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.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Borderline Press Blog #27: Revisionists

I've had to revise plans all year. I should have expected that with the responsibility of becoming a publisher it would also involve lots of unavoidable setbacks and delays. I just expected the world to work at the pace I thought suited the business; little did I suspect that a lot of the world of commerce moves and works at a sloth's pace unless it wants something.

I think in many respects 2014 has been a horrendous year and the fact that Borderline Press has just released its 8th title in the last 12 months (9th if you include the free comic) should be considered a great success; but what about Santa Claus versus the Nazis? Robotz? Or some of the other projects we had planned? I had expected having between 10 and 12 titles out between the release of 566 and what might have been a Christmas Ghosts Anthology.

I feel bad for the people who I let down. I let people down all the time, yet sometimes not turning up for a beer isn't the same as not publishing something someone or ones who have worked on a project for a long time. I am also aware that, yes, someone else could publish them, they could do it themselves, etc etc ad nauseum - doesn't make me feel any better and it doesn't make me want to be particularly nice to cowboy printers and the various other things that have helped screw up the year.

The current state of play of Borderline Press is quite chirpy - good reviews, steady sales, distribution deal and a series of signings and convention appearances... We also have 898 copies of our latest release sitting in a warehouse in China because I am not being held to ransom by arseholes any more. I could bore you all to death with how one Chinese printing firm has systematically attempted to shaft me, every step of the way, for the last few months, but the truth is this printer has moved the goalposts, pushed me around, threatened me and abused me and with absolutely no comeback by or from me because, frankly, I wouldn't know where to start! Perhaps a few emails to the Communist Party?

The printing learning curve this year hasn't been pleasant, nor should it have even happened; what we've made up for in lesser production costs we've paid for in time, shipping and cowboys. The one valuable lesson I've learned from this is I should have stuck with the people who were a little more expensive but delivered promptly and with no fuss.

I hope that Seth & Ghost doesn't turn into a huge collectors' item because there are only 102 copies in existence. I sincerely hope the printer doesn't just chuck them in the South China Sea, like I suggested he should, but I'm not going to take any more of a bath on this project than I already have. To give you just a rough idea, I've already paid over $1000 more for this job than I should have and now they are asking for another $1000 or they won't ship the rest. I told them to fuck off.

So, Seth & Ghost is the final Borderline Press release of 2014 or it might be the first release of 2015 - that my friends is in the hands of a man called 'Jacky'...

Obviously, kicking this off with mention of a 'revised' schedule and having the title 'Revisionists' might suggest there's something else on my mind. There is.

When Dez Skinn took me to San Diego in the early 1990s there was a lot about the trip that has been since said, but one of the nicer moments happened when I was introduced to Julius Schwartz, who was, I think, pretty much in his late 80s at the time. It was a fleeting meeting and we both moved on to whatever we were supposed to be doing.

On the Saturday - the main day - I've spoken of my unbelievably ridiculous decision to walk - crosstown - through San Diego to get to the convention centre, while wearing an English suit and carrying a briefcase in 100 degrees of summer heat. It's a recurring theme in my life - when in strange city, walk until you get lost, but ensure the weather is at some kind of extreme.

When I got to the convention centre, essentially as a big bag of sweaty water - my friend Christina took me to a cafeteria and plied me with water and left me to rehydrate. Sitting at the table next to me was, an also rather deflated looking, Julie Schwartz and he smiled and made some comments about Brits never getting used to the heat in San Diego.

He remembered who I was and where I'd come from.

This was the first convention where Frank Miller had got on his horse about conceptual copyright owning and how Jack Kirby had been shafted by Marvel, Stan Lee and every one else. We all know the story, it's been revised to suit Kirby and his followers.

I was trying to remember the link that got me and Julie talking about ownership of Marvel's characters and I'm sure it will eventually come back to me, but the upshot was he said to me that he'd known the original Marvel bullpen people for years; they'd all worked with each other or around each other, drank beers and ate with each other and they would often discuss their work.

I remember him saying to me something that had much resonance with me, "If you come up with the name or the idea of a superhero and your friend comes up with how he looks - who owns it?" Both of them obviously, I said. He went on, "During the early Sixties there were half a dozen friends sitting in that Marvel bullpen and they were each coming up with ideas - not just Lee and Kirby, but Marie Severin, Flo Steinberg, even Martin Goodman, everyone contributed to the creation of the original Marvel heroes, the same way we developed new ideas at DC. It was a rare thing in the 1960s for anyone to come to the table with a fully-developed character - no one did it because creation was by committee. Nothing sinister. That was the way it was."

How come I never see this argument floated around when people argue that it was Jack Kirby, alone, who created all of Marvel's classic oeuvre?

I believe Marie Severin stated a few years back something along the same lines and was systematically ignored by the industry. It didn't fit with what they wanted and Marie was in Stan's camp, obviously.

In 1983, I created a character - a cartoon character, based entirely on my curmudgeonly personality, my acerbic wit and my propensity for getting myself into scrapes of my own making. I even have the clay model of the character sitting in front of me - he even looks a little like I did in 1983 and his first name was 'Fil'.

I don't own him though. Despite creating the idea, writing all the strips he appeared (or would have appeared) in and knowing that all my mate did was caricature me - he owns it and in the eyes of most of our peers he owns it. Why? Because he drew it. He did all the donkey work. All I did was come up with the words, that took no time at all.

I'm serious here.

I would concede that we maybe co-created it, but only because I can't draw. My 'co-creator' didn't see it the same way; he viewed ownership as not the original concept but the amount of time you spent on it. he could never have worked for Marvel and DC as he would have believed that whoever he was drawing would have become his by default after a couple of months. None of our 'friends' seemed interested in my arguments - that sounded, to be honest, like sour grapes; they all accepted the character was the artist's because he spent more time on it.

In the end I gave up all rights I had. The artists did five more strips, they weren't funny - in the slightest; he wasn't a writer. He had no real idea what to draw; he had no direction, no input. The cohesion that was there was now gone. He moved onto an idea of his own, that was a repeat of the previous failure.He gave up and as far as I know doesn't do anything remotely artistic now.

That is a damned shame.

The problem with the history of Marvel Comics is simple - too many are dead; the ones that remain either don't talk or have a Hollywood opinion of it. Stan Lee is as much a trade name or brand now as Marvel or Disney is and all that is left is anecdotal 'evidence' from people who worked there after the event.

I'm sure that Jack Kirby probably created everything and the chair he sat in to work and I'm sure that there are many out there who would like to see Lee erased from everything; he probably just made the coffee and lived off them and their genius.

The interesting thing is over the years whenever I've heard a veteran, with no vested interest, talk about those days, the story has always pretty much been the same - it was a bullpen.   Bullpens are bullshit sessions or brainstorm time, where ideas and thoughts are thrown around without fear of ridicule - it was a practice developed in the USA during the late 1940s - it's how things get developed.

I'm sure someone will put me right and show me some unimpeachable bit of evidence, but until then I'm inclined to think no one person created anything from Marvel in the early 1960s. Some might have had more influence than others and maybe, as the years advanced, some of the characters were maybe 95% created by the artist (or the writer). I just get fed up with the way that Stan Lee has been cast as some far more pernicious villain than he could have created.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Borderline Press Blog #26: Pros & Cons

It's been the multi-national conventions weekend - things all over the shop...

I can’t comment on the Lakes International Comic Art Festival because circumstances dictated that I couldn’t attend in person. Terry (Verity Fair) Wiley bravely manned the Borderline Press table (with help from Jay, Selina and any passing body) and, by reports, has had a very good show. The event has been almost overnight become one of the most important conventions on the calendar. Whether it can sustain its place with a new look committee attempting to turn Thought Bubble back into what it originally was, the competition is high and fierce.

Instead I found myself 31 miles down the road from Northampton in Royal Leamington Spa, at the first LeamCon and it left me with so many unanswered questions, I’m beginning to wonder if there is any rhyme or reason for things.

By rights LeamCon should have been a complete disaster. It was going up against The Lakes and a film and comic show in London. It didn’t have any star names; on show were a Gibson (not Ian), Al Davison and probably, in terms of history in comics, me. Although I was subdued and ponderous and felt a tiny bit out of my depth – for no apparent reason at all. I mean, this was basically a glorified comic mart in a lovely Spa town, on a freak October day, that was more like Spain than Warwickshire and Dan Mallier claims over 1000 people went through the doors.

I’d disclaim this number, purely on the basis that I wasn’t the only person to be counted going in and out of the Pump Rooms; so the chances are the figure is a bit higher than the actual head count – although Dan may well disprove this theory, I’d say a minimum of 600 individual people wandered through during the 6 or so hours it was on. Even if it was just 600 it was a staggering figure considering the piss poor attendances at Bristol, Birmingham and, I’m sorry to say, Bedford. If the latter had attracted as many people then it could have been the show to end all shows for the provincial convention.

