The following five words will trigger an untold number of eyerolls, but they’re nevertheless true – creative work can be hard.
Sure, all work can be hard. I consider myself living proof that any menial task can be made to look uncompromisingly difficult when undertaken by someone with neither a thought nor competence for what they’re doing. You should see how long its taken me to finish redecorating our hall (spoilers: I haven’t).
And I’m not suggesting that the difficulties encountered with creative work are like-for-like comparable to those of say: fire fighting, coal mining, body guarding, or pretty much anything involving engagement with the general public. I’m sure that even people running OnlyFans pages have days where they’re left feeling absolutely buggered.
Regardless of medium, creative work tends to boil down to selling a product. One of the key challenges of such involves identifying and successfully (you’d hope) engaging an audience whom have a need for said product. Sure, every product faces this challenge – as I am painfully aware – but an aspect which is unique to those of a creative persuasion, involves overcoming the fact that it is not needed.
Catering to an audience that does not need
I’m talking about games, movies, books, music, etc. I enjoy all of these things, but I don’t need any in the ‘hunter gatherer’ sense of the word. They’re not feeding me, putting a roof over my head or securing my financial safety. You might call them luxuries and by their very nature, luxuries are enjoyed by a more exclusive audience than that of necessities.
The audience who can afford luxuries can also (generally) afford the luxury of selection. They are connoisseurs of their own recreational interests and thus wish the money, and time they invest in a product to be returned in the enjoyment they receive.
This is an over-simplification. There are many tangents and exceptions to the above that are well worth discussion, but aren’t entirely relevant to the point I wish to clarify; that creative works are subject to a relatively niche audience who can afford to be picky and are spoilt for choice.
Add to this the complexity that often times, good creatives aren’t necessarily good businessmen. Crafting beautiful new worlds of colour and sound is a different set of skills to successfully selling products. Some would say “But art shouldn’t be about selling” which is fine if the creator’s necessities (as outlined previously) are facilitated by other means. But for those whose creative output is fundamental to their continued existence, such idealism is of zero practical value – if you aren’t earning, you aren’t eating. Ah, idealism, another luxury.
This is why we have entities such as agents and record labels. They are the half way house between creatives and the audiences who would be willing to pay for their work. They know each of these disparate parts well enough to consolidate them into a single ecosystem. But they bring their own complexities, expectations and demands which also make a creative’s life difficult. We can all name at least one band we used to love whose music took on a distinctly more diluted, accessible sound once they were signed to a label.
The independent alternative
The alternative for many is independence. Those who choose to oversee both the creative development of their work and the day to day business operations of putting them out there.
One such creative is Jeremy Biggs of Subversive comics. Jeremy and I met at a convention in 2014 (I went in cosplay as the coolest, suavest guy on the planet – me) where I was introduced to his range of works. What struck me then about Jeremy’s work when compared to others at the convention, was the standard and consistency of execution, and the variety of theme and format. Comic books, beautiful all-over t-shirts and hand made, zombie teddy bears. While my interest in independent comic books has since been largely passing in the years since, his output has consistently caught my eye.
Recently, Jeremy was gracious enough to answer my questions about his own journey, which I hope will shed some light on a topic I know a number of my friends have an active interest in.
Yes, I have friends.
No, they won’t admit to it.
Story continues below...
Writing for comics
Ed: You’re both a writer and a publisher. Those are very different things and while I don’t expect it’s uncommon for a comics creator to do (or at the very least, have an interest in) both, I am interested to learn of the unique challenges that can arise as a result. To start, I think it’s worth exploring each role independently, so let’s start with writing.
I’m going to assume you’re familiar with those pictures the kids (or old people in denial) share across social media, where there’s a grid of images representing a vocation organised by: my job, what society thinks it is, what my friends think it is, what I think it is, etc. Could you please describe ‘writing comics’ in these terms?
Jeremy: Hahaha, I’m not sure I can boil it down into quite that same format, but it would look something like this:
What society thinks it is: Picture of Stan Lee standing over the shoulder of John Romita as they talk about the latest issue of Spiderman.
What my friends think it is: Image of Red Letter Media’s Nerd Crew surrounded by 80’s toys wearing baseball caps.
What it actually is: Man resting his head on a computer.
