Monday, 28 April 2014

Borderline Blog #18 - It's the Custom(s)

"One of your books has been seized by customs..."

At least that's initially what I thought the nice young lady from the cargo company had said. I had visions of Hunger House being pawed by overzealous Customs & Excise officials, wondering just how old the girl in it is supposed to be.
"Which book?" I asked.
"Um... City of Crocodiles."
"Customs pull a container or two from most ships, just to make sure there isn't a Chinese family hiding inside it. It should be released on Monday, you'll still get it for when you need it."

I can't help but think this might have something to do with the officious twat at HM Customs & Excise I dealt with a couple of weeks ago, when I made the throwaway comment at some pointless bureaucracy about 'It's not like these are terrorist manuals disguised as comics,' - I'm sure it had nothing to do with it...

So instead of receiving 80 boxes on Monday, I shall receive 42 on Monday and a further 38 before the deadline arrives (expect delivery photos). It's a bit of a pain really. For all of the benefits of having stuff printed in China, you have to wait up to 10 weeks for their delivery and then some jobsworth at Southampton goes and screws up your weekend...

One thing I've become acutely aware of recently is time and how it no longer works to your advantage. Hunger House and City of Crocodiles were actually initially scheduled for March releases and the catalogue of minor but annoying 'hurdles' that ended up pushing that release date back to essentially the beginning of May (I got the 'Ma' part right) were really unforeseen and bloody annoying - oh, I said that, but they were. Printers deleting files they were supposed to be using. Endless dialogue with associated parties, who, while not directly involved in the process are inextricably linked through association (this was a particular bugbear of mine). It's a good job I haven't had hard and fast deadlines to stick to (at the moment - this changes later in the year) because I would have been left in a 'vulnerable and compromising position'.

As it is, we're considering having 100 copies of Verity Fair airfreighted to the UK so that we have them for the Leicester Comic Con and a proposed Terry Wiley signing at Travelling Man in that there Newcastle-Upon-Tyne place. This is because the chances of having the sea shipment here on time is about as likely as me getting Jack Kirby to draw my autobiography (slim, but even slimmer given he's been dead for 20 years).

To be fair, VF's delays have had a lot to do with me being 'unwell' and also my attempts to salvage something out of the Beastly rubble and various other things, one of which I fully intend to rant about, one day.

Now we're hurtling towards Free Comic Book Day and then convention season starts properly with Bristol in May. I have fond memories of Bristol - Borderline Magazine won its award there - but this year is the first time I go there with a vested interest in attendance and consumers - the apprehension is almost palpable.

If you are near Northampton on Saturday 3rd, May, then come down to Close Encounters and celebrate the release of our new books, meet some creators and eat some cake! If you're in Bristol the following weekend, look out for our banner and come over and talk to me or my new assistant, Chris. At Bristol, we'll have Ben Dickson on our table, talking about Santa Claus, Adolf Hitler and all of his other projects and there'll be people stopping by all over the weekend. Come over and buy me a beer, I won't say no, unless it's lager!

Depending on the success of the Northampton launch, we're looking at having special days at Close Encounters in Bedford, Comic Connections in Banbury, Travelling Man in Newcastle and, to be brutally honest, anywhere else that fancies having us (we bring cake!).

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Borderline Blog #17 - Donkey Porn

I learned a lot of valuable lessons from Dez Skinn - the 'waste not, want not' philosophy was one of them that I still fully embrace. I hate that people do work and it eventually ends up not being used, especially if it is of a standard that should be used. However, 'standards' and 'quality' are relative to the individual - one man's poo is (most probably) my dog's snack!

So, I've been agonising for the last two weeks about the Beastly anthology and the fact that I feel like I've let down a bunch of people. The economics of the situation shouts at me that I didn't let anyone down and I would have let me and my company down, had I been foolhardy enough to pursue something that was not cost effective, and also something I have discovered over the last few weeks isn't as well received by fans as you might imagine. As someone (in the know) said to me last week, "Anthologies are a lot of hard work for not a lot of return'.


I have these strips... and I don't like wasting good things (that's why I compost).

