Visitors to MCM Comic Con may merely see the convention as a bi-yearly chance to have a little bit of geeky fun. But to independent artists and comic authors, it means a chance at breaking out into the mainstream, and to live their dreams.

Twice every year, MCM Comic Con plays host to a section quaintly called the ‘Comic Village’. Much like the image it conjures up, the Comic Village is home to artists from all over England (and sometimes even from further out in Europe), hawking their wares and hoping to find new fans. As much as self-publishing is a creature that often eludes definition due to the individualistic nature of the profession, there’s clearly one thing that brings all these artists of many different styles and nationalities together – the chance to exhibit at MCM London Comic Con, the biggest artist gathering in Europe. We took to the stalls to get some insight into several artists’ experiences with independent publishing, and what the convention meant to them in a professional capacity.

 

Alex Norris: creator and artist of ‘Webcomic Name

Give us a brief introduction to yourself and your art.

My name’s Alex Norris. I live in London; have done for about 2 years. I’ve been doing comics full time for about 3 years. I used to do a comic series called Dorris McComics, which was a very meta, very weird webcomic. Now for the last year and I have been making Webcomic Name, which is the one more people know. It’s the same joke every time! I also do a series called Hello World for Webtoons, a South Korean webcomic app.

 

Have you travelled far for the convention?

No, no, I live in East London.

 

Why did you choose to exhibit at Comic Con?

I don’t really do conventions very often, in the past I’ve just been focused on making comics. But recently it’s been really nice going to conventions, meeting other creators, meeting fans and stuff, making comics I made into other stuff. I guess a really big one like this means you get to see a very broad audience, whereas, I also went to ELCAF (East London Comic Art Fair), which is small and intense and where you meet other illustrators. But I like it here because you meet a much broader audience.

 

Do you find that it helps improve your exposure as well? Seeing as your comic, Webcomic Name, is a Facebook phenomenon, do you find that being here at Comic Con also helps?

A lot of it is, I think, people see it; whereas it used to be for exposure in itself, I used to go with Dorris McComics and people would see it and go, “oh this is cool”, and pick up a thing, and maybe I’ll have another reader. Now it tends to be like… most of it is people seeing it. But if they’ve seen you in real life, then they’ll be like, “Oh that thing I see; I have a relationship with it now, and it’s not just randomly on the internet.” So I think it solidifies relationships with readers. There’s a lot of webcomic people who I, or comics in general, where I was like “Oh their stuff is pretty good” but when I met them I was like, “Oh I get their stuff now, I understand where it comes from” and you have a more solid version of it.

 

What are some trying times you’ve experienced with regards to independent publishing?

Because I’ve done a few webcomics before this, I definitely set this up to be all the things I learned; and all the problems I faced in the previous one, I was trying to correct or make into a good thing with Webcomic Name. I don’t follow a strict update schedule, which I think people fall into. Instead I tend to update whenever I can, and as much as I can, which means sometimes I’m churning out stuff. And I guess sometimes with Webcomic Name it’s really important that I keep hold of where the comic is going, because it’s more of a series rather than individual comics. I always like to think about where it’s going and the general impression it will have. So I’ve always got to think ahead, for example, of where will this running gag go in the future? And if I have ideas, when will I release them? For example, Halloween is coming up, so – what am I going to do for Halloween this year? What am I going to do for April Fools? That requires a bit of planning and organisation, which I find difficult.

Apart from that I think that a lot of things on the Internet is quite easy. The only thing that’s difficult, really, is that there’s no rules on how to do things. The only thing that’s difficult is making money – a classic thing – and I think that I’ve been lucky that when I started this series I was already making money as a comic artist, so that wasn’t really much of a problem and I knew I would be okay. Rather than trying to break into it, now it’s more like I’m trying to change how I make comics into something better.

Alex’s comic, ‘Webcomic Name’, is a relatable three-panel series involving blobs re-enacting daily situations all ending with a simple ‘oh no’. Read it here, or find Alex on Twitterand support his work through his Patreon.

 

Hamish Steele: author and artist of ‘Deadendia‘ and ‘Pantheon

Give us a brief introduction to yourself and your art.

