Sunday, 29 December 2013

Borderline Press Blog #11 - Time to Get Wise

What a year!

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!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Borderline Press Blog #10 - Sealed With A ...

Convention Season is now over and it's been replaced by Christmas - an important time for Borderline Press, but, if I'm realistic, it'll be far more important next year when we have more product available. But we made an impression and next year, hopefully, we'll make a splash!

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.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Borderline Press Blog #9 - Welcome to the World

Walking through the main display hall at Thought Bubble on Saturday afternoon, on a bit of a downer, I saw a face from my past and made a bee-line to him (a straight line would have been quicker but I had to dodge out of the way of a packed hall full of people in costumes).

The last time I'd seen Marc Laming in the flesh was about 12 years ago, in an Indian restaurant with my wife and Martin Shipp discussing Borderline Magazine. Marc was just on the verge of a big professional comics career with DC, Image and others, but was a very useful 'consultant' in those early days. I respect Marc's words and frankly we haven't seen enough of each other (and continued that trend later that evening). The first words, before we even shook hands, out of his mouth were, "Why the f**k did you do it?"


Marc looked at me and shook his head, shook my hand and said, "What good did you seriously think being interviewed by that **** was going to achieve." I breathed an almost visible and probably audible sigh of relief - he was not questioning my decision to go into publishing, he was berating me for the interview with Richard Johnston over on Bleeding Cool.

Rewind a couple of weeks and my editorial team's unanimous prediction - Hatchet Job - of what the BC interview would mainly entail. It is known, among some people, that I have as much a chequered past as I have a critically successful one and while I covered most of my experiences both noble and ignoble in this actual blog, there were moments I chose or didn't deem worthy of talking about (or weren't really that relevant). RJ had one of these moments and smiled gleefully while wringing his hands with delight that he had examples to use.

I knew that the interview would have some focus on me, I had hoped that after over 20 years in the industry Johnston would have learned something about being a journalist, but he probably worships at the idol of Murdock and prays he can hack some peoples' phones or talk about Miley Cyrus upskirt shots with all the other grubby insects that think they're doing the world a service. So, despite my best efforts to say this was not about me but about the great stuff Borderline Press has lined up; he kept trying to ask whether the people I was working with were aware that I was a raging psychopath?

Actually, just to go some ways to showing you how affected I have been by this, thankfully, low-profile piece of arse-squeezings, the thing that annoyed me the most was Johnston suggesting that I had been hassling him to do the interview. This was right at the start and I was more than halfway through it and all I could think of was, "I wonder if he twists the truth to his wife and daughters?"

At the start of September, he sent me an email to a barely used address offering to interview me and promote the new venture. I replied and said, 'go for it' and he said, 'I'll prepare some questions and send them over tonight.'

October arrived and I looked in this almost defunct email account and saw that RJ had not replied that evening, nor had he got in touch at all. I sent him a cheeky little email, more of a joke than a prompt, saying, 'Tonight, eh?' and left it at that. He promised some questions, they never turned up and then when 566 Frames came out, me and t'team were discussing PR moves and Danny suggested doing an interview with me to put up on the site - it wasn't going to attract more people but it put more up there to look at when people did go there. One thing led to another and Danny offered Bleeding Cool the interview and Johnston decided that now was a good time to get his cleaver out and start wielding it like a twat.

In fact, most of the bits in between my bits were written after the event - his comments, his reactions. The interview does at least spend about 30% of the time talking about Borderline Press, which I hoped was the news story and has been the news story just about everywhere else it has been.

Laming was disappointed with me that I should even give the man 'houseroom' because we all know that while he does have integrity when it suits him, he's actually just a very pernicious and bitter man who has failed to be a success at what he wanted to be and has forged an infamy that he will always be remembered and scorned for. It would be nice to think that his website could give some exposure to the great books we're bringing out - do its proper job - but as he still doesn't employ an editor to ensure there are no typos and grammatical errors what hope that he will actually do something worthy.

Moving on...

As you all know Zombre arrived in time for Thought Bubble. We also arrived with plenty of time for Thought Bubble. Will got there on Friday night, my brother Ron - helping us out - was there at 8am and I turned up a little after 8.30 having already been up for 3 hours and already feeling like the day was too long. We found the Allied London Hall, the late addition to the Thought Bubble arenas and very much a ... work in progress.

I was feeling cold and curmudgeonly and Will ordered me to go away and leave him to it and I duly obliged. I came back later, just before the event opened properly and we looked like a bunch of blokes who didn't want to be there and were less than impressed with our cold and decidedly dull surroundings. By noon and without seeing barely a punter pass our table, I went to the pub. It was in the pub that I updated the Facebook page and sat with a pint wondering why none of the literally thousands of people crammed into the two main halls were not even aware we were there in the third hall. I was feeling a little less than enamoured with the organisers when, less than halfway through my pint and obviously doing something on my laptop, a young helper came along and apologised profusely to me but asked me to move as they were going to do some portfolio reviews. The bar was packed and there were no more seats to go to, so I politely said I'd move up into the corner and wouldn't bother anyone, to which I got a slightly pleasing 'sorry, you'll have to move.', so I told her I'd move when I was ready and she stood five feet from me for the next seven minutes glaring at me until I decided that I felt unwelcome and went back to the table.

We'll breeze over the next few hours of which the encounter with Marc Laming was the highlight.

I spent some time talking to some of the Zombre creators, most of which were thoroughly brilliant people and by 5pm, I was tired, hungry and thoroughly miserable. If 200 people had come into the unfinished building site of a hall we were in we were lucky and we'd taken £45 all day. I got back to my hotel room and seriously wondered what the hell I was doing...

A lot of the weekend was irrelevant to Borderline Press and I'll talk about that in my own blog, but I should have gone to the Mid-Con party; I had my ticket and earlier in the day I'd made the decision to go along and try to schmooze a few people; I arranged to hook up with Marc Laming and ended up back in my hotel at 9pm. I felt bad about missing the party but I was shattered; ironically, I would not have been able to get in to the party because they had security problems and 200 people stood outside in freezing cold Leeds for over an hour before being told they couldn't come in. There was something of a shambolic pattern emerging about the entire event.

