Nice old things

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Spent a brilliant few hours at The National Archives this morning. Lovely place, filling a building that feels like the civil service you see in old reels – just newer.

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Churchill’s memorandum telling civil servants to write less.

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Original ink drawings by Ronald Searle.

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Old globes!

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These are interesting – posters produced with blank spaces so local communities could fill them in as required.

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Loads of food for thought. Huge thanks to Laura, Emma and Ruth for showing us round.

Tiny threads, barely noticed

I rarely read single-issue comics these days. The main thing I miss every month are the tiny moments of continuity.

Back in November, the BERG lot got (understandably) excited that Little Printer made a cameo in Avengers Assemble.

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(nicked from Matt’s Flickr feed – sorry Matt!)

For those who don’t know their Avengers, that’s Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark talking to a few heroes including Carol ‘Captain Marvel’ Danvers. It was written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, a favourite of mine since I read her Osborne miniseries a few years ago.

DeConnick also writes the excellent Captain Marvel series, which I’m just catching up with in the collected editions. An issue was published in January revolving entirely around the schedule spat out by Danvers’ own Little Printer.

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It’s a neat, self-contained tale. So far as I’m aware, it’s the only other time the device has appeared. I love the idea of Stark buying a bunch of LPs, farming them out to various Avengers and quietly running their lives for them through a tyranny of till receipts. The idea of heroes responding to them in ways not a million miles from how I use mine is a wonderful, subtle way of bridging the human/hero, reader/character divides.

This, for me, is continuity working at its best. Not another Crisis, or Death Of The Family; just Wayne Enterprises satellites and Sisko’s baseball. Tiny pieces in a joined-up world that allow readers to imagine so much more.

Some troubles with comics

Almost a month late to the party, I just found myself nodding along with Leila’s post on The Literary Platform about her enjoyment of comics back in the day, and how digital unmoors that a little. She challenges my assertion that webcomics today might not stand up to the resolution/platform/device -changing times we live in by pointing out that, actually, the web’s been pretty damn good at moving bits of content from one place to another.

For her, the process of collecting and growing a collection is the thing that’s damaged. It’s almost certainly an Anglophone thing, that, but it’s the bit of the world I’m from and I reckon she’s on to something.

In any of the comic apps released by major publishers, the biggest thing it does is eliminate the ‘MUST BUY IT NOW’ temptations of narrative scarcity. Or, to put it another way, if you can buy a digital version online now you’ll probably be able to buy it online forever. The opposite is true of print.

That’s not entirely online though. I’ve suffered a ‘wait for the trade‘ mentality for a while now. I’m mates with Si Spurrier – I even play Risk with him – but it took me ages to pick up X-men Legacy because I just assumed I’d always be able to get it, especially once it’s collected.

Except, I bet that doesn’t help a book’s chances of becoming an ongoing concern. I bet there’s still a glut of people working throughout publishing who haven’t adjusted to a reality where everything is the backlist.

(As an aside, Legacy is truly excellent and you should buy it.)

I bet that’s hurting small pressers too. If you, as a reader, are adjusting to a world where floppy comics mean something different – something you might not throw down a few quid for – then you’re going to view lots of slim, single-issue comics in that way. Certainly, glancing at Twitter, the UK small press feels like it’s a little bit past the peak of sales it appeared to reach in the last couple of years. It’s bittersweet to not have skin in that game right now.

Meanwhile, the bit in between just seems to be flourishing. The books on the new release table at Gosh look incredible right now, whether it’s Tom Gauld’s latest or Stephen Collins’ debut. They look great, feel hefty and smell like the mental image you get when nerds talk about the smell of books.

Of course I’ve got no idea about sales figures, so that’s just idle reckoning on my part. But they at least look the part, and they don’t appear to be troubled by scarcity or collectibility. And they aren’t partworks.

Bye bye Paper Science

Dropped off my final copies of Paper Science at Gosh Comics today, which feels mighty strange.

I really miss wrangling that thing. There is little as satisfying as having a huge box of newsprint delivered, colours screaming off of the page, fabulous stories printed within. But there is also little worse than having a box of comics waiting to be sold, dragged from one poorly-promoted small press fair to another, every inch of profit eaten away by train fare, miserable sandwiches and rickety tables.

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The numbers don’t lie: the subscription was absolutely brilliant for the anthology, in terms of finance, promotion, enthusiasm and general confidence. For that I didn’t need to leave my laptop. After that, the best things Paper Science did (in terms of audience, profit and reach) were get stocked at Gosh comics, appear on a table at MCM Expo, and get taken to ELCAF. Almost every other event, no matter how much fun at the time, turned a little bit of money into a lot less money. I’m told that that is the standard definition of ‘publishing’.

As for the anthology itself, I’m more proud of it than anything else I’ve done. It’s an excellent collection, filled with brilliant work by people who are getting better and better with each passing story.

Tomorrow my company – newly rechristened We Are Words and Pictures – enters its second year. The only goal for 2013-2014 is ‘make one thing as good as Paper Science’. Feels like a good challenge.

British Comic Awards nominations

Today the nominees for the first British Comic Awards were announced, and they’re an absolutely phenomenal collection of awesome comics made right here in Blighty.


