Wednesday 24 December 2008

Christmas Prescience

So just before Christmas a great thing has happened. SFX, that well-respected and much-loved British monthly that covers all aspects of SF/Fantasy/Horror has spotlighted Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead as their 'zine of the month. They describe it as a "whimsically dark engaging read" which is a quote I'm more than happy with, and will sit there with Comic Shop Voice's opinion in November that we "create comics that everybody can tap into, everybody can enjoy" as our most favoured soundbites.

The SFX review appears within their lively letters pages, and being one of the most popular sections in SFX means that a fair proportion of the readership will see it and perhaps even go so far as to buy it. However the biggest thing SFX has given us, apart from being our first mainstream printed press exposure, is awareness. If even a handful of SFX readers stop by our table at our next convention appearance and pick up one of our comics based solely on the fact they've heard of us through the magazine then job done. If just one person remembers we featured in SFX at Christmas we won't complain, because it means the exposure worked and somebody who never knew of us now does.

The issue of SFX featuring our review came out last week. This week the January 2009 Diamond Previews hit the UK comic shop, featuring our Dick Turpin as one of the comics available to order in the Previews UK section*. The timing couldn't have been better in my opinion, with a comic being highlighted in the former being offered for sale in the latter. Maybe, just maybe, some UK comics fans will ask their retailer to stock the comic because they liked the sound of it in SFX and that little bubble of awareness inflates ever so slightly.

You see, Time Bomb Comics is still a very small fish, but we're a species that some are beginning to recognise and remember. This awareness, this prescience, is something solid that we can build on as we enter our busiest publishing year yet.

And at this time of year, what really could be better than some Christmas Prescience?

*9781845765132 is the Previews order number for Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead, but expect to hear a lot of this number over the next few weeks...

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Christmas Comes Early

In fact it came in mid November when we received confirmation that Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead will be featured in the UK Section of the January 2009 Diamond Previews catalogue. This marks a great step for us as potentially every comics shop in Great Britain and Northern Ireland can have copies on their shelves in April 2009. But of course, it's not really that easy.

Having a listing in Previews is no guarantee that a retailer will order the comic, which is where the seriously hard work comes in. At the moment the plan is to send to all Diamond UK accounts some promo material in January along with their order forms to hopefully encourage them to take a punt on us. No mean feat given the sheer amount of stuff that's listed in each Previews catalogue (in fact show any non-comics fan the catalog and watch their faces when you tell them that's just the product coming out during one month) but we're hoping that some of the positive reviews we've received and the fact that we're a new British publisher will snag us a few orders. That and the fact that I'll be phoning as many retailers as I can once our listing is published to encourage, request and blatantly beg that they order at least 1 copy. There's over 300 shops who carry stock through Diamond UK. Suddenly my 500 free minutes deal seems pitifully inadequate.

Of course the other thing would be for you, lone reader, to ask your shop to order a copy. Or maybe a few so you can get your mates to buy one as well. Trust me, neither Andy or myself would be offended by that - in fact, let us know you banged the Time Bomb Comics drum and we'll definitely add you to our Christmas card list for next year!

Other news: Dan Barritt has completed the line art for The Sisterhood and it looks pretty damned good. Now Dan is getting on with the colour artand when that is done it's a fair bet that statement will justifiably change to "pretty damned amazing".

Andy Dodd is finishing off the inks for the First Kill short story we've been working on for Accent UK. Andy's done a cracking job again, his artwork seems to get better and better with each project we do, and I'm really looking forward to what Dave and Colin at Accent UK think of it. Once Andy's done then he's back to the final touches on The Furies.

Paul Thompson has begun to send some pencils through for Primetime. Still early days on this one but looking very good so far, and a project I'll say much more about when the time is right.
All in all, lots going on and lots more bubbling under!

Monday 17 November 2008

The Best Convention Of The Year.

That's what a lot of attendees, guests and exhibitors are saying about the Leeds Thoughtbubble Show that was held this Saturday gone and I have to say I'm inclined to agree. It was a terrific day and the way Thoughtbubble had matured from an intimate little affair in the crypt of Leeds Town Hall in 2007 to a full-blown, bells and whistles, must-be-there comics party at Saviles Hall in 2008 was nothing short of remarkable.

The Time Bomb Comics weekend in Leeds started on the Friday where, after an excruciatingly long train journey that wound it's way between grimy Northern town after grimy Northern town, my wife Suzanne and I met up with The Sisterhood artist Dan Barritt on the Friday night. This was the first time I had managed to socialise with Dan since meeting him last year, and it was a great opportunity to get to know him better. Dan had sorted out his own table for Thoughtbubble and was feeling nervous as to whether he would sell any of the lavish posters of his artwork he had spent the week producing. I assured him he had nothing to worry about and Dan started to relax, no doubt helped by the stunningly cheap bar prices at the venue he'd chosen for our get together: The Angel Inn. A pint for £1.39 on a Friday night. I kid you not.