About six months ago, I was in the throes of planning something called 'Spoko' - the working title for a European anthology comic; something, some wag, suggested would be my Warrior. Spoko kind of got forgotten about as I discovered that being a publisher was a slow process and everything ends up being two months later than you plan for. Oddly enough, in the last blog I talked about the Free Comic having one page that is now obsolete, well the original version had an advert in it for Spoko but I dropped it as negotiations with European publishers were painstakingly sloth-like and I really didn't want to presume, because that often ends up leaving you with egg on your face.

The problem with Beastly, as I have banged on about before, is the shape of it (all done to accommodate the Gavron stories initially, but also justifiably); and that kind of precludes it from being used anywhere else (without seriously affecting formatting or looking bloody amateurish).

I was sifting through 'The Box' the other day. 'The Box' contains what is left of my once HUGE comicbook collection. Where (twice in my life) I had 50,000+ comics ranging in value from thousands of quid to pennies (I liked a lot of crap worthless comics, so sue me), I now have one box and in it contains Swamp Thing #1 (the actual comic I purchased from Forbuoys in Daventry, November 1972 - it has changed hands a few times I'm sure, but trust me, this is the comic I bought in 1972), all the British Marvel Captain Britain comics and appearances; Fish Police, a bunch of assorted oddments (Amazing Adventures #34 - possibly my favourite comic of all time, which is odd as I was ambivalent about Killraven for the most part) and Hard Boiled and it was this that suddenly inspired me!

Hard Boiled was by Frank Miller and Geof Darrow, it was a three-part series produced oversized to fully appreciate the intricacy and utter madness of Darrow's art and at the time many people thought Dark Horse were taking a gamble on producing a comic that simply wasn't standard US comic shaped.

This gave me an idea. What if I took the bird themed stories out of the Beastly book and collected them together and produced a square comic in the same kind of format as Hard Boiled? The problem with that was I'd be left with four stories that wouldn't be used.

Then, while sitting watching the Scrabble board on Facebook on Monday, my sense of symmetry arrived again. I had letters which spelled S P O O K I E and I was looking for an R to make SPOOKIER, when I hit shuffle and I was left with I E S P O K O ... SPOKO means 'cool' and while it might not be a Scrabble word, it got me scrambling for my note pad and email. What if I did the quarterly comic I've told lots of people I really wanted to do? What if I used most, if not all of the Beastly contributions over the next 12 months? 

By cutting the number of pages down; going to saddle-stitch and using standard comics paper rather than something a little more... arty, I could produce the first issue of Spoko and have enough material left over for another square issue, further down the line! The plan eventually is for a volume of Spokos per calendar year. 

However, comic fans like some consistency; they would not want X-Men #137 to be a proper comic and #138 to be round with pop-out bits and a soundtrack by One Direction blaring out of Wolverine's arse; but, you know, I'm not Marvel or DC. I'd like people to buy my books on merit rather than feel obligated because they like full sets like Tesco apples or potatoes - uniform and unimaginative; if Fred Bloggs buys Spoko #1 in all its square glory and #2 comes along and it's a standard comic shape, so it isn't the right shape - then it's Fred's loss. I think doing quality work justice is more important than consistency of shape.

So Spoko is very much back in the schedules and the first issue, which I am currently 'building' will feature the work of Tomáš Prokůpek & Tomáš Kučerovský, Jamie Lewis, Joanna Sanecka & Sylwia Restecka, and Petr Včelka. I would have been in negotiation with the wonderful Sebastian Skrobol about doing the covers for the series (and supplying us with a story or two, with or without Mr Dennis Wojda), by now, but I've been struck down this week with some virus. It is on my agenda for next week.

Future issues will hopefully feature the work of Lucie Lomova, Michal Oraszek, Roman Przylipiak, Nathan Castle, Bartosz Sztybolt, Gord Drynan and a bunch of other people who I can't talk about because I don't want to ruin my chances of signing them up by being too presumptuous. The point is, Spoko does indeed look like it might be a cool project and because it will be a comic it actually allows me to experiment a little more; to play with interesting formats without too huge an outlay


Verity Fair is actually at the printer's, it just hasn't started to be printed yet. Not only have I been sick, but my business partner has just had an addition to his family, so the first week of April has been a little like a Borderline holiday (except mine was no vacation... and I'm sure having a baby isn't either).

I know Terry has been trying to get a signing sorted in Newcastle for around the 18th June, which wouldn't be a problem, ordinarily, if they weren't being printed in China. So I'm going to have a quantity airfreighted to Newcastle just in case the boat load doesn't arrive in time! I can do that, apparently!