I’m Hamish Steele. By day, I’m an animation director, currently working on a few kids TV animation shows and pitches and stuff in development. It really influences my comic work, at the moment I mostly try to sell Deadendia, which kinda has the vibe of a Cartoon Network show as a comic. It’s about a bunch of young queer people working in a theme park, which is haunted. I also do an adult comic called Pantheon – adult in just that it has a lot of naughty words and stuff like that, and it is a very faithful adaptation of Egyptian mythology with everything left in.


Have you travelled far for the convention?

No, I live in Walthamstow in London. A little far away in terms of “being in the same city” standards, but no, not that far.


Why did you choose to exhibit at Comic Con?

I always think of the Comic Village as the big event for our kind of scene; the indie comics people. It’s what we get all our stock ready for, and the other conventions is where I sell the excess stock that I don’t sell. I think it’s the footfall in this place. There are some indie comic specific conventions, like Thought Bubble, and that’s really interesting because people go there for the comics, but here you end up being some people’s very first indie comic. Some people come for the mainstream stuff and don’t really realise there’s so much more to comics than just Marvel and DC and other popular things, and there’s a whole indie crowd that they don’t really realise. I like getting the people who don’t really know your world.

 

Do you find that it helps improve the exposure you get?

Yeah, quite often I have people coming back the year after saying “Oh, I got something” or they say, “Someone got me this as a present”, so it really does, I suppose. I think also I get people coming up to my table for a lot of different reasons. So, some people have seen my animations, some people have seen my comics, and some people have seen I do a podcast and things like that. Quite often at Comic Con you get people who don’t really realise that you’re a real person in some ways, like, “Oh you’re here!” they say. Quite often people assume if you put work online that you’re American or you wouldn’t be here, so you get a lot of people excited – “Oh I’ve seen your stuff online and I can buy it physically!” – and things like that.

 

Like a relationship of sorts with your readers?

Yeah, I don’t get many people who are huge fans of me and come up because they love my stuff online. It’s not like people get tickets here to come and see me. Usually it’s people who’ve seen my stuff, or they do follow me, and they don’t really put two and two together that I’m a person who sells my work. [Deadendia] is based on an animation I did; I made that with two other people in my bedroom, but most people think that it was made by some big animation studio and it was made by a big committee and a huge team of animators. So they’re a bit surprised that the person who made that is just sat here trying to sell the books.

 

Do you attend other conventions regularly? Are you a touring artist?

Yeah, I always go to Thought Bubble, which is basically the Comic Village as a whole convention, in Leeds. I sometimes do Bristol Art and Zine Fair, which is tiny, but it’s near where my mum lives. I’ve done a couple of MCMs in other places, Birmingham and Glasgow, but obviously travel and hotels cut into my costs a bit. I also do a convention called Nine Worlds, which isn’t really a vendors type of convention, it’s more about media discussion panels, but they have a small vendors hall. I tend to be one of the only two people selling comics there, it’s usually like merchandise and jewellery or other books, so I tend to do quite well there.

 

Would you consider yourself an independent artist or self-published, because Pantheon is a published book?

Pantheon is published, but still by quite an indie publisher. Everything else on my table is self-published and Pantheon was originally self-published. So I guess I’m a little bit part of both worlds. I have contemplated getting a vendor’s table or other things, but I feel like Comics Village is more where I belong. I don’t make much fanart so I mostly try to sell my own books.

 

What have your experiences been with regards to self-publishing/independent publishing?

I’ve had mostly good experiences. Publishers don’t really want to see ideas for books, they want to see a book that’s already made. It’s a lot easier to believe they can trust in you if the book is already done. Maybe in the future I can pitch ideas and get books that way. But for now, I had to self-publish myself and then show [publishers] books, and they took that and turned it into [Pantheon] and got it printed and into shops. The money in comics isn’t the best thing in the world. I pretty much spent all the money they gave me for [Pantheon] on rent straight away, which is also a sad thing about living in London. Hopefully royalties for these are on their way.

I guess the thing that is slightly annoying though is that, now this is published, I have to buy the books off them, which costs quite a lot. They only gave me 10 free copies, so for every convention I have to buy a bunch, and I don’t get much of a discount on them. It’s a lot more exposure, but in terms of Comic Village, it’s a little bit annoying.