The Saturday of the show was wonderfully stress-free (if a little heavy-headed) as it turned out the hotel we'd booked into was, quite literally, a stone's throw from the Thoughtbubble venue. Saviles Hall is located opposite the Royal Armouries and turned out to be a wonderful venue, with a large reception area leading into the main hall beyond. Walking into this hall I realised how big this year's event actually was - over 100 tables that could give the BICS main hall a run for its money. We found our table and quickly set-up and the first attendees were let in bang on 10.00am - and at 10.01 we made our first sale.

There seemed to be an endless stream of people coming through the doors, a lot of them in a baffling variety of costumes and for the next 7 hours we had an almost constant stream of people looking at our comics. Some of them bought, some of them didn't, but each of them seemed delighted that Leeds was hosting such a vibrant comics festival. There were families on day trips (one man had driven his daughter up from Cornwall that morning for a birthday treat and was driving back straight afterward) and people who were discovering modern comics for the first time (a man in his sixties had read about the show in the local paper and was overwhelmed, and overspent if his heaving bags were anything to go by). Then of course there were the rest of us, who already know how great comics are and were just soaking up the vibe.

And over the day the vibe became The Vibe, as everyone began to agree that there was some atmosphere about Thoughtbubble that was making it a bit different to all the other comics gatherings. There was a real feel-good atmosphere in the hall, people were having a good time - even the exhibitors that weren't actually selling that much were enjoying themselves. By the end of the afternoon The Vibe had soaked into all of us. Then was the after-party, held in the nearby casino where some of the day's talks had been held and which was obviously going to be going on for a lot longer after we left at just before midnight.

So why was Thoughtbubble so damn good? Well, it could be that the eclectic range of exhibitors, panels and guest made it a show for everyone, or it could be that by being a single day convention it removes the "very slow Sunday" syndrome that the two day events can suffer from. Maybe. But a lot of the reason for Thoughtbubble's success falls at the feet of Tamsin and Lisa who'd organised the show and produced a wonderfully organised event - something that had been evident from the pre-show planning, to be honest - and maintained a cheerful can-do will-do prescence right until the very end.

You did a fabulous job, ladies. May your Bubble never burst.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Evolution Of A Cover

With the cover to The Sisterhood now being pretty much locked*, I thought it would be a good idea to show the processes we went through to get to the final stage. I can't stress how important I feel a cover is to a comic, mainly because it's often the first thing a potential buyer becomes aware of when they survey the wall of new comics inside their local comics shop. Okay, the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man may be sitting there as expected, but if the eye is drawn to a great looking cover belonging to something entirely unexpected then there's a chance the comic may be picked up, flicked through and hopefully bought. And for a small-time publisher like us that cover hook can make us or break us. So it's why whenever we begin to put a new one-shot together the cover is something we begin to work on immediately after the scripting stage - with the cover art being the first fully completed artwork in-house.

Of course, every cover image starts with an idea, and the idea I had for The Sisterhood was to have a riff on the iconic photograph that depicted the US flag being raised on Iwo Jima during World War Two:

Why this image? Well, it seemed to fit ideally the militaristic angle that The Sisterhood features as one of its central themes, and gave scope to produce a suitable action pose featuring all the main characters. I passed this idea to Dan Barritt - The Sisterhood's artist - and asked him to work something up. He came back with some rough sketches including this:

This perfectly captured the look I was after, the flag in the background adding some desired weight to the image, so I confirmed with Dan that the cover would be based on this rough and asked him to work up a suitable finished version. Dan soon gets back to me with this:

To be honest, Dan had strayed from his brief here. The Sisterhood cover had never been planned as a wraparound, but Dan had worked it up that way with the notion that if I didn't like the widescreen version the left hand side could easily be cropped with the right hand main image not losing anything. Part of the fun of working with artists is seeing what they come up with creatively and the work they produce often surprises and delights. It was a no-brainer to me - The Sistehood would not only be the first full colour comic from Time Bomb Comics, it would now also feature the first wraparound cover.

The cover artwork completed, I now brought Andy Dodd on board to start adding the cover text to the image, and working with The Sisterhood logo that I had also had Dan design. Despite not being the artist for The Sisterhood Andy is responsible for the editorial design of the comic, and his first crack at a finished cover resulted in this:

There were a number of things I didn't like about this, the primary one being the placement of the logo at the bottom of the cover. I could understand Andy's reasons for the placement - he wanted to show off as much as Dan's artwork as possible - but I felt that we would lose display prominence when displayed if the logo deviated too much from the traditional location. I also felt the Time Bomb Comics brand label looked too squashed, the addition of our "Telling Great Stories" strapline making it look too busy. I detailed these issues to Andy and he then came back to me with some more options:

Both of these were steps in the right direction, but elements in each were not quite right. The logo placement was better but still needed a tweak, as did the placement of the creator credits, and I felt the cover price would work better if integrated more into the branding. The biggest visual change was probably the logo being re-coloured to pick up the grey elements of the artwork. Other than that I was happy, and Andy's assurances that these further changes would be quick and easy to accomplish made me feel less of a picky bastard!