What did LeamCon do that other provincial pop-up cons don’t? Probably not a lot other than more care and attention to all aspects of the show – the right balance between exhibitors, punters and the general public. Good advanced and sustained PR, made all the more credible by the attendance and the lacks of star names or real pros (with the greatest respect to all who feel they are real pros). What made LeamCon all the more strange was there was barely a disgruntled person in the house, Yes, I heard some youngsters bemoaning the lack of superhero comics, creators and ephemera and some guy, five minutes after paying his £6 walked up to Dan and asked in an accusatory fashion if ‘this was it?’, he left once he’d got his answer. His loss.

One wonders what it would have been like if he’d held it on a different day (he couldn’t) and had attracted maybe a handful of local pros or even a star name? And that was one of my thoughts – the teething troubles this new organiser faced were piddling compared to some problems I’ve witnessed experienced event planners struggle with (and that raises a whole barrel of different questions) and if Dan learns from his few mistakes and expands at the right rate, I don’t see why LeamCon can’t be the logical replacement for Caption. I believe if the usual suspects who attend the now defunct Oxford small press con knew about this then they would have dragged along even more people.

People were taking money up to 4.30 on Saturday; there was vibrancy about the exhibitors because they’d all had unbelievably good days. One small press creator claimed to have had the best day he’d ever had, selling over £1000 worth of books, prints and sketches. The grins were palpable and the questions began to be asked. How come this was so successful when events organised by people who supposedly understand this type of thing have floundered or failed? How come so many people came to something without star names or that many events outside of an exhibitors hall? Why did some many people take so much money from punters who looked or acted no different from punters who go to other shows? Why can’t the other provincial cons be as well organised?

I think the simple answer is some people need to look at what they’re doing from the outside in rather than thinking what they like is what everyone else wants. The one thing we all know about comics fans is they are fickle, dogmatic and not easily parted with their cash unless they want to. We also know exhibitors want people, because people can equal sales; no people = no sales = pissed off exhibitors.

Even at Leamcon the balance was wrong, but the intentions, the enthusiasm and the hard work made it pay off; imagine what could be achieved if Dan Mallier and Lisa-Marie Nelson (his partner) were able to organise a major event?

***

Sticking to the cons theme and returned to something I’ve spoken about before. One of the other questions I had to ask myself over the weekend was this: many major towns and cities now hold conventions, festivals, and everything in between and yet the one place in the UK that probably could be the best place to hold a convention or a festival would be Northampton. Not just because of Alan Moore, but because of the rich history this one town and county has given comics over the last 40 years. From the guy who did the World Staring Competition to Borderline Press – there is a definite correlation between comics and this place. However, NICE or the first one at least, was held in Kettering (birthplace of the legend known as Frank Bellamy) in a tent and after that failed to be as good as it could, the organisers – the Chahal brothers – opted to move it to Bedford because of costs.

Frankly it amazes me that our councils can throw money at an electronic comics project as long as it promotes the town rather than throw some weight behind doing a real appreciation of comics in its modern spiritual home. If you had a Beano convention it could only be held in Dundee. A Viz con in Newcastle. A comics con in Shoesville is as logical.

I’m not blaming the Chahal brothers for failing to turn the Northampton International Comics Expo into an actual Northampton event, but I can’t help thinking that a lot of people are missing an opportunity (however, while NICE exists, holding a rival convention would be like opening a new chip shop next to the most popular one in your street - to abort that discussion before it gets started).

***

Finally; it’s not common knowledge, but Santa Claus versus the Nazis has been postponed until next summer, purely down to the production problems we had switching printers. Ben and Gavin are fine about it and we all think it might be a blessing in disguise.

The same postponement applies to Robotz - as Jo Karpowicz is behind schedule on paid work.


Seth & Ghost will be out though, for Thought Bubble (God willing). And hopefully I'll get things moving on story(cycle), Seamonster and something we've expressed an interest in publishing - an interesting new world called The Happy Ghetto.

So, as usual, things are just like the Assyrian Empire.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Borderline Press blog #25 - NICE work

Despite meteorological summer being over, I can't help feeling that the weather doesn't know it yet. I'm of the opinion that summer is not a good time for British comics. That opinion has been proven since the 1950s - traditionally the Brits go on holiday. It used to be the time - August specifically - when factories had their 'fortnights'. It is still a time of the year when we see a high proportion of repeats on TV. I'm not arguing with people; it might not be quiet in the USA, but in the UK, it is.

Borderline Press has had a pretty woeful summer, as detailed in the last blog, but things have pretty much been back on track since the end of August. There have been unavoidable problems; like switching printer's at a point when I thought they were doing the job, they were sending me an email saying they did not want to do it because of the problems they had with the previous jobs. So we lost 2 weeks because of that fiasco and it left me thinking and wondering how and why business ever gets done anywhere, but then I remembered how life got in the way of my summer.

It was good to put the summer behind us and go the 15 or so miles down the road to Bedford (in Bedfordshire) for the 3rd annual (or is it 4th? I'm old now, I can't always remember who you are) NORTHAMPTON Intercontinental Custard Experiment or whatever the meaning of the acronym NICE means - possibly something to do with 'comics' and 'international', I would like to hazard a guess what the E stands for but knowing Jeff Chahal as well as I do it could equally stand for 'erection' as 'expo' or 'exhibition'.

I posed a very interesting hypothetical hypothesis on Sunday to artist extraordinary (a keen fan of both Godzilla and Tony Stark) Simon Coleby (he was unofficial celebrity artist in residence at my shop), had I opened Squonk!! in Northampton as I had initially planned, the retail comics landscape of the area might be drastically different and there might never have been a NICE con. It's a thankless task, organising a comics convention (especially when I'm going to be there, with my track record of being scathing about certain events, recently). I'm not sure I'd do one, even if I could do one the way I'd want; I'm beginning to think it takes a special kind of madmen to do this shit.

The man with the pony tail could
have been a cosplay Terry Wiley!
I went to NICE last year, for a few hours on the Sunday; I was setting up the company, gearing up for 566 Frames's launch and was there to basically talk to potential creators. I thought there were more people there last year on the Sunday than this and that's pretty much as far as my criticism of NICE 2014 goes.

My expectations have been lowered enormously over the last few months. There have been pretty clear reasons, other than the expected ones; mainly to do with the fact that we're still relatively unknown; we still don't have that much product out, and comics conventions - a large percentage of them - are attended by people more inclined to what we like to call 'mainstream' or spandex.

I've mentioned how I think Borderline Press is a female-friendly publisher, well over 75% of all of our sales, at all conventions, have been to women and that was reinforced at NICE. I wasn't expecting to take a lot of money; I was expecting to talk to people, give more free comics away, do a bit more schmoozing and generally improve the brand name. The reality of the weekend is that is exactly what happened and three quarters of our sales were to people of a female gender.

The view from behind the table on Sunday
In terms of takings, I'm happy to admit we took £5 more than we did at Bristol - the big difference being the overheads were considerably lessoned. In real terms that isn't particularly spectacular amount and we'll only probably cover our costs, but many people today were looking for the new books (more of which later) and knew the company name. It made me feel as though we're known now, so it's just a matter of time before Marvel is quaking in its Disney shaped boots!

The Sunday was, as I said, in my opinion, quieter than last year (contrary to what I was told by several of the 'staff') and I'm of the opinion that I could easily have not bothered going. I would have missed out on just five sales, but I'm of the opinion that the five recipients will be happy we did turn up and I reckon they'll come back for more.

I heard several complaints from people. A number of artists took barely any money; people weren't spending a lot on original artwork, sketches were popular, but I saw many people sat twiddling their thumbs at times. One of the dealers suggested the event was too similar to last year's and it needed a lot of different guests - I can't pass judgement on this or even comment on it because I don't do these things for the guests specifically. It was suggested to me that NICE is just an excuse to invite Jeff Chahal's friends - well, if it is then what's to criticise?

Another dealer, who had a reasonable weekend, told me that at most 'provincial' conventions they expect to take considerably less than they do at something like LFCC or MCM; he urged me to try and book into one of these mega-shows with 20,000+ through the door, where taking can be 10 times as much. The problem with these are the percentage of comics fans who attend who would want to read Borderline Press's eclectic line; if 20,000 come through the door and 17,000 don't do comics and of those remaining 3000, 85% don't do or buy indie comics or books... and those that do might be looking for someone else... when you factor in all the variables and probabilities, my projected best-case-scenario take would be commensurate with what I took this weekend, which would mean the only reason worth doing these massive shows would be PR. I'm not convinced, still, that these big cons would equate to much more than a hot, sweaty and exhausting weekend (but with no orgasm at the end).

