Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sureshot Presents - The Quality

A number of the goals dealt with quality,

  1. To get Australian comics into the public’s consciousness to show that Australian comics doesn’t just mean The Phantom (which is ironic). Show Australians that comics are about them.
  2. To show comic readers that Australian comics doesn’t equal rubbish.
Now quality can be subjective. I think sometimes people confuse quality with liking something - I don't like science fiction movies but i think that there are quality scifi flicks out there (Gattaca, Sunshine, etc). You can have a comic with strong writing and excellent art that people won't like, similarly you can have a book with rubbish art or writing which people enjoy.

But at the end of the day i wanted good books that people would buy. This could be a book that was targetted at a large mainstream population or a niche book targetted at a small community of people. Personally I prefer the latter, looking at a group of people so gourmet fans and directly marketting a book they may enjoy directly to them.
This is why in the original SureShot Presents post i talk about wanting "marketing plans"; who's the audience, where are you going to sell your copies, etc.

But in terms of quality, again its subjective, I didn't think i'd be a great judge of what was good or bad which was why i was quite please when Daren White (DeeVee) and Douglas Holgate (all things cutesy and wootsy) tossed their hat in and became judges for all proposals. With a group of three personal preference wouldn't be an issue. And only good books would be released.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sureshot Presents - The Antomy of the book

Some other design features I incorporated into Sureshot was a bit of personal preference, a bit of observation of what i had seen at cons, etc and looking at other local books.

A pet-peeve is books without prices on them. Having bought some local books at various comic shops, it drives the staff nuts when they have to try and find the price. Flipping the book over and over again, looking at the indicia, going to the shelf to see if their are any price tagged copies. So to make my retailers happy i display the price was nice and clear. Also visible for the buyer too - "4 bucks, I'll give that a go"

I didn't want to put issue numbers because i think that scares people off. They're one-shots, they don't need to read any other comics to 'get' them so i used dates instead. I think retailers would prefer issue numbers to make it easier for reordering but in this case the customers lose out to the retailers. I use Seasons and Years instead.

LFW designed the first cover of Sureshot Presents (this one is rare second print variant) and i've kept alot of the elements - like the logo. Nice simple in the corner not taking up to much real estate. I did want to have some branding, as a mark of quality, inline with some of my goals.

Beforehand I had spent some time looking at books on stands. They either get racked overlapping horizontally or vertically. So i purposelly divided the cover into halves. When racked vertically you see the logo and the the title. I picked rather 'loud' fonts for the titles, hping they give a feel of the story. If the book is racked horizontally, such that the books overlap on the vertical axis, then you either see the title or the spot-image. The hope is that you see a whole something; image, logo or title.

In terms of the spot illustration, i picked that as a design element because i wanted it not to look too much like a comic. It was something i thought of based from observations, make it too comic-looking and people won't give it agao. I don't know if its a matter of people thinking the creator is 'trying to hard', comics are still seen as kids stuff or people just don't like full-bleed illustrations on the front of comics. I think from a design point of view having a traditional comic cover on a A5 mini printed in single colour is going to look to full on and unappealling.

Because the stories are self contained and the book will mainly be sold at zine fairs i used the back cover for a blurbs detailing the comic and some panels - like a book or video backcover. For some reason when people pick up the book, they flip it to the back cover and then to the front and then open it up (not in all cases, some open it up straight away).

Internally, they all feature an intro from me, bio pages of the creator and me and some information about the Sureshot Presents concept. The introductions usually recommended similar books to the issue they were holding, in the hope if they liked this book they'd like the others listed. Spread the love as it were.

Overall, i recognise its not sexy but for the cost and honestly my skill level I'm pretty proud of the final package.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sureshot Presents - The Printing

Doing the OzComic Magazine, I developed a pretty decent relationship with Adelaide Copy, Owen Heitmann had used them before and now a whole bunch of Adelaide comicers use the same printer. Which is good for all we all scatch each others backs.

Well once i started getting quotes for printing, it was pretty easy to see colour covers were out. It would add about a dollar to the cost of printing; that's $300 just for the cover - i would have to be the cover price to $6 because i wanted retailers to get their 50% cut like they do with the Big Boys.The higher price would impact sales, discourage people from having a punt. I could cut corners and have cheaper paper and less pages but again i didn't think that it would be appealing to customers; a 24 page minicomic with toilet paper interiors.

It was a hard decision; colour covers do make the whole book sexy, like an actual proper comic book by a proper actual publisher. But from experience sitting behind a table selling the books most comic fans, raised on DC and Marvel comics wouldn't buy an Australian Comic not matter what; full-colour covers and interiors doesn't mean much when it features chcracters outside of the ones they know and luuuuv (batman, spiderman, etc).
Sure this is the bulk of people who go to comic shops and kind of contravenes Goal #1 but concentrating on just comic fans is just as limiting. i'd never be able to compete with Marvel and DC, so I decided to go for fans of alternative comics and people who like do-it yourself comics.

I saw from experience that they would turn up their nose at anything that looked too much like a Superhero comic.

That's why i went with the spot illustration cover, too make it look less like a comic.

The A5 size was an easy decision and made for two reasons. Doing a comic size meant that i would have to pay for A4 paper and then have it cut down. Of course that cut costs me more (about 10cents per cut per issue so i think 20cents a copy). So i pay more for comic size than A4 and have less "real estate to print on" just for the reason "that's what all the other comic books are printed like". Well since the majority of people i was hoping to grab at cons and zinefairs weren't comic fans - not being comic size works for me.
The other reason is postage.

