A while before I wrote this article about comic design, I rediscovered a second-hand copy of an old comic anthology magazine called “Deadline” (from July 1989!) that I’d bought from a comic shop in Brighton about six years ago.
The thing that surprised me the most was that this one magazine can tell us a lot about clever comic design. Since, a lot of what makes this comic magazine so “punk” is actually fairly subtle.
Even if you don’t plan on making punk comics, seeing how this magazine makes itself “punk” without it being immediately noticeable might give you a few ideas for improving your own non-punk comics or webcomics.
Opening up this magazine, one of the things that will really take you by surprise is the fact that there is graffiti printed next to the index. Most of it is hilariously random and nonsensical, like the kind of things that we probably all used to scribble in our notebooks when we were at school. It’s an instant signpost that this magazine doesn’t take itself, or the world, too seriously. You can’t get more punk than this!
In fact, the whole magazine is peppered with these kinds of hilarious details. There are silly scribbles in the margins on some pages, and even in the backgrounds of many of the actual comics. These kinds of small details emphasise that this is a comic. It isn’t a TV show on paper, it isn’t an ultra low-budget movie – it is a comic. It’s a medium where literally anything can happen, and where literally anything does. So, yes, even the format of these old punk comics was an subtle anarchist statement of some kind.
Not only do all of the tiny details force you to look closely at each page, but they give the comic more of a personality than more traditional comics have. You can instantly tell that the people making these comics have had fun making them. You can almost see the moments when they suddenly though of a hilariously silly idea and then spontaneously decided to add it to the background. It’s almost like a glimpse into the minds of the punks who made these comics.
Another cool thing about this magazine is that, for the most part, it’s filled with self-contained short stories by different artists and/or writers. Yes, there’s the second part of a long-running “Tank Girl” story (which I think I have in trade paperback anyway) and possibly a long-running sci-fi story too, but the rest of the comic is mostly filled with lots of short things that can be enjoyed with no prior knowledge. It’s democratic and open to all.
Seriously, I wish that more comics were like this. One of the many problems with, say, American superhero comic franchises is the fact that you apparently need to know lots of detailed backstory even to read a single story arc. So, it’s wonderfully refreshing to see a comic that not only contains a wide variety of different things, but can also be read with little to no prior knowledge. It actually makes comics accessible to new readers! Again, this is also kind of an anti-elitist punk thing.
Plus, the length of some of these short cartoons really works in their favour because it encourages careful writing. For example, there’s a hilarious two-page comic about an angry American air force commander and his four insubordinate subordinates.
When you read it, it feels like a much longer comic, but the whole thing takes place within just 14-16 panels. If you’ve ever made a comic or a webcomic, you’ll know how much of a challenge this must have been to write! The comics might be silly but, like a good punk song, you can tell that people have put passion and thought into them.
Then there’s the art. Because this magazine was printed in the late 1980s on a relatively low budget, every page (apart from the cover) is in black and white. This instantly gives the art a much more “spontaneous” and “punk” look than it would if it had been printed in colour. Again, even the magazine’s format is punk!
Not only does each artist get to show off their own distinctive art style, but the art varies from minimalist “newspaper comic” style art to the kind of hyper-detailed stylised artwork (where you notice something new every time you look at it).
All of these art styles sit next to each other, with no real judgements about which one is “better” or “worse”. The focus is on the comedy, the writing and the fact that there are all these different art styles in one magazine.
So, yes, a lot of what makes this old magazine from the 1980s so “punk” isn’t always immediately noticeable at first glance. So, if you’re thinking of making a comic or a webcomic, it might be worth thinking about how you can emphasise the important parts of it in all sorts of subtle ways.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