HATED IN THE NATION: Dead Singers Society IV now available to pre-order, plus “PLAN A/PLAN B” coming November 2018

What a week! Thought Bubble is solidly behind us now, so time to look, once again, to the future. Onwards!

Dead Singers Society IV

I’m delighted to inform you that I will be featured in the forthcoming Good Comics anthology, Dead Singers Society IV. It’s available to pre-order here and is 60 pages of some extraordinary talents, so I was absolutely delighted to be included. 

 Da Song z0ne

Da Song z0ne

Good Comics put out a call recently for artists/writers to pitch work for the fourth (and apparently final) instalment of Dead Singers Society. The premise is that each contributor is given two pages max to either write or draw about a dead singer of their choosing. The only proviso, as far as I was aware, was that you could not cover somebody already featured in a prior edition.

Many of the people who sprung to mind for me were, understandably, taken; I was equally surprised by who wasn’t taken (D Boon, my first choice, was gone, only to look down the list and see that Buddy Holly, for instance, was not). Cobain and co (the usual suspects) were all gone, but after a little thinking, a light bulb went off; I decided to illustrate a short biocomic on G.G. Allin.

Why I Picked G.G. Allin

 G.G. Allin.

G.G. Allin.

 For those not familiar with G.G. Allin, he was a punk-rock frontman (G.G. Allin & The Murder Junkies), whose “main” compilation record, Hated In The Nation, is definitely worth a listen for people with allied tastes (if you like Black Flag, Misfits, Germs etc. it’s worth a go). Most people who attended G.G. Allin shows did not get to hear much of his repertoire, however; he is, in fact, most famous for his live performances, in which he would grace the stage in a white jock-strap (which would inevitably come off over the course of the show), typically defecate on the stage, and beat up his fans. He would punch them, they would punch him, he would wrestle with them and drag them on the stage, and they would all be rolling around in poop and blood. The band carried on to the best of their ability, but by this point in the shows it was largely just incidental music. 

 Hated In The Nation (1998).

Hated In The Nation (1998).

Video footage of G.G. Allin concerts is certainly something; I’ve attended some “rough” shows, but I have never seen anything like a G.G. Allin show, and hopefully never will. A mixture of Tom Hardy’s Bronson and Charles Manson, covered in homemade tattoos, G.G. Allin had the look of a caged animal in a lot of his videos (and I watched a lot of videos of G.G. in the research phase of the piece I did). Some people in the audience clearly came with the expressed intent of getting into it with Allin, as some concerts do not make it more than a minute in before G.G. is fully nude and engaging in quite direct fistfighting with members of the audience (who seem to be enjoying the process; I sometimes wonder if these people, now in their 50s or older, think back fondly on the time G.G. Allin beaned them with a microphone and smeared turds on them). Venues would, almost invariably, pull the plug before the show had finished; perhaps thinking this would placate Allin, much as a towel over a bird’s cage convinces them it is night-time (this seldom worked on Allin). He would stalk around, nude, scowling, covered in blood and faeces, before the crowd was inevitably driven back and the show brought to a halt. Allin was no stranger to county jails. Shows would be cancelled or moved, but the G.G. Allin machine seemed almost impervious to systematic shunning; he remained in high demand until his death (Hated In The Nationfeatures a section of his answer machine cassette, in which he is offered show after show, including a support for the Dead Kennedys; one promoter, obviously aware of the connotations Allin’s name may bring, asked him to lie at the door if asked who he was).

  G.G. Allin with a young Jon “Speedo” Reis, frontman of my eternal favourites Rocket From The Crypt.

G.G. Allin with a young Jon “Speedo” Reis, frontman of my eternal favourites Rocket From The Crypt.

G.G. Allin died of a drug overdose after a show in 1993. His brother arranged an open-casket funeral for Allin, who had received no cosmetic or hygiene treatment from the mortician; his face puffy and red, Allin lay on a folding table in the middle of a living room, dressed in his trademark jockstrap and leather jacket, still caked in whatever was on him during his final show. People poured whiskey into his mouth and rubbed his head. I know this, because his funeral was filmed, and is also on YouTube (as “The Final Hellride”). His tombstone had to be removed because die-hard fans would routinely urinate and defecate on it, thinking it fitting tribute to a man who had seemingly dedicated his life to rounding up bored punks and rolling around in his droppings with them. Such was the life and times of G.G. Allin. RIP in peace.