Day two arrived and I woke up feeling better and more positive about the day. It surely couldn't be any worse than the Saturday? Could it? My experience of cons in the 80s and 90s was that there was little money on a Sunday and less of it spent. I put on a brave face and feeling refreshed I approached the day, as Will did, with a braver face than we probably should have. By midday, we had taken £10 and the bar had run out of beer...

The dissenting voices from the dealers, traders and small press tables was growing all the time and at about 1pm while I was walking about, I saw a heated discussion between a couple of guys who were packing up their stock and one of the organisers, who was failing to pacify them. I heard from someone that the entire row or alley of tables had taken less than £100 between them (8 in a row) and it was like no one even knew they were there.

But for Borderline Press the tide was turning. In the space of an hour I did deals to get our books into 5 shops - OK Comics in Leeds and Travelling Man's four shops are all taking stock; a US small press distributor showed a great deal of interest and we're going to be talking; and something new and potentially exciting, also from the USA, came along, which I am going to be looking into getting involved in. Then people started to come over and buy the books...

I'm not going to suggest that we had a brilliant weekend in terms of takings. We probably just about broke even on the entire weekend and I did something, as a businessman I baulked at, but as someone trying to establish a business it was necessary. I gave away a few copies of the book to people I believed would help us, either through their own network of contacts, or simply because they like what they see. By 5pm, I was buzzing and kind of wished it could go on a bit longer. We'd done what we hoped to do on the Saturday and we started to become known - people came up and said they'd heard about us, some said they'd heard good things about us.

The surprising thing for some was that 566 Frames outsold Zombre, only marginally, but enough to make me feel bloody vindicated about publishing it. There have been some remarks made that perhaps Dennis's book was not the title to launch a company with; I think this time next year, 566 Frames could be up for an award. It also sold predominantly to women!

All in all, I think it has to be called a successful weekend despite not because of the event. We have optimism going to SWALC next weekend; I am meeting with the new colour printer this week and I have a meeting with Close Encounters' manager about a Borderline Press local launch in Northampton and maybe one at their Bedford store too! I think it would have been nice if more people had seen our books because on the evidence of the last 4 hours of the convention we would have sold a lot more, but...

Both Will and I came away with the feeling that next year we need to have more tables, more stock, more merchandise and be in the main hall - if we can pull that off..?

Friday, 22 November 2013

Borderline Press Blog #8 - Zombies and the Bubble of Thought

Blimey, it's been a month!?!

Admittedly during that time illness pervaded Fortress Borderline and for nearly a week not a lot of anything happened and because that week got in the way, everything else got put back and as I said to someone the other day, 'You'd think this should be a doddle, but it isn't because a lot of it is down to the mercy of others.' That said, you could argue that it's a good job that you are at the mercy of others because if everything happened with the urgency you sometimes want it too then you'd be gasping for air and hoping you could make enough money to employ a helper.

Monday was an example of another kind of thing that makes days and weeks longer, but unlike idiots from financial institutions or imbeciles from mail companies which can seriously hack one off, getting a delivery of this little beauty is a distraction I can live with - there's nothing quite like this kind of delivery day!

Cover by Tom Box
Isn't it just a luscious looking thing? I said to the book's editor, Will Vigar, that I believe our cover artist, Tom Box, is going to be a big star. But, never judge a book by its appearance, despite the covers being things of beauty. That said, I'm pretty impressed with the interiors and I think for our first effort at this kind of thing, we pretty much rock.

Plus we're launching it proper like, at Thought Bubble in Leeds this weekend (23/24 November). It's not an 'official' Thought Bubble thing and we're not having dancing girls and bells, whistles and horns, but it will be on sale, there will be people signing copies, people in T-shirts, me, zombies and we hoped we would have some badges but that didn't happen and I thought we'd have some posters, but that didn't happen the way I expected. We will have Zombre and 566 Frames plus a bunch of funky T-shirts!

Come over, talk to us, it would be impolite not to.

The following Saturday (30th) we're at Si Spencer's SWALC for an informal London launch (plus, I get to have a stomp about in my family's manor, innit.) and there will be contributors at this as well, signing books and telling people how they came up with such wondrous stories.

We also launched a bunch of T-shirts last week, which can also be found in the on-line shop, these include Tom's front and back cover, pictures from Dennis's book and a few other general designs - these are the kind of stocking fillers your partner needs showing... It is almost Christmas, after all. I've been talking to a local supplier about all manner of different apparel, mugs, calendars and anything that can take a Borderline Press logo. I'm obviously also doing it all because you need it and it would be a disservice if I didn't bow to your eventual desires.

We're also getting close to deadlines on our next few projects. In fact, most of the projects that are coming up are all colour and hardbacks. I felt like raising the bar. But until then the work doesn't stop, it just shifts into a different gear.

I think that gear could be a lot of fun, in a most unexpected way.

Oh and enjoy Zombre, we did it for you.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Borderline Press Blog #7 - 566 x 2 - 132 ÷ Space & Time = WOW!!!

566 Frames is out. Dennis Wojda's wonderful story of his family through the years is now available and it's been a frantic week since it arrived.

I don't do things by halves. My planning (or lack of it) meant that Dennis's book was arriving just as I was putting the finishing touches to Zombre's InDesign document and sending it off to Stevenage for job #2.

Honestly, you would think that only bringing these two books out so far in 2013 would have been something of a stroll in the park, but no, I had to ensure that it happened at the same time, putting extra pressure on the team behind the zombie anthology. It did, however, make for some really exciting news releases - the kind that made us a proper publisher and not just someone saying we were going to be.

I met up with Will Vigar on an industrial estate on the south side of Northampton last Monday. he was on his way back from The Lakes Convention in Kendal, I was trying to stay awake after about 2 hours sleep the night before - up till 3am doing Zombre tweaks and then struggling to sleep at all because of the pallet of books scheduled to arrive at 10am. By the time I met Will, I had copies of 566 Frames in my possession and while the paper is slightly different from the Polish edition, just holding it had a calming effect.

