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Sunday, 22 March 2015

Mumble...Ramble...On My Apple Crumble

I have said and written a number of times that there is no real comics industry in the UK.  We have a very active but highly fragmented/compartmentalised Small Press industry.  That is it.

There is really no one left in publishing companies who even remembers weekly UK comics.  There is a big problem.  Companies tend to be run by execs in their thirties or early 40s who got into publishing via friends or from college/uni but had no0 idea of the industry or its history.  For these people it is a case of Non solum videre quid sit -"I only see what is now"

Last week I contacted IPC.  Since I am on much friendlier terms with the company I explained about artist John Cooper's passing away and wondered whether a tribute book might be possible?

"Right. I'm a bit stumped.  Why would IPC be interested?"

Hmm.  He obviously "zone out" while I was explaining things so I explained again.  There came a giggle.

"Comics?  What like Batman?  IPC doesn't do comics."

Further comics history lecture....

"Oh my god.  That was like, what -last century the 1970s"

Okay. I took a deep breath and thought maybe I was talking to the caretaker but politely said "yes".

"Hang on...."  

Should I or should I just hang up? I'm an idiot. I'll hang on,.

"Yeah, as a company we have no interest in comics -none of us here was born back then" (obviously, they never learnt how to speak proper English either.  It was rather short, conversationally, after that.  I was told how in America "they tend to make movies and if they make money they make them into comics" --such a case was Avengers Assemble a movie so successful they decided to make comics about it.

I now feared an aneurism so made my excuses.

Time and again I come across these people and the best they can come up with as far as comics knowledge goes is that there is a comic called The Dandy -and most think that is about ten years old. In the "good old days", even as a junior dogs body at Fleetway/IPC/Amalgamated Press you would be expected to know something about the history.  Now it's all spotty-have-no-ideas (and TV is the same in the UK).

I mean, comics as an industry is worth many millions.  In 2013 the graphic novels market (North America) alone made $870 million. Comic books around $780 million and yet no entrepreneur or publisher is interested in the UK market?

There are problems even trying to estimate a figure for UK sales.  One is that conventions, marts and Small Press events do not declare what they make financially.  The SP see it as "a hobby" as do Indie publishers.  And let's just say that British companies owned by non UK based organisations such as Disney give whatever figure they want if at all.  If we just went by guessology and Thomson's claimed sales then....we're fecked.

UK publishers, distributors and retailers have never been totally "above board" on anything -as I pointed out in past articles but to be honest I do not care about them.  Store owners and others have sat by while Diamond distributor has sealed the industry off.  It runs a monopoly in a country -and EU- where such things are prohibited.   I have no sympathy with these people.

Besides, I am talking about why comics are not getting investment from business people?  People in Europe just do not understand the UK situation:

If any industry were judged based on lies, back-stabbing, rumour- mongering and two-faced people and worse then the UK would possibly be the top comics nation in the world.

The problem is that some business people have looked into comics but have come across types listed above.  And they are so obvious to spot and not just that they are all "me, me,me!" but that before the conversation regarding comics even begins the bile and story-telling starts  What business person is going to get involved in that?  The best chance the UK had was when a businessman with money to spare and who had purchased a print company in the early 1990s got in touch with me.  A string of black and white titles was planned and these would later go on to include colour comics.  Press releases went out.

The UK 'comics press' either got every detail mixed up and one notably slated the entire endeavor in a one inch "mention".  Then the businessman started getting letters from creators involved who "didn't want to work on the same book" as some other creator. Guess what? The businessman thought that if a new comic company offering so much could get no support -there was not one positive reaction- what was the point?

Am I rambling?  Good.   Because rambling is usually the best way to deal with this situation.  

Should I really be Red Listed as an "endangered species" there a comic in it?

