Current soundtrack: SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, CD1, John Williams.
Okay, I think I've got the hang of this now.
So, yes, Bristol. Last weekend. Comic convention. Rather good. Get a cup of tea. This will take a while.
I see Bristol mostly as a holiday, a very short, frantic holiday, but still a break from the drudgery of normal life. I only wish it was over a full week instead.
This year, we had the big push on REDEYE and PIRATES. REDEYE itself was solicited through PREVIEWS, and represented a huge leap from doing 50 odd copies into the hundreds. The comfort of just self publishing to actually trying to make it a going concern. We needed 800 copies ordered to break even with the printing costs alone (not taking into account the countless hours working on it, internet time, stationary costs, or the holidays from work needed to make sure it was done in time).
We've decided to push as much as possible as well through direct sales and walk-ins to retailers. And when the website is updated (www.accentukpress.co.uk) you'll be able to order it online.
Colin picked up the copies on the thursday before the con, and rather impressive it was too. Still not quite there to what is in my minds eye, but that's something to aim for. And the success of the magazine is purely up to people buying it. My vision of a hundred page squarebound, SFX-style mag for the UK comics industry is still a Lottery win away. But anyway.
The point is, it looks lovely, glossy cover, Neill Camerons BAM illustration really strong, lots of pages. I think I'm going to do away with the greyscale backgrounds behind text as printers react differently to it.
Likewise PIRATES in all its US format squarebound glory looks every bit as strong as any 'pro' comic book. The 'corporate brand' of the black, red and white using a very simple, stylised image sets it apart from anything else and really catches the eye. The mix of styles inside makes sure there's something there for everyone.
So, friday night, the usual running around, realising I haven't got any business cards printed, etc etc. Next thing I know its 6am, no sleep again, and getting picked up at 9am by Julias mum D (and webmaster of the AUK/ENGINE sites) to get to bus station. Starting to be a bad habit, this all night lark.
Meeting up with Leon at the station, I start the video diary. Well, clips of stuff anyway (and as soon as I work out how to do it, I'll be adding clips to the website). And at 10.15am, we set off for Bristol.
Luckily we miss the bank holidy traffic (every year, just barely making it) but start to get a little concerned with the weather suddenly turning for the worst.
Check into the hotel, everythings fine, so we head into Bristol centre while Dave and Colin head down, caught in traffic. Stopping off at a few artshops to get pens and markers, thinking how cool it would be to have a comic shop in Manchester taht doubled up as an art shop... I've had this idea for a while now, to have our own comic shop, with everything a modern store should have, ie an internet cafe, a games room, exhibition space etc. But again, thats a lottery win away.
We head into the Bristol BORDERS to grab a coffee as its 5.30 by this point and everywhere else is shut. Though smaller than Stockports, it has no comics. None. No Dredd, no Tharg's Mighty Organ. Just playschool titles. Surely the host city of the UK's largest comics convention would endeavour to get titles in there? Needs following up I think.
Eventually we head back to the hotel to find Dave and Colin checking in. We debate going along to awards ceremony at which we've been nominated, instead we decide to head out a little later to grab food at Pizza Hut. Then back to the hotel bar, where we pretty much stayed for the rest of the night/early morning.
Saturday morning, the others go on ahead (everything already been set up the night before) and I follow on. I try to get the camcorder to get a good shot of the convention hall but far too jerky movements causes the sceen to blur and pixellate. I decide I need a new one.
Everything is pretty much ready when I arrive, the REDEYE and anthology posters up on the blue backing boards looking damn fine. The spread, highlighted by the union jack and jolly roger flags, looking impressive. After a few years, I think we've finally got to the quality point we wanted to be at. We even manage to sell a few copies before the doors open, the word about RE2 having apparently gotten round to people.
A few contributors introduce themselves, finally putting faces to email addresses. Again, everyone really enthusiastic which was great to see. Leon heads for the shops for supplies, Colin networks, Dave goes hunting for sketches, while Larry practises his sales pitch (which is fantastically funny, by the way).