It was costing me $1.45 to mail a copy of OzComic to someone. With Sureshot I can get away with $1.oo for postage (i have gotten away with 50cent stamp but that was more fluke probably). But when i ship to a retailer i can ship fit about 40 copies in 3Kg Post Satchel meaning each copy is costing 25cents to send to a retailer. With Ozcomics I could only fit half that so my postage cost is for the A5 is 50% better; 25cents versus 50cents per copy. With smaller shipments of 5 copies i can send them in a B4 envelope for $2.50. Its that 10-20 copies which is cumbersome and means that my margin is smallest. i keep thinking i should just send multiple envelopes instead of a parcel but i think that looks a bit naff.

Postage is tricky, being in Adelaide i have to ship most of my comics to other capital cities; Adelaide is my smallest market but i make just as much here because i save on postage. I try and deal with one retailer per state, its better that i ship with volume.

So with some wrangling and designs about paper quality I got to a price of about $1.20 for a 40 page comic with card cover. The cost is probably a bit more now. I went with the colour cardstock with the idea each cover would be different.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sureshot Presents - Print Run

The print run would be based on how much effort i wanted to go to to sell my share of the print run and total cost. With a bit of pondering and looking at OzComic Magazine sold i decided on 300 copies. Ozcomic Magazine sold a bit more than that per issue and even though i thought Sureshot would have more appeal than a magazine about Australian Comics i didn't want to lose too much money (Goal#5).

It would not take too much effort to sell 150 copies of a comic. Sell about 80 copies at zine fairs and conventions and the the other 70 copies to retailers. There's a principle/rule of thumb i like a bit which i've spoken about before; Pareto's Principle. I cite Tim Ferriss and use the principle to say that 80% of sales comes from 20% of customers (in this case comic retailers) (though i don't like Ferriss' idea of outsourcing work to the poor finding it immoral). So i'd concentrate on a handful of retailers and make sure they are happy. I'd hope people would travel to that retailer to get Sureshot. This benefited me because it would mean that I'd spend less in postage; 20 copies to one comic shop in Brisbane is cheaper than sending 5 copies to 4 shops in Brisbane. And it also meant i'd deal with fewer people.

A print of 300 would be cheaper than a print run of 400; obviously.
Sure you can say i'd make more money in the long run with a larger print run. True but lets put some numbers into the mix and talk about effort.
Lets say printing cost is $1.00 a copy and it wholesales for $2 and retails for $4.
Lets say that if i split distribution in half so i wholesale have my print run and personally sell the rest. Then on average i'm making $3 a comic. (I won't bother with postage at this point)

So if i print 200 copies, it'll cost me $200 - that's not much. I send 100 copies to the creator, leaving me 100 copies to recoup my costs. I can make $300 if i sell-out, which is good. And i only have to sell 67 copies to break even. That's easy. But 200 copies isn't much in circulation to reach Goals #1 and not much of an incentive for the creator to work. Its too easy. With 400 copies, it'll cost me $400 to print and with my half i can make $600 gross profit. But I have to sell 133 copies to break even. Plus shipping 200 copies of a comic can be expensive (around 20kgs of a 100gram minicomic) which eats into profit margins.

With 300 copies, i just need to sell 100 copies to break even and i can gross about $450 each - which is nice and not for much work. If i was a creator and i could print for $1 a copy and retail for $4 then i'm making a profit from day 1 on every book sold.
In terms of the creator, if they sold all their copies they'd make between $300-600 (depending if they sold wholesale or retail). That's decent money for self-publishing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sureshot Presents - Getting Creator Love

So i established early because i can't write or draw for shit i would try and entice creators on board to submit work. Unlike the Ozcomic Magazine days I wanted to reimburse people for their work and at the same time try and sell the concept (Goal#4).

Now Goal #5 was that i didn't want to lose too much money so i didn't want to pay for the content outright with cash. Nor did i wanted to go to the effort of selling ALL the comics, that was more work than i wanted to do.

So providing a couple comp copies was too little, giving cash was too much but what if provided a stack of comp copies. The creator could sell them as they wish - they could do the work of spreading the brand and dealing with retailers (and not just comic retailers i was hoping to go outside the normal avenues).

Again, the "Build it and they Will come" ethos of some creators is a pet peeve of mine - go sell it, go sell yourself, be proud of your work - wave into people's faces. Creating is the easy part - its being recognised which the hard part. No one will knock on your door and give you a break. Luck has nothing to do with it, its work.

Breathe, Mark, breathe. Whew.

So by suppling a large amount of comp copies to the creator they could make money from
sales they make. Ranging from $2 a copy wholesale to $4 retail.

Being the egalitarian gent, i am, i would go halves in the print run.

This impacted Sureshot by meaning i would have to print a book costing around $1 a copy, since i effectively lost half the print run. Around $1; there was always leeway because i wasn't going to only sell to retailers at $2, i'd sell at cons and zinefairs and make $4 a copy. I had some wiggle room with my printing cost.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sureshot Presents - All about the Customers' Benjamins

Having established a $4 cover price i now had to make sure that the product was sellable to achieve Goal #3,4 and 5 (essentially make people want to buy it).

One is quality, make sure its good comics - again that's abit abstract at this point and i'll get to quality later (Goals# 1 and 2).

Secondly is make it appealing economically. Four dollars at the time was more expensive than the regular $2 American comic that was being sold in Australian comic shops for $3.50. So i had to give more value - essentially more pages than the regular 22 pages that come from Marvel and DC. At this point i was looking at card covers, colour covers and trying to do something with at least 40 pages.

Now a local comic costing $4 could be considered good value, the cheapest comic is $2.50US which is about $4.50 Australian.

I liked $4 as a cover price.

Personally i'm kind of cheap so i take a chance on something costing $4. I could have made the cover price for $5 but there's the psychological barrier with $5; you need at least 3 gold coins to buy a $5 comic, or if you use a $5note you don't get any change. With a $4 cover price its pocket change, you'll get change back if you use a note.