G.G. Allin was not a nice man; his list of convictions is unpleasant reading, and my piece on him in DSS4 is not intended to venerate or revere him. I did wonder if G.G. would be suitable subject matter, but I think with fabled figures like G.G. Allin (not that there’s many), you’re ultimately dealing largely with myth rather than man. Allin’s legacy is so absurd, his on-stage persona so repulsive that it has rendered Allin impervious to hyperbole; it is impossible to overstate how much of a mess his live shows were, or to exaggerate the extent of his villainy. I could have picked somebody else, of course I could have. But as the legend of G.G. Allin is so captivating, and has so thoroughly pervaded branches of U.S. punk rock, I couldn’t resist the temptation to try and twist it into an entertaining comic.

 An excerpt from my comic, “Hated In The Nation: The Story of G.G. Allin”.

An excerpt from my comic, “Hated In The Nation: The Story of G.G. Allin”.

If you do pick up the compilation, I hope you enjoy it.

Other Business: New Release for 2018

I announced on Twitter the other day that I have a new book coming out. I am happy to report that my original report is still true.

The comic is called “PLAN A” and “PLAN B”. It has two titles on purpose. More will be shared about the exact nature and mechanics of Plan A/Plan B nearer its November release, but for now enjoy this sample art.

 Sample art from “Plan A/Plan B”.

Sample art from “Plan A/Plan B”.

The Floating Hand is still being worked on, but – with Adrift, Thought Bubble, and now this – has been pushed to the back end of the year. There will come a time when work must cease on my first graphic novel (particularly as the script for my second – which is substantially longer and more involved than The Floating Hand – has largely been written already, and will have to commence at some point). When I will have to down tools, and let it out into the wider world. But that time is not now.

As things stand, I’m fairly happy with the 2018 catalogue. I’ve released two one-shots (Adrift and Bald, both of which got kind reviews), have another coming, and am on the home stretch with a hundred-page graphic novel. Could have done more, but eh. Got to make time for yourselves lads.

In Conclusion

-      Please buy Dead Singers Society IV here.

-      New book coming soon.

-      Please buy that too.

-      G.G. Allin wasn’t very nice

Thanks,

John

Thought Bubble & My Rookie Year

Well, here we are then. Our first Thought Bubble is in the bag. The show I’ve wanted to do for the best part of a decade, over in the blink of an eye. I am now back in my house, near Swansea, with a cup of tea and the biggest convention of my “career” thus far in the rear view mirror. Let’s try our best to make sense of the show, the year that preceded it, and what it all means. Easy.

Thought Bubble 2018

What can I say about Thought Bubble that somebody else won’t have already said? It’s the big leagues of indie comics; small press tastemaker and impresario Sarah Harris (of Swindon’s Incredible Comics) once said that Thought Bubble is where you go to “arrive”; to announce your presence on the scene. A lot of people were making that announcement this year, including us (me and my wife, who is my salesperson and spokesperson while I’m busy drawing or scowling).

IMG_4530.JPG

 Thought Bubble looks, superficially, like other conventions, but it is not like other conventions. On its face, the process of getting to Thought Bubble was identical to the CICE and True Believers processes – we applied early, sent in some JPGs and text, then we turned up with comics and a roulette wheel. There was a folding table and some chairs, and nearby people were putting up those wire print holders that you clip together. Same old. But, as we soon learned, Thought Bubble is unlike anything else we’d encountered previously.

 I knew Thought Bubble was big, but I had no real concept of its breadth and scale until I saw it all laid out, taking over a large portion of the city centre. The marquee we were in, alone, would have been the largest comic convention I’ve ever exhibited at, before you consider it was one of four venues. Thought Bubble is almost too much, but of course if you’re into comics there’s probably no such thing as too much. I had grand plans to see so many people, almost all of which were lost to the blur of the event (except for Tony Esmond, Todd Oliver, and Sarah Millman, and even then I didn’t even get to see at her at her actual table; I bumped into her purely by chance in the street). If you want to experience Thought Bubble, don’t get a table. You can either be at it or in it, and never the twain shall meet.