Linus may have had his security blanket, but if the paying customers of Costa Coffee had paid any attention to Will and I hugging this handy sized blue graphic novel they probably would have thought we were a bit weird...

Obviously there's a Polish connection with 566 Frames, but the strange thing is Dennis was born in Stockholm, Sweden and if you read the book you will discover that and many other things. Now I mention this because a few months ago when we were discussing publishing the book, one of my 'associates' (not Will because I know he'll panic thinking you'll be thinking it was him) said, "Do you really want to be labelled the bloke who publishes Polish books?" I should quantify this by telling you that we were looking at another potential Polish graphic novel to publish at the time.

The Sweden connection with Dennis's book is obvious; the fact that we've just signed up The Hunger House, a Swedish haunted house story and I'm in discussion with Knut Larsson over his wonderful The City of Crocodiles suggests to me that perhaps I'm likely to get labelled 'that bloke who publishes Scandinavian stuff...' I wouldn't mind any label as long as it symbolises quality comics stories.

Some wag suggested Ben Dickson and Gavin Mitchell's Santa Claus versus the Nazis with its Lapland setting also fits into the Scandinavian theme, but, you know, that's stretching things a bit thin.

Things you should be looking at - this:

Obviously Dennis and I go back a few years, him having helped on Borderline and finding me lots of European talent to shine a light on. He's done that with our Swedish books and if you like them, it's his fault and if you like them (when they come out, obviously) and you've not been tempted by 566 Frames then shame on you; someone who has such good taste in comics is obviously a talented guy.

Dennis also makes me laugh (and English is only his 3rd or 4th language). A few weeks ago he sent me a genuinely lovely email that made me smile - "You need to employ some people to do all the jobs you forget," was essentially the gist of it. I like to think of Borderline Press being this fantastic publishing house, but the reality is it does operate out of my house and we do have a limited budget, which is really geared towards bringing out as many high quality books as we can; installing some faith and desire in punters and shops, who will buy the books, paying us and our creators and allowing us to produce more fantastic books. It's a simple idea, lets hope it's an effective one.

The irony is that I procrastinate. Instead of dealing with some things as and when they happen as the diagram of 'Getting Things Done' above my head tells me to do everyday, I put them off until there's so many that the only way to deal is to sit somewhere nice and quiet and work it out between us. My emails are a perfect example - there's about 566 to get through. So I'm going to stop this frivolity and go and do something more useful, instead...

Friday, 18 October 2013

Borderline Press Blog #6 - The Making of Zombre

The last few weeks have been tough on Team Borderline Press.

It's the first time Will Vigar's ever done anything like this and it's been 10 years for me and technology has rather overtaken my memory of it. Some people might question the sanity of this exercise; I mean the world has obviously moved on and left us old dinosaurs (combined age 100) with their Letraset, sticky tape and scissors. Yet, despite the teething troubles and near catastrophes, we do appear to be zeroing in on the 2nd completed Borderline Press book.

I forgot how stressful doing this kind of thing is and while he had many of his own moments, Will had to put up with me in a way that is difficult at best - through the medium of SMS. We gave up Skyping, it was probably for the best and the safety of the laptops.

I just refuse to even discuss this insult to my genius...
Will sent me this and never has a present been so apt as it was when it turned up today. It made me laugh and when you are doing something that you want to be brilliant, then you need moments that remind you to laugh.

To be fair, we've had moments where being a drama queen was probably an allowable reaction, especially when some of our contributors clearly forgot how rulers work. It is amazing that you can give people the exact measurements in millimetres, no less, and things turn up either too wide or not long enough. They did all manage 600dpi though, so it wasn't a numbers thing.

It was funny how it all came together so fast. One minute I was bemoaning about having to do it and it seemed like the next moment we were sending out 'test screen' versions. The reality is it's taken 16 days to this point and on Monday, but probably Tuesday it will get sent to Berforts' for proofing. It's turned itself around in doubt quick time and on the whole I think it's a stonking good package with so much diversity.

Everyone has seen the covers at some point, but how about like this?

That's probably the finished front and back covers (unless someone spots a massive mistake). Funky, huh? The general feedback on Tom Box's covers are that they will stand out on any comic shop rack and people will be drawn to that haunting image. I can't disagree, it's why I wanted them to be the book's front and back covers.

There are some real treats in store for you in Zombre. I have my own personal favourites and there are a couple of stories that just don't do it for me, but do it for others and as I've said all along if this was solely about what I like then I dread to think what I'd be eating in a few months... It is tough to get the right blend with an anthology and I'd like to think we've given it as good as it can get!

What about building the interior? Well, dropping 21 strips into a template isn't that difficult even if Adobe InDesign is just Pagemaker with bells and whistles and a completely arse about face way of doing things. I spend more time looking for things than I do actually working; 'Hmm, where have they hidden master pages?', 'I wonder where the short cut to embolden text is?', 'The re-designer of this application should be castrated with a very blunt spoon'...

The thing is, I started to get the hang of it and once I got the hang of it muscle memory came in and I started remembering stuff and most of the old shortcuts still work, some of them though go somewhere else entirely. That said, Zombre is just about close to being finished and both Will and I still can't quite believe that we've done it and I know that it's going to be at least a month before any of you see it and this could be construed as teasing.

I don't think that's teasing. This is teasing:
Tomas Kucerovsky and Tomáš Prokůpek
This is from an old friend of mine, Tomáš Prokůpek, from the Czech Republic, submitted for the next Borderline Press Anthology, Beasts. Apart from the utter sumptuousness of the art, you might notice something else about it.

It's going to be in colour!

If you could see the rest of this strip and I will tell you more about it next time, you would realise why Beasts has to be in colour. That might not be the only thing different about it, but enough for now.

The Hunger House gets closer. The contracts have been signed and the translation is under way; I hope to get this turned around very quickly; it's a book that many of you will love and, with a bit of luck, it's the kind of thing that might scare the life out of you - I could suggest it would make a perfect gift for a teenager or lover of a good spooky tale!

