Almost one year ago I was out drinking with a comics pro who has had his fair share of disappointments within the comic industry. Disillusioned, he related stories of how he and other artists he knew had been poorly treated by writers, editors and publishers throughout the years. These are not surprising stories. A cursory glance at the history of comics throws up countless cases of creatives facing unfair treatment. But such stories never fail to leave one with a heavy heart. Indeed, I returned home that evening incredibly disheartened. I have never been naive enough to assume that working in comics would result in making much money. Nor do I feel that comics owe me a living. I enjoy communicating in this medium and will continue to do so, I believe, until I can no longer hold a pen due to RSI. But the unrelenting pessimism had an effect on me. To the benefit of no-one, I shared this feeling on twitter and received a message from a close friend moments later. It read simply:
"New paradigms mate"
It was a call to arms, a comforting missive and a short, sharp slap in the face when I needed it.
I mention this because it provoked me, in part, to write a manifesto with Matthew Sheret which laid the groundwork for what we both wanted to see happen with the UK comics scene - and comics in general. It was nothing groundbreaking. The points being fairly self-evident to those who paid attention. But it gave us an agenda. The anthology I was working on - Solipsistic Pop 1 - and Sheret's We Are Words + Pictures soon began work addressing that agenda with an energy and enthusiasm which I continue to find astounding.
Cut to a couple of weeks ago. I sent an email to Sheret reading:
"May 1st is Free Comic Book Day. Paper Science 2?"
It was an idiotic idea. A good one. But idiotic. I was getting Solipsistic Pop 2 ready and was thus broken, exhausted, and penniless. There was barely any time to put it together. This just couldn't happen.
Seconds later, Sheret calls me. After a fair amount of swearing and abuse in which I could just about make out the words "10 days to get it to the printers", he quickly started to map out exactly how this could happen. Within minutes, there was a plan. Within days there was a print file being sent to Newspaper Club.
"New paradigms mate"
Whenever I visit Canada or America I am always envious of the comic scenes I encounter. The positivity and exuberance that those I meet have for comics is infectious. Inspiring. The can-do approach is not viewed as blind or hubristic naivety. It is simply what you do. While there may be a million reasons why you can't, won't or shouldn't do something - all you really need is that one reason why you should. There are times when I feel the absence of this frontiersman attitude in the UK. Not just with comics. The focus often turns to the million reasons why something shouldn't be attempted. But Sheret's attitude reminded me that's changing. Paper Science 2 - conceived, printed and distributed within less than 16 days - and the very existence of SP, is evidence of it.
Looking through Paper Science 2, SP2 and the email submissions I've been receiving for SP3 it's hard to feel anything but overwhelmingly optimistic about the UK comics scene right now. Artists old and new alike are offering some of the best work I've seen in the comics world this year. Note: no qualifiers. No alternative comics. No UK comics. The work is just that good.
This would be happening with or without me - but it's an honour to have the opportunity to publish some of it and give the work a high quality platform from which it can work comics magic.
Now of course, there are problems that still need solving. The big ones, for me, being the distribution and funding of SP. The release of SP2 sees the culmination of the first year addressing the manifesto and attempting to provide a solid infrastructure for alternative comics in the UK. The second year needs to build on that. I want to look into digital versions of the book being available once printruns are sold out, I want to start addressing some new ideas and thoughts about where the UK comic scene is going, and I want to make a start on an exciting new SP publishing imprint.
My own comics work has had to take a bit of backseat during all this. I can't, in all honesty, afford to publish my own work and SP. Plus, with most of my time being taken up with the editing, publishing and marketing side of SP - there just isn't as much free time to sit down and do what I enjoy most - drawing comics.
Thing is - it's all worth it. I don't think I've ever felt this optimistic about comics. Anything, it seems, is possible.
"New paradigms mate"