What goes into making an indie comic book? Publisher Tony Foster takes an in-depth look at producing the 116 page ComicScene Hardback Annual 2021 and some of the thoughts that went into its production. It’s available in print (hardcover) and digital now and to pre order for March 2021 in softcover. Order at GetMyComics
“The Annual took about nine months to put together, the idea sparked during lockdown to produce a series of books featuring top characters from indie comics in all new spin off stories alongside new stories and experiments from established and new creators.”
“I had produced a 300 page softcover annual in 2019 but it had been mainly reprints and new stories from former Atomic alumni (a zine I produced in the early 90’s) and a few new stories from people interested in getting their work published. This time around I wanted to do something slightly European, that you would expect to see in a bookshop. Naturally we think ‘Annual’ but the project could’ve easily come out early January featuring new stories you could pick up easily as a new reader.”
“Charlie Gillespie had done a few covers for ComicScene and won the 21st Century Dan Dare cover competition so when we wanted someone who could capture the skill of a Brian Bolland 2000AD Annual cover he was a logical choice. This cover was probably a bit self indulgent, as the original illustration is one of my all time favourite annual covers. I originally suggested some other characters who stood out more visually for me for the cover but Charlie took it in a different direction which worked too.”
“I dedicated the book to my kids with a wee joke – you will have to get the book to see it. I originally started doing ComicScene in my free time, on the phone, waiting for a kids club to start and finish. Doing the Annual, producing the History of Comics, helping Shift to get into newsagents, trying to raise funds for the projects, market the books and keeping the ComicScene website up to date at the same time started to creep into family time while trying to juggle full time work and everything else. You’ve got to get the right life balance and now we’ve established a look and format for both books things should be easier and I won’t be on the phone as often!
Jim Wilkins did the front piece for the 2019 softcover annual utilising characters from classic comics. This time I thought we’d include the characters from the book. It’s still pretty cool to pimp your own annual with your name. Jim also did our wordsearch again and provided Deja Who too. All Annuals need a wordsearch. Kickstarter funded it alongside Comic subscribers and people who bought the annual. The Burgh design agency in Edinburgh put the book together for us. Mixam printed it. Get My Comics distributed it. All the creators were amazingly professional and easy to work with. It’s a true indie comic book.
The concept of the award winning Alex Automatic is just so 70’s TV show it was a no brainer to feature him in the Annual. This front piece came in and reminded me so much of those Marvel Annual splash pages it just had to feature as the first strip in the Annual.
Captain Cosmic featured in ComicScene and to get a new story produced especially for the Annual was a thrill. Andy’s story and art are wonderful and his Captain Cosmic comics are a joy to read. In a reader survey we did people loved the strips we ran but most wanted to see new stories. That’s one of the reasons how the idea for doing a conic came about.
Geek Girl has such a strong visual and perfect pitch dialogue. It’s quality stands out in the Annual and it’s a perfect short story. I hope the books help promote the comics of all the creators, a nice teaser for comic fans to explore their other titles further. The creators all keep control of their own characters. Who knows – some TV or film producer may read the annual and pick up a character on the back of it. I hope we will be remembered when their first blockbuster come out!
Michael and Phil had a strip in ComicScene which was brilliant. Phil’s art style is a little different here but I wanted some black and white stories to break up the colour, as you’d expect in any classic annual. I thought quite hard about strip positioning in the Annual, trying to keep last reveal pages on the left hand side where we could.
It’s quite hard to write a perfect short story. It’s perhaps a dying art with many creators doing 22+ page and more epics. This Mandy story is a great example of a strong short story with a great character. Well deserved positioning on the front cover too.
Steve Tanner was a big help putting the annual together. I wanted all age stories. I thought it would be great to feature characters who had appeared in their own indie titles, as I’d never seen it done before. I was open to stories that established creators had produced that hadn’t seen the light of day if we could but turnaround was perhaps a little quick for that. Creators could concentrate on producing a comic strip while I did all the promotion and production. Steve knew far more people than I to do introductions. Some people I bottled it because I didn’t think they’d be interested as we only expected/budgeted to sell about 200 copies. Steve and my hit list that met the all age criteria was very similar, even though we maybe missed out approaching some great characters and their creators this time around. We talked about Lady Flintlock but Dick Turpin suited the annual better. Roland Birds artwork is amazing, as it is in their book the Vengeful Shade.
I asked Samuel if we could have a Milford Green short story, as it featured in ComicScene. He pulled out Project Hoax with Dan Butcher instead. I’m not sure if having two Monster Hunters and three Captains in one annual was a good idea but it’s all quality stories so why not?
Colin got his first writing gig for Commando Comic which was a nice little coup for the Annual too! I loved the duo tone artwork for the Annual and the pitch for the story made me laugh.
As we were working with Steve Tanner he also offered Harker that was about to be published by Time Bomb. I had seen some artwork and loved it. This story is great and I’m pleased we included it in the annual as the Harker Graphic Novel is superb.
