Friday, March 27, 2009

Thoughts On The DFC

Well, it's finished. DFC Issue 43 arrives today.

I've put some thoughts together about it over at the FPI blog here and here. But thought it might be nice to have the text here as well:


Today is the final day that we, and many other households (although sadly, not enough) will see the last DFC from Random House dropping through the letter box.

Molly and I have been subscribers from the start and we’ve written about it here on the FPI blog previously. (Here, Molly’s interview here, here, here, here, here, here). We even did a big spot just a few months ago for the six month anniversary here on the FPI blog and I was already thinking about what we were going to put together to celebrate the first year of publication. But that’s not going to happen now. The DFC finishes today.

Molly and I are obviously really sad to see it go, since it’s introduced us to many, many great strips and many, many great writers and artists. It’s definitely succeded in making Molly a proper comics fan for which I thank it. Before the DFC she was, like many children I’d imagine, rather more interested in what piece of plastic crap was attached to the front of the comic or magazine, but the DFC changed that. With it’s unique marketing point of being a proper comic for children, concentrating on story and art and entertainment and fun, no ads, no toys, just great comics, it was a valiant attempt to do something different, something better.

I’d struggled for many years to find something Molly could read, something she’d look forward to getting every week. We’d tried the Beano and the Simpsons, but neither of them lasted. Sure, she knows that she can get graphic novels when she wants and she certainly enjoyed her experiences of reading Owly, Simpsons, Calvin & Hobbes and the rest, but I still wanted her to experience the thrill of a weekly comic.


(DFC Issue 1, 30th May 2008)

So when the DFC came along it seemed as near perfect as it could be. We soon settled into a pattern. Friday afternoons she’d come in from school, release the comic from it’s distinctive yellow and red envelope and settle down to read. Once she’d finished it, I’;d get chance to read it as well. We’d talk about what we liked and what didn’t do it for us. Over the weeks Molly decided that she far preferred the shorter comedy strips and developed three great favourites; Sarah McIntyre’s Vern And lettuce (review), Simone Lia’s Sausage & Carrots (review) and Jim Medway’s Crab Lane Crew (review). I could see what she saw in Vern And Lettuce; a gorgeously drawn, sumptuously coloured gentle adventure comedy strip. I could see the fun in the three panel Sausage & Carrots. But I didn’t get Crab Lane Crew at first. Not until she sat me down and explained that it was great because it was just a group of kids doing kid’s stuff together. Then I got it, and it became one of my faves as well.

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(Crab Lane Crew by Jim Medway, a Bruton family favourite.)

Of course, like any comic with a number of different strips there were bound to be hits and misses, but overall the ratio of stuff we liked to stuff we didn’t was impressively high.

Personally I think that the DFC just suffered from incredibly bad timing. It’s business model of selling to subscribers only was either clever, a matter of necessity or completely foolhardy, depending on who you ask. I thought it was a good idea, although of course I had my reservations and fears about how sustainable the model was. Sadly for David Fickling and his team, it seems that they picked a really bad time to try this grand experiment in children’s comics. As far as I know the subscriber base has been building steadily since the launch. Numbers were going up, but they were rising very, very slowly. This was always going to be the problem with the subscriber only model. There’s no opportunity for children to get hold of the comic, as very few of them actually have the required credit card to make the subscription. The pester power factor was missing. In return though they did have a fighting chance. With no expensive, even crippling, distributor cut, no sale or return problem and the backing of a major publisher they seemed to be doing very well indeed. And then the financial world imploded and everything changed.

vern and lettuce 1.jpg

(Vern & Lettuce by Sarah McIntyre, another Bruton family fave)

When Random House pulled the plug on the comic there were quite a few voices of complaint, looking to blame the big company for the demise of the DFC. But I don’t go along with that. The amount of money that Random House has put into this product is astronomical, maybe 1/2 million quid or so. I’d like to be optimistic about it and think that, but for the immediate necessity to trim back the company to survive the current terrible financial climate, Random House would have played the DFC as a long game, building it slowly, confident that the comic and it’s subsequent spin-off graphic novels and collections would make money.

But it’s not to be. The DFC, a marvellous comic, a grand experiment, a great introduction to some fine comics and best of all; a lovely experience for parents and children to share in a love of reading, is gone. I’d like to say thank you from Molly and me for all of the enjoyment it’s given us. I’d like to wish the creators all the best in the future. It’s been a wonderful 43 issues.

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