Monday, 22 December 2008

Spoilt for Choices

So, we come to the end of 2008, which has been a fantastic year for Insomnia.

Below you can see the finished, fully coloured cover for Layer Zero: Choices, which was delivered well before its deadline as an extra special Christmas present to kick off the holiday season.

Pencils and inks by Scott James
Colours by Jason Millet

Scott and Jason will be joining Cancertown writer Cy Dethan on a project for Markosia next year, The Case Files of Harlan Falk.

Speaking of Layer Zero we are also delighted to have welcomed three new artists into the fold this last week, and paired them up with writers. Say hello to:
We have also found a very special new colourist for Daemon, by Alasdair Duncan and Daniel Lopez:
So, that about wraps up a very busy year.

Thanks to everyone we've worked with in 2008 and we're looking forward to working with a lot more of you in 2009.

We'll See you all again on the 5th of January, and some of you on our first visit to the New York Comic Con - drop by and say "Hi" if you're passing.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to every one, and remember, if you're going to be naughty, play nice!

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.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Cancer Scans

Cancertown is nearing completion now and new artwork is flowing in for Chapter five.

The writer, Cy Dethan has been writing on his blog last week about how it feels to see your script come to life as a comic, and I thought that it might be interesting for readers to see the stages as well.

In a departure from my usual blogs, I am going to keep this one silent and let the process speak for itself. I am going to show you how issue five, page four took shape. Yes, this is a page from deep in the book, I chose it because it is one of my favourites. This shouldn't be a spoiler though, as you'd have to know what happens in the lead up to this for that to be the case.

Click on the images to see bigger versions that you can actually read.

Cancertown Script: Issue five, page four: by Cy Dethan

Cancertown Pencils and Inks: Issue five, page four: by Stephen Downey

Cancertown Colours: Issue five, page four: by Melanie Cook

Cancertown Letters Issue five, page four: by Nic Wilkinson

And that's how you make a comic.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Also this week:
  • Cages went to print with our wonderful new printers, Warpton, more on them at a later date.

  • Insomnia got a brief mention on the famous Forbidden Planet Blog in John "Down The Tubes" Freeman's "Best of 2008" round up. Thanks John!

    If you don't know Down The Tubes go over and check it out now. It is probably the best source of British comics news out there, and John Freeman is not only a champion of independent comics, but a talented creator himself.
Until next week (and then it will be nearly Christmas!)...

Monday, 1 December 2008

Alasdair Duncan reveals his Daemons

This week I'm taking the helm on the blog as Nic's away. Thankfully you're not stuck with me rambling on as Alasdair Duncan, writer of the upcoming album, Daemon, tells us some more about the story.

Revenge is sweet.
So thinks former pilot Guy Shearman as he festers in a hospital bed. Now a quadriplegic from a terrible accident, all that keeps him alive is seeking retribution on Andrea Robinson, the woman who put him into this state.

Only it’s not that simple.
Released from his living prison through the corruption of a medical research project, Guy discovers where the blame for the accident really lies.

Having seen what it can do and to stop his research falling into the wrong hands, project director Philip Bletchley unwittingly opens a door to a place where revenge is all. Taking pity on the countless victims locked in a senseless cycle of retribution he makes it his mission to lead them all to freedom, regardless of the consequences.

Fate decides the only two people who can understand this madness are Kelly, Bletchley’s assistant, and Andrea herself. But should they, or will they, shut Bletchley’s doors? As to do so they will need the help of the one person neither wants to deal with, Guy Shearman. Kelly was used and abused by him while Andrea lost her only daughter in the same accident which crippled Guy.

Revenge is not sweet.

Revenge is complicated.

Very complicated.

Daemon is pencilled by Daniel Lopez with letters by Nic Wilkinson and is due out in 2009.

I also managed to tear Alasdair away from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about the writing process in the following interview:

How did a writer of novels (and some described as ‘too polite’ at that) come to write a horror comic?

You can only spend so long banging your head against the same brick wall. Four novels later and still with no agent, I had a stack of rejection letters big enough to fill a black bin liner. If nothing else I felt I needed a change to stop madness setting in and a friend of mine who reads comics suggested we collaborate on one. We decided we’d really push all the boundaries we could and turn all the conventions we could find on their head. The result was awful.

However the opening chapter where the main character becomes a quadriplegic had promise, so having thrown away the rest this first chapter gradually evolved into Daemon and that when Crawford got involved and the idea of Insomnia floated.

Is there a difference between writing novels and comic books?

And how! What fascinates me is when journalists think they can write novels or when novelists try to write poetry. All the disciplines are so different that they use completely different skill sets.

Writing for a comic was so liberating, not least the fewer words you had to use. There’s no room for the three and a half pages that Arnold Bennet devotes to describing Anna’s dressing table top in ‘Anna and the Five Towns’. It really is true that every word has to earn its place on the page. If it’s not needed or is a repeat of what went earlier then it shouldn’t be there.

Suddenly I found I could maintain momentum in the story and I love the idea of trying to find a hook on every page to draw the reader on to the next one. It gave my work the pace it sadly lacked in novels. I’m not saying comics are easier to write, just that the demands they make matched the skills I have better than writing novels.

But what about working in a team? In a novel it’s just you and the paper. Surely sharing your work is hard?

A blessed relief actually. In novels you bear the rejection letters on your own; have to work through plot problems or character wrinkles alone. It’s a real grind. As part of a team producing a comic (with the right team I hasten to add) you all build on each other’s work and suddenly the whole exercise becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. In Daemon maybe I didn’t give enough direction to Daniel, but on the other hand he had enough of the bones to provide the flesh, and what flesh! Many of the small, clever details are not mine but come purely from him. Then he too is surprised by what Nic can do with the lettering, taking the whole page on yet another step further.

For me it comes very naturally, as I used to act and direct plays, and so am used to sharing a creative process and therefore trusting the others you have along with you for the ride. As with all teams – if you’re pulling in the same direction you can reach some extreme speeds, but if not, then you never really get going. Thankfully, Crawford is particularly good at getting the right people in the right place.

Will this be the beginning of a long series?

In novels I have a particular dislike of never ending series as they go on and on and on. Think of Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ and its interminable sequels, or Julian May’s ‘Many Coloured Land’ not to mention Stephen Donaldson. All began with a good book and ended with rotten ones.

Having said that. I like the characters in Daemon and they have more of a story to tell, but not that long a story! Maybe there’s one more to come, but only if it remains as hard and true as the first one. And a long series? I don’t want to end up in the same place as Messers Herbert, Donaldson and Ms May!

Thanks very much for giving us some insight into the writing process. I can't wait to see the final pages!

That's all we've got time for this week. Hopefully we'll return to normal next week with Nic back in charge of The Red Eye.

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