Like any medium you want to break into, with comics, it’s important to know where the opportunities for aspiring creatives are. So, what’s the state of British comics today?
Go into a comic-book store, and an overwhelming number of the comics on offer will be American: Printed in America, and overseen by editors based in America. In terms of easy contact and accessibility, this is not ideal for anyone living on a tiny, remote island somewhere in the far reaches of the North Atlantic Ocean.
So, instead, you might visit a homegrown store like WHSmiths. Again, many of the comics found here are American reprints, with 2000 AD being the main exception. This was the comic where, in the 1980s, most – if not all – of the brightest stars in UK comic-book history got their first big break. Today, as pretty much the lone survivor of the once-healthy British comics scene, it still represents the quickest route to a professional comic-book career. Unfortunately, however, it seems to rarely publish new writers; its time-honoured vehicle for doing so, the short twist-ending stories known as Future Shocks, having apparently largely disappeared from the magazine’s repertoire.
(For anyone who does want to get a story into 2000 AD, though, check out the ‘Thought Bubble’ convention in Leeds later this year. The magazine’s editors will be there running an X-Factor-style talent show, where, within a given limit, writers get to pitch a Future Shock story. The winning entry will be published in the magazine.)
But fear not! Despite this surface veneer of doom and gloom, there are opportunities and excitements to be found in surprising places.
For starters, while genuine British comics are in short supply, a part of the WHSmith’s magazine-panoply that does seem to be thriving is the children’s section. And in several of these children’s magazines, comics are printed as a regular feature, with their creative talent sourced in the UK. These magazines have a good circulation – some in the region of 50,000 per month – and would make an excellent port of call for any comic scribes looking to break into the business via the automatic cachet of having worked on an established franchise. More than that, if you’re story did address certain issues, you would at least be talking to readers who haven’t already made up their minds (obviously, their infantile brains won’t be able to even notice the sophisticated political, theological, nay, ontological points you’ll be making, but the illusion of making a difference could give you a real warm glow). At the last time of checking, those children’s magazines open to comic script submissions included: Adventure Time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dr Who Adventures (although I believe this is fully booked up until the end of the year) and The Phoenix Magazine.
But more than that, what’s staggering is how easy it is to have a chat, even grab a drink, with some of the top figures in the medium. For instance, David Lloyd, artist of the world-famous V for Vendetta, attends a monthly open-to-the-public meeting in Brighton called ‘Cartoon County‘ – a superb series of live interviews with comic book creators – and is down-to-earth, approachable, and generous with his time. In fact, he’s also the mastermind behind new digital comic anthology Aces Weekly, another potential place for new writers to get published.
Then there’s pre-eminent comic critic Paul Gravett, author of 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die. He seems lovely – nowhere near as aggressive as that title suggests – and often comes to an informal, monthly meeting at the Southbank Centre (details here).
Then there’s John Totleben, my favourite comic artist of all time, who just happened to be at a local comic convention, where anyone could go up to his table and talk to him.
And then there’s Kieron Gillen, writer of Marvel’s flagship comic Darth Vader, who recently did a free event on his creative process in Peckham Library.
You get the picture. The point is, the British comics scene seems to have an amazing, supportive network, where it’s not hard to meet and learn from some of the creators positioned near the top of the industry pyramid. Whether this is because they’re good souls, or because maltreatment from the industry they’ve devoted their lives to has left them with insufficient funds to distance themselves from the great unwashed masses, is something every aspiring creator will have to judge for themselves. Whatever the case, it’s good news, so I’d earnestly recommend taking advantage of these, and similar, social groups and events.
Finally, beyond getting published and meeting other creatives, it’s now easier than ever to build a portfolio by making your own comics. Artists looking for assignments are only ever an email address away. As for where to find them, the anthologies FutureQuake and Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel are great places to start, with all of the artists’ contact details at the back of the publications.
(Personally, I offer £40 a page, as it’s what I can afford. This puts some artists out of my price range, but it’s still enough to get some fantastic work.)
And of course, as a side note, conventions are always a useful spot to meet editors in person, and perhaps get a gig or at least open up the possibility of that happening in the future. The full list of UK & Ireland comic conventions for 2016 is here.
Well that, my faceless and anonymous friends, is pretty much that. There you have it: the bulk of the info I’ve amassed over the past three months of trying to progress in this wayward bastard medium, distilled into one ten-minute article. Hopefully useful for you; vaguely depressing for me.
Good luck with all of your creative endeavours. And if there are any artists reading this who would like to collaborate, just drop me a message on the link below. See you in the funny pages.
About the author
Josh Spiller is a published writer of comics, short stories, and scripts, and is currently looking for representation for his first novel. He’s also interacted with the “real world” by reviewing restaurants and theatre pieces for Flux Magazine and The London Word, and is worried that this bio is too self-centred. You can judge his work here, joshspillercomics.tumblr.com; and his very soul here – @JoshSpiller.