Small Press Big Ideas
Back in February, Steve and I were preparing to attend the London Comic and Small Press Expo in New Cross. It was the first con we’d ever done (we hadn’t even had the books printed at that point) and the plan was to have a nice quiet one in order to learn the ropes before hitting the bigger summer cons. Didn’t really work out that way in the end…
A few days before the con, an email went out from the organisers stating that one of their panels had been cancelled and they could really do with somebody to fill the spot. Being the humble, introverted souls that we are it took us all of 2 emails to decide that we were the people to fill that spot. I threw together some ideas stuff that Steve had talked about at the Fallen Heroes panel in Cardiff, mixed them with various pub rants the two of us had engaged in over the years and the Small Press Big Ideas Panel was born. This is the blurb for the panel:
With the falling cost of producing comics and the rise of the internet as a tool for marketing and distributing comics, it’s becoming more and more viable for creators to publish mainstream, commercially viable comics by themselves. These books share little in common with the more artistically driven labours-of-love that are traditionally associated with the small press so is it right that they are all classed under the same banner? We will examine whether there is a difference between a true small press book and a mainstream book that is printed in small numbers. Is it damaging creators and limiting ambition by creating an artificial underclass of comics? Is it time for up and coming creators to abandon the term ‘small press’ and just make comics?
Now, I’ll be honest, when I first wrote that I wasn’t totally sure how true it was. I knew that we definitely didn’t feel that Moon fitted into the classic definition of Small Press but I wasn’t sure if that was part of a wider thing or whether that was just a personal preference thing. I figured that at the very least it’d be an interesting academic debate about the terms we use to define our industry. Besides, it was Steve that was going to be on the panel so if a lynch mob formed I’d have plenty of warning and would be able to flee the scene while he heroically, if unwillingly, sacrificed his life for the greater good.
What happened was that the panel ended up being the talk of the town. Steve argued our points superbly and the discussion got so in depth that the panel over-ran by over half an hour. After the show was over, the organisors came up to us and asked if we’d be willing to repeat the panel at Bristol. So here we are.
Ok, before we go any further, I should probably clarify what my actual stance on Small Press is. I have absolutely no problem with tradition Small Press books – by which I mean those labours of love that are produced in very small numbers, often using home printing equipment and sold almost exclusively at small cons. Some of the most interesting things I’ve read are exactly these kind of books; produced by hobbyists whose only desire is to share their work of graphic literature with people and hopefully pay for a pint at the end of the event.
But that isn’t what Moon is. We have a budget, we have a business plan, we have objectives for every event we go to. Our books are printed to a professional standard, they are 22 pages long, they have advertising, they have far more in common with a Marvel book than they do with many Small Press books. The only real thing that we have in common with the traditional Small Press is that we are largely self funded. Again, I’m not saying that this automatically makes us better than Small Press, but we are different and I think that’s worth acknowledging.
And it turns out that we’re not alone in that regard. Since LCSPE we’ve met creators from all over the UK (and beyond) who are thinking exactly the same thing. People who got into the industry to be considered ‘Comic Book Creators’ not ‘Small Press Creators,’ people who are after a lot more than a pint at the end of the con.
We are living through an extremely exciting time for comics. The internet revolution that the music industry went through a decade or so ago is just starting to reach our shores. For the first time in our industry’s history we have the power to create, print, market and distribute our comics without ever having to involve an established publisher. All you need is a bit of start up capital and a willingness to throw all of your free time into it.
To me, trying to place a label like “Small Press” or “Big Press” or anything on your book is entirely redundant. We are in new territory here and while the old institutions do still exist, they are far from the impregnable fortresses that they once were. Comics are changing and if we as new creators have the will to do so then we can be a part of shaping that change. But to do so we have to think big.
Stop thinking in terms of Small Press and Mainstream Press and just make comics. Your book is what you make it, not what convention tells you it is.
Is that the sound of a lynch mob? I’d best find Steve.
Take care, chaps.
For more on this topic be sure to check out the Small Press Big Ideas panel at this the Bristol International Comic and Small Press Expo this Sunday. Details HERE!