Beano artist urges online focus to revive comics at Dereham school workshop

His comic strips have brought the Bash Street Kids and Doctor Who to life for countless readers.

And yesterday Kev Sutherland – an artist with iconic comic The Beano – shared his skills with the next generation of cartoonists at a workshop in Dereham.

The Beano's sales approached 2m in the 1950s when the likes of Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx were at their prime but numbers are now down to 38,000, and Mr Sutherland said comics are 'increasingly a minority sport, especially for younger readers.'

Speaking at Toftwood Junior School, Mr Sutherland said the future for comics among today's youngsters lies in a different direction and increasingly online.

He said: 'They want chain saws, zombies and violence – all the stuff they get in computer games. I want to see books for kids with violence – cathartic and well-reasoned violence. Kids don't like soft stuff, by and large.

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'When you see the stuff the kids have created for themselves, mostly it's explosive gun-toting hamsters blowing up Jeremy Clarkson or Peppa Pig, and that's where eight-year-old brains are at.

'I find some people are a bit disturbed by the violence in the stories. They should read Shakespeare or the Bible.'

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Many of the one-page comics his audience produced proved his point, with titles ranging from The Killer Tree Gets Simon and Gangster Frenzy to Teletubby Massacre, although Love showed a gentler, surreal streak.

Dereham Neatherd student Josh Crisp, 14, said he uses the internet to read Japanese manga and learn how to create them.

He said: 'I read a lot of manga but they are hard to draw. I used to read Beano and had a couple of annuals at home. It was quite good, but I got bored of them.'

Mr Sutherland said stories that interest him inspire his work for the Beano, and he has brought back old characters and written longer stories that children can invest their time in. In one 16-page story, Julius Sneezer returned in the form of an Ofsted inspector.

He said: 'It's when you do long stories you can do things that are worth kids reading. Stuff you read as a kid like Tin Tin and Asterix books are stories where you reward the kids' attention and you have given them time to have something to read.'

He pointed to the success of manga comic books in Japan, where one story can run for 200 pages and computer games are inspired by comics, rather than drawing away potential readers.

Beano has launched its iPhone app, which entered the top ten most downloaded apps on the Apple news stand within two weeks.

Mr Sutherland has started experimenting with selling his comics on Kindle devices, and last month received �7 from sales in Britain and France.

He said: 'If you are driving kids towards words and pictures that can only be a good thing, especially if they are reading the words, rather than just hearing them.'

Mr Sutherland takes heart from the explosion in popular children's books, but said comics need to be better and more affordable to duplicate their success.

The internet, by avoiding the expense of colour printing, could help with the latter.

He also said comics had one advantage over big-budget films and computer games – children can create their owns strips using exactly the same tools as the professionals.

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