So it was a matter of comic up with a comic that would appeal to customers for essentially a $2 cost.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sureshot Presents - All about the Retailers' Benjamins

Breaking down the goals of Sureshot, they revolve around 2 things; quality and money and most of the time there is a relationship.

In terms of To show comic retailers that there is money to be made from local books

There are two things in play; getting people to buy it and then making a profit for the comic retailer. The former is a bit abstract, its more involved then the bullshit "build it and they will come" but the latter is easy to get into.

All comic retailers buy from Diamond Comic Distributors. They buy in American dollars and have the comics shipped to Australia(predominantly by air freight).

When i was planning Sureshot Presents (2-3 years ago) the exchange rate was 70centsUS for the Australian dollar and the average price of a comic was $1.95.

The wholesale price ranges from 50-60% of cover price (depending on quantities ordered and the publisher). So lets look at using 50% (very few shops would earn the 60% rate) so $1.95 comic book (pretty much average) was bought for $0.97US. So using the exchange rate of 70cents buys one Aussie dollar that equates to $1.35. Air freight is expensive, and while its hard to get a proper figure at the time i figured out it was about $10 a kilogram. A regular comic weighs about 50grams so to ship it over costs about 50cents (local money).

So to buy the comic and ship it over costs $1.85 Austrlian. Most comic shops sold a $1.95 comic for $3.50 meaning they make $1.65 gross. Of course rent, wages, gst and other costs need to come from this as well. But once a comic arrives on the comic shop floor those costs are equal no matter if the comic is from overseas or locally.

Now the average comic is closer to $3 and the exchange rate is .90 for $1AU but frieght is even dearer now at $20 a kilogram. So they make about $2.70 per comic (roughly).

So at the time each comic sold by a comic retailer made them $1.65. To meet my goal i wanted to make them at least $2 a comic. The norm is that wholesale price is half retail.

So I had a cover price of $4.

I got inspired by one of the production strategies of IKEA - they start at with a price they think their customers will pay for a product and then create a product for that price.

So i had to create a comic for $2 that would meet my other goals.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sureshot Presents – My goals

  1. To get Australian comics into the public’s consciousness to show that Australian comics doesn’t just mean The Phantom (which is ironic). Show Australians that comics are about them.
  2. To show comic readers that Australian comics doesn’t equal rubbish.
  3. To show comic retailers that there is money to be made from local books.
  4. To show comic creators that they can make money locally.
  5. Not to lose too much money on every issue.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sureshot Presents – Setting my goals

“Who will print my comic?” is an issue of money. Who will spend money printing my comic? And it’s a very important question. A creator has spent weeks, months maybe even years creating a comic – all that time could have been spent better with friends and family not cramped over a homemade drawing board. And now that creator will have to dig into their pockets 1000s of dollars for a print run of comics. Those full colour card covers are expensive and traditional printing meant a print run minimum of 1000 copies. A comic dimensions are not standard so you have to pay for larger paper and then pay for it to be cropped.

Remember this was before POD so making comics meant


Well I wanted to pay for the costs of printing and come up with a model which other creators could use in the future. Something that didn’t mean much outlay, sold and make money back soon.

“I can’t sell my comics”. Whilst the creators on the OzComic messageboard never where so whiny or direct it was an issue that came up either online or chatting with people drunk at cons. Traditionally you sold comics in three places which all had their pitfalls or obstacles.

Newsagents – Once you enter newsagent distribution everything is out of your hands and you can only make money through volume. Ian Gould, Jase Paulos and Trudy Cooper will tell you the stuff of nightmares. Stacks of comics left in the rain, incredibly poor accountability, poor distribution (one newsagent would be given 10 copies and another only 3; the latter newsagent would sell out every month whilst the former would return all 10 copies). Even with nationwide distribution they were lucky to break even. Though I’ll say that was over ten years ago and I believe that particular distributor was bought out. But then again I believe Oztaku did poorly with their newsagent distribution.

Comic Shops – The problem with comic shops is they lack returnability. A good comic shop owner will want to sell everything the buy. Dead stock is money lost. Unlike newsagents, where if a comic/magazine doesn’t sell, the cover is ripped off and it gets returned to the distributor – no one makes any money but the newsagent and to a lesser extent the distributor has lost any money. Only the publisher has lost out. Comic shop owners want to make money, whilst I wish they saw a bigger picture and supported local comics – wishes doesn’t food on the table. The other problem is every comic shop is different; some will buy local comics, some won’t, some will on consignment so will buy outright some want to make 40% of cover other 60%.

Most of the long time owners have been bitten by those uncompleted stalled comic series or the comics with the shit art that have been sitting in the dusty corner since 2001. Of course that’s another short-sighted view of comic shop owners just because they have boxes of X-force #1 (multiple copies of all 5 cards still polypagged) doesn’t stop them from buying from Marvel so I wonder why just because one Australian Comic they whole “industry” gets ignored.

Conventions – Well you can break conventions down into the Pop Culture fairs like Supanova or Armageddon or Zine fairs. Supanova started out as Comicfest; about comics – but that couldn’t really sustain itself so it turned into everything thing else but comics. Which is fair enough, that’s economics; that’s food on the table and a roof over the head and I don’t begrudge that at all. I still think Artist Alley has a place – it provides a place for you to reach new audiences. I do reasonably well at cons; mainly drinking and carousing but I seem to sell a bit too. But it can be an expensive exercise. I’ve done zinefairs too. I they were better; they didn’t care about colour covers or superhero genre stuff. They liked the cute and the DIY aspect of it.

Newsagents are out – I don’t have the energy or money; nor do I think that its possible to make money from newsagents without having a good revenue stream from advertising. Finding advertisers is a fulltime job in itself. Zineafais are easy to do, just show up make a cute smallpress book and smile. I wanted to show comic shop owners that they could make money from local books.