Ed: How did this journey begin for you? Is this a case of a childhood passion never going away, something that’s been cultivated over time or the result of a seemingly random event?
And on that note, were you working a full-time job when you began writing comics? This has obviously grown to be a huge commitment and passion for you, so I’m interested to know how you initially balanced it alongside your immediate responsibilities at the time.
Jeremy: Writing was my first creative love. As a young kid, I was an avid reader of books and comics like Transformers, Spiderman, Hitchhikers Guide, The Tripods and I, Robot so it was a fairly natural progression to writing my own stories. Unfortunately I had a particularly discouraging teacher who put me off as a young teen and it wasn’t until many years later that I picked it up again.
From the age of eighteen I was always on the cusp of some form of success in the music industry but never managed to get quite over the line. For most of my twenties and half my thirties I lived a strange double life working soul destroying office jobs by day and then spending most of my evenings writing or occasionally performing music and djing. My biggest successes were exhibiting at the Tate Modern as part of the opening of the oil tanks, remixing one of my music idols, getting some music on BBC 3’s Lip Service and putting on wild, hedonistic fancy dress parties in London with some school friends.
Whilst working in Westminster, I used to pop to the library at lunch time and pick up DVD’s and books. One such book was Sandman by Neil Gaiman which reignited a love of comics. Next came Akira and then Watchmen.
A close friend of mine, Imran, served as an inspiration for dedicating myself wholly to working on writing full time. He had a very well paid job working for Channel 4 as a programmer and decided that he wanted to pursue something more spiritually satisfying and went on to pursue a career as a film composer. He asked me to help with his first feature film The Dead and I provided some short musical stings.
He’d been networking on the film circuit and had met a guy, Rob, who had recently returned to the UK from hollywood where he’d worked putting together film financing and reviewing the slush pile. He was writing scripts and a book and wanted to create an audiodrama based on his work.
Meanwhile my day job contract was coming to an end, so I ended up saving up some funds and leaving to form a company working on audiobooks with the other two guys. We produced about nine or ten audiodramas including a version of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter” which you can view on Youtube here:
We booked a table at MCM Comic con in London in 2012 to promote the audiobooks and, just for fun, I put together an 8 page comic to show at the show. This was issue Zero of Bearlands. The comic turned out to be a bigger smash than the audio-dramas and generated enough interest that I decided to produce a proper comic from this and Subversive Media was born.
Ed: What was your approach to getting started? I don’t mean in terms of the actual writing, so much as finding the time and motivation to write. I know a few people who would love to do this sort of thing but struggle to ‘make it happen’.
Jeremy: Procrastination is definitely a writer’s disease. I’d like to say I had good habits in that respect, but that would be a lie.
Being committed to writing definitely helps – if it’s your full time job then you have to do it or you don’t get paid!
Kickstarter has been a boon, though. If people are counting on you to deliver there’s no room to cop out. Backers will be on your back if you’re late or don’t deliver on time. That’s a great motivator.
You have to love writing, though. When you’re in a full flow state and the words are pouring out it’s a real buzz. The counterweight to that is that pushing through writer’s block is like pulling teeth. There are some days where even the most menial of chores looks more attractive than sitting in front of a blank page.
If I were to do it all again though, I would go to writer’s forums and participate in writing challenges to build up the basic skills. If I had known about these fifteen years ago the quality of my writing and the output would have been greatly increased far earlier. That epic novel about cloning in China would have been finished fifteen years ago!
There is no other way to learn how to write than by doing.
Ed: What other sort of practical challenges did you face? Were there any which surprised you going in? What was your approach to overcoming them?
Jeremy: Blimey, loads. Apart from the steep curve learning, the technical aspects of publishing (layout, formatting, colour management, paper choice, software etc.), just knowing the right questions to ask is essential to being able to plan ahead.
My approach was to generally get stuck in and make as many mistakes as possible, hahaha. Each mistake is a learning opportunity. To a certain degree, they have to be calculated mistakes, not the kind that destroy your cashflow.
We made two big mistakes at the very beginning: incorrectly calculating the postage for our first kickstarter for Metal Made Flesh, and making the wrong choice of printer for one of our books. Those were particularly bad errors. It’s always worth having a range of suppliers to choose from, in case one goes under.
Other than that, reading up as much as possible from others; speaking to other publishers and artists at conventions and trying to stay abreast of industry trends.
