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.