Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Borderline Press Blog #34: The Future is Coming - But My End is Nigh

Before I even reached double digits I'd been exposed to the wonderful world of comics. I was about 5 when I first noticed some of my brother's lurid four colour pamphlets. My first real personal interest started in 1969 when I discovered British comic 'annuals' and then in June 1970, aged 8, I discovered Cor, ironically the comic where my one-time employer, mentor and (in his head) nemesis Dez Skinn started his own comics career - some tenuous synchronicity there if ever I saw some.

It seems odd, especially given how slow time tends to move when you haven't got much experience of life, that it was over two years before I was to rediscover the illuminating world of American comics. It was late November 1972 and our local newsagent, Forbuoys, run by a dour Scottish chap called Gordon Dow (who employed my mum in the shop and later became her insurance man - and that isn't a euphemism) took a gamble and decided to stock some different types of comics, as opposed to your usual Beano, Dandy, Beezer, Topper and Bunty. He stocked the new Mighty World of Marvel comic and also some American comics by a company called DC.

The first 'US' comic I ever bought was actually British, the aforementioned Mighty World of Marvel #6 (finding #1-5 proved to be considerably more difficult than I would ever have believed) and the following week when I returned to buy #7 I spotted something staring back at me from the spinner rack. It was an American comic called Swamp Thing #1, drawn by Berni Wrightson and written by Len Wein. I had no idea who these guys were, all I knew is their comic was the most outrageously unbelievable thing I'd ever laid my eyes on; and in that moment my life was changed inexorably.

Me in comics has been well chronicled. Yes, there's a rambling, poorly-edited mess, on this blog and in a Kindle, which tries to be educational, emotional and honest and probably only really works if you know me and can put the way I talk to the way it was written (and serialised). I liked some of it, but probably from a cathartic perspective rather than anything else. By the time I sat down to write that comics autobiography, initially in 2005, I never thought for a second that I'd end up back in comics, again, within 10 years, despite pretty much forecasting it by having an entire chapter on why I keep getting drawn back to comics despite it never having been particularly kind to me, even when I probably, on balance, believe I deserved it to be.

What A Life in Comics doesn't much do is admit to my having become an incredibly egocentric individual; someone who for long periods of time believed I was actually the centre of some comics world where my name, my opinion and my words were important. There wasn't really ever a point in my comics career where I was overtly important; covertly most definitely, but by virtue of the term 'covertly' people had to take my word for it. I did little ego promotional stuff until I worked for Skinn and then any ego I might have harboured was beaten frequently to the point where it hid and only the lure of money helped it reappear.

My 'day' in the sun was between 2001 and 2003 when, briefly, Borderline Magazine proved that as an organiser, producer and 'print' manager I was okay - punching above my weight. The problem was Borderline came along without any financial support which meant for it to be a success, in a far more naive time, I needed to work harder, be even more innovative and not rest on my laurels. The 'success' of my internet comics magazine woke up my ego and it was ignited by the chutzpah I'd absorbed via osmosis from Skinn. However the reality was simple, it might have been great, it might have been read by hundreds of thousands of people, but it was too far ahead of the game to make any money. Try to run a PDF internet delivered comics magazine like a print magazine highlighted the limits of my innovation - I developed a great idea but had no real idea how to market it; to make it work. In a world where internet start ups were now selling for millions, I was being shafted by desperate men who saw the potential in my project and saw we weren't exploiting it. Sadly for everyone involved, the desperate men had run out of money and goodwill by that time; no one inside the Borderline Magazine team saw it as something that was almost brilliant; we saw it as yet another kick in the teeth.

Working for Dez Skinn gave me a kind of siege mentality that has always been difficult to lose. Skinn made every day feel like us against the rest of them, especially given the bizarre way comics have always worked, the strange relationships that wouldn't or don't exist in other forms of retail, such as the comics companies' lack of promotional budgets or the expectancy that fans and fan websites/fanzines etc do the bulk of the promotional work, because, after all, comics has only ever sold to comics fans - it's all about preaching to the converted, etc. So when things didn't go even remotely close to the plan, it was like the world was against us - against me.

I pretty much knew after a year of relentlessly producing Borderline Magazine that it was destined to fail, but we persevered at a time when most, if not all, of the people who worked on it deserved to be paid for their efforts and contributions and we could barely scrape together £100 to pay for all the web hosting costs. There might have been ways to make it work, to make it pay, I simply wasn't clued up enough nor did I know the right people to steer us in the right direction. Remarkably (or perhaps not) despite the amount of people who saw it, no one else came along and said, "You should be doing this..."