“No-one will buy my comic”

That’s mainly because

  • Readers can’t find it
  • They can’t afford it
  • It doesn’t interest them
  • Its shit

Based on what I’ve sold and what I’ve seen, if a creator can not sell 300 copies of a comic over a year then its because of one of the reasons above. I put together a comic filled with stick figures talking about who they would rather have sex with; its A5, B/W, 22 pages, with fucking stick figures in it, printed for 50c a copy and selling for $2.50. I’ve taken it to 2 cons and 2 zine fairs and have sold around 150 copies; and that’s not even trying.

I wanted to show readers that Australian comics are good.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sureshot Presents – Importance of goals

Since I wasn’t a creator I could afford to consider grander visions beside creating stories, getting work with real publishers, winning fans, making money, etc. I could have higher goals.

Goals are important; goals a succinct expressions that you want to achieve. All actions you do, all decisions you make are in an effort to meet those goals. They define the product. If a decision is made that doesn’t achieve a goal, you’ve just made a bad decision. Its something I’ve harped on about Doujicon – what are the goals of Doujicon? To get people interested into Self-published comics? – then whats with the mysterious name? To get people into self-published manga? – then what’s with the Anime Screenings? What are Local Act Comics goals? How are their tshirts helping meet those goals? What is Phosphorescent's Web Comic Viewer actually for?

Goals have nothing to do with balancesheets. Goals aren’t wishwashy actions like “Make comics”. “Make good comics” is a Mickey Mouse bullshit goal. How are people going to buy your good comics? Why will they buy it? What makes you stand out?

Goals dictate the product. Lets say my goal was just to work for DC, then instead of self-publishing I’d head to San Diego with my portfolio tucked under my arm. If my goal was advertise myself to the widest audience possible, I’d start a webcomic called “Mark Selan’s awesome dirty comics about Star Wars chicks”. If I wanted to just tell stories for friends and family I’d print a little zine using the b/w laser at work.

At the time I was thinking about Sureshot Presents, it was a frequent lament “There aren’t any comic publishers in Australia! Who will print my comic?”. This presented two problems that I wanted to address.

“I can’t sell my comic”

This presented another problem I wanted to address.

“No one will buy more comic!”

These were all issues i wanted to address.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sureshot Presents - Why I hate most Australian Comics.

Ok, I wanted to publish a comic but because I didn’t want to deal with groups of people the idea of an anthology was out. Plus at the time you had Guh!, You Stink I don’t, Naked Fella, DeeVee so the hell I’m going to compete with that.

And my pet peeve, probably the thing I believe, that has done most damage to Australian Comics after shitty quality, is mini-series.

Here’s a list of Self Published Australian comic mini series that have finished (that i know of);

  • Dollboy (Scott Fraser)
  • Pizzaman (I think barely) (Damian Shannahan)
  • Level 1 (Loren Morris)
  • Anthology of Alvin (Lucas House)

The latter two are very small press Adelaide titles. If you include Publisher comics – you can include The Watch, Dunwich and Eldritch Kid and from Phosphorescent Comics. You could include Hairbutt but that’s more a collection of short-stories not a continuing story (like Basic Wage Kids).

Continuing Series that are still being published (but not anthologies) include

  • Platinum Grit (upto issue 16 on the web and POD)
  • Azerath (upto issue 16)

Unfinished stories

  • Finch
  • Diabla
  • Greener Pastures
  • Knightedge
  • Ma B
  • Cyst
  • Vigil
  • Rock n Roll Aquarius Ninja
  • Anthology
  • The Prophecy
  • Zero Assassin
  • Local Hero
  • Cyberswine
  • Surfing the deadline
  • Pepe’s Quest
  • Rex Helwig
  • Another Zero Assassin spin off I can’t remember the name of.
  • That pulp batman comic
  • A comic with Badower art that came out in the late 90s
  • Was the Panther a continuing story?

I’m afraid to go through Tabla Rasa’s site, it’ll make me sad and angry.

Why? Because someone (like me) has bought issue one (like me) in good faith. An then gone out and found issue two (like me) and then is waiting for issue 3 or 4. Eventually that person will get disappointed (like me) when nothing eventuates. There is no conclusion – no satisfaction. It was probably a fluke they bought an Australian comic in the first place and now that reader has wasted money on a product 3/4s finished. They probably won’t be bitten again.

Same with comic shop owners - they can’t sell an unfinished comic so next time a new self-publisher asks if they can have their book stocked; Frank will say no.

And I can understand why this happens; life changes, publishing comics can be expensive, etc. But my only advice is eithe save your opus until someone else can pay you to make it and make short stories in the interim. If you are any good you can make 3-8 page stories for anthologies or do one-shots. Or print cheaper so your miniseries isn't a financial drain.

In terms of me and my plan, whatever I did was going to be self contained. A self-contained comic featuring one creator. A one-shot.

And since I’m a big fan of the Beastie Boys, it wasn’t much of a leap from one-shot to Sureshot (a Beastie Boy song). It was a sure thing; for the creator, retailer and reader.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sureshot Presents – The Limits

So OzComics was winding down; I had always wanted to do 8 issues of the Magazine but Darren Close (who started the message board, started the 24 hour challenge and got me into Australian Comics – by way of an article at CBR) was handing over the reins to someone else. I didn’t want to hitch my wagon to someone I didn’t know.