All of a sudden it gets busy with a constant stream of people around the tables, and this continues for several hours. We discover we actually got more votes than CI in the BEST COMICS RELATED MAGAZINE/WEBSITE AWARD the previous night, which was great to know, since we've only done two issues!
The gang take turns apeice behind the tables, and I try to get out as much as I can to catch up with people and see all the new faces. Last year I was constantly behind the table sketching for people, which again is great to have that kind of popularity, but not when you're desperate for the toilet for hours on end!
I also manage to have a quick word with Dez Skinn, passing copies of RE2 and FUSION 3 to him, and later with Pete Ashton of Bugpowder fame. An absolute gent, we had a quiet chat about the cyclic nature of the s/p scene, how it tends to focus on one or two people as the hub, then moves on to someone else. We need to have a beer together sometime.
Right time for cup of tea... Change of cd... BABYLON 5- INTO THE FIRE...
THE S/P TALK:
As I said, the day is pretty much a whirlwind, and next thing I know its 3pm and I'm rounding up people for the s/p talk. Which is slightly difficult as some people who volunteered for the panel I hadn't met before nor knew by sight, but thankfully everyone turned up, and we actually ran out of chairs.
Every year it gets bigger and bigger, and usually I nearly have a heart attck from stage fright. A few years ago, when I first started doing these panels, I completely froze, luckily Shane Chebsey realised and stepped in. Since then its getting a bit easier to do, but Shane is always a pillar of support in these things, and an invaluable contributor to the talks.
This year we had a fantastic turnout, both on and off the panel: Jay (GIRLY COMIC) Eales, Andy (DEVILCHILD) Winter, Natalie (DEVILCHILD ART MONKEY) Sandells, Bevis (QUEEN OF DIAMONDS) Musson, Colin (UNDERFIRE COMICS, the "younger, sexier side of small press"!), Jason (BAM!, the "older, uglier side of small press"!) Cobley, Shane (SMALLZONE) Chebsey, Dave (ZIP GUN) Goodman, Ed (everything) Traquino, and me. Leon held onto the camcorder to tape the entire panel, so again this will be available shortly to download off the AUK site.
Basically the talk began describing individual projects, from Jason moving from BAM magazine to a graphic novel style US format as it has a longer shelf life and to do something more substantial with the character, to Andy describing the genesis of DEVILCHILD as a graphic novel series. The benefits of having "sexy" collectives like UNDERFIRE, building on and working to creators strengths. Looking at distribution, selling at the conventions, as well as targeting select comic shops. Colin highlighted the fact that a lot of artists and writers in the so-called 'small press' are really working at an industry standard, published through s/p channels as there is very few other places to go. Eventually the scene will grow until it can't be termed 'small press' anymore. The debate about terminology continues for sometime after the talk.
The conventions themselves with more and more s/p tables are reprsentative of the growth, yet conversely, when opportunities arise to promote the scene like CI's PANEL BEATERS, very few come forward to take advantage of it. As a result, it disappears, like a number of other projects, like Shanes full colour free COMICS ADVERTISER, like REDEYE could disappear if the support isn't there.
Shane highlighted that across the country there are pockets of collectives and these are the people who are progressing and moving forward, and if people worked together perhaps more can be acheived. It seemed there was a fear of joining collectives, and some examples given by the audience of being ripped off by membership fees or the work disappearing made some people cautious. The answer to this is really just common sense, not to give money up immediately, indeed not start a collective with the aim of making money, and only work with people you trust, but the benefits of cross audiences and dividing costs.
Bevis brought up a 'chain-mail' way of cutting costs and furthering distribution, by having a master copy of a comic on a cd, everyone having a copy of the cd then printing off their own versions to sell themselves.
