Comics come and go, as we all know. No publication lasts forever, except maybe The Beano which is still going strong after eighty-two years (with over 4000 issues published) — long may it continue.
But I’m sure that just about all comic-book fans know the sting of discovering that one of their favourites has been cancelled. Back in the 1970s I developed a comic-centric form of Euphobia, which is the fear of good news: experience had taught me that any phrase like “Exciting News For All Readers Inside!” on a comic’s cover was a bad thing because the news they promised was almost never positive.
That phrase was the comic-book equivalent of a letter from your bank that tries to get you looking forward to their “improved” banking processes which basically all boil down to “we’re gonna charge you a fee for everything, even for sending you letters such as this one telling you about our fees.”
(Forgive my momentary digression, readers, which this week comes to you courtesy of my own bank which has recently greatly simplified the whole process of calculating the interest my account has earned by just not giving me any.)
There were certain times of the year when comic cancellations seemed more likely, and, me being me — as well you know, what with you being you and all — I’ve been unable to resist doing some analysis of the data in my British Comic Book database to see whether that was actually true: was there really an annual cull?
Some disclosures first: my database is (still) incomplete. It currently contains info on 1825 comics, but I don’t have actual confirmed end-dates for all of them… only for 881, which is less than half. In some cases this is because the comic is still around — such as the aforementioned Beano, 2000AD, Commando, Judge Dredd Megazine (which reaches its thirtieth anniversary this month!) and a handful of others — but mostly this is because for a lot of comics the data just isn’t easy to find.
To pick one comic as an example, I know that The Smurfs by DeVere Entertainment was launched in November 1996, and that it lasted for six monthly issues… and at that point the title was relaunched and all subsequent issues — of which there were at least another six — were undated. It doesn’t have an entry on most of the on-line resources I use for research, and the British Library only records the first issue: only Richard Sheaf’s ever-reliable Boys Adventure Comics blog has any useful info on the comic. Was the second volume even still monthly? Possibly, but without dates we can’t be sure. All we do know for certain is that the comic was Smurftastic.
There’s even a small, but clammy, handful of comics for which I do know the end-dates, but not the start-dates: comic-collecting is at times an exercise in bewilderment and patience..
So please bear in mind that any conclusions this article might draw are based on incomplete data. I make no promises of accuracy or authenticity.
To tell you why each comic met its end would take too long, but for some of them at least I can tell you the months of their demise. And I can put that data into a chart that also tells us whether they were cancelled outright (blue), absorbed by another title (green), or given a relaunch/reboot (yellow)…
The data is clearly showing us that January was the most treacherous month of the year for comics, with 129 recorded kills. Of those, fifty were absorbed into other titles (i.e, after sixty-nine issues, Spellbound‘s final issue was cover-dated 14 Jan 1980 and it was then absorbed into Debbie), and nine were relaunched or rebooted (in Jan 1994 Batman Monthly and The Adventures of Superman were cancelled and relaunched as Batman & Superman), so that leaves only seventy comics permanently culled.
To put everything into context, let’s look at the totals on a pie-chart…
From this we might draw the conclusion that, just as with people, it was the cold-snap in January that polished off so many, with the late-summer heat of September and October also taking their toll.
Comics aren’t nearly as susceptible to the weather as we flimsy humans, but… maybe the cold weather in January discouraged kids from going to the shops, or perhaps the financial strain of Christmas meant that the parents had to be a tad more frugal with the pocket-money. Maybe a lot of comics were cancelled in September and October because of poor sales in the preceding months when the kids were too busy outdoors: playing on building sites, running away from scary dogs, or using sticks to poke tar-bubbles in the middle of the road. (Or some combination of all three quickly fashioned into a rudimentary game with baffling rules invented on the fly and later changed on a whim by the bossiest kid.)
But it’s more likely that these culls were ordered to clear the way for new comics… because we have that data too, oh yes!
Well, there you go: according to our info, October was very definitely the most popular month in which to launch a new comic, though the triple-threat of January, February and March also made a pretty powerful combo.
I’ve also made a pie-chart for that data, because everyone deserves pie…
I’m a little tempted to combine the two sets of data so we can see the losses and gains on a monthly basis, but one problem with that idea is — as mentioned earlier — that we have a lot more start-dates than end-dates: such a thing would be unfairly tipped in favour of the start-dates and thus would result in a chart that’s unbalanced.
But what if I were to restrict it to only the comics for which we know both the start and end dates? That’d be more balanced, right? Again, we’ll only be working with a subset of the data but what the heck, it’s worth a shot…
So… January’s 129 cancellations and ninety-seven launches give a net result of minus thirty-one, while February’s sixty-four cancellations isn’t enough to defeat that month’s 108 launches, and we end up with a result of positive forty-four. And so on.
(In this chart, the jagged line across the middle is not yer Uncle Rusty’s heart-rate when you get him onto the subject of comics that were cancelled before their time, but the same data as the month-by-month bars, only processed on a daily basis… the spikes at the start of some months are an anomaly caused by monthly titles’ dates defaulting to the first day of the month if the actual day of publication is unknown.)
What can we conclude from all this, other than that I didn’t want to paint the skirting-boards yesterday and so instead concocted a Very Important Article for this blog?
Well, perhaps not all that much, except that there really was a culling season for comics, and it was pretty brutal. But it was balanced by two strong growing seasons, so for every former tree that fell, a new one was planted. Until the 1980s, of course, when all the weekly kids’ comics started to die off faster than they could be replaced. (Coincidentally, that would have been around the same time that comics started to “grow up” and become all sweary and top-shelfy… draw your own conclusions there, readers!)