By the end of it, I simply had had enough of comics. If I never saw another comic again it would be too soon. Yet within a couple of years, there I was, writing a column for a new website and only because they let me tell it straight. I think I wrote some of my best columns for The Comics Village, but it didn't take me long to realise that my few years away from comics was longer in technological advancement time than I could have anticipated, plus I hadn't actually read more than a handful of comics since 1999, so I was increasingly out-of-touch and lacking in product knowledge.

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.

And then shit happened...

I like to kid myself that I meant something, so when I took the (personally) ridiculous decision to start a comics publishing company up, I really believed, despite having been gone from comics for 10 years, that everyone would remember me and remember that I was pretty good at spotting a hit and I knew a good thing when I saw it - Movers & Shakers was popular in many ways for this simple fact. I believed I surrounded myself with the right people; made the right choices, did the right research and had the right person to back me. I had actually spent a couple of months trying to dissuade my business partner away from this venture, but in the end the lure of money, especially in a 'job' I knew well and the opportunity arriving just as I was being shafted by another employer embracing the Herr George Osborne school of slash and burn economic politics like their existence depended on it, proved too much and here I was, back in the world of comics - never say never say never again.

I could quite easily spend 50,000 words talking about events from early May 2013 to the meeting with my business partner in August 2015 - some of which are considerably more exciting and humorous than anything I wrote in the book - and maybe one day I will, but at the moment we're heading, as quickly as we  can, to the here and now and the exit sign.

The now is October 31, 2015. Borderline Press hasn't had a book out for a year and the official, and true, line is we're on hiatus. The hiatus was a mixture of enforcement and planned consequences. My partner, who has invested a sizeable quantity of money to both produce our back catalogue and help me keep my head just above the surface of despair, quite rightly said we need to sell some of the books before he would commit to any more investment - he didn't want to throw good money after bad if that was how this idea was going to pan out. We had a distribution deal in place; we were no longer thought of as new boys or a here-today-gone-tomorrow publisher and slowly, but nowhere near enough, sales increased. The problem was that the money coming in wasn't being used for anything other than running the business and as the spring turned to summer it started to look really poor on my part that all those scheduled books were still unscheduled.

I had a bad year. One of the worst I can remember in my 53 years. I thought 2014 was poor and it couldn't possibly get worse but I'd swap 2014 for 2015 in the blink of an eye. I've spent best part of the last 9 months trying to find a decent job, something to help me rediscover my self-esteem and get a bit of positivity back into my life; but so far I've fallen short (and the prospects during a Tory government are always bleak). I've spent time in hospital, been diagnosed with depression, lost a loved one and watched the country vote for more misery and now it's the autumn and my least favourite time of the year...

So in August I opted to do something I've done throughout my life. I cut off my nose to spite my face, as my mum would have said. Faced with no life-raft from Texas and with no real way forward for the publishing company in its current situation, I told my partner I was resigning from the business and giving up my directorship at the end of October. There is no money to keep me afloat either way. He felt I was being rash, possibly throwing the baby out with the bathwater, that there was still a way forward and I agreed. There was still a way forward, it just doesn't involve me.

A few things need to be understood, if you so please. I have pretty much hated comics and most everything about them since 1999. Like Pavlov's dog, comics seemed to be a constant reminder and a painful one that this was where I'd put all my eggs and it was how I fed myself. What was intended to be my last foray into comics - at The Comics Village - ended up feeling like being in a mutually abusive relationship.

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.

As much as I hated comics, in 2001 I was still a gregarious and socially adept human being. The groundwork for Borderline Magazine was done, remarkably, mainly through a burst of enthusiasm I hadn't felt since that day when I found the Swamp Thing comic. In 2001 I was not as I am now. I'd argue that in 2015 I'm a considerably nicer and compassionate human being than I've ever been, the problem is the last couple of years the last thing I've wanted to do is talk about something I don't really enjoy in a fake way.

I discovered very quickly upon my return to comics that 10 years is a very long time when you're not part of something. Had I never left comics I might have been better prepared; had I shown more than just a passing interest in technology since 2003, I might have been better prepared. Had I not forgotten how to pretend to be a nice, approachable human being, I might have made a better impression. I've had more than enough time to sit and dissect all the things I probably did wrong or could have done differently.

