Borderline Press Blog
WARNING: This is the Blog of Phil Hall and may not necessarily represent the views of...anyone, including Phil himself after he's had some time to think about it.
The Borderline Press Blog #34: The Future is Coming - But My End is Nigh
I had also grown tired of the proliferation of tossers on the internet - of which I counted myself as one. There really wasn't any need to be involved in comics any longer. I'd sold all my comics to buy a new boiler and I really couldn't care less who played Batman, the Joker or Spider-Man, that was all something from my dim and distant past.
Also a relatively large proportion of my friends became so through comics and it wasn't easy staying friends with people when one of the main subjects of discussion was now taboo. It was difficult but not impossible and eventually I realised I could talk about comics, but through knowledge, wisdom and a slightly detached (and morally superior) air.
Leamington Spa's amazing entrance into the comics convention world was in many ways the antithesis of Thought Bubble 2013 - we had nearly a thousand people walk past our table on the day and we took about £30, which was about £470 less than the next worse take on the day. Either I was producing the wrong books or I was scaring away the punters by looking like a bored and angry old man with a look of resignation on his face.
Why would someone who doesn't think of himself as a masochist keep coming back to something that physically and mentally makes him ill? It's like the man who repeats the same thing over and over in the hope that just once the outcome might be different - it's insanity and I've probably joined that exclusive club this very year.
I'm sure if someone came out of the woodwork and offered me money to do something in comics again I probably would, but it depends on what else is available - as a committed vegetarian I could still have a career in abattoirs.
I'm going to make some sweeping changes to the way I interact with comics in the future and at the moment those changes involve me running away, trying not to scream, and hoping something doesn't come back and haunt me. Fortunately my true comics friends can talk about other stuff.
Stay safe and be nice to people.
Phil Hall 31-10-15
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #33 - What 'Hiatus' Means.
Borderline Press might never produce another book; but it plans to. I just needed (and need) to get my own house in order and, you know, I thought by keeping people in the loop I wouldn't have to constantly tell people. If problems mean that it's 18 months between releases, that's still better than some of my competition. I just needed people to be aware that books they were waiting for were going to be late, or done by another publisher.
We're in the process of generating money after the continuous Diamond cock-ups (let me tell you, being treated like the idiot cousin does have consequences, especially when you get dropped for a conglomerate who pretty much don't need extra pages of advertising) and I'm trying to get Santa scheduled (but Diamond's unreliability means having to make tough decisions about soliciting it - it's been bumped twice now). Treating yourself to a good book at a good discount can help us out, big time.
So if you haven't got all our books you can for 50% off from our web shop, that's about 50% less than you'll pay in the half dozen comic shops with progressive owners/managers who can spot a good thing when it bites them on the arse.
So anyone who picked up on the last blog wrongly, I have a simple message for you: I'm down, but I'm not out.
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #32 - Hiatus
On a personal level, I need to take myself away from this for a while - doctor's orders - so there will be nothing scheduled or published before August 2015 when Santa Claus versus the Nazis will come out.
Robotz was cancelled. I found out about it in a circular email from the artist, which kind of sums up everything about this year.
I'm not packing it up; I just need some time to sort my life out and Borderline Press just compounds things almost on a daily basis.
Be patient; stick with Borderline Press and don't forget, if you haven't got all our books so far, they are all fantastic.
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #31 - Sod's Law
Setbacks and problems are part and parcel of this kind of venture, you just don't expect them to happen as you approach the end of Trading Year 2 - you would have pretty much cut all your teething troubles out by this point. Yet printers of a variety that would make Butch Cassidy proud, staffing troubles and ill health were just three things that were sent to try me in 2014 and 2015 was only going to get better...
Except we're at the end of March and I have nothing scheduled at the printer before the summer and yet again the reasons have been beyond my control. To say that it would be unwise of me to spotlight the recent debacle is an understatement. You don't walk into your only pub for 50 miles and call the landlord a See You En Tee and then punch his wife, especially if you're an alcoholic and that colourful metaphor pretty much sums up the situation I find myself in at the moment. I simply cannot tell you who's fucked up this time because I'd like to carry on trading/publishing.
Suffice it to say this latest setback is beginning to feel like someone somewhere has got it in for me, or perhaps some karma has found its way back to me - after all, I've been pretty scathing about comics for years, so anything that can go wrong was probably a nailed on certainty...
The whole thing has become a worry because I'm suddenly faced with a situation I'd not bargained for - a cash flow crisis. We pretty much knew this first quarter of 2015 was going to be a very important time; the orders from Previews were going to determine the next quarter and we were, effectively, going to become a publisher working on what we make rather than from investment. But, more than that I cannot say (I think I've dropped enough hints).
On top of all of this my health has been poor; my mobile phone is knackered while O2 are obfuscating like a Tory MP trying to offset the blame elsewhere. My search for a job to preserve my sanity hasn't been fruitful and I'd talk about depression but I wouldn't want people thinking I'm going to fly a plane into someone's house or a mountain...
On a positive front. I'm personally chairing a panel about self-publishing (which seems odd considering I'm not a self-publisher per se) at the Sunderland GN Expo in May and I'm also doing something with the extremely clever Dan Mallier - who was the brains behind one of the convention hits of 2014 with his extremely well patronised Leamington Spa Con - on Free Comic Book Day, if we can work out the logistics, etc.
However, for the few positives, having no cash has meant that I'm struggling to fit Borderline Press into conventions this year; although given the pointlessness of many of them perhaps this could be viewed as a money saving exercise... Plus it's annual returns time and at the moment if I could find a convenient stone to crawl under I would. With my 53rd birthday less than a month away everything is beginning to feel like a chore. I just feel sorry for my creators, they probably deserve more than me.
Maybe next month I'll have something good to tell you.
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #30 Brief Update
We missed out on a deal to do Rachael Smith's The Rabbit, whoever gets it will be blessed with a quality product that will sell a lot.
We did sign up Lyndon White's Sparks and it fits in perfectly well with our other books.
The Happy Ghetto is nearing completion. I have the proof of Lord and Kathryn Briggs has done some extra bits for story(cycle).
Still looking for a part time job to fill the boredom of the days when nothing happens.
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #29: Limbo Dancing on Ice
The stark reality is that we've hit a cash flow wall. The reason I'm even telling you about it (apart from the sense of drama) is simple - we knew it would happen; we (my partner and I) even talked about it when we set up the company. The good thing is that it's happened at exactly the time we both expected and wanted it to happen - while our existing stock is touted through new places.
Now, this is purely to do with our new distribution deal and the solicitation of our existing books to new markets. We are soliciting our existing stock through new outlets and the publishing company was created on the basis of 'once the investment starts to turn over cash there will be no more investment'. It isn't rocket science; my partner isn't a bottomless pit of money and this business was created, like all other businesses, to do exactly that - invest, hopefully reap the rewards and then reinvest. Well, we're halfway there; we're in the middle of the 'hopefully reap the rewards' phase.
Therefore bringing new stuff out isn't an option during this first quarter.
That's not to say we haven't got things planned. A look at what we have deals for and what we're negotiating should tell you that, in my eyes, that we're looking at a good 2015.
One thing I've learned over the last year has been that websites are not even a recognisable revenue stream. In fact, there might be a plethora of new, independent publishers out there, all doing, ostensibly, what I'm doing, but I'd bet very few of them are actually making money from their independent revenue sources. You do need distributors and as a result you pay through the nose. The irony is Borderline Press and a heap of other, more established independent comic publishers, offer loads of discounts, special offers and treats if you buy stock directly from them, yet people would rather go into a comic shop, pay the full asking price, and possibly get insulted by the holier-than-thou comic shop owner/employee. If it made any sense I'd happily have a go at explaining it for you.
So, after extensive investment in stock, we're at the mercy of a distributor and the tenuous security that involves. As we hurtle towards our, important, second anniversary and third year of trading, the landscape of comics retail is considerably different than I presumed it would be when I came back to comics. I'm very glad I'm no longer a retailer because I think it takes a special kind of person to do it and I'm not that person now (and because of my failure at it, I obviously wasn't then).
Here at Borderline Press, I have nothing on the schedules until March and then the print jobs and shipping will add another 6-8 weeks before they arrive (if I choose to go back to China for printing) for retailers and fans. I am acutely aware that the longer periods of time you have between releases increases the likelihood people will simply forget about you; but I would counter that fair question/observation with - Borderline Press books don't really have a shelf life, do they? It's not like 90% of our stuff won't have some relevance in 2115. The beauty of all of us niche market publishers is we all tend to publish stuff that has timeless qualities about it (or it's so naff you forget about it quickly).
So, with the prognosis extremely positive, I have a number of projects that are being prepared for the day I get the expected money from 'Peter' to pay 'Paul'. Some are finished and ready (Santa Claus versus the Nazis and story(cycle)), some are still being worked on (Agata Bara's trio of stories; The Happy Ghetto) and others are in pre-production (Lord) and, I'd like to think, the list of creative people lined up for 2015 is comparable to 'big' publishers - O'Moore, Smith, Briggs, Dickson, Mitchell, Karpowicz, plus a bunch of newbies with massive talents such as Bara, Thorpe, Gamester, Sztybor, and then even more - I get slightly priapic about all this talent...
