Monday, January 7, 2019

UK kids comics? Are these mythical beasts? We say NAY with some of the best publishers and comics hailing from this side of the Atlantic

A few short years ago, people would openly scoff at you if you dared ask about comics for kids. Supermarket magazine areas were (and sadly are) rammed with horrible ad-filled plastic-tat-toting licensed comics and magazines for kids that skipped on quality storytelling in favour of encouraging kids to nag their parents to buy even more tat.

But things have changed radically over the last few years, in the US undoubtedly but also in the UK where we're lucky enough to have several publishers going great guns in producing some of the best child-friendly comics and graphic novels money can buy.

We're kicking off our whirlwind tour of innovative UK kid comic publishers with Blank Slate, a mighty indie whose titles push way past the boundaries of what most folk will think of when they imagine what a modern child-friendly comic looks like.

Have a leaf through "Beetroot" for example. At first glance it's a surreal trippy story about a young boy making his way through a bizarre magical land, but author Barnaby Richards has constructed a glorious work of allegorical fiction based around the real-life experiences of what it is like for a child to grow up in a war zone.

Barnaby recounts how his family moved to Beirut in 1980 just as the already unstable situation in the Lebanon was about to turn into something worse. We see what it is like to live amidst chaos in a city where guns and bullets are commonplace, where danger lurks just round the corner. All seen through the eyes of a child who can’t get his tongue round the word Beirut–it becomes Beetroot–a world populated with his own wild imaginings as well as the reality of feeling he is living as if he were Lebanese: a blue eyed, Arab boy.

Gloriously original, harrowing and entertaining in equal measure, this is quite something. 

"Beetroot" by Barnaby Richards is published by Blank Slate and is available in good comic stores and online through the Blank Slate store

Next let's take a look at Self Made Hero publishing, who stormed the UK comics scene with a series of fantastic Manga adaptations of popular classic stories such as Sherlock Holmes and Pride & Prejudice, but now have a truly mighty catalogue of original fiction and biography titles in their colossal and brilliant range. 

As an impressionable teen I was completely obsessed with Deadline comic - and in particular one female comic creator, Rachael Ball, whose "Melon Thief" story has stuck in my memory as being one of the weirdest and best strips to feature in that mighty tome. Rachael's incredible graphic novel "Wolf" sees her riding the peak of her career with dark and sumptuous storytelling, and incredible art. 

After a tragic accident leaves his family bereft, a young boy called Hugo finds his world turned upside down. His new home comes with new neighbours, among them (according to the boy next door) a dangerous recluse who eats children: the Wolfman.

Desperate to return to happier days, Hugo draws up plans for a time machine. But only the Wolfman has the parts that Hugo needs to complete his contraption, and that will mean entering his sinister neighbour’s house…

Beautifully illustrated in pencil, Wolf is a captivating and poignant exploration of family, grief and that blend of the everyday and the fantastical that is childhood.

Delving deeper into darker themes but with some of the UK Comic scene's top creators producing works for them are Scar Comics. 

Though most of their content is more suitable for the upper end of middle grade and into YA / Adult age groups they have a few titles that are brilliant for kids just finding their feet in the wide world of comics. 

"The Mice" by Roger Mason is a particular standout title with a completely brilliant hook. 

Imagine living in a world were you are nothing more than vermin to giant aliens who have now invaded Earth and have taken your place at the top of the food chain.

Roger's fantastic dystopian invasion thriller is introduced in this stunning graphic novel. 

Check out a free preview of The Mice at:

Titan Publishing have been around for a very long time and recent offshoot Titan Comics specialises in producing some of the best licensed comics around. 

Most famous for publishing the brilliant BBC "Doctor Who" official comic tie-ins, we've really been enjoying the first couple of issues of Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor, with stories brilliantly reflecting the fresh approach the TV series has been taking, with a fabulous female doctor helming the Tardis.

Eisner Award-nominated writer Jody Houser (Faith, Mother Panic, Stranger Things) leaps in with mind-blowing adventures for the Thirteenth Doctor and her brand new companions! 

A mysterious new time traveller appears – but can he be trusted when he says he's human?

Illustrated by award-winning artist Rachael Stott (Doctor Who, Motherlands) and colorist Enrica Angiolini (Shades of Magic, Warhammer 40,000), this has been one of C's favourite comics of the past year and just one example of Titan's broad range of titles stretching across most age groups with plenty of stuff suitable for kids. 

Next up some serious fun over at Bog Eyed Books. They have a fantastic range of titles for Middle Grade readers, again with some of the most fantastic UK-based creators publishing titles with BEB. 

We're totally in love with everything Tor Freeman does, and in "Welcome to Oddleigh" you'll meet Chief Inspector Jessie and Sergeant Sid, a dynamic duo tasked with policing the animal-filled town of Oddleigh. 

Oddleigh is no ordinary place; strange things and bizarre behaviour are the order of the day. But Jessie’s sworn to uphold the law of the town, and she's going to do it - no matter how weirdly its citizens are behaving. 

I love the description of this being like "Hot Fuzz meets Zootropolis" which is an absolutely perfect summary of the kind of craziness you can expect. Tor's eye for delicious details feels a lot like Richard Scarry's work, and this is a brilliant starter comic for kids who still love loads of funnies that are a cut above the rest. 

"Welcome to Oddleigh" by Tor Freeman is available through the Bog Eyed Books website. Check out their site for more brilliant and hilarious titles too!

Last but by no means least, a publisher whose comics have been a huge part of our reading journey together, and it's by far C's favourite comic in the entire universe. "The Phoenix Comic" has been leading the charge in UK-based kids comics for a number of years now, and their recent collected works "The Phoenix Presents" with stories and strips taken from the weekly edition have ended up in our "Book of the Week" slot with practically each and every new release. 

Newly released from David Fickling Books (the publisher behind the comic itself) and from awesome comic talent Neill Cameron is "Mega Robo Revenge" - the third collected instalment in Neill's "Mega Robo Bros" comic series. 

Alex and Freddy are two ordinary everyday kids living in a futuristic London. Well, ordinary if you consider being a hugely powerful robot 'ordinary'. 

Using their robotic powers, they're drawn into an end-game against arch-enemy Wolfram, who holds a dark secret, and a grudge against Alex and Freddy's mum. Wolfram's dastardly scheme is far more insidious than just a cheap moment of revenge though as the two robo bros discover they have closer links to Wolfram than they could ever imagine. 

A futuristic fusion of brilliantly observed family life, blisteringly paced action scenes and truly mammoth showdowns, this is superb stuff. 

The UK comics industry is alive and well, and we've just dipped a toe into the waters with this article. 

We are always on the lookout for new kid-friendly comic titles, particularly from UK based publishers so if you know of any good ones, or would like to send us items to review, please do get in touch or drop a comment in the box below!