 The mid-con party was a godsend in that regard, and it was a real pleasure to talk shop with other exhibitors while watching a flamboyant German attempting pistol squats to Boney M’s “Rasputin” in full cosplay. In fact, of all the things that happened in Leeds this weekend, I think I enjoyed the mid-con get-together more than anything. It’s so rare you get to really talk to other people doing this sort of thing – comics is, by nature, an isolationist pursuit, and even if you’re tabling next to good people (as we, fortunately, have done every time so far – this time with Paul Moore, a true gent and a talented man) you never really get to talk. I managed to get some good conversations in with Jon Laight, fellow weird comic producer Todd Oliver, and Andy Barron (whose work is so unique it looks like it was produced off-planet, a distant civilisation’s take on sequential art). And I saw the pistol squats. Great party, cheers lads.

 In regard to the actual show itself, I’m probably one of the worst people to write about Thought Bubble, because I saw fuck all of the actual show. We had so much fun - we met lots of great people, saw friends from shows past, Lauren met somebody off the Bake Off (I don’t watch it but she seemed very nice) - but it was just so hectic we couldn’t get a sense of what the punters experienced. All I can really tell you is how we did as exhibitors, as rookie exhibitors with a half-table in a marquee large enough to accommodate several hundred of the most talented indie comic artists in the country.  

How Did We Do?

I went to Thought Bubble feeling relatively conflicted in regards to expectations. What would low sales mean? What would high sales mean? Would we sell anything at all? Would we be kicked ceremoniously in the arse with a big pointed boot if we didn’t meet quota? No way to know. Had to just go there and see what happened. I had advantages here that I hadn’t had at our first show at True Believers – we’d had some experience, and some success, and we had the roller banner, at once repulsing and attracting, a cursed beacon luring punters towards it against their will.

It’s impossible to deduce your standing in comics from any one show, but if there’s one thing I learned from Thought Bubble, it is that any lessons you have learned from other shows do not apply there. Thought Bubble is a different animal; the punters look the same as the punters elsewhere, but they are not the same. They will do what other punters do – look at the roller banner with either amusement or disgust, pick up a comic to a gruesome page before sidling away, the usual – but these are not the people we encountered in Cardiff, Cheltenham, or Swindon. At smaller shows, we sold a lot of bumper packs (complete sets of my entire back catalogue, with a sketch, for a tenner). We offered a very similar package at Thought Bubble, and we priced competitively as we always do (or at least I feel we do). But the vast majority of money that came over the table was either for a Death Roulette on its own (£5, and fine by me – it’s the highest margin item on the table, considering I’m going to be at the table anyway and I genuinely love doing them) or a single issue, typically Adrift or one of the other shorter minis (Hell– my £1 mini-comic – was the breakout star).

We put this down to the sheer crushing weight of the competition; whereas a £10 pack of comics may seem like a good deal at a smaller show, at a show the size of Thought Bubble the smart play is to get a little taste off everybody. We’ll be making sure we’ve got more little things for sale next time, and I would definitely recommend anybody thinking about Thought Bubble to make sure you have plenty of “easy pickups” – badges, short comics for cheap etc. It also helps if you have something unique, which we will come to shortly.

We didn’t quite break even – nor, frankly, did I expect to; how could we? We’d driven from Swansea and spent two nights in a hotel, and then there was the cost of the table on top. But we came closer to breaking even than I would have imagined; very close indeed. Especially considering: 

-      I’m still a no-name, in the grand scheme of things (though some people did seek me out to pick up Adrift based on good reviews they’d read, and I signed my first few honest-to-goodness autographs for people who don’t realise my comics are actually worth lessif they’re signed). 

-      What an honour it is for anybody to spend anything at your table at an event like that. Considering the exhibitor list was essentially a who’s who of UK indie talent, I know how lucky we were to have made one red penny. I wouldn’t have bought anything from me if I’d been a visitor at that show, for fuck’s sake.

If you bought from us this weekend, even if it was just a badge, or you just took a business card or talked to us for a minute, I’m very grateful. I’m especially grateful if you joined the 2018 class of Death Roulette. 

