18 November 2010

An Even Bigger Bang

Jack Fallows, geordie comics wunderkind, is releasing the second issue of The Big Bang at Leeds' Thought Bubble comics festival this weekend.

Alexi assists (or hinders) Jack with this comic with a little bit of writing, editorial suggestions and suchlike, and is delighted to see such a fine product, testament to Jack's awesomeness.

This continues the story from last year's first issue and if you are not already familiar with it (why not? Alexi suggests you purchase the first issue from Jack's Etsy shop), it concerns a variety of people dealing with an unexplained event (that may or may not be described as a kind of large bang of some type) and themselves. Oddness! Pathos! Cake!

Alexi assures you that it is excellent stuff and well worth investigating.

And if you are admiring Jack's fine cover image above, then check out his blog where he explains how he made it.

18 October 2010

Con Report: BICS 2010

This weekend was the British International Comics Show 2010 and Alexi Conman was there.

The launch party wasn't particularly spectacular (all launch parties will pale in comparison to BICS 2008 which had free food and comics industry musical entertainment!), but it had a good vibe and everyone seemed to have a good yak on.

The thing that has made BICS stand out in the past was the quality of the panels, and although nothing quite stood out for Alexi this year as being unexpectedly amazing, there was still plenty of quality.

Perennial favourite panels 'Comic Artists Flip Out' and 'Have I Got Comic Book News For You' both returned this year. Flip Out offered an opportunity to watch Alan Davis, Staz Johnson and Nicola Scott doing massive high-speed sketches on flip-pads (with a chance of winning them as they're were completed) and although Alexi didn't win anything (booo), he enjoyed it. Equally entertaining, in a more absurd way, was HIGCBNFY, which offered a fairly unique opportunity to see respected comic industry pros engage in a quiz that involved, among other wackiness, identifying different Superman crotches. Alexi doesn't feel that any description can really expand on that.

Alexi also caught several panels with some big names talking about their work. The first of those was Bryan Hitch being interviewed by the Geek Syndicate (well, Barry and supercool stand-in Stacey Whittle of Small Press Big Mouth). Alexi found the interview really insightful and interesting, covering many areas of Hitch's comics career including early influences, working methods, amusing anecdotes and planned projects.

Hitch was promoting his new 'how to' book (which looks excellent) and Alexi found it really refreshing to hear a man of such obviously accomplished technical artistic skill reinforce the message that the main thing comic art needs to do is tell the story.

The whole interview is available to listen to on the Geek Syndicate site here. Check it out!

On Sunday, Alexi attendend two quite different panels centred on creators, though both were great in their own way.

The first was Charles Vess talking about his work. Alexi could have happily sat for hours watching this. It was simply Vess discussing his techniques and the inspiration behind each piece while images of the work (including comics, illustration, and sculpture) were displayed on a big screen - the guy is cool and his art is almost magically beautiful.

Later, in a somewhat more complicated format, Jonathan Ross talked to Tommy Lee Edwards on the big screen via satellite link, mainly about their book Turf. It wasn't totally smooth, but given the technical complexity, Alexi though it went well.

It was interesting to see Ross in this environment - he was hardly a shrinking violet but was careful to never portray himself as some bigtime star, acknowledging that he was still a newcomer to professional comics and ensuring that where possible the emphasis was on Edwards. Perhaps the nicest thing to emerge during the panel was some of Ross' own earlier artwork.

It's a fairly well-known fact that he's been a lifelong comics fan, but Alexi and most of the audience seemed pleasantly surprised to see that Ross' art (much as he was quite self-depreciating about it) was actually pretty good, and it was clear he'd always had serious aspirations to make comics. Celebrities writing comics (or often, perhaps, celebrities "writing" comics) are nothing new, but Ross really came across as someone who just happens to be a celebrity who is now writing comics. With the mention of some new projects appearing down the line, it will be really interesting to see how his career progresses.

The various stalls and small press outlets were busy as always and Alexi picked up a nice selection of new gear. Some highlights of new cool stuff at BICS included: the final (thirteenth) issue of Paul Rainey's epic No Time Like The Present and the big collected book of Sgt Mike Battle.

However, Alexi was most pleased at seeing some of his own work fresh in print.

The Sleepless Phoenix Survival Stories anthology (mentioned here previously) was hot off the presses for BICS. It's a big comics anthology of stories with the theme of 'survival' interpreted in all manner of ways. Alexi hasn't had a proper chance to read it yet, but it looks great.