Ed: Keeping that in mind, would you do things any differently if you could go back in time in terms of how you dealt with these things? For example, were there any occasions where you rushed into a decision which in hindsight, would’ve benefited from greater consideration?
Jeremy: Appreciating why industry standards exist is a big one. We produced Super Robot Mayhem in A4 format as we wanted to showcase Javier’s incredible detailed art, but it was difficult to get comic shops to fit these on shelves alongside other floppies.
Ed: You see, that’s an element I expect a lot of people would overlook – making sure your product doesn’t just meet your audience’s needs, but also your distributors’. It must be incredibly frustrating to make a conscious decision to really maximise an aspect of your work that you know the audience will appreciate (in this case, the art) only for it to become an obstruction for those responsible for getting it to that audience. You’ve mentioned abiding by industry standards as being a good method for avoiding this, but are there any sort of ‘unwritten rules’ about working in this area that you think a newcomer might be completely oblivious to?
Jeremy: There are unwritten rules in respect of the comic’s medium. US or UK single issues have a definite individual size, as does Manga – a dedicated printer should tell you these.
There are all kinds of rules that big publisher’s like DC use – number of words per page / panel, number of people able to speak in a panel and so on – Dennis O’Neill’s DC Guide to writing comics is a good primer on that.
Then there are unwritten rules of story – etc.
A large portion of knowing the rules comes from reading widely, keeping an eye on trends and knowing the market.
Ed: Bringing all these things together, what would your advice be to someone who finds themselves in a similar situation; wanting to become a comics writer but having existing commitments that limit their available time? What specific things would you suggest they be prepared for that they might not otherwise expect?
Jeremy: My advice to new comics writers would be to assess your skill as a writer. If you haven’t written much then get writing, critiquing and learning the ropes. Set aside an hour a day to just write. Listen to couch to 50k and follow some of the exercises they set. Build a habit of writing.
When you’re ready, partner up with an artist looking to build a career in comics and start a webcomic. Use this to refine your craft and build an audience. Platforms like Webtoon.com are great to refine your craft.
Decide what kind of comic writer you want to be – Marvel? DC? Indie? Manga? Follow their output and get conversant in the niche you want to occupy. Learn all the conventions and traditions in each Niche. Know who the top writers are. Go to conventions, meet them and establish a connection. Network. Take full advantage of comics forums.
And read, a lot.
Ed: Obviously this isn’t something you wander into completely on your own. There’s a huge community around comics with lots of indie writers. How much did you lean on this when you started out? Was the community accommodating? Did you have any preconceived notions about how it might respond to first-time writers?
Truthfully, not as much as I could have done. I’m a jump right in kinda guy, and learn by mistakes. But I often analyse how others are doing things and am always on the look out for what works.
The comics community is a bit of a double edged sword.
At its best, it’s a network of talented individuals who are all doing something they love. Everyone is more than willing to help and they’re often full of great advice. Creatives are usually nice people who love art more than anything. They’re passionate, original and interesting to talk to. Camaraderie runs high at conventions.
At its worst, it can be a bit of a crab bucket and it’s as rife with office politics as any traditional office. Opportunities are scarce and competition is fierce. People can be jealous of success. There are strong personalities that like to assert dominance. People who are resentful that success has passed them by. Art and fandom arouses strong opinions and people who question or don’t conform to the clique’s group think are often marginalised.
The kind of people who organise comic communities tend to be community organisers (unsurprisingly) and have a Trade Union type spirit, for good and ill. Often they have the ear of convention organisers and can help to make conditions better for exhibitors, but this can lead to stifling of competition or innovation as the prevailing tendency is towards cutting the tall poppy. I think this might be a British tendency – not sure how things work across the pond.
Ed: We’ve talked about the practical challenges involved with becoming a writer – but what about creatively? We’ll get into the specifics of how you write shortly, but I’m interested to know if the whole process of just ‘becoming’ a writer had any impact (positive or negative) on your creativity?
Yes, definitely. The more you write, the more you pick up a feel for idea generation and structure. There are lots of tricks that can help you generate ideas. Writing workshops and challenges are great for this.