Bedford at night (photo by Simon Coleby)
However, let's get back to Bedford because it really is a bit of a tiny jewel on the landscape. Bedford feels much bigger than it really is - this has a lot to do with the one-way system that was introduced about 40 years go and still confuses the locals. It has a bit of a 'you can't get there from here' feel to it, but because of the architecture and olde-worldy feel to the town centre, you don't mind going two miles to get to something 100 yards away. Seriously, my home town - the much-mythologised Northampton - could learn a thing or two about utilising its town centre the way Bedford does. Like the Leicester Comic Con, the location of the Bedford Corn Exchange put it smack dab in the middle of this nice little town, therefore there was the feeling the convention was taking place in a bustling place and that statement brings me to my gripe - not a complaint, barely a criticism (because I understand why).

I don't want to think of myself as Dan Mallier's muse, but the organiser of the forthcoming Leamington Spa comic con - an event where the two most famous people attending are Al Davison and some big-nosed has-been called Phil Hall - had many of my ideas for conventions already in place and he took on board the one thing I now believe is imperative for all conventions, if they are going to continue to be colloquial events - you have to allow the general public in - for nothing - after the paying customers have done a couple of hours of exclusive access.

The organisers of Leicester Comic Con did it; allowed Joe Public in for free a couple of hours after the show opened and the upshot was simple... At Bristol and most obviously with Birmingham, once the paying punters have done what they want the dealer/exhibitor rooms become graveyards with just the 'deal hunters' doing any business. My belief is if you have a room with people in it, there is the potential to do some business - maybe even persuade a new visitor as to why comics are a good hobby - and even if you take no money, there are potential customers that are in the room - if they're not in the room then you don't stand any chance.

Leam Con's Dan intends to open the doors to the general public from 3pm; that's two hours that are usually dead air at cons that will have new eyes looking at things, asking questions, being inquisitive and maybe spending some cash and surely while the creators and guests and paying customers deserve respect; they are not the people who pay for tables and contribute a large percentage of the cost covering. Too often in the last year (and not ironically during my last period of convention going) I've seen or heard about the last hours of any convention being one tinged with anger and acrimony about the poor day had and the lack of attendees.

Jeff Chahal did this when NICE was held in a tent at Wickstead Park in Kettering, but dropped the idea when it moved to Bedford Corn Exchange - costs and fear of reprisals from paying punters were his main reasons. I think it might also have a lot to do with health and safety, but that's based on a gut feeling more than anything else. I harped on at Jeff a lot about making his convention open to the hoards, but he resisted. I wonder if he might reconsider the idea after seeing what the main hall was like at 2pm on Sunday afternoon.

I will, however, declare NICE 2014 a success. I had a great time and the Chahal brothers know how to organise a great event, almost... It probably does deserve a bigger platform, because while Bedford isn't hard to get to, it reminds me a little of the ultimate reason why I opened Squonk!! in Wellingborough rather than waiting for the right property to come along in Northampton - convenience. I figured on that line from Field of Dreams - 'build it and they will come' and they do, but do all of them? If I'd opened in Northampton ... and hence the question to Simon Coleby.

I also appreciate that the Chahal brothers invest a lot of time, effort and their own money in this event, but is it worth investigating venues in Milton Keynes or, heaven forbid, Northampton?

That said, the arguments for attempting to hold a comics convention in Northampton are extremely strong and one wonders why Alan Moore can get a reported £100,000 from Northampton Borough Council to ensure that his Electricomics promote the town and someone wanting to promote comics and the town in general can't even speak to the right people?

Northamptonshire has an enormous percentage of comics professionals; it has a rich vein of ex-professionals or pros who have moved to sunnier or different locations and, of course, it is the home of the aforementioned Mr Moore. Not that he would come to a comic convention again, not even one that would have to dedicate part of its brief to the promotion of comics as a medium, an aid for dyslexics, an entry point for people who struggle to read books and as a platform to express their own creativity.

The problem now is that everything from the huge MCM conventions to these regional mega-marts is geared solely towards the fan; it's like we've never learned anything. Comics are still suffering from the law of diminishing returns, despite the influx of new readers, there is no sign and there probably won't be any increase in the actual numbers of fans (hey, lots of fans are old and die), so why is no one doing anything at all about trying to broaden the customer base?

If I was the Chahal brothers, I would be asking myself where the next generation of customers are coming from; how are we going to persuade the kid who thinks comics are okay to thinking they're cool and they want part of this rich tapestry of alternative worlds and styles?

But it's easy for me to sit here and suggest things; I'm not doing them.

I have enough on my plate as you will now find out...

So Santa Claus versus the Nazis and Seth & Ghost will be printed this week - unless we have any more problems - and will arrive at the end of October...

But... That's after the Lakes?

Here's an example of the hurly-burly world of comics publishing. My new printer can't meet the deadline; hell, my old printer is struggling to deliver our two latest books on time; and I've got no one to do The Lakes convention for me because I have to do Leamington Spa because of ... life getting in the way again (at least 'good' life rather than nasty, funereal life). I'm also donating 50 free copies of one of our books to them and suddenly everything is, if you'll pardon my rather brash Anglo-Saxon, f*ck*d and shrouded in uncertainty and tension.

You know that expression 'squeaky-bum time'? People from the UK, who follow football (soccer) and various other sports know it well. Well, here's how this schedule is going to work:

  • As far as I know Verity Fair and Spoko both set sail on September 9. The delivery date, provided the voyage is trouble free is October 10 (unless HMRC hold the container in customs for inspection then another 7 days can be added to that). However, that will mean the books arrive after we need them - after their launch.
  • I heard back from the new printer on Monday 8th regarding Santa Claus and S&G; provided everything has been okayed, the job will take between 5 and 7 days to complete and pack. It will then go on the next available Tuesday boat and will take a maximum of 35 days (unless HMRC hold the container in customs for inspection then another 7 days can be added to that) and as any fool knows, that is way after The Lakes and I've been telling people and Ben Dickson and Gavin Mitchell have been telling people that it'll be out for the Lakes (S&G's official launch is at Thought Bubble) and it clearly won't. 
  • Except it will. If everything goes according to plan. Once the books have been finished, a quantity of Santa Claus will be sent by air mail - 100 of them: 70 going to the Lakes and 30 coming with me to Leam Con.
  • Hang on, you can't do the Lakes, you said so? No, but Terry Wiley is going to man the battlements for me all weekend (unless Verity Fair is stuck in customs, in which case I fully expect Terry will not go to Kendal, but will venture south to a place near Warwick, where he will commit murder...) as well as signing copies of the book he's selling, etc etc. Terry flies in from Chicago 23 hours before The Lakes begins. His home is in Newcastle, mine in Northampton. Despite my home sounding further north than his, mine is actually 300 miles south of his and provided the book isn't held in customs (along with Spoko #1 I hasten to add), I have to take delivery of them, put probably three boxes of VF and a box of Spoko in the boot of my car - along with three further boxes of our existing stock; drive up to Leicester (about 28 miles) and drop them off with Jay Eales and Selina Lock, who are going to The Lakes, and are going to take them up and protect them until Terry can take control of them. They will then bring back whatever isn't sold.
  • This is all dependant on everything happening at the right time with little margin for error.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Borderline Press Blog #24 - The Original Social Media?

My business partner is not keen on me talking to you. He wants Borderline Press to have this uber-professional image and to make people think we're some kind of secretive multi-national publishing conglomerate...

The reason I say this is because this is comics and comics has no secrets.

We can transmit whatever image we want, most people involved in comics know it's me, with a couple of helpers and someone paying for it. This would have become a reality even if I had tried to keep it as secret as the government selling poor children into white slavery...

The reason is comics has always been the First Social Media.

Ordinary people have embraced social networking like its the new sliced bread, but once upon a time, we had letters and a post office service worth its salt and nowhere was more prolific (and made the Royal Mail more money) than comics fans and their propensity for writing letters. Fanzines were a snapshot of what a comic book social media site probably should be now.

There was spam; there were flame wars; there was disagreements that almost boiled into fights - proper fights where two people would seek each other out at the few comics events across the country at that time; to have a confrontation. I remember one, between two people no longer even remembered in comics, that boiled over into an actual fist fight outside UKCAC in 1992. Comics fandom was better than it is today because there was a degree of thought put into what you were doing. Hell, if you were going to waste 5p on a First Class letter, you were going to write a bleedin' novel!

Plus, comics have a huge reputation for being loose tongued. If the Attenborough family were slightly concerned about how the death of Dickie leaked onto Twitter, it's a good job the Attenboroughs weren't into comics because there were/are very few secrets. Comics fandom's base was assembled on the premise of 'what happened and what happens next?'

Try convincing Terry Wiley that Borderline Press is some kind of publishing conglomerate. We've royally arse-slapped his year. Verity Fair was supposed to have been released in May, for Bristol. It got loaded onto a boat last week, I'm not sure the boat has yet sailed and the irony is the money we were hoping to save by using a smaller, more bespoke, Chinese printer, has been lost by delay after delay after delay - all to do with, quite simply, an inability for the UK and China to talk to each other with computer files.