Alexi's story is called 'The Future Is Not Set In Stone', and was drawn (awesomely of course) by Monty Borror. It's kind of about social responsibility, the weight of history, the changing nature of society and suchlike. Anyway, Alexi assures you that it's great.

If you are thinking "my, this sounds an excellent book, I would like to purchase it" (as Alexi is sure that you are), keep an eye out for it - it will be available at various comic cons and fairs and things in the near future.

Anyway, back to BICS. As always, Alexi hung out with many lovely lovely people to whom he sends his warmest regards, his congratulations on their comic-related endeavours, and his apologies for whatever inane gibberish he spouted at them.

12 August 2010

Indie anthology rises from the flames but needs your help to survive!

Persons following the world of small and independent comics publishing may have heard about the recent, somewhat acrimonious, disintegration of ambitious UK independent graphic novel publisher Insomnia Publications.

They'd put out some really good books, including the Layer Zero: Choices anthology, which includes a story scripted by Alexi. There were a lot of talented up-and-coming creators involved with the company and having met quite a few, Alexi found them all to be highly capable, professional, and enthusiastic, so he considers it all a particular shame that the venture collapsed.

Whilst the creators who had graphic novels in the works have the unenviable task of negotiating the return of the rights to their work, there is one project that is already rising from the proverbial flames. The next anthology book was, coincidentally enough, going to be 'survival' themed, so it's perhaps fitting that the creators involved have banded together as the 'Sleepless Phoenix' collective to keep the project going and publish the anthology as Survival Stories. Alexi has scripted a story that will be appearing and thinks it looks like it's shaping up to be a dang fine book.

If the heroic journey to bring the book together and the fact that it's full of quality sequential art including new Alexi Conman work isn't enough to interest you, it's also extra worthy as all profits will be going to the Comic Book Alliance (a UK organisation who, despite the use of Comic Sans on their website, seem noble-minded folk with aims like helping comic creators in legal disputes, promoting comics, running education projects and suchlike).

However, printing requires the dollar dollar bill y'all, and to that end, Sleepless Phoenix have set up a pledging page, where, basically, you can pre-order the book, and if they get enough pledges, the book gets printed, huzzah! For less than a tenner you get the anthology (nearly 200 pages of comics), alternatively, if you're a high-tech comic reader you can get a digital download of the book for just a few quid, or, if you're feeling flush, pledge larger amounts and get super spiffy extra shiz like sketches and undying gratitude.

So Alexi would urge you to investigate this, not for his sake, but for your own - because it's going to be a pretty tremendous book! Check it out HERE.

25 May 2010

Con Report: Bristol Comic Expo 2010

Alexi Conman recently attended the Bristol International Comic and Small Press Expo 2010 and thought he would write a bit about it.

Last year, the Bristol comic expo downsized substantially but retained a bit of scope thanks to the last-minute addition of a linked one-day small press event (read Alexi’s report here). Whilst this worked well enough for a short-term fix, the question was whether this twin event structure was sustainable and could be developed in subsequent years. Having had a year to prepare, hopes were high that progress would be made with this year's event, and Alexi is happy to report that it seemed to be a strong step forward.

As with last year, the Ramada hotel was the first venue, hosting the more mainstream events, and the Mercure hotel (a couple of minutes walk around the corner) hosted the Small Press Expo. However, this year the SPX was a much bigger beast, running both days with a full series of panels. Furthermore, the organisation was better – the Ramada had all the commercial retailers (t-shirts, back issues, toys, merchandise etc) and the Mercure had all of the indie/small press folks. There was generally a greater sense of integration between the two venues and although there could still have been more signage about it, it did feel like one large even rather than two smaller ones.

Whilst the Ramada bar was still the main location for socialising in the evening, Alexi was mostly at the Mercure during the daytime. Aside from the fact it had better air conditioning (which made a big difference on such a sunny weekend) and that it contained a hearty parade of small press gear (from which Alexi bought a satisfying bundle), it had the most interesting panels on and Alexi saw several of them.

First, the Sidekick podcasters interviewed Chris Lynch about symbolism, language and fiction, with particular reference to his graphic novel The Dark. Admittedly, Alexi didn’t have much knowledge of the book or the hosts going in, but despite that, he enjoyed the panel. The Dark and Lynch’s other projects sounded full of intriguing ideas and worth investigating. Similarly, it was all conducted with entertaining enthusiasm (especially a little audience-participation sort-of quiz thing they conducted) and Alexi will definitely be checking out some Sidekickcasts sometime soon.