My main job over the next couple of days is to make some contact with a number of creators; some have offered us work, others have shown an interest in letting us work with them - there isn't anything that isn't of a seriously high quality and I have to shake myself because I just can't believe how some of this stuff has never been seen... Until now.

There's a graphic novel with no words that I described to Martin Shipp as 'Beryl Cook on acid' (Shipp is working with a renowned UK writer and a Hungarian artist on something for us next year); there was something that took my breath away with some peculiar looking creatures in it and ... but, I'd just be teasing you all again.

Friday the 19th might possibly end up being an unexpected day off!

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Borderline Press Blog #5

There is nothing more edifying than watching something great come together, and I know I'm bound to say that because I'm not likely to come on here and say, "Hey kids, the new Zombre book is a piece of shit and your £12.95 is going to be well wasted," am I? But the thing is, some of you said it couldn't be done. Several of you probably would have put money on it and to be fair, it still hasn't even been finished, let alone sent to the printer, so it might still go tits up.

But... You know... That ain't going to happen.

Zombre has been pretty stressful at times. Will Vigar spent days attempting to locate a hitman for me until he realised I was paying for the thing. I panicked over the 'finished' pages because the artists all showed zero acumen in the ruler department and some people suggested that we were going about it all the wrong way...

"Based on my experiences of Borderline version 2.0 so far, I have to confess I'm disappointed. And that makes me a little sad." Who said this is unimportant, what it conveys is all manner of things you could get annoyed about. The person who spoke these words had his story rejected because the artwork was poor and not to the standard that either I nor Will expected for Zombre. Also, his 'experience' to my knowledge was being told the specifics (deadline, specification, size limit) about the zombie book and being the only person to have a problem with it and seeing an advance copy of 566 Frames, which I have to presume he doesn't like because he never commented on it after page 110.

I get the impression that we're not doing the kind of books this person likes and he believes that because we're running our anthologies department like a proper publisher would that we'll end up with inferior quality products. Well, you know who has to pay for this thing? I have to look at a project and decide whether I want to spend a large amount of money on it and whether it will make me any money in the long run; I'm not going to treat that flippantly, am I? 

I appreciate sour grapes is going to play a big part in this (and the coming months); no one likes rejection, especially if they put a lot of work into something, but unlike small vanity publishers, I'm not just going to publish something because I have it in front of me and hope that the reader doesn't think, like me, that what he or she is looking at is a piece of shit.

Dez Skinn used to have this anal retentiveness in that if someone did something - some work - he'd try very hard to use it somewhere because it seemed a shame to waste it. He didn't like throwing anything away and often things that had been rejected got recycled somewhere else. I taught myself a long time ago that throwing things away is cathartic and that rejecting or criticising something is a positive and not a negative thing - if something simply isn't good enough, go away and do it until it is better.

This was pretty much the case this week with my oldest friend Colin. We did our first comic strip together 38 years ago and it got appraised (and praised) by one Neil Tennant, then at Marvel UK. He's been on hard times, Colin, not Tennant, and I thought the chance to draw a zombie strip would be beneficial for him and hey, if it sells out everyone will make some money. Colin threw himself at the opportunity, but as the weeks passed I said to my wife that I really didn't think he was looking as confident any more. On deadline day he phoned me and said what I'd pretty much guessed; but I also hadn't paginated for it; I was just happy to give him a chance; he should never have decided to write it as well as draw it.

The thing was, hooking up with him last night, he was quite clear, he bit off more than he could chew and despite most of it being finished, he could not bring himself to offer it because he simply felt it wasn't good enough. "It's shit, Phil, and I wasn't going to have to suffer you rejecting it, so I rejected it myself." 

Christ on a bike, that must have taken some balls?

Before we move on; I've seen this term bandied about a few times - Borderline 2.0 - and I can see people are dubbing it that, but it isn't really that at all. It has the same ethos as the magazine but this is a publishing company specialising in graphic novels. It is also called Borderline Press - that's both its trading and registered name; not Borderline, but Borderline Press. This isn't a relaunch or a re-branding; if anything it's the same brand doing something different.


Most of today has been spent filling envelopes with PR for 566 Frames and Zombre and that means sending everything to all the comic shops all over the United Kingdom. Obviously I'd like comic shops to stock our books, but the world of commerce changes daily and I expect that a lot of our business will, hopefully, be done through the web page because the more sales I get through that the better the profit for my creators.

The PR stuff has cost a lot of money and I have still to post 150 letters (that I believe are, ahem, borderline overweight, which means that the £84 postage charge is likely to be substantially more. Postage is the bastard that cripples everyone and if we have to suffer a privatisation, let's hope we get some proper competition and competitive and cheap prices!


We are in the process of finalising the rights to publish the UK edition of Loka Kanarp and Carl-Michael Edenborg's Hungerhuset (Hunger House) which is quite sublimely awesome and I think will rival 566 Frames as a breakout book for 2014.

I am also in advance stages of discussions with a French publisher to adapt one of their more successful graphic novels; a wonderful autobiographical tale about all kinds of things you'll look at think 'OMG, why would I want to read a book about that?' But it is a truly unique story, produced in a unmistakeable way and that's why I wanted it, because it just exudes quality.

I'm also talking to several creators and Will Vigar will edit a collection of some of the best short comics from Europe...

For those familiar with it, the BBC's Countryfile has a photo competition every year and around August you see John Craven, Chris Packham and Jo Brand oohing and aahing over some fantastic photographs; well the team and I have been experiencing something similar with some of the wonders of the East sent to us by Dennis Wojda, who is living up to his roving associate editor label! He is our European A&R man and a lot of the projects you'll see coming out in the next few years will be his fault! :-) 


I paid for 566 Frames last week and I expect a huge pallet of books to arrive around the 20th. By that time Zombre will be at the printer and I will have forked out another chunk of dosh before seeing any coming in - the coming three months are going to be interesting times.