We opted for the current printer because they were over a grand cheaper than the guys who did Crocodiles and Hunger House - and that saving has been lost by being unable to launch Terry's book or push Spoko #1. These books/comics will be back from the printer in September, so the official launches for these new books will be with Santa Claus v the Nazis and Seth & Ghost - because I'm using a different, modern, printer for these books - at The Lakes, Leamington Spa and hopefully a big party type thing at Thought Bubble in November in Leeds.

The summer has been a disaster in many ways. So much inactivity; so many bits of real life getting in the way. Illness, death, incompetence and obfuscation - the summer had it all and as a result we, kind of, suffered for it... I say 'kind of' because if the summer comic conventions were anything to go by it might be time for reining back on these things - or handing them over to people who understand conventions, first and foremost, and have a working knowledge of comics fandom - because, seriously, comics people should not be allowed to organise comics events, ever.

We haven't really suffered. Yes, the delays on the two 'current' books is bloody annoying; but that is out of my hands in many ways. Losing my commercial manager after four months was a pain, but the 'experiment' was always that. Taking an engineer out of his comfort zone and putting him in an environment that he didn't fully understand and struggled to fathom was always going to be a tough ask and I hope he thrives back in an arena he's good at - honest.

But, he did lay the groundwork for the distribution deal with Fanfare that I am currently wading through paperwork for, so every cloud and all that. It leaves me with some dilemmas - mainly about staffing stalls at conventions - and taking back the jobs I gratefully gave to him.

So, the reason I tell you this is because anyone who knows Terry Wiley will know that Verity Fair is taking longer to come into existence than an actual baby (and it will be something like 9 months once the book arrives on my doorstep). So, given that comics is always rife with speculation and Chinese Whispers tend to get so distorted, I thought I'd allay any fears or anticipation: the only thing that has slowed Borderline Press down this summer has been LIFE!

I did have a scare though. I was going to keep it quiet, but, you know, there's this gossip thing (that I know a lot about) and while I didn't appear at the Birmingham convention a few weeks ago and the official reason was I had a chest infection - the actual reason was ... I had a chest infection. It did look a bit scary a few days before, because I got rushed to A&E with a suspected heart attack, but that's the second time a chest infection has manifested itself into a heart scare and when you're in your 50s ...

I said to my 'partner' when we started this that he needed to understand that physically I'm pretty much this fantastically fit looking exterior and inside I'm like a pot noodle that's been dropped out of a plane. Years of smoking have f*cked my lungs and I have all these bones that just keep going wrong - important ones too, like the back and the legs - things you need in good shape to keep the rest of you happy.

So, I gear up for new releases, an autumn convention schedule and a new distribution deal that will take about 6 months to start paying me some dividends - but, you know, despite all the problems, the future is looking a bit brighter.

There is a small black cloud though... Jo Karpowicz has informed me that her life has gotten in the way of her schedule and Robotz won't be out until 2015. If that's the case, our 2015 schedule, so far, has six titles, five of which are predominantly by women. I got accused once of being sexist... I suppose I must be.

I hope you all enjoyed your summer. Let's hope that the rest of 2014 is bloody brilliant!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Borderline Blog #23 - Past Genius: Future Dilemma?

The trials and tribulations of publishing has ground me to a halt... Printer problems have meant the inevitable delay of Verity Fair and Spoko and while I have Jamie Lewis's Seth & Ghost book to play design games with, July has been something of a doldrums month. Last year it was all about getting stuff done, this year it's more businesslike and stress-intensive.

I'd said to Christian, our commercial manager, the other Monday, sitting in the local pub, planning a sales strategy (we don't just swan about, you know!) that my Social Network presence had dwindled in recent weeks purely and simply down to the fact that I a) don't want to just repeat myself and b) I still believe in the principle of 'quality not quantity' when it comes to the Internet (I mean, I have to have some standards with my reputation...).

Bombarding the Internet was something of a no-no when I were a younger man, nowadays it means nothing. Self-spamming is as acceptable as bum cleavage (some people like it, some are ambivalent and others thinks it's disgusting). Self-promotion (whether it's you or your company) on social networking sites is pretty much the largest part of any promotion now. Why throw good money after bad on advertising?

'Existence' has been the biggest hurdle for us. Gone are the days when there were just a couple of magazines clamouring for news stories and previews of forthcoming books. At least these 'old-fashioned news print' magazines had a dedicated fan base, a guaranteed audience (to be aware of your product even if they don't buy it); even if you get covered by the 'biggest' web sites, you have no way of knowing what the reach of your PR is. Plus there are so many. For every site I know about, someone tells me about two others. To use a SHIELD/Hydra analogy, cut one head off and two appear in its place.

The irony for me, an old magazine producer, is that despite the reluctance of the general public to want to buy a dedicated comics magazine, they were the most inclusive products for the promotion and dissemination of news and information. 

Take Comics International. It began in 1989, when comics were having one of their boom periods, started off as a freebie, went up to 30p, then 50p, but all the time giving coverage to what was a burgeoning market place then and considerably less flooded with product than it seems to be now. At its height, CI had a print run of 24,000 - that kind of print run today would constitute a success story for a niche magazine. Forget the design and production values; they really are irrelevant, because it's the information that was, pre-internet days, important.

The prompt for this article/blog post was the axing of Comic Heroes, the Future Publishing magazine, felt by many to be the last proper comics magazine (I count Multiverse or whatever it's called as an irrelevance) or at least the last breath of comics in a UK mainstream environment (other than cinema). I might be showing my lack of knowledge by saying this - there might be others out there I'm unaware of - but the point is the lack of focused publications could end up having a detrimental effect on comics publishing.

The problem is print magazines - news and information dissemination products - haven't just died, the ghost gave it up ages ago.

So how do you solve the conundrum of getting the maximum exposure from what's left out there?

The beauty of the internet is that it (should be) is all-encompassing and the freedom of expression it allows means that there are big, small, bespoke and clever websites out there either talking about comics, promoting their own comics or just trying to be a Comicbook Resources or a clever, on-line CI or Wizard and corner part of that all-important 'hit' market. The biggest problem and yes it actually is a problem is ... we are spoilt for choice.

For those of us who have been here forever, we will remember that comic fans in the '60s and '70s were either Marvel or DC fans (Charlton fans were looked upon as freaks of nature and underground comix fans weren't applicable). Then diversity arrived - a good thing - and as comics exploded, the Marvel v DC barrier became Marvel v DC v Indie and then that fragmented more and more until you had a situation where comics were literally more diverse than films (and then films cottoned onto comics).

One of the things Dez Skinn did at Comics International was mix the news up; by categorising news you are marginalising it. If you have Dark Horse news under a Dark Horse section then people who aren't interested in that publisher will skip that page - mix it up and people pour over every page looking for what interests them and, who knows, they might see something else that interests them that they might never have given house room to.

I talked about many aspects of working at Comics International over the years, but one I think I never touched on was how I felt used and abused... by comics publishers.

Not in the same way as I documented, but in the fact that we were something of the black sheep in the comics family. Dez had a reputation that literally put marketing executives at the big companies in a tizz. We got away with a lot of stuff that would have been sanctioned and frowned upon, but we were also the major source of promotion for them in what was effectively the 51st State in terms of revenue for US comics. DC's Bob Wayne and Patty Jerez used to admonish us regularly, but, you know, they were never nasty about it, because we served a purpose and we saved them money. In all the time I worked at CI, the advertising from the big four US comics publishers was less than I spent on advertising in CI when I had my comics shop. And this peed me off.

Being the more outwardly emotive of the two of us; I used to rail against the injustice of it all, while Dez, who had been around more blocks than me at the time, was more resigned. We were an extension of the big publishers; we were beholden to their unhappy words and yet we helped their sales and they gave us nothing. One company even asked for us to retract a story - a true story - or there might be repercussions for the artist, who they believed leaked the story. There was a lot of talk and some action in the late 1990s with DC taking the lead in legal actions against websites infringing upon their copyright. I don't think they realised that this was homage to and free promotion for them. But, the internet was still in its infancy and people didn't know what they were doing; DC had never really known what they had been doing, but...

The comics magazine did something that the Internet doesn't and possibly doesn't want to do - offered balance. Now the comics community is so fragmented that it straddles many areas and has created thousands of micro-communities. It creates localised success stories and more importantly, because of the fragmentation, it is now choosy. We prioritised news stories at CI based on a number of factors; but if something was dropped, we'd find a home for it in the In Brief column, or find a way to work a story up somewhere else - we did, in an unbelievably altruistic way for the people involved, everything we could to promote as much as we could. Dez didn't want to alienate anyone (apart from the small press) and that meant creative ways of promotion for people who probably didn't know or if they did rarely appreciated it.