Death Roulette

For those who aren’t aware, Death Roulette is my signature convention sketch game; we bring a small toy roulette wheel, and each of the 37 numbers corresponds to an improbable mode of death that I keep hidden under the table. You pay £5, spin the wheel, I take a good look at you, and you come back in 10 minutes to find out how you died. 

We welcomed an all-time record number of people to the Death Roulette hall of fame at Thought Bubble; nearly 30 people elected to be mangled, crushed, decapitated, stabbed, shot, frozen, impaled, or otherwise maimed. I love doing Death Roulette portraits, and thankfully everybody so far has seemed happy with the grim vision of their own demise they’ve received. Here’s some of my favourites from Thought Bubble.

Death Roulette has been a godsend at conventions; it’s gotten conversations started and it’s driven comic sales (either from people “upgrading” to a bumper pack that includes the portrait and all the comics, or people getting a sense of what’s inside the comics from their portrait). Out of respect to those brave enough to take a blind punt on their own demise this year, I’ve decided to draw a line under the 2018 class of Death Roulette, in that any deaths that were drawn this year will never be repeated. If you took part in Leeds, or Cardiff, Cheltenham, or Swindon, thank you so much. You are more handsome than god and braver than the troops.

In Conclusion

Thought Bubble has been a long time coming for me; I may have had the highest ratio of “years planning on exhibiting” to “years exhibiting” of any attendee this year. When I moved to Manchester for university (in – ugh – 2008), myself and my good friend Paul Capewell arrived a little older than our contemporaries and unenthused about the idea of chugging beer through a funnel or playing soggy biscuit on a flag frisbee team. We were hugely fortunate, then, to have found a poorly-advertised “society” – the ragtag group of misfits responsible for running PULP Magazine, the student union publication. We signed up in the afternoon one day, and joined the editorial board that evening. I would spend my every waking hour that year writing print and video content for the magazine and the website, and Paul became its defacto web lead, building its website and churning out videos that looked far better than they had any right to considering the equipment on which they were made. PULP Magazine had no money, no time, and no oversight beyond its perennially overworked editor. Paul and I were not the best-qualified people on campus for the jobs we did at PULP, but we were available, and willing, and if we didn’t do things, nobody else would. The editorial team of PULP 2008/09 spun straw into gold in a way I’ve not really experienced since (and would do anything to experience again). 

I think everyone who worked on PULP that year got something out of it, but the main thing I got out of it is that you don’t have to ask permission to make things, and you can’t afford to wait. PULP changed hands the following year and folded shortly after due to perennial mismanagement on the part of the student union (leaving Manchester Met – a university that so prides itself on its art and design faculty – as the largest university in the world without an official print outlet for its students’ work), and shortly after it died, I began producing photocopier comics under an assumed name. I think I just needed something to fill the void that PULP had left behind. They weren’t the best work I’ve ever done, but that doesn’t matter. Manchester had a vibrant, healthy culture of weirdo small-press bullshit where the only thing that mattered was the willingness to make something; be it zines full of emetic-grade poetry, or – in my case - self-produced compendiums of the worst comics ever made. I had experienced a late-stage conversion to comics after becoming intoxicated by the beguiling work being put out by Kate Beaton and KC Green, whose work seemed to single-handedly wash away the ungodly stench brought on by the mid-2000s webcomic “boom” (many people think the 90s was comics’ nadir, but all the foil covers in the world cannot touch the sheer volume of excruciatingly poor content produced by the supposed champions of webcomics in the early-to-mid 2000s). And PULP had taught me that nobody’s going to tap you on the shoulder to let you know it’s time – you just have to crack on with what you’ve got and hope you eventually land somewhere you want to be, knowing that even if you don’t you’ll probably feel better for having done something. I had heard, through regional channels, of Thought Bubble, which was growing each year. I swore I would, one day, when I was ready, fill out an application, set up a table, and do it. Just do it, fuck it, see what happened. That was 2010. 

A lot happened between those first photocopier comics and my Thought Bubble debut – I graduated, got a job, got married. Got a kitten, called it Potato. Life happened. I stalled on comics, but the idea of comics never really went away; I dabbled with it the whole time, aimlessly, never sure what exactly I ought to do with it. Just over a year ago, I decided to actually make a proper go at it for the first time; really put all my effort into it, and see what happens. I didn’t know what success looked like, but I thought I’d know it when I saw it. Looking back over the past year, I think I have had a successful rookie year in comics. I’ve had profitable showings at good comic conventions, my work has had good reviews from established critics, and I finally held my own at the convention that has been my white whale, taunting me from afar, for eight years. It’s hard for anything to live up to eight years of hype, especially when that hype is entirely self-generated.