 

‘Pantheon’ and ‘Deadendia’ are out now via Nobrow Press. Find Hamish Steele on Twitter, or on his official website.

 

Marvin, Marion Leblanc, and Blop: webcomic artists, animators, and illustrators

Give us a brief introduction to yourselves and your art. 

Marvin: I go by the name Marvin on the Internet, and I do the comic Humour Me. I publish it online on Tapas and Webtoon. This is my first time as an exhibitor here. I also work as an animator.

Marion: We all work in animation, actually! My name is Marion, and this is also my first Comic Con in London. I do the comic The Old House On Lewis Street that you can also read on Tapas, or my personal website.

Blop: Hi, I’m Blop, author of the comic Backdoor. I also work in animation, and this is also my first MCM in London.

 

You travelled all the way from Paris to get here. Why choose Comic Con in London, in particular?

Marvin: In France, people don’t want to buy original comics, in short. There’s a lot of fanart at conventions. Maybe I’m exaggerating when I say they don’t want to buy original comics, but they definitely buy them far less. There’s a lot more interest in England and the rest of Europe when it comes to original comics and indie authors.

Marion: There is a “no fanart” policy here, so that really helps.

Marvin: Also, all our comics are in English. Marion’s and Blop’s are translatable into French, but mine isn’t, so I just can’t really do French conventions.

 

Do you find that being here at Comic Con is helping you get more exposure for your work and finding new fans?

Marvin: I think we’ve got different people. The ones who are looking for comics online aren’t necessarily the same as the ones trawling through conventions to pick up indie issues. I think that’s good for exposure because you get a wider range of people.

Marion: It’s nice, you get to meet people. As for visits to the website and stuff, it’s a little early to tell, but I’ll check over the weekend to see if we have new subscribers; to see if we’ve created contact beyond what we do on the table.

Blop: I think you get more exposure online but it’s a different type of crowd.

Marvin: What’s interesting is that you get to see the kind of people who are interested. My comic has the theme of children in it, and I thought that mostly girls would be buying it, but it turns out that a lot more men than I expected were interested in it here. So that was surprising, and I was happy to know that.

Marion: It’s become clear to me too from this that my target audience is a little bit older than, for instance, Marvin’s. I had an intuition about that but now I know for sure.

 

Do you go to other conventions regularly?

Blop: Marion and I used to do some conventions in France with a group of other artists, but we stopped because it was mostly fanart and there wasn’t much original stuff.

Marvin: This is my first convention as an exhibitor. I guess we’ll be coming back if we can – booking a table was already hard enough; we tried to book two tables originally and only got one. Maybe we’ll go somewhere else in England too, I don’t know!

 

What has your experience been like in self-publishing, so far?

Blop: For me, it was nice to get a pretty large audience right away, and you get to communicate a lot with your audience. It’s very different to if you only sell print. You have comments [on your webcomic], and people who can talk to you on Twitter.

Marion: Honestly, I do struggle, maybe because I have the worst instincts when it comes to self-promotion. Or maybe that’s because my target audience is older, and there are a lot of pretty young people on the Internet that are interested in webcomics. It goes slowly for me, but I’m not desperate yet, I guess!

Marvin: I really like the fact, like Blop said, that you have a lot of communication with people; knowing what they think page by page; what grabbed their attention and what they understood. It’s really surprising as to how much people pick up – you put in one tiny hint and you expect no one to get it, but everyone is like “Yes! I see what you did!” and that’s really great. I found a lot more success than I thought, but my comic is really easy to get into because it consists of familiar tropes, so people know what they’re getting into when they begin. I’ve been really happy with the response, and I’ve been happy to meet people from the websites here at the convention! That’s a good experience too.

 

Marvin’s comic, ‘Humour Me’, is a heartwarming family drama about a sister trying to take care of her brother in the absence of their parents. Read it on Tapas and Webtoon, or find Marvin on Instagram and Twitter. 

