Friday, 30 January 2009

Three Steps Forward One Step Back

I've been following the unfolding story on some of the comics news sites of Diamond's decision to increase publisher thresholds. The thresholds are the minimum sales numbers a book must achieve through Diamond for them to agree to distribute it. More importantly these numbers equate to the profit margins that Diamond are looking to achieve on each comic and book sold through Previews. Needless to say this move has caused uproar in certain quarters of the comics community but here's my opinion of it all.

First of all, irregardless of how much this decision makes it that more difficult for smaller comic publishers including Time Bomb Comics to achieve wider distribution, I can wholly understand the business decisions where Diamond is coming from on this. Diamond do NOT have an obligation to stock every comic book under the sun. They're a distribution business, they only need to stock product they think they can sell and make a return from - just like any other distribution business the world over. If a distrubutor has a product that's not shifting the required units for it to make the costs involved in that distribution viable then they will no longer stock that product. Period.

Secondly there seems to be a general wave of anger with the comments on the various news sites that Diamond are killing off the small press with this announcement. That, somehow, it's Diamond's fault that the indie press may be squeezed out of business. Sorry guys, but Diamond aren't the big bad here. If any fingers should be pointed it's to the comics buyers who only read Marvel/DC, the retailers who only stock the mainstream, the shops who over-order just to get those variants which can be sold at a ridiculously inflated price. You see, it's a lot of us that's to blame here, for not supporting publishers who really needed it or even giving them a chance. Case in point, there's many comments on the varoius comics news forums that go something along the lines of "I really support the little guys but I never buy any of their books" which to me perfectly illustrates one of the big hurdles that the little guys have to jump, often fail to, and are now likely to be taken out of the race as a result.

That said, we indie publishers are a tenacious lot. Unlike the big guys, a lot of us really aren't in it for the money but just because we love the comics medium. So, alternatives will be found whether it's smaller distributors like Haven or (here in the UK) Smallzone, embracing more fully e-books and the opportunities they bring, Amazon listings, e-commerce or building up a base of friendly retailers with which to deal with direct. The only major drawback is the sheer global coverage that Diamond provides as a one-stop-shop will be removed if an indie book doesn't get that all-important Diamond listing in the first place.

Time Bomb Comics are looking at this whole situation with a three steps forward and one step back attitude, which I think is the best stance to take and which seems to be how a lot of our fellow publishers are approaching it. We have projects slated for 2009 and 2010 that will be completed and published whether or not Diamond feel we make the grade, so although it's no guarantee we'll be listed in Previews again we're going to be putting out quality one-shots no matter what.

Not a bad thing, surely?

Friday, 23 January 2009

HI-EX on the Horizon

Time Bomb Comics' convention circuit is getting off to an early start this year with the Inverness Hi-Ex show on the weekend of 14th February. This is Hi-Ex's 2nd year and the first Hi-Ex gained instant notoriety not just because it was a great addition to the UK convention calender but also because it was snowed in following a very heavy Highland downfall! To be honest, the idea of being trapped in a convention centre for days with only 1000's of comics and their creators doesn't seem too bad a thing to me - but I'm not really sure how those variant covers would taste once the food ran out.
We had hoped to attend the first show but the logistics just didn't work out so we're delighted that we'll be there this time around. Our attendance involves a first for us - the first convention we've flown to, the 2 hour Birmingham/Inverness flight time much more attractive than the 9 and a half hours it would take by train. There's also been a great deal of thought given to how much we can bring with us, what with the luggage restrictions you get with flights, although I'm looking forward to travelling light with only 2 bags rather than the usual 5 that somehow are essential for those more Southern shows. We've also decided to leave our funky roll up banner behind - it was either that or no fresh clothes for four days.
Andy can't make it to Hi-Ex (it's much too far for him to travel without a carer) but both Suzanne and myself are getting very excited about it for a couple of reasons. Probably the main one is that it will be the first time most comic fans in Scotland will be able to sample our wares as I suspect not that many take the lengthy journey to Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds or anywhere else which has become the convention mainstays of recent years. So unlike the latter shows where we pitch up with one new one-shot as well as the previous releases, all three of our one-shots will be brand-new to a lot of the Hi-Ex crowd.
That's right - three one-shots - as we'll be using Hi-Ex to present some advance copies of The Sisterhood:Morningstar, fresh from the printer but hopefully not still wet. To be honest it was touch and go if we'd manage this, but Dan's finished the artwork and next weekend will be coming down to Time Bomb Central in Leicester to make sure that everything is set to print. The official launch won't be until May for this one - at the SPExpo in Bristol no less - but I'm really keen to be able to bring Hi-Ex a Time Bomb Comics mini-exclusive as well as getting some advance feedback about the book that we can hopefully use in our main launch.
To me, it's a key element to bring something new to each convention we appear at. Whether it's a new one-shot, merchandise or the brand in itself I'm a great believer in added value and when I'm taking in a convention as a comics fan - even if it's those quick 10 minutes away from the Time Bomb Comics table - I always get a big kick out of seeing what new stuff the other exhibitors have this time around. If it's the same old stuff as last year, then I'm disappointed.
The other thing I'm looking forward to at Hi-Ex is the fact that it's not as huge as the other shows just yet, so there's a chance I can meet some of the other exhibitors and guests that will be there. Sometimes the big shows can be overwhelming, the smaller events tend to have a tighter focus and usually everyone is slightly more relaxed about things. Two people who I'm suspecting won't be that relaxed are Richmond and Vicky, Hi-Ex's organisers, who will no doubt be displaying that manic stare and rictus grin over the two days that all con-runners seem to get due to putting anything like this together being no easy task.
But apart from them I'm expecting a pretty chilled vibe - and not just from the snow outside.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Fathering The Sisterhood