Therefore because I have nothing much planned, I've been looking for a job. A real job. Back in the real world. Back in social care where I forged a successful career after comics. It's to stop me from going bat-shit crazy. There is maybe an hour, possibly two, worth of work a day to be done for Borderline Press at the moment. The majority of the current work is being done by the accountant as it's annual returns times. I cannot afford to sit at home doing nothing and earning nothing in the middle of winter. The boredom alone would have the strongest willed person reaching for umpteen bottles of scotch or a return to some illegal drugs; but the fact we're about to experience 'proper' winter again means that heating needs to go on and as I've discovered on several occasions in the last two years; if you're not doing anything - are inactive - your f**king house could be burning down around your ears and you'd still feel cold!
As you hopefully can see, I'm not sounding too concerned about the future (unusually for me) and I am one of those people who hates having overtly optimistic moments because falls often come harder in their wake, but initial sales (from the USA) seem to have vindicated certain decisions and I know how much money we're expecting to get come March onwards and provided it doesn't take a substantial hit, I should be sitting here in January 2016 telling you about that forthcoming year's schedules.
And that, my little chickens, is that for another month. Hopefully next time I will be able to confirm Rachael Smith's latest project (or I will have surreptitiously deleted this reference by then) and give you a rough outline of what the late spring and summer brings.
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #28: Festival
Borderline Press experienced what can only be described as a 'bonus' with this year's Thought Bubble in Leeds. Last year, myself, Will Vigar, Jim Firkins and Andy M descended on TB with our expectations raised so high and in the end it was a crushing weekend. There are and were many reasons - external and internal - why the 2013 show was less of an event than we hoped and anticipated.
This year, I asked Terry (Verity Fair) Wiley, Jamie (Seth & Ghost) Lewis and the Factor Fiction team of Jay Eales & Selina Lock to man my table, They had a fantastic weekend; Jamie sold 50 books alone and I can't help thinking that I had a really inspired epiphany that caused this year's TB to be a success for us.
I talked about the Leamington Spa comic convention in Pros & Cons back in October, but what I didn't tell you was we, Borderline Press, had a miserable day. I kept it very quiet because frankly I couldn't blame the event or the organisers and if I had it would have seemed like nothing more than a bad workman blaming his tools...
We actually need to go back to September and the NICE convention in Bedford. In terms of physical takings it was a little better than previous conventions and I put a lot of that down to the fact that Borderline Press isn't the new kid on the block that no one has ever heard of. The sad truth is I felt we could have taken a lot more and I spent most of the rest of September and then October thinking that perhaps it was me...
I know, that's very conceited of me. I've been accused, here, a few times of making everything about me. Mr Sour Grapes. It seems that all Phil Hall really does is complain about how life is just shit to him. However, Leamington was a watershed moment for me. For all of my ex-assistant's faults (not Will, the guy who replaced him), he, at least, went to conventions and tried his damnedest. He engaged with people - whether they wanted to or not.
I was looking at a picture taken by the NICE photographer; it was of myself and my helper Colin (my oldest friend) sitting behind our table. He looks like a bizarre cosplayer attempting to channel Fidel Castro, while I looked like a curmudgeonly old bastard who struggles to crack a smile. The thing that made Bedford different was the amount of people there I knew, so I actually felt comfortable.
Colin and I attended Leamington and looking back on it I don't think we ever really got out of first gear. Yes, our favourable spot turned out to be a burden rather than a blessing, but that couldn't have been foreseen. I heard on the way home that up at The Lakes Festival, Terry Wiley was gesticulating madly about what a fabulous convention it was and took a lot of money for Borderline Press and I was looking at a loss on the day at Leamington. There were half as many people at the Lakes...
It's obviously got to be me.
Will's biggest complaint about TB 2013 was the fact that I did more to scare people away than anything else. That's actually unfair; Will just got so frustrated with me he sent me away. I was nervous and my nerves were manifesting in a less than inviting manner. He was also nervous, my nerves didn't help his at all.
This general un-enthusiasm continued to Bristol and the two people on my table seemed to be doing much better when I wasn't there. I perhaps should have seen it then, but why should I? I'd been a moderately successful retailer for a while, in a place that didn't warrant it, and much of that was down to my ability to transform my retail outlet into a community centre. When I approached a bunch of comics people to do Borderline Magazine with me, I was inundated with support. I hear and see probably far more positive things about me than negative ones (and most of the negative ones tend to be in response to me being an arse, which still happens - trust me about this).
I spent 10 years working in social care, helping people. Social care. When I'm not suffering from depression (and even sometimes when I am) I'm often found helping people. I constantly hear from people who I've helped in the past and people who want to reconnect with me. Most people who know me know that I'm not really at all like the short-fused utter bastard I can seem to be on (anti) social network sites. So why am I like I am at conventions? I'm not unapproachable, I'm just not as ebullient or affable...
Well, we're 16 months into the initial 2 year plan and running your own business is one of the most stressful things in the world, especially during the initial start up. I've had one of those personal annus horribilis things, which only adds to the stress. I'm probably the last person to work behind a table at something like a convention because my mind is a whirl and I simply lose focus on what I should be doing and want to run and hide.
Colin, for all his energy and enthusiasm, knows little or nothing about 21st century comics and is pretty much out of his depth when asked the simplest of questions about my product. Plus neither of us went out of our way to engage with people; in fact as the day wore on I avoided eye contact with people - not a good thing when your business is to get people buying your stuff.
The Fanfare distribution deal will hopefully take a huge amount of strain off my shoulders. The simple fact that the remainder of the Seth & Ghost order will be delivered to the warehouse (where the rest of the stock is now kept) and not my living room means that life at home is less fraught. Plus Stephen Robson, at Fanfare, reckons I can now spend most of my time just promoting and do most of the conventions as a visitor, rather than as a dealer.
So, the epiphany was simple - do not let me near a comic convention table. This was evidenced by the success at this year's Thought Bubble - where in real terms we took five times what we did the previous year. Maybe in a couple of years, when I can be calm and accept them for what they are - a social event that you might take some money at - I might be okay to unleash back on the masses; but until that point, I think letting my creators speak for their work and other titles in our stable works much better.
Someone asked me what's planned for 2015.
- Santa Claus versus the Nazis scheduled for late summer arrival, solicited from March.
- Robotz - hopefully out for the autumn.
- story(cycle) - Kathryn Briggs' short graphic novel will get a repackaging and some new stuff for the spring.
- Seamonster is also scheduled for the spring.
- The Happy Ghetto is new and a bit different - an illustrated novel.
- A Leonie O'Moore project.
- An Agata Bara collection.
- More Spoko.
- There's something called Sparks that I'm interested in. I just need to pull my finger out and talk to Mr Lyndon White.
- Plus a few other things that are really too tentative to divulge.
I have to find myself a part time job or I will go insane (or more insane depending on who you speak to). I also have to start being more creative again - I have almost given up doing anything creative for my own pleasure. The last thing I finished was the script for Robotz and that was done in August 2013.
Anyone buying direct from the website shop now gets an automatic 33% discount on most everything bought, but not Seth & Ghost as there are now a very limited number in stock until the main shipment arrives in the New Year - at the moment it is rare and a collectors' item (says the Comics Economics man); but it is £5 instead of the standard £6.95.
And that is that for 2014.
Thanks to all the people who've bought books, either on-line or from us personally at conventions - you are all lovely and deserve long lives and plenty of sex.
Big thanks to Dave Rankin - Mr Full Set! Phil Buchan, Andy Oliver, all the fantastic reviews and reviewers and Steve Robson - glad to have you back in my life big fella.
Massive thanks to Adrian, Roger, the wife, Jeff, Dan, Terry, Jamie, Will, Andy, Jim, Dollop, Colin, Carl-Michael, Loka, Knut, Kim, everyone on Spoko and the ever wonderful, totally indispensable Dennis Wojda.
You all have a fantastic festive season; and let's hope 2015 is better for all of us.
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #27: Revisionists
I think in many respects 2014 has been a horrendous year and the fact that Borderline Press has just released its 8th title in the last 12 months (9th if you include the free comic) should be considered a great success; but what about Santa Claus versus the Nazis? Robotz? Or some of the other projects we had planned? I had expected having between 10 and 12 titles out between the release of 566 and what might have been a Christmas Ghosts Anthology.
I feel bad for the people who I let down. I let people down all the time, yet sometimes not turning up for a beer isn't the same as not publishing something someone or ones who have worked on a project for a long time. I am also aware that, yes, someone else could publish them, they could do it themselves, etc etc ad nauseum - doesn't make me feel any better and it doesn't make me want to be particularly nice to cowboy printers and the various other things that have helped screw up the year.
