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...



  1. 'fraid to say that Bristol has been pretty shit since Mike stopped doing it - supposedly last year it went back to the Engine Shed and thus had room to breathe and let people in, but that must've been a crashing financial disaster to resort to the 6th Floor of a hotel (not even the Ramada of times past?).

  2. Mike was there; he must have been gloating inside...
    Johnston sent me a message suggesting a Borderline comic con - I'm not sure if he thinks that was what I was inferring in the blog or if he just wants me to go bankrupt again... If I or the company got behind a convention it would probably be NICE or Leicester as they are local. I had an idea to take Caption over, but frankly I haven't got the time to do anything other than attend (and then write scathing reports) ;)

  3. Nice post. Based only on seeing your stall at Bristol, the ZCS was positioned in the spot my eyes alighted when I glanced at the table. Whereas, Zombre somehow wasn't. I had a prior interest in both, but I picked up the ZCS.

    Was the stall at the other convention set up the same?

    Nich Angel from 7String said that he's been doing a lot of testing on table layout, and thinks it has a big effect on what sells and how much.

  4. Apparently the main reason for moving Bristol is that the Shed is being 'improved' into some sort of wanky corporate visitor centre & will thus no longer be available :(