Which brings us to the final locked image which is this:

Here you can see all the design elements in place, with all the layout changes fixed. I think the integrated price/brand box really works, and the main logo layout the strongest it can be. This finished version is what we'll be using for marketing over the next few months, and is already up on the website and linked pages. All in all, a job well done.

*Of course I say "locked" but it's really only the front cover that's sorted out. Andy and I still have to work on the back cover text layout before the cover can really be said to be completed!

Sunday 2 November 2008

Sisters and Shopping and Stuff

Above is the wonderful artwork for our upcoming one-shot The Sisterhood written by Steve Tanner and with full-colour artwork by Dan Barritt. It's our first colour comic but as you can see is designed to be our first wraparound cover. We should have a finished cover dummy ready for Thoughtbubble which will have all the text and logos on but the above is as close to a virgin incentive variant as you're ever likely to get from us - so enjoy! Work on The Sisterhood's interior continues at a steady pace, with a tentative release date of early next year.
Our online shop is also now up and running which can be accessed through the main site. Both Ragamuffins:Stitches In Time and Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead are currently available, and until 1st December we're offerring free postage and packing so place an order if you've yet to enjoy either of these two.
Other stuff:
Paul Thompson now has the full script for Primetime which will hopefully be released before the end of next year. This is Paul's first major comics work and has a vibrant classic cartoon style that matches the script perfectly. As to what Primetime is actually about - another post for another time!
Andy Dodd is working on First Kill, a short 4-pager that we want to put under the noses of Accent UK, as well as completing some art changes for The Furies and continuing to build the website whilst holding down a part-time job and completing a University degree. Eee, what a busy Barnsley lad!
And as for me, I've just started work on another Ragamuffins one-shot which Andy and I want to have out for next year's BICS in October.

Thoughtbubble 2008

In just under two weeks the wonderful Leeds Thoughtbubble one-day convention will be taking place on Saturday 15th November. We were at the first Thoughtbubble event last year and had a great day there so are really looking forward to this year's event. We'll be manning our table and selling our comics and hoping we'll find another artist as fabulous as Dan Barritt who we met at last year's show. All in all, we're expecting to have as much fun as last year. One thing that is going to be different is the scale of this year's event - over 100 tables compared to last year's 30 or so, which is a huge increase and necessitated the change in venue from Leeds Town Hall to the Armouries.

There's a few things about Thoughtbubble that make it different from the usual comic conventions. One thing is that it seems to be an event embraced by the city itself, running alongside the Thoughtbubble film festival taking place throughout the week before. It's no secret that BICS runs very independently to Birmingham itself with no real awareness of the event outside comics fans, but not so Thoughtbubble whuich seems to have flyers and posters at every Leeds entertainment venue worth its salt. This approach is borne out by the show's sponsors which include bars, restaurants, a casino, local entertainment websites and a local newspaper group as well as the usual Diamond UK, Forbidden Planet and local comic shop prescence.

There's also a sheer exuberance about the show's organisers that's hard to beat. Last year all the exhibitors were given home-baked cookies and cakes throughout the day by the organisers. This year there's an after-show party being held. But throughout there's a real sense of professional organisation that makes being part of Thoughtbubble such a joy in itself. Now, this is not to say that the other UK conventions lack that, not at all, but there's a level of service that gives the guys in Leeds an edge. Case in point: yesterday I received the Thoughtbubble show passes and tickets through the mail. Along with them came a useful crib-sheet about setting up on the day. I didn't ask for these to be sent me. They just did. The other conventions don't do that. It's such a small thing. And the passes were already nicely marked "Time Bomb Comics" and with ribbons for ease of use. Another small thing. But believe me, from an exhibitor point of view it makes such a difference.

Thoughtbubble could well be the dark horse of the UK comics convention circuit. It was overlooked by many last year for being a small-scale one-day event. This year it's making some waves with a palpable bzz about it at BICS. Next year? It'll be bigger than Bristol.

Sunday 12 October 2008

BICS and Pieces

One week on from BICS and there seems to be a whole host of things going on in the Time Bomb Comics world!

Dan Barritt is storming through The Sisterhood, with some beautiful artwork being produced for our first full-colour book. The image here is not the cover but page one of the comic itself - the opening splash page. I'm sure you'll agree it looks pretty awesome - jaws collectively hit the floor when we first saw it - and the cover is pretty breathtaking too, which should be up on The Sisterhood page on the main website pretty soon.

As for the website Andy has been doing a great job knocking it into shape and it now has the foundations in place for what we had in mind for it originally. Over the next few weeks there'll be more tweaking and some bells and whistles added that Andy's getting quite excited about, including some animations. If you haven't seen the new website yet click on over here and then let us know what you think of it.