I never had a real problem with doing the magazine; I’d love doing the round tables and coming up with ‘themes” for each issue. What I didn’t like was interacting with so many people; the cover artists, the reviewers, the back page comic strips, all the interviewees, the writers, comic shop owners etc. It was never bad, I never had a bad incident but I just felt embarrassed most of the time because everyone was doing me a massive favour and I couldn’t even give them comp copies in return. Coordinating that many people was too much. Plus dealing with comic shop owners was quite hard for me; I have a fear of post offices; not a phobia I can go to a Post Office without hyperventilating or staining my daks – its more a feeling of I’d rather be anywhere else. There used to be a post office near where I lived which was actually part of a hardware store – I felt ok there but then I moved. And I can’t cold-call; I have phone terror so I can’t call and I’m not actually that bright so end up calling the guy that runs Minotaurs Frank for 6 months wondering why my emails don’t get returned.

So Sureshot was born out of things I didn’t want to do.

  • I didn’t want to have to sell to new people.
  • I didn’t want to deal with groups of people.
  • I didn’t want to do a lot.

But I wanted to do things my way.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sureshot Presents – The Spark

The idea for publishing comics hit me pretty early in my time with OzComics Magazine. Me and Darren Close played with the idea of doing some sort of studio thing, which from my end was too big to realise. But i enjoy Australian Comics too much, not to want to be involved.

To me life is all effort and reward; if you don’t put in the effort, then don’t expect anything. Sometimes effort is its own reward and when you love what you do, you got it made. When you talk effort, you got to understand limits - how much effort am I willing to put in before I start questioning “what the fuck am I doing THIS for?” and end up whimpering.

Me, I’m quite neurotic; I know what I can do, I know how much time and money I can put into a project before I get overwhelmed. And I wanted to do something with local comics. I pretty much discovered when I left uni in 1997 that unless I had a project or a set of goals I was fucked. I’d wonder ‘what’s the point?’, lose a sense of purpose and being and the black dog would start snapping.

I felt it would be worth the effort to publish them.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Australian Comics I’ve read recently

In the last 3 months I’ve read a bunch of Australian Comics which I’ll try and provide reviews for in the next couple of weeks

  • The Sacrifice – (A Masterpiece)
  • Kate Lawson – (Clumsy but not bad)
  • A tricky thing – (sweet and personal)
  • Modern Gentleman – (Disturbing)
  • Bloodbound – (Solid, fun but dumb)
  • The List – (disappointing)
  • Hollow Meadows – (Electric but formulaic)
  • Azerath – (Solid but lost)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A brief history of Australian Comics

Last year i was asked by someone to do some articles for a web-zine thing; i wroe half-a-dozen. They never saw the light of day.

A brief history of Australian Comics

When Captain Cook floated past the East Coast, the original Australians had already been creating comics for 40,000 years. Upon a beach, the early inhabitants smirked at Cook’s copy of Beano remarking “Kids stuff”, in turn they held up a copy of “Oz” which so incensed the captain he tried to take legal action. However court proceedings were suspended when Cook was speared in Hawaii for his suggestion that the natives weren’t mature enough to read Viz.

Some years later though, the First Fleet landed at Sydney Bay and an argument ensued over which was better - English comic writer, Neil Gaiman’s Dreamtime or the actual Dreamtime. The argument ended with a stalemate but the British, as they do, decided genocide was a good solution. The traditional owners of the country had to hide in caves which started Australia’s underground comic scene.

Relations improved when Ginger Meggs was created, here was a character everyone thought wasn’t that funny.

For some unknown reason, Winston Churchill hated Australian Comics and as part of the military machine in World War 1, he orchestrated the disaster at Gallipoli in an effort to kill Australia’s best comic creators. It was here that Australia’s favourite war time comic was created “Simpson and his Donkey” with its memorable catch phrase ‘Stop shooting at the wounded men Johnny Turk”, the comic was a hit between the wars (the Spanish Civil War and World War 2). During the Second World War, Churchill had Singapore abandoned, leaving Australia open to the Japanese. Without paper supplies from Asia, Australian Comics had to be rationed . Only one copy of “The Shadow” was printed in 1943 and handed around - household to housegold. It had no relation to the American pulp fiction hero “the Shadow”, the local version just walked around pointing out shadows - it never caught on, mainly because Warwick Chesterman of 12 Dulwich St, Surry Hills never past it on. Subsequently it was many years before people realised what a comic actually was – and the reason why Graham Kennedy was named “King of all comics” even though he didn’t have any staples or ads for sea monkeys.

Up until this time American Comics were not able to be imported into Australia, they could only be reprinted using crappy paper and without colour. This changed when Harold Holt became Prime Minister; he allowed DC and Marvel to directly import their comics onto the newsstand. People to this day question if he was drowned by the owners of Newton and Kg Murray.

American Comics were now available on newsstands, news agents in solidarity with the local publishers (who were slowly going out of business) would vandalise American Comics using black or blue textas, squiggling out the top left hand corners and writing 20P, 50P and than later 10c and 25c. Historians believe this was some sort of code but to who or for what was never realised – some say to Mother Russia, some say signals to CIA spies some say that the acid available at the Sunsbury Music Festival was really really good. In any event American Comics dominated newsstands for the next 30 years.

Until the mid 80s, when Australian Comics finally resurfaced onto newsstands and were so successful that they disappeared from those very same stands some 10 years later.

Next: The secret behind why Snake Tales is still published today.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Blogust, i knew ye well

Because of an unreliable home connection, Blogust may be temporarily disbanded - till my broadband starts behaving.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wine and comics

Originally printed in a Food Zine by Pirotess. It was kind of fun.

I like wine and I like comics, especially Australian comics. Both have this organic feel – they are products of their environments and their creators. Comic stories, like wine needs to be nurtured and nourished, the end product is a result of the skill of the creator and their environment.

Matching wine and food is quite a skill, where one tries to match flavours and accentuate the tastes. But comics and wine? I decided to grab some books and peer into my wine cellar and try and figure out what goes with what.