But I think the past year, and Thought Bubble with it, was a bigger success than I could have reasonably hoped for. And I believe now, perhaps more than ever before, in the ethos I learned at PULP Magazine – if you don’t make whatever it is you have the urge to make, nobody else will, and there’s never a good time. You just have to get on with it. It took me a while, but I’m just glad I finally got on with it.

Thanks for making my first year in comics a success, and hopefully I’ll see you at next year’s Thought Bubble.

ADRIFT - Launching at Thought Bubble

Hello hello,

Only stopping by quickly, I've got things to do and I'm sure you do too.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I finally got my act together enough to register for Thought Bubble this year, and was graciously accepted. While I had hoped to launch The Floating Hand there, that's taking a little longer than planned; writing a graphic novel is a very different kettle of fish to putting a one-shot together, so I'm just trying to get it looking its best before I unveil it. It's coming soon, I am presently on the back stretch. The wait is nearly over (you can always read chapters one and two to make do for now).

Anyway, Thought Bubble's a big deal, and I thought it would be nice to have something new to show you. To that end, I present my newest one-shot, Adrift, which will be launching at Thought Bubble.

 The front cover of  Adrift.

The front cover of Adrift.

Adrift is a short comic about what becomes of the world two years after all the gravity instantaneously and inexplicably goes away. Societal order has collapsed, and Adrift is the story of those that are left. It may not sound it, but it is another kitchen-sink weirdo-realism comedy in the vein of Bald.

It's 40 pages long, stark black and white throughout, and is A6 size (small, but perfectly formed), printed on beautiful silk stock. It will be for sale at my table at Thought Bubble for £2. Once Thought Bubble is finished, it will be available on my website for the same price.

P6.jpg

Additionally, because it's new (and - I feel - that a lot of the jokes depend on the page turns), I'm not putting it up in full on the publications page for now. Maybe I will one day. Who knows. But for now, I would obviously implore you to pick up a copy at Thought Bubble, or order a copy from the website once it has been released. I think the physical edition is worth it.

Thank you for reading, and thank you all for your kind words and support in the past year; this has been my "rookie year" in comics, and it's gone better than I could have hoped for. Once Thought Bubble is out of the way, I'm going to write an extended blog post containing my most powerful thoughts (never before released) on my first year in indie comics, in the hopes that it will be of some use to people who are in the position I was in one year ago. A lot has happened, so I'm sure there will be plenty to discuss.

Your friend,

John Tucker

The Floating Hand Chapter 2 now available

Hello hello hello,

In rousing news, the latest chapter of my 1920s Western crime serial - The Floating Hand - is now available to read. For those wishing for a refresher, or who are new to the story, chapter one is here.

Cover 4.jpg

This brings The Floating Hand to 45 pages, which I estimate to be approximately halfway through, if just a little under. Additionally, this will be the last free-to-read chapter available online. The complete edition will be out in print later in the year. This is the way I'll likely do things as I begin to develop longer stories - the one shots, generally speaking, will always be available to read online for free, and there will be sizeable previews of long-form works so you can see if it's for you.

I'm pleased with how it's shaping up so far, and I hope you enjoy the second chapter.

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In other news, I will be appearing as a guest at Incredible Comics in Swindon on July 7th for their Small Press Day in store event. I'll be there with four other creators, where I will be selling books, signing books, drawing Death Roulettes, you name it.

Thanks,

John

Cardiff Independent Comic Expo 2018 Recap, Plus How To Design The Worst Roller Banner In Comics Today

I’d heard good things about Cardiff Independent Comic Expo (CICE) in years gone by, and when I saw applications had opened, it seemed like an obvious one to attend; close to home, well-regarded, and focused primarily on indie comics. After having some success and learning some valuable lessons at True Believers in February, my wife and I rolled up to the Mercure Hotel to see if we couldn’t improve on the work we’d done at Cheltenham, armed with a few extra tricks.

