Little Comics

I’ve made a couple of comics publications for Little Printer.

Brilliant Wren

Bird Bath Birds is 12-part series of illustrations by Holly Swain, showing off the secret lives of garden visitors. One a week, every Tuesday.

Chloe Noonan Little Printer

Chloe Noonan by Marc Ellerby is a short story featuring the titular grumpy Monster Hunter on a day off at ATP. Every weekday for 16 days.

I’m dead chuffed about these two. Bird Bath Birds is a really gorgeous collection – the Wren in particular is a joy – and I love Holly’s drawings. Chloe‘s an older story – something Marc made for Paper Science – but the panel format seemed to work and I’m genuinely curious to see how people react to the narrative (a gag strip) spread out over a couple of weeks. Marc’s stuff looks great on a thermal printer too, just as it looks lovely on e-ink.

If you have a Little Printer, you should subscribe to them! You can find them now in the New Publications tab on remote, or you can get Chloe Noonan and Bird Bath Birds on their own pages.

About a year ago I said I’d learn enough about the internet in 2013 to make a Little Printer publication. It still feels like the most ‘me’ way of combining two of the internets I’m part of; the comics one and the one from Old Street. Getting around to that has taken far longer than anticipated.

Part of that was material – I’d asked a bunch more illustrators to get involved, but it’s (absolutely understandably) hard to motivate people to make original work for free for a publication format they’ve only seen videos of. A Little Printer is a tiny luxury good, and many of the people I know outside of one particular corner of the internet think it’s mad that such an object exists.

But by far the bigger blocker was anxiety. I can have a fair reckon at copy for pretty much anything, but I worry about who to register a domain with, how hosting works, what code should look like and where to turn for help. So I found excuses not to start.

In the last seven days I brute-forced through that and basically sat with Russell to set up hosting and nagged Phil over email to get the code running. I made basic, embarrassing mistakes doing both. But it was all okay, and it works. Now to do it again.

Filter

We made a silly thing a few weeks back.

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Filter is Anne and I’s attempt at a fashion shoot. It exists for four reasons:

1) I got back into using Newspaper Club
2) There’s a running joke about how much our Instagram feeds look like a slow-burn Toast catalogue
3) I like doing things with the extra hour afforded by the clocks going back
4) There must have been a fourth reason, or we wouldn’t have bothered doing it

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It’s absurd. The page size is about four times too large and it’s so vain it defies belief. But it scratched an itch and, actually, it came out looking pretty good.

I’m on the fence about making this an ‘official’ We Are Words + Pictures project, but I do like the idea of an annual thing tied in to the spare hour of every year.

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Some troubles with comics

Almost a month late to the party, I just found myself nodding along with Leila’s post on The Literary Platform about her enjoyment of comics back in the day, and how digital unmoors that a little. She challenges my assertion that webcomics today might not stand up to the resolution/platform/device -changing times we live in by pointing out that, actually, the web’s been pretty damn good at moving bits of content from one place to another.

For her, the process of collecting and growing a collection is the thing that’s damaged. It’s almost certainly an Anglophone thing, that, but it’s the bit of the world I’m from and I reckon she’s on to something.

In any of the comic apps released by major publishers, the biggest thing it does is eliminate the ‘MUST BUY IT NOW’ temptations of narrative scarcity. Or, to put it another way, if you can buy a digital version online now you’ll probably be able to buy it online forever. The opposite is true of print.

That’s not entirely online though. I’ve suffered a ‘wait for the trade‘ mentality for a while now. I’m mates with Si Spurrier – I even play Risk with him – but it took me ages to pick up X-men Legacy because I just assumed I’d always be able to get it, especially once it’s collected.

Except, I bet that doesn’t help a book’s chances of becoming an ongoing concern. I bet there’s still a glut of people working throughout publishing who haven’t adjusted to a reality where everything is the backlist.

(As an aside, Legacy is truly excellent and you should buy it.)