The current state of play of Borderline Press is quite chirpy - good reviews, steady sales, distribution deal and a series of signings and convention appearances... We also have 898 copies of our latest release sitting in a warehouse in China because I am not being held to ransom by arseholes any more. I could bore you all to death with how one Chinese printing firm has systematically attempted to shaft me, every step of the way, for the last few months, but the truth is this printer has moved the goalposts, pushed me around, threatened me and abused me and with absolutely no comeback by or from me because, frankly, I wouldn't know where to start! Perhaps a few emails to the Communist Party?
The printing learning curve this year hasn't been pleasant, nor should it have even happened; what we've made up for in lesser production costs we've paid for in time, shipping and cowboys. The one valuable lesson I've learned from this is I should have stuck with the people who were a little more expensive but delivered promptly and with no fuss.
I hope that Seth & Ghost doesn't turn into a huge collectors' item because there are only 102 copies in existence. I sincerely hope the printer doesn't just chuck them in the South China Sea, like I suggested he should, but I'm not going to take any more of a bath on this project than I already have. To give you just a rough idea, I've already paid over $1000 more for this job than I should have and now they are asking for another $1000 or they won't ship the rest. I told them to fuck off.
So, Seth & Ghost is the final Borderline Press release of 2014 or it might be the first release of 2015 - that my friends is in the hands of a man called 'Jacky'...
Obviously, kicking this off with mention of a 'revised' schedule and having the title 'Revisionists' might suggest there's something else on my mind. There is.
When Dez Skinn took me to San Diego in the early 1990s there was a lot about the trip that has been since said, but one of the nicer moments happened when I was introduced to Julius Schwartz, who was, I think, pretty much in his late 80s at the time. It was a fleeting meeting and we both moved on to whatever we were supposed to be doing.
On the Saturday - the main day - I've spoken of my unbelievably ridiculous decision to walk - crosstown - through San Diego to get to the convention centre, while wearing an English suit and carrying a briefcase in 100 degrees of summer heat. It's a recurring theme in my life - when in strange city, walk until you get lost, but ensure the weather is at some kind of extreme.
When I got to the convention centre, essentially as a big bag of sweaty water - my friend Christina took me to a cafeteria and plied me with water and left me to rehydrate. Sitting at the table next to me was, an also rather deflated looking, Julie Schwartz and he smiled and made some comments about Brits never getting used to the heat in San Diego.
He remembered who I was and where I'd come from.
This was the first convention where Frank Miller had got on his horse about conceptual copyright owning and how Jack Kirby had been shafted by Marvel, Stan Lee and every one else. We all know the story, it's been revised to suit Kirby and his followers.
I was trying to remember the link that got me and Julie talking about ownership of Marvel's characters and I'm sure it will eventually come back to me, but the upshot was he said to me that he'd known the original Marvel bullpen people for years; they'd all worked with each other or around each other, drank beers and ate with each other and they would often discuss their work.
I remember him saying to me something that had much resonance with me, "If you come up with the name or the idea of a superhero and your friend comes up with how he looks - who owns it?" Both of them obviously, I said. He went on, "During the early Sixties there were half a dozen friends sitting in that Marvel bullpen and they were each coming up with ideas - not just Lee and Kirby, but Marie Severin, Flo Steinberg, even Martin Goodman, everyone contributed to the creation of the original Marvel heroes, the same way we developed new ideas at DC. It was a rare thing in the 1960s for anyone to come to the table with a fully-developed character - no one did it because creation was by committee. Nothing sinister. That was the way it was."
How come I never see this argument floated around when people argue that it was Jack Kirby, alone, who created all of Marvel's classic oeuvre?
I believe Marie Severin stated a few years back something along the same lines and was systematically ignored by the industry. It didn't fit with what they wanted and Marie was in Stan's camp, obviously.
In 1983, I created a character - a cartoon character, based entirely on my curmudgeonly personality, my acerbic wit and my propensity for getting myself into scrapes of my own making. I even have the clay model of the character sitting in front of me - he even looks a little like I did in 1983 and his first name was 'Fil'.
I don't own him though. Despite creating the idea, writing all the strips he appeared (or would have appeared) in and knowing that all my mate did was caricature me - he owns it and in the eyes of most of our peers he owns it. Why? Because he drew it. He did all the donkey work. All I did was come up with the words, that took no time at all.
I'm serious here.
I would concede that we maybe co-created it, but only because I can't draw. My 'co-creator' didn't see it the same way; he viewed ownership as not the original concept but the amount of time you spent on it. he could never have worked for Marvel and DC as he would have believed that whoever he was drawing would have become his by default after a couple of months. None of our 'friends' seemed interested in my arguments - that sounded, to be honest, like sour grapes; they all accepted the character was the artist's because he spent more time on it.
In the end I gave up all rights I had. The artists did five more strips, they weren't funny - in the slightest; he wasn't a writer. He had no real idea what to draw; he had no direction, no input. The cohesion that was there was now gone. He moved onto an idea of his own, that was a repeat of the previous failure.He gave up and as far as I know doesn't do anything remotely artistic now.
That is a damned shame.
The problem with the history of Marvel Comics is simple - too many are dead; the ones that remain either don't talk or have a Hollywood opinion of it. Stan Lee is as much a trade name or brand now as Marvel or Disney is and all that is left is anecdotal 'evidence' from people who worked there after the event.
I'm sure that Jack Kirby probably created everything and the chair he sat in to work and I'm sure that there are many out there who would like to see Lee erased from everything; he probably just made the coffee and lived off them and their genius.
The interesting thing is over the years whenever I've heard a veteran, with no vested interest, talk about those days, the story has always pretty much been the same - it was a bullpen. Bullpens are bullshit sessions or brainstorm time, where ideas and thoughts are thrown around without fear of ridicule - it was a practice developed in the USA during the late 1940s - it's how things get developed.
I'm sure someone will put me right and show me some unimpeachable bit of evidence, but until then I'm inclined to think no one person created anything from Marvel in the early 1960s. Some might have had more influence than others and maybe, as the years advanced, some of the characters were maybe 95% created by the artist (or the writer). I just get fed up with the way that Stan Lee has been cast as some far more pernicious villain than he could have created.
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #26: Pros & Cons
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press blog #25 - NICE work
Borderline Press has had a pretty woeful summer, as detailed in the last blog, but things have pretty much been back on track since the end of August. There have been unavoidable problems; like switching printer's at a point when I thought they were doing the job, they were sending me an email saying they did not want to do it because of the problems they had with the previous jobs. So we lost 2 weeks because of that fiasco and it left me thinking and wondering how and why business ever gets done anywhere, but then I remembered how life got in the way of my summer.
It was good to put the summer behind us and go the 15 or so miles down the road to Bedford (in Bedfordshire) for the 3rd annual (or is it 4th? I'm old now, I can't always remember who you are) NORTHAMPTON Intercontinental Custard Experiment or whatever the meaning of the acronym NICE means - possibly something to do with 'comics' and 'international', I would like to hazard a guess what the E stands for but knowing Jeff Chahal as well as I do it could equally stand for 'erection' as 'expo' or 'exhibition'.
I posed a very interesting hypothetical hypothesis on Sunday to artist extraordinary (a keen fan of both Godzilla and Tony Stark) Simon Coleby (he was unofficial celebrity artist in residence at my shop), had I opened Squonk!! in Northampton as I had initially planned, the retail comics landscape of the area might be drastically different and there might never have been a NICE con. It's a thankless task, organising a comics convention (especially when I'm going to be there, with my track record of being scathing about certain events, recently). I'm not sure I'd do one, even if I could do one the way I'd want; I'm beginning to think it takes a special kind of madmen to do this shit.
|The man with the pony tail could |
have been a cosplay Terry Wiley!
My expectations have been lowered enormously over the last few months. There have been pretty clear reasons, other than the expected ones; mainly to do with the fact that we're still relatively unknown; we still don't have that much product out, and comics conventions - a large percentage of them - are attended by people more inclined to what we like to call 'mainstream' or spandex.
I've mentioned how I think Borderline Press is a female-friendly publisher, well over 75% of all of our sales, at all conventions, have been to women and that was reinforced at NICE. I wasn't expecting to take a lot of money; I was expecting to talk to people, give more free comics away, do a bit more schmoozing and generally improve the brand name. The reality of the weekend is that is exactly what happened and three quarters of our sales were to people of a female gender.
|The view from behind the table on Sunday|
The Sunday was, as I said, in my opinion, quieter than last year (contrary to what I was told by several of the 'staff') and I'm of the opinion that I could easily have not bothered going. I would have missed out on just five sales, but I'm of the opinion that the five recipients will be happy we did turn up and I reckon they'll come back for more.
I heard several complaints from people. A number of artists took barely any money; people weren't spending a lot on original artwork, sketches were popular, but I saw many people sat twiddling their thumbs at times. One of the dealers suggested the event was too similar to last year's and it needed a lot of different guests - I can't pass judgement on this or even comment on it because I don't do these things for the guests specifically. It was suggested to me that NICE is just an excuse to invite Jeff Chahal's friends - well, if it is then what's to criticise?