 Cardiff Independent Comic Expo 2018's poster.

Cardiff Independent Comic Expo 2018's poster.

After being wristbanded and checked in, we were guided to our (pre-clothed!) table around the corner from the centre aisle. As neighbours, we had Vince Hunt and Tony Esmond from The Awesome Comics Podcast (with their comic, Awesome Comics) (awesome). I was very glad to see them; they’re good lads, and Tony was the first person to review my work on his website (and later on Down The Tubes). Tony further extended his good graces by interviewing me for the podcast, there on the convention floor; I don’t remember a great deal of what I said, other than I took the opportunity once again to screech about KC Green’s Gunshow, which is my default deflection when it comes time to talk about my comics. That will be out on Monday, I think, so if I’ve properly shown my arse on the podcast I won’t know about it until then.

We set up, and we waited. In terms of passing trade, the first two hours were a little nerve-wracking; there were people, but generally the same two dozen or so people doing loops of the floor – one cosplayer seemed to be doing a continuous loop from about 10am to about 5pm. By about 12pm, my wife had, herself, begun doing laps. In the back of my mind, I hoped against hope that the people of Cardiff were just saving the convention until after lunch, but I knew the truth; they had turned their backs. Turned their backs, the lot of them. Here I was, a hometown son, back from the west with my comics inspired by the city that raised me, and these vile turncoats had snubbed their noses, letting out wicked raspy chuckles as they were off doing something else. This couldn’t just be lunch; it was a pointed message.

Turns out it was just lunch, as after 1pm it was chock-a-block and we were dealing with customers pretty much non-stop from 1pm until about 5pm. I think that was the busiest we’ve ever been, and everybody who came to the table was very nice, so if you did stop by, thank you.

Sales

Sales were better than I could have hoped, frankly. I attribute this to three things:

-       A very, very slight uptick in name recognition. In the time since True Believers I’ve made a bit more of an effort to get my work in front of people, and that seems to have paid off. True Believers was a venture into the unknown, in that literally nobody knew who I was. This time, approximately three people knew who I was. In pure percentage terms, that is an increase of infinity percent.

-       Death Roulette seemed to pick up largely by word of mouth; a few people came to the table asking for it specifically, having seen somebody else’s.  

-       The bumper pack we decided to offer this time around, and were consciously mentioning to anyone who seemed interested. The selling price of all five comics came to £12, and Death Roulette on its own was £5; however, we decided to offer all five comics, plus a print, plus a badge, plus Death Roulette, for £10. It was an easy upsell to anybody considering a comic or Death Roulette on its own, and I don’t mind throwing in Death Roulette as essentially a free sweetener in exchange for getting the comics into people’s hands. I’m going to be sat there anyway, I may as well be doing something - plus, I do enjoy doing them, and seeing their reactions.

It was mainly – definitely, undoubtedly – because of the bumper pack.

As a result of these three things (and again, mainly the bumper pack), we managed to get just over fifty comics out, and did 14 Death Roulettes. We saw a slight dent on return compared to what each of these would have made individually, but frankly, they simply wouldn’t have sold individually in those numbers. The bumper pack is here to stay, and I fully intend to offer it out in future (it will have to be adjusted as more comics come out, obviously, and as the one-shots make up a smaller percentage of the table stock, but I’m sure we’ll figure something out).

 Here's one of my favourites from this convention's class of Death Roulettes (thank you Dunk).

Here's one of my favourites from this convention's class of Death Roulettes (thank you Dunk).

You can’t measure the success of these events in sales, of course. I got my work in front of a lot of new people, met a lot of pleasant and interesting people, and I finally, finally, got to debut my roller banner.

Let’s Talk About The Fucking Banner Then

I’ve done a couple of conventions now (by which I mean I have done two conventions), and attending these events is a learning curve. How much are you meant to talk to the other artists? At what point – as a prospective customer’s gaze is approaching the end of one table and the beginning of yours – is it appropriate to make verbal contact? When’s the best time to eat? You pick up a lot as you go along.

At True Believers – the first time I had ever been to an event like this, in any capacity – I learned a lot about convention standards. My table looked largely the same as most of the others, spare the occasional fancy display or strip of accented tablecloth. The one thing I was missing – the one glaring omission, the one item notable by its absence, was a roller banner.