Another fear was of deadlines, being pressured into providing work beyond the individuals work rate, but again by knowing your own pace, being upfront and not overcommitting yourself, this can be avoided. Conversely, comics being a deadline driven industry, artists Ed Traquino and Garen Ewing commented it has been deadlines that can ensure the project is completed.
The subject of dealing with retailers was brought up by the audience, on how to approach them; I suggested as a collective, AUK walk our titles in and offer sale or return, and to look beyond just normal comic shops to music shops, etc, as most s/p titles can appeal to the real mainstream outside the superhero genre. Likewise selling through websites open a larger audience. Websites also open up a forum between the creator, often working in isolation, to the readers.
A brilliant idea however of using cds as a free promotional tool was brought up, as they're infinitely cheaper than paper to produce and a ton more information can be added to it. Coupled with the chain-mail idea, this has caused a good deal of interest on the mailing lists of bugpowder and comics2000 yahoo groups. Worth getting involved with.
As the hour came to a close, it became a rapid fire q&a session, and the freebie copies brought by the panellists began to fly out to the audience. If only we knew at the time there was no other talk after us and had another hour spare!!!
After that, back to the tables, and again renewed interest in the GUIDE (which sold out the last remaining copies) and in REDEYE. In the meantime, preperations were afoot for the charity auction, of which two pieces of work I contributed to. As the evening wound down, we headed back for a quick change then into town for the traditional s/p curry.
Down a sidestreet in Bristol town centre we met up with Dr Bob and company in the Olde India resturant, a gorgeous Victorian building, where we subsequently took over the entire establishment with comic people.
Later on we headed back towards the hotel, stopping off at irish pub O'Connellys (i think it was called) on the way, and meeting up with Shane and company at the hotel. Many a deep conversation followed the several pints of beer. We didn't think it too many.
Sunday morning, and we were greeted by a long line of football supporters outside the hall leading to the trainstation. Leaving it for a bit, Leon and I go back to get some money from the cash machine, but being awkward sods that they are, the railpeople wouldn't let anyone into the station without a ticket. I swore a lot.
So we had to walk twenty minutes into town to the nearest cash point. Then back again. Not happy.
After that, a far more chilled day, and more opportunity to have a walk around. I realised looking at the boxes we had brought, a fair number of RE2 and PIRATES had been shifted, and the empty boxes filled back up with review copies. The lads at COSMOGENESIS PRESS round the corner also informed me their sales had jumped up in number since the review of their first title in RE1, which was great to hear. At the last count, we were given or swapped over 40 titles to review. Thats a lot of reading!
Later in the day I managed to have a quick chat with Frazer Irving, thanks to Rufus catching him for me, to discuss his interview in RE2 and to buy a page of JUDGE DEATH artwork off him. Both lovely blokes.
In the afternoon I tried to get to as many s/p table for short video clips, but quickly ran out of space on the memory card. Come 5ish, we started winding down, and after packing and moving stuff out, Leon and I met up with Dr Bob again for a meal on the Spyglass, a riverside resturant, meeting up with Shane and Gaynor. A lovely meal, but a crisis with the banofee pie, being as they were out of stock, though we were assured another was being express delivered as we spoke. And worth the wait it was too.
And again, back to the hotel, more beer, a few sketches. Big chats about our aims, what we want to achieve with the AUK collective, or individually.
After chatting to both Shane and Leon, I've tried to work out what direction I'm heading in, what I wanted to achieve, as the day job becomes more and more unbearable, and the need to be creative on a daily basis becomes stronger. Its something I've been mulling over for the last few months, if I could go parttime, if we could survive on that wage. The answer, at the moment, is of course no.
So the options left to me are to get a better job with more reasonable hours, not shift work, and build up to becoming either part time or self employed. After clearing my debts.
Something to aim for anyway. And till next year, who knows what will happen? Except that all those people I met and speak with I thank you, and you continue to fill me with encouragement and belief in what I want to do.
To draw comics.
I'll post something back here when I've worked out how to post pictures and artwork, and link back to the site.
Time to change the cd again.