Looking to the future, I'm just putting the final polish to the script for Primetime, a forthcoming one-shot with art by Paul Thompson, and Andy is cracking on with the final few pages for The Furies graphic novel. At the same time Andy will be working on a 4 page short story of mine that will hopefully be published in a future Accent UK anthology book. After he's done all that, I suppose I'll have to start taking Andy's mutterings of putting together another Ragamuffins comic seriously...

We've also just had our final table confirmation through for the Leeds Thoughtbubble show on Saturday 15th November. No new releases for that, but looking forward to seeing what the Leeds contingent think of Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead and the preview art for The Sisterhood. I'm also wondering if we'll find another "Dan", given we found the talented Mr Barritt at last year's show!

Then we've had some follow-ups from some of the fellow creators we met at BICS including writer John Owens and artist John Cahill. No definite plans as yet, but one of the great things about shows like BICS is the chance to find some new talent to work with - and there's always the possibility that the Next Big Thing in the comics industry will have had their first published work in a Time Bomb Comic!

Finally the guys over at Comics Village have given over their latest Eye Candy column to showcasing Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead. Check it out and indeed the rest of the site which has a pretty hands-off approach to it's contributions and can be wickedly entertaining as a result. Glenn Carter, one of the brains behind the website, was another face from BICS and we look forward to seeing his review of the Dick Turpin book on the site soon. The feedback we've had about the comic already has been very positive - so fingers crossed!

Tuesday 7 October 2008

BICS 2008 - On Reflection

Time Bomb Comics had a blast at BICS. Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead was unleashed on a mostly unsuspecting public and they seemed to enjoy it! We had a steady stream of people stopping by the Time Bomb Comics table over the two days and it was great to meet so many people who'd picked up Ragamuffins last year - enjoyed it - and came back for more. There were also a fair few newbies who were oblivious to Time Bomb until we encouraged them to part with their cash and sample our wares, but on the whole they didn't seem to mind too much!

This year the show was split between two rooms simply due to the number of exhibitors there. We were in the Main Hall but there was a much smaller Exhibition Suite adjacent to the main entrance. All well and good but this definitely gave the show a different vibe this year, the Hall so empty to the Suite at some points during the Saturday that some of us were wondering if the fact there was two rooms was lost on some of the attendees and they'd came and went before discovering the much bigger Hall existed. Not such a wild flight of fancy given the two rooms were seperated by a large permanent exhibition and there was initially no signage directing the unititiated to the other part of the show.

The Saturday was much quieter than the previous year - at times on the afternoon there were definitely more exhibitors in the Main Hall than visitors - but the unexpected flip-side was that the Sunday was much busier than 2007. This was no doubt in part due to some canny panel scheduling, with the keynote Dave Gibbons Watchmen talk being allocated the early Sunday afternoon slot - thus ensuring the second day was not the usual graveyard shift!

It was great to meet up with some fellow exhibitors, and to see how the British comics industry continues to thrive - albeit with smaller Indie publishers like ourselves. There were two new arrivals on the scene in the form of Reaper Comics and Ariel Press, and both these publishers had some great looking comics on display, but it was also enjoyable to catch up with some of the longer established publishers like Insomnia, Accent UK and Murky Depths. The latter is one of publishing's best kept secrets - a unique magazine that blends comics with short stories that really should be much bigger than it actually is.

Despite some grumblings from some of the exhibitors and attendees (proving you really can't please all of the people all of the time) BICS 2008 once again proved itself to be one of the key players of the UK convention circuit. There are plans to cap exhibitors next year - suggesting the two room format wasn't as successful as expected - but it really is a well put together event and already pencilled in our events diary for 2009.

Tuesday 30 September 2008

BICS - As Ready As We'll Ever Be!

The Birmingham International Comics Show is mere days away, and Time Bomb Comics is as ready as we'll ever be:

Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead has arrived back from the printers, looking fabulous and as different in tone, style and genre to Ragamuffins as we'd wanted. Naturally I'm biased, but this is a great comic and I'm looking forward to seeing the reaction it will get - especially as the cover art that we had on display at the Bristol Expo last May seemed to generate lots of enthusiasm in itself!

Yesterday I took delivery of a brand spanking new free-standing banner that proudly displays the Time Bomb Comics logo which will be our new table backdrop. It looks great and is wonderfully portable and easy to erect, unlike our existing backdrop which was great to look at but a bugger to cart around the country and a nightmare to put together. From the front it looked mighty fine, but was held together with clips, string, sellotape and luck - and with a tendency to sway threateningly if breathed upon when anyone had to squeeze past it. Our new banner will at least make those essential mid-afternoon toilet breaks much easier to achieve.

We have been confirmed as being at table #95 in the BICS Main Exhibition Hall, which is almost exactly the same place we were last year but just facing the opposite direction. I'm delighted with this spot, as we're in one of the main BICS small-press dens, and on an end-table which again makes those toilet trips a breeze. Don't get me wrong, Time Bomb Comics are not all a weak-bladdered bunch (well, maybe Andy...) but it's much easier having to just slide off the end rather than crawling underneath or moving everyone else in your table row out of the way. We're also nowhere near any pro-artists, which is a bonus, not because we don't want to mix with the comics superstars (because we so do) but because the lengthy queues of fans snaking past your table tend not to be interested in what's sitting on your table and block the way for those that do. However the bonus for us this year is that we're sat next to the guys from the Geek Syndicate podcast (by far the most entertaining comics podcast on the planet) - so at least if no-one buys our comics we've got some fun people to talk to!

