“On paper, it may have looked as though Wildcat was a no-brainer – sci-fi thrills for the junior audience – but in fact it was a decidedly dicey proposition. With the comic audience aging dramatically in the Eighties, it just didn’t seem as though there was a new generation coming through to pick up the habit. As a result, juvenile publications were dropping like flies and , in truth, it flew in the face of all the evidence to tailor a new publication to what was the once traditional eight to twelve-year-old target group.”
Graham Kibble-White, “Wildcat”, The Ultimate Book of British Comics, p. 285.Fleetway’s Wildcat ran for just 12 fortnightly issues from 1988-89 and was “the last new traditional adventure comic (to date) to be launched in this country” (Kibble-White, p. 287).
The DFC launched two weeks ago. It’s not a tie-in with films or telly or computer games or a newspaper. It’s not trying to flog you something. It doesn’t carry advertising and – amazingly – the first issue didn’t come with some precious free gift sellotaped to the cover.
Instead, it’s a subscriber only comic, delivered to your door every Friday in a distinctive red-and-yellow striped envelope. There’s a subscription offer where you get issues free, but it’s basically £3 per shot of 36 full-colour pages. Issue two arrived yesterday and, after a lot of prologueish scene-setting in issue one, it seems already to have hit its stride.
The contents page includes a running gag about what DFC might stand for – though this Times interview with the thing’s creator reveals it’s really the David Fickling Comic. And Fickling, who publishes Lyra’s Oxford and Once Upon A Time in the North, is the reason the headline strip is by Philip Pullman.
Illustrated by John Aggs, “John Blake” is about a ghost ship seen sailing about the Pacific – seeing it augers a sudden change in fortune. In issue two the Henderson family are out sailing round the world, when they’re suddenly caught in a unexpected tropical storm…
As you’d expect from Pullman, it’s a rich and involving story that gets going really quickly. It’s also quite scary and strange, and I was a bit surprised by Mr Henderson shouting “bastards” on page 7. But I’m already caught up in the story. And, like the best stuff I used to read (and watch) when I was eight-to-twelve, it feels a little like we’re getting away with something too adult here, that it’s almost not really suitable and Mum and Dad wouldn’t approve…
The other science-fiction adventure story is Kate Brown’s “The Spider Moon”, about Bekka Kiski’s diving exam in a strange and doomed sci-fi landscape. Somehow as yet unexplained, Bekka’s diving can save the world.
I love the artwork, and the story is playful as well as strange. Fickling talks in the Times interview about the Manga influence on this one. I can see what he means, but am also aware of how many people will shout, “But Manga just means ‘comics’”.
There are two school stories. “The Boss” by John Aggs and his mum sees a whole bunch of school kids involved in foiling a crime, all taking their lead from one organised kid who shows his authority by not wearing a blazer. Neill Cameron’s “Mo-Bot High” sees Asha arriving at a new school to discover everyone has Digital Mobile Combat-suits – or giant robots – with which to settle playground scores.
Both work on the wheeze of empowering the kids and both are distinctive and fun, though both are still setting up their stories at this point.
Dave Shelton’s “Good Dog, Bad Dog” is about two detectives in what looks like a 1930s American city… where everyone is a dog. It’s smart and funny, and nicely orchestrates some great slapstick set pieces – something I’ve not seen much in comics. The two detectives have just met up, caught two crooks and it looks like issue three will be a new adventure.
The Etherington Brothers’ “Monkey Nuts” really got going with issue two, in which Sid the newly unemployed tap-dancing monkey meets Rivet the newly unemployed robot coffee machine, just in time for the flashoom entrance of The Amazing Amazing, who’s going to flatten the whole town unless everyone submits to slavery. As Sid says in the last panel so far, “Do you think dancing will help?”
The other comedy strips are all one-pagers. James Turner’s “Super Animal Adventure Squad” is about “the world’s maddest mad scientist” stealing some cakes. Sarah McIntyre’s “Vern and Lettuce” and Jim Medway’s “At the Zoo” have both so far based themselves round terrible puns. Oh, and on the back page is Simone Lia’s “Sausage and Carrots”, a four-panel delight of weirdness.
With a competition page which leads to extra web content, a puzzle page and endorsements to draw your own comics, there’s plenty to get involved with, too.
All the stories are very different, which should mean there’s something for everyone here. It's a shame they're all part ones of ongoing series; it’d be nice to have an anthology series of one-off stories so that each issue offers something complete. And some of the part ones did feel a bit too prologuey, so it's hard to judge the strips just yet.
But this is a bold and exciting comic, and very much worth supporting. I am already looking forward to Friday.