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Coming About

The comics market is changing. That’s not news, it’s always changing and adapting. However what is perhaps news to some and is becoming more and more obvious to me, is that the Big2 publishers, Marvel and DC, are no longer the Final Destination for creators, probably writers more so than artists.

For years, breaking in (in my mind at least) meant doing some indy work, self publishing, doing enough work of some sort to get noticed so that someone further up the food chain said hey, let’s give this guy a one shot on Spider-Man Team Up, and see how he does on a Batman tie-in book. If it flies and sell well, then they give the writer or artist a bit more work until they develop into a named Talent. People start referring to the book as Johnny NewGuy’s Spider-Man or NewGuy’s Batman. At which point they’ve made it. Roll credits.

In the last, probably ten years or so, there’s been a shift. Talent, to one degree or another, has always done creator owned work alongside their work for hire gigs. Exclusive contracts used to be par for the course, now they’re rare. Working for one of the Big2 doesn’t guarantee X number of books per month anymore and therefore a steady income. Creators write for 3 or 4 or even 5 different publishers each month, to create a steady income which enables them to write comics full time.

A few years ago (before the Walking Dead was THE WALKING DEAD) and long before Robert Kirkman was known well outside the comics industry, he tried to inspire other comic creators to follow in his wake with a video, where his call to arms was mostly mocked or ignored. He tried to explain that the industry was changing, and that if you worked for the Big2 for the rest of your life, at the end of the day you’d be left with nothing. No creator rights to the characters, because it’s work for hire, so no pension of any kind and there’s no union for creators. No payouts if anyone adapts your character for another medium, which was also on the rise at the time.

He suggested that while you are in the spotlight and you do have an enthusiastic fan base and are a known named Talent, create something original that you will own 100%. Some in the industry listened, some said we’re already doing it, some just couldn’t take the risk of stepping away from a regular monthly salary to jump into the abyss and hope that the idea of a bungee cord became a reality before they hit the financial rock bottom. People have to pay the bills, put food on the table so there’s no blame being thrown around.

Another shift came, maybe five years ago, whereby the number of well known Talent, doing creator owned work alongside their Big2 was steadily increasing. For many reasons I don’t know, and a few that were discussed  at length in public, several well known creators walked away from the Big2. Some went into other industries, some self published, some produced comics via Kickstarter and creator owned books with other publishers, some worked for smaller publishers and the scales started to tip.

If they don’t already, then in a couple of months Image comics will have 10% of the monthly comics market. A few years ago, that 10% comprised of all of the independent comic book companies. In ten years I wonder what the landscape will look like and right now I suspect the split will be much more even three ways between the Big2 and all of the other publishers combined.

Now, more and more of these known creators, the Talent, with loyal fans are producing some of the most innovative and interesting comics in the industry. There are no IP rights to exploit, no shareholders to pacify, no limits. Now while the monthly sales figures for most of these creator owned titles are nowhere near those of the Big2, that is changing too. Saga was just outside of the top 20 sales figures for August 2013, and The Walking Dead was at number 12. However, the money the creators are receiving is still very healthy, because their slice of the pie is much bigger and there are fewer mouths to feed.

Just to clarify, the Big2 are not evil corporations. They’re not destroying the comics industry. They’re businesses with well known icons and IP, and they want to make money and tell stories. They want to promote their brands to as many people as they can across as many mediums as they can, be it TV, film, animation, merchandise or comics. Working for them is not working for the Dark Side, but now it’s not the end of the story, it’s just another step on the road. Creators who do work for them should be totally aware that anything they create does not belong to them. So if they want something that is completely their own, there are many opportunities and different avenues out there. You can have your cake and eat it. In fact, now is exactly the right time to do that.

New York Comic Con is running as we speak, and while the Big2 are coming out with lots of announcements, I’ve found I’m actually more interested in the creator owned series and independent work from the well known Talent because I have no idea of what they might do and where they might go. The deck is definitely shifting beneath my feet.

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Bring Me My Red Shirt

There’s an old joke I remember from my childhood about a brave pirate. Whenever his ship is about to be attacked he calls for his red shirt which he wears over his other clothes and then fights as hard as he can. The idea being that no one will know if he is wounded because the blood won’t show. Then one day they are attacked by several ships at once and he calls for his brown trousers.

Anyway, the story is apt as I’m now approaching the critical red shirt stage. I’m not quite at stage two yet, but I think that will be next year when projects are no longer under my control and are in the hands of readers! This week, my artist partner in crime, Adam Bolton, will be at the New York Comic Con. Adam is the artist for an all ages book called ‘Where’s My Shoggoth?’ which came out about two weeks ago from Archaia and he will be signing copies at the Archaia booth. So if you are going to the show, please drop by and say Cthulhu at him and jibber and rave about monsters from the sea. He’ll appreciate that. And buy a copy of Shoggoth as well please. Anyway, Adam is also armed with about ten pages of Empyre (the four issue series which I wrote and he drew) which he will be showing to various people. While he is doing that I’m going to be sat here in the UK, biting my nails down to the quick, checking my phone every ten seconds to see if he’s sent me a text. And if not, why not? Should I text him? When is it appropriate to text him? After the first hour? First two hours? How many times can I text him before I become a nuisance? and so on. As I said, red shirt time.