Another dealer, who had a reasonable weekend, told me that at most 'provincial' conventions they expect to take considerably less than they do at something like LFCC or MCM; he urged me to try and book into one of these mega-shows with 20,000+ through the door, where taking can be 10 times as much. The problem with these are the percentage of comics fans who attend who would want to read Borderline Press's eclectic line; if 20,000 come through the door and 17,000 don't do comics and of those remaining 3000, 85% don't do or buy indie comics or books... and those that do might be looking for someone else... when you factor in all the variables and probabilities, my projected best-case-scenario take would be commensurate with what I took this weekend, which would mean the only reason worth doing these massive shows would be PR. I'm not convinced, still, that these big cons would equate to much more than a hot, sweaty and exhausting weekend (but with no orgasm at the end).
|Bedford at night (photo by Simon Coleby)|
I don't want to think of myself as Dan Mallier's muse, but the organiser of the forthcoming Leamington Spa comic con - an event where the two most famous people attending are Al Davison and some big-nosed has-been called Phil Hall - had many of my ideas for conventions already in place and he took on board the one thing I now believe is imperative for all conventions, if they are going to continue to be colloquial events - you have to allow the general public in - for nothing - after the paying customers have done a couple of hours of exclusive access.
The organisers of Leicester Comic Con did it; allowed Joe Public in for free a couple of hours after the show opened and the upshot was simple... At Bristol and most obviously with Birmingham, once the paying punters have done what they want the dealer/exhibitor rooms become graveyards with just the 'deal hunters' doing any business. My belief is if you have a room with people in it, there is the potential to do some business - maybe even persuade a new visitor as to why comics are a good hobby - and even if you take no money, there are potential customers that are in the room - if they're not in the room then you don't stand any chance.
Leam Con's Dan intends to open the doors to the general public from 3pm; that's two hours that are usually dead air at cons that will have new eyes looking at things, asking questions, being inquisitive and maybe spending some cash and surely while the creators and guests and paying customers deserve respect; they are not the people who pay for tables and contribute a large percentage of the cost covering. Too often in the last year (and not ironically during my last period of convention going) I've seen or heard about the last hours of any convention being one tinged with anger and acrimony about the poor day had and the lack of attendees.
Jeff Chahal did this when NICE was held in a tent at Wickstead Park in Kettering, but dropped the idea when it moved to Bedford Corn Exchange - costs and fear of reprisals from paying punters were his main reasons. I think it might also have a lot to do with health and safety, but that's based on a gut feeling more than anything else. I harped on at Jeff a lot about making his convention open to the hoards, but he resisted. I wonder if he might reconsider the idea after seeing what the main hall was like at 2pm on Sunday afternoon.
I will, however, declare NICE 2014 a success. I had a great time and the Chahal brothers know how to organise a great event, almost... It probably does deserve a bigger platform, because while Bedford isn't hard to get to, it reminds me a little of the ultimate reason why I opened Squonk!! in Wellingborough rather than waiting for the right property to come along in Northampton - convenience. I figured on that line from Field of Dreams - 'build it and they will come' and they do, but do all of them? If I'd opened in Northampton ... and hence the question to Simon Coleby.
I also appreciate that the Chahal brothers invest a lot of time, effort and their own money in this event, but is it worth investigating venues in Milton Keynes or, heaven forbid, Northampton?
That said, the arguments for attempting to hold a comics convention in Northampton are extremely strong and one wonders why Alan Moore can get a reported £100,000 from Northampton Borough Council to ensure that his Electricomics promote the town and someone wanting to promote comics and the town in general can't even speak to the right people?
Northamptonshire has an enormous percentage of comics professionals; it has a rich vein of ex-professionals or pros who have moved to sunnier or different locations and, of course, it is the home of the aforementioned Mr Moore. Not that he would come to a comic convention again, not even one that would have to dedicate part of its brief to the promotion of comics as a medium, an aid for dyslexics, an entry point for people who struggle to read books and as a platform to express their own creativity.
The problem now is that everything from the huge MCM conventions to these regional mega-marts is geared solely towards the fan; it's like we've never learned anything. Comics are still suffering from the law of diminishing returns, despite the influx of new readers, there is no sign and there probably won't be any increase in the actual numbers of fans (hey, lots of fans are old and die), so why is no one doing anything at all about trying to broaden the customer base?
If I was the Chahal brothers, I would be asking myself where the next generation of customers are coming from; how are we going to persuade the kid who thinks comics are okay to thinking they're cool and they want part of this rich tapestry of alternative worlds and styles?
But it's easy for me to sit here and suggest things; I'm not doing them.
I have enough on my plate as you will now find out...
So Santa Claus versus the Nazis and Seth & Ghost will be printed this week - unless we have any more problems - and will arrive at the end of October...
But... That's after the Lakes?
Here's an example of the hurly-burly world of comics publishing. My new printer can't meet the deadline; hell, my old printer is struggling to deliver our two latest books on time; and I've got no one to do The Lakes convention for me because I have to do Leamington Spa because of ... life getting in the way again (at least 'good' life rather than nasty, funereal life). I'm also donating 50 free copies of one of our books to them and suddenly everything is, if you'll pardon my rather brash Anglo-Saxon, f*ck*d and shrouded in uncertainty and tension.
You know that expression 'squeaky-bum time'? People from the UK, who follow football (soccer) and various other sports know it well. Well, here's how this schedule is going to work:
- As far as I know Verity Fair and Spoko both set sail on September 9. The delivery date, provided the voyage is trouble free is October 10 (unless HMRC hold the container in customs for inspection then another 7 days can be added to that). However, that will mean the books arrive after we need them - after their launch.
- I heard back from the new printer on Monday 8th regarding Santa Claus and S&G; provided everything has been okayed, the job will take between 5 and 7 days to complete and pack. It will then go on the next available Tuesday boat and will take a maximum of 35 days (unless HMRC hold the container in customs for inspection then another 7 days can be added to that) and as any fool knows, that is way after The Lakes and I've been telling people and Ben Dickson and Gavin Mitchell have been telling people that it'll be out for the Lakes (S&G's official launch is at Thought Bubble) and it clearly won't.
- Except it will. If everything goes according to plan. Once the books have been finished, a quantity of Santa Claus will be sent by air mail - 100 of them: 70 going to the Lakes and 30 coming with me to Leam Con.
- Hang on, you can't do the Lakes, you said so? No, but Terry Wiley is going to man the battlements for me all weekend (unless Verity Fair is stuck in customs, in which case I fully expect Terry will not go to Kendal, but will venture south to a place near Warwick, where he will commit murder...) as well as signing copies of the book he's selling, etc etc. Terry flies in from Chicago 23 hours before The Lakes begins. His home is in Newcastle, mine in Northampton. Despite my home sounding further north than his, mine is actually 300 miles south of his and provided the book isn't held in customs (along with Spoko #1 I hasten to add), I have to take delivery of them, put probably three boxes of VF and a box of Spoko in the boot of my car - along with three further boxes of our existing stock; drive up to Leicester (about 28 miles) and drop them off with Jay Eales and Selina Lock, who are going to The Lakes, and are going to take them up and protect them until Terry can take control of them. They will then bring back whatever isn't sold.
- This is all dependant on everything happening at the right time with little margin for error.
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #24 - The Original Social Media?
The reason I say this is because this is comics and comics has no secrets.
We can transmit whatever image we want, most people involved in comics know it's me, with a couple of helpers and someone paying for it. This would have become a reality even if I had tried to keep it as secret as the government selling poor children into white slavery...
The reason is comics has always been the First Social Media.
Ordinary people have embraced social networking like its the new sliced bread, but once upon a time, we had letters and a post office service worth its salt and nowhere was more prolific (and made the Royal Mail more money) than comics fans and their propensity for writing letters. Fanzines were a snapshot of what a comic book social media site probably should be now.
There was spam; there were flame wars; there was disagreements that almost boiled into fights - proper fights where two people would seek each other out at the few comics events across the country at that time; to have a confrontation. I remember one, between two people no longer even remembered in comics, that boiled over into an actual fist fight outside UKCAC in 1992. Comics fandom was better than it is today because there was a degree of thought put into what you were doing. Hell, if you were going to waste 5p on a First Class letter, you were going to write a bleedin' novel!
Plus, comics have a huge reputation for being loose tongued. If the Attenborough family were slightly concerned about how the death of Dickie leaked onto Twitter, it's a good job the Attenboroughs weren't into comics because there were/are very few secrets. Comics fandom's base was assembled on the premise of 'what happened and what happens next?'
Try convincing Terry Wiley that Borderline Press is some kind of publishing conglomerate. We've royally arse-slapped his year. Verity Fair was supposed to have been released in May, for Bristol. It got loaded onto a boat last week, I'm not sure the boat has yet sailed and the irony is the money we were hoping to save by using a smaller, more bespoke, Chinese printer, has been lost by delay after delay after delay - all to do with, quite simply, an inability for the UK and China to talk to each other with computer files.
