Monday, 15 December 2008

Trade Secrets

Latest Updates

Here's a quick round up of what's been going on at Insomnia this week:
  • Stephen Downey, penciller for Cancertown, went to the a show in Dublin where he was able to hand Jonathan Hickman a copy of the newly printed Cages which features his fantastic cover, hand out lots of badges and get lots of compliments on his stunning artwork.

  • Stref, creator of MILK (out next year) was interviewed about the book for RKYV Online
    and Jazma

  • We signed Death Hunter: Dead Man's Gold by James Johnson with Georgios Dimitriou - Artist, Thanos Tsilis - Layouts, Leonardo M. Giron - Conceptual Artist:

    Profit is a haven of fortune that bears more resemblance to a 'Western Utopia' than any familiar backwater town. It has been built from the pockets of one man - a man whose past is about to return and fulfil a forgotten curse.

    Welcome to the dead west, where greed and corruption shows its true origins.

  • We signed Six Months by Jim O'Hara:

    An uneasy exploration of what happens when, perhaps too late, you discover the answers to what it is that gives your life meaning, the relationship between law and society, and what it means when you longer need to hide anything from yourself or others.
Full details on both of these in the new year.

As you will have seen from posts about upcoming books and projects, Insomnia decided a while back to publish "instant trades" or "albums" of all our books rather than any floppies.

This week I thought I would talk about the main reasons for this, as this difference always seems to be one of the main talking points with creators, readers, retailers and other publishers when I get a chance to chat with them at conventions.

When people say "comics" they think of 22 - 24 page "floppies" as representing an entire medium. I find this strange. When people say "books" or "sculptures" or "paintings" they are not nearly this prescriptive in their thinking. I find this close tie between the artistic medium and physical format odd.

"So what's wrong with floppies then?". Well, nothing, actually. One of my most prized possessions is my original run of V for Vendetta. Not the mention the full sensory delight that is taking my Jim Starlin Warlocks out of their box (not only is the art mind blowing but they feel and smell so nice!). And, being a reader-turned-artist I still personally have a pretty hefty pull list that is like a little slice of Christmas when the package shows up every month.

The question is really "What are floppies good for?" and I think the answer to that is "What they were designed for", which is, of course, on-going stories that are produced on a regular schedule and have a loyal audience that waits for each new issue in anticipation.

Of course the form influences the storytelling structure so they lend themselves to the kinds of stories that are naturally episodic and have a pace and shape that leaves the reader satisfied by 22 pages but still wanting more. Maybe I'll talk to some of our writers about doing a piece about structuring next year - that is a hidden art or science that is not seen explicitly on the page in the same way as the art style, or the dialogue, but one that can make or break a story.

So far probably most of the greatest examples of the medium have been created to fit this "floppy shape" mostly for business reasons (regular revenue streams, how the logistics of the previews, printing and distribution have worked, creators needing regular paychecks) rather than artistic concerns, but things are starting to change. This change is coming through technology, through a different view of "what comics are" and "what comics can do" from publishers and creators, through classifications being broken down and rebuilt in new forms, through people wanting to experiment with what they love.

Insomnia's format decision, though, springs mainly from our focus on creators and our desire to deliver something different. Neither of these things will work with a "floppies" model for a smaller publisher because:
  • Different is understandably scary to readers and retailers on tight budgets
  • Monthly schedules are practically impossible for newer creators with other commitments.
Both of those things contribute to a vicious circle that mean, in effect, you already have to be successful to be successful, retailers already need to know your books sell to try and sell your books and readers already need to know your work to know they want your work a try. Tricky, huh?

But, as has happened elsewhere, the internet has helped. The getting known is becoming easier. One of the good things about comics being the "problem child" of the art world is that the comics industry, and I use the term very loosely, is made up of a fairly anarchic bunch - now technology has got us all talking to each other the biggest question being asked is "Why I can't I do it my way?", "Do you want to try this?", "Are you the boss of me?".

An unfortunate fact is that the independent specialist comic shop is becoming an endangered species. There are now only around 100, give or take, in the UK. Of course you can find comics in other places, but many of those places have no place for single issues in their ordering, stocking or shelving systems.

A bright side is that many more people are discovering the medium from many angles, and by many routes, the audience is diversifying incredibly and the demand for a huge variety of styles and subject matter is increasing.

So, yes, we are producing complete books "from the off" and here are the main reasons why:

1) We can have our books carried by large book chains, independent bookshops, online retailers etc as well as specialist comic shops.

2) A book has a longer "shelf life" than an individual comic which has one month "on shelf" (probably tucked away in the Indie section, realistically, as shops have limited shelf space and have to have guaranteed sellers on show) before being consigned to the back issues boxes and no longer visible to potential customers. This is a big problem for indie books that people may not have heard of, or know to ask for.

3) Many retailers and readers are nervous about taking a chance on a new indie book - will it finish its run, will it come out regularly etc. It is much easier to try something new if you can get the whole story at once.

4)Reviewers like to read a complete story to make a complete review, especially when they may not have encountered the creative team before. Readers like reviews that cover the whole story. It is easier to decide if you want to buy something on a "this was great" than a "this looks promising". We let people read the first chapter for free as an ebook in most cases as well.

5) Our books are mainly for an older (15+) audience, and, within that, people who may not think of themselves as "into comics" or ever have been to a comic shop, but who are becoming more interested as the medium, and its potential, is getting more attention. I once heard Bryan Talbot say that when he was starting out his favourite film was "Don't Look Now" - and why couldn't we have that sort of artistry in comics storytelling? He was 30 years ahead of his time, and I still feel his question stands today. If you get the chance to hear him speak about this, what he has tried to achieve in his career, balancing his commercial and personal work etc at one of his talks drop anything else you had on that day and go.

6) The most important reason of all, though, is that we are trying to provide a new route into the industry for the many extremely talented creators who want to do something different / interesting / challenging with creator owned books, but who have not yet been able to (or perhaps don't even want to) go full time as comics professionals.

By putting a complete book out in one go we are able to agree schedules with our creative teams that mean they can fit working on the books around day jobs, page rate work, other commitments etc without the pressure of a monthly schedule which would not be realistic for them.

Also the "traditional routes" through the major publishers may not be suitable for the types of stories that some people want to tell - and you usually have to be a pretty big name before you get to use your own characters at larger publishers.

7) Finally it also allows us to include some of the "extras" like concept art, script pages, interviews with the creators etc that you normally have to wait (and buy a new edition) for.

So that is why we are doing what we are doing, I hope to see some of you there doing it with us.

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