Promotional events should have been the pinnacle of our push for an identity, but the first was so badly organised - by both the organisers and us - that our big splash barely caused a ripple and this probably would have set a tone had I not gone there with such a miserable, pessimistic and blindly optimistic head on... I know, that contradicts itself, but the thing was I took 500 copies each of 566 Frames and Zombre expecting to shift most of them; but I went with fear, trepidation and the feeling that it also would all go wrong - it did. This made me miserable before it happened and despite the venue and my never having been at the table for more than half an hour, I still felt like it was a massive blow and with hindsight probably down to me.

I went there thinking we were a professional new publishing house and there were unemployed geeks with comics I wouldn't touch with a bargepole in displays that made ours look very 1980s. Our gimmicks weren't even gimmicks and while I still believe had we been in a prominent place it might have been different, it was Thought Bubble 2013 that imprinted on me so much it was like a dial had been switched back to 1999. From that point on, subconsciously, I think I felt we were on a hiding to nothing and the shows in 2014 were so poor that by the end of the year I realised that we needed to do something else.

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.

I could probably come up with excuses for why we struggled at every convention, but the truth was with just one exception, when I wasn't there we took more money and generated more interest. It wasn't that I was just miserable and under enormous pressure at these events, I didn't actually like being there and that probably showed in my body language and inability to smile. There were very few people I could have a conversation with about something I was interested in and if people tried to engage me about comics I had to admit to being out of touch or I would have just come across as ignorant.

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.

So, you need to know that even if I'm moving towards the exit sign, the publishing company - actually a good thing with some superb books - is going to continue and it will probably be more successful without me. My (now former) partner and the distributor Fanfare have discussed a way forward; I've agreed to do some freelance stuff and identify possible future projects until someone else can do the jobs no one else here can at the moment. I've identified two possible projects on verbal commitments which I hope will come out in early 2016 and without me being a drain on resources then it will all probably start to make money for the people involved.

Don't expect a massive output. Many publishers of Borderline's ilk release things as and when and that is the new model for this publisher - the same quality, but even less frequent.

A couple of things will happen between now and next week. This comics blog will effectively close down and I'll hand control of the @BorderlineEU Twitter account and Facebook page over. What Borderline Press does from that point is up to a man called Adrian, but expect a much slicker and professional approach now that real businessmen are handling things.

I'm going to tentatively say that that's me done. Obviously I have form where this is concerned...

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.

Thanks to every one that helped me through these tumultuous two years, special thanks to Will and Glenn and honorary mentions to Shipp, Mark, Dennis and Knut.

Stay safe and be nice to people.

Phil Hall 31-10-15

Monday, 8 June 2015

Borderline Press Blog #33 - What 'Hiatus' Means.

Just a quickie as it appears that my last blog alerted people to the fact that Borderline Press has ceased to exist, which is clearly not correct. The publisher who produced Paul Rainey's latest opus didn't produce anything for nearly two years, but I suppose because Paul Gravett didn't tell people he was taking a 'no cash in the bank' break no one presumed he'd packed up.

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.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Borderline Press Blog #32 - Hiatus

Because of distributor cock-ups, health issues and a bunch of general problems, Borderline Press is officially on hiatus for the foreseeable future.

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.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Borderline Press Blog #31 - Sod's Law

"We've had our fair share of setbacks," was a nice line aimed at me from Ben (Santa Claus) Dickson - who I'm glad to say thinks of himself as part of our little publishing family - and frankly I'm pretty amazed we're still here at times.

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.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Borderline Press Blog #30 Brief Update

Down time continues. It might not have been so quiet if Diamond had remembered to list Fanfare books in February. It's great when an unreliable group of people are pretty much responsible for the success or failure of small businesses. I'm betting someone, somewhere, in their hierachy gets massively priapic a lot of times...

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.

More soon.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Borderline Press Blog #29: Limbo Dancing on Ice

This time last year, Will and I were hard at work getting a new anthology title ready and sending print files off to China for the first time. The difference between last year and now is simple; there's nothing on the schedules for the next few months. I'm doing very little.

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.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Borderline Press Blog #28: Festival

You could argue that the phrase 'Christmas Bonus' applies not just to people who get a little something extra in their festive wage packets, but anyone with some kind of vested economic interest. Christmas is often the time of year when people selling all kinds of shit make a killing because of our propensity for buying anything that's put in front of us if it will fill a present hole.

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.
We're also going to be giving away the electronic versions of any book you buy. Because of changes in the tax laws and, more importantly, because I think it's important - in the New Year, if you buy a book you get the download free. The downside of this is we will no longer be able to sell e-books outside of the UK without being liable for VAT.

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.

Peace.