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Friday, April 17, 2015

Comic Cuts - 17 April 2015

I promised big news this week, so without further ado... I'm shortly to be starting a new job. I'm going back to full-time work with a local magazine publisher editing a trade magazine and, at least to start with, working in-house.

If you're a regular reader you'll know that things have been tight for some time. Bear Alley and Bear Alley Books was financed by what freelance work I could get and it worked for a couple of years. Bear Alley Books was growing quite nicely, although it never made enough for me to live on. Unfortunately, sales have remained steady at a level that won't pay the rent and looking at the figures for the upcoming co-production of the Don Lawrence Scrapbook makes it clear that, even if we sell out the print run, I'm not going to make enough to cover the cost of living for the period I worked on the book.

I've been topping up my earnings from my savings for the last two years but the relentless arrival of bills (rent, council tax, gas, electricity, water, house insurance, phone, etc., etc.) and the need to replace goods (washing machine, DVD player) as they wear out is starting to have a big impact. Add to this the fact that I haven't paid anything into my pension for over a decade and I'm now in my fifties... well, I knew a decision was going to have to be made soon.

I'm not folding Bear Alley or Bear Alley Books. They will, however, have to take a back seat for a couple of months while I find find my feet and adjust to a full-time job. I have more books planned. They'll just take longer to produce. I've always freelanced a little on top of whatever job I've had (where do you think I built up the small fighting fund that has financed Bear Alley Books?) and I imagine that I'll continue to do so. I still have a number of comics' indexes that I need to revise and reissue and new ones that need to be researched and written.

I've also been doing a lot of research towards revising my old The Mushroom Jungle book. I'd love to do a book gathering together some of the fantastic (and sometimes terrible) cover art of those old paperbacks. Running the regular random scans feature every week has forced me to do the leg-work of research and cleaning-up of covers that kind of project demands.

I regularly change tack every five years, so a new challenge isn't something I'm too worried about. In fact, I'm rather looking forward to a change of scenery and having people around me that I can talk to during the day. I might even be able to fit in a holiday, as I've had only one since I started freelancing back in 1990, and that was when the first Gulf War kicked off (January 1991) while I was in Tenerife.

With all this going on, it has been an interesting week!

For starters, it was my birthday and I was planning to take a day off, only to be called in for an interview. I was planning to meet up with Mum the following day, but she had to cry off due to a cold, so I turned that into my day off. And how have I spent my time off? Trying to sort out my accounts and making sure that I can step back into PAYE without needing to go into emergency tax mode.

At the other end of the fun scale, I've been sorting through a load of old books that I want to get rid of. About 400 of them in 17 boxes that I've had sitting in my office for a couple of years. We've signed up for something called the "Sale Trail". Basically, you can pitch up anywhere in town and for a fiver you can be listed on the trail map. We've booked a table near the council buildings which we hope will have a greater footfall than if we were to set up in our garden. It means we have to lug 17 boxes of books across town, but I have a sack barrow and a desire to flog off some duplicates that have been clogging up my office for too long, which will give me strength.

We shall see how I feel on Saturday morning after lugging box after box down the road. Or, potentially worse, wheeling boxes of unsold books back up the hill on Saturday afternoon.

While I was taking a day off, one of Britain's favourite old comics announced the launch of a new series of military graphic novels. D. C. Thomson's Commando has teamed up with Osprey Publishing, a project that "we've been cooking up for a while," according to Commando editor Calum Laird. Here's the press release:
Osprey Publishing (part of Bloomsbury Publishing PLC) and DC Thomson & Co Ltd have joined forces to create eight new graphic war novels consisting of an original, fictional, comic strip of 84 pages coupled with detailed historical information describing the featured conflict, campaign and combatants.
    These exciting, fictional action narratives take place in times of war and feature soldiers, sailors and airmen, exploring themes of courage and friendship against a backdrop of war and adversity. Each strip will be checked for historically accuracy and feature events and situations true to the experiences of the combatants from the actual conflicts across a range of historical periods.
    This new collaboration brings together the story-telling expertise of Commando and the historical authority of Osprey in a brand new fiction series with supporting material for both adults and children. The books will be on sale globally through the Osprey/Bloomsbury distribution network.
    Richard Sullivan, Managing Director, Osprey Publishing said:
    ‘I am very excited to be working with DC Thomson and Commando. I grew up with their comics and their commitment to telling classic war stories remains undimmed. At Osprey we have a hugely enthusiastic customer base and we believe they will love these modern comics telling the stories of battle and conflict.’
    Tim Collins, Head of Brands, Commando Comics said:
    ‘Commando’s stories of action and adventure have been continuously published for over 50 years and we’re really pleased to combine our fictional expertise with the factual strength of the Osprey collections and the huge distribution both here and across the world that Osprey and Bloomsbury can deliver.’
Osprey have previously dipped their toe into the graphic novel pool with the Graphic History series of 48-pagers back in 2006-07. It will be interesting to see how giving some of Commando's authors and artists a little more space to play in works. And will we be seeing some nice Ian Kennedy covers?

Random scans this week are a selection from the works of Nat Karta, one of the best-selling house pseudonyms of the 1950s. Created by John Watson, who went on to edit books for World Distributors, Karta's early novels sold 40,000 a time. As prosecutions of newsagents made paperback publishers and distributors a little more wary, Watson sold the names to Scion, who needed some established names to replace others they had lost to Milestone.

Muir Watson often used silhouettes on their covers, but these are chiefly painted. I'm afraid the quality isn't as good as I normally like as these are from very small scans. But you can see why I think a book collecting some of these old covers together would be a good idea!


  1. I am a new reader of your blog, and I am enjoying it very much. Based on my personal experiences in trying to devote myself to my interests and still make a go of it financially, I am VERY sympathetic to your situation. Hang in there! Is it my imagination, or is it harder to pull in money by freelancing today than it was in 1990? I don't think it's my imagination.

  2. Hope your new job goes well....good news...
    Thanks for all you've done for comic fans so far...

  3. Good luck on the new job, Steve. I'll have to buy that Countdown book of you soon. How much is it again?

  4. Congratulations on your new job! I hope it goes well Steve. Everyone I know is either in their fifties or hitting it - what you are doing makes alot of sense.:)

  5. Kid,

    The Countdown book can be found at the Bear Alley Books web page. It's the third title down.

  6. Good to hear you'll be free from the grinding worry about money (hopefully!) for a while Steve. Good luck! The nice thing about blogs and RSS feeds is that I'll know when you post next!