Tag Archives: comics

Hopeless Sinners

I’m excited to announce the arrival into the world of Sinners, the next volume in the Hopeless Maine series. It’s been a bit of a journey – having been picked up, kicked into the long grass and then dumped by Archaia, we found the awesome home that is Sloth Comics. But, it made sense to reboot the series and put the first two books out again. It’s been a long wait to get something new out there.

Let me mention at this point that Personal Demons and Inheritance were the Archaia titles, now gathered into one volume at Sloth called ‘The Gathering’. When we left Archaia they sent us a letter to say they’d stop selling our books, but those books are still being sold and we get no money for them. I’ve no issue with people moving second hand books about, but the length of time Boom (who took over from Archaia) kept them out there was dodgy to say the least. Also, while it says on Amazon that you can buy these – it doesn’t always turn out that there’s one to buy. People trying to buy old versions have had problems.

Sinners picks up with the characters who survived the first two books and continues their stories. By this point they are young adults. You can jump in here without having read the first two stories. I’m confident about this, because Sinners was the first thing I wrote for Tom. He went to a comic con, saw the power of the cute and wanted to do a young Salamandra story, which is where the first two books – written as prequels – came from.

Getting comics out into the world makes merely trying to publish a novel look very easy. A graphic novel – or fat comic – represents six months to a year of full time work (ten hour days, five and six day weeks) for the artist. We’d have to sell tens of thousands of copies for that to turn into the minimum wage. We can realistically expect to sell a few thousand. The only way to do something of high standard as an indy comics creator, is to be willing to accept poverty as a consequence. A lot of people are making that choice because they want to tell their stories and put beauty into the world. For comparison, Tom has worked for larger publishing houses and on projects that paid advances, and even then, he wasn’t on minimum wage when we figured it out by the hour. The book industry in the UK alone is worth billions a year, but creators are treated as disposable by the companies with the most money.

These are issues across the creative industries. People have to work part time at something else to pay their bills. We want nice things, but we don’t pay for them. The internet makes it easy to have nice things at no cost – and in many ways this is a good thing. Creators are not the only people wrangling with poverty, and lack of financial power should not mean a life devoid of good things, I feel. It’s one of the reasons I’m happy to put time into this blog every day. I want everyone to have good stuff.

I work part time as a book publicist to pay the bills, and I create with what time and energy I have left. I buy books, art, tickets for live music, CDs. I have no desire to exploit other creators, but I also have limited funds to pay them with. If those of us who can pay a bit here and there do, it helps keep creative people going. Part time comics artist is not a realistic trajectory when it can take a whole year of work to create a single book. If you’ve only got a couple of hours a day, it could take more like a decade. As a part time artist you don’t have the opportunities and time to develop your craft or much time to create anything.

And on that merry note, here’s a pre-order page for the new Hopeless Maine book https://www.bookdepository.com/Hopeless–Maine-2/9781908830142 

Here’s The Gathering https://www.bookdepository.com/Hopeless-Maine-Nimue-Brown-Tom-Brown/9781908830128

(you can get them anywhere that sells books)

And here’s my Patreon page in case you can spare me some small change every month. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB


My life with books

One of my many hats, is that of book publicist. It’s work I’m proud of, and also work I think it might be useful to talk about. As an author, and as a person with lots of friends who are authors, I know quite a lot about the publishing industry. The bigger a company you deal with, the more they look for a sure fire win. They want books that are an easy sell. Most Pagan authors would not be able to get their non-fiction work picked up by a major publisher. Or their Pagan fiction for that matter.

For me, it’s always been a case of trying to identify really good books and then get those books in front of the people who would appreciate them. I think this is what the publishing industry should be about – getting great reads to people. Most of the time it isn’t. My friends Phil and Jacqui can’t get a deal – editors love their work, but Matlock the Hare is about a talking hare, and talking animals are children’s books and these are not children’s books and therefore it cannot be done. They are one example among many.

The average book sells three thousand copies in its lifetime. A bestseller is a book that sells more than five thousand copies. Over at Moon Books, Jane Meredith’s Journey to the Dark Goddess – a book about ritual descent and shadow work, has sold over ten thousand copies. This is not the sort of book that many publishers would have taken forward, and yet, the numbers tell a different story. Some time next year Morgan Daimler’s introduction to The Morrigan is also going to pass the ten thousand mark for sales. I take great pride in helping promote these books. What really sells them is that they are excellent and needed.