A Google search still brings up millions of pages related to comics - that's, in a way, millions of micro-comics magazines, aimed at everyone, but actually read by a range from no one to many thousands (and do you trust a website that says it has 50,000 hits any more than you trusted Dez when he told you CI was read by 40k plus people). Borderline Press gets exposure, on some sites, but others... I can only speculate as to why not, but, to repeat myself, when you have 10,000 little fanzines catering to loyal audiences, on average, in their hundreds you either have to have something universally brilliant or be Marvel Comics.

Oddly enough, just this evening I was told about a number of rock music websites in Europe and the USA that essentially say to people that are not well known, "How much are you going to give us to review your album?" And that doesn't even include a guaranteed good review, just a review - full stop. Apparently, there is no way of determining, independently, whether this process is even cost-effective or productive. That is the freaky power of a tool that 10 years ago a 1 megabyte document was too big to download without incurring potential bankruptcy and nowadays you can download things that are nearly 1000 times larger than the first computer hard drive I ever had. That was a 286 with 20mg of hard drive that had been doubled up to 40mg. Windows 3.1 worked on about 3.5 meg. I had far more rudimentary understanding of computers (and comics) then than I do now.

But, I digress. I don't see a magic wand solution to this problem. All-encompassing web sites; claims from places to 'have it all' - whatever you can think of, by whoever you can think of, will still have more people not visit their page as will; and some who do won't like it and will tell their friends, because as we all know at the moment, negative word of mouth seems to have more resonance than positive. If Fred Bloggs recommends a film he doesn't know what he's talking about, but if he hates it, he's the leading expert!

The sad truth is I have to work five times harder to get 25% of the coverage someone like me would have got in 1994. There is also more product, less readers and an exponential explosion in potential ways to become a star, but like the promise of a Nigerian Prince's money laundering needs, all just as (in)effective in selling their ideas to others.

So, no this wasn't a long-winded way saying I was going to bring Borderline Magazine back. I wouldn't be that stupid; and I couldn't find someone that stupid with that kind of money. The age of the actual physical evidence of success through available coverage is long gone. I'd encourage anyone trying to do something to unify this industry's disparate information dissemination; but that would have to be something bloody brilliant and would appeal to 98% of the fans and 100% of the important fans who influence others' choices. I always say to my mate that the idea of fixing a sport match - like football, baseball, cricket or basketball - isn't about bribing or blackmailing one person; it's about either the entire team or the majority of that team who would then have avoid ever letting slip what they had done and any good CSI viewer will testify, the more people involved in a crime that involves conspiracy, the quicker it unravels. Good ideas in the coverage of comics are like illegal practices in real life - good on paper but start to fall apart when the theory becomes practice.

Until something new comes along that can polarise comics again, I'm witnessing something odd and against the grain - more quality product from independent publishers than I've ever seen before struggling for exposure, while, in other places, truly woeful superhero stuff selling quantities that could ensure an independent comics creator could eat for a year. Watch Mike Judge's film Idiocracy and decipher the true message behind all the slapstick...

Moving on...

Revised Convention Schedule for 2014:

August 2nd - Birmingham, ICE (exhibiting)
August 30th - Melksham (visiting)

September 13/14th - Bedford, NICE (exhibiting/book launch - Spoko)

October 4th - Nottingham (hopefully exhibiting)
October 17 to 19th - Kendal, Lakes Comic Festival (exhibiting/book launch -Santa Claus versus the Nazis & Verity Fair)
October 18th - Leamington Spa Comic Con (exhibiting/book launch - Santa Claus versus the Nazis & Verity Fair)

November 15/16th - Leeds, Thought Bubble (exhibiting/book launch - Seth & Ghost, Robotz + another)

There will also be a Verity Fair signing up in the North-East shortly after it comes out. Terry will be there with actual copies of the book... 

Come over and see us at any of these, or drop us a line. I've been known to give generous discounts to people I remember or recognise! Well... maybe not that generous.

***

We're dispensing with using Amazon. There are people in and around our team who feel this is cutting off our noses to spite our faces, but I think if we want you guys to think we're ethical then the best way of going about it is to behave like it and not be seen to help swell the coffers of a company that does not pay Corporation Tax in the UK and keeps much of its business investments 'off-shore' to avoid paying any taxes at all, all while paying its staff minimum and Zero hour contracts and offering them no rights at all. I just hope people who might have bought our stuff off of Amazon will feel safe buying it direct from us (our World Pay facilities are pretty cast iron) or at any of the shops that stock our books - give your local comic shop the profit, not some faceless corporation who couldn't give a flying fart about you or yours.

***

Added to the schedules in the last few weeks for definite are: story(cycle) by Kathryn Briggs; Spoko #2 and I'm hoping to seal a deal with artist Maia Fjord for her children's comic; I've been procrastinating on sealing the deal on another Polish book - mainly because I'm worried they might say no.

I'm looking for an artist(s) to work with writer Gord Drynan on two stories for further issues of Spoko. One is a story about singing 'aliens' and the other involves a knowledge of drawing trees and undergrowth and not much else.

We have an 80-page horror script that needs a suitably dark and evocative artist...

And anything that we're looking for is still on a 'back end' deal basis. I can't afford to pay people up front, especially if they themselves are unknown quantities; but as everyone else who has come with us has found out, if we sell books out you get a damned sight more. Hollywood actors sometimes take a % of a film's profits - think of doing art for a Borderline Press project in 2015 as being like that. I'm not asking you to do anything for nothing or future exposure - I want to pay everybody, but I need to make the money on that project before that can happen. One day, maybe, but for now I just want to get as many good books out into your hands as possible.

Let's hope the second half of the summer can top the first half!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Borderline Blog #22 - Tiger Roars

Back in my days as News Editor for Comics International, I might have written the headline: Leicester Comic Con Roars Into Life, and Dez Skinn would struggle with it, BIG TIME.

"What's the significance of 'roars'?" He would ask, in his Humberside accent, and I would explain that Leicester is famous for having a rugby team called Leicester Tigers. He would baulk at that. I can think of more reasons why he wouldn't have liked it than he would have - it depended on what kind of mood he was in.

How about: Leicester Comic Con: A Crack(l)ing Day Out or Leicester Gets Foxy With Comics or maybe not...

My return to the circuit has been anything but auspicious: Thought Bubble for Borderline Press was held in a half finished, dimly lit building site; I looked and probably sounded like a middle-aged man in an uncomfortable position. Bristol was... well documented. A line has been drawn under that famous old south west city; it is a nice place to visit.

So expectations were mixed about Leicester. I mean, it was new and didn't really have a star name. No disrespect to Ian Edgington (who I really should have gone and spoken to, we have odd things in common), Matt 'D'Israeli' Brooker (brilliant to catch up with him after 12 years!) and the other names on the poster, but you could understand why hardened convention goers might look at Leicester Comic Con and think, 'hmm, looks a bit pooh.' That's where they would have been wrong.

I love Leicester. I live about 40 minutes drive from it and, with no disrespect to Alan Moore, Northampton is pretty much a pile of shit compared to this wondrous city. I just think there's so much to do there, so many places to visit and, of course, it has the Belgrave Road, which, this weekend was the first time I'd been to Leicester in years without going down it and shopping until I'm being wasteful. However, we drove close to it a couple of times, unintentionally.

The Borderline Press Team (me and Chris) left Northampton at 8am. I figured it would take 45 minutes max to get into the city and then we'd have 30 minutes to get to Silver Street (awkward) which would be more than enough time to get set up. We didn't take into account (and possibly neither did the convention) that Kasabian were playing a concert in the park; there was a military parade and roadworks meant some roads were not accessible. I've never been good in Leicester in a car; the last speeding ticket I ever got was on London Road, Leicester. At 9.40, we were just accidentally finding our way to Cank Street and the rear entrance of Silver Arcade. That was the only downer on what was to turn out to be a really fun day!

Specifics? That's tough. We gave away a stack of Zombre books and many of the people who got freebies stood and chatted, bought other books. The day was just a steady trickle of old and new friends, interested people - many just your bog standard members of the public - and do you know, I didn't see one unhappy face. Matt Brooker said to me the only bad thing for him was not bringing some of his books to sign, he thought he would have made a lot more money.

Holding the event in an empty shopping precinct was an absolute stroke of genius and the plans for next year's events look like an improvement and I would have questioned whether a convention has been held in a more ornate and bespoke piece of architecture. The Silver Arcade (Google image it and be astounded) is a real jewel in Leicester City Centre's crown and it is, sadly, undervalued and under used.

Cosplayers were out in force, brightening up an already glorious Midsummer day; the volunteers left no stone unturned; they were great to have around and you didn't want for anything if they could locate it for you.

