Wednesday 17 March 2010

Cloud 109 - Creative Musings

I'm going to depart from our usual Wednesday practice of posting a new page from Cloud 109 and just take a slight step back for a moment while I run through some of our current considerations. As many of you will be aware in common with a lot of other comic creatives we are in the process of putting together a graphic novel with nothing behind us but our own talents and a steadfast conviction that we have something worth saying.

Cloud 109 is a book dealing with real teenagers, living in a dystopian and dysfunctional world, who's one source of self expression and enjoyment is the cyber world of Cloud 109. Our intention is to create a real contrast between their day to day reality and the artificial reality of the world of avatars and online gaming. And once we've got the reader semi adjusted to that idea, we really start to play with their assumptions.

We did, at one stage early in this project's development, have a big deal publisher enthusing over what we were in the process of putting together, but in common with a lot of publishers, they have now cut back on their lists and are concentrating on their bigger selling titles and at that point we did decide that we would create our own gig with our own resources.

The truth is that for a lot of first time creators this is the only way forward, even if you have the attention and interest of a senior editor, they still have to sell you to the people with the purse strings and if you're not already tried and tested product with impressive sales figures to back you up, it is extremely unlikely in the current climate that those purse strings are going to be released.

However, at the same time as publishers are being forced to retrench, there are really exciting albeit difficult to quantify, opportunities opening up for creators, you only need to take a little visit over to ITunes to realize that we are on the brink of a communication revolution with the rise of the horribly titled but nevertheless laden with potential "app". which is tailor made for delivering comic strips