Marion’s comic, ‘The Old House on Lewis Street’, follows a young sculptor and his brushes with the supernatural. Read it on Tapas, or find Marion on her website or Instagram. 

Blop’s comic, ‘Backdoor’, is a techno-thriller revolving around an aspiring journalist who uncovers some strange events. Read it on Tapas and Webtoon, or find Blop on Twitter.

 

Tom Sparke: illustrator and cartoonist

Give us a brief introduction to yourselves and your art. 

My name is Tom Sparke. I do irreverent fun art, mostly around jokes, puns, fun characters… that sort of stuff. [I make books] for children, and all ages comics, and other sorts of books.

 

Have you travelled far for the convention?

Today I’m down from Cambridge, because I’m based in Cambridge. Generally I only do Birmingham and London based events, and Cambridge ones, when they come up, which is about once a year.

 

Why did you choose to exhibit at Comic Con?

Oh, this is the big one! MCM London is the absolute best one for us. If you talk to anybody in the Comic Village, they will say this is the biggest one of the year. Thought Bubble is another really huge one, especially for comic creators, but this one is the three day event; it’s the real long slog and it’s where everyone wants to be.

 

Do you find that it helps your exposure as a children’s author, being at Comic Con?

Oh hugely! Absolutely hugely. You get lots of different audiences. People who like comics naturally anywhere will always be drawn to that sort of stuff; people who are here for other things as well will wander through, sign up to the mailing list, see the cards, that sort of stuff. Yeah, you get a little bit of a way in; a little more exposure that way.

 

What else do you do to promote your art besides touring around and going to conventions?

I try a bit online; try to keep up a social media presence on Instagram and Twitter and those sorts of channels as well. Other than that, it’s just trying to get as much as you can on the Internet and keep producing the work and getting it out there.

 

Do you consider yourself an independent artist?

Oh yeah absolutely, I do work for other people as well, but all this work here today is self-published.

 

What has your experience been with self-publishing?

It’s hard! Especially once you’re starting out, it’s really difficult to make a name for yourself and get known and get your work seen out there. But things like social media, coming here, meeting people, you know chatting with lots of people, it leads to other things. Once your work’s out there in a home, lots of other people can see it, and the more places you can get it, so it sort of has a multiplying effect. So it’s a really nice social thing to do, so it’s fun while you’re doing it as well!

 

Tom Sparke is an illustrator and cartoonist from Cambridge, UK. Find his work on his website or follow him on Twitter.

 

Natalia Batista; Sam Berglund and Nora Leirnes: manga authors and artists

Give us a brief introduction to yourselves and your art.

Natalia: My name is Natalia Batista, and I’m from Sweden. We’re all from Sweden; we travelled here just for London Comic Con. I am a Swedish manga artist, and I’m also a teacher at a comic art school where Sam goes to school.

We decided we wanted to come here and sell our books. I do Swedish manga. I started a story called Mjau, which is about cats. ‘Mjau’ means ‘meow’ in Swedish, and the book is about cats that look like kids, but are actually small kittens. It’s episodic slice-of-life humour, and stories about cats.

Sam: [Nora and I] do a comic together called Come Queer With Me. I’m the artist, and Nora’s the writer. Come Queer With Me is a dystopian sci-fi queer story about a gay revolution in a future where being queer is banned.

 

You guys have travelled very far to get here. Why choose to exhibit at Comic Con of all places?

Natalia: This is the biggest convention closest to Sweden – I think it’s five times bigger than the biggest one we have in the whole of Scandinavia. We have some comic conventions in Stockholm, but I think they’re a fifth of the size of MCM Comic Con. Also, most of us in Sweden know English. We’ve actually met a lot of Swedish people here, so it feels like we’re home! But yes, we’ve done our comics in both English and Swedish from the beginning, so no extra translation was needed to come here – whereas if we went to Germany, for example, we’d have to find a German translator.

 

Do you find that being here at Comic Con is helping you get more exposure for your work and finding new fans?

Natalia: I think so. This is our first time here, so we’re still learning how it works here and we’re trying to analyse what to do the next time we come back here. We definitely want to come back!

Sam and Nora: I think it’s the same for us. We do want to come back.