It was busy at 10am and we were still taking money at 4.45pm. We'd connected with many people; Jay Eales and Baden James Mellonie were on hand to sign copies of Zombre and I smiled, a lot. In fact, we all smiled and laughed and joked and it felt like everyone was happy. I think they were.

I heard a few comments on my travels around the con; very few of them were even remotely negative and possibly the most derisory thing was the lack of star names; but hey, the guy who organised it - Nathan - did so in a short amount of time and needed to convince a few people it was worth doing. He did that.

I sold a Zombre on the strength of the poem in it - that was nice. I did an interview with some people trying to do some coverage for their You Tube channel and I can't remember enjoying myself at a comics convention as much in donkeys years.

Roll on LCC2015.

***

I should have delivery dates for Verity Fair and Spoko #1 this week, so it's all about gearing up for these releases. I'm planning #2 of the latter and have a tentative line-up in place. It might cause some production problems - it's a mix of black and white and colour this time around!

I'm in talks with the wonderful Kathryn Briggs to publish a Borderline Edition of her story(cycle) book and I'm trying to sort out something that could be our biggest push of a book so far. It's early doors at the moment, but I hope to be involved in something important towards the end of the year.

We've also had a very nice - if slightly raw - script submitted to us. It's been floating around my office for a few months. It looks around the 80-page region and is a dark horror story. I also have something odd (people are obviously being inspired by Seth & Ghost) about a promiscuous hero, her octopus sidekick and a planetary invasion. It made me laugh in places...

The thing is, I'm getting a lot of email and Twitter traffic asking about our submissions guidelines and this is as good a forum to reiterate it as any.

While our intention is to produce our own stuff (not written by me, but using our creations) and pay people to do it, that's still a way off. It was always our intention to produce extant books and projects primarily. Taking Zombre and Spoko out of the equation (because they both feature work that was asked for), the majority of our projects already exist, have been in short print format, foreign editions or web comics. However, I know feel like I'm entering Monty Python territory by adding the caveat, but Seth & Ghost has been produced exclusively for us, but I'm pretty sure Jamie would have had his hand bitten off by someone if Will Vigar hadn't done all the groundwork.

566, ZCS, HH, CoC, VF - all existed prior to our editions and that is ostensibly what we do, at the moment. If there's a finished project with no home and we like it, then we can talk. If there's a partially complete comic/book, then we can talk. It's just, at the moment, we'd rather spend our money ensuring there's great product out there with our name on it; we're not Marvel or DC or even Jonathan Cape.

So if you're a writer and you have the best idea in the world, we're not likely to commission you unless you have an artist and a fait accompli. The same if you're an artist looking for work; hey, I'd love to give you all a job - if I win the lottery, I might - but surely it's better for all concerned if we're still here and publishing good books in 2017 and 2022 and 2030?

There's also that thorny issue of just what does Borderline Press specialise in, if anything? I've said before, I want to publish the things I think you will like; the things that float my boat (and I think will make us all some money). If I had to be deadly serious for a second, we make books that appeal to women... No, seriously, we do. I've analysed all the sales data - web site, Amazon, conventions and book launches and 65% of our customers are female! More than half the sales on Zombre have been to girls! 566 Frames is split (which surprises me a little). Hunger House, Zombies Can't Swim - both sell to women! Only City of Crocodiles has a male leaning. I expect Verity Fair will continue to be a hit with the girls and I also think Spoko will appeal. It's no good, we're sexist...

Look at our schedule; see what we've published and what we're publishing. If you have a superhero book, it's unlikely I'm going to be that interested (unless it's something really special). Use your brains. Think outside of the box.

Due to all manner of 'problems', we're unlikely to be at LFCC in July; changing printers has been beneficial but has meant that we'll take delivery of Verity Fair and Spoko about 10 days after it; so their official launches will be at ICE in Birmingham on August 2nd. I know a lot of people have been waiting patiently, well, the wait is nearly over.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Borderline Press Blog #21 - Limbo Dancing

Since the laughable Bristol Comics Expo, the month has been almost deathly quiet. I don't know if it's the June doldrums or just that I haven't seen anything going on. yes; there's been lots exciting news in and around the world of comics (if you like that kind of thing), but for me it's been a period of heel-kicking and ponder.

Borderline Press took on a Commercial Manager in the form of my old friend Christian and he has, I hate to admit it, been great at doing the jobs I hate doing and he's been cutting costs; but this has been at the detriment of Verity Fair...

Terry Wiley's collected edition was originally supposed to be out for May, but production problems (at our, then, printer) put it back a month. Chris came on board, immediately looked at the costs of printing VF and said, 'Hold your horses.' The upshot is that Verity Fair should arrive in shops for July. I'm hoping it will be for the LFCC at Earl's Court or at the latest ICE in Birmingham. Spoko #1 will arrive at the same time, as will a bunch of promo posters - top quality posters - we'll be giving away to shops and people who buy our products.

After that we have another (publishing) lull, while I get Santa Claus versus the Nazis and Seth & Ghost away for a late September delivery. I also hope to have Robotz, but that depends on Jo's schedule. She's got June and July set aside to work on the book and it'll all be down to me to get the thing finished and to a printer for an October release. These three books are the backbone of Borderline Press's Christmas Onslaught (and the least said about that before Midsummer's day the better!). Plus we have Nathan Castle's Seamonster, a collection of Agata Bara's stories and two other projects; both by women, one from Scotland (via the USA) and the other - another - from Scandinavia. As I lost a couple of projects, the least said about those, also the better.

Oh and there's Spoko #2, which at the moment has stories from Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and, hopefully, the UK. That should be out in November (if I can assemble it all, get a cover, and get it finished by September).

It's the Leicester Comic Con next weekend; we're hoping this is considerably better than Bristol (but, to be fair, you could hold a convention in a rotting crab's arse and it would be better than Bristol), then a summer of travelling around, meeting people and generally getting all of you people to see how great we are!

There is a change in the personnel for one convention, however. Because of a family engagement, I can no longer attend The Lakes in October. So Christian, along with Ben Dickson, Gavin Mitchell, Terry Wiley and a few others will be at the Borderline Press table in the Clock Tower. I will be taking Borderline Press to the brand new Leamington Spa Con, which is on the Saturday of the Lakes weekend (the family wedding isn't until the Sunday). I have high expectations for this new convention, because Dan Mallier - one half of the team behind it - is full of confidence and Lisa, his partner, seems to be approaching it from the direction a proper (non-comic) Convention organiser might. I expect it will impress many people and could well be the start of a much needed Midlands convention (now that Caption is moving and the MCMs at Birmingham aren't really about comics fans).

The other news involves my intention to get the website working more for us. Initially we had intended to have a rolling load of all manner of stuff, but, you know, running a comics publishing company - even part time - consumes so much time and energy that sitting down and thinking of frivolous and interesting nonsense to keep the web pages moving suddenly becomes much harder than the original idea seemed.

And that's about it; very much a month in limbo, waiting for things to start moving. However, you need to watch this space; things are always just close to the surface with anything I do...

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Borderline Press Blog #20 - the FCBD Rant

While I'm on one...

Anyone who read my serialised autobiographical expose of comics - My Monthly Curse - will know that I have little time for specific areas of the comics industry. One of the frustrating things about getting Borderline Press into comic shops has been lack of knowledge about our product and another reason is the fact we're not being carried by a distributor (my choice). As an ex-retailer, I find most comics publishers do not support retailers and distributors are like certain kinds of politicians, they are not interested in the future, so the 'help' they offer is not really help at all, it is just a devious way of ensuring they get paid.

Growth, for the people who make and deliver the comics that makes their world tick, needs to be immediate, you can't nurture things - it's too slow. Therefore not only did distributors become unpopular with retailers, they were also deliberately responsible for the loss of hundreds of comic shops between 1993 and 2000. They wanted to supply megastores and the small guys could go and be anatomically impossible with themselves. That retail devastation also angered many fans shorn of their Local Comic Shops, and where subsequently left to the vagaries and peculiarities of mail order.

The problem was that most didn't know or weren't aware that it was the people producing and delivering the comics, they loved, who were also responsible for Fat Larry's Comics and Porn in Wibley, West Virginia, closing down and every other store ran by an enthusiastic amateur (who might one day become an astute retailer - because, it does happen, I know quite a few of them).

It has always galled me that the retailer - the lifeblood of publishing - is and was abused in such a way by the people earning a living from them. It sat uneasily with me at how these distribution businesses could just so brazenly discard money making opportunities and now after ten years of avoiding comics like the plague, I'm back and it's still pretty much the same as it was before.

The 1990s have become an almost forgotten decade in popular culture (compared to the '60s, '70s and '80s), but for comics it was the decade when comics publishers discovered big business, commerce and commercialism and how to make more money than they believed was possible. Comics discovered Mammon.

