London MCM Comic Con May 2013: Reflections

May 30, 2013


It’s been too damn long since I last posted something, but I have been busy – indeed that’s why I’ve lost touch with my updates for the past month or so – so getting straight down to the obvious I thought I might kickstart the old WordPress by briskly mulling over my recent survival of London’s MCM Comic Con and what the future might hold…

First and foremost is the matter of my second issue.


Thanks to various RL distractions, responsibilities, diversions and good old-fashioned poor preparation my page count for Issue 2 pre-Con rocked in around 7 pages excluding the cover leaving me with an unpleasant decision to make; either attend the Con with literally nothing new since last year or release new material in the form of a woefully slim volume. After much tooth gnashing and angst ridden indecision I begrudgingly settled on the latter with the compromise that I would add it as a freebie with Issue 1 and include my short Replay Value to create better value for money.

Needless to say this was not a profitable move, but it felt like the best way to apologise for my stagnation while moving forward even if only a little. It’s a lack of progress which doesn’t stem from laziness or lack of enthusiasm – as I’d literally always be happy to sit down and draw a page – but rather the excision of Branch from my Masters project. Whereas I’d then forcibly made time for planning and drawing in relation to my academia, since graduation I’ve felt bound to pursue things relating to employment and voluntary activities leaving Branch simmering somewhere on the back-burner, often for whole weeks at a time.

There is some good news though; in spite of my own regrets most of the feedback I got at the Con was really very positive with even the criticism I received being constructive and valuable. There was no hiding the brevity of issue 2 but the majority of folks who bought and browsed it at least seemed to like the new content and wanted more. It’s also worth noting that the second of the issue’s last two pages – which I shall be posting shortly – was a 24 hour effort; a desperate, rushed effort certainly and nowhere near my best but it at least proves that the possibility of a decent production rate is there, all I have to do is grasp it.

Additionally outside of the comic itself I’ve made considerable improvements to the way I promote myself; I’m not up there with the people flaunting 6ft banners yet but my presentation and general visibility were both a massive leap over that flat-issues and cloth arrangement of 2012. This time I had a decent stand, an A3 poster and – crucially – a stack of rapidly diminishing business cards. My sales were decent if not exactly earth shattering but it’s nice to think so many passers-by were interested enough to want to look me up later.

As ever with my life uncertainty abounds as to how things will go from here but the one thing I absolutely need to make sure of is that my next issue is a 20 page+ barnstormer of a comic. I know it can be done within this year, I just need to get disciplined and force myself into a balanced production schedule; I’ve made too many promises and received too much support not to make the most of this thing and turnout something truly worthwhile in the near future.

Concluding on the matter of support I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Nikita for all the help on my table, Chris/Ushio and Josie K for putting up with my annoying banter, Chloe, Lee and Kat for letting me stay over and anyone who was kind enough to stop by my table or buy issues of Branch – My thanks to you all!

London MCM Expo May 2012: Reflections

May 28, 2012

Phew, that was quite the weekend! Besides last year’s Platform Expo in Hull this was my first real convention I’ve attended and certainly the first time I’ve ever sold any work. It’s been both exhilarating and daunting in equal measure, more than anything though it’s most definitely been worthwhile.

In the end I sold 10 copies of Branch, with the majority of purchases being made on Saturday – by far the busiest day – which going on other people’s tables and what I’ve been told is pretty decent for a first timer. Financially speaking this doesn’t even equate to me breaking even but quite honestly I’m happy enough that there was interest in Branch, that I got constructive feedback and met like-minded folks with the same passion for comics. As it is I can always sell my spare stock another time and recoup the costs in the longterm.

I could rave on about all the cool things I saw or the weird and wonderful cosplay in abundance but to keep things concise and critical it’s probably best that I reflect on what I did right, what I did wrong and what I can do better next time.

Obvious as it may sound I think the lower pricing helped convince more customers, giving them the extra nudge where they otherwise might not of purchased. At £4 and £3.50 where I discounted I was hardly raking it in but most people are fairly cautious of unknown quantities and if there’s less to gamble they’ll be more willing to take the plunge. Call it optimistic but if I can interest more readers now then perhaps I can raise the price slightly without driving them away.