Next month in the UK, is the Thought Bubble comic book convention, and Pete Rogers and I will be armed with completed pages from Flux, the mini series we have co-written. Maysam Barza, the artist, has been doing a remarkable job and I am very impressed with his work. Both Pete and I are confident that we have something quite special, so now it’s our turn not to mess it up and speak about it with both passion and clarity. The schedule for Thought Bubble was released yesterday and there is more of a focus on creator owned comics and Image comics than in previous years which is very encouraging. Eric Stephenson, the publisher of Image comics, and several Image creators will be attending, so I’ll be taking notes and listening closely to conversations throughout the weekend.

I think there’s definitely been a shift in the comics industry in the last two years, more so in the last ten months. More established creators are getting involved in creator owned projects, crowd funded projects and digital only projects. I could talk at length about that but I won’t here. The relevance to me is that readers are more open, now more so than ever before, to new voices, new characters and new publishers. For every well established creator working at the Big2, there are now two dozen names I’m vaguely familiar with who are slowly building their own following, through their creator owned and work for hire comics. Three years ago no one knew who Scott Snyder was, but now he is a rising star and his name is very familiar. Equally Jeff Lemire was known to some for his creator owned work like Essex County, and his Vertigo book Sweet Tooth, but it was his step into the mainstream with Animal Man that put him on the radar of many mainstream readers. There have always been new faces (artists and writers) at both companies, but there’s definitely been a bit of a change lately, or at least it seems that way to me.

Online digital platforms and catalogues like Comixology mean that once a reader has gone through their usual stack, there are so many other comics they can try with just a click of a button. Some people, retailers in particular, are very afraid of digital but in my opinion it’s another flavour, not something that will completely replace print. Nothing digital will ever be able to compare to a glorious hardback, super sized, collected edition with a sketch and signatures from the creators. IDW have been publishing some amazing art books that are glorious artefacts that would be inferior, in my opinion, if read on smart phone or tablet.

So the market is shifting and constantly evolving, and I’m trying to wade in and tread water and it is both terrifying and exciting. I’m really looking forward to what happens in the next few months and what 2013 will bring, which could see writing posts about when a comic book project will be published, rather than if it will be published. That’s when I move out of the red shirt phase.

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Projects Update

So as it’s three weeks until the New York Comic Con (11-14th October) and there is some related comic news of a sort, I thought it was time for a bit of an all round projects update. Apologies for being vague in some places, but this is because of contracts and NDA’s, not me being petty.

As has been mentioned a few times, I’m currently working on a 4 issue comic book mini-series with artists Adam Bolton and Ryan Taylor. Adam has a new graphic novel coming out from Archaia Entertainment, written by Ian Thomas. It will be released on September 26th in comic shops and October 1st everywhere else. Adam will be attending New York Comic Con this year, and here is a link to a recent interview he did with Ian about their book ‘Where’s My Shoggoth?’ At the end of the interview Adam mentions what he is working on next and I get a brief mention. Without giving away too much, we’ve got a good chunk of the art completed for issue 1 and I’m sure Adam will have some in his portfolio when he is at NYCC. We’re hoping to pitch Empyre to a publisher very soon.

The graphic novel is ticking along, I’m working with a third party to pair me up with an artist. We will then create a submission pack and start sending that out to publishers. The other mini series I’m co-writing with Pete Rogers and with art by Maysam Barza, is also approaching the critical point where we will have enough material to submit to comic book publishers and I’m very excited by the idea and story.

Project Alpaca, is a games project where my contribution is done, and now lots of other people are busy working very hard to make it the best possible version before they release it out into the world. There is not a fixed release date, but realistically I would not expect to see it before 2013.

I have also just finished the first draft of my fantasy novel. I was then swept along by two very busy weeks at work, and since I intended to have a two week break anyway, it worked out well. I now have a little bit of distance and there is an initial list of 50 things I need to fix, both big and small, before I start re-reading it and editing it over the next few months. It will be ready to submit to an agent at some point in 2013. There again I’m not willing to put a date on it, because I will only get one chance to make a good first impression and I want to make it the best version of this book and be 99% happy with it before I show it to any professionals.

Looking back at all of the above, it looks as if I must never sleep as everything is happening at the same time, but of course that’s just how it has worked out as some of these projects have been cooking for a few years. I think 2013 will be a busier year whatever happens, and hopefully a positive year for me creatively.

 

 

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