Ed: I think that’s extremely important for people to hear. There seems to be a common misconception that ‘motivation creates action’, that you can’t do something until you’re motivated to and that motivation is difficult to cultivate if life is littered with other obstructions/responsibilities. In my experience, the opposite is true. The more you do something, whether it’s an hour at the weekend or ten minutes every evening, the more momentum and motivation you generate as a result.
Obviously, some degree of motivation is required to instigate that action but I think people often expect/demand too much of themselves in this respect. They’re incredibly hard on themselves if they don’t magically find 4 hours every night to deliver work that’s consistent with what full time professionals are doing. I’ve long argued squeezing five minutes every day toward a practice will (to my mind) do your progress and motivation more good than double the cumulative time once per week. I’d be interested to know if this is something you agree with and area able to reflect on, but also – what can people do to avoid losing motivation? We’ve spoken a bit about what you can do to find and generate it, but what are some common pitfalls that people do that cause it to decrease? Importantly, how do you think these can be avoided?
Jeremy: Yes, I do agree. I had an artist friend, Mark Rathmell, who used to force himself to write for fifteen minutes a day. It was surprising how much he managed to produce from just that small window. He would have “bets” with himself – incentives that motivated him to keep at it, regardless of the quality.
Incentives are a great help – even the possibility of winning an online competition is good motivation to write.
Pitfalls – generally, for me, they revolve around self criticism. When you start writing you tend to have better taste than you do ability. You can get trapped in thinking what you write doesn’t measure up to your own standards. Young writers need to learn to turn off their critical faculties in early drafts, then turn them on again when editing. They also need to learn when to draw a line under something and move on.
I think creating space for play is good too. Just experimenting. If every story just follows the rules it can get staid very fast, you have to be able to have fun with it. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll naturally do it often.
Approach to writing
Ed: What is it about writing for comics that appeals to you and have you ever considered other mediums, such as games or film?
Jeremy: Not so much games, but I’d love to write a film.
I think prose is my favorite medium, but I love the immediacy of comics and I love great art! Comics can do so much that no other medium can. Comics are great for teaching concision.
Ed: What is the writing process like in terms of idea generation? Do you have any particular strategies for coming up with concepts?
Jeremy: Concepts tend to come from the general environment – newspapers, journals, media, daily life.
Mary Robinette Kowal’s short story workshop is fantastic for idea generation, as is Brendan Sanderson’s writing course. Couch to 50K, too – they could explain it far better than I!
David Mamet’s memo to the writers of The Unit is also a great way of approaching scenes:
And Parker and Stone’s but… therefore… is a great way to approach story:
Processes that are unique to me?
I think worldbuilding hinders rather than helps. I see too many writers bogged down in trying to flesh out a real world and not doing the job of actually writing. When you do this, the inspiration often passes and you never actually start in the first place! Worldbuilding is great, but leave it for your second draft once you know what the actual story is. Things have a habit of popping out when you’re writing.
Writing is like sculpting, except you have to produce the stone out of thin air. Your first draft is the stone. Don’t worry if the rock is ugly or poorly written, your job is to chip away at the rock, crafting it until it becomes something beautiful.
Finish stuff. Concentrate on one idea at a time and finish the draft before moving on to something else. The more stuff you finish, the better you get.
Turn off your critical faculties and just write. Finish the draft. Leave it in a drawer for a month or so. Turn on the critical faculties and analyse the draft. Then go through and correct the deficiencies. Keep on whittling away at the stone through subsequent drafts until you’re done. If you’re quibbling over minor word choices, you’re probably near done. Pass it onto your alpha reading team and make changes accordingly.
Ed: The three of your works I’m most familiar with are Metal Made Flesh, Bearlands and Super Robot Mayhem. Each fully commits to its genre and style which means your body of work is quite varied. Is that a conscious decision and what are the pros/cons about this as a writer?
Also, does this not create in imbalance in your audience? Do you ever worry that by creating things that are so singular and distinguished from each other, that you may fail to build an audience who like familiarity? Do you worry that a fan of Bearlands might not find enough of what they like in that, in Super Robot Mayhem, for example?
Jeremy: Definitely not conscious. More a product of ADHD I think!
The pros: I get bored easily, so having a wide range of styles is always stimulating and always feels exciting and novel. Each book in one property cleanses the palette for the other.