In 2014, there are predominantly big, but there are small, 'comic' shops - there are the chains and the small guys (and gals) who have been striving away, despite the best efforts of publishers and distributors trying to kill them off. You still pay for Point of Sale items; you still pay for any kind of retailer support that is physically produced (they might even charge you for virtual stuff too) and there is even this thing called Free Comic Book Day, which actually isn't free but involves the giving away of comics.

I got behind FCBD because I thought it was something to help spotlight comics to the uninitiated... Bloody hell, how out of touch was I? It is actually organised by the leading distributor and if you are a retailer and you want to give away free comics - they'll cost you. Actually, if you want to give away free comics and you're not a big publisher it will cost you.

Retailers have to buy the comics they're giving away and they have to pay the distributor for delivering them and then they have to ensure they have paid up and registered to be able to use the logo, designed by the distribution company, who have a vested interest in the future of comics, or you can't be part of their (lucrative) FCBD. Once all these have been met and only then, can they give these comics to possible customers who will actually put more money into the accounts of the people supplying than the people selling!

You might need to read that again - it is correct.

Most comics shop spend between £250 and £1000 on FREE COMIC BOOK DAY! Most publishers produce a bunch of stuff for FREE COMIC BOOK DAY! But the distributor; the organisation that depends on the publisher and the punter being happy - will screw you to the floor with narrow-minded short-termism. FREE COMIC BOOK DAY my arse!

Can you image what would happen if farmers charged Tesco £3 for a 5kg bag of potatoes (instead of the 30p Tesco really pays for them)? The exact opposite applies in comics - it's an industry where the supplier and the courier are better rewarded than the person selling. I know, I'm bloody obsessed about it... But I can't think of another retail industry where that would happen - if you know of one, put me out of my misery!

So, I decided to do the free comic for FCBD; I was going to distribute it on May 3rd; I was going to send it out to retailers for free and with a note asking them to please give this to the people you think might like our books... and I got asked not to...

The company behind FCBD said:

It had an unauthorised use of their logo (fair enough).
We had not registered to be part of it (huh?)
We do not have an account (no and we're not likely to have one at this rate)
We have not had their approval for the contents of our free comic (and they were never going to get it as long as I have a hole in my anus)
It is not available outside of the UK in physical form (huh, again?)
It is forbidden to depict minors as Cthulhu children with octopus tentacles (okay, that was a lie)
There were a couple more, mainly to do with my sarcasm probably...

The point is - they were not making any money from me. They had no control over the content. They really did not like the idea that we were not only giving it away - FREE - but also shipping it ourselves - FREE. Our little FREE comic book in many ways proves what a misnomer FCBD really is  and was - another way for the suppliers and their delivery boys to rape the retailer while making the retailer think that it has been a success.

Surely the idea of a FCBD is to be given free comics, freely distributed, for comic shops to give away in an attempt to attract new (and old) readers into comic shops to buy comics which ultimately lines the pockets of all links in the chain. Where is the economic sense of what is currently happening unless the retailers haven't got any power at all over it and can't stop it, because they're all independent...

Wow, that's really truly stupid business practice; not by the shops or fans, but by everyone else associated with comics.

Anyhow, we took the logo off (as 3000 of you are aware) and I think they did us a BIG favour. I'd like my publishing company to be associated with such a great idea, but this is a great idea that hides a multitude of business sins and is just a new way of looking the gift horse in the mouth and extracting another tooth. Borderline Press will produce free comics, when it is economically viable, and do you know what? We'll continue to give them away and ship them to comic shops, at our cost. We may never be a big company, but I want retailers to know that someone is really on their side.

So, please be aware that this is actually a rant at the mechanism not the machine - I've worked in comics at a time of boom and also bust - when you had to speculate to try, almost forlornly, to accumulate the money lost from the last speculation. I was vaguely aware of FCBD when it started, but at the time I was in a place so far away from comics that only the barest remained. The idea of free comics is great - free things make audiences; free things work.

Remember Comics International? First six issues - Free. Then a nominal price that many shops didn't charge; because even giving away 30p was something the customers appreciated and it was a good intro to comics for the uninitiated. Having seen that work, I have a soup├žon of admiration for the hierarchy of comics because since the advent of the Direct Market, the you-don't-get-anything-for-nothing policy is still working - so what do I know? I know it's like an extra tax for retailers and the ones who manage to overcome this spiteful practice are bloody good at what they do; they have to be.

The Borderline Press free comic cost a fair bit to produce (but nowhere near what that Mouse Guard hard back cost), to give as many people as possible a chance to see our brilliant books and then buy them so I make money, the retailer makes money and the creator of the book makes money. Goddamn it, I know that's ridiculously altruistic and I sound like some pinko liberal 18 year old with a penchant for manga and squeezing spots, but it's what me and my accountant came up with when we did the business plan.

I'd happily tell retailers how much I pay the same printer several top US publishers use (and those US publishers are getting prices heaps cheaper than me) and how between them, they're using retailers to fund their yachts, holiday mansions, cocaine and prostitute habits. I would like retailers to support my books, either through the 50% discount scheme we offer (that's 15% more than you-know-who will ever give you and our terms are more generous), or because they see me putting my money where my mouth is and delivering the quality I'm banging on about.

Borderline Press - supporting retailers; doing what's right for creators; trying to make everyone happy (some of the time).

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Borderline Press Blog #19: Sturm und Drang

I'm not forming a German arts movement (although sometimes I think it might mean less work). What I am trying to do is think up a new raison d'etre for Borderline Press; well, not really a reason, more a 'catchphrase' or encapsulating sentence that tells people unfamiliar with the product what they need to know about Borderline Press.

This, almost pointless, discussion was one of many we had at Bristol Comics Expo on Sunday afternoon. We had to do something because it was either that or violently attack the organisers...

Let's look at the weekend in general: the weather at times was horrendous meaning the people known as the '501 Troop' had to battle more than just ridicule for looking like pantomime refugees from a bad George Lucas dream. No, let's be fair to these poor sods - they braved howling wind, lashing rain, falling masonry and some of Bristol's less deserving twats to promote a comics festival that essentially didn't need promoting because if you weren't registered, you weren't coming in!

No, it wasn't so busy that promoting it would have caused problems. You needed to have already bought your ticket to get through the door. If you were a member of the public, curious to see why all these brightly coloured (and black or white) costumes were descending onto a slightly dodgy modern hotel in the centre of Bristol, you were shit out of luck. If you were a local comics fan or had maybe heard about the event and travelled up to buy Borderline Press books or get Michael Golden's autograph, you were also shit out of luck.

Some bright spark in the Bristol Comics Expo organisation committee decided that making it an all-ticket affair would be a great idea. I'm wondering if the Future Inn had put a limit on how many people were allowed in, because I cannot believe even the most earnest of convention organisers would have willingly turned people away while the people financing their event, up on the SIXTH floor, were struggling to cover their costs.

Here's an example of a conversation I heard between an incredibly disgruntled stall holder and an utterly-out-of-her-depth organiser/helper:
"Why are you turning people away?"
"They don't have tickets."
"Let them pay at the door."
"We haven't got the facilities to do that."
"I have. Let me give you a box with a float, you can charge people to come in and maybe some of them will spend some money rather than just walk around posing in their manga costumes."
"We can't do that."
"There's about 50 people upstairs. I've barely taken enough money to cover my table costs and you're turning people away?"
This was Sunday about 2pm and because of the cramped space the dealers were forced into, 50 people was probably an exaggeration on the dealer's part.

Considering the massive success we had the week before at the book launch at Close Encounters in Northampton; we went to Bristol with a mixture of confidence and (for me) trepidation. I set my expectations low, to offset any disappointments - my low expectations were not even met...

It had nothing to do with us. I spoke to about 50% of the dealers and exhibitors and I heard two bits of positive feedback in terms of monetary gains; everyone else thought the weekend was a massive disaster. One of the three back issue dealers there, packing up at 4pm on the Sunday, said to me and Chris: "We took over £2000 last year; we've done less than £800 this year and that has paid for the tables and our weekend costs - we have made no profit at all, this just isn't a profitable convention!" This man was extremely pissed off.

One of the 'star' guests admitted to me that he'd had more people ask him who he was than requests for signed books or sketches; Arthur Suydam (the Zombie King and for me man behind the brilliant 70s strip Cholly & Flytrap) was telling me how he's still a student even after all these years and showed me all the sketches he'd been doing in between the lack in interest most of the attendees had for his (or anyone else's) stuff. While another of the guests made me wonder who he'd slept with the actually get a job in comics, because with one exception his stuff was rank amateur; this was a guy who would have benefited with practising a little as well...

