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Thursday, 18 August 2016

Always Worth Remembering: “The French Laugh At The British At Angouleme –We’ve No Comics Industry!”


I published this in February of last year but an email exchange


(which are private) reminded me about it.

Basically, I had a response from a French publisher. "Of course" he had heard of Black Tower and he knew I was in touch with Olivier Cadic of Cinebook the 9th Art. He asked how many book shops I was selling in because he'd seen the books "and have discussed them with Claude" (whoever he is!) and he assumed I would have the UK book shops covered. I explained THAT does not happen in the UK (but have I tried!) and his response?

"So is true what they say at Angouleme about UK comic books!"

This was all private so don't go telling!!
 
This is, perhaps a timely, re-post from last November which I think sums up my feelings on the current UK situation.  At the time I deleted the "Why don't you **** off to Europe!" and other nasty responses.  If I had left them it might have proven the point even further.

As a publisher, I have never known any period as bad as the current one for publishing and selling in the UK.  I have already, in the last week, advised two artists to ply their trade in Europe or the United States. I think I need to take my own advice!

Anyway, a few illoes added to break up the text!


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And that is a quote, baby.  Not from one person but several including some comic professionals from the UK who will not repeat those words in public because “I just do not want the grief that follows saying that!

Oh, yes. On the old CBO I got the reaction to writing things like this but not just off the top of my head for controversy but fully backed up by facts and statistics.  I once suggested that all UK comic bloggers add a banner to their sites: “Let’s Revive The UK Comic Industry” and the reaction?

I was told I had “a Saviour complex” and a lot worse.  “Oh, so YOU are going to come and save us all?!!”  Really nasty things were written and not just on CBO but on comic blogs and forums.

Let me make this clear (because ALL the postings and responses were kept –a full file of all this is with a solicitor “in case”): I was being attacked because I suggested all of us in UK comics get together and try to rebuild the comic industry as best we could.

At that point I realised that the main problem was that we never really had an industry anyway –the comics business was so crooked that it used to be known to tax people as “the double cooked books with triple layer mud”.  Distributors were no better and often acted in collusion with publishers.

Once the fan-boy got into comics that was it.

But I was asked why I do not include the Small Press as the new comics industry?  Well, I believe that I have written before that it is but it does no real good. It is a dilettante comics industry.

Someone just Googled “Dilettante Comics” to see if they are collectibles.

Now I know people do tend to misconstrue my words even though I try to make them clear so hold on to your lederhosen.

I began drawing as a youngster.  In school I edited the school magazine Starkers The Magazine That Tells The Naked Truth which was in…1971/72?  The title came from the Deputy Head, Mr. Wright –an ex-RAF man and one of the most popular teachers at Greenway Boys School.  I do know that there was/is a magazine by that name from London(?).  Never seen it and I did an internet search recently and cannot find reference to it.  I am positive that I did see it advertised in publications such as Fortean Times (in the old days).

Anyway, one of the school secretaries complained and it was stopped at printing and burned.  Also, the rather pompous religious Head Master disliked immensely that I called it a “zine” –it was NOT a magazine and I kept saying it was a “little magazine –a zine”.

I later did lots of other work with newsletters, magazines, printers and from the late 1970s on, the Small Press world of fanzines.  I have a big collection of Small Press publications –poetry, prose fiction/sci fi as well as fanzines and comics. Unlike today, the 1980s saw people from all over the UK exchanging their zines and if anyone needed a strip to fill a page or so everyone chipped in.  This was in letter writing days –no internet and phone calls were too expensive.

Also, we all knew comics.  Whether UK weeklies or the US comics from Marvel, DC, Charlton or the rather obscure companies.  And, of course, we all had our Alan Class comics.  Strange to think how many of us were into horror movies and particularly some of the classic black and white movies.  Then again, we were working in a black and white medium.  I was very happy when I also discovered a great many zinesters were fans of Orson Welles because of his masterful use of angles, shadows and the B&W medium.

In other words we were a community without internet and only after the Westminster Comic Marts and other one day events became more popular in the 1980s did any of us meet up.  There is a term you don’t hear these days –“marts” that were, basically, a hall full of people selling comics and zines and creators meeting up.  Going to the Westminster Marts was fun but we must have looked odd: meeting in a corner or on a staircase feeling different types of paper we drew on.  Checking out each others pencils,  pens (one typo and a letter “i” there and I could put a whole new slant on things!), brushes, sniffing inks and pens –checking which were alcohol based or whatever because certain pens combined with certain papers or boards could be very messy. Most of all we talked.

Apart from one or two incidents involving certain people I was never once accused of throwing anyone out of a window or into the Thames.  There were no witnesses. Understand?  NO….WITNESSES.
Most of us were starting work in comics or already working in the medium.  We knew about our subject.  Everything except earning big money!