The cons: Mostly have to do with finding your niche and marketing. There’s very little audience crossover between books so launching a new book is like starting at square one in terms of building an audience.
Overall, unlike in any other industry, I find the idea of being pigeonholed, or branded in one genre is too restricting. I regard each property as a brand in itself rather than myself being the brand – and take a movie studio approach to marketing ip. If people buy the books this will be because they like the brand, not so much me – although I would also like to create an author brand for myself for prose in particular.
The brand approach tends to work in comics, imho, because audiences are so used to characters being written by different authors and artists – although with a few exceptions – the writers and artists also have their own brand recognition.
I don’t tend to worry about it so much, other than the time between issues is greater.
Ed: Has this presented you with any creative challenges? Have you found one area more difficult to move into and when you did, how did you overcome that?
Jeremy: The challenges have been trying to work within genres and not unintentionally falling afoul of overused genre tropes.
I tend to look to Alan Moore’s advice of reading outside genre in order to not stay stuck in the genre rut.
Ed: What about inspiration? Are your comics born from something you’ve seen, other works, recognised gaps in the market, etc?
Jeremy: Oh, that’s a question. I think it’s like water – it’s all around us if you open your eyes. Bearlands came from a street name in my home town of Gloucester at around the time I was finishing up on The Dead. The two things clashed in my head and Zombie Bears was born (with a good deal of help from artist Bakki who drew some hilarious concepts).
Some things stick and take on their own life.
Ed: Ha, I had no idea that was the background to Bearlands! I must admit, I frequently have ‘sparks’ of ideas similar to this but the vast majority (well, in my case, pretty much all) either fizzle out – or – they’re push to one side by another ‘spark’ which invariably meets the same fate.
How do you tell the difference between a cool idea that’s worth pursuing and one that isn’t? For example, are there five questions you ask yourself about a prospect that you need to answer to determine if it’s going to be worth the effort, or is it a more organic process that you need to naturally let find its own path?
Jeremy: I don’t think you can differentiate between ideas. The ideas have to be something that interests you enough to develop them, then you can follow them to the end. The process is largely intuitive based on your own interests and concerns. That idea can be a grand idea – some theme you want to interrogate – or it can be an interesting character or situation.
For example, when I’m writing, I’ll often have trouble with a scene – unaware of how to tackle it and I have to drill down and find the most interesting aspect of that scene and build it from there. This can be an immediate desire of one of the characters, or it can be a secret they don’t dare reveal to other participants in the scene, or it can be power and status relationships – whatever it is that brings drama into the scene.
There isn’t just one method of approaching these problems but many. The more you write, the more you can see how the underlying logic of a scene, a plot, a character interaction operates.
Ed: How do you nurture a creative idea? I think people who perhaps aren’t creatively inclined can tend to assume that it’s quite simple: you have an idea, you make that idea. The truth is, creative works that might appear simple in execution have often been subject to countless (sometimes quite painful) iterations, revisions and rethinks to reach that point. Is this true of your work and do you have a standardised process for this?
Jeremy: Absolutely. The best things I’ve done tend to come together quickly, though, almost in a fever dream. Unfortunately those instances are all too rare.
On average though, I agree with the 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration adage.
As to how to nurture an idea, a lot is intuitive and rather nebulous. Your intuition is developed through writing and reading a lot.
It’s not enough to just have an idea, you have to have characters and an idea of plot structure or overall goal. You have to see how the idea connects with these fundamental building blocks of story.
The kernel of an idea can be sparked by anything – a piece of technology, a line of dialogue, an image, a word, something you’re afraid of. Your job is then to work from that idea towards creating characters, settings and plot that utilises your idea in a way you find interesting. The route to take is often in the form of asking questions or using logic to deduct those relations.
For example, if your idea regards a new technology, then you would probably be looking at how that technology affects society. Your plot would then involve imagining a person in a suitable situation likely to be affected by the technology and the consequences of this.Then you imagine what kind of person that might be, what they might be interested in, what their homelife is like, what their desires are. How they might encounter the tech. How does it interfere with their life. And so on.
Ed: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from writing these books in general?
Jeremy: Talk is cheap. Put pen to paper and finish the damn draft.
Ed: What’s your proudest piece of work?
Jeremy: Probably Metal Made Flesh 4: Damnation, which I’m finishing now.