We opted for the current printer because they were over a grand cheaper than the guys who did Crocodiles and Hunger House - and that saving has been lost by being unable to launch Terry's book or push Spoko #1. These books/comics will be back from the printer in September, so the official launches for these new books will be with Santa Claus v the Nazis and Seth & Ghost - because I'm using a different, modern, printer for these books - at The Lakes, Leamington Spa and hopefully a big party type thing at Thought Bubble in November in Leeds.
The summer has been a disaster in many ways. So much inactivity; so many bits of real life getting in the way. Illness, death, incompetence and obfuscation - the summer had it all and as a result we, kind of, suffered for it... I say 'kind of' because if the summer comic conventions were anything to go by it might be time for reining back on these things - or handing them over to people who understand conventions, first and foremost, and have a working knowledge of comics fandom - because, seriously, comics people should not be allowed to organise comics events, ever.
We haven't really suffered. Yes, the delays on the two 'current' books is bloody annoying; but that is out of my hands in many ways. Losing my commercial manager after four months was a pain, but the 'experiment' was always that. Taking an engineer out of his comfort zone and putting him in an environment that he didn't fully understand and struggled to fathom was always going to be a tough ask and I hope he thrives back in an arena he's good at - honest.
But, he did lay the groundwork for the distribution deal with Fanfare that I am currently wading through paperwork for, so every cloud and all that. It leaves me with some dilemmas - mainly about staffing stalls at conventions - and taking back the jobs I gratefully gave to him.
So, the reason I tell you this is because anyone who knows Terry Wiley will know that Verity Fair is taking longer to come into existence than an actual baby (and it will be something like 9 months once the book arrives on my doorstep). So, given that comics is always rife with speculation and Chinese Whispers tend to get so distorted, I thought I'd allay any fears or anticipation: the only thing that has slowed Borderline Press down this summer has been LIFE!
I did have a scare though. I was going to keep it quiet, but, you know, there's this gossip thing (that I know a lot about) and while I didn't appear at the Birmingham convention a few weeks ago and the official reason was I had a chest infection - the actual reason was ... I had a chest infection. It did look a bit scary a few days before, because I got rushed to A&E with a suspected heart attack, but that's the second time a chest infection has manifested itself into a heart scare and when you're in your 50s ...
I said to my 'partner' when we started this that he needed to understand that physically I'm pretty much this fantastically fit looking exterior and inside I'm like a pot noodle that's been dropped out of a plane. Years of smoking have f*cked my lungs and I have all these bones that just keep going wrong - important ones too, like the back and the legs - things you need in good shape to keep the rest of you happy.
So, I gear up for new releases, an autumn convention schedule and a new distribution deal that will take about 6 months to start paying me some dividends - but, you know, despite all the problems, the future is looking a bit brighter.
There is a small black cloud though... Jo Karpowicz has informed me that her life has gotten in the way of her schedule and Robotz won't be out until 2015. If that's the case, our 2015 schedule, so far, has six titles, five of which are predominantly by women. I got accused once of being sexist... I suppose I must be.
I hope you all enjoyed your summer. Let's hope that the rest of 2014 is bloody brilliant!
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #21 - Limbo Dancing
Borderline Press took on a Commercial Manager in the form of my old friend Christian and he has, I hate to admit it, been great at doing the jobs I hate doing and he's been cutting costs; but this has been at the detriment of Verity Fair...
Terry Wiley's collected edition was originally supposed to be out for May, but production problems (at our, then, printer) put it back a month. Chris came on board, immediately looked at the costs of printing VF and said, 'Hold your horses.' The upshot is that Verity Fair should arrive in shops for July. I'm hoping it will be for the LFCC at Earl's Court or at the latest ICE in Birmingham. Spoko #1 will arrive at the same time, as will a bunch of promo posters - top quality posters - we'll be giving away to shops and people who buy our products.
After that we have another (publishing) lull, while I get Santa Claus versus the Nazis and Seth & Ghost away for a late September delivery. I also hope to have Robotz, but that depends on Jo's schedule. She's got June and July set aside to work on the book and it'll all be down to me to get the thing finished and to a printer for an October release. These three books are the backbone of Borderline Press's Christmas Onslaught (and the least said about that before Midsummer's day the better!). Plus we have Nathan Castle's Seamonster, a collection of Agata Bara's stories and two other projects; both by women, one from Scotland (via the USA) and the other - another - from Scandinavia. As I lost a couple of projects, the least said about those, also the better.
Oh and there's Spoko #2, which at the moment has stories from Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and, hopefully, the UK. That should be out in November (if I can assemble it all, get a cover, and get it finished by September).
It's the Leicester Comic Con next weekend; we're hoping this is considerably better than Bristol (but, to be fair, you could hold a convention in a rotting crab's arse and it would be better than Bristol), then a summer of travelling around, meeting people and generally getting all of you people to see how great we are!
There is a change in the personnel for one convention, however. Because of a family engagement, I can no longer attend The Lakes in October. So Christian, along with Ben Dickson, Gavin Mitchell, Terry Wiley and a few others will be at the Borderline Press table in the Clock Tower. I will be taking Borderline Press to the brand new Leamington Spa Con, which is on the Saturday of the Lakes weekend (the family wedding isn't until the Sunday). I have high expectations for this new convention, because Dan Mallier - one half of the team behind it - is full of confidence and Lisa, his partner, seems to be approaching it from the direction a proper (non-comic) Convention organiser might. I expect it will impress many people and could well be the start of a much needed Midlands convention (now that Caption is moving and the MCMs at Birmingham aren't really about comics fans).
The other news involves my intention to get the website working more for us. Initially we had intended to have a rolling load of all manner of stuff, but, you know, running a comics publishing company - even part time - consumes so much time and energy that sitting down and thinking of frivolous and interesting nonsense to keep the web pages moving suddenly becomes much harder than the original idea seemed.
And that's about it; very much a month in limbo, waiting for things to start moving. However, you need to watch this space; things are always just close to the surface with anything I do...
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #20 - the FCBD Rant
Anyone who read my serialised autobiographical expose of comics - My Monthly Curse - will know that I have little time for specific areas of the comics industry. One of the frustrating things about getting Borderline Press into comic shops has been lack of knowledge about our product and another reason is the fact we're not being carried by a distributor (my choice). As an ex-retailer, I find most comics publishers do not support retailers and distributors are like certain kinds of politicians, they are not interested in the future, so the 'help' they offer is not really help at all, it is just a devious way of ensuring they get paid.
Growth, for the people who make and deliver the comics that makes their world tick, needs to be immediate, you can't nurture things - it's too slow. Therefore not only did distributors become unpopular with retailers, they were also deliberately responsible for the loss of hundreds of comic shops between 1993 and 2000. They wanted to supply megastores and the small guys could go and be anatomically impossible with themselves. That retail devastation also angered many fans shorn of their Local Comic Shops, and where subsequently left to the vagaries and peculiarities of mail order.
The problem was that most didn't know or weren't aware that it was the people producing and delivering the comics, they loved, who were also responsible for Fat Larry's Comics and Porn in Wibley, West Virginia, closing down and every other store ran by an enthusiastic amateur (who might one day become an astute retailer - because, it does happen, I know quite a few of them).
It has always galled me that the retailer - the lifeblood of publishing - is and was abused in such a way by the people earning a living from them. It sat uneasily with me at how these distribution businesses could just so brazenly discard money making opportunities and now after ten years of avoiding comics like the plague, I'm back and it's still pretty much the same as it was before.
The 1990s have become an almost forgotten decade in popular culture (compared to the '60s, '70s and '80s), but for comics it was the decade when comics publishers discovered big business, commerce and commercialism and how to make more money than they believed was possible. Comics discovered Mammon.
In 2014, there are predominantly big, but there are small, 'comic' shops - there are the chains and the small guys (and gals) who have been striving away, despite the best efforts of publishers and distributors trying to kill them off. You still pay for Point of Sale items; you still pay for any kind of retailer support that is physically produced (they might even charge you for virtual stuff too) and there is even this thing called Free Comic Book Day, which actually isn't free but involves the giving away of comics.
I got behind FCBD because I thought it was something to help spotlight comics to the uninitiated... Bloody hell, how out of touch was I? It is actually organised by the leading distributor and if you are a retailer and you want to give away free comics - they'll cost you. Actually, if you want to give away free comics and you're not a big publisher it will cost you.
Retailers have to buy the comics they're giving away and they have to pay the distributor for delivering them and then they have to ensure they have paid up and registered to be able to use the logo, designed by the distribution company, who have a vested interest in the future of comics, or you can't be part of their (lucrative) FCBD. Once all these have been met and only then, can they give these comics to possible customers who will actually put more money into the accounts of the people supplying than the people selling!
You might need to read that again - it is correct.
Most comics shop spend between £250 and £1000 on FREE COMIC BOOK DAY! Most publishers produce a bunch of stuff for FREE COMIC BOOK DAY! But the distributor; the organisation that depends on the publisher and the punter being happy - will screw you to the floor with narrow-minded short-termism. FREE COMIC BOOK DAY my arse!