Mastering a photocopier not to mention paste-ups, removing ghost-lines and so on was not something you had a choice in.  It was what you had to learn if you were in comics.

In the mid-1990s computers started appearing and before you knew it everyone new who came along was thinking they were going to produce and get rich from a Teenage Mutant Turtles or Blade Runner rip off.  And the ‘new pros’ –well some were quite open about using tracing paper to draw their comics.  In the huge stack of news zines and papers I have there are some true horror stories about this.  Stick figures as “a genuine artistic comic medium”…..no, I really never did throw that man in the Thames though he deserved to be.

And it only got worse.  Once the wave of mostly untalented creators vanished they were replaced by those arty farty elitists who believed that only European comics –Bandes Dessinee matter and that everything else was purile.  Those people hadbeen around in the 1980s and we used to call them “bow-tie *******” (this is a family site).  Here is the problem, though. These people only considered Franco-Belgian BD (must NOT call them “comics”!) legitimate.  

Spain and Italy had comic industries and though Germany had a small industry that mainly reprinted Franco-Belgian and US comics Bastei Verlag at least had their books going to more than a dozen European countries.


Alan Clark and the late Denis Gifford –particularly Denis- were nastily mocked and their work looked at as “low interest” because, unless it was The Beano, The Dandy, The Eaglewere any other publications or creators not in those comics of any worth? Denis had a life long love of comics which the alcohol and dope loving new creators didn’t like.  Despite the lies and rumours I can tell you that Denis did receive and read Small Press publications –including mine.

People who were “names” in the 1980s continued to hang on in though, and I find it funny, they become media comic luvvies but you go to a Small/Alternative Press event and mention their names and you get blank looks!  But, if as “media luvvies” they get to pay their rent, eat and enjoy life good luck to them. I have no problem with that.

Now while comic Expos –the new “Marts”-  are popping up all over the country it has to be said that, say, 90% have no interest in the Small Press and have never seen a SP comic –and if they have they probably grimaced the same way their mothers do when they find that “odd stain” on the bed sheets (ladies I ask you to submit your own comic slob image).

One comic geek –because TV programmes such as The Big Bang Theory have made comics “hip” and everyone wants to be known or called a comic geek.  Bless, they’ll tire of it after a while.  And everyone is a new comic collector spending money on the ‘cool’ comics that many do not read and a few think that because they were conned  into paying huge amounts for a comic featuring a character(s) from new movies –which they find out are NOT the movie characters- they think will make them rich one day….when every other one of the THOUSANDS of copies of that comic suddenly turn to dust!
Comics toys, cosplay (including those with no knowledge or interest in comics) and TV/Movie merchandise are their world. Honestly, real old style comic fans are driven away from events and their passion by hugely inflated prices of comics and event entry fees.

Then we have the SP/AP people.  Never heard of Stan Lee (other than “Is he that old guy –the character from The Big Bang Theory?”.  Never heard (NEVER) of Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko.  John Romita snr (not Jnr) or John or Sal Buscema?  Gene Colan? John Byrne?  No.  “Oh, they made a comic out of that Avengers film?” –it’s at this point that I usually fall to my knees (which hurts) and raise my fists to the heavens and scream out “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!” and some ***** says “Mr Khnan from the TV comedy series? Why –is he okay?”

Honestly, I make a point of talking to these people and most, let’s face it, are at the oldest in their mid-30s so have never known UK comics other than the horrendous merchandise crap with toys attached.  Big names in UK comics –John Cooper? No.  Mike Western?  No.  Terry Hooper-Scharf?  “Didn’t he used to be held hostage somewhere?”  

Yes. I have a beard so I’m mistaken for Terry Waite.  

WHAT THE ***** DO YOU MEAN “WHO?”!!!

Well, I suppose at least he kept the handcuffs and radiator.

But these people move in their own little circles.  I never realised that until I started name checking with people.  Some people in zines today do go to various events outside of cliques.  Our own Paul Ashley Brown –doyenne of the Bristol, London and he’s even known outside the UK.

I’m that man on the hill The Beatles sang about.  “Who are the Beatles? What man –Stan Lee?”  

Do   not   try    my  patience……..grrrrrrrr


At events you note that exhibitors, if I may call them that, have their own entourages.  Their friends and others go to their tables and talk, buy a zine, talk….Twenty tables in a room with twenty different groupings of mates who might –might- look around and possibly buy things.

These SP/AP people are producing their own comics or zines (some really do have no idea their books are classed as comics!) without having read comics.  Some may have seen what friends have produced and decide to have a go.  Others may have seen something about European comics.  A good few start at art college.  But they have no knowledge of the history of comics and I have genuinely had these young folk say “Well, when did they start comics -1970s or 1980s?”

So we have an ever increasing number of SP/AP events around the UK –in London Dimitri Pieri is a human dynamo at organising events-  but most are independent of one another and some have no knowledge of the other events.