It seems a bit odd. Last autumn we did 566 Frames and Zombre and then I had months of not doing books. The last few months, since Zombies Can't Swim, have been steady, but I'm about to enter into a period where nothing needs to be done for a while. Jamie Lewis's Seth & Ghost Special and Nathan Castle's Seamonster will go off in July/August and Santa Claus versus the Nazis and Robotz (which I still hope people don't think of as a vanity publishing moment) in August/September for launches at the Lakes and that's our first year! Only one of them will need any extensive In Design work and that'll be the last one.

The Red One - Robotz: Jo Ka
There is a good chance there will be two more black and white 'comics' out this year, probably slotted in between the colour books and hopefully a (colour) collection of the very talented Agata Bara's first three comics. Next year already looks... interesting. I've been negotiating something that I think has massive potential for the creator; the only drawback with it is the size and this time it's the actual number of pages rather than anything odd or out-shaped. 

And that brings us round to something else entirely...

Below this and the other Borderline Blogs is My Monthly Curse. It might not be there for much longer. Over the last ten months I've been re-acquainting myself with comics and the people in it from my days. As well as meeting back up with good dear friends, I have been trying to rebuild napalmed bridges; be humble for being an arsehole back in 2005 and try to get people to focus on Borderline Press and not the ageing old fart running it. Oddly enough, with a couple of notable exceptions, most people remember me positively, as one seasoned pro said, 'you're the guy who actually ran Comics International - the workhorse'. That made me happy, because it was true and I do know that I sound like some faded vaudeville act constantly trying to get people to remember the heydays, but there is actually a point to this...

Bucky Buchan, who has been a great help for me over the last couple of months, dishing out advice to a man so out of touch with the industry I'd started to get scared, offered up some interesting suggestions. The thing was, I wasn't really out of step with the industry, I was out of step with what was being used to convey the dialogue within the industry (hence the Twitter assault - @borderlineEU folks, come and follow it!), so once I'd got a handle on that, me and him talked about other things and he pointed out that I should be telling people about the things I've brought to comics and showing them, with good examples, why I belong here and can make and have made a difference (I was the first person to publish and point out the potential star in Dave McKean, Sandman fans - and I've got the proof!). I was one of the first people to ever... but, that's not where we're going with this.

Over the last ten months, I've been up in the loft and found fanzines, old comics related memorabilia, some photos; stuff that I really should have included in My Monthly Curse. Not only that, but those people I mentioned earlier who have been very welcoming, some of them have reminded me about things that I'd either forgotten about or didn't feel should have been in the book and now, over two years since I finished that, I'm seriously considering revising and expanding it. There is a professionally edited version of the book on this computer, by Dave Brzeski, and all I would need to do would be write the new bits and decide which old bits no longer needed to be there and which old bits need expanding on.

Then we get into two dark areas - vanity publishing (which I've been told doesn't have the stigma attached that it once did, but... hey, I think doing more than one Tweet a day is excessive!) and libel. A couple of people, on seeing how much 250 copies would cost to print, suggested I could repackage it as a book of educational benefit, as well as exposing one of UK comics supposed greats as a complete and utter c...

But, where Dez has never bothered me for the on-line and Kindle versions, I think if there was a physical book, one he could hold in his hands, then he would fancy his chances in a court, against me; so, I'm going to have to have it read by someone legal, someone who can tell me whether or not, despite its legitimacy, if it'll get me sued.


And that is that. Rather more than I initially expected when I started it last week.

The summer/autumn is filling up with convention things. It all kicks off at Bristol in less than a month, Leicester (hopefully) in June, LFCC in July (another hopeful one), ICE in August, NICE in September, The Lakes in October and TB in November. I'm planning on going to a few others as a spectator as well - I'll keep you updated @borderlineEU or @squonkster_uk

One last thing; for the next few months at least I've got my old mate Christian Lloyd helping me try and get Borderline Press firmly embedded into the comic readers psyches. Chris and I met when I had the Squonk comic shop and have stayed friends ever since. He's going to be doing all the jobs I hate doing: driving (me) to pubs, dealing with the bank, the e-commerce people, the printers, the creators, HMRC, emails, social media, people and I'll sit in the garden drinking margaritas and watching donkey porn!