In terms of presentation meanwhile I was pretty humble but I think I made the most of what I had. During set up on Friday I met Chris/Ushio who I collaborated with on the Six anthology – we’ve been in contact for a few years but hadn’t previously met in person till now – anyway, besides being as nice a guy offline as on he gave me a few pointers, specifically suggesting I leave a copy or two of Branch open to read. This was definitely a good move as the contents seemed to go down better than the cover – too grim? – while later my friend/volunteer Nikita opened one on page 7’s cityscape which seemed to impress a few.

The direct feedback I received was largely positive, with most praising linework, use of colour and the general style. There was some understandable scepticism over the ‘to be continued’ conclusion but most who read through didn’t seem as bothered by the slow pacing and build up as I might have thought. I sincerely doubt anyone was blown away but it was uplifting that people urged me to continue and wanted to know when I’d back.

An additional offshoot of all this was getting a stronger sense of exactly who my niche audience is, I’ve only vaguely mentioned it to be  somewhere in the young adult SF crowd upwards before so it was interesting to see exactly who was buying. If you’ll forgive me generalizing slightly, most of my buyers were older men – likely no one under 20 – suggesting I am indeed on target.

It might sound a little condescending but I feel the content of the storyline rules out children for the most part while the majority of teenagers are likely to want something with more action, comedy and faster pacing. Maybe it sounds like I’m stereotyping, but I didn’t have much interest in film noir, detective fiction or cyberpunk until I was at least 17 and the readers are always welcome to prove me wrong :P

On the downside I felt that my chosen genre may be in a bit of a slump at the moment. Fantasy, superheroes and steampunk were all dominant at the Expo with the latter’s romanticism of technology being especially at odds with the cynical portrayal in cyberpunk. That’s not to say I don’t love these genres respectively but I did feel like it might be the wrong time and place for sci-fi dystopias; I got a palpable sense of people searching for fun and optimism rather than gloom and angst. It’s not like I’m going to change Branch into cheerful magic-adventure anytime soon, but it does present an obstacle I should give serious thought to in future.

There were exceptions to this formula such as Twisted Dark and Romantically Apocalyptic which seemed to do good business however they were well established with impressive displays to boot, which neatly brings me to my weakest area: presentation. Right from the off I knew I was outgunned since more than half the tables had banners, postcards, badges and stands; you literally couldn’t miss them. I meanwhile showed up with a table-cloth, my first issue and a modest A5 pricing sign. To make one of my stupid analogies, it was like being a mouse amongst elephants. Big elephants, wearing sparklers and wielding boom boxes playing loud “UNTZ” music…

Even in retrospect I know I wouldn’t have had the time or money to get something like an 8ft banner made for Branch but there are plenty of smaller things I could have done and certainly will do next time I attend a convention.

First and foremost I need to get some business cards, they’re a nice compromise for people who are unwilling to spend money on a comic but are still interested in your work and want to find out more. While I did write this blog down for plenty of people, having something to casually grab without a fuss is definitely preferable and likely to draw more attention in the long run, also peripherals such as badges and postcards could also give my table more substance and alternatives for hesitant customers. Even if I can’t get a banner, building a smaller display of some sort could help catch people’s eye and a stand to prop my comics up on would make them more visible at a distance as opposed to being flat on the table.

There are other matters too such as whether I should adopt a company name and what it might be, starting a proper website and sorting out a possible internet store but they’re really things I’ll need a while longer to mull over and talk about in other posts; right now I want to make good on the momentum and boost of inspiration the Expo has given me and get back to work.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who bought a copy of Branch, talked with me, helped me out, offered me veteran advice or sold me their work at the Expo. I had a great time :)

All Systems Go?

April 14, 2011

I’ve been doing a lot of careful thinking about the longterm development of this project recently, while today I had an in depth discussion with my tutor Mark regarding work plans for the coming weeks.

Were you to ask me whether I felt ready to begin production of the graphic right now, being honest the answer would have to be “no”. It would be “no” now. It would be “no” in a month. It could well be “no” in a decade for all I know. I don’t consider myself to be a perfectionist (I doubt I could create something that is perfect in the first place) but I often have difficulty shaking the feeling I could do more to improve; the niggling doubt of that one book I forgot to read, the design that isn’t quite right or the line of scripted dialogue which I can’t decide on.

