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The DFC:

Definitely First Class

Yes, it’s arrived, or “crash landed”, through my letterbox this morning - Friday May 30th -  an hour ago, the much-anticipated premiere of the first new British children’s weekly comic in ages, The DFC (everyone knows it stands for The David Fickling Comic, but each issue different contributors will come up with other names for these initials, starting with Nick Sharratt’s “Dracula’s Favourite Cardigan.” I first saw a promising dummy of this project in late 2006 with Fickling and it’s changed and improved by leaps and bounds since then, noticeably incorporating more of the manga aesthetic many kids love. More recently, it’s been trailered on their website The DFC and in The Guardian‘s free Saturday Comic section, giving people a flavour of what’s inside, but finally this is the real thing.

So what’s it like? One surprise is that it’s crisply printed on good matt paper. A far cry from either cheap newsprint or overly glossy stock. And this isn’t your tuppenny Dandy or Beano 70 years ago. It’s cover price of £3 is steep, but it works out a fair bit cheaper if you subscribe. Still, this isn’t really a pocket-money purchase but most likely something parents will buy for their kids. And not all parents are going to be able to or will choose to afford this sort of treat, so presumably it’s likely to reach more affluent, middle-class children than the low-cost, mass-appeal of the original D.C. Thomson’s approach. In that sense, The DFC is closer in spirit and presentation to the original 1950 Eagle, though without that weekly’s earnest educational and religious intentions.

What’s more, you won’t find The DFC in any newsagents, because the distribution practices in the UK make it prohibitively expensive to get launch titles properly displayed in high-street chains. That’s why the newsstands here are a wasteland for innovative magazines. So instead you have to have internet access, because The DFC is selling only via subscriptions through it website. On the plus side you get no adverts at all, though maybe on the minus side, there’s no free gift either, a British tradition. What you do get is 36 A4-size colour pages, of which 30 are solid, story-driven comics, four of them, refreshingly, by women contributors. So here’s my run-down:

John Blake
by Philip Pullman & John Aggs (6 pages):
The big draw, this sets up some intriguing Jules Verne-ian high-seas mystery as a container ship on the Pacific runs into strange fog and almost collides with an old-style schooner, with one boy on board, before they vanish. We cut to San Francisco and our investigators to come at the International Marine Organisation, and wrap up in a tropical bar where sailors recount other sightings. Aggs combines Tintin-style clear line with manga dynamics and bleeds to good effect and Pullman helms his narrative well, reining in his words so they work with the pictures. Some grumblers have insisted that for any new comic characters to click, you need to grab the reader instantly and establish them from the get-go, but Pullman knows that mysteries need time and space to unfold and readers, as in subscribers, are here for a minimum voyage of 4 issues anyway, so there’s time to hook them. I’m sure Pullman will pull them in.

Super Animal Adventure Squad
by James Turner (1 page):
Shades of Secret Squirrel! Super-whacky funny animal zaniness by James Turner as Agent K (as in Kat?) rounds up his agents, Rex, Irwin, Beesley and Bear-Bot, to find out why all the cakes and pastries are escaping from bakeries across the land. Can they avert “The Teatime of Doom”? Extra funny asides (“Does anyone know how to set the Tivo?”) and clear, appealing cartooning make this serial kick off well.

The Boss
by Patrice Aggs & John Aggs (5 pages):
School stories are a tradition in British comics and this is a thoroughly modern one, set during a field trip to a castle and involving bored Nazim and his pal Bella as they uncover some shady goings-on. The Boss himself, a serious-looking black pupil, only arrives in the last panel. It’s a unique team to have a mother and son creating a comic, in this case Patrice Aggs drawing scripts by her son John, who won last year’s TokyoPop Rising Stars of Manga UK competition but never got his winning entry developed into a book series. Here Patrice uses a less manga-esque approach than John’s art on John Blake and it suits the story and setting well.

Monkey Nuts
by Lorenzo Etherington & Bob Etherington (2 pages):
Fresh from their Malcolm Magic and Moon self-published projects, the exuberant Etherington brothers from Bristol dazzle in their opening episode. Again we don’t meet the heroes in this intro, but rather the fiendish, pompous villain Lord Terra, real name Eric, who lives inside the nostril of massive, dragon-shaped fortress named Tabitha. Lorenzo also provides the cover,  showing paws, tentacles, a pirate’s hook and robotic hand tearing open the red-and-yellow diagonally striped envelope to get at The DFC within.

Vern & Lettuce
by Sarah McIntyre (1 page):
Vern is a sheep and park groundskeeper, Lettuce is a free-spirited bunny. Light, delightful, silly, with some lovely muted colours in this one-page gag, all by Sarah McIntyre.

The Spider-Moon
by Katie Brown (6 pages):
Katie Brown uses her delicate line and subtle, sumptuous palette to build her eco-fantasy world, opening on a floating island reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s Laputa, then drifting down to earth and young Bekka, dreaming that everyone could be up there “floating away from these doomed lands”. Instead, she has to face her diving exam with her friend Kay. The anime influence is sure to win over many readers.

Mo-Bot High
by Neill Cameron (4 pages):
Neill Cameron’s also inspired by anime with his dazzling colour mecha designs and his heroine Asha with her spiky orange manga hairstyle. In “First Day Nerves”, she’s starting yet another new school, but this one is very different when she finds “two giant robots having a scrap behind the bike sheds”. So a second school-based serial but with fantastical elements.

Good Dog, Bad Dog
by Dave Shelton (4 pages):
In “Dog Meets Dog” our canny canine partners eventually meet when Detective McBoo inadvertently rescues Detective Bergman in a elaborately surreal piece of slapstick. Punchy, fast-paced, Dave Shelton wraps up a witty yarn in four pages. You might spot the Winsor McCay name-check, in “the McCay” building, though the entrance McBoo races into actually reads “James W. McKie Building, 1932” because he goes inside this similarly named building next door by mistake.

Funniest Land Mammal
by Jim Medway (3-panel strip):
I’ve liked Jim Medway’s small press comics, like Teen Witch and Garden Funnies, from the start so this silly gag is up my street.

Sausage & Carrot
by Simone Lia (4-panel strip):
Same with Simone Lia, of Fluffy fame, one of our real geniuses of comedy comics.

Puzzle features include Ted Dewan’s centre-spread Doodlit, which leaves blanks and missing heads and bodies for readers to fill and colour in. It’s OK as an “activity page” but I hope other artists get the chance to try something else across these pages. Woodrow Phoenix starts his Animal Picture Puzzle cartoons and there’s a whacky maze which lets you download a prize.

So, it’s a fun- and thrill-packed debut and I trust the first of many more to come. Because, hopefully, I’m not alone in wanting that addictive experience of wondering what happens next and rushing to read the new instalments every Friday, just like I used to reading TV21 or Trigan Empire in Look & Learn, or reading weekly manga in Raijin. This first DFC is “Definitely First Class.”

Posted: May 30, 2008

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