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Friday, 2 April, 1999, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Not just a laughing matter
comics
Not just kid's stuff: Thousands of fans will be talking comics over Easter
What's the best comic of the 20th century? Fans from all over the world are gathering in the UK to decide over Easter weekend.

The Comics 99 festival in Bristol attracts more than 4,000 comic fans from across the globe in a celebration of the graphic arts.

They will decide who the best characters and artists are, watch films, buy and sell their rare editions and take part in a celebration of Batman's 60th birthday.

Awards will be handed out for 16 categories of comic success - celebrities who have presented them in the past include Jonathan Ross and Paul Gambaccinni.

Contenders for top comic of the 20th century include such old favourites as The Beano, The Dandy and The Eagle.

Decline in popularity

batman
Val Kilmer as Batman: One of the more successful movie adapattions
Despite a gradual decline in the popularity of comics over recent years, organiser Kev Sutherland is confident Comics 99 will pack a punch.

"A good comic has to do something that couldn't be done anywhere else. In comedy and adventure, you can express yourself so much more clearly on the printed page. A good comic should be a voyage of the imagination."

Contemporary comics face tough competition for children's time, from the power of PCs and the Internet to games consoles.

But Sutherland is convinced that an older enemy is to blame - television, and the rise of all-day children's channels.

"When I was growing up in the 1970s, there would only be a couple of hours' worth of children's programming each day on TV and comics were the only quality, dedicated form of entertainment for children. They were the best place to go."

'Gap in the market for young readers'

dennis the menace
Dennis The Menace: The Beano's perennial star
"Now there is a lot of great stuff being done, but it's mainly for older readers. There's a gap in the market for the 8 to 15-year-olds who were the mainstay of the comics market," he said.

One survey showed that by the time boys reach the 11-14 age group, more read The Sun than any comic.

But he still sees a future in comics, pointing to successes such as the movie adaptations of Batman and TV hit The Simpsons: "Comics are the best self-financing research and development wing of the entertainment industry."

But not all comic adaptations please enthusiasts - George Clooney's Batman and Robin topped a list of 10 of the worst films starring comic characters of all time. Four will be shown at the festival.

Exciting work from the UK

spiderman
Spiderman: But the best comics now are British, says Anderson
"Although Batman the comic has always been a commercial and critical success, you always have to keep an eye on the ball when you make these adaptations," he said.

Sutherland thinks the most exciting comic art is now being made in the UK.

"The best single place at the moment is 2000AD magazine - being made by people like Mark Harrison and Simon Davis, who will be appearing at Comics 99," he said.

Whoever comes top of the best comic poll, there will be one guaranteed winner - everyone who voted had to pay 50p to the charity Childline.

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