Next, Glenn Dakin and Garen Ewing talked about their routes into getting their books published with Egmont. Both of these veteran UK comics creators now have books published through Egmont (Candle Man by Dakin and The Rainbow Orchid by Ewing) and the books seem to be doing well; however what was interesting was seeing just how long it had taken the projects to reach this point of fruition.

Dakin discussed how his story has ended up as a ‘young adults’ prose book, after it had previously been pitched as a comic to publishers as varied as Vertigo and The DFC before finding its natural home. Alexi hasn’t read it, but its graveyardy stylings sound like suitably spooky gothic horror fun (plus Alexi certainly recommends Dakin’s earlier autobiographical Abe comics). Ewing explained how his project had also gone through extensive gestation. He first started serialising The Rainbow Orchid in small press anthologies in 1997, before moving on to publish it online until it gained sufficient interest to get a mainstream publisher. Alexi has read the first volume of it (and is looking forward to reading the second which was released just in time for the con) and found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable adventure yarn with a lovely ‘ligne claire’ European style, well worth reading. Both creators were easy to listen to, clearly experienced and dedicated to their projects, and it was good to hear how they succeeded in getting their books picked up by a major publisher and out to a wide audience.

Barry Renshaw chaired a panel on digital comics that quietly proved to be a high point of the con. 'Digital comics' is one of those topics that keeps coming up and keeps proving interesting as the future keeps creeping into slightly clearer focus. The future is digital of course but exactly how comics will adapt to this still remains to be seen. There was a nice mix of panellists and the range of perspectives helped provide insight around the topic. Whilst far too much was discussed to go into full detail here, hopefully this overview should cover some of the most interesting points (via the medium of Alexi's own inane opinions):

A big recent development in the potential of digital comics has been the iPad, but for all the hoo-ha around it, the iPad market and the comics market are probably still fairly distinct. There is functionality to try and encourage people who’ve downloaded an issue to buy the book, but it can be difficult to assess whether that’s working. Digital has economic strengths and weaknesses: it does require an initial outlay to get a digital distribution system arranged, but once it is set up, it avoids all of the overheads of creating and distributing physical objects. So although a single issue download might only sell for 99 cents (59p), that might still provide greater revenue to the creators than a physical $3 comic would, perhaps opening up the market for smaller publishers. Indeed, one of the most likely outcomes of digital comics is that they will replace ‘floppies’ (single 24(ish)-page comics). The model that seems most likely in the short term is: free digital first issues, cheap digital subsequent issues, and premium physical graphic novels collecting the material in print.

Will digital distribution mean that comics reach a wider market? Almost certainly yes, but it’s hard to predict to what extent. Format will have an impact. First of all there are the practicalities of using different platforms (the Com.X guys explained how they use Comixology as they found it to be the most responsive to developing delivery to match the material). With a range of non-interchangeable platforms (i.e. if you download something on one, it won’t work on another) there are barriers to effective mass market usage, but if a single platform gained dominance, then a monopoly situation could occur where that distributor could ‘name their price’, squeezing a greater cut out of publishers reliant on them for distribution. There’s also the question of how digital formats affect the way comics work visually. The panel was fairly unanimous that any animation meant something was no longer really comics, but even using only static images, there is a multitude of ways that traditional visual syntax might be modified, plus there is the potential for all kinds of additional supporting material (sketches, seeing the page through different stages in the production process).

Supporting material was also mentioned as one way of encouraging legal downloads as opposed to piracy. Illegal digital comics distribution is likely to grow regardless of what comics publishers might implement in terms of legal downloads, so tackling piracy is an unavoidable problem. Convenience seems to be the way to win: if downloading legally is substantially easier than downloading illegally, and relatively cheap, the public will probably mostly go with that. The music industry is an obvious analogy, and it does show likely routes that comics might take, but perhaps it also shows potential pitfalls.

One of the minor reasons why Alexi is generally quite technologically backward is that having everything so easily available seems to lessen it somehow; what was once ‘art’ is now just ‘content’. The concept of music albums is fading (and who remembers b-sides?) as people buy tracks individually and listen to their whole music library at random. Certainly there is a new massive potential to try new things, but there also seems to be a diminishment of the ‘value’ attributed to items (no longer beloved albums, listened to from start to end whilst looking through the accompanying artwork, fixed in time and place in memories, instead just more background noise for modern life?), and it would be a shame if this shift in perception were to also affect comics too much when the digital age sweeps through. Yes, maybe comics are a mainly disposable art-form, but it can still surely aspire to profundity? Digital comics have great potential, but there will always be something inherently pleasing about even the scrappiest photocopied physical comic that will never be downloadable to an iPad.

