PRODUCING GIRLS’ COMICS TODAY. SOME POSSIBILITIES.
‘How to’ books invariably tell you the principles of writing and then assure you that if you follow them, publishing doors will open for you. They won’t. How to actually sell your work is invariably neglected, so new writers have to figure it out for themselves and all too often they get it horribly wrong because they don’t really understand the current state of the market and how it works.
I’m going to come back to marketing later in Storyteller but here’s some pointers just now, specifically relating to girls’ comics. The first one to appreciate is that if you can go down the self-publishing route, that’s probably the best solution unless there’s a huge demand from publishers for comic stories. Currently there’s not.
Even when there was, I’ve found that all too often editors will try to keep you out. That’s what happened when John Wagner and I started in the comic business. We contacted a friend, an insider who worked on IPC girls’ comics, and asked him if there were any opportunities. ‘I’m afraid not,’ he told us. ‘It’s really tough getting in. I wouldn’t bother, if I were you.’ But we did bother, and three months later we had so much work writing girls’ comics stories that we ended up turning work down. I suspect his negative attitude is still all too common in publishing. Editorial staff who are ‘in’ are often nervous that someone else could come along and take their place.
Currently there is not just a gap in the market where girls’ comics are concerned: it’s a yawning chasm. This makes sense because women have always read far more than men. The reason girls’ comics are ignored is because the people who dominate our industry don’t like or understand them. In fairness to them, many have actually admitted this to me and it does seem to be an arcane art to an outsider who hasn’t studied its principles. I hope my first post on the subject has made it much clearer.
Besides, publishers only seem interested in fans, not mainstream readers. Particularly not kids. So cool female stories like Love and Rockets will get a positive reaction from them. But not Little Miss Nothing. Perish the thought! Even though the latter originally sold a thousand times more than Love and Rockets.
I regularly lobbied for Misty and girls’ comics to return for more than ten years without success. Female publishers and editors also turned it down. One leading male publisher said to me maybe the problem with girls’ comics was their large size. Perhaps if they were reduced to a digest format, so they would fit into a women’s handbag, they would be a better proposition? As Anita O’Brien of the Cartoon Museum memorably said to me, ‘Has he seen the size of women’s handbags these days?’ So I was thrilled when Rebellion started reprinting Misty, Jinty and Tammy. We’re finally making some progress.
Misty ™ REBELLION PUBLISHING LTD, COPYRIGHT © REBELLION PUBLISHING LTD, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Here are some origination possibilities. I’m assuming that if you’re interested you have a USP, a unique selling point (either in your story, art or publishing experience or contacts) that will get your work noticed. Without a USP, I really wouldn’t consider this very demanding genre.
A COMIC LIKE BITE ME’S MISTY SPECIAL
Bite Me is a very slick, very cool vampire-orientated magazine and I was impressed when they brought out their recent Misty special. It has new stories and some original Misty one-off stories. I hope Bite Me will do another Misty Special, which could be a possible opener for writers and artists.
But it’s also a template for how another girls’ comic special could be done. An animal-orientated girls’ comic for instance, probably aimed at a slightly younger market.
Or maybe a Tammy tribute magazine – like Bite Me’s Misty Special –with new stories as well as old. It’s possible Comic Scene might be interested in publishing it – they’ve reprinted Crikey recently.
If you approach Rebellion for permission or a license to use their reprint material, though, do make sure it’s a serious proposition that benefits them and doesn’t require lots of their input. Don’t run a half-baked crowd-funder past them, for example. They’ll need convincing you’ve got what it takes. Poor pitches, badly thought through, just ruin it for others. Bite Me magazine has a strong pedigree so, in that instance, they knew the editor could be taken seriously.
DIGITAL GIRLS’ COMICS
Either a web comic and/or a digital comic released on Comixology and Kindle. That way, you’ve no paper and distribution costs. Just origination. My wife Lisa and I have done this successfully with REQUIEM VAMPIRE KNIGHT. It sells really well, largely to the States where they’re keener on digital comics than we are. Admittedly Requiem has a very high standard of art, but there’s no reason why a girls’ comic shouldn’t have an equally high standard. And, from talking to girls from a target age group 8 – 14, I know they don’t have a problem reading comics on a tablet.