Ed: As this isn’t released yet I expect you can’t go into much detail, but why are you proudest of this and more importantly, where will people be able to buy it?
I’m proudest of this because I think it’s the culmination of ten years of writing, so the technique is the best I’ve produced, the plot is complex but (hopefully) exciting and it marks a big coming together for the series as a whole. All the little threads and clues seeded throughout the previous books bear fruit in this one.
People will be able to buy it at metalmadeflesh.com later this year!
The war of art
Ed: Clearly art plays a huge role in what you do. What’s the process like for finding an artist to work with?
It’s pretty simple really – either from Artstation, DeviantArt or facebook. Other than that – real life. Conventions are great for finding artists!
Ed: How separate are the two processes? Do you tend to work independently, consult and milestones or work closely with your artists?
It depends on how the artist likes to work. It can be one sided – an artist can send a piece through that inspires a story, or collaborative where you bounce ideas off each other. Some artists like to be told exactly what to draw. Others want free reign to interpret it in their style.
The important thing is to establish upfront how an artist likes to work and tailor your script to their preferred way.
Ed: In a similar vein, how often does the art affect the writing? Do you ever find yourself going down paths in response to a specific style, or must the artist very much be guided by the writing?
Oh all the time – Super Robot Mayhem was very much influenced by sketches that Javier was sending me in the beginning and throughout. Zombie Bears wouldn’t even be if Bakki hadn’t made me laugh with her concepts. And Simeon has had a huge input into the writing – the first Metal Made Flesh book was very much drawn from his original story “hunters”.
Ed: Have there ever been great artists you wanted to work with but couldn’t because their style didn’t fit the tone?
Jeremy: Loads. I’d love to work with Riccardo Federici but he wouldn’t be suitable for Zombie Bears!!
Ed: What are the main challenges you’ve experienced working with artists?
Jeremy: Honestly, mostly it’s been great. The most difficult challenge I’ve had was trying to balance an artist’s need for perfection with trying to keep the project on time and in budget. There are times you have to make a call on something in order to finish it where if you had unlimited time and money you would have done it differently. It’s always painful.
You can have creative differences, and the way I deal with that depends on the relationship. If it’s work for hire then I’d want an artist to do it as I described it to them. If the problem is caused due to my fault – the page isn’t working because of the script – then you have to refer to the budget to see if you can fix it.
With collaborative work, if you can’t agree then we tend to seek advice from backers, other creatives or customers. That’s pretty good for generating social media engagement, too.
Ed: Have you ever had a situation where the artist just wasn’t capturing what you had in mind? If so, how do you determine whether this is because they’re incapable, not listening or it’s potentially down to how you’re communicating the goal in the first place?
Jeremy: Yes, it has happened. Usually you can tell if they’re listening from their other work on the same project.
You have to be open when working with an artist that they are interpreting your words, not the image in your head. Oftentimes too, the image in your head never works on the page, so you have to look at what you have as objectively as possible and not be too wedded to individual images.
The important thing is that the page conveys the tone and story, not that it looks exactly like how you imagined. There are basic things the artist should know – allowing room for bubbles, not crossing the line, staying on model, knowing how to create the mise-en-scene etc. So long as the unwritten rules of the medium are adhered to and the tone and words work together then you’re golden.
A lot comes out in discussion before working on the story, too – so you can set ground rules for feedback and so on.
Working with professionals like Gary Erskine, you know they will produce great work on time just from speaking to them up front. Their whole attitude and work ethic reflects the high quality of their work.
Ed: As a writer, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give another prospective writer about finding, choosing and working with an artist?
Jeremy: Look at their body of work. Is it already in the style / genre you like or will they need to work out their comfort zone. Have they already produced several books? What is their reputation like? What are they like to talk to? What level of English do they speak?
Ed: Similarly, from a writer’s perspective, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give an artist about finding, choosing and working with a writer?
Jeremy: Ask yourself what work have they achieved? Are they paying you or are you collaborating? What do you expect to get from the collaboration? Does what they’re creating resonate with you, or would it be just a job?
Self Publishing Comics
Ed: I opened the previous section by asking you to describe what ‘writing comics’ is in both the reality and from different perspectives. May I please ask you to do the same about publishing?
It’s not that far from the writing meme!