 

Do you travel outside of Sweden for a lot of other conventions, or do you just travel for London Comic Con?

Natalia: I’ve been working with comics for a little longer [than Sam] – for ten years – and I’ve been to Germany, Italy, Lithuania… but not to France. I wish I could go to France one day, but the problem lies with the language. English [material] isn’t that popular in France. When we went to Germany, they didn’t even want to touch our books because they were in English. So I’d highly recommend that anyone going to Germany translate their books.

Sam: For Nora and I, this is our first convention outside of Scandinavia. We’ve been to Denmark, but that hardly counts!

 

Do you have any future plans to branch further out into Europe?

Natalia: Absolutely! I’m trying to create as many projects as possible – I have one called Sword Princess Amaltea that I’ve sold to publishers in Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany, and America. So I’m going to go travelling next year to more countries. I think it’ll be fun; the convention scene is kinda similar but still different in all countries, and that’s interesting.

(to Sam) You’re looking for a publisher, aren’t you?

Sam: Yeah, we are! We’re just going everywhere and trying to find publishers. We’ll be publishing our next chapter in December, so hopefully that’s more substance that we can use to find someone. We’re planning to go to MoCCA (the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art Festival) in New York and Toronto Comic Con next year too.

 

What has your experience been like in self-publishing, so far?

Sam: We’re just publishing on a really small scale – for each convention we just print some fanzines up and that’s it. It’s pretty easy. I find that it seems scarier to have a publisher, because that way someone else is going to do the printing and all that stuff… and I like to know what papers I’m using.

Natalia: Usually you can suggest things to your publisher, actually. But the biggest thing with publishers is that you don’t know the numbers. Here in the Comic Village we can keep track of how much we sell, how much we earn, what people like and how many people like our stuff… it’s harder when you have a publisher and they deal with all the sales, because then you really don’t know who your main target is and who’s coming up to buy your books. It’s a good learning experience to be here.

 

Natalia – you’re still self-published, but technically not for much longer, since your manga Sword Princess Amaltea is going to be published by Tokyopop next year. Has it been a long road to get here?

Natalia: It was. I started off self-publishing; I did a lot of fanzines and another ten-year jubilee anthology for Nosebleed Studios – we’re a publishing house in Sweden made of six artists who all do Swedish manga. There are no publishers in Sweden who actually dare touch manga artists. I don’t know why; I think it’s a generational issue, they’re too old and don’t really know what manga is about. But we travel to lots of manga conventions, and conventions for kids, and we know what they want. It’s easier for us to self-publish in this way than to try and get into a publishing house.

 

So it gives you plenty of freedom to do what you want? 

Natalia: Yeah! But it also comes with a lot of work. We started from scratch and had to re-invent the wheel – how do you get your books into libraries? You’ve got to learn everything. That’s the biggest issue.

 

That’s very impressive, though.

Natalia: It takes a long time. That’s why it’s a ten-year jubilee – it took us ten years to get this far!

 

What has it been like working with Tokyopop so far?

Natalia: The American and German versions [of Tokyopop] are very different. I worked with the German publishers in 2010. The Americans have a different style. I signed my book to them because I told them I didn’t want them to have any international rights, I only wanted them to have American rights for the English volumes, and they said, ‘Fine.’ I think they had a big situation during the financial crisis in America and learned a lot from that – I think what’s happening now in America with the manga publishing industry is that they’re rising from the dead and reinventing themselves, and a lot of them are beginning to realise that they can’t fool artists any more, so they have to put up good deals. I think I got a good deal! And I’ve talked to other manga artists in Europe – we’re starting to talk more like a union; talking payments and contracts, and I think that’s important.

 

Natalia Batista is a manga artist, illustrator, and teacher, as well as a part of the Nosebleed Studio art collective. Find her on Instagram or on her official website.

Sam Berglund and Nora Leirnes make up Studio Dhuppi. Find them on Facebook or Instagram.


Image: EJ Oakley

EJ Oakley
When EJ Oakley isn’t shedding bitter tears over her law degree or loitering near Jeremy Bentham’s mummified corpse, she enjoys immersing herself in music, film and TV, art, and video games. She owns one too many baseball jerseys.

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