I’ve seen repeatedly that an original book in a definable niche can actually do better than something that looked like a box ticking crowd pleasing sure fire thing. Forgive me if I don’t name names and ask you to take that on trust.

The author who knows who, specifically they are writing for can do a lot better than the one who imagines they are writing for everyone.

For folk on the literary side, there can be something distasteful about having to consider the lowly business of actually selling the books. The book is published, and then by magic, should sell itself by dint of its obvious literary merit. Again, I’ve seen it done and I won’t name names. The kinds of books that get listed for literary prizes have often only sold a few hundred copies before they make the list. This frustrates and annoys me. If you believe something is good, surely it makes sense to do everything you can to get it in front of people who will appreciate it?

I can say with confidence that when good books sell, good things happen for the authors who created them. The morale boost of a few thousand sales versus a few hundred is considerable.

Moon Books has proved repeatedly that a book doesn’t have to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, or an obvious easy sell in order to be massively successful. All you have to do is figure out who is going to want to read a book and get it in front of them. I see my comics publisher – Sloth Comics – doing the same thing. Sloth publishes quirky comics, and then gets out there and sells them to people. That’s not a quick or an easy process, but it is possible. I think the same must be true of anything else good, well made, beautiful, thoughtful, or worth having.

We live in a world where the norm is to make cheap throwaway things, pile them high, sell them as fast as you can and move onto the next one. I know, because I’m part of a company that does it, that other ways are available. I know there are plenty enough people out there who want substance and quality, originality and beauty. I feel no shame in trying to sell to those people so that good authors are paid for their work and encouraged to keep going.

My latest steampunk adventures

Last year at Asylum in Lincoln (biggest steampunk gathering in the UK) I spent quite a lot of time stood outside a venue being the signpost, because there wasn’t a sign, and one was needed. While I was doing that, another author at the event asked how on earth I’d ended up doing that. I said I’d offered. This year I’ll be co-running that venue, and Tom and I have had the honour of putting together a team of authors for the event as a whole. How did we end up doing that? Well, in no small part because we are the kinds of people who pile in and do what needs doing.

It’s not about the money, or the glory. Ok, it is a bit about the glory. We were keen to jump in because we want to change what happens around ‘literature’ at steampunk events. Tom and I will not be touring venues across the weekend as part of the author team, we’ll be looking after the Cathedral Centre/Steampunk embassy. If you’re in town, come and find us, it’s not a big building.

It would be fair to say that as things stand, ‘literature’ is not something most steampunks are that excited about, and with good reason. It’s not the sort of thing you can easily engage with when there’s loads going on. It doesn’t grab your attention like art or music, or clothes or devices or just about anything else at a steampunk event. If you aren’t already into an author, you may not be even slightly excited about hearing them read, and you don’t want to go to a talk about how they self published their first novel, and if you don’t write, the standard fayre of talks about how to write books may not appeal. And then there’s the room of gloom – I’ve seen these at too many events and not just steampunk ones. Tables full of books behind which mournful and obscure authors sit in puddles of grumpy entitlement wondering where all their adoring fans have got to.

Of course that’s not steampunk writing, or steampunk books as a whole, and even in the rooms of gloom there are always people worth meeting. This year, Asylum has taken a radical new approach to how it deals with authors. With that as our underpinning,  Tom and I have done a number of things to further change what happens. We’ve brought in more comics people – because unlike books, comics are easy to engage with quickly. We’ve brought in authors who are great performers, we’ve got all kinds of drawing workshops on the go, and the talks are full of ideas and interesting concepts. Around the authors we’ve lured an array of fascinating folk to come and do their thing at the cathedral centre, and I think it’s going to be a really interesting space.

We will be doing some Hopeless Maine stuff – we’re using it as a recruitment opportunity for The Hopeless Vendetta (if you feel a sudden urge to be recruited, comment below!) and we’re taking out a show called Songs from a Strange Island – a mix of material written for the Hopeless Maine project, (like the Hopeless shanty) and things that inspire us (gloomy and magical folk music for the greater part).