Thing is though, these nominations aren’t really for the likes of me and my friends. They’re probably for you.

Yes, you. I know you really enjoyed reading Watchmen, and yes – it’s great that you know Ghost World was a comic once (Really? Well, it was) – but do you own any of the books in those pictures above?

My friends and I, see, we own them all. We all get really excited when these creators do new stuff. But we’re awful at telling people we don’t know about them. So go out and buy Don Quixote, or Goliath, or Hilda and the Midnight Giant, or Nelson, or Science Tales, or The Accidental Salad, or Bad Machinery, or Girl & Boy, or Hemlock, or Tuk Tuk (although I can’t find a link to that in an online shop, so you can borrow my copy).

Scribble them down, or go to Amazon, or do whatever you need to do to find these stories and then read them. They’re a terrific collection of comics, and you should spend money on them.

What is the cultural significance of comics?

Kieron asked me that the other night. I gaped like a fish for a bit before he qualified the question ‘Why would you telling [a room full of designers] something about the workings of comics have significance to them? Why comics?’

And it’s sort of not a question. It’s like asking ‘Why is telly?’. But also not. It’s about stating one’s personal stake in the medium, and using that a lens to say why that medium is important.

So here’s my go;

1) They can be anything
2) They are simultaneously easy and exhausting to read
3) I feel utterly isolated during the reading of a comic
4) …

I had a fourth, but it ran away from me while I was writing 3.

Six pages and process

This evening I spent a few minutes chatting about comics to the local chapter of the IxDA. Last time I spoke at an IxDA night I was a bit too light on process for a lot of the audience, so this talk was almost entirely about process; a blow-by-blow account of how Kristyna Baczynski and I created a comic as resident creators at last year’s Thought Bubble festival.

Rather than retype the whole thing, I thought I’d write about the impact the residency has had on my working process. Some of it feels self-evident, but only in retrospect. At the end of the post you’ll find a list of things I referenced in the talk, as well as a link to specially discounted Paper Science collection (to say thanks for reading that far down/coming to the talk).

First up, some background. I publish an anthology, and I read a lot of them.

Independent anthologies, by and large, aren’t greatest hits collections; they’re a chances for creators to experiment or show-off. Often because they’re unpaid, and because the audience is a subsection of a niche.

Kristyna and I knew that we could created something fun and playful, while packing it with more story than our six pages should allow. We could tell a story, while offering little snapshots into the wider world the story existed in.

We could do that by manipulating the brain’s desire to finish things. Closure is how Scott McCloud refers to the thing the brain does to connect panels to panels and words to pictures. Matt Fraction‘s excellent talk The Batman Dreams of Heironymus Machines shows how that closure extends into the real world, and how you populate comics with your own world.

And so we took from the world around us – Leeds Library was where the residency was based – and brute forced a great big world into a short story about a girl looking for something.

We had a lot of fun that week, speaking a story aloud to one another, finding out about our shared processes and interests and basically having an extended comics ‘date’. It was grand. From a distance of nine months, I think four things proved their importance that week.

Our first day together was spent working out where the other person’s head was at. In terms of how we work, what we wanted to do with comics, how we wanted to spend the residency.

At the time that could have risked being a waste, but it meant we were in a way better position to be clear about things that would help or hurt the project, and when different approaches to work would be useful. Basically, a day learning one another’s boundaries was incredibly valuable in the long run.

We worked out what we wanted to deliver pretty quickly. It evolved over the week, but we spent time making sure we were working off of the same template, ‘Let’s do a six-page comic, and let’s have these characters and this library as the central through-line’.

We didn’t have a brief, so this was critical to us being able to communicate well throughout the making of the comic.

Kristyna’s thumbnails were so tiny. So so so tiny. But with tiny nibs and tinier rubbers she kept framing and reframing panels and structures and the flow of the story, which led to changes in the script which led to changes in the thumbnails and so on.

None of it was polished, little of it clear to anyone but us, but it proved the comic would flow and that the story could be told.

The reason we shared so much of our process – the reason we spent a week in and out of one another’s notebooks – is because the finished comic wouldn’t be happening for a long time. We knew it’d be a while before Kristyna could squeeze a concentrated burst of attention on it into her schedule. So we swapped every tiny piece of knowledge we could so that, when the time came, she could just zero in and Get It Done.

In an ideal world all four of those things would play a part in every project. I think I’ve definitely worked on things where a notable failure to think about or apply one of those has scuppered a job, or at least left everyone feeling a bit dirty at the end.

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For those of you looking for more links, I also referenced the work of Adam Cadwell, Julia Scheele and Tom Humberstone, in particular the latter’s anthology Solipsistic Pop.

You can also find out more about Phonogram, ‘Marvel method‘ scriptwriting and Alan Moore’s scripts using the internet.

EDIT: I also see that Kieron’s Decompressed deals with ‘Marvel method’ writing this week. You should have a listen.

As a super special bonus the collection of the anthology I publish, Paper Science, is available for just £5 plus postage. That’s half price. You should totally buy it before I change my mind about that.

Thanks to Kristyna, and to the folks at IxDA London.