Can you image what would happen if farmers charged Tesco £3 for a 5kg bag of potatoes (instead of the 30p Tesco really pays for them)? The exact opposite applies in comics - it's an industry where the supplier and the courier are better rewarded than the person selling. I know, I'm bloody obsessed about it... But I can't think of another retail industry where that would happen - if you know of one, put me out of my misery!
So, I decided to do the free comic for FCBD; I was going to distribute it on May 3rd; I was going to send it out to retailers for free and with a note asking them to please give this to the people you think might like our books... and I got asked not to...
The company behind FCBD said:
It had an unauthorised use of their logo (fair enough).
We had not registered to be part of it (huh?)
We do not have an account (no and we're not likely to have one at this rate)
We have not had their approval for the contents of our free comic (and they were never going to get it as long as I have a hole in my anus)
It is not available outside of the UK in physical form (huh, again?)
It is forbidden to depict minors as Cthulhu children with octopus tentacles (okay, that was a lie)
There were a couple more, mainly to do with my sarcasm probably...
The point is - they were not making any money from me. They had no control over the content. They really did not like the idea that we were not only giving it away - FREE - but also shipping it ourselves - FREE. Our little FREE comic book in many ways proves what a misnomer FCBD really is and was - another way for the suppliers and their delivery boys to rape the retailer while making the retailer think that it has been a success.
Surely the idea of a FCBD is to be given free comics, freely distributed, for comic shops to give away in an attempt to attract new (and old) readers into comic shops to buy comics which ultimately lines the pockets of all links in the chain. Where is the economic sense of what is currently happening unless the retailers haven't got any power at all over it and can't stop it, because they're all independent...
Wow, that's really truly stupid business practice; not by the shops or fans, but by everyone else associated with comics.
Anyhow, we took the logo off (as 3000 of you are aware) and I think they did us a BIG favour. I'd like my publishing company to be associated with such a great idea, but this is a great idea that hides a multitude of business sins and is just a new way of looking the gift horse in the mouth and extracting another tooth. Borderline Press will produce free comics, when it is economically viable, and do you know what? We'll continue to give them away and ship them to comic shops, at our cost. We may never be a big company, but I want retailers to know that someone is really on their side.
So, please be aware that this is actually a rant at the mechanism not the machine - I've worked in comics at a time of boom and also bust - when you had to speculate to try, almost forlornly, to accumulate the money lost from the last speculation. I was vaguely aware of FCBD when it started, but at the time I was in a place so far away from comics that only the barest remained. The idea of free comics is great - free things make audiences; free things work.
Remember Comics International? First six issues - Free. Then a nominal price that many shops didn't charge; because even giving away 30p was something the customers appreciated and it was a good intro to comics for the uninitiated. Having seen that work, I have a soupçon of admiration for the hierarchy of comics because since the advent of the Direct Market, the you-don't-get-anything-for-nothing policy is still working - so what do I know? I know it's like an extra tax for retailers and the ones who manage to overcome this spiteful practice are bloody good at what they do; they have to be.
The Borderline Press free comic cost a fair bit to produce (but nowhere near what that Mouse Guard hard back cost), to give as many people as possible a chance to see our brilliant books and then buy them so I make money, the retailer makes money and the creator of the book makes money. Goddamn it, I know that's ridiculously altruistic and I sound like some pinko liberal 18 year old with a penchant for manga and squeezing spots, but it's what me and my accountant came up with when we did the business plan.
I'd happily tell retailers how much I pay the same printer several top US publishers use (and those US publishers are getting prices heaps cheaper than me) and how between them, they're using retailers to fund their yachts, holiday mansions, cocaine and prostitute habits. I would like retailers to support my books, either through the 50% discount scheme we offer (that's 15% more than you-know-who will ever give you and our terms are more generous), or because they see me putting my money where my mouth is and delivering the quality I'm banging on about.
Borderline Press - supporting retailers; doing what's right for creators; trying to make everyone happy (some of the time).
See original article at: this location.
Borderline Press Blog #19: Sturm und Drang
This, almost pointless, discussion was one of many we had at Bristol Comics Expo on Sunday afternoon. We had to do something because it was either that or violently attack the organisers...
No, it wasn't so busy that promoting it would have caused problems. You needed to have already bought your ticket to get through the door. If you were a member of the public, curious to see why all these brightly coloured (and black or white) costumes were descending onto a slightly dodgy modern hotel in the centre of Bristol, you were shit out of luck. If you were a local comics fan or had maybe heard about the event and travelled up to buy Borderline Press books or get Michael Golden's autograph, you were also shit out of luck.
Here's an example of a conversation I heard between an incredibly disgruntled stall holder and an utterly-out-of-her-depth organiser/helper:
"Why are you turning people away?"
"They don't have tickets."
"Let them pay at the door."
"We haven't got the facilities to do that."
"I have. Let me give you a box with a float, you can charge people to come in and maybe some of them will spend some money rather than just walk around posing in their manga costumes."
"We can't do that."
"There's about 50 people upstairs. I've barely taken enough money to cover my table costs and you're turning people away?"
This was Sunday about 2pm and because of the cramped space the dealers were forced into, 50 people was probably an exaggeration on the dealer's part.
Considering the massive success we had the week before at the book launch at Close Encounters in Northampton; we went to Bristol with a mixture of confidence and (for me) trepidation. I set my expectations low, to offset any disappointments - my low expectations were not even met...
One of the 'star' guests admitted to me that he'd had more people ask him who he was than requests for signed books or sketches; Arthur Suydam (the Zombie King and for me man behind the brilliant 70s strip Cholly & Flytrap) was telling me how he's still a student even after all these years and showed me all the sketches he'd been doing in between the lack in interest most of the attendees had for his (or anyone else's) stuff. While another of the guests made me wonder who he'd slept with the actually get a job in comics, because with one exception his stuff was rank amateur; this was a guy who would have benefited with practising a little as well...
Don't get me wrong. On the journey back, Christian and I were disappointed by the turnout and the lack of fiscal reward, but we also saw the enormous benefits from the networking and meeting and talking to people. We figured it was the best place to cut our 2014 convention teeth and make sure we don't repeat any of the mistakes we might have made. So, despite my curmudgeonly persona and (as a Spurs supporter) tendency to embrace doom and gloom, we saw enormous positives from the weekend; sadly it was despite the convention not because of it...
At the Close Encounters book launch, we struggled to sell any Zombies Can't Swim and despite it being a lovely, self-contained little book - cheap as well - we sold just one copy at the book launch. Zombre sold very well at the book launch, yet at Bristol, ZCS sold well and Zombre sold just one??? This was why we were discussing Borderline Press's reason for existing. I've always believed that even in the UK you have regional variations; when I wrote Movers & Shakers for years, I'd sometimes get feedback from, say, Scotland suggesting that what was hot in London or Northampton wasn't necessarily in Glasgow. This gave me the altruistic ideas, at the time, to try and build a retailers back issue network, where retailers could swap and/or sell their stock to other regions: if Edinburgh needs X-Men and Swindon needs Batman and both have a surplus of what the other needs ... It's not rocket science.
But, when one zombie themed book sells and the other doesn't and then the exact opposite happens 115 miles away, you have to seriously wonder if there are regional variations with more eclectic books.
What is Spoko?
Spoko means COOL. It is a Polish word that has been adopted by a lot of European countries, the same way as some idiots in this country still say 'cool beans' when agreeing with something.
The first issue of Spoko is called Birds. Therefore the first issue is really called... COOL BIRDS and a cool bird isn't an angry or flappy one...
Yes, I agree that people might look at Sebastian Skrobol's logo and think, "What the fu...?" But equally, knowing comics fans, they'll say, "What does Spoko mean?" And before you know it you have a dialogue going with a potential customer. I believe having an unusual name for something can sometimes generate more 'interest' than if I'd called it 'The Borderline Press Anthology Comic'.
Another book that was generating a lot of noise at Bristol was Jamie Lewis's Seth & Ghost - the inclusion of the Zombre story as a full colour free comic strip was, I believe a bit of a master stroke by moi, because it is vivid, very four-colour and was the thing that got us talking to the cosplay fans.
So what is our raison d'etre? Do we have a sentence that encapsulates Borderline Press to anyone still not fortunate enough to have heard of us?
I'd never thought about this as a sound-bite before. The website lists what we want to do and what I'd like to achieve, but the closest we've come to a catchphrase is 'quality over quantity' - which sounds like something from an expensive DIY retailer or a Heston Blumenthal restaurant.
Christian, my new assistant, was reading this monster opus from a US creator and could not get over just how brilliant and quick it was to draw him in. "Are we doing ### #######?"
"Dunno, it's through an agent and agents haven't got the same ethics we hope people will see we've got."
"That's a real shame, this is really good and deserves an audience."
"Then it will, even if it's with someone else."
Then why did we do some zombie books?