I know we’re not alone in wanting to see things change around books and book events. I’ve been having all the same conversations with the people running Stroud Book Festival as I’ve had with many people on the steampunk side. ‘Literature’ turns people off, and often what happens under that banner is dull and self-congratulatory. I want to see more spoken word content. I want to see authors stepping up to entertain and engage people. I want to be talking about books, comics, fat comics, ephemera, writing, and creativity. I want things people can join in with, not the literary on one side and the audience on the other.

Wife of the artist

Last year, will be remembered by my household as ‘the year of the raven’s child’ because mostly what my husband did last year, was draw. There were a lot of 12 hour and longer days, and a lot of seven day weeks of him sitting at the table, and drawing from the moment he got up, right through the day and well into the evening. This is, it should be noted, entirely normal for comics artists at all levels of the business. Long days sitting at the board and no days off, for wages that numerically are the same (not relatively, numerically) as they were in the late seventies.

Art takes time. Back in the 19th century, John Ruskin was protesting about the way in which people were being required to work as machines, but no one really listened to him, and the industrialisation of creativity has continued, and if anything, got worse. I have heard of artists working 18 hour days. I know authors who write at a rate of a novel a month.

For those not caught up in the creative industry, this can all sound fine. Because as everyone knows, doing art and writing books is fun, so doing it all day must be fun and not like a proper job at all. By extension doing it all day every day and never getting a day off is also fun because this is a hobby so you can just keep doing it. Right? I grant you, a bit of playful painting of a Sunday afternoon is fun. Writing a poem on a whim, making up a short story… these are delightful ways to spend some time.  But when your day starts about 7am and you have to hit the board, or the keyboard, and make content for ten hours and more and then get up tomorrow and do it all again… ‘fun’ is not the best description. When you tot up the figures, the chances of making the minimum wage doing this are slim. No one joins the creative industries seeking this, but to be ‘professional’ this is all too often what’s required.

Many comics artists die prematurely. They die in America in part because their low pay does not allow them to afford health care. They die because their sedentary lifestyles undermine their health, and because if you have to spend your waking hours working, then all the self-care things like cooking and food shopping go out of the window.

Such work does not pay most people doing it enough that they can keep a second person at home to take care of them. Fortunately for us, I also work from home. Last year, alongside the various day job things I do (press officer, publicist, editor, professional blogger, occasionally author of fiction and non fiction) I did pretty much all the household stuff. I fought a running battle to make the time to get him outside regularly, to get odd hours of downtime when we could, and to give him some leisure time alongside this phenomenal project.

There were about 200 pages of art in this project. A page a day isn’t unusual for comics, but often a person is drawing, or inking, or colouring, not doing all three. A page a day doing all three, is tough. Tom can do a page a day, but then to go from the drawn image to the finished electronic image takes more time. A comics page isn’t created by just sitting down of a morning and putting down the lines. It has to be planned to get the text onto the page. Often, research is required. There are continuity issues and things that have to be remembered and repeated. The bigger the book, the more of these there are. So alongside the drawing and the toning, there also has to be time for page design, character design, and research.

There’s a really macho culture in comics. It has, for a long time, celebrated the habit of working yourself to death. People take pride in their long, long hours hunched over drawing tables. Anyone who can’t keep up should get out, is the general wisdom. That complicity with the system helps keep the comics industry the way it is. But in the last few months I’ve seen increasing numbers of artists stepping away from this, to talk about the truths of their lives, the human cost of being asked to work like a machine. It’s one thing to suffer for art out of personal passion, another to institutionalise that process. Last year was tough, but we got through it. Tom could have made the choice to push straight into the next big thing and go along with the story about how you get successful as a comics artist. He could have chosen the short life expectancy, and restricted relationships. He didn’t. Having put heart and soul into the year of the raven’s child, he’s eased off, and we’re going to try and find other ways to make this work.

I’m with John Ruskin on this one: We should not be trying to turn people into machines.

How to empathise with imaginary people

Tom and I are co-creators on a graphic novel series. Volume three has just launched in webcomic form over at www.hopelessmaine.com . For various reasons I’d not looked at it much in the year since Tom finished the art. It came as a bit of a surprise to realise how many real people and settings had crept into this one. The first chapter features the church from Purton, Gloucestershire, fellow comics creator Maxwell Vex, and Canadian Steampunk icon Lee Ann Farruga, more real people will be along later.

