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.