It's also going to be a Time Bomb Comics mini-summit, with some of our other creators coming along to catch up with us on their forthcoming projects. There's Dan Barritt, the artist of The Sisterhood and Paul Thompson who's working on Primetime* as well as a couple of others who have yet to commit to anything specific but hopefully will by the end of the weekend. Hopefully we'll also meet some brand new talent too.

So if you're at BICS this coming weekend search out the Time Bomb Comics table, buy our wares and say hello - it's going to be a fantastic weekend!

*Primetime - a brand-new project set for the middle of next year. No details to report as yet but that I'm still finishing off the script and Paul's still getting comfortable with the look of the characters. Still, Primetime is the latest Time Bomb Comic. You heard it here first!

Friday 26 September 2008

The Real Dick Turpin

One of the essential aspects of writing is research. No matter what you write there has to be some element of research to it, whether it's five years of arduous study for that historical biography or five minutes to confirm the menu prices for that restaurant review. When I decided to write Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead one of the tasks I knew faced me would be to find out a bit more about the legendary highwayman himself.

Like Robin Hood, Turpin is a character who has become ingrained in the British consciousness and most people could rattle off few things about him. Highwayman. Robbing coaches. Black Bess. The ride from London to York. Flintlock pistols. "Stand and deliver!" Everyone knows that is what Dick Turpin is all about. But as it turned out, that isn't really what Dick Turpin was all about at all.

The facts are thus: The real Richard Turpin was born in Essex in 1705 to John and Mary Turpin. A butcher by trade, he became a notorious highwayman who was eventually captured in York and executed there in 1739. The real Dick Turpin was a scarred, violent thug who fell in with a number of other like-minded individuals and comitted robberies that were brutal and sadistic. He was, in reality, a nasty little bastard.

The trappings that we associate with Turpin are - but for the fact that he had a habit of taking things that didn't belong to him - false. He never had a horse called Black Bess. He was not some romantically attired gentleman of the road, all billowing cape and twirling flintlocks. He never made that fabled ride from London to York. And barely 100 years after he swung from the noose hardly anyone remembered him.

Discovering this about Turpin was a fascinating reveal. I had been suckered along with everyone else and felt a mild pang of disappointment that the legend of Dick Turpin was just exactly that. Fake. A made-up story. But then I found out some things that were really interesting. It seems that pretty much the entire re-imagining of Dick Turpin came from one man, William Harrison Ainsworth, and his novel Rookwood published in 1834. This featured highwayman Dick Turpin as a romantic anti-hero, a dashing rogue atop stallion Black Bess who rode the London York road in record time. This is where the modern interpretation of Turpin comes from, the popular images of whom have little changed since Ainsworth's novel.

Not many will know the name WH Ainsworth today outside scholars of early Victorian literature - it's almost as if the bitter price made by Ainsworth for his efforts to imprint Turpin back into our collective memory was that he himself be in turn be forgotten. How remarkable that is can only be appreciated once you know that Ainsworth was the biggest writer of his day, heads and shoulders above his rivals. One of those rivals was a certain Charles Dickens, who Ainsworth regularly trounced in the popularity and sales stakes, to the point where Ainsworth's novel Jack Sheppard outsold Dickens' latest work by three to one. That Dickens novel was Oliver Twist.

The Dick Turpin I wanted to write about was the one popularised by Ainsworth. I was pretty much certain that would be the Dick Turpin everyone would want to read about as well. I made certain concessions to the truth - the Turpin in Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead has an obvious ruthless streak. He's grim, hard, and can undoubtedly be a nasty bastard if he needs to be. But my Turpin has a sense of honour and would be the type to watch your back in a fight rather than thrust a knife into it.

The truth will out, but sometimes the legend is a far better bedfellow.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Fit to Print!

So finally, after months of anticipation, today I signed off Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead at the printers - that's the splash page above. It was the conclusion to a frentic two days of proof-reading, lettering, proof-re-reading, balloon placement, artwork fine tuning and proof re-re-reading to make sure that the finished book will make us proud at BICS and worth anybody's £2.50.