If you’ve ever been to a comic convention, or similar event (craft fair, wedding expo, trade show etc.), you likely know what these are – roller banners are inexpensive large-format posters that you roll out of a compact tube and put on a big stick. They’re usually around two metres tall by just under a metre wide, and act as convenient large-format signage.

Friends, allow me to be honest and say that I have never, ever liked roller banners. My workplace uses them routinely for large public-facing initiatives and policy changes, and through my various jobs and interests throughout the years, I have seen a lot of roller banners. I understand their obvious utility, and recognise the many reasons they have become so ubiquitous on the indie comics circuit, but I dislike them immensely. This prejudice was in no way alleviated by my first half hour at True Believers, during which I observed somebody set up their banner, only for it to be irreparably punctured by somebody setting up their own roller banner; a stray supporting pole went clean through the middle, leaving a sizeable, frayed hole.

However, of the advice I received after True Believers, the common denominator was obvious – as my name was at table height, it was too easily obscured and it wasn’t immediately obvious who I was. Only one thing for it. I was going to have to buy a fucking roller banner.

Design

When thinking on the banner, I decided that the “standard” expo banner – often decorated with example artwork and big, friendly fonts – was not going to work. Not for me, at least. I’ve seen it done perfectly well by many artists, who have obviously gone to painstaking lengths to make the banner representative of their best work. This approach works well for those with a running series (Joe Glass’ The Pride, or Swansea Comic Collective’s Copperopolis, for instance) but would not work for me; I don’t really have a franchise, a stable of characters that an audience would recognise.

So having discarded a traditional banner out of hand, I was left to explore other options. The first thought was to make one that looked categorically, top-to-bottom unprofessional; iStock Photo watermarks over the background, the “hosted by Tripod” placeholder image in place of crucial art, low resolution headshot photograph, mouse pointer visible, printer’s guideline art still cropped in, the works. But the problem with making a deliberately bad banner is that it is still a bad banner; even if it’s bad, it still has to read well.

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So if you can’t make a banner that is comically poorly produced, the only option remaining is to make one that is comically overproduced. Emboldened by the iconic Glamour Shots by Deb scene in Napoleon Dynamite (and by evergreen inspiration Brian “Limmy” Limond, who regularly posts mockingly smug, self-absorbed portraits, his face radiant with self-satisfaction), I decided that the best solution was, in fact, to make something that – on first glance – looked sincere and slick, but also hard to look at and repulsive. I also wanted it to be largely unclear what business it was advertising.

I asked my wife if she would be willing to assist with this, and fortunately she said yes, as part of the idea was to put on just enough makeup to make passers-by wonder, “Jesus, is he wearing makeup?”. She deftly applied concealer, foundation, blush, and a little highlighter, then tried in vain to backcomb my dry, dead, flat hair (it didn’t work). We’re both big RuPaul’s Drag Race fans in this house, so she did a great job of making me look just unsettling enough.

I sat down in the fading spring light, Lauren was given the Portrait setting on my iPhone camera, and we took as many photos as we could.

Result

 The finished product.

The finished product.

My friends had a range of reactions to the roller banner (which I used on Twitter to generate hype for the roller banner unveiling).

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 I did wonder, have I gone too far? Is it too perfect? Is the combination of soft focus, make-up, gold embossed lettering (and a gold embossed signature for fuck's sake) just too much? 

Once it was installed, people generally got it. We kept an informal tally of any disapproving looks it attracted at CICE (eight), because a secondary function of the roller banner was to act as a defacto filter. If you look at that roller banner – this roller banner:

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- and took it on face value, you likely wouldn’t enjoy the comics either. 

So if you've been considering a roller banner but aren't sure if they're for you, I can recommend making one like this, as long as it's on brand for you. We had a lot of fun making this, and a lot of people have gotten a really good laugh out of it, none more than me.

In Conclusion

- CICE 2018 was tremendous fun, and - if they'll have us - we'd love to come back.
- It was very heartening to see the number of people willing to take a punt on an unknown artist, especially considering there was a lot of very, very good talent nearby. If you came by our table, thanks.
- The banner whipped ass and I will be designing a new one every year and they will get progressively worse.

Thanks,

John

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