Bradford Comico: The changing world of comic books and their characters

Bradford Comico returns as part of this year’s Bradford Literature Festival. But what is behind the growing popularity of comics? Grace Hammond reports.

Even as recently as 10 years ago, comics and manga were seen very much as niche interests and, dare I say, a bit geeky. But not anymore.

The rise of the Marvel empire through blockbuster films and TV series has been a major factor, but it’s not the only one.

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Digital technology has brought comics into the 21st century and new generations of writers, publishers and fans have helped elevate it and bring it to a wider audience. It’s also increasingly viewed as an art form in its own right and this weekend sees the return of Bradford Comico, a dedicated comics and manga mini-festival.

Bradford Comico, focusing on comics and manga, will take place this weekend.Bradford Comico, focusing on comics and manga, will take place this weekend.
Bradford Comico, focusing on comics and manga, will take place this weekend.
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This year’s highlights include a panel discussion on The Cuckoo Cage, a book in which 10 authors redefine what it means to be a superhero in today’s ever-changing society, a Manga drawing workshop exploring the unique world of Japanese Manga art, and a talk on the success story of innovative graphic novel publisher, Self-Made Hero.

Also appearing at the festival is Sha Nazir a graphic artist, publisher at BHP Comics, and co-director of the National Centre for Comics, who is running a special session where budding comic creators can get one-to-one feedback on their work. Nazir says the comics industry has grown in popularity over the past decade. “It’s become mainstream now. When I started out ten years ago it was still pretty niche.”

One of the main reasons behind this is technology and the ability of people to easily produce and disseminate their work. “There’s been a change in digital printing and a change in the way the print industry works and there is much more of an emphasis on younger people being able to make their own works and younger publishers coming up,” he says.

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This growing importance is reflected in the fact that some forward-thinking literary festivals like BLF are embracing comics and their fans. “Six or seven years ago you couldn’t really have imagined any kind of comic being included in a literary festival as part of its programming,” says Nazir.

There is a tradition of comic books focusing on outsiders or characters that are ordinary apart from having a superpower, like the X-Men or Spiderman. Now though, we’re also seeing more characters from ethnic backgrounds like Ms Marvel, who is a South Asian-American teenager, and Nazir feels it is a welcome step in the right direction. “When I was growing up there were no South Asian characters in comics, and there were more animal characters that could talk than people who were not white.”

Comics have typically been seen as a largely male dominated arena and while that is probably still the case it is an ever-expanding industry and booming sub-genres like romance comics point towards a bright, and more gender balanced, future.

“I think it’s this that will drive things forward and help create more of a level playing field and make it more acceptable to have a graphic novel, or a comic, as part of your dissertation and to be part of a literature festival. As a fan there is so much more choice now and you don’t just have to plug into Batman. There are so many more things out there for you to go and discover.”

Bradford Comico runs this weekend, June 25 – 26. For more information visit

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