Will is at The Lakes International Festival in Kendal later this month; he's essentially going to schmooze Mal Earl, but if you're there and see him go and say hi. We'll both be at Thought Bubble in November, hopefully selling some of our wares - but more about that as and when.

Have I mentioned the web pages should be live by the weekend and there should following on behind the facility to pre-order both 566 Frames (£15.95) or Zombre (£12.95) and ensure your copy within 48 hours of release!

Have a good week!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Borderline Press Blog #4 - Bank Rhymes with Wank for a Reason

A gay friend of mine thinks I give gay men a bad name. "My God, you are such a drama queen." He says and he's not wrong. I am. I flounce and get shirty. I even resort to really bitchy things - I suggested to someone that they were acting like Dez Skinn and frankly had I called them a c*nt I would have come off better... However, as I become more hysterical (I obviously need more orgasms) and ultra-flouncy, there is an underlying reason for it all...

Shit just got real.

When I started throwing business cards around with carefree abandon, I said, "It's all getting a bit real now." But it wasn't, really. The first convention seemed to focus it all - we were in this for real; nearly. But it wasn't, really. Now, with Dennis Wojda's 566 Frames at the printer and me starting to write BIG cheques out - it has taken on a entirely new 'realness'.

The thing is, I have actually at times been bordering on hysterical because I am surrounded by incompetence on a level that explodes frontal lobes and if it wasn't for the good team of people I have around me then I might have just said, "You know what? Stick your [delete as appropriate] bank account/e-commerce/on-line payments systems/Adobe design packages where the sun doesn't shine." There were actually other things in the last couple of weeks that have equally caused me to dance with apoplexy, but because shit happens so fast nowadays, I've clean forgotten what they were...

It really doesn't matter how hard one works to make things run smoothly there's going to be some officious twat just waiting around with his selection of spanners, ready to throw some at my carefully oiled machine. I thought all the hassle had passed once I'd got all the 'business' part out of the way, but that was me being unbelievably naive. Now it's a case of filling up things that are waiting to be filled: the web site's layout is done and I've seen it and all I have to do is write some stuff to go in it - this is actually the largest physical job left to do and as I've alluded to in the past, is likely to be one of those parts of this business that is a constant - as long as we have information for you to digest!

There is also the impending PR push...

I heard recently that there was a lot of talk about my new venture at a recent London event. The general feeling was I might be doing something good, but the question on everyone's lips was, "Why has he stayed so quiet?"

Have I? I suppose I have. but there's a reason for this and its simple economics. What is the point of me and Danny Black doing a focused PR drive when we haven't got anything to show for it. I'd feel like a politician if I was standing around promising people things that I might not be able to deliver. I'd rather release info about 566 Frames and Zombre when there's something for you to hold in your hands. And this kind of applies to corporate promotion as well; I'd rather have some product to back up any claims I might make rather than talking hypothetically.

Saying that, I have just been interviewed and that will appear somewhere I'm sure. We're slowly releasing images, cover shots and more info about the impending releases and hopefully we're teasing you enough for you to walk into a fully-fledged relationship with us - all on the back of some high quality stuff.

The only other pressing matter is the fact that we're going to be exhibiting at this year's Thought Bubble. I've taken the plunge and invested some money to ensure that we're at the premier independent comics events of the year. More info about that as and when it's relevant.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Borderline Press Blog #3 - Caption 2013

I think it would be safe to say that Caption proved to be a good thing for Borderline Press.

Despite disagreements as to when I last attended the small press convention (I thought it was 2004 – Caption is History; most of the others thought it was 2005.) much has changed about the longest running convention in Britain since the first time I came here, when it was in the city, at the architecturally superb Oxford Union and actually felt like some ad hoc convention held in the past. Caption in East Oxford is run down, lacking in new faces and pretty much an excuse to have a big small press pub meet…

If it was my first convention in 8 or 9 years, it was still something I felt a little trepidation about. So did Zombre editor, Will Vigar, who has a kind of Alan Moore-like aversion to large fan gatherings. We needn’t have worried because we knew about a tenth of the people there personally – as in we know them not just as friends on the internet – so we eased back into convention mode in a small room with a zumba class going on overhead. By the end of the day I had secured the deals to publish West, Verity Fair, and The Whale House (for 2015). I had advanced talks with a couple of people I’d communicated with via email. I sealed one deal, but I need to iron out the details before I announce it though. Plus I made inroads on three other 2014 projects, one of which became official last night – again, loose ends before any announcement – but expect one by the end of the week.

I also now have 12 definite and 3 ‘in negotiation’ which are likely to provisionally fill up my publishing schedule until December of next year! This means I now have to forget about signing things up and concentrate on making the business work. It is great fun, but it’s not all conventions and swanning about all over the country in search of a potential money-spinner; oh no… As I am largely a one man band at the moment, I am also chief cook and bottle washer and my wife expects me to housekeep too. I’ve traded the comfort of a 37 hour week for one that sometimes never ends and I pretty much love it. I’m sitting here at the moment writing this knowing that I have so many other things to do that are probably more important. But, you know, sometimes things like this are cathartic. And all work and no play makes Phil a grumpy old git.

The plan is now to have people at all the upcoming conventions. It won’t necessarily always be me, but many of the old Borderline team are still connected to this new project – Martin Shipp, Danny Black, Jay Eales, Mark Emerson, Selina Lock, Andy Winter, Terry Wiley, Andrew Cheverton, Kelvin Green and Dennis Wojda – and a few of them are going to be actively involved, either producing material for us, editing it, even doing some A&R or R&D or even some BMB (which as everyone knows is famous for being Buy Me Beer). Zombre editor Will is going to be at Demoncon, Thought Bubble and the Lakes up in Cumbria. I will be at some of these. If you want to talk to someone in person then there will be someone representing Borderline Press at every major UK event between now and February (beyond that our relationship with conventions will change slightly, but you’ll read more about that later in the year).