After a meander around Bristol in the evening sun, Saturday was rounded off in the Ramada bar with a performance by the finest band mainly composed of comic industry professionals, ‘Mine Power Cosmic’. Formed from the ashes of ‘Giant Sized Band Thing’ (who rocked BICS 2008), they played heavy rhythm and blues rock with a prog/psych slant. The crowd were thoroughly entertained and the only slight disappointment was that the whole room didn’t quite burst into dance at the brilliantly heavy cover of Abba’s ‘Voulez-Vous’. Hopefully the whole gig will turn up on Youtube soon.

On Sunday (after another trawl around the wondrous and varied small press stalls), the final panel that Alexi attended was a discussion of comics-related podcasts and their role in the industry. Though slightly lighter in tone that the digital comics panel, it was still insightful and enjoyable - as would be expected from a panel consisting of people used to yakking at the whole of the comic-reading interwebs. Emma Vieceli chaired, and Dan Marshall (Sidekickcast), Jimmy Aquino (Comic News Insider), Stacey Whittle (Small Press Big Mouth), Dave Williams (Waiting For The Trade) and Stephen Aryan (Comic Book Outsiders) represented the world of comics podcasters.

Probably the main issue discussed was: is podcasting journalism? The answer that the group seemed to agree on, perhaps slightly surprisingly, was ‘no’. Certainly, there has to be some level of integrity, ensuring that facts are right, confidentiality is maintained when required, and reviewing is honest and fairly impartial. However, the panel all classed themselves as fans more than journalists. They do it because they love comics, not for money or prestige or to slag stuff off or to talk about anything they’re not interested in, but to tell the world about what they like, namely: comics. They might all have slightly different takes on it the world of comics and slightly different demographics, but fundamentally it was nice to see such a unity of purpose, of just talking about comics that interest them, and trying to make it fun for themselves and their listeners. If you like comics, you should check them out (particularly Small Press Big Mouth, go on, try it now)!

It was a nice note to end on, and kind of encapsulated the whole con vibe. As always, Alexi hung out with many lovely people (to whom he extends his usual apologies for them having to endure his tedious company) and came away with a spring in his step and a renewed enthusiasm for comics, huzzah etc!

30 March 2010

Con Report: Hi-Ex 2010

Alexi Conman recently attended Hi-Ex 2010, the third Highlands International Comic Expo, and had a fantastic time.

Whilst hardly a convention veteran, he has been to quite a few now (reviews of several are noted elsewhere on this blog) and whilst they all have their own strengths, this really was one of the most enjoyable weekends in Alexi's con-going experience.

Why was this so? Although not huge, the exhibitor room had plenty of great stuff for sale and Alexi picked up a nice little stack of new small press gear. All the events that Alexi went to were great - the auction and raffle were fun (though just as last year, Alexi got nowt - "epic fail" as youngsters apparently say), the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre performance was as mental as it sounds, and the 'serious' panels/workshops were really insightful and interesting.

The 'writing comics' workshop predictably turned up a range of useful tips across all aspects of writing for comics from script style to the nature of the industry. The 'online comics' panel investigated several models of online comics publishing and the ways it can be used in tandem with print publishing to make it a viable option for creators. The 2000AD panel, rather than being a publicity event (which publisher-themed panels sometimes are), turned into a really interesting discussion of the history of this British institution and the ways the comic market has changed over the years. All the guests were lovely people and great to listen to.

However, what made it such an enjoyable event extended beyond the quality of the 'event' itself, it was in all the additional details: the highland setting (the fresh air, the hills, the river...), the ethos of the organisers to have a major charitable focus, the British flavour to it all (there was much more interest in 2000AD than Marvel or DC), and, most of all, the way it was so inclusive and social throughout. Chatting late into the night in hotel bars is a fairly integral part of most comic conventions but Alexi has never found one to be so friendly and open to all. Perhaps partly by being slightly smaller than some other cons, but mainly through the attitude of the organisers and everyone attending, it was a really lovely atmosphere, and spending an evening in the hotel bar doodling draw-a-panel-pass-it-on jam comics (of a puerile and preposterous nature) with good, slightly drunk, people (including renowned comics professionals) was an absolute delight.

Alexi is too lazy to mention and thank all the nice folks that he blathered at, but he feels that mention must be made of a group of 2000AD fans who made an epic 1300-mile minibus round-trip, dubbed the 'Hi-Ex Hell Trek', an endeavour of admirable grit that is a perfect example what made Hi-Ex 2010 such a brilliant convention.