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.


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