Because, having been out of comics for 10 years, the idea of producing a zombie anthology seemed to be a no-brainer. It was a no-brainer - the wrong way round...
So that's why I think Borderline Press needs a blunt and pithy mission statement.
My final observation from the weekend was thanks to a (I'm not being sexist, Ben) gorgeous young (blonde and attractive, in case she's reading this) lady who came back to the table on Saturday afternoon and bought 566 Frames using the last £12.56 she had in her pocket. She had returned three times to look at it and tentatively talk to the dull looking middle-aged men trying to sell them. I finally realised that she wanted the book but didn't have the cash, so did a deal with her.
"I'd love to buy this [Hunger House] and this [ZCS] because it's clear that you're a female-friendly publisher." And, do you know, I could have taken £12.56 all weekend and that would have pleased me more than being given the opportunity to have no-questions-asked-sweaty-sex with Karen Gillen (which, incidentally, I haven't ever had the opportunity... yet).
We are, essentially, a female friendly publisher! We publish women and we mainly want to publish books that will appeal to women as much as they will for men.
Verity Fair is created by a man, but is all about women. Seamonster is very much the kind of thing women would be happy to have on their book shelves. And, do you know something, I don't think this fact hinders us at all. You could say that I'm alienating my own gender, to this I say, you can't alienate quality and if they can't see that they can stick with their superheroes a spandex.
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Borderline Press Blog #12 - Bold and Brave
Good news, bad news, crappy news, illness and let-downs. More incompetence from financial institutions and the belief that there will be real money to be made from sea shipping in 100 years or so, because there is now and it's supposedly more economical (for the customer) than airfreighting.
We got a book we wanted but didn't think we'd get so didn't bother approaching the creator... Yeah, that doesn't make sense much.
How about this then: "Hi, I understand you're publishing my comic, I'd like to ask you a few questions..."
That was essentially how Borderline Press snagged the lovely Zombies Can't Swim by Kim Herbst. It seems that dear old Dennis Wojda in his pursuit of great things for us to publish had done all the groundwork but forgotten, in all the 566 Frames work, to mention it. So Kim was sitting there in San Francisco thinking, "Where are these guys if they want to publish my book?" She finally decided to contact me and boy was I pleased...
ZCS is basically Borderline Press's first foray into (almost) comic publishing and yes, it's about zombies and no it isn't my intention to turn Borderline into the zombie publishing company - although if you saw the team on the Sunday of Thought Bubble that thought wouldn't have been too far from your wee brains. ZCS should be out in about a month.
Hunger House is at the printer. It's Chinese New Year so nothing will be done in the next week anyhow. City of Crocodiles is in production. I have all the files, I just need to redo 7 pages in English and that will go off and we'll see how well 1010 in Hong Kong do.
And then, before you know it, we'll have five - FIVE - books on sale! Then six because Beasts is just about to hit deadline.
Some things have disappeared off the schedule. I had to write my very first rejection letter, followed swiftly by another. And the bad news is that because of delays, everything is a couple of months behind and will probably stay that way now I've dropped two titles from 2014's schedule. The decision to not pursue these books was taken strictly on a creative and economic basis.
Because everything is behind, both the Nathan Castle and Terry Wiley books are going to have to be summer releases now instead of spring, these need to be out in June/July, especially as we will have as many as five books coming out in September/October. I've also had to push Ladies & Gentlemen back to 2015, but the guys are actually slightly relieved about that!
The really bad news was that part of this was because I was slightly mislead by the printer about unusual sized books. Told 'we're talking about a hundred quid or so', it turned out to be a thousand or two or so and with two 'odd shaped' books scheduled and more costs involved, everything got shunted. For me the worst part is that I had a lot of plans to do some funky shaped things - square books, pocket books, etc - and they are just not viable at the moment.
There have been a couple of examples about how complete unknowns or wannabes have attempted to hold us to ransom - and yeah, I know that sounds a tad melodramatic. Most recently, an artist who was supposedly drawing a 16-page strip for Beasts told us with a week to go before deadline that if we didn't pay him $1500, he wouldn't draw it... I sometimes forget I'm not an editor any more, because the first thing that went through my head wasn't anger at this attempted virtual mugging, but 'how on earth is he going to turn in a decent job in 7 days if he hasn't even started it yet?'
I thanked him for his involvement. Consoled the writer and figured that the artist would probably be lucky if he ever gets another gig in comics again with that kind of ransom mentality. [If any other publishers or editors would like to know who this artist is I'd be happy to share the info with you, because you don't want to be working with this clown in the future.] It's a real shame, but as publisher, I see it as a way of cutting costs and maintaining quality.
And just as I started to write this, I did a deal with Paul Eke at Amazing Fantasy in Hull to stock Borderline Press books for a limited period to see how they do. So another shop can be added to our affiliates!
Ben Dickson has been telling the world about Santa Claus versus the Nazis - which will go to the printer in July - and quite rightly so, as I believe this could be a breakout hit for us all.
And the January Sale finishes at the end of the month, so if you want any discounted bundles of joy then get over to www.borderline-press.com/shop NOW!
Next time - more exciting news!
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Borderline Press Blog #11 - Time to Get Wise
If you'd said to me ten months ago I would be back in comics, I think I would have thought you quite mad.
One of the important things about running a business is being able to separate it from your life and for far too long, especially during the late 1980s and 1990s, work was my life; comics and everything related was my world.
Now I have a sign stuck to my year planner, it reads: Forget the 'business', just concentrate on the business.
In 2001, when Borderline Magazine was at its height, I began to upset people because I pretty much didn't have time for all of the prattling about. A person who has praised comics for being one of the most gregarious of occupations to be involved in had become a misanthropic old git. I even considered slipping into the background and never showing my head above the pulpit again, but one of my old friends said, "It's a tiny, tiny, part of British comics. For every twat like that you 'upset' there are 20 people who wouldn't know you from a hole in the ground and frankly don't give a shit."
We do get bogged down in individualistic 'obsessions' and we think mole hills are really mountains and if you can't develop a sense of scale then the only route is madness.
I still upset people, but I don't panic - it's not worth it. But, I tend to upset people who deserve it - I will not suffer fools or fuckwits, especially if it is to the detriment of my clients and my books (and I will suffer them for exactly the same reason).
Sales, especially on Zombre, have been far better than we can expect with little or no PR machine and even less retail penetration. In fact, once we get our act together and we start producing more titles, I'm inclined to think we have a fighting chance of making this work - it seems, for all my faults, my name is synonymous with 'quality' (heh).
2014 is going to be an interesting year. It's going to start late. There won't be any new books out in January and the only way February will see a new title is if we get something black and white that has so far eluded us and is ready to print. But March, April and May will see a lot of money go out and a lot more product on the shelves. By this time next year, I hope to be talking to you about the dozen books we have out and the new ones we have planned for 2015... and 2016...
You've had an idea what to expect in 2014 - well, you would have if you'd been paying attention - and it feels odd thinking about 2015, but it's only just a year and a bit away. I would like to think 2015 could be a year featuring pirates, some fantasy, some horror and humour... even more perfectly formed European gems and 2015 is also going to be the year of... The Rift...
Yes, we're doing a comic about a valley in Africa! It'll be The Lion King meets Friends; Madagascar versus Iron Man... Megasharkosaur versus Quantum Pig... it... won't be that at all. What it is is top secret and the people who know about it already have silent assassins watching their every move, listening to every thing they say, reading everything they write...
We're planning to do something awesome!
So, I need to get back to the final edits of Hunger House, check the print PDF for City of Crocodiles, lurk in the background while Will polishes his Beasts. I also need to plan for a busy January and February; it's not easy trying to please you all and not involve sex or drugs!
Have a fabulous 2014 and remember us when you get your wallets out!
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Borderline Press Blog #10 - Sealed With A ...
SWALC IX - a fantastically-realised 'after con' con was extremely enjoyable, allowed the Zombre 'team' to meet more of its creators and we helped our profile yet again. Si Spencer's little gig is a big day out and you should try and get down for the next one - and it's free!
We're in a bit of a transitional period. I'm editing Hunger House while waiting on print-ready PDFs for our other forthcoming release City of Crocodiles; Will is getting excited about Beasts and that isn't due until May and I have been toying with some ideas with Borderline Press's enigmatic and anonymous benefactor... But, the current period of creative inactivity (all I seem to be doing is going to the post office, which in itself is a great thing, but now there's two books out there, I want more!) has got me thinking about the future and what else I want to do.
Spoko is a Polish word that, I believe, has become a commonly used bit of slang in many other European countries: it essentially means 'cool' and it is also the 'working' title of my latest idea. My dear old friend, Martin Shipp (who I have been rather horrid to recently) said many months ago that I don't want to be labelled 'the bloke wot does Polish comics' because, if you'll excuse the pun, it's likely to get us ghettoised, especially in the eyes of the rest of the comics world. The irony is I'm more likely to be called 'the bloke wot does Swedish comics', but I think we've touched on this before. The point is there is so much utterly brilliant stuff in Europe that I don't care if I get labelled as 'the bloke wot does European stuff', in fact, that would be ... Spoko.
