I am, of course, excited about the imminent publication of The Rainbow Orchid, but I think I have an inner defence system that subdues anything too overt. You see, I don't actually believe it's going to be published until I see it in a bookshop. Until then, until I hold a copy in my hands, I'll just remain calmly and optimistically hopeful.
the dummy, the first issue and the final issue of The DFC
In the late 1980s I had my first professional comic work accepted for publication. It was a three-page comic based on the song Iron Man by Black Sabbath, and it was to appear in the comic/lifestyle magazine Heartbreak Hotel. After the editor had phoned me and told me they wanted to print it and pay me, I did a few happy leaps around the room, maybe even jumping on the sofa. Sadly, the next issue of Heartbreak Hotel that was to contain my strip didn't appear - it had folded.
I carried on, happily self-publishing, and then another opportunity for professional publication arose, this time working on two titles for a U.S publisher, Blue Comet Press. I did the pencils on a couple of issues of a fantasy title called Zorann Star Warrior and full art and lettering on a superhero/horror title called The Devil's Workshop (written by the fabulous Paul H. Birch). Unfortunately, the black and white indie boom that enabled Blue Comet Press was dwindling, the company collapsed, and my issues never saw print (except for some art on an advertisement in another title).
Working as an illustrator I do quotes, rough sketches and even finished art for many jobs that never actually come to fruition. They probably outnumber the projects that do get completed and see print. I still learn loads from them and I don't feel great sadness or regret that these comic jobs didn't happen (at the time I did, of course, but there's always been new stuff to look forward to). So, you know, it's par for the course.
Having The Rainbow Orchid up on the web has brought a lot of good things my way, and one of them was The DFC...
27 September 2006
Do you have a phone number we can reach you on? We love your work on Rainbow Orchid and wondered if you might be interested in being involved with a project we are in the process of developing.
With best wishes, Ben Sharpe, David Fickling Books, Oxford
So I got involved in a project that did get me excited, though in the calm-and-optimistic way, not the jumping-on-a-sofa way. I tried out for one of the strips, got the job and saw three pages appear in the dummy issue. Then, as happens with these things in their early days, I got moved off that strip and offered another one or the opportunity to write my own - even better. I worked on a couple of stories, and then for many reasons, some avoidable, some not, I spent a long time doing my chosen DFC strip (Charlie Jefferson and the Tomb of Nazaleod) and I didn't quite make it in time before The DFC ended.
I didn't think The DFC was going to end - I always believed in it, right from when I saw the dummy issue. Yes, I was fearful it might end, but didn't really think it would. The DFC didn't fail, it's just bad timing. As far as I understand it, Random House were quite prepared to give The DFC at least a couple of years to grow its roots, to find its avenues, but were not prepared for the economic slump that saw them having to return to core business in order to ride the storm.
A lot of people, while being supportive, have criticised the subscription system. Personally, I think it was a great idea. It was the idea that made The DFC possible, that meant it could subsist on a budget that would not get eaten up by newsagent distribution, and meant it did not have to contain adverts, licensed characters or stick free plastic rubbish to its cover. And I'm a great believer in the power of the internet, which would be its starting base. People asked why wasn't it in WHSmith, why wasn't it in comic shops, why wasn't it in schools? It would have been - eventually. It couldn't do everything at once - it was going to be a slow yet sturdy grower.
Another impressive aspect of The DFC was the editorial input. They weren't controlling. Their attitude was "you're the experts at making comics, you make them". I saw some rather mean criticism of the fact that 'non-comic' authors were brought on board, a completely fresh and wonderful thing to my mind. Of course, as a children's book publisher, David Fickling Books had storytelling and marketing experience that was invaluable to every creator. The freedom and scope offered to the writers and artists on The DFC made for fertile ground, and a unique and wonderful mix of strips. It's true the balance wasn't always right, and the title cast a wide net as far as its readership was concerned, but it made for an excellent menu of stories, and, again, time would have seen it stabilise. Storytelling was always the most important thing.
from Charlie Jefferson and the Tomb of Nazaleod
I'm sad my own strip didn't get to appear, but I have at least had The Rainbow Orchid to work on and look forward to (and I am excited about it, honestly!). But when that red and yellow striped envelope plops through my letterbox later today, it's going to be unbelievably sad. I don't mean for me, I mean for everyone, the David Fickling team, readers, creators, and British comics in general. The DFC was - is - a brilliant brilliant thing. That's why I haven't written about this until now, it's just rather depressing to have to focus on the demise of such a marvellous idea.
So, is it the end? To be honest, I can't believe it is. The DFC has been put out into this world and has quickly become more than just a weekly comic. The idea has been made real, and I think we'll see the title back - maybe in a few months, maybe in a few years, but there's no way it's gone forever.
As a tribute to that attitude, the Super Comics Adventure Squad has come into existence - a blog, a hub, for DFC creators, and a place where you can keep up with what they're doing. Dare I say it, but it's a place where the spirit of The DFC lives on...if you'll allow me to be a little melodramatic!