Over the past few months there's been a few mentions of The Sisterhood on these pages. Now that publication of this latest one-shot is imminent it seemed a good time to give you an idea of what it's all about. Firstly, here's a few lines from the initial premise put together in November 2007:
In the far future the Church is all. Not since the middle ages has the domination of church over state been more manifest, but in this future the church rules on an interplanetary scale, system after system bound by rigid dogma – a dogma as convoluted and contradictory as the different belief systems that it has adopted into one.

The Church’s rule is absolute, but it is also ruthless. Anyone and everything that does not conform is branded undesirable and is marked for conversion. Anyone and everything that opposes conversion faces one thing – annihilation.
The church has many agents, but along with it’s popes, cardinals, bishops and priests is another faction that are feared by those even at the higher echelons of the church itself.

They are the Nuns of the church, women with the appointed the task of maintaining the proscribed faith and ruthlessly destroying any who would dare to oppose the church and its teachings.

They are The Sisterhood.
Or to put it another way: Space Nuns with Big Guns. The concept came after meeting with Dan Barritt at the 2007 Thoughbubble, deciding I wanted to work on a one-shot with him, and then coming up with an idea that seemed to suit his art style. The Sisterhood seemed ideal for that, Dan's manga-inspired artwork deserved showcasing with a story that could feature some of the elements so associated with that: science-fiction, action heroines, and hardware.
Following the original premise Dan and I spent a couple of months bouncing designs back and forth, locking down the look of the character's and the world they inhabit. This was a rewarding experience, the creative wellspring had just been tapped and the concepts and ideas gushed forth, not all of them useful and one or two pretty useless. I'll admit the useless ideas were mine. What was more exciting though was how the concept continued to evolve, the initial storyline I'd developed transmogrifying into something that really drove home how collaborative comics are.
I usually work on a comic script in sections. There's couple of reasons for this. Firstly I personally hate decompressed comics and the feeling that a 5 page story has been stretched out to 20 for no great reason, so I work on each six pages as a mini-episode in itself. This means that during those pages the story has developed somewhat and given me a focus to really tighten the dialogue and to lose any flab. By the end of page six there has to have been some development to carry the story forward into the next six, and so on. The second reason is that if something goes horribly wrong and I need to re-write or re-work a script substantially, scripting in smaller segments seems to allow me to fix things without too much of a headache. It's also useful to find out what the artist thinks as we go along as in some cases the story changes in the latter stages because of the feedback from the earlier stages.
The Sisterhood is a case in point, with a conclusion springing from some comments Dan made after receiving the first few pages of script that only enhanced what we'd already planned. The story road remained the same, but now there seemed some more interesting things to look at along the journey. Of course it didn't end there, at each stage of The Sisterhood's completion Dan and I would swap suggestions to fine-tune what we had, right through to the finished art stage. It's a great way to work and a true synthesis with writer and artist, creating comics as a collaborative process which is what they always should be.
Pending any last minute disaster The Sisterhood will be heading for the printers in February, and with the distinction of being Time Bomb's first full-colour comic. At the moment we're hoping we'll have some preview copies available for Hi-Ex but if not will be available through our online shop shortly.

Friday, 9 January 2009


That, lone reader, is the exclusive order number allocated by Diamond UK for Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead. If you haven't already done so, please, please, please have a word with the nice chap at your local comics emporium and ask him to order a couple of copies.

Since the beginning of the New Year I've been speaking to lots of comics emporium chappies myself, calling as many UK comics shops as I can and generally bigging up Time Bomb Comics' highwaymen vs zombies extravaganza as much as I can. The listing in Previews is fantastic, but not much cop if we don't get any orders at all.

What's been interesting is how different some of the shops seem to be from my expectation of them, built up through years of seeing them mentioned online or in print. Some of the unknown, smaller shops turned out to be the most supportive and, yes, excited by our Dick Turpin book and that we'd taken time to call them about it. Others who I thought would be a shoe-in were far more difficult a sell, coming across as pretty disinterested. Fair enough, some you win and some you lose, but it was eye-opening when a shop who'd advertised in Comics International for years turned out to be more Indie-unfriendly than their full page monthly ads had always suggested. The other surprise was the comic shop who've always seemed to be championed as the role-model for what a comics shop should be turned out to be quite snooty, the voice at the other end of the tone laced with that "why are you wasting my time" tone of disinterest that I'm sure everyone has experienced at some time! Yes, comics are an art form but no, to promote that doesn't mean you have to act so bloody superior. Oh well, you live and learn.

But the good vibes far, far outweighed the bad and there's now a handful of shops out there who I'd say are very Time Bomb Comics friendly, and links to their shops will be on the main site in due course. One of these is also keen for us to do an in-store signing!

In the meantime go back and read the first paragraph again. Please.