Across The Pond: Size Matters

Your correspondent is feeling more than usually intercultural this week. Not only am I an Aussie living in Tokyo but I’m now back in Australia, which feels a little like a foreign country and a bit like home. To add to the foreignness, I am staying in the north of Australia, two hours drive from Brisbane and two hours jet flight from my beloved Melbourne.

Queensland is the area that the rest of Australia was prepared to let the Japanese have during WW2. We non-Queenslanders are still considering it and the feeling is reciprocal; my first purchase in Australia was a carton of milk stamped “Made In Queensland”, to reassure me that I wasn’t giving money to people from the other states. For Americans, I just explain that it’s a lot like the deep South. I don’t know what to tell Brits, except that it’s a reactionary, separatist backwater.

All of which is by way of introducing my thoughts on the size of comics. I mentioned before the dimensions of the characters; the fact that Dredd and his fellow Judges looked quite scrawny and British compared to the buffed, grid-iron playing build of the Marvel superheroes I’d been used to, the way that the Hells Angels at Hyde Park were a bunch of scarecrows in stupid helmets whilst the Hells Angels at Altamont were, well, huge.

But one of the other differences that struck me was the size of the comics themselves. 2000 Ad was both longer and wider than the marvel comics. There seems to have been a standard national comic size. When Marvel introduced a British reprint in the 1970s, it was the size that 2000AD started off at (it was also an anthology, containing three stories per issue). When they introduced an Australian reprint, it was the same dimensions as the Phantom comics and as fat. The creaking funny comics like Wizzer and Chips and The Beano were that size too.

As I slowly extend my 2000 AD collection backwards, I feel very conscious of something missing. The comic is tight now and, if not better than it’s ever been, certainly very very good. But it’s small and the great art doesn’t have room to breathe. A combination of small print and various artsy combinations of print and background colours makes the letters page much less easy to read – no bad thing for people who are tired of my recurring letters, but annoying for those readers who don’t own jewellers glasses.

The older size complimented some beautiful art gloriously. It left margins for framing pictures, for action scenes to burst into and sometimes for “thrillsuckers” to hide out in (does anyone need to know that these are monsters responsible for bad stories, delays in subscriptions and so on?). The new size feels really, really small. Good art feels cramped and dark. Bad art feels like it might have looked a little better.

This is not something I pester Tharg about. Well, not much. I assume that the new sizes save money and help the comic penetrate the American market by making it easy for American stores to put on display or something like that. I also assume that Tharg will not change it just because a few readers complain – he hasn’t so far. It makes the older progs more precious.

Does the above mean anything more than that I like what I’m used to? Well, I hope it means something more. A comic is a physical artefact, much more so than an all-prose book, which should be the same no matter which edition you are reading. This is not to say that the size must be changed back to what it was originally, lest the world end, just that size matters.

I’m going to profit by being in Australia by picking up loads of fat, cheap looking Phantom comics (and reading a few David Bishop stories while I’m at it) and by picking up a couple of chunky Commando comics. These little reprint-filled wonders are unchanged since my WW2 obsessed childhood and will make great souvenirs when I return my rather differently WW2 obsessed adopted home.

Yours interculturally,