Considering my remaining time on the MA rationally against the projected length of the work itself, its gotten to the point where I need to count my hypothetical chickens and start contemplating production as an immediate objective rather than some distant lofty goal. If I want to stand a realistic chance of completing Branch before the end of the course then I need to be strict about my management of time, which means setting myself – yikes! – deadlines.

So it is, that I’ve tasked myself with wrapping up the majority of my planning and studies by the end of the month  with the intention of beginning work on pages by the start of the next. There are about a dozen other sources I want to research, more than a few conceptual designs I’m yet to draw up and a script that needs finalising, but schedules and time constraints are a fact of life. If I don’t start setting realistic targets now then the consequence will be compromise on the final graphic – which is the last thing I want.

Do I feel ready? Not really, but one way or another I’ll be seeing to it that it’s all systems go this May.

Reflection: Sacred Cows

January 15, 2011

I’ve just finished the first module of my MA, requiring me to submit a second proposal and run a presentation. Beyond meeting the obvious demands of the course this gave me a chance to reflect on the research and planning I’ve covered thus far, while also considering some criticism the panel gave me. My script is still in flux and concepts are being continually redrawn/imagined, but I have some aspects of the project which I now know to be certainties. So, it is these ‘sacred cows’ that I shall run over (sorry, that sounded wrong) – ahem – that I shall summarise here.

First of all there’s the matter of scientific grounding: from the very start I had the intention of basing as much of my setting in scientific fact and theory as feasible. I hesitate to suggest everything will have such a basis – there’s a good reason I didn’t pursue a career in cybernetics and as fiction it would be a shame if I didn’t have a little fun with things. All the same it’s my firm intention to maintain a reasonable level of credibility amongst the sci-fi and steer clear of some more outlandish ideas I might be tempted by. Greater realism means greater credibility, greater credibility means greater immersion.

In line with this credibility there’s my decision to firmly stick to a used future aesthetic. I’m hardly saying I want my cyborgs to be rusting piles of junk staggering around a post-apocalyptic scrap yard (did I just describe Battle Angel Alita?), but at the same time giving machinery, clothes and the surroundings a sense of usage and history seems far more realistic than off-the-production-line sheen. Precisely how I’ll manage this remains to be seen, but my drawing style tends to be inherently quite rough around the edges and consequently fitting to the desired look.

Then there’s the matter of my central pairing: My two main protagonists Scratch and Curt will be forced to work together by an unfortunate turn of events, consequently having to put aside personal prejudices and their general dislike for one another to resolve matters. Clichéd as it may sound this relationship is intended to be beneficial to both sides, each somehow addressing the weaknesses of the other. On the one hand the newcomer Curt is a very human character, but at the same time remains deeply cowardly and phobic. Scratch – a heavily modified cyborg – is someone who is strong with a great deal of integrity, but ultimately deluded about herself and the role the machine takes in her life. At the risk of sounding pretentious I could say this impromptu partnership is symbiotic much as the relationship between organic and mechanical in a cyborg is… but I’ll spare you and just say I’m still ironing out the details on this one.

Finally there’s my commentary. What exactly am I trying to say here? It’s somewhat traditional of most cyberpunk to imply that machines and technology have some sort of dehumanising effect upon people, but is this really fair? Couldn’t we argue that machines are humanised through human usage? Much as we move into a new house and decorate to our tastes, couldn’t we consider technology to be implemented into our lives similarly? Even this blog is a fine example; I’ve taken a bunch of templates and default settings, then customised them in accordance with my (worrying) personal tastes. I’m not saying technological advancement is always inherently good news given evidence to the contrary, but realistically speaking I’ve seen too much good done by it for outright condemnation to makes sense. It is thus that I wish to counterbalance more stereotypically negative undertones with a fair respect for technology’s positives as well.

So yeah, not many certainties yet but I’m about 99% sure that all of the latter will form some part of the finished graphic novel. The rest remains embryonic but bare with me and I’ll make this baby yet…