Lets look at a book by Jase Harper, Guh! is an anthlogy from the Brisbane area consisting of a collection of mainly one page gags centred around the life of a 30 year old artist working in animation. A witty comic, punctuated with longer more surreal comics done in a great art style. A witty little comic should be served with a wild white wine like Heartland Viognier Pinot Gris. Viognier is like comedy, it must be timed perfectly otherwise it fails, leave this grape too long on the vine or too short and its turns bad. Mr Harper’s humour is timed to perfection. The taste of viognier is citrusy and light, tangy more than sweet. But Jase’s art is different from that typical cutesy wootsy style that dominates humor comics in Australia; the open endearing twee style of Grug, Soehardi or Holgate. The art has a sharper curve, its edgier and slightly more mature; this wine from Heartland is the same – the pinot gris gives a slight spice that works with the citric sweetness of the viognier, giving a mature taste, a kick which goes well with punchlines like “Fucking shit up since ‘03”.

“Happy Birthday Anyway” by Matt Huynh is a mini-comic that as some weight to it, a single tale, it tells the story of two girls who’s lives intersect for a short time, but who’s feelings and yearnings couldn’t be more similar. Matt’s art is tender and textured, full of graceful brush strokes and compelling design. The tone is youthful and sad but even more so, it’s beautiful and real. When I think of youthful and vibrant I think of Cabernet Sauvignon from a nice warm region, like the Barossa Valley. The Barossa with its hot summer means grapes ripen early, bursting with sweetness and vigor. Conversely, merlot is probably the most melancholic of wines, it has this earthy taste which dampens the vigor of the cabernet; it is the reality that suppresses youth. So I’d pick Warburn Cabernet Merlot, where the fruity sweetness is suppressed by more herbal flavours. And at only $8 its value for money which is important for artists and teens alike. It drinks smoothly for a cheap wine, so there will be some sadness when it’s all gone and the comic is finished.

The final book is Phosphorescent Comics’ Witch King. A dark gothic tale needs to be drunk with a dark gothic wine. D’Arenberg is a winery with an appropriately regal name whose flagship wine is the Dead Arm Shiraz, a perfectly named wine to drink while reading a story dealing with a Dark Prince’s quest for revenge. This graphic novel is written by Christian Read, while Paul Abstruse provides the detailed, yet kinetic art backed by inkers Darren Close and PJ Magalhaes and the great colouring is by Annette Kwok and Laing Rahner. The grapes for this premium wine is sourced from vines planted by Methuselah at least 110 years ago and produces a wine blood red, that slowly swishes around the glass leaving a powerful trail of alcohol in its wake. Witch King is about a young prince, Gavriel, who uses magic to first escape his bullying family and then later becomes a wizard and exacts his revenge. A solid quality read, its seeps with pain and magic, revenge and power. Wines like the Dead Arm are designed to be cellared so the tannins and alcohol can oxidize producing beautiful smoothly balanced flavours. Against all that, I would open a recent vintage and pour a glass and drink it down, let my taste buds be battered and bruised by the oaky tannins and burning alcohol just as Gavriel is pummeled by his kin. While I’m drinking that first and second glass I’m decanting the rest of the bottle, letting it breath, so as Gaveriel becomes more powerful so does the wine become more balanced and smooth. The flavour will change from a brute to a silky wine with a dark fruit taste highlighted by a peppery twinge. Like Witch King this is a magnificently put together creation, hitting all the right notes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Maybe even a bigger one than i was before

It started with the announcement of Wally's fatherhood. Then with the birth of my half-brother. Now i find nothing nicer than sitting by the brazier after a day working and smoking a cigar.

Like a wanker

Though in my defence, it is by the fire so i'll end up stinky anyway. And i never intend to bang on about types, brands and source conutries - i only wax lyrical on acceptable vices like wine (and with close friends - comics). But what i do in the privacy in my home is up to me.

Because, apparently now -I'm a wanker.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Great Shiraz Challenge

Last month at a local pub, The Edinburgh, they put on a Shiraz tasting with about 300 shirazes.

I went with J. with the intention of tasting 10-12, max.

3 Hours later, having eaten a gi-normous gourmet hotdog I had scribbles for about 30 wines. It got to the point where everything tasted the same AND really good.

Some highlights;
Crabtree Watervale Shiraz was cheap at $15 but full of berry-goodness.
Battle of Bosworth Shiraz is another value for money drop. A lot fuller and complex but with some friuty vigour(and organic).
Everything from Shottesbrooke was great, which is rare. I usually find that a wine label will produce some nice cheap stuff and boring premium stuff or the otherway around. Torbrecks was another good label.

Probably the main disappointment was not able to taste the premium Penfold and D'arenberg shirazes (since there were only available for 5 minutes every hour - and we'd rock up 5 minutes too late).

Wine of the day was the Serafino Sharktooth Shiraz.

But then again my taste apparently is not the norm, with me only agreeing with 4 wines in the Top 40 for the day.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

How many comic readers in Australia?

They used to say that if you added up how many Uncanny Xmen were sold and how many Love and Rockets were sold you had a pretty decent idea about how many people read comics. With Uncanny Xmen you captured the superhero/mainstream fans and with Love and Rockets you got the indy crowd.

Could something similar be done now? What titles would be used?

New Avengers is the highest selling superhero comic (outside of miniseries)
Fruit Baskets is the highest selling manga.

But what about indy comics; there's no more Hate, Eightball or Love and Rockets that appeal to the alternative scene. Plus there aren't that many indy comics that are released in a monthly/bimonthly format.
Meat Haus? American Splendour?

My idea is to try and get a better idea of how many comic readers there are using local comic shops. Why? It seems like it could be a useful piece of information. I like information.

My plan is - make a list of 3 comics; of a mainstream, manga and indy comic. Then ask people around the country to go to their local store and count how many copies are on the shelf of those comics and report in.

