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comics

Comics and the Publishing Industry

January 11th, 2013 by Claire Jeffery | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Comics and the Publishing Industry
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Artwork by Cheridan Smith

 

It’s a good question; and one that inverts the typical view of the artist dependant entirely on the promotion of the publisher. The panel on the night were well-equipped for this discussion.

From the right, John McShane was the host for the evening from Graphic Scotland, an organisation promoting comics locally. He was joined by Martin Conaghan, writer of the comic Burke and Hare, Gordon Roberts of Geekchocolate.co.uk and Arsecancer.co.uk fame; Gary Erskine, creator of the Roller Grrrls series; and Ernesto Priego, who is involved both in academic study in the field and is a cofounder of Comicsgrid.com. A late but welcome addition to the panel was the appearance of Gill Hatcher, who was pulled from the audience and offered a great insight into the discussion with her self-published Team Girl Comic.

There were quite a few themes present in the discussion. The role of distribution and how methods of reaching an audience have dramatically changed in the past few years – to the advantage of the comic writer and the disadvantage of the publisher. The financial realities of going it alone. The difficulties in having a sustainable career in an area where the expectation is of a free product.  The pride and passion that every project big or small is published with.

The key has always been getting the right product to the right customer; something that the current system struggles to achieve. Bigger publishers appeal to broad markets, and therefore by selling in large bookshops and having promotions on a national scale they can get results. But this is impossible for comics targeted at smaller or even niche markets. For example, one based on a particular city would benefit from being sold mainly in that city, but not in every bookshop in the country.  Reaching the customer has taken on a completely different meaning with the advent of the internet. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter allow companies to complete projects that would never have seen the light of day. Communities online allow people with similar interests to come together no matter what their geographical location. Social media allows small and self-publishers to market themselves and reach new customers. This targeted selling means that money previously wasted on generic advertising is instead used to reach those directly interested in the comic.

The difficulty lies in pricing products created and sold online. Consumers have a natural expectation of low prices for digital work because they don’t have a physical product to hold. Publishers have an opposing expectation for higher prices given the longevity of electronic products. But these can be debated. In the closing stages of the discussion, Gary Erksine brought up the loss of his artwork from his computer.  It wasn’t due to a file being misplaced, the computer being hacked or even the artwork being stolen: the technology and files from only seven years ago were obsolete. The digital revolution is gaining momentum by the day, and is dictated by trends and fashions as companies selling technology survive by continually moving to a new product.  But as this happens we move on from previous electronic forms and in many cases lose access to the files that came before them. A consumer-driven society means that, where an old book can be found years later on a shelf, digital technology and software is rapidly replaced. The illusion of digital products lasting eternally hides the reality that data can be lost in a simple click of a button.  The future of publishing depends on finding a balance between printed and electronic materials.

The overall answer to the question of do comics need publishers is yes – even coming from a panel largely working as independent or self-publishers on individual projects. The big publishers are needed by the industry for large scale ventures, for developing a brand and even giving  individuals enough notoriety through their work that personal projects can be pursued. But the smaller and self-publishers are also essential as a force for the life blood of the industry, driven by passion and enthusiasm. Comics are a medium which cannot be produced without this drive.  With the role of the publisher changing and communities with no boundaries, there are increasing gaps that can be filled by those who have a message to say and a desire to say it.

 

– Claire Jeffery

Rolling it Alone – The Challenges of Independent Comic Publishing

November 2nd, 2012 by Joanne Marjoribanks | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily a fan of comics. I don’t have anything against them; I’ve just never felt drawn to them. That being said, as a student of publishing studies with an avid interest in all aspects of the industry, I happily went along to a discussion hosted by the Society of Young Publishers in Glasgow recently, where the question of ‘Do comics need publishers?’ was debated.

