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?