We'll have a breakdown of state-by-state/shop-by-shop.

Then pretty much double the number (to account for people have pull-lists).

Sound reasonable?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rockin' the pocket square

Last night we were invited to an Engagement Party, which was cocktail dress. Since i never know the difference between semi-formal, semi-asual, dinner dress, and cocktail dress (except i did reason that not everyone had to where a cocktail dress). So in attempt to give myself some flair I pocket squared it. It took awhile to actually find one - i was met with many "a wha?" from young sales assistants.

In the end-

I was witty as Oscar

and as charming as Cary

Seriously, like i totally was!

Friday, August 08, 2008

New Selan in the mix

A hearty congratulations to my dad, the Big D, on the birth of Samo Dino Selan born in Thailand.

Samo is a traditional Slovenian name, Dino is a "traditional" thai nickname and i was hoping they'd throw in Frankie to complete it but alas not.

As an only child its slightly weird becoming a brother now but its still incredibly exciting.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

My Instantaneous III piece

There was a slight difference with this year's Instantaneous (a charity auction of individual panels by Adelaide sequential artists) as opposed to the first two shows (where you just had to do a single panel) -this time you had to put the panel in context with a minimum of three panels but preferably in a page. The three panels/complete page would then be printed in the booklet/guide.

Having pretty much made coloured dots with emo caption my shtick it took awhile to figure how I'd not have to draw for at least 3 panels.

One afternoon-flicking-red-paint-around-until-it-looked-just-right later

I had this,
titled Strike.
(Lettering by Em)

The actual panel which was auctioned is the second one and went for enough to provide 20 soup kitchen meals.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wait for it....wait for it......

Apparently Doujicon was a bit dodgy.


Nothing underhanded went of course, more so no one really went. Attendance was low, even though it was meant to be a good location. 131 people turned up - i'm not sure if that includes creators with tables.

Originally I was going to let loose with the snark.

How I would improve Doujicon?
Get rid of the pointless english letters in the title. Spell it out in Kanji. The title should be even MORE meaningless - that'll get the hardcore fans in!
The octopus as mascot isn't working. So replace him with something else - then have a vote to get the kids really involved on how to make it less lamer! I nominate a camel dressed as Snake Plissken!
Flyers and posters aren't antiquated enough in this Facebook world! Use town criers and morse code! Get someone to write and preform an opera!
(End Snark)

But while the title and mascot and promotion aren't working, to me there's a fundamental issue.

The same weekend there was AVCon in Adelaide, a anime/manga convention. About 1500 people turned up. I didn't go because i didn't know about it until after the fact.

Now on an Adelaide vs Melbourne scale; AvCon was 1000% better.

Its apples and oranges. They are two different events.

Avi thinks he's selling oranges but he's got apples. He really wants to sell oranges but its all apples.

The audience for Avcon is anime and manga fans.
The audience for Doujicon is people who like homemade comics (including manga).

Every uni has a Anime appreciation club, there's been magazines on J-Pop Culture, whole companies exist to sell manga and anime. The audience is big.

The audience for homemade/self published manga is a niche in a niche. All Avi had to do was figure out how many Oztaku's he had sold in Melbourne. That's the audience for Doujicon. Even though it had some really good work in it, its harsh to say, but Oztaku didn't have the readership nationwide to sustain itself. How can the same type of work sustain a convention?

Now here's a generalisation; Australian manga buyers are very picky. They want original manga - some of them go to the extent that they buy the japanese version without being able to read it or they'll go to the effort to learn japanese because the translated stuff is a slap against humanity. When fans complain about dubbed anime there is little chance they will stoop to buying a self-published manga comic by a non-japanese.

It's a shame when you consider the world's largest comic convention is Comiket, and its primarly self-published comics. Half a million people. Twice a year.

So there is a choice - either a long campaign to convince local manga fans that true manga fans like self-published work not that corporate owned kids stuff - just like Japan.
Open the audience up to people who like originality and creativity; not just manga but all comics and zines and give it a new name and new direction (and trash the stupid childish mascot).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Why I hate Quentin Tarantino

Terribly embarrassing admission - I used to like Tarantino. I thought he was a maverick film maker - pushing boundaries. In my defence I was a film student, so it went with the territory.

I saw Reservior Dogs on the big screen (well it was at the Mercury Cinema so it was bigger than a TV). It was pretty awesome. The blood, the raw cruelty, the unhappy ending - it seemed so fresh. Seemed being the operative word. I had gotten into Hong Kong Cinema around the same time; the cover to the video (as in VHS) for John Woo's Killer advised it was the world's highest body count - so how could i not rent it? I got hooked.

While watching Ringo Lam's City on Fire it dawned on me; this is Reservoir Dogs but ....not. It was weird, essentially the same story but shot differently. It caused a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.

Pulp Fiction was good though, I saw that twice at the cinema. It still holds up.

But Jackie Brown - in what world is watching someone choose and buy a cassette for 20 minutes entertaining? Ugh. Kill Bill #1; shallow and empty. I didn't bother with #2.
And Death Proof is just indulgent rubbish.

The thing that really bothers me is that his films are just mash-ups of Quentin's favourite things. Homages are ok- they can bring some depth to a text, but plain old "stealing" concepts is a bit much. It just shows a lack of creativity or originality. Its all pastiche; glorifing empty cinema from the 70s but shooting it with 30 million dollar budgets.

Sure you can claim Warhol did the same thing; low art to high art but at least Warhol's work said something; on consumerism, on modernism. What does Kill Bill say - Quentin likes feet? That his audience would like recooked work as opposed to the originals? That there is nothing new under the sun? If you don't have pop cultural references in your movies that doesn't require a Google search you aren't an interesting writer?