One thing's for certain, whatever anyone makes of the content the production quality of the comic itself will be absolutely first-class, which is why finding the right printer is such an important priority. Willday and Son in Leicester is where we get our printing done and they do a phenomenally good job and have done since we first contacted them last August when we were looking fo a printer for Ragamuffins.
Before I formed Time Bomb Comics I'd always assumed that printer's were a pretty clever bunch with black ink in their veins and paper sizes in their heads. Not so. The search for a printer proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of publishing as we discovered that printers are two a penny, good printers are thin on the ground, but really good printers are as rare as rocking horse shit.
We initially contacted dozens of printers with the same brief: How much for a saddle-stitched 24-page comic an in American B5 format with a colour glossy cover and black and white interior? Some of the responses ranged from the ludicrous to the bizarre. We were told that the American paper sizes were illegal to use in the UK. We were told that due to the amount of black ink in the artwork extra costs would be incurred as the presses would need to use more ink. A significant amount of the quotes we did get included VAT despite printed matter being VAT exempt. It was becoming obvious that there were a fair few cowboys moonlighting as printers.
Not everyone was a rip-off merchant of course but in the end we chose Willday not only due to their very competitive quote (not the cheapest but more than £1500 cheaper than the most expensive quote we did receive) but because they seemed genuinely interested in what we were trying to do and had a passion for quality control that left us grinning. Case in point: when we signed the proof of Ragamuffins off one of the interior pages contained a typo in one of the word balloons that both Andy and I had missed. When I did spot it the comic had gone to print - too late to be corrected. When I picked up the printed comics later that week I noticed the typo had been corrected - Willday had spotted it and done the fix for us. How great is that?
So if you are seriously thinking about putting out a comic of your own (and if not, why not?) the message is shop around. Find a printer that's as passionate about your product as you are. And if you're having a hard time finding one then contact the team at Willday - but make sure you tell them I sent you!

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Bound for BICS

In less than 3 short weeks this year's Birmingham International Comics Show takes place on the weekend of the 4th/5th October.

This is a show that's very dear to us at Time Bomb Comics and here's the reasons why. The very first BICS was held in a small intimate venue in December 2006, and was the first comics convention I'd been to since the UKCAC shows in London that ran through the 80's/90's.

The UKCAC was a highlight of my year, and something I attended religously - even flying back to the UK to attend it during the time I worked abroad. I even attended it when, to be honest, they weren't really that much fun anymore. I would go out of a sense of duty, in the same way you would visit an aging relative that you didn't really recognise as the person you once knew. So much so I missed the final two UKCAC's - and by all accounts I sadly didn't miss much.

Having moved to Leicester in 2005 the first BICS was practically on my doorstep being just an hour away on the train. The December date also seemed to be an ideal opportunity to snag some early Christmas presents! What I didn't expect was the wide range of small press and indie publisher's who had tables there, who far outnumbered the more traditional comic dealers. I spent the day chatting to these creators and buying their books, amazed to see ranges of titles that were as professional and enjoyable as anything you could find in the local comic shop. More importantly I came away with the realisation that this was a club I very much wanted to be a part of. If I hadn't attended the first BICS, then I doubt I would have caught the spark that led me to co-create Time Bomb Comics.

The second BICS was a far grander affair and now in the less Chritmassy but far more economically sensible month of October. Last year's BICS was huge - a massive gear change upwards from the previous year. This was now a comics convention for the big boys, held in the massive Thinktank conference centre in Birmingham city centre. Everything about it was bigger and better (if you were there I'll just mention "goody bag" - 'nuff said!) with more dealers, more creators, more attendees and more importantly a Time Bomb Comics exhibitor table. Our first title Ragamuffins:Stitches In Time made it's world premiere at BICS 2007 and it was great to be selling our comic alongside the same creators tables who had inspired me the year before.

Which brings us to BICS 2008. It seems this year the Birmingham Show will cement itself as the British comics convention of the year. That it's in a position to already eclipse the long-running Bristol Expo is astonishing but really a testament to the guys that have worked incredibly hard to grow such a mighty oak from such a small acorn. And the gossip seems to suggest that this year's show might be outclassing BICS 07 in much the same way last year's show outclassed BICS 06. Simply put, if you read comics you really should be planning to be in Birmingham in a couple of weeks.

One more thing: BICS 2008 will also be where Time Bomb Comics second title officially makes it's debut, and we can't wait to see what attendees and fellow creators make of Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead. Reason to attend alone, methinks!

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Black, White or Grey?

So here's the current Time Bomb Comics dilemma. I've received through a copy of the latest pages from Andy Dodd for the upcoming Dick Turpin And The Restless Dead, including page 11 which is posted above.

Why are there two versions? Well the top left page is the one I received first - and I got straight back to Andy saying that I really didn't go for the greytones on the page. I thought they looked out of place with the pure black and white of the rest of the artwork and, in particular, felt that the large central panel with the group of zombies lost a lot of its impact by having most of the figures fading into the background.

The top right page is the revised version of the page, with the graytones either removed or converted to solid black. I thought this page was a huge improvement but now thought the final panel with the big black clouds was too much. Maybe that last panel needed a final tweak but all done and dusted.

Or so I thought. As well as sending the revised version to me Andy posted both versions on the Smallzone creators group - a fine invitation-only networking site similar to Facebook but set up exclusively for comic creators - asking for other creators opinions and general preference to which page version is best. What's been fascinating is that there's a pretty even split between those who prefer the original version to those who prefer the revised page. For example Bryan Talbot prefers the original grey-toned version. But then Leah Moore prefers the black and white revision.