And for a good read why not look at how one entrepreneur made it big in comics?  Wall Street Journal from 2010

Mike Richardson at Wondercon 2010

An Artful Entrepreneur Finds Comic Book Success

Having studied art in college, as opposed to business, Mike Richardson considered himself an unlikely entrepreneur when he launched Dark Horse Comics in 1986. But the name he chose for his venture has since proven apropos for another reason: The privately held concern, located in remote Milwaukie, Ore., has become the third largest comics publisher in the U.S., last year raking in about $30 million in sales. (Based on revenue, Marvel Comics is No. 1 and DC Entertainment is No. 2, according to Austin, Texas, research firm, Hoovers Inc.)

And through its film division, Dark Horse Entertainment Inc., the company has produced more than two dozen movies, including "The Mask" and "Timecop."

Dark Horse Comics evolved out of Mr. Richardson's first enterprise, a 400-square foot bookstore in Bend, Ore., that sold mostly comic books and sci-fi novels, which he funded with a credit card. While running the shop and subsequent locations, he says comics illustrators and writers repeatedly griped that many publishers demanded full ownership of their work. So much like a super hero on a quest for justice, Mr. Richardson set out to defy that practice by building a different kind of publishing company.

Edited interview excerpts with Mr. Richardson follow.

Q: You used earnings from your stores to launch Dark Horse. What was your strategy for success in retail? 
A: Back then, if you were an adult who read comics, you'd drive up to a 7-Eleven and wait until no one was there to buy them. You'd pay as fast as you could, put them in a paper bag and run out to your car. When I bought comics in college, that's how I would buy them. So I tried to make a comics store that was comfortable for adults to walk into. There were no big pictures of Wolverine in the window. I tried to make it feel more like a bookstore and professional people would come in and spend a lot of money.

Q: How did you go about producing your first comic book, "Dark Horse Presents?"
A: In mid-1985 I brought together a group of writers and artists I had met over the years and said I was planning to start publishing comics. It seemed like a screwy idea to most people that someone in Oregon could start a comics company, so as a show of good faith, I said I'd give them 100% of the profits of Dark Horse issue No. 1. We hoped to sell 10,000 copies and we sold 50,000.

Q: How did you initially set your publishing business apart from the competition?
A: We offered royalty payments to illustrators and artist on a quarterly basis, and upon request, we offered full-line item reports on costs related to the publishing of their books. We also paid them rates competitive with Marvel and DC.

Q: How has the market changed since?
A: It's gotten tougher and more discerning. A variety of publishing agreements exist today, everything from traditional work-for-hire contracts to creator-owned and -controlled projects to the vanity-press approach. Dark Horse has developed different types of deals in order to publish a variety of books. We still believe in the creator-owned ethic that the company was founded on. Today, there are multiple places where a creator can own his project, a situation I believe was hastened by Dark Horse's policies.

Q. Consumers are increasingly reading books on electronic devices like the iPad. Has Dark Horse adapted accordingly?
A: We certainly had to come up with a way for our comics to be easily read on the iPad and we accomplished that by adapting material into single panels. You can enlarge the panels to the size you need, whatever feels comfortable. Those of us who remember buying comics off the rack when we were kids hang onto the old format. Now the kids coming up don't have the same affinity for a paper product and they're happy to get their comics on some kind of downloading device.

Q: Dark Horse has about 140 employees today. What's it like being a boss?
A: The unexpected part of operating a successful business is the amount of time you spend with your employees. You tend to look at everyone's situation and judge them by your own experience. But you have to stop and make sure you understand what your employees are going through. There are constant deadlines so the idea is to balance the stress with a comfortable environment.

Q. Has Dark Horse published any duds?
A: Not every book breaks through. Some books are riskier than others. We go in knowing that they may not sell as well as we hope. But some do in a major way, and of course you love with when that happens.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
A: You need a great deal of optimism, almost to the point of blindness to the facts of reality. And you need confidence to get around whatever it is that's blocking you. When I opened the first store, everybody freaked out except my wife. The first day, the store did $8.37. But every day was better than the last. Once the store started doing well, I said I wanted to start a publishing company, and everybody freaked out again. When I said I'd make movies, they freaked out again. Now, they don't say much. I was told growing up I could do anything I wanted. I worry sometimes that that message isn't out there anymore, because it really is true.

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