Nostalgia was once seen as a sickness - something that kept us going forward, moving on. Move on Quentin, Move on.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Lots of photos of me

Even 6 months after the fact I'm still trying to figure why i find this so funny.

Care of Practice Catcus (NSFW)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Graphic Novel: the Pondering (Part 2)

Many years back I was at a Dymocks in a surburban shopping centre. It was late but I and Em were biding time until a movie started. I saw Moore and Campbell's From Hell on the shelves. Oh my God, acceptance! Comics are going mainstream baby!
I scanned the shelves for other Graphic Novels and found nothing else so i cornered a sales assistant and kind of pointed in the direction of From Hell.
"Have you got any other Graphic Novels?"
I may have looked a bit excited but she looked at me rather strangely, like she was trying to suss me out. I didnt' think to much of it, its that same look when people find out you read comics 'You? Really? Wow?'
"Um.... hang....on" and she darted away.
I continued scanning shelves for something new to read when the store manager walked up to me "um, have you read American Psycho?"
"That's pretty graphic"
Oh my God she thinks i'm some sort of sicko.
"Wha? No, no, no - graphic novels! Like From Hell" - which i grabbed of the shelf. She flicked through it
"Oooooooh comic books - we've got TinTin"
Oh my God she thinks i'm some sort of nerd.
I thanked her deflatedly for her help and slunk to the gardening corner to Em.
"I'm so embrrassed-"
"Aroused! You're aroused" she blurted.

And so ended the most embarrassing moment in my life.

So what are graphic novels and why are they so troublesome?

Looking within other mediums didn't really bring up answers to what a graphic novel could be - within other mediums, formats don't define anything; Harold and Kumar go to White Castle is still a movie at 88 minutes, like Lawrence of Arabia at 200minutes plus (too lazy to check actual runtimes). Sure there are novellas but the name makes sense 'Tiny novels' and I've never seen novellas marketted as a "novella" "just released a new novella!" like any comic book with a spine is bandied about with "Graphic novel".

But thinking about something like Harold and Kumar and Lawerence of Arabia started me thinking. I love both but there is something different.
Dude Where's my Car is a movie
Bicycle Thief is a film
Bad Boys 2 is a movie
Citizen Kane is a film

Its not a matter of quality, i like all the above titles; they are all good. Its not about source country, just because its foriegn doesn't mean its a film, Jackie Chan makes movies not films. Being old doesn't make it a film, Key Largo is a movie.

To me, movies are pieces of entertainment while films are peices of art that say something; there's more going on than just a plot. Films are subtextual or metatextual.

There's a similar concept with books; you go to a good bookstore and they'll be a Literature section and a Fiction section. There's art and then there's decoration.

Following this line of thought; comics are "superficial" and designed to entertain. Graphic Novels have something deeper going on - they carry a meaning outside of just have a plot. A graphc novel can be an 8 page story in an anthology or it can be a 32 book series released by Toykopop. If you can discuss the book without just rehashing the plot or talking about the art- then its a graphic novel. And I'd like something a bit more than "Spiderman is about the responsibility of power" especially when most Spiderman comics involve him hitting people.

Who decides what is a graphic novel and what's a comic book? Well for me its a 'wisdom of the crowd' scenario - i enough people say Blankets is a Graphic Novel and back this up with reasoning then it can be a graphic novel. If a creator just says their new comic is a graphic novel
or its publisher - I don't believe them.

I usually like my terms defined a bit better but i'm reasonably happy with this fuzzy and subjective definition because we can start talking about the books themselves instead of the silliness of the format.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Graphic Novel; the Pondering (Part i)

I consult on websites; information architecture, usability, accessibiliy, captology, etc, etc. Sometimes my work involves sitting in a group defining and discussing abstract concepts. During one meeting we were talking about improving our Document Management System; defining what a circular is, what a memo is, what a briefing is....when is a Policy a Policy and when is it a Guideline. It is more intreresting than it sounds (well to me anyway).

Well I ask "What's the difference between a factsheet and a manual?" and i got a incredulous stare in return "its the same difference between a comic book and graphic novel" (they had read Preacher and knew about Alan Moore).

"That's stupid!" I stammered.
"Graphic Novels are thicker with a spine"
"What! You have no..."
"oh there's other stuff like better paper"

I had already started to think about what is a graphic novel based on Anthony Woodward's post
Using format is a pointless exercise; that's more a defining medium thing.

There needs to be something else. The very smart chaps at Comicspot use the cute "Bookcomic" and "Comicbook", i think that's still very formatty but its not coming up with new terms to be wanky about. Something is either one or the other. Using Graphic Novel opens up to many terms of conjecture; what's graphic, what's novel. What about trade paperbacks (another format which is at least industry standard sizewise).

For me anyway - I like defining stuff. I like discussing stuff and you need to be able to define Film Noir if you are going to talk Film Noir. If you want an opinion on bebop jazz then you better know what bebop jazz is, otherwise you'll look foolish. And since i look foolish most of the time - i like to think stuff through and get my ideas straight.

The best point to start is compare it to other mediums. Do other mediums create these groupings based on its materials. Pretty much every medium uses genre; a comedy is a comedy no matter if you see it on the big screen, on dvd at home or have downloaded it to your iphone. A story told using sequential images can be essentially the same story if delivered in a serial comic, a compliation tradepaper back or if its on Wowio.

I say "can be essesntially"; serials need that regular catchup exposition, digital content can't be as detailed as printed material because the technology isn't as precise (72dpi vs 300dpi). But i would contend that the story is the same; just told differently. War and Peace the book tells the same story as the movie with Henry Fonda. Doctor Zhivargo has been told as a book, movie and made for TV miniseries and they all tell the story of a bloke in Russia.

The quality and success at telling that story though is totally up to debate.