I bet that’s hurting small pressers too. If you, as a reader, are adjusting to a world where floppy comics mean something different – something you might not throw down a few quid for – then you’re going to view lots of slim, single-issue comics in that way. Certainly, glancing at Twitter, the UK small press feels like it’s a little bit past the peak of sales it appeared to reach in the last couple of years. It’s bittersweet to not have skin in that game right now.

Meanwhile, the bit in between just seems to be flourishing. The books on the new release table at Gosh look incredible right now, whether it’s Tom Gauld’s latest or Stephen Collins’ debut. They look great, feel hefty and smell like the mental image you get when nerds talk about the smell of books.

Of course I’ve got no idea about sales figures, so that’s just idle reckoning on my part. But they at least look the part, and they don’t appear to be troubled by scarcity or collectibility. And they aren’t partworks.

Bye bye Paper Science

Dropped off my final copies of Paper Science at Gosh Comics today, which feels mighty strange.

I really miss wrangling that thing. There is little as satisfying as having a huge box of newsprint delivered, colours screaming off of the page, fabulous stories printed within. But there is also little worse than having a box of comics waiting to be sold, dragged from one poorly-promoted small press fair to another, every inch of profit eaten away by train fare, miserable sandwiches and rickety tables.

Paper Science 1

The numbers don’t lie: the subscription was absolutely brilliant for the anthology, in terms of finance, promotion, enthusiasm and general confidence. For that I didn’t need to leave my laptop. After that, the best things Paper Science did (in terms of audience, profit and reach) were get stocked at Gosh comics, appear on a table at MCM Expo, and get taken to ELCAF. Almost every other event, no matter how much fun at the time, turned a little bit of money into a lot less money. I’m told that that is the standard definition of ‘publishing’.

As for the anthology itself, I’m more proud of it than anything else I’ve done. It’s an excellent collection, filled with brilliant work by people who are getting better and better with each passing story.

Tomorrow my company – newly rechristened We Are Words and Pictures – enters its second year. The only goal for 2013-2014 is ‘make one thing as good as Paper Science’. Feels like a good challenge.

The After School Club for Copywriters

I wrote a little book. The After School Club for Copywriters is a collection of nine lessons I’ve learned over the past year talking to other writers about writing, and it’s available now via Lulu.

I’ve been blogging here about the breakfasts I’ve had with the Club since last summer, and this collects the things that have changed in my thinking and working since I started doing that. It’s short and slips nicely into a coat pocket/satchel/handbag, as all good books should.

It’s not a playbook, and it doesn’t have clever things to say about specific points of copy style. It’s just a bunch of process hacks and approaches that have helped me.

What it is is badly titled. Lots of this stuff was most useful when used in the product and marketing work I’ve done over the last year, rather than the actual paragraphs I’ve produced for people.

Anyway, you can pick it up for a few pounds at Lulu now. Huge thanks to Chrissy, Russell, Anne, Quinns and Kat in helping me put it together, and to anyone who’s talked about process with me over the last year or so.

Mitigating the ugly field

There’s a lot going on with this picture

I took it in the window of Jessops on New Oxford Street. It’s a canvas print of a bit of copy that’s got the border and filter of an Instagram photo. It made me think of this, from Robin Sloane’s Fish: a tap essay;

And so, the connection to this.

“I love this picture, so I’m going to print it all big and special (and on a material that’s pretty forgiving to low-quality iPhone snaps).”

To love something on the internet today is to… print it out? That doesn’t feel right.

Oh, except there are things like Newspaper Club, and Little Printer, and Stickygram, and Moo, and Magcloud, and ohmygosh… this is a thing.

“It is always 4 PM; it is always tea-time”

I enjoyed (loved, even) Venkat Rao’s series of articles dealing with Future Nausea and Manufactured Normalcy. I am 100% sure I don’t get all of it. If you haven’t read it you should go and read it, now, because I’m about to make a proper hash of explaining my understanding of it…

Much of our contemporary experience exists in a space that has remained essentially unchanged since the 15th century. This is ‘normal’.