Society: Printing Press
Friends: Sitting on a beach reading a book
Reality: Sitting in front of a computer trying to figure out marketing analytics!
Ed: Is publishing something you were also interested in, or was it moreso born out of the necessity to get your work into peoples hands?
It is something I’m interested in and I’ve long wanted to expand Subversive to bring in other writers and artists.
Ed: Did you work with any publishers before doing so independently?
Only in the music world.
Ed: Are there any similarities between the two?
Not so much. Music publishing is in a strange place right now, and it’s always been a different animal to book publishing. Music publishing sits on top of record labels (who are more directly comparable with book publishing, imho) and concerns itself with sheet music and intellectual property.
Ed: What would you say the biggest challenge you faced when you went into publishing was?
Steep learning curve. Getting to know market realities and Amazon’s black box ad system.
Ed: Is that still the biggest challenge?
I still haven’t got my head around Amazon keywords.
Realities of the business
Ed: Conventions are obviously a massive part of this. I remember we actually met back in 2014 at a convention in Cardiff, my better half’s sister and I were working on a project (that I still hold some hope I’ll make happen one day) and were drawn to your bears. How important are conventions?
Vitally important. At the start they were my income stream. You have to be there to get known, to network and to understand the state of the industry. No better place to make contacts than conventions!
Ed: Where do they sit in the rest of the business? How much of your audience is generated directly rather than say other methods?
Now, I’m purposefully trying to move away from conventions for a short while to build online income streams. This will go into effect with the release of MMF4.
Ed: What was the impact of Covid on this?
Covid was hugely disruptive, not only in the obvious way of disrupting income, but also in making me realise how physically exhausting conventions are.
Not least that they highlighted how reliant your income is on one or two companies. One of those big two have been bought out by an American convention company and they’ve bought sweeping changes that are potentially challenging to small publishers – comics alley is now focused on art only. They’ve bought in restrictions on what you can sell etc.
Ed: When discussing your approach to writing, we covered the idea of ‘nurturing’ a creative concept and how iteration is sometimes a critical factor. I described iterations as sometimes being painful for two reasons: one, it hurts to ultimately kill off an idea or strand that you’ve invested considerable time and effort into and two, there is a monetary value to that time. I expect point two is especially important from a publishing perspective. At the end of the day, you want to ship a product to customers and it must be difficult not to view those decisions as having been a ‘waste of time and money’. Is this something you’ve experienced as a publisher?
Well, because I release my own products I’m pretty nimble with how the products get out there – there’s no input from a third party production team just what my budget will stretch to.
There’s always a risk that a comic you’ve sunk money into will fail, of course – that is the nature of the industry. You have to be controlled about what you release and how you choose to go about marketing it. Having a diverse portfolio of books helps to offset that, too.
Ed: Jeremy, thank you for discussing all these various facets of your work in such detail. I know a number of people who follow my journal (that number is one, but one is still a number!) who are very interested in this area and will take a lot of value from what you’ve said. Rather than finish this with a bunch of links to your work, could I please ask you to list a few examples, describe what they’re about and who might enjoy them?
Blimey – ok!
Metal Made Flesh is a cyberpunk space opera – think Blade Runner meets Game of Thrones.
War with the tyrannous Veul brought humankind to the brink of extinction. Now, its last remnants are refugees in a vast, indifferent sprawl: Tuaoni. Here, under the neon skies, cyborg assassin Izobel Vice, psychopath Phaeon Nex and mutant war-machine Kalibos struggle for survival as hired muscle for Tuaoni’s competing criminal empires.
But disruption is the way of the sprawl. The arrival of a brutal new alien kingpin, Skata, renders the trio unwitting pawns in a battle for the planet’s unimaginable power… A battle that promises to bring them face to face with humanity’s old foe.
Bearlands – The walking dead meets the care bears. The bear with no name embarks on an odyssey to bring the perpetrator of the Zombear Apocalypse to justice!
Mayhem – Mysterious! Malevolent! Mayhem! When Raiden Nakamura stumbles upon an ancient super robot, Mayhem embedded into an asteroid, his life is changed forever. Bonded to Mayhem, Raiden must risk losing his own identity piloting Mayhem to protect Earth from an invading demon empire.
Ed: And finally, where are the best sources of more information and future updates for both Jeremy Biggs and Subversive comics?