2010 has been the year Blank Slate started to get itself organised. We managed to put out 5 books having taken 14 months for our first 4 and we’ve found our way around production and distribution issues that we had to learn our way through. We’ve also had a decent size ‘hit’, well in relative terms, with Darryl Cunningham’s Psychiatric Tales that has meant the strain on my pocket getting books to print has been lessened somewhat. We’ve also seen the UK comics channel expand with the fantastic efforts of Self Made Hero and NoBrow – which now sees the market and distributors primed to be more knowledgeable about comics in general – which can only benefit us all. We shouldn’t forget Fanfare or Knockabout either – Fanfare garnered 5 Eisner awards last year which is unprecedented for a UK publisher and Knockabout, long a dormant ‘giant’ of UK comics, have woken from their slumbers and now have editions planned of Maarten Vande Wiele’s collected Paris and the brilliant Pinocchio by Winshluss. All this activity is a bit of a surprise given the economic picture but a raft of publishers covering all ends of the comics spectrum is what the UK scene has needed for a long time. I think some of us who have worked in the business a long time have always thought it would emerge before this but barring some excellent attempts like Slab-O-Concrete it never really happened.
Now, almost spontaneously, there are a load of new publishers all working at it at the same time. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a time when it seemed more possible a coherent scene could emerge which is interested in producing comics of quality in the UK, without hoping the moment they got their break they would be on a plane to the DC offices. The surprise is that the major book publishing houses haven’t been the catalyst for this – they have access to the cream of the US production – but someone like Cape, who should be dominating and growing the UK market aggressively, seem to have paddled their canoe up the cul-de-sac labelled ‘would-be literary progressive’. So those who care about the narrative and visual splendour of comics have decided to get on with it themselves.
The next step for me has to be the establishment of some of our published authors as International stars – to take away that West looking focus watching for the next works of Ware, Clowes, Burns, Barry et al and produce a cadre of British ‘stars’ and innovators who make us look at our own creators on an equal basis, and has the world looking at Britain. I think that’s beginning – there are some supremely talented illustrators/cartoonists delivering both craft and innovation Oli East, Stu Kolakovic, John McNaught, Rob Davis, Stephen Collins, Ian Culbard and many more and if you watch the coverage of sites like Drawn, The Comics Reporter and Journalista you will see that people are beginning to start looking towards our creators to see what they are going to produce next. What will finally tip the scales I think is if the UK creators start to see their books appear in America and in foreign languages. They will start to join a ‘pantheon’ of comics creators seen as the ‘best’ – they will be on lists which also include Clowes, Spiegelman et al. and by dint of that association raise both their own profiles and that of the scene – UK cartooning – which has spawned them. To this end I’m very glad that this year we sold rights to Darryl’s book to both Bloomsbury in the USA and Canada and to Coconino Press in Italy. Hopefully there will be much more of that to come.
Our ‘plan’ was always to have a list put together before we made a ‘big push’ to grow our company. We always had 10 books in print as our target and now we have 9 we are going to jump the gun a little. Here’s an idea of what is coming in 2011 – it’s arguable if they will all make it into print by years end but we start with the best intentions.
