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.

Paper Science in review

At the start of 2011 year I decided to publish Paper Science – the comics anthology I edit – in a quarterly edition for a minimum of four issues. That fourth issue came out in February (this year, 2012), bringing Paper Science to a close for the foreseeable future as I turn my attention to, you know, being a freelance copywriter.

You can buy a collection of those four issues, wrapped in a lovely cover by Philippa Rice, for just £10 plus postage.

But that’s not what this blog post is about. I wanted to evaluate how that year went, partly for my benefit and partly because I think some of this might be worth sharing with other independent creators. As a rule we aren’t that good at sharing information about financials and process, and that’s not a rule I’m at all fond of. As a result, some of this is going to seem a bit obvious to a lot of people. I’m okay with that; I’d rather not assume any knowledge at this point.

This is a long read and not for everyone, so proceed with caution… Continue reading

Long live Paper Science!

Paper Science 7 is out today, heralding the end of a project that’s played some part in my life for the last two and a half years.

I’m immensely proud of how Paper Science has grown in that time. The last four issues in particular are a snapshot of why British comics are flourishing right now. They’re available as a collection for just £8.

I’ll probably write up some of the lessons when issue 7’s had a bit of time to settle. Until then I’m just enjoying looking at Adam‘s lovely cover.

If you’ve been involved in any way – from spending hours slaving over panels to just coming up at a show and just picking up a copy – thank you. It’s been ace.

Trolling Comics/One More Year

Last week I was interviewed by Dan Berry at The Comics Bureau in his end-of-year wrap up. It was fun, although I got a little mean-spirited in my rant about the UK comics scene. None of it was untrue, I just could have put it less snarkily.

I talked about a “line in the sand between Pop Com­ics cre­at­ors and Indie Com­ics cre­at­ors“, and during the WAW+P radio podcast recording today Mike Leader called me out on what I meant by that. Essentially, why didn’t I put ‘small press’ and ‘professional publishing’?

Well, my choice of words was deliberately obscure (but I might have muddied it by using ‘Indie’ in this context; it’s got too much baggage already). What I was getting at was the divide between a certain kind of energy that seems to exist in comics right now, a split between uninhibited populism and occasionally arch literary comics that’s throwing up genuine barriers for participation. I’m not couching the small press/big press debate in new terms; I actually mean different things.

How about this; Pop Comics are playing with the possibilities of print and digital distribution to great effect because they want you to read them everywhere. Indies know where ou’re reading them and are waiting for you to come to them.

Or this; Pop Comics love you and love your money. Indies probably hate you, but definitely need you to stick around.

Pop Comics aren’t afraid of green and orange. The Indie palette would be nothing without blue.

And so on. If it needs to be added, I’m being tongue in cheek about all this.

There’s no financial threshold for the two, though The Small Press scene certainly claims ownership of the Indie field. Thing is Bad Machinery, Tozo and (one hopes eventually) Chloe Noonan are all SUPERFUNPOP comics.

And what I was trying to say during the interview is that among the smaller reach indies, people I know, there’s a proper lack of dynamism and enthusiasm at the moment. That, in turn, gums up my engines a bit. I wanted to do more this year, with comics, and it wasn’t just breaking my elbow that slowed me down.

So I’m going for it for twelve more months. Four issues of Paper Science (though one might not be out until early 2012), largely tilting towards SUPERFUNPOP, plus whatever else comes along while that’s happening. We’ll see what’s what after that.

By next December I’ll know if I want to be a “cheerleader for comics” anymore.

Achieving momentum

I have 35 copies of Paper Science left. To my knowledge they are the only remaining copies not currently in the public’s hands, although I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be a dozen left at Rough Trade East. That makes for, at a conservative estimate, well over 400 copies handed over to the public. And that all took place on Saturday. Tom meanwhile has reported that Solipsistic Pop 2, a luxury item in today’s economic climate, has sold almost half of its print run in the space of a week. That’s incredible.

Now, he and I are the first to admit that we’ve not made spectacular inroads as far as reaching beyond comics. That’s because it’s a full-time job, and we both – for the moment – have full time jobs. And while I want to be very careful about claiming we’ve discovered a fever within UK comics for high-quality publications and the diverse interaction that our platforms provide, we’ve certainly discovered a taste for it, a taste that very nearly allows these projects to be self sustaining.

But what we definitely have managed to nail is momentum. Look at one of Kieron‘s greatest bugbears about Phonogram – 13 issues in four years. If Solipsistic Pop can hit the biannual deadline it really will be a special body of work in no time at all.

In conversation I’ve been transparent about what I wanted WAW+P to achieve, but I don’t think I’ve typed it yet: Phase One was about getting comics people on board (Brick Lane Market, Paper Science 1, Thought Bubble), Phase Two was about exploring formats (another Paper Science, Modern Romance, two Drop In + Draw Sessions, the ‘Lost Treasures’ residency, P.R.E.S.S. plus forthcoming announcements about festivals and ‘A Month of Sundays’) and Phase Three is about regularising that output, making it financially sustainable and taking it into more new places.

And, yep, I’ve put personal projects on hold for it, but it’s absolutely worth it. I’ll hold with me the breakneck pace of Paper Science II for a long while yet: Nought – Distribution in 16 days. It’s absolutely awesome. But in Phase Three the stakes are much higher, and by the time of the Thought Bubble 2011 after-party the people at the heart of WAW+P will be making a decision about where to go next.

We’ve got Support, Momentum and Formats on our side, next on the list is the big stuff.

Paper Science

So, We Are Words + Pictures stepped up a gear in advance of this weekend’s Thought Bubble Festival by printing up twelve page newspaper Paper Science, with the generous help of Newspaper Club.

I’ve blogged about it for both, so go and read more. There’s a process blog to be written about editing the thing, but just thinking about it gives me horrid flashbacks.

Paper Scientist

We Are Words + Pictures stock

An exciting few days, both ahead and behind. For starters I re-jigged this site, pulling it into a slightly more navigable shape and making it a little bit more me. I’m quite fond of Marc‘s illustration of my little face, and having that sitting greeting visitors on the home page is a pleasure.

On that note, stock has started to come together for Sunday’s first We Are Words + Pictures stall, and the bits of equipment and ‘flash’ that will decorate the stall are gathering too. I’m poised somewhere between excited and terrified, which I think is just about the perfect place to be right now.

All that and a new project that came my way yesterday, one both completely out of the blue and absolutely perfect. A chance to blend a little bit of the ‘zine‘s pre-production process with some of the stall‘s aesthetic, it will certainly be interesting. But more on that soon.

In the meantime I direct you to the efforts of noted student and family member Anne Sheret. My sister will be doing The Great South Run on October 25th in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care. I have no doubt she’ll manage to have an excellent time and make excellent time, as well as making me feel unfit and unmotivated: Curse her healthy genes! Anyway, drop her a couple of quid if you can, I know she’ll appreciate it.