Requiem Vampire Knight 11 – Dead Love, COPYRIGHT MILLS/LEDROIT/GLENAT
PRINT ON DEMAND COMICS
Amazon do print on demand, so we’ve brought out the black comedy horror story PSYCHOKILLER by myself, Tony Skinner and Dave Kendall. Check it out and you’ll see that the paper and the full colour reproduction is pretty good – not as high quality as French albums but certainly as good as most British comic collections. Yet, astonishingly, at the time of writing, I don’t know of any creative who is using Amazon’s POD, or is even interested in this option! Even though it’s free! No paper and distribution costs. It’s baffling. Meanwhile, UK comic shops have bought significant quantities of Psychokiller and we’ve had good sales on Amazon as well as on Comixology.
Psychokiller © copyright MILLS/SKINNER/KENDALL
Our Carlos Ezquerra JUDGE DREDD & 2000AD COLOURING BOOK is also worth a look. The black and white format – and fewer pages – increases our profit margin with print on demand. That, too, has sold well. Black and white art is particularly relevant for girls’ comics.
It’s a low cost alternative to Small Press Comics, which is also a way of getting your story out there.
Carlos Ezquerra’s 2000AD & Judge Dredd Colouring Book: Colour In, Zone Out And Gaze Into The Fist of Dredd! © copyright EZQUERRA
OLDER FEMALE COMICS
I love Love and Rockets and Heartbreak Soup, but if you’re going after this fan-orientated market, you’re likely to find it very crowded and not much chance of getting in or, if you do, not much chance of making money from your book. However, if your muse is driving you in that direction, I guess you have to go with it.
It’s had a poor reputation over the years because so many people have done it badly. Correction: terribly! And it also has a bad image from those tacky photo problem pages they used to have in The Sun. But photostrip did once work in girls’ comics. Notably in Girl magazine. I wrote 9 to 4, a Grange Hill-style serial for them, which went down well. That was photostrip – although my script editor didn’t understand why it was so successful. He said, quote, ‘It’s just a bunch of school girls standing around bitching and doing spiteful things to each other.’ Well, that’s the nature of the genre and, because my dialogue and story material was 100% authentic, based on my real-life sources, the readers loved it.
I also had female readers saying to me they liked photostrip better than comic art because it was ‘clearer and more real. You can really see what is going on. It’s not muddy like most comics.’ Ha! ‘Muddy’ indeed! But they’re the audience and we have to listen to them if we want to sell. Of course such words will be heresy to those male readers who have always hated photostrip, often with considerable venom! But it’s not necessarily true for a young female audience that may not have quite the same passion for artwork and where the story matters more to them.
That said, photo strip is NOT a short cut. It requires a good photographer with a director’s ability to put his photo models at ease and get strong emotional expressions out of them (which is at the heart of girls’ comics). I know from being on photo shoots this usually means a female director or chaperone should be present to encourage them and get them in the right space. Otherwise the model is going to stiffen up or be shy if a male director asks them to suddenly scream their heads off or sneer or look angry or burst into tears. There’s nothing worse than wooden photostrip.
However, if a writer can’t afford an artist and has a relatively straightforward story it could be an answer. Provided the photographer and the photo models are talented.
The supreme girls’ comic artists were Casanovas (Ella on Easy Street) and John Armstrong (Bella and Moonchild). I love both their work. And neither of them are ‘muddy’! It’s well worth studying them and using them as a starting point if you want to draw girls’ comics or if you’re looking for a suitable artist. Note John Armstrong’s extensive range of facial expressions on his characters, far more than your average actor. He did this, he told me, by endless study and by using real-life models. The model on whom he based his best-selling Bella was very supportive of him in his final years.
Moonchild by Pat Mills & John Armstrong
Misty ™ REBELLION PUBLISHING LTD, COPYRIGHT © REBELLION PUBLISHING LTD, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
There are current male comic artists who would equally adapt to girls’ comics. Mike Collins, Patrick Goddard and David Roach come immediately to mind. They’re all excellent and David Roach is also an expert on girls’ comics.
There are so many possibilities right now because everyone seems to be writing for a male audience, so you have the field to yourself. That’s the way to exploit a gap in the market – especially one as obvious as girls’ comics. I listed the different story categories in my last blog.
I would put a School Mystery high on your list.
Another approach is to be inspired by an adult novel, writing something in the same genre but without its sexual or other adult aspects. Thus my Moonchild was inspired by Stephen King’s Carrie. It’s probable that, in turn, Stephen King was inspired by the works of Charles Fort such as Book of the Damned and Lo!, which is also a great resource for spooky girls’ comic ideas.