The website should be updated and expanded on very soon and at some point this blog will also migrate to What it will have will be this provisional publishing schedule:
  • Dennis Wojda's 566 Frames - October 2013!
  • Zombre - the zombie anthology out in November 2013 includes the following creators: Jay Eales, Nathan Castle, Peter Clack, Dennis Wojda, Joanna Sanecka, Daryl Hobson, Richard Worth, Nigel Lowrey, Tom Lennon, Baden James Mellonie, David Metcalfe, Richard Whitaker, Krzystof Ostrowski, Jason Brice, Mat Tait, Gord Drynan, Mitz Prime, Sunny Jim, Craig Sherbert, Sarah Hardy, Phil Buckenham, Kelvin Green, Frederik Jurk, Kim Winter, Si Spencer and covers by Tom Box. 
  • West by Andrew Cheverton and Tim Keable - February 2014
  • Terry Wiley's Verity Fair - February 2014
  • Were-beast anthology - Spring 2014
  • Ladies & Gentlemen by Richard Worth and Jordan Collver - June 2014
  • Robots anthology - August 2014 
  • Lancaster by Daryl Hobson & E.P. Rodway in September 2014
  • Robotz by Joanna Karpowicz and P. Hall - Christmas 2014
  • Santa Claus versus the Nazis by Ben Dickson & Gavin Mitchell - Christmas 2014
  • Christmas Ghosts anthology – December 2014
  • The Whale House by Andrew Cheverton & Chris Doherty - coming in 2015...
Plus a few more we don't want to risk losing by announcing them prematurely!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Borderline Press Blog #2 - Zombie Madness

There were a bunch of girls I used to fancy when I was at school. The thing was, even if they had a big neon sign above their heads that said 'Go on, ask me out!' that only I could see, I'd be so reticent that I'd never actually ask them. I've always had this fear of rejection...

Recently, I was talking to a teenager I know. There's this new thing amongst school kids and less old teens where they put 'Like for a rate' in their Facebook status and then people get rated on their looks and personality via their in-boxes from the person offering to do it. Jesus, I would never have done that. When I said to the person, aren't you scared that you'll get some rejection or people will think you're an ugly dullard, he said the following, "Rejection is rejection." He said this with an air of indifference - rejection is like having to go to the dentist, something we have to do (unless we want rotten tombstones in our gobs) and accept, because, you know, it's there.

One thing I've not had to deal with too much since the creation of Borderline Press is that R word. Most of the projects we either have lined up or are in advance stages of signing up have gone swimmingly well and there's been no need for me to have to grit my teeth and prepare for the 'sorry but I'd rather kill myself' rebuff. However, I have suffered some arrogance and ignorance. Would it surprise you to know that these things came from the USA?

I offered a young upcoming star, with no contracts or affiliations the chance of having his work reproduced for a wider audience. I explained the net profit deal that Borderline Press is offering everyone - whether they're pros or amateurs and he still wanted me to pay $100 per page of artwork that he drew three years ago and has no other publisher fighting to offer him a deal. To add insult to injury, he also wanted 70% of the net profit and virtually all of the reprint profit. I suggested, very nicely, that he publish himself and good luck in the future. I think he was lucky I spotted him; he might not be so lucky in the future and it's almost quite tragic that in ten or 15 years time he might look back on his greed and regret it...

I also offered a slightly more established small press or independent creator the chance of having his web comic collected into a very nice trade paperback collection. He admitted, when I first contacted him, that no one had shown any interest in his strip since 2007 when a now defunct company published the first issue. However, two offers of publishing it have been ignored and while I'd like to reproduce his stuff, it isn't likely to happen if he can't even acknowledge receipt of an offer. It's a shame because I think he would have benefited from a relationship with Borderline Press.

So that brings us nicely round to... Zombre, the working title for an idea Will Vigar gave me - a zombie anthology - that Borderline Press is going to be producing in the next few months and Will is going to edit!

It is, in many ways, a complete departure from the basic mission statement the new publishing house has been working under, because it is asking for new material rather than sourcing existing or nearly finished but homeless stuff. It is also something I have thrown open not just to my wannabe associates, it is something I have also thrown open to the host of well known and established comics creators I know.

This is the skinny - We’re looking for stories that are no more than 8 pages and in either comic format or illustrated prose. Any subject as long as it is zombie themed. For instance, an artist friend of mine suggested that he could do a story about a man who goes down the shop to buy some tobacco and gets eaten by a zombie with the moral being smoking can kill!

It can be bleak and apocalyptic; it can be humorous; it can be surreal, poignant or post-modern. It can be anything as long as it's as far removed from The Walking Dead or Shaun of the Dead as possible.

A post-modern zombie tale is preferable to a George Romero homage unless you have a good and unique angle (or just want to draw someone eating someone else's face).

If you are a writer that needs an artist or an artist in need of a writer, we’ll do our best to match you up with someone suitable. If anyone reading this hasn't seen all the other bits of promotion contact us at and we'll sort something out... Well, Will will... [ouch]

Zombre will be out in November, just in time for the zombie-apocalypse-mas!


I mentioned somewhere that working on stuff for Christmas 2014 seems weird, especially as we haven't had 2013's version of events yet; but it is essential. I've been itching to release news about some of the things we've got lined up, but, you know, those final few details are still to be ironed out and I'm not about to say, "Hey, Borderline Press is doing something with ### ###," just in case something goes wrong or ### ### dies with two pages to complete!

This is completely normal. Honest. But it is terribly frustrating because I want to tell you ...


The Borderline Press web pages are currently under construction... Yeah, I know, it's really annoying when you see Under Construction on sites, but they really are! My web man - Glenn Carter, the man behind The Comics Village - is building it specifically for us. None of this off the shelf stuff; so (sticks neck out) expect something funky and functional!


In other news...

I'm starting to get Dennis Wojda's 566 Frames put together. It is a good book to cut my teeth on, after so long away, as it already exists in Poland. We've been discussing edits and slight changes to help people to understand what life was like under German and Soviet occupation. Most Poles, even younger generations, understand completely, while the rest of us have films to educate us.

Joanna Karpowicz assures me that she'll be completing Robotz sometime around June/July 2014.