Which leaves us pretty much in a quandary - a real six of one, half a dozen of the other kind of situation. However, at least everyone seems to be looking forward to seeing the comic itself irregardless of which version of page 11 they do prefer!

What's your choice?

Sunday 31 August 2008

The Sisterhood Sneak Peak

One of the greatest things about having a talented team of artists working away on future Time Bomb Comics are the regular updates I get from them as to how the pages are coming along. Whether they're initial design sketches, page roughs or finished pages any art comes back to editorial for approval before moving to the next stage. This way I make sure that any changes can be implemented before any pages are actually complete - I'm always greatful for the time our artists spend on Time Bomb projects and would hate to waste it.

There's an extraz buzz when the pages are from scripts that I've written of course - every comics writer gets a kick out of seeing what they visualised in their heads actually on a finished page of artwork!

So here's some of the designs for the upcoming The Sisterhood by Dan Barritt, which came to me the other day.

Saturday 30 August 2008

Web Woes

I'll be honest, although I think our comics are great there's one area where Time Bomb has been seriously lacking since inception - and that's the official website. Just prior to last year's BICS I obtained the domain along with an instant website kit. This rapidly proved to be completely unsuitable for what Andy and me wanted (and envisioned) our website to be about. Bound to an existing template design, we discovered that the bells and whistles we'd come up with could not be integrated into what we were working with. The pages were lifeless, boring and just dull. Something had to be done!

Unfortunately the existing demands on Andy's time meant that the something would have to be done later rather than sooner. So I treated the website like a senile old relative, hid it away in the corner and tried not to talk about it. At the same time I made sure we had some kind of web prescence on Comic Space, Facebook and here on Blogspot. But it wasn't the same, and for the last year the awfulness of our official website has hung over me like the mariner's albatross.

However, the "later" has slowly shuffled its way to the head of the queue and I'm delighted that nearly one year on we've removed the existing website and happily consigned it into the bin marked "crap" to undertake a complete upgrade. I've also snagged the domain in the process which we couldn't get last year as it was being held by a US-based domain realtor for no other reason than they wanted to charge an arm and a leg for it.

So expect a much healthier official web prescence for Time Bomb Comics in the near future, which will include previews, updates, animations and an online shop where you can buy the very products that I'm always banging on about!

Friday 29 August 2008

Carry On Dick!

In just over a month's time the next Time Bomb Comic - Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead - will be available at the October BICS in Birmingham. Our first title Ragamuffins launced at last year's BICS so it's a good way of rounding out Time Bomb's first proper year.
Pretty much as soon as Ragamuffins went off to the printers we were discussing what we would do as a follow-up. I was keen to do something historical. Andy wanted to do something with horses in it. We both wanted something that was completely different to what we'd just completed - a total change of pace, genre and style. I also was keen to have something quintessentially British and featuring something not seen in comics very much at all - highwaymen. And what better highwayman to spotlight than the one that everybody knows - Dick Turpin!
I admit that for a while I was mulling the idea of coming up with our own highwayman, a self-created character that would have all the iconic trappings of the highwayman mythos that we could further develop if need be. But really, what was the point? Dick Turpin is one of those quasi-historical characters that everyone knows. Ask anyone about Dick Turpin and they'll trot out the same stuff - Black Bess, that ride from London to York, "stand and deliver" - Turpin's as ingrained into British folklore as Robin Hood. And just like the bloke from Nottingham Turpin's a legend. Could I really pass up the opportunity to work with a legend? Interestingly, once I started researching Turpin I discovered that, as with Hood, Turpin the legend was vastly different from Turpin the man - in reality a thoroughly nasty piece of work with none of the trappings and traits that he's remembered for. How Turpin came to be remembered as a dashing anti-hero is a fascinating story recounted in James Sharpe's Dick Turpin - The Myth Of An English Highwayman which is thoroughly recommended for anyone interested.
The script for Dick Turpin And The Restless Dead was completed in November 2007 and summarily passed to Andy Dodd. Andy spent until March 2008 researching costumes, flintlocks and horse anatomy before getting to the artwork proper, by which time we realised the original Bristol Expo release date in May 2008 was a mountain much too big to climb. Never one to miss a marketing opportunity, I got Andy to complete the cover artwork in time for the Expo so that we could have some fantastic high quality signed and numbered prints of it to sell and to get a bit of buzz about the project.
Which brings us to where we are now, with the artwork in the final stages and BICS on the horizon. The extra time it's taken Andy to complete the art really shows in the finished pages as you can see on the pages posted here, with a very "British comics" feel to it, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it will be received at the BICS Time Bomb Comics table!

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Highwaymen, Nuns, False Prophets and Scoopermen.

