It was quite bitter sweet news today, hearing that the very famous British comic The Dandy is going digital only, with its last print edition in December. Almost certainly, there’ll be the inevitable chorus that DC Thomson (The Dandy’s publisher) is suffering like any other publisher at the mercy of the pressures of the internet. And it’s had a tough time in recent years – after all, keeping a children’s comic going after 75 years with (some of the) same characters can’t be easy…
But I remembered a conversation we had recently with a senior manager of the venerable Encyclopaedia Britannica, which also turned its back on physical print this year. He said that the board breathed a collective sigh of relief at not having the print headache any more. They’d finally moved beyond and could do something new and interesting.
Does this mean, then, that we can have high hopes that DC Thomson will embrace everything that digital can mean for a comic? For a start, it would be a huge missed opportunity if they were to simply launch the comic as a tablet or smartphone publication, distributed via some kind of media centre or storefront. Honestly, I’m not sure that online subscriptions are necessarily going to win back an increasingly distracted and tech savvy readership.
But if Dandy characters learned from the mythical internet meme that is the Slender Man, then we might have a new children’s internet phenomenon on our hands. OK, the Slender Man is a sinister, horror-inspired character, and a deeply chilling new collective myth that’s generally considered to be the first true internet-only collective fairytale (check out Aleks Krotoski’s recent podcast on the subject). But the way he’s been created is incredibly interesting.
Through user-generated clips, doctored photos and blog post, the Slender Man has taken life, only slightly curated by its creator. A whole world of fan-based speculation and discussion has emerged on numerous different message boards and sites. The level of engagement is massive.
So what if Bananaman, Desperate Dan, and all our beloved Dandy characters took on something more of an international cloak of mystery, and inhabited all sorts of corners of the web, the way the Slender Man does? Imagine games where children would find out a little bit about the latest adventure in a digital publication, but had to find clues and fill in the back story themselves by exploring many other (child friendly!) sites along the way. Imagine engagement where children could create their own mini adventures and videos, and in some way contribute to the stories and character development. We’ve seen this happen not just with slightly marginal characters like the Slender Man, but also with Marvel Comics and Star Wars, of course.
The internet is a curious place, and there’s so much more opportunity there than in the static digital pages of a digital publication. We hope that DC Thomson sees the potential, breathes a sigh of relief about not being bound up in print any more (excuse the pun..), and dives in headlong!