Then at Thought Bubble, both Will and I had similar thoughts - what about a comic?
Now, neither get excited or underwhelmed; being a publisher now means that production costs are all important and I'm getting wildly different quotes for the idea I have and that makes the logistics slightly more important. If I got the thing printed in Hong Kong then everything would have a minimum of 10 weeks and those 2½ months are pretty important because I'd be producing #3 and #4 before I'd even see a copy of #1. It then might be a phenomenal flop, meaning I'd have a commitment to do at least four issues without knowing how it would be received. The problem is, if I took the printing to the UK the costs would double; I'd have a four week lead in and could pull the plug by #3... But...
Why am I thinking so negatively?
Actually, I'm not. It might seem that way, but you're getting a small insight into what goes on in my head when I haven't completely decided what I'm going to do next. Essentially with a limited budget I can't afford to take that many risks. As a publisher I have to think about the consequences of something being a massive failure almost more than if it's a massive success. It's being practical and it's allowing me the freedom to supply you guys with the best we can and enough of it. I'd hate for this project to fall on its face because we took too many risks and that's because we have some pretty awesome stuff planned a year down the line and I want you to see that; if I don't plan properly it won't happen.
Costs are all important. I need to be able to afford to do at least four issues of a comic; make enough money to cover Borderline Press's costs and then make enough money to pay everyone from the profits, and we're talking considerably tighter margins with a much smaller cover price.
Now, just to over-complicate things... A lot of the stuff that I envisage 'Spoko' having is extant - it exists already, it's just never been seen by a wider or British audience. This makes the production costs far more workable; the problem is one of the 'ideas' my benefactor and I talked about was a 'long-term project' or the plan to produce our own stories; which then means the dreaded 'work for hire' scenario, the one that a small guy like me is scared stiff of (for reasons we'll come to).
We would like to do an ongoing series - whether as a comic book or a series of graphic novels. We also have ideas for producing graphic novels using our own ideas (or those in the public domain). These ideas would not necessarily involve us (me, the benefactor or Will) in the creation process. However, employing people is expensive, unless there's a way round it and I think I can do that as long as I can manage some peoples expectations...
The major expectation is indeed that thorny issue - work-for-hire - and discussions about it, I expect, will rage on for a long time, in many different places and not just about comics creators, but musicians, scientists or anything else that requires someone to do something for you that is either speculative or others do not have complete faith in.
I have always been up front with creators about what Borderline Press's 'deal' is. It's simple; we pay for the production, we promote and sell it - it is my interests to sell it, so I will work harder than some self-publishers because this is my job and not an after-work hobby. If that appeals to the owner of a comic or graphic novel, we then work out a % deal to split the profits after costs are covered; a creator's share of the profits is more than we take.
I have said all along that because we don't have the budget to pay creators up front then we will be as transparent about the process as is humanly possible. All Zombre contributors have been promised a percentage of the net profits from the books and once the book has sold enough to cover its costs, then at three incremental points after that I'll be writing cheques out! The creators all knew the score when we approached them and they also know that they retained copyright of their respective stories, can re-use them again (down the line) and I will keep them informed on the 'state of play' at any given moment. The plan is to eventually have, especially for the anthologies, an on-line database that is accessible by contributors only, so they can see how the book they're involved in is selling, etc.
The other good thing about doing this kind of deal with creators is you get 20 extra PR people, because they all have a vested interest in selling the book they're involved in. I think there's a model there that works for all involved. Admittedly, profits are sometimes not going to be realised; but even I make mistakes - not everything everyone brings out is as good as the faith shown in it by publishers.
And there's the rub. There's the issue I'm hovering over. Small publishers are not big publishers. That is an obvious statement; an almost stupid one, but the thing is small publishers are filed in the same category as big publishers, especially by inexperienced creators (what experienced creators think of small publishers is a subject for another day).
In an earlier blog, I talked about the issue of work for hire and people being asked to do work for nothing. There was a lot of confusion surrounding this subject and a lot of heated arguments between the industry's 'small guys' and most of the arguments could have been avoided if semantics had played a part.
It usually starts with a creator, (or a musician) or someone creative being asked to do some work for a company and it usually ends up with the company suggesting the work is done for free for a number of reasons ranging from not having the budget to viewing the work you do for nothing as an advertisement for your skills and sometimes the work is actually done before the commissioner informs the artist of this 'change' in the deal. I'm not suggesting for a second that small publishers try this as often as conglomerates; but I do think every businessman in the world will try and get something for nothing. But... This is comics, this is not the domain of the 'get-rich-quick' chancer; people come into comics because they want to, not to become rich.
The realist in me says, we're all here to be ripped off, if it happens to you, learn from it, don't let it happen again, tell your community who ripped you off, but don't expect the next guy to be the same as the last. If someone is offering you work ask what they are paying; if they aren't paying anything but 'exposure' then tell them to fornicate themselves into death; but if they're offering something that might not be realised for a while, at least look at the offer. Some of Hollywood's biggest stars didn't get mega-rich from just starring in films, many of them got rich from taking a % of a film's profits...
What about small publishing houses like my own Borderline Press? I'm not big. I have a budget and with that budget I have to produce enough books and generate sales to be able to produce more books and all the time trying to run it as a proper business. I'm already taking a huge risk, so if I spend £X,000 on printing, publishing and promoting a book I'm already showing my faith in a project. It amazes me when you offer this to creators and they also want you to pay them for something that already exists, they want to retain copyright and have the lion's share of the royalties. Isn't doing all the things they couldn't be bothered to do themselves not faith enough? Isn't business about two (or more) entities working together for the benefit of both?
However, our intention is to publish other peoples stuff that already exists in one format or another, so 'back-end' deals tend to be much easier to negotiate. In most creators' eyes it's an unexpected bonus to be published in another country and if they're European being published in English is pretty much as cool as being printed in French.
Zombre is an exception to the usual rules, because it is a profit share book with all individuals retaining copyrights: I actually think this could very much be the way forward for small press publishing; especially if the small press creators can be as flexible with their terms and expectations as big publishers often are with big names. The problems arise when you start to apply what I was talking about above - producing comics with a Borderline Press copyright - and not having a budget to pay people who do the work for you.
There isn't an argument, really. It is everything, on face value, that I agree is wrong about people getting conned into working, potentially, for nothing. How can I agree 100% that people should not do work for big publishers for the 'exposure' alone, when I'm sort edging this blog towards that idea myself?
Borderline Press wants to create lines of titles or stories (and retain the majority of the rights) yet wants people to write and draw them, be edited and get paid x number of months down the line, if and when they sell out?
I wouldn't buy into that...
Well, not at face value. It depends what is being offered down the line and whether I think the gamble is worth it.
So how would I pay people if I can't pay them up front, but I want a quality product? Plus I would like professional contributors who understand deadlines. I really am not asking for much...
Everything ends up being a 'back-end' deal with me and if you don't know what one of those is, it is simply you get paid at the back end of the deal or when you reach a point where the book has stopped selling or has sold out and then the profits are divided as agreed prior to the release.
However, when I first started this business I did a deal with a friend of mine on her book proving that I can be flexible. I am 'creatively involved' in a project we're bringing out next year, I also 'own' the company, so I'd get Borderline Press's % plus 50% of the remainder of the profit. As co-copyright holder, I chose to offer my artistic partner most of my profit on the initial print run. The company will still get its share and I am the company... Do I need to explain this further?
And that seems to be a good starting point for what I'm proposing. I'm looking at producing four 64-page prestige format 'comics' which would feature some of the absolutely stunning short-form European stuff that has utterly blown my team and I away and also feature some newly originated stuff - four stories that might introduce you to the future of Borderline Press. These 'comics' would be quarterly and be produced across 2014 and ¾ of the content will already exist; there will be a straightforward profit deal put in place which will essentially reap rewards for the contributors if the 'comics' go into 2nd or 3rd printings. So far so standard.
The artist/writer on the new stuff would be offered the company's % of the net profits - similar to the deal mentioned above. Borderline Press would take its standard % but would forfeit the rest despite retaining copyright.
Of course, there is always the 15% deal. The writer/artist gets nothing up front, but is given a 15% stake in the character's copyright and would also be entitled to 15% of the book's eventual profits and then any future profits from any potential revenue source. This is the kind of thing that producers and major stars would take on films with small budgets but high hopes.
I would be interested in feedback, especially from creators who have either never done this kind of thing before or ones that have and what experiences have they got - good or bad.
I do know that professional writer Si Spencer (mentioned above) bought into our determination and openness and I really hope that Zombre is the huge success it deserves to be, so he can be paid along with every other contributor on the book, to prove that our back-end deals are worth the paper they're printed on and give others incentive enough to take the deal. Three weeks after release and I'm as happy as I expected, perhaps a touch more.
Borderline Press has a proper reason for existence: I actually just want what's best for everyone.
Live with it.
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