09th Jun 2008

2D Comics Festival and small press comics

Got back last night from the second 2D Comics Festival – the first I’d actually been to – in Derry, and a fun and fascinating time was had.  Ireland, north and south, is clearly home to a great deal of comics creativity in the pro and small presses.  But I came out thinking, maybe I’m ahead of the curve?

Back in the 90s I was part of a small press comics scene that was based on a bunch of cartoonists producing little A5 photocopied pamphlets and “selling” them – or at least, exchanging them with each other – by post.  Some of us would go to conventions and actually take money, but I doubt many of us kept count of how many we’d sold and how much we were making.  I know I didn’t.  Our print runs were tiny, and our outlay was also tiny – so even if we made 100% profit it would barely have bought us a round of drinks anyway.  We weren’t, in short, in it for the money.

There are still cartoonists like that.  Some are true amateurs, doing it for the love in formats, genres and styles that will never be commercial, while others hope that, after honing their chops in the non-money-making sector, they might be able to produce a body of work they can parlay into opportunities in pro publishing – just like back then.  Professional printing is now within financial reach, so hand-stapled photocopied booklets are giving way to quality paper and full colour covers, even full colour interiors.  But even a short print run, professionally printed, costs a fair amount of money up-front, and making any of that back involves lots of legwork distributing the thing to shops.  The outlay is bigger, but the expectation is still not to make any immediate money out of it.

The odd thing is how few seem to be considering the web as a way of getting their work seen and read.  A fair few small press cartoonists have websites, but you can’t read any of their comics on them.  But it’s by far the cheapest way to get work out there, to, potentially, a huge audience.  And rss aggregator sites like Google Reader or Bloglines or any number of others, which allow you to keep track in one place of when all your favourite blogs have updated, make it as easy to enjoy long-form serialised comics as one-off gag strips or self-contained short stories.  But people aren’t quite on board with webcomics just yet.

It’s the way forward for small press cartoonists though, I’m convinced of it.  And when a trendsetter like Warren Ellis is throwing his weight behind it – his and Paul Duffield’s excellent ongoing sci-fi series Freakangels – maybe people are going to start paying more attention, and realising the possibilities.  I hope so, anyway.

The other way forward for small press cartoonists is print-on-demand.  In the old days, the set-up costs for printing were so high you needed a substantial print-run to make it worth your while – far too many for one person to be able to sell – and you’d be left stuck with boxes full of unsold comics.  Digital printing has put and end to that.  There are now a number of companies on the web who’ll print you one copy at a time if that’s all you need, and allow readers to buy copies online, only printing as many copies as have been ordered.  The up-front costs are really very small.  When the current storyline of The Ulster Cycle is finished, I’ve long intended to publish it as a book using one of these services (although I haven’t decided which one yet).  It’s a model that suits the small press extremely well.

Aside from all this musing, 2D gave me the opportunity to meet lots of interesting and talented new people (you’ll notice my “Irish comics creators” blogroll down the left hand side of the site is now quite a bit bigger) catch up with some equally interesting and talented people I already knew but hadn’t seen for ages, buy some comics off them and/or watch them draw.  It was only a shame I had to leave so early to catch the train back to Belfast.  I think next year I’ll have to plan it a bit better.

3 Responses to “2D Comics Festival and small press comics”

  1. Shane Chebsey Says:

    It was great to speak with you at the festival Pat.

    Hope to see you there next year too.


  2. paddybrown Says:

    You too Shane. I’ve got a book to sell now, so I’ll have to see about getting a table. I’ll be in touch in the new year to discuss distributing it via Smallzone.

  3. paul Says:

    Hi, I am interested in publishing a comic around Easter can you give me some advice on the digital press companies. I would like to have a good few printed then the rest on demand any help you can give would be greatfully accepted.
    (I live in Wales.)
    Thanks paul.

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