I read about Jasmine’s work on Broken Frontier and was originally interested in another story by her. Then I saw the Girl-Knight image and was keen to see more. JGV did a video about the creative process which is wonderful to watch. She struggled with the end and although it’s quite abrupt I think anyone who reads it would love to see more.
I love Sarah’s work – she has a unique style and is a great talent. I love this strip and it breaks up the colour work again perfectly, with a lovely palette. We asked the writers to think about a spin off story or the back story of their characters that would appeal to their readers and this hit the mark.
It really does feel odd putting superheroes in a U.K. anthology. Even stranger that we have a passion for superheroes and many of our great writers have written some classic US superhero stories yet don’t have many of our own. Mahoneys has the humour and interaction of a U.K. strip which makes it so good. Fantastic art too. Richard is quite brilliant and helpful too.
Visually Moon is one of the strongest characters in the book. I wanted very character driven stories. I was keen to have all complete stories too – as with all our future anthologies. Plus raise the bar in terms of production – either limited edition collectors hardcover or thick card cover as a cheaper alternative so people can still enjoy the comic. This means the books have a long shelf life – unlike ‘old style’ annuals we won’t discount on price after Christmas. I hope all our books will be kept on a shelf and don’t feel throw away. It’s quite expensive to produce a hardcover book like this with all new material. The kickstarter was quite successful and meant we could accommodate extra pages but I should have kept it to 96 rather than 116 pages. The book would have been tighter and cost less to post. International postage went up during production and its a killer, costing more than the books themselves. ComicScene production was the same. As soon as you got it within budget another curve ball would be thrown at you, such as an extra 1.5% being taken off your cover price at retail. Moon has some fantastic in jokes on comics. I love it and the art is sublime.
Peter wrote this with ComicScene in mind but we didn’t have a place for it at the time. Unfortunately Covid struck and a deal with US comic stores had to go on the back burner. As it went on we knew it would be a struggle to bring the magazine back into stores. Thankfully I found myself looking for a complimentary black and white strip and it fitted the bill perfectly. So it found a home after all.
I wanted to feature some fun strips which we could have scattered across the book. It struck me a Corker ‘supplement’ would perhaps be better. We had run a Captain Wonder strip in ComicScene and after seeing John Farrelly’s cover for the Splank! Free digital issue I thought he’d be perfect to do the cover. We ran the supplement before the end of the book, to break up the full on stories, rather than the end which was the original intention.
During production Ed Doyle and Alan Holloway had the idea to do a picture strip based on a wining short story by primary school age Corbin Webb. Having ran strips in our first annual by the young Drew Marr I jumped at the chance to publish it. I like Alan’s use of dialogue and Ed can really knock out strips very fast. I think he offered five Neil Lithic strips (again originally an offer for ComicScene) but in the end we ran one.
After ComicScene untimely demise I wanted to have Whackoman! in the Annual. It seemed fitting and Marc’s work is certainly of a high quality and always dependable.
Shaman Kane is one of the few strips in the Annual you’d expect to appear in 2000AD, fitting their sci fi / fantasy genre. Pat Mills tried to capture the same 2000AD vibe with SpaceWarp and I thought the connecting storylines in that was pretty clever. I was going for a more New Eagle meets Look-In meets Misty/Jinty meets indie comic with a bit of Cheeky Weekly thrown in through this Annual. So a little of everything but the kitchen sink – but I can see the threads through the finished product. Shaman Kane is another strong character from David. David provided me with visuals for our Kickstarter, that I didn’t even think about, which was really kind of him. I thought the idea of the book and the strong stories would sell it but there are so many competing factors you just don’t take into consideration.
The final story was WESTERNoir which bookended the cowboy/horror fantasy elements in the Alex Automatic at the beginning strip quite nicely. I love the art and this is the kind of comic book I would probably pick up because of it. Throughout the book there is something for everyone’s taste and maybe something that peaks your interest further. It’s very rare that you like everything in an anthology but you hope over 50% is liked and I hope that quality is here. As Dez Skinn said core comic fans will always support what you do but it’s maintaining the causal reader that is key, or you just see a decline in your sales. We might ask readers what their top three favourites were and bring them back next year if the creators are willing and have a story to tell. But hopefully the idea of established character led complete short stories with a few new stories thrown in each volume will be of interest.
I could have put a poster on the back page but I wanted to squeeze as many comics in the book as I could. The idea came during lockdown, of course, and one of the strips that stood out for me during that time was Rachael Smiths online Quarantine Comix. So It seemed fitting to have her do something for the end of the annual that captured this moment and the spirt of her strips.
Producing the annual was a lot of fun and I’m really proud of it. If people like the book and it’s successful we will do another…and another…probably around summer and winter each year. Playing around with ideas, characters and concepts at the moment but enjoying a wee rest for Christmas and New Year while we recharge the batteries.
Hope the Annual is of interest – it’s the perfect gift for all fans of comics. Order at GetMyComics
Also available as part of the monthly Golden Age Membership of the ComicScene Comic Club here until end of December (while stocks last)
Don’t forget to vote for your favourite comics of 2020 in the ComicScene Comics of 2020 Awards here