‘Normal’ encompasses most lived experience. ‘Normal’, in Rao’s description, means flying across the oceans and riding a chariot feel broadly similar; you are in a safe, contained space, experiencing little of the potential the circumstances could provide.

There are also things that are not ‘normal’. From the tech perspective, these are the sort of things edge futurists love; jetpacks, motorbikes that turn into helicopters, robot companions.

They’re outside of ‘normal’. They may stay there, they may wilt and die, they may yet become part of our everyday experience. But for the latter to happen the field of normalcy needs to expand and swallow the product/experience.


In that process, edge futures are changed and made ‘normal’. Through that lens, Big Dog becomes an evolutionary stage of the robot companion that might help normalise it by making it a shade more pet-like.

Thus we live in a continuous, stretched 15th century.

Ugly Field

Except there’s this

Why is that still sitting wrong in my head?

So, the normalcy field isn’t always expanding towards all new things. It leaves some things behind and lets them hang around, forever outside of ‘normal’ (Where is my NFC iPhone? etc). There’s a wobbly bit, where we try things out.

The ugly field; the weird bit between ‘normal‘ and future.

I think it’s the place lots of my friends work. The ugly field is full of stuff that’s next to normal, but not quite there. It’s Nike+, Roombas, QR codes, scrobbling and lifetracking, and, yes, print on demand. It’s not hacking projects together – they’re all still individual edge futures – but it might be hackspaces (shared community project/skillswap centre) or studios.

The ugly field is full of things that are designed to operate at scale. It’s not a place for “it works for me” but it might be a place for prototypes, and what it generates might be considered a prototype for ‘normal’.

But Matt, what about that damn canvas?

Oh, right. That canvas. Yeah. That’s a wobbly, ugly line, right there. That’s a thing trying to bridge the gap between our weird edge future of personalised twitter snowmen and the ‘normal’ of filters on photos in friend feeds. Making things out of stuff from the internet.

It’s just so admirably direct, that line of copy. It’s make these things you love more real and show you love them and mean you love them but, you know, shorter.

(I saw another wobbly, ugly line today; Roo’s (actually terrific) Inky Links, another attempt to find a use for a QR code. There are loads each week.)

I’m wondering if finding ways of mitigating the ugly field is really what’s at the heart of copywriting for the web; cushion these weird experiences in ways that feel familiar. Make your journey through the internet feel more like fetching something from the larder than watching maths fetch code and ideas from a big metal box on the other side of the world (“Oh, sorry, I’m afraid the page you’re looking for isn’t here…” etc).

Implicit in the wondering is the questioning; should I do that? What happens if I don’t use a metaphor? What if we don’t pull back to that design pattern? I dunno.

(In the meantime I’d like to remind you that these words are pixels traveling faster than you understand, and that I thought of them before buying a nice winter coat at some point in your past.)

Words for words

I realised last week that there were bits of the GOV.UK style guide that I hadn’t fully internalised. I realised that while on a train, without Wi-Fi access, on the way back from Newcastle, totally unable to look it up. So I printed it out.

Most people would never have need of this kind of thing, including many people writing for GOV.UK (they need to know this inside out in a way that I don’t), but it’s super-useful for helping me internalise what’s in there. Even laying the thing out embedded some of it deep.

I won’t show you the inside because I’ve formatted it awfully, but the text is legible and everything’s fairly clearly laid out. The useful content runs to about 28 pages, and I’ve bulked it out with room for notes. It’s not for sale – so far as my understanding goes, the stuff found in it is anyone’s to play about with – but if anyone fancies one drop me an email. The cover image is by Ben.

Also, it’s my first Print on Demand book (newspapers don’t count). Thanks to Dan for reminding me about that whole industry. I used Lulu, and I’ve no complaints except for the ugly barcode on the back. There’s probably a way to get rid of that, but I didn’t go looking.