My Skateboard Life – Ed Syder
Luchadoras – Peggy Adam (translated from the French by Judith and Martin of Avoid the Future)
Trains are Mint #3 – Oliver East – limited edition facsimilie – this will be produced directly from the only existing copy – limited to 500
Uncle Bob – Darryl Cunnigham
The Band – Mawil (translated from the German by Iz Rips)
Hector Umbra – Uli Oesterle (if you love Mike Mignola’s Hellboy – translated from the German by Iz Rips)
Megg – Nigel Auchterlounie (Nigel’s 2nd Spleenal book – just Nigel’s pitch had me laughing my head off)
Love is Blind – Line Hoven (translated from the German by Iz and hopefully Line herself)
Gungle – Warwick Johnson Cadwell
Stalin’s Spy in Tokyo – Isable Kreitz (a big, robust historical story – with Kreitz’s highly individual all-pencil art – this is one we hope can draw in people who aren’t normal comics readers – translated from the German by Iz)
Psychiatric Tales II – Darryl Cunnigham
Children in Need – Mawil (collected short stories – and the first colour Mawil work we’ve published)
Other books in the development stage but not yet scheduled
Untitled – Laurie Proud
Lichen – Stuart Kolakovic
Video Nasties – Chris Doherty
Art book – Peter Diamond
The Latecomer – Barbara Yelin
That’s quite a lot of books for us to get out – we’ll be thrilled to see the debut’s by Ed Syder and Warwick Johnson Cadwell two British cartoonists who will be around for a long time to come, we hope. Ed’s book has been in development for a while now – and I’ve had nearly finished artwork since the summer, it just needs a little tweaking to finish. Warwick’s book possibly has as much anticipation from the UK comics community as anything we’ve done until this date – big, bold, amazing art – Gungle will surely make people sit up and realise what a talent he is.
We also will be making good on a long term promise to find a way to do a limited run of Oli East’s Trains are… Mint 4 – which is his travel diary of his walking and camping in Norway. As this book never had artwork produced for it – Oli worked straight on to the page of another book it is going to be a big job of photography to produce the art files. This will look a little different from previous TAM’s and will be a more expensive edition of only 500. Oli also has 2 or 3 other books in the works – and whilst we have no signed deals for those (in fact Oli and I have always just had a handshake deal) we hope that those will also be Blank Slate releases – perhaps one will even see print in 2011 although 2012 seems more likely.
Darryl Cunningham’s Uncle Bob is also very widely anticipated and it shows the playful side of Darryl in contrast to his real world work like Psychiatric Tales and his Science Myth stories. It’s going to be our 2nd all-ages book and we think it will be one that kids will love with its adventure and horror tales that aren’t as kiddie as they might be. Darryl’s also promised a 2nd volume of Psych Tales and we’ve every expectation that it will be as well received as the first.
Our other returning author is Nigel Auchterlounie – creator of Spleenal and currently all over the pages of the new Dandy. For now Nigel’s work seems still to be something of a secret (given not many of you have bought a copy – what’s wrong with you!) but this is going to be another laugh out loud funny book featuring comicdom’s most misanthropic husband and dad – Spleenal. Nigel’s pitch was great – we laughed just reading the usual Spleenal nonsense – SO looking forward to this. We know that if we keep publishing Nigel’s work at some point the whole world will recognise his comedy genius.
I’m also very pleased to see 3 more women cartoonists added to our list with Isabel Kreitz and Line Hoven from Germany and Peggy Adam from France. It means we will have 4 women cartoonists on our small roster a % I hope to maintain as we go forward as I think women may be the great untapped creative and readership part of comics. Individual female voices are likely to bring more female readers and if we want our market to grow among readers who aren’t primarily comics readers we are going to need them. Furthermore the German comics scene is thriving and it seems to me at least 50% of the creators are women, many coming from ART backgrounds – it’s making for some spectacular work. It’s time we had some UK female cartoonists on our list but until now we have had few submissions – if you think you are up to a book length comic please get in touch we want to publish your work if it is good enough.
As well as the books above we will be starting our Chalk Marks project and we have 2 solidly lined up and hope that the highly talented Will Morris will be joining us with his tale of fish and fishermen (BTW the title of Will’s work isn’t established yet I just made that up for our running schedule).
Chalk Marks – May
Pablo Apple Honey – Luke Astorigin
Everday Stories – Joe Decie
Time and Tide – Will Morris
We’ll need your support – we need to keep selling books to keep printing them – and I want to print SO many. I know you always have lots of choices when spending your comics shilling but do try to give our books a look, I think we will be producing quality material throughout the year.
We also are working away secretly on a couple of other projects which we hope will come out in 2010 – both are VERY exciting – more news when we have something solid to tell you.
Thanks to everyone who bought a BSB book in 2010 and we hope you will love where we are going next year.