The 6' by 2' tables weren't. The aircon was never on. There were no windows to open. There was enough room behind the tables for one person, most tables had two, with the next aisles also having to share the same space. If you'd have wanted to swing a cat behind the tables, you would have first struggled to fit a cat in there. Only two of the three lifts were working and therefore the queues for them - because only the fittest of humans fancied doing the six floor hike - was horrendous. To be fair, if I really wanted to be horrid about this event, I could list pages of things that were done incredibly badly, but I suppose the one thing that really struck home to me was how it was a comics convention with the only emphasis on comics kept to a minimum in favour of making a huge deal about the people who had braved Bristol's foul weather dressed like nothing on Earth...

We covered our convention costs, but probably lost a fair bit of money on the weekend. We did give away over 300 free comics and we talked to some good people and some excellent people were tempted to buy our books. Ben Dickson (Santa Claus v the Nazis writer) was with us all weekend and his help was invaluable and we learnt so much about what we might be doing wrong (in the presentation area) - because we're still new and lightweight and learning about stuff like this now. We might have a tentative deal for a book written by Cardiff-based Sam Roads (who was very concerned about my much-publicised on Twitter toothache) and I made several new friends who had varying different talents from artists to letterers to people who I just liked because they were good people.

Don't get me wrong. On the journey back, Christian and I were disappointed by the turnout and the lack of fiscal reward, but we also saw the enormous benefits from the networking and meeting and talking to people. We figured it was the best place to cut our 2014 convention teeth and make sure we don't repeat any of the mistakes we might have made. So, despite my curmudgeonly persona and (as a Spurs supporter) tendency to embrace doom and gloom, we saw enormous positives from the weekend; sadly it was despite the convention not because of it...

***

Ben Dickson's forthcoming Santa Claus versus the Nazis book got the most attention, with people taking pictures of the promo poster and talking to us about it's impending arrival. We were all of the opinion had it been released for Bristol it would have probably been the best-selling book at the convention (that award went to Porcelain and with very good reason). This raised an interesting question for me to ponder - why are some books more successful than others in different parts of the country...

At the Close Encounters book launch, we struggled to sell any Zombies Can't Swim and despite it being a lovely, self-contained little book - cheap as well - we sold just one copy at the book launch. Zombre sold very well at the book launch, yet at Bristol, ZCS sold well and Zombre sold just one??? This was why we were discussing Borderline Press's reason for existing. I've always believed that even in the UK you have regional variations; when I wrote Movers & Shakers for years, I'd sometimes get feedback from, say, Scotland suggesting that what was hot in London or Northampton wasn't necessarily in Glasgow. This gave me the altruistic ideas, at the time, to try and build a retailers back issue network, where retailers could swap and/or sell their stock to other regions: if Edinburgh needs X-Men and Swindon needs Batman and both have a surplus of what the other needs ... It's not rocket science.

However, despite retailers all being full of camaraderie, they really actually hate each other and will fight for the last penny, if necessary. Two retailers could drink at a bar, swap change and cover for each other at a convention, but if it comes down to helping the competition make money, even if it meant cutting off their own noses to spite their faces, it wouldn't happen; you would have more chance of getting the original Beatles to have a reunion.

But, when one zombie themed book sells and the other doesn't and then the exact opposite happens 115 miles away, you have to seriously wonder if there are regional variations with more eclectic books.

***

What is Spoko?

The ever-present (and prescient) Ben Dickson had a problem with the title and how to pronounce it and therefore wondered if we were alienating possible customers because of my insistence for keeping the title.

Spoko means COOL. It is a Polish word that has been adopted by a lot of European countries, the same way as some idiots in this country still say 'cool beans' when agreeing with something.

It is, as far as I know, pronounced: SPO rhymes with OH. KO rhymes with OH. SPOH-KOH = SPOKO.

The first issue of Spoko is called Birds. Therefore the first issue is really called... COOL BIRDS and a cool bird isn't an angry or flappy one...

Yes, I agree that people might look at Sebastian Skrobol's logo and think, "What the fu...?" But equally, knowing comics fans, they'll say, "What does Spoko mean?" And before you know it you have a dialogue going with a potential customer. I believe having an unusual name for something can sometimes generate more 'interest' than if I'd called it 'The Borderline Press Anthology Comic'.

The first issue is almost finished. I need to send Seb the blurb for the back cover and tidy up the inside 44 pages and it will be joining Verity Fair at the (new) printer.

***

Another book that was generating a lot of noise at Bristol was Jamie Lewis's Seth & Ghost - the inclusion of the Zombre story as a full colour free comic strip was, I believe a bit of a master stroke by moi, because it is vivid, very four-colour and was the thing that got us talking to the cosplay fans.

This is also a book that's released in the autumn - whether it's out for The Lakes or for Jamie's home town Thought Bubble, I can't accurately tell you at the moment, but whenever it comes out, I think it's going to make someone a star...

***

So what is our raison d'etre? Do we have a sentence that encapsulates Borderline Press to anyone still not fortunate enough to have heard of us?

I'd never thought about this as a sound-bite before. The website lists what we want to do and what I'd like to achieve, but the closest we've come to a catchphrase is 'quality over quantity' - which sounds like something from an expensive DIY retailer or a Heston Blumenthal restaurant.

Borderline Press wants to publish the best Europe has for the creators who aren't as recognised or recognisable as their over-inflated US counterparts? Nah, that's typically inflammatory from me; but it is correct in its suggestion - we do want to publish great books, predominantly from unknown creators, to give them an audience and help us continue the work (which I started back in Borderline Magazine's Drawing Board features). I'm looking at Europe because there is a wealth of untapped talent out there; but equally, I'm getting interest from great - unknown - people in the UK and USA.

Christian, my new assistant, was reading this monster opus from a US creator and could not get over just how brilliant and quick it was to draw him in. "Are we doing ### #######?"
"Dunno, it's through an agent and agents haven't got the same ethics we hope people will see we've got."
"That's a real shame, this is really good and deserves an audience."
"Then it will, even if it's with someone else."

Then why did we do some zombie books?

Because, having been out of comics for 10 years, the idea of producing a zombie anthology seemed to be a no-brainer. It was a no-brainer - the wrong way round...

Don't get me wrong. Zombre is our current best-selling book. The problem was Kim Herbst's lovely, funny and very female-friendly Zombies Can't Swim came out hot on Zombre's heels and suddenly people thought we were a zombie publisher and the baby Dennis Wojda on the cover of 566 Frames was really something utterly horrific. From a business POV, I wince at this bad scheduling on my part. Kim was more than happy for me to publish her, I could have waited a few months and barely anyone would have thought we were just trying to jump on TWD's coat tails. Which to a certain degree we were and that will teach me to try and jump bandwagons.

So that's why I think Borderline Press needs a blunt and pithy mission statement.

***

My final observation from the weekend was thanks to a (I'm not being sexist, Ben) gorgeous young (blonde and attractive, in case she's reading this) lady who came back to the table on Saturday afternoon and bought 566 Frames using the last £12.56 she had in her pocket. She had returned three times to look at it and tentatively talk to the dull looking middle-aged men trying to sell them. I finally realised that she wanted the book but didn't have the cash, so did a deal with her.

"I'd love to buy this [Hunger House] and this [ZCS] because it's clear that you're a female-friendly publisher." And, do you know, I could have taken £12.56 all weekend and that would have pleased me more than being given the opportunity to have no-questions-asked-sweaty-sex with Karen Gillen (which, incidentally, I haven't ever had the opportunity... yet).

We are, essentially, a female friendly publisher! We publish women and we mainly want to publish books that will appeal to women as much as they will for men.

I said to Christian, driving back yesterday, that we can't really go round saying or claiming we're a female friendly publisher because it's really something a female has to say. Two men with the combined age of 96 are probably going to struggle to convince people that they're not superhero fans, but, a woman said this to me and by the end of the year we'll have published: Loka Kanarp, Kim Herbst, Joanna Sanecka, Sylwia Restecka, Agata Bara, Chrissy Derbyshire, Joanna Karpowicz, and a couple more that I can't talk about, so not to jinx anything. Also, I've agreed in principal to publish one of Leonie O'Moore's projects in 2015 and the majority of the books we have out or have coming out will appeal to women as much as men.

Verity Fair is created by a man, but is all about women. Seamonster is very much the kind of thing women would be happy to have on their book shelves. And, do you know something, I don't think this fact hinders us at all. You could say that I'm alienating my own gender, to this I say, you can't alienate quality and if they can't see that they can stick with their superheroes a spandex.

So... In conclusion: Bristol Comics Expo was a bit of a load of shite. They shouldn't do one again for a few years, or let someone who has a clue run it. In terms of Borderline Press getting out there, we gave away 300 free comics, talked to many people and our name is becoming far wider known; so as a PR exercise we can't really complain. As a worst case scenario, we were pleased it was the first con of the year, because we will not make the same mistakes again and will go to Leicester in June with a new look and topless dancing girls and a selection of Chippendales dressed as Deadpool...

...