Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The DFC at Six Months ......

This week marks the six month point for the publication of the DFC, the subscription only weekly comic with 36 pages of all original comic stories, posted straight through your letterbox every Friday.

And all this week on the FPI blog and here I'll be writing about various aspects of why it's so very, very good. (That's ruined any sense of mystery about whether I like it or not hasn't it?). But more than that, my fellow commentator and reviewer; Molly (aged 9) will be chipping in to give her perspective on the comic as well.

When I first heard about the DFC sometime in late 2007 I knew I'd be interested in looking at it, but really wondered if it could be successful. I was also after something Molly could read and love. For many years we'd been buying Molly comics of all sorts and the continual use of things like Why I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish by Gaiman & McKean and The Little Endless Storybook by Jill Thompson as bedtime stories meant that Molly was used to comics from a very early age. But every time I bought her a comic I was always slightly disappointed by the selection available. Sure, the Beano and The Dandy were still around, but even they succumbed to the all too familiar marketing techniques of tacky plastic free gifts. And the disappointment only grew worse when Molly became able to ask for comics on her own and chose what she wanted. She loved the comics sure enough, but her choice was always more to do with the plastic tack she got with the comic rather than the comic itself.

And then they announced the DFC. A comic that seemed designed to appeal both to children like Molly and to parents like me; an advert and toy free comic packed with original strips from a host of British talent. I wasn't so sure about the idea of making it a subscription only publication, but promised I'd keep an eye on the strips that were trailing it in the Guardian and felt pretty convinced that I'd get a subscription for both Molly and myself.

Of course, I managed to miss most of the Guardian strips and publication date rather crept up on me, but in late May of this year the first red & yellow envelope dropped through our letterbox in very impressive style. Like many others, I had my doubts about the future for the comic and certainly didn't like everything I read in there, but was determined to give it a little time to see just how it developed. (For more views on that very first issue see reviews on the FPI blog by Kenny and Katherine and look at Paul Gravett's take on it and the thoughts of Lew Stringer.)

Of course, what all of these initial reviews lacked was some idea of what the actual target market for the comic. I'm sure none of them will mind me revealing that they're all somwhat over the target age of 8-12 that David Fickling talks about in interviews. It's all very well having a bunch of older folk talking about the DFC, but nowhere was I reading anything that talked about the responses of children to this new children's comic. I decided to wait a few issues and then start investigating further, using Molly as a perfect test subject. But this rather failed when, to be honest, Molly lost interest in the whole thing for a little while. I'd read them on a Friday after Molly had flicked through them, but after that she let them pile up by her bedside. After a few weeks I decided to do something about it, figuring I'd give it one last shot before deciding whether or not to cancel the subscription.

We sat down one cold, rainy weekend and read the lot, talking about each one, drawing the characters we liked, playing games around the characters and generally having a great time. And this did the trick. I think, in retrospect, she was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed by the big pile of reading she saw by her bedside. But once we had our mammoth session, each Friday became a great day; getting home from school to find her brightly coloured yellow and red envelope waiting for her. She's now a huge fan of the comic, although not a fan of everything in the comic. But she knows that this is fine, after all, she's well aware that the comic has to appeal to girls and boys of all ages. Since this rather shaky start, we've both been really enjoying the DFC.

There's a great novelty factor in getting the DFC, the weekly delivery through the door means there's always a great excitement waiting on the doormat every Friday. And the brightly coloured envelope is a blast.

One particularly interesting thing with Molly's reading of the DFC is that she probably only reads half of it. Over the months I've noticed she really doesn't like the adventure stories and will only give them a cursory look. What she does love though is the funny strips, and particularly those that are pretty much self contained. So Vern & Lettuce, Sausage & Carrots and Crab lane Crew are her current faves.

Interestingly these are the strips that tend not to have an extended storyline. Sure, the stories connect and develop week by week, but they all tend to have a definite setup and resolution each week. Maybe it's just a dislike of a serialised structure that stops her enjoying the longer tales? But the whole point of the DFC, and I'd imagine, soimething the editiors are very proud of, is the very variety of stories that means Molly only likes half the comic. After all, they're trying to appeal to the greatest possible number of readers and to do that there's no way everyone can like everything.

Now personally, I've probably enjoyed a lot more in the DFC than Molly has. Some of the longer strips have been absolutely excellent. The Boss (by John and Patrice Aggs) was just great, probably because it reminded me of the sort of kids adventure tales I remember from comics when I was young. Mezolith is just wonderful, great storytelling and simply beautiful artwork (although it does seem rather at odds with the rest of the comic). I have to say though that I didn't really like the comic's most promoted strip; John Blake. Something about it just didn't connect at all, although the artwork has never been less than great.

But on the whole, I'm really enjoying the DFC and much more importantly, so is Molly. I know it's not marketed toward me directly, but I do think they had people like me in mind when they conceived the comic. After all, it's a great thing to be able to enjoy a weekly comic with your child.

But despite searching online and asking everyone I knew, and asking everyone at school, I could only find one other child who'd even tried the DFC. At this point I decided that I may as well throw all notions of remaining unbiased out of the window and started regularly talking about the DFC, it's writers and artists and any DFC related events both here on the FPI blog and on my personal blog.

Because if you're reading the FPI blog, I have to assume you are at least a little bit interested in comics. And whether you like the DFC or not, you must surely admit that anything at all designed to get more children reading comics can only be a very good thing for the future of comics in Britain.

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