At the moment Time Bomb Comics have four titles in various stages of completion, so here's a quick overview of what to expect from us over the next several months or so.
Dick Turpin And The Restless Dead has been in development since last year and is slowly but surely inching its way to completion, and with it the distinction of being our second release. This one's pretty much what it says on the tin - a good old romp with highwaymen and zombies! To be honest I have high hopes for this one. I think Andy's artwork on this one is a huge step up from the Ragamuffins work - the pages so far look gorgeous - and I think the story is more linear and easier to follow. From my point of view it was a delight to write, and I'm looking forward to seeing what feedback we get on it. Hopefully, this will also be the book that gets us into the Diamond catalogue which will really take Time Bomb Comics to the next level.

The Sisterhood is a future war story in an environment where the soldiers are all nuns. The artwork is by Dan Barritt who we met at last year's Leeds Thoughtbubble convention. Dan's a great artist - check out his website here - and his style very much influenced the final script, injecting a manga vibe that gives the characters a very individual look. Dan's hoping to have this finished in time for this year's Thoughtbubble which will bookend the project quite nicely.

The Furies was the first serious comics project that I began working on with Andy Dodd back in 1985, so this graphic novel really can be said to be more than twenty years in the making! Originally the story concerned the apocalyptic events of the year 2000 - it's now been updated to the similar forecasts about 2012, but the basic story remains the same: a grim take on the true meaning of religion and prophecy with some thoroughly nasty deaths. I've done some revisions to it that makes the story more comtemporary as well as re-working some of the plot elements that 20 years on I really wasn't happy with, but otherwise this limited release will be an example to experience Andy and me as fledgeling creators, warts and all!

Finally there's Primetime, which is still very much in the early design stages. The artwork is by Paul Thompson who we came across on Comic Space and his style fits the concept like a glove. I've just started scripting it so it's very much a work in progress, but we're hoping this blackly-humourous story set in a City which revolves around mass-media lunacy will be ready for the 2009 Bristol Expo.

Expect some more in depth posts about each of these titles as the months go by!

Monday 25 August 2008

Ragamuffins: Stitches In time

This was our first title, a one-shot that debuted at the 2007 BICS. It features the first appearance of the Ragamuffins, a disparate group of unusual individuals that repair problems with time. I'd had the idea of the Ragamuffins for a number of years and it seemed the ideal concept to set out the Time Bomb Comics stall with. It's a complete mind-bend of a story, with some great time travel art effects that artist Andy Dodd did a phenomenal job on that really showcases his talents.

We also wanted to set the quality bar quite high in terms of the product itself, so it could quite easily sit alongside the shelf in the comics shops with the latest releases from Marvel, DC and the rest. A nice glossy cover and good paper stock was a must, and has made a difference at the convention tables and in getting the shops to stock it. Quite simply, sales for a small-press comic are much more likely the less small-press it looks.

As for the concept itself I guess the biggest and most obvious influence to the book was the late-Seventies TV show "Sapphire and Steel". Featuring Joanna Lumley and David McCallum as the title characters this series played with the whole notion of time and both baffled and terrified me as a 11 year old. As with that bizarre series Ragamuffins share a cast of characters that are very individual and operating on a very different plane to the rest of us. The intention was that the Ragamuffins had a history and an ultimate purpose but it's not something we were to be privy to, instead we were to be caught up in the weirdness of what they do without understanding why and how they do it.

What's interesting is that the feedback we've so far received - and one of the things about self-publishing is that feedback is few and far between - is that people seem to love the characters and want to see more of them, but also want to know the whys and wherefores that we made such a point of ignoring. Maybe it's the "secret origin" fixation that comics fans have with characters that pique their interest, but if the Ragamuffins revealed their secret origin then it wouldn't be much of a secret anymore would it?


So here we are with Short Fuses, the official Time Bomb Comics blogspot. Time Bomb Comics is a new British comics company based in Leicester, England, formed by myself and artist Andy Dodd in September 2007 and intending to showcase the work of talented writers and artists currently working outside the mainstream comics industry. (Obviously those talented writers and artists were originally me and Andy but shameless self-promotion is a cornerstone of the comics industry so who can blame us?)

Unlike many other comics publishers our we just have two simple editorial policies. The first is that we only publish one-shots - completely self-contained comics with a beginning, middle and end. The second is that each of those comics meets our basic requirement that we've also adopted as the Time Bomb Comics slogan: Telling Great Stories.

What makes a Great Story worth Telling? Well it can be fun, frightening, entertaining or thought-provoking but ultimately has to be something we regard as good solid comic book entertainment. Therefore any comics released under the Time Bomb Comics banner can wide and diverse in theme, genre and format, with only a single limitation - the imagination of our creative teams. Sounds good?

Whether we succed or not is what Short Fuses is all about. It's an ongoing journal of how we try to achieve our goal of putting together a comics company, our highs and our lows, to share the perils and pitfalls of self-publishing comics. There's also the shameless self-promotion bit of course - we'll be bigging up our project's like there's no tomorrow here make no mistake. Forget the PR - we want you to buy our comics!