"The Goddamn Plane Has Crashed Into The Mountain!" by Den Patrick
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
[Editor's note: We're very pleased to have another guest post from Den Patrick, whose writing, lettering and editorial work can be found in Weaponizer, the upcoming DECONSTRUCTED and every issue of the Transformers Comic.]
The Goddamn Plane Has Crashed Into The Mountain!
(Or Thoughts On My First Panel at the SFX Weekender 2)
I found myself under the blazing lights of the screening room, sat alongside Pat Mills, Tony Lee and Bryan Talbot. Bryan Talbot has been making comics longer than I’ve been alive, and Pat Mills launched 2000AD.
Paul Gravett I am not. A quick look at my shelves confirms most of my purchases as Hellboy orIron Man. That said, I do have some non-US titles and had dutifully packed them to take with me as talking points. Plus there’s the small consideration that I edited (at the time of the Con) two children’s titles for the UK newsstand.
With hindsight, I now realise the panel went sour very quickly. Instead of talking with enthusiasm about the wealth of comics being originated in Europe, Japan and the new wave of Indian creators, the tone quickly settled into ‘Why Comics Don’t Work In The UK’.
Points discussed included:
How Amazon has a stranglehold on the graphic novel market, which means creators don’t see much in the way of royalties.
How the UK comics audience has traditionally been children, and how as a result older readers are reluctant (at best) to read ‘funny books’.
Anxiety at publishers to try anything that isn’t already part of a wider, proven franchise (TV, film, toys).
A general lack of money in the UK to invest in comics.
While I agree with all the points (and even made one of them), I couldn’t help feel there was lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth, but not many ideas to change things for the better. Here are some of my thoughts:
First, I don’t agree that Amazon’s chokehold is going to eradicate anything that isn’t DC or Marvel. However Amazon need (ethically anyway) to be sensitive to the fact that forcing a 60% discount from an ‘indie’ creator is akin to kicking them heartily in the testicles (or lady parts). If you’re really passionate about comics, buy them from comic shops – vote with your feet (and wallet)!
Smaller publishers are going to have to be more radical, and by this, I mean straight to digital. Yes, the iPad and other tablets. Cut out the paper and distribution costs (not to mention Diamond comics distribution politics) and all of a sudden you can deliver great stories and art to the people who really want it. And if your readership do fetishise signed graphic novels, well that’s fine too, because the digital release puts money in your coffers that you can then print off deluxe hardbacks and give the discerning punter something gorgeous. The market for individual issues is dwindling, with an increasing readership ‘waiting for the trade’, (AKA Graphic Novel). This is a nascent market and the next five years are going to be difficult for digital releases, but better to get in on the ground floor now so you’re ready for the boom.
Once you’ve got a graphic novel to physically sell, you’d better make sure you do as many signings as you can and make it a have-to-have luxury item. Build yourself as a brand and reward your fan base with face time. Twitter, Blogs, Sketchbook, Tumblr and Facebook all serve as platforms for creators to reach out to fans and get them enthusiastic abut the next release.
The comics reading public aren’t the only ones who are being reluctant. In much the same way that British people are obsessed with supermarkets and chain stores, they are also likely to stick to what they know. Attracting a new readership is an incredibly black art, full of arcane nuances and subtle chicanery. There doesn’t seem to be much of a shortage of creative talent in the UK, just marketable ideas. Why isn’t anyone targeting commuters, who are some of the nation’s most voracious readers?
On the subject of money – we currently live in a country where libraries are being closed and forests are being sold off. There’s not much money for anything right now, least of all ‘the arts’. Comics do make money, but for every Brian Bendis or Warren Ellis, there are a hoard of unknowns doing it ‘for the love’ and because they want to tell stories in a wonderful medium. That said, comics are still cheaper than a new television series, blockbuster movie or sophomore album.
Perhaps if creators weren’t so keen to sing the lament of comics more people might come and join the party. No one ever gatecrashed a funeral.