There’s also got to be a great girls’ comic in a toned down version of a story like the movie The Favourite. And Gillian Flynn’s novels like Sharp Objects and Gone Girl have great insights into the female psyche that could inspire a dark psychological thriller for a younger audience.
Another story high on your list could be an animal story. Particularly an animal sanctuary story if you know anything about them. When John Wagner and I started in girls’ comics we were commissioned to write a serial entitled Anne’s Animal Sanctuary. We didn’t know anything about the subject matter and it was beyond even our fertile imaginations. So after a week of struggling on it we eventually gave up.
Today it would be very different. My wife Lisa is a strong supporter of our local animal sanctuaries and she follows various sanctuaries on social media that have huge audiences. Every story about their work is endearing and pulls at your heartstrings. For instance, a resident dog who is the guardian to the animals. He wards off predators and also protects the guests from each other!
Animal sanctuary stories are emotionally engrossing without even trying. Rescue animals invariably have powerful stories about how they ended up there and the tales almost write themselves. The chances are whoever runs the animal sanctuary will also be a good basis for a young female protagonist. That’s certainly our experience with our local animal sanctuary – the young woman who runs it is an excellent character to base a story on.
Finding the right artist is the challenge, of course, not everyone can draw appealing animals. So that requires careful thought.
I only wish I had time to make such a story happen, but as I don’t, I hope there’s someone else out there who will
Talking to creators I’ve noticed time and again they seem to have this dated image of publishers as benign characters who will take them out to lunch, pay them a big advance, encourage them and heavily promote their book. And then they sit back and receive their big royalty cheques. Dream on! It’s a nice fantasy, but it’s not true. It’s may be the case for J.K. Rowling, but for everyone else the truth is often the polar-opposite, to put it diplomatically.
Based on what I’ve heard and my own experiences, I can’t personally recommend any of the few UK publishers who produce comic books as a possible market for mainstream girls’ comics. Apart from possibly Rebellion, although they’ve originated very little new material in this sector so far.
There are exceptions elsewhere, of course. Usually because the creator is extremely talented. Thus I recently endorsed the forthcoming graphic novel Katusha Girl Soldier of the Great Patriotic War, story and art by Wayne Vansant. Published by Naval Institute Press in the States. Set in Russia in World War Two, it’s the female equivalent of Charley’s War. I can’t praise it highly enough. It’s beautifully illustrated in colour and written with great insight and care; a true labour of love.
I think American book publishers are the place to go if you have specialised knowledge on a subject like this that would make a strong graphic novel.
Thus Persepolis is a similar excellent book with a strong female lead, but although it’s reprinted in Britain it actually originated in France. I very much doubt it would have ever been commissioned by a British publisher. This is a depressingly conservative country and it’s worth keeping this in mind.
Europe and the States, in my opinion, really are your best options. Thus the newsstand comic W.I.T.C.H.E.S. originated with Italian Disney. It has a Euro-manga art style and is a female take on a school for magicians. It’s a fantastic girls’ comic series, with accompanying merchandise, and has deservedly sold all over the world – in endless foreign editions – although I don’t think it got much coverage in the UK or the US. It’s well worth studying. They got it dead right.
This title tends to confirm my strong feeling that the Anglo-American publishing market is rather negative towards traditional girls’ comics, with the exception of Rebellion. I believe the W.I.T.C.H.E.S. creators then went on to work for France with new series and that would be my recommendation if you come up with a property that hot. The financial rewards in France are far greater than in Britain, where we still have to sell all our rights.
Because of the poor state of the UK girls’ comic market, if you’re planning a comic project it makes sense for it to be potentially also adapted as a text novel for the YA market, either self-published or traditionally published. That way if your story gets rejected as a comic you can still recycle it. Hunger Games and similar titles show the enormous potential here and prove that a young female readership is out there – it’s the comic publishers and professionals who deserted them, not the other way around.
The issues I’ve raised here and in Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! are increasingly being noted throughout the comic industry. People are becoming aware of the wretched rights and monopolies that have provably held our industry back and caused so many comics to die and creators to leave in despair. So some people are coming up with other options and solutions to help creators and they could be relevant for potential girls’ comic artists and writers. I hope to have more news about this later this year.
I’m returning to the subject of girls’ comics in Book Four, the final volume of the Read Em and Weep series, with a fictional version of Misty, called Raven. But I’m still writing Book Three just now so in the meantime, I hope someone will crack this important female market.
There’s a huge audience waiting!
Next week: Villains Part 2.