I'm going up to the Lake District for the Lakes convention in Kendal at the end of October. I shall remember my mint cake. I am also going down to Kent for Demoncon6 and there's going to be an exhibition, curated by Paul Gravett, of Polish comics in London, after Lodz, so I'm hoping to bump into some old friends there, as well as make some new ones!

More next week!

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Borderline Press Blog #1

"Why don't you bring Borderline back?" Asked a friend of mine in 2008. I laughed at him; five years ago it was already a concept that was dead in my opinion, and to go into proper publishing with paper and ink and t'ing? You are 'avin' a larf.

"Why don't you bring Borderline back?" Said the same friend five years later. 
"Why don't you bring Borderline back?" I said, laughing again.
"Okay. I'll pay for it." I didn't laugh at him this time, but I did turn him down flat and explained to him that if print was dead in 2008 where did he honestly think it was in 2013? I added to this the fact that most anything you want is available for free on the Internet, so there would be no reason for someone to buy a magazine. Books will be obsolete in a few years.

Preconceptions. Misconceptions. Print isn't dead. Far from it. It is, in fact, healthier than it has been for a long time and as for the other thing... 

Back in May, when the idea of an almost flawless July was unheard of, I was having an afternoon with a dear old friend, an almost but never quite really famous musician and we talked about magazines and books; the fact that there is all of this information, articles, artwork, adverts and everything you can think of already on the Internet but regardless of this fact there are still racks of magazines and books in newsagents, supermarkets, Smiths and like print, vinyl is also having a renaissance. 

When I told him about the amount of comics content that's free on the net, he looked at me, smiled and said that Google is a gateway drug for the young and a default setting for most people. All comic readers use Google (or alternatives) to find comics they want, and therefore know all the usual comics places on the internet - all the free sites, the download places - because we all know if something exists some bugger will scan it and put a copy up on Pirate Bay or whoever. Comicbooks have a familiarity there wouldn't be if people started looking up wool sites or macramé ducks. 

As has been well documented, comics and me became a little like oil and water, especially after Borderline and then big time with My Monthly Curse and anyone reading that and following me would have thought that me going back to comics was a little like asking Jose Mourinho to return to English football management, say Chelsea. Been there, done it, worn the T-shirt out!

But, you know, people have said that I must love it because I can't let it go. It's like an addiction (boy do I know about them!) and I tried a number of times to talk about comics addiction; I even wrote several chapters on it and its metaphorical link to comics - that was one of the major edits I did on MMC. The thing is I've given up all my addictions - they were killing me, literally - and I'm left with nothing to do with my hands and, well, comics and me are old dance partners, perennial slippers or those oh so idle hands inside comfortably familiar gloves.

So, I sat down, assembled a lot of the old crowd and we chewed the fat, shot the shit and came up with a template that was both Borderline of old and new and for the 21st century baby-booming-£7.95-for-a-glossy-magazine-and-he-doesn't-even-flinch. The thing is, this was just over three months ago and we were all set to launch a new comics magazine, ASAP and then I did the physical costings and the overheads projection and the cashflow forecast and suddenly the idea of bringing Borderline back was a mixture of futile and pointless; it would cost too much money, would need 6 months to sink or swim and during that time my investors would have blown £½million and... well, no one is that silly, not even me.

That idea was not shelved, but binned, nay, incinerated on the pyre of worthless ideas. I do not believe there will ever be a time when a magazine about comics is successful enough to make one person a fortune let alone a few quid, so doing it with an investor... I'd kinda pinned all my hopes on this; I was unemployed, in desperate need of money and yet the fact that it was just quite simply a non-starter seemed to lift a huge burden off my shoulders and I concentrated on getting my shit together and finding a job. Then there was the start of some (not fearful) symmetry. I like symmetry, especially in humanity, because it affirms the fantasy in us all; it makes us see patterns and mystic pathways that aren't really there, but, metaphorically, in our heads, they are one of the totems that we need to exist and be successful.

I reconnected with Matt de Monti, who was my first assistant manager and one of the two reasons why Squonk stayed in business for so long. We had lunch, we talked about the comics magazine and he said something along the lines of 'there's so much stuff out there, on line, being done in mini-comics and no one sees it,' and that statement washed right over me (hence why I paraphrased it). I got home, walked the dogs, got back and this being the third weekend in May we were experiencing reasonably warm weather, I sat in the garden with the netbook and was just trying to get the volume on the thing to get above a whisper when it hit me; publish...

I sat there, pushed the portable computer to one side, grabbed my handy pad and pen and started to list everyone in comics who I know, everyone who I owe and everyone who owes me. I stopped when I realised that this was a futile exercise; provided they were still in comics and not dead, I still had at least 50% of them in one address book or another.

I then listed what I wanted to see from a publisher (then ripped that up and asked people who liked comics). I then got slagged off and metaphorically shouted at for insisting that I hated comics when it's patently obvious I don't (the person who had that stunning piece of realisation was Rad, who thought up the name Borderline in the first place...) and I don't, I just feel burned by them - the abused lover, who does everything and still gets left at home while his missus goes and shags everyone else.

So, let me get this straight, you feel burned by comics, you've had heaps of shitty luck, you've been gone for 10 years, you have systematically told anyone that will listen (and many that don't want to) that comics are the blood-filled pus spewing from the devil's shit-stained gaping wound of an arse and you want to publish your own? Oooooo-kay... 

I could answer this in many ways, but this one works best for me. Back in 1990, I started to write about the need for Marvel and DC to employ ex-retailers as consultant editors. When I was questioned about this or just looked at like I was 'special', I said that retailers were at the coal face of the mine; they were the people who knew, before anyone else, whether a comic was good or if it was the proverbial.

What about the existing editors? Surely they know better?

If one editor, a usually deluded E-i-C and a bunch of interns think a book will be a success you can bet that most of these people approving it either have a vested interest or want to impress someone. DC had a policy in the 1980s and 90s of 'throw enough shit and see how much will stick' (but only because they had TimeWarner's money and was being used as a tax write-off) - I'm thinking to be an editor at DC at that time in the company's history you just needed to be able to multi-task - walk and talk; shit and sing; nod and think - but then again they would have given Dez Skinn a job had it not been for Alan Moore threatening to quit if they did (this is allegedly the real reason Karen Berger got the Vertigo gig).

