty nice.
So what about the contents? The first two pages are taken up with bits and bobs giving kids info on the concept of the DFC, contents listings (does a 36 page comic really need this?), web link and a couple of little cartoons; one by Woodrow Phoenix (creator of the upcoming Rumble Strip) is one of the best illustrations on show, a picture puzzle, really lovely, but I didn’t quite get the point of the reveal, the answer seeming a little dry and not, to me at least, much fun – maybe a kid would find it fascinating.
The lead strip is the much touted ‘John Blake’ written by Philip Pullman (famous author of the internationally bestselling ‘His Dark Materials’ novels, recently filmed in part as “The Golden Compass”) and drawn by John Aggs. It reads well enough, but it is obviously a scene setter to a longer adventure strip, so it’s a little lacking in real drama. Still, it’s about the high seas and ghost ships it seems and it has a spectacular giant squid attacking a schooner on the first page – as a kid I’d be sold. John Aggs produces pleasant art heading slightly towards a Manga style from time to time, it’s a solid performance all round.
(a dramatic nautical scene from “The Adventures of John Blake” by Philip Pullman and John Aggs from the DFC #1)
‘Super Animal Adventure Squad’ has a nice bigfoot, kids comic, visual style although there seems to be a lot of words on a single page. Do kids really call some cakes pastries? Nice to look at without having enough real momentum to carry you into fits of laughter.
‘The Boss’ again is a scene setter even given that it didn’t seem the most realistic thing I ever read. The art is fine but nothing out of the ordinary and the story feels like it could almost be the start of a Famous Five adventure. For generations of kids brought up on Grange Hill I suspect this is going to seem a bit wet and like something from the 50′s. I didn’t go to public school; maybe if you did then kids acted more like this (though I doubt it).
‘Monkey Nuts’ by the Etherington Brothers is a nifty two pager, again to my mind a little overwritten, but the pay off is that they are excellent cartoonists. The art looks lovely and I can see this appealing to younger kids if it turns into madness and mayhem, as it promises to do.
The centre spread is called ‘DFC Doodlit’ – the idea being you colour in an initial drawing and add your own words and jokes. It looks pretty good fun – the two jokes supplied are pretty good also – in the way lame jokes should be.
(a panel from Vern & Lettuce by Sarah McIntyre from DFC #1)
Vern and Lettuce is a single page visual joke. The joke has a nice payoff and Sarah McIntyre’s art is absolutely lovely. A success – give her more space.
‘The Spider Moon’ reads like the start of a script for a Miyazaki film. It all seems very intriguing; any story that starts with the character’s world dying and her potentially being part of the chance for it to survive, pulls you straight in. The details of Bekka’s life also have the lightness of touch you might find in a Miyazaki film – showing even heroes have to deal with the every day. Artist Kate Brown has a very winning style, somewhere between Manga and the more cartoony end of Craig Russell. She has obviously put a load of effort into this – going as far as weathering paper, or distorting images of paper to use as her canvas – which gives the whole strip the feeling of being something pulled from mythology rather than just scribbled last week. It’s an outstanding job and promises much. The best strip in the mag by far.
Good Dog, Bad Dog by Dave Shelton is a nicely done strip about two dog detectives which has some of the feel of something like Danger Mouse. It rips along and is pretty funny, nicely drawn and I can imagine many kids loving this.
The back page has two small joke strips one by author of Fluffy, Simone Lia, the other by Jim Medway (who should be more well known than he is). Both are nicely drawn, in a straight from the hand, people who can just draw, manner and both the jokes are actually pretty funny. I laughed at both.
The DFC is not a cheap comic; it’s subscription scheme only circulation seems to me to be something that will surely stand in its way of building an audience, and it’s quality, whilst good, is a little variable and sometimes not as exciting as a kid’s comic should be. Given it has many continuing strips which probably need time to build tension I’m happy to forgive that for now (but will kids? Reportedly many in the test marketing found the fact the strips continued rather than resolved in a single issue a bit hard to understand) and wish it well. It does seem solidly middle class in it’s presentation and I wonder if kids might just like a bit (or in fact a lot) more irreverence from their comics; I guess we’ll see. It is a very brave gesture though and one I applaud in concept – too many comics are just about licensed properties these days and it is great to see some actual storytelling. I’ll be reading it every week and whilst I’m not the target audience there are some things in here most comics fans would enjoy – and the girls have it for this issue: nice work Kate and Sarah.