Although I found the debate itself to be very interesting and enlightening, what had the greatest impact on me that evening were the discussions I had with Gary Erskine, one of the panellists, and his wife Anna Malady. As well as taking part in the actual debate, they were also showcasing a sketchbook of sample artwork and character sketches to raise money for their forthcoming comic – Roller Grrrls. The characters come from all walks of life: a nurse; a teacher; a librarian; a scientist; even a pregnant young woman. Yet they are all united in their love of roller derby.

My publishing course places a great emphasis on thinking about the target audience for a publishing product. Well, comics are only for comic lovers, right? Not necessarily, according to Gary and Anna. Rather than aiming their product towards general comic enthusiasts who might frequent the Marvel and DC Comics dominated aisles of the high street shops, Roller Grrrls is primarily targeting fans of roller derby itself, and, by extension, a wider audience of sports enthusiasts.  Of course, if they are able to sell their comic to mainstream retailers, then that would be fantastic, but they were very clear that this is not their primary aim.

Of course, coming up with a great concept is only the first stage in producing a finished product, and there are often challenges to be overcome and lessons to be learned along the way. This has certainly been the case for Gary and Anna, who were more than happy to chat with me about their experiences so far.

A major problem has been the actual distribution of the sketchbook. As with any publishing product, once the fun part of actually designing and producing it is over, attention necessarily turns to more mundane concerns – like postage costs. The Roller Grrrls sketchbook has been printed on high quality – and therefore heavy – paper, and as a result the postage costs are very steep, especially for international locations such as Australia.  Customers might be willing to pay a higher price for the product itself; however, many will baulk at being asked to pay for postage that might exceed even that amount. In light of this Gary told me that, when the actual comic series is produced, it will be printed on significantly lighter paper in order to reduce postage costs.

Issues like this are the unfortunate reality for the smaller, independent publishers like Gary and Anna, whose only real desire is to produce a beautiful piece of artwork to be enjoyed by people with a passion for comics – and roller derby. I may not be a comics fan, but I did buy a copy of the sketchbook. So, I guess this proves Gary and Anna’s point – you don’t have to be a comic geek to pick one up every now and then.

Joanne Marjoribanks

Below are the links to the Roller Grrrls website and social media pages. I highly recommend that you check them out.

Website: http://www.rollergrrrls.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Roller-Grrrls/132062103543401

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rollergrrrls

Tumblr: http://rollergrrrls.tumblr.com/

*Images used with permission. Credit: http://www.rollergrrrls.com/

The New 52

October 3rd, 2011 by prm | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on The New 52
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This month DC, one of the big two comic companies in the US, have released The New 52. This is a relaunch of 52 titles, now all beginning with a new issue #1. DC’s senior Vice-President has called this “an epic and ambitious initiative that ushers in a new generation of comics.” This means well-known characters have been redesigned, many with new costumes and backstories inevitably leading to mixed reactions from fans.

The New 52 has given the company a chance to encourage new readers who may have been previously daunted by the complex backstories of the DC multiverse.

One of the most interesting debates the launch has sparked on the Internet is how DC may have wasted this opportunity to gain a greater female readership. They have reduced the number of titles with female leads and the new version of Batgirl has resulted in nullifying one of DC’s only disabled characters.

Hopes that DC would make more female-friendly titles have been largely disappointed. The new Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws that has not only failed to interest female readers, but has actively offended many. Complaints have been that characters with great potential have been made into two-dimensional eye-candy. The changes made to the character of Starfire may be one of the worst decisions. The most popular incarnation of the character was in the children’s TV series Teen Titans but rather than taking advantage of its popularity, DC has done more to alienate fans of the show. Michele Lee’s blog did a particularly good job of demonstrating how poor a decision the character change was by interviewing her own 7-year-old daughter, a huge fan of the character.

Now that DC have hired Nielsen to survey readers for the first time, perhaps they will learn from their mistakes but considering how female comic fans have been pushing for better representation within the comic industry, they should not have those mistakes in the first place.

~ Anna Keville