If the people approving books like the shit that was being pumped out of New York in the 70s, 80s and 90s had any real quality threshold they probably would have gone into another branch of the entertainments industry. For every good book there were 5 crap ones.

An existing or former retailer has to live his life by his ability to know, more instinctively than by logical terms, what will be good and what will be a pile of pooh. It's why there's the occasional hot value book, because it defied expectations and was quite readable. The retailer's life is pretty much dependent on his ability to know a winner, a flop and something worth a gamble.

It's been over 20 years since my shop shut, I've been away from retail a long time. It has changed. However, there are some things that you don't forget - you don't forget how to ride a bike or drive a car if you don't do it for a while; you might be a bit ring-rusty but you can do it, even if there are a few wobbles to begin with. I haven't forgotten how to spot a good comic...

I was going to write about how all of this came about - how someone would be crazy enough to want to invest in me, but the answer is simple. I took the idea of PDF files to a Technical Author who worked for a market research firm. they liked this new (it was 1998) idea as a way of sweetening deals with potential clients and I produced their reports in electronic format for 3 or 4 years. We eventually parted (I was working at CI to begin with and had started working with the homeless when I finished) on very good terms and several years later they sold the business for lots of money and the rest, as someone has said, is history. Or, in my case, the future. The symmetry here is that some of the product Borderline Press is going to be putting out will be in PDF format (as well as paper and ebooks and any other method of delivery I can find).

So... What can you expect?

Hmm. A nice presentation. Some of the best comics you never knew existed. Great deals for creators. Great deals for retailers! A publisher that cares about the business, not about making loads of money and then buggering off to do something else. I want an imprint that people will know will be worth their money even if they have no idea what a book is about or who it's by.

That's not just in the UK either. Borderline had its roots firmly in world comics and Borderline Press has to exploit those markets for all our benefits. The world is a big place (really) and I have expansive ideas for this company; so many my partner is having to hold me back a little.

I have what I believe will be a real winner; something that won't be ready for a while but will be ground breaking; a couple of collections of already web-published comics, ones that I really feel deserve a bigger, wider audience and a couple of things that I'm in negotiation about. Obviously there's the launch book and the two others planned for a pre-Christmas release. 

It surprises me just how much or how little is known about certain comics. I look at something and think, 'Well, this is pretty good, my comics reading friends must all know this,' and two out of ten do and only one has read it. It confused me until I realised that in many ways some comics are regional on a really small scale. Because I know X, Y and Z doesn't necessarily means that everyone else does. There's a chance that they might be well known in their geographical region, but the further you go away from that the more chance someone else will be on the local radar.

I've even fallen into that horrible, 'Ooh, it's just a vanity publishing set up to do his own thing,' area, because I am doing a book that I will publish; but it honestly wasn't my intention and when one of the best artists in Poland wants to work with you, you kind of don't turn her down. You dig? That's not until Christmas 2014, by which time you will all have seen what kind of a set up this is going to be and hopefully you'll all be so blown away by it all that I'll be on holiday in the Maldives when it comes out!

Yeah, but can you really spot a winner?

Remember Movers & Shakers? That was, arguably, one of the most popular regular columns in comics - ever. It was certainly one of the most extensively read pre-internet days. It wasn't ostensibly a gossip column; it was fundamentally a 'who and what's hot' column and I pretty much batted 100% and this goes hand-in-hand with the theory that an ex-retailer is far more attuned to identifying a piece of shit than an editor who is blinded by success or having to two the line. Also, people made money from Movers, let's see if I can do that again.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Never Say Never

I know how I'm going to die. It won't be pleasant and I sincerely hope by the time it happens the laws on euthanasia will have changed. But until that happens, which might be in 10 years or 30, depending on how I look after myself (isn't that the case with everyone?) I want to be doing something that I know about and can contribute to a lasting legacy.

It's what to do with my life between now and then that is the big issue for me and frankly there's really only one thing...


I was a reader, then a fan, then a dealer, then a retailer, then a retail consultant, then a comics journalist and a columnist, then an editor... The only things I haven't done is write a comicbook and been a publisher. I've never had much interest in writing a comicbook, although that might change, so the logical thing to do was go into comics publishing.

Why? Especially as the market seems quite well... stocked?

I've always fancied myself as an A&R man; spotting talent and then watching as unknowns in comics, music, books, etc make it big. So many of the bands I have loved I got into before they became national treasures. Heck, I wrote a column called Movers & Shakers for ten years that essentially told people about what was going to be hot and who was going to be the next comics version of Leonardo Da Vinci. I also want to do it because one of the only things that was an unmitigated success about Borderline was we gave a lot of up and coming artists a spotlight which I hope helped them become regular comicbook employees and creators.

If I can do something like that again then I think I will be able to die happy!

The next couple of months are going to be tough. Not only have I got to set up this new publishing company, I've got to find people to publish. I have a few at the moment, but I want a portfolio of quality to show people, especially the doomsayers, that this is a serious and worthwhile project.

I also have to come up with a nice Borderline Press logo; an interactive website; talk to film makers about extra content available only through the web page and a whole bagful of ideas that I'm not going to tell you (yet), in case some bugger comes along and steals them!

However, what you need to know is this isn't something I've woken up this morning and just decided to do. This has been planned, in one form or another, for months. It actually started life as an exercise to see if me and my old team could bring back Borderline as a news stand magazine. When we realised that we had more chance of resurrecting Jesus, I started looking at other ways and Borderline Press was born, quite easily, with no pain and an expectant grin on its face.

Now, as it (if you'll excuse the cheesy child analogies for a bit longer) teeters on its first steps and I face the world to tell them of this new arrival, I kind of want to say something really big headed, so I will...

Phil Hall is back, and trust me guys, this time it's serious!