It is generally held wisdom with comics that the more realistic the people are, the harder it is to empathise with them. Smiley emoticon faces have the power to be anyone, and this can be a great aid to getting people into the story. Cartoons function in a totally different way to realistic representations, in terms of how they affect the mind of the viewer. From a creative perspective, this raises some really interesting questions about whether we want people getting inside or standing outside the characters.

Alongside that is the issue that the less detailed and individual the faces are, the harder it is to have something visually gorgeous going on. Elegance can be had, but not sumptuousness. You can’t have nuances of emotion in smiley emoticon faces either. The words have to do more of the work.

Hopeless is not a story full of ‘everyman’ characters where the idea is that the reader can slot their own life into the gaps. Although that said, a surprising number of people have cheerfully imagined themselves into islander roles, which is part of why more of the people we know are getting into the books. We know this from www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com and from reader responses. Despite the specific and individual nature of characters, people can get into this. I have theories of course. I always have theories…

Everyman faces work for simple storytelling. They work for uncomplex emotions. If you want a mix of emotions, you need more face with which to express it. You need eyes that can reshape and lips that can move, and a body shape that can express feelings. It isn’t possibly to convey all of the things human bodies and faces can convey without an image able to hold more of those details in the first place.

I think it’s also a consideration that empathy is not transference. You can feel with a person without feeling that you *are* them. I know that many people come to all manner of things just looking for affirming reflections of themselves, but not everyone does. Some people are happy to look outwards, to consider unfamiliar emotions and ideas, to put themselves in shoes that are not their own. If your capacity for empathy depends on being able to see yourself in whoever you’re looking at, then simpler cartooning is your friend. If what inspires you to empathy is seeing someone else’s humanity, then perhaps more involved art isn’t going to alienate you from the story.

Good art and entertaining

“The list of 55 titles, drawn from 98 official nominations, is presented annually at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. The books, recommended for those ages 12-18, meet the criteria of both good quality literature and appealing reading for teens.”

That quote comes from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/booklists/ggnt/2013 and the Young Adult Library Services Association selection of Great Graphic novels 2013. There must have been thousands of potential candidates.
All on its own, that quote would make me very happy. The recognition that good quality creativity that is also accessible and entertaining, should be available, is vital. Dull if worthy books do not get readers excited. Vacuous books… well, I think we’ve established what I think about throw away content. It makes me grumpy. More time spent shouting out the good stuff, the stuff that has content and is also fun and enjoyable, is time well spent, so there’s a list of 55 things that it is well worth waving at teen readers, and people who like teen reads. Do give it a look if you like graphic novels.

We found out about this yesterday, and we found out because we made the list. Hopeless Maine only came out last November, we never expected anything like this kind of attention. It’s startling, and we feel profoundly honoured. We’re also delighted to see Rust and Cowboy – other titles from Archaia – also on that list. Archaia put out unusual books, they aren’t driven by market trends or assumptions about what is ‘in’ this year. They take risks – they took us – and those risks are resulting in kudos and sales. There are enough people out there who want something new and surprising after all. It feels like a huge victory. The comics industry is dominated by DC and Marvel, people in what looks to me like fetish gear, thumping each other. But evidently there is room for other stuff too, and that makes me happy. Diversity is a good thing.

A matter of weeks ago I had run out of hope. The whole business seemed impossible, demoralising, a bit… hopeless. To be recognised as both good art and entertaining is so important to me. I want to do both, be both. I don’t want to write the kind of stuff only a handful of academics could ever be interested in, and at the same time, I don’t want to write the kind of stuff I don’t enjoy reading. I was so close to quitting, because I kept feeling I just couldn’t do it on my terms. 5000 librarians and library workers apparently think otherwise. That’s huge.

I’m in a process of doing some serious rethinking about how, and why, I want to work. I’d reached some decisions that are, in many ways, reinforced by what happened yesterday. I’m not interested in ‘being a professional writer’ I need to do work that is meaningful to me. If I can do that with the writing, excellent. If not, then tutoring, workshops, editing and whatever conventional stuff I can find will be more in the mix. My terms, or not at all. Which leaves me asking the interesting question of what ‘on my terms’ means to me these days. In all the crap and fear and stress, I lost my way. Figuring out what I want is a big part of what I need in place to move forwards. I have some ideas –more on that soon. In the meantime, I just feel a bit vindicated, which was timely, and a lot encouraged, which is helpful.