I meet the occasional creator who knows about comics but to a limited degree because, again as I found out from personal experience, most were not born until the 1980s (by which time the UK comic scene was dead) so if they are “doing comics” it is in the US format.  These days I just introduce myself –“I come from the comics world of another century and you may call me…..Methuselah!”

You are getting some of these nuggets of gold, aren’t you?

Most AP/SP people have been to Art School/college or whatever –some are still students and others have full time jobs.  The idea –if it is ever there as anything more than a dream- is to make zines, have fun and if you sell a copy or two –great! Very few actually get to go on to make a living out of their work and when I’ve asked about this in the past I get a furrowed brow and “make a living out of it? “ and they look at me oddly or laugh –and I am fully clothed.

Independent Comics are the same in a way.  A LOT of vanity publishing –you shouldnever pay any publisher to have your work printed.  If it is that good, even if they don’t pay: they should shoulder the costs.  But I did wonder how the same publishers could attend one event after another throughout the year while claiming thay they do not sell enough books to earn a living or pay their creators?  Some do make money but there are a lot of gullible creators out there.


Here is the thing and I observe these things because “its what I do”: the Indie publishers are the same as the AP/SP people.  True most hope for that comic that is going to make them huge sums of money but they, too, have their groupies/entourages who do follow them to events.

You see, Print On Demand (POD) makes it possible for anyone to publish their own comics.  Good quality production in both hardback and paperback.  For Indie/SP/AP there is the buzz of seeing the books printed.  Books with your work in.  You don’t even have to learn all the old skills just use your computer –even print limited runs of zines on your own printer.

Do I get a buzz from publishing my books? No.  It’s hard work and I do it to try to make a living.  At events I tend to be the only person who is doing so professionally. The fact is that everyone else is doing this as a past time because they like doing it and have paying jobs so the “tomato ketchup on toast” meal is something they don’t have to face.  

Do you know that back in the 1980s I regularly went without food for days?  Usually three to four days and a maximum was six days –publishers didn’t care because they tried to hold back your earned cheque as much as possible (Fleetway/Egmont owe me over £5,000 from the 1990s but I’ll never see that!).  Trick is that you drink fluids and when you get food eat lightly.  The idea of a slap-up meal after days of no food is dumb because you will be spending a lot of time in the toilet afterwards!


I’m meandering in my textual …..what am I writing? I should make notes.  And before you ask: NO, printing off copies of bank notes on your printer is no good.  Shops do not accept them and they are illegal….that’s what the police told me.

You pay £25 for a table.  Sell one zine or nothing but you’ve had a good day and met your mates blah blah blah.  Really? That £25 loss cuts into me.  

The attitude is not a professional one it is an amateur one. I like a lot of these people I meet.  Some are really lovely.  But they are dilettantes.  

Nothing wrong with the attitude but it creates a major problem.

You see, if those attending events just go to see their friends and buy their books but do not look around at other tables, maybe a glance of a few seconds, then the people who are selling books to make a living are not.  You carry that over to a hundred events a year, small or large, then you are talking about many thousands of people who, were they more widely interested in comics as in the “old days”, would be looking around, checking other tables and books out (most will not even lift a book off a table let alone look inside) and chatting with creators they do not know. These days they do not.

And at a comic event you will find “dilettante fan” who only goes for cosplay but not to buy books.  Or the “Nuevo geek” who is only after the “cool” Marvel or DC comics or the merchandise collector.

“Comics” has splintered into factions –one not knowing the other.  In the 1980s/early 1990s, we would buy our Marvel and DCs at a mart or convention but we would also check out and buy SP books.  None of the factions really knows of one another or cares.  Its not “their scene.”  If all of those factions did combine we would have one hell of an industry in the UK.

But that will never ever happen.

The comics background and mindset is now gone and comic ‘geeks’ make fun of or stick up their noses when the SP/AP is mentioned and vice versa.  

Totally and utterly ridiculous.

Try to make a living out of comics in the UK gets you no real respect.  

So maybe those French BD people have a point –except they are also suffering from a stuffed shirt attitude.  For decades BD publishers and collectors have looked down their noses at the “poor relations” publishing US comics in French or original French books as now published by Hexagon Comics.  They just ain’t arty. 

 But the huge success of movies tied to Marvel and DC has made a few BD publishers sit up and take notice because there is nothing more “arty” than the smell of money.  So now they repackage some BD to take advantage and make money from this.

At least, though, they do have a comics industry.  And I so wish Germany would wake up and get in on the act.

For the UK the dilettantes –however sweet- have taken over and it has killed us.

A more happy, warm ending to a miserable depressing posting?

Okay.  A butterfly.  Let’s smash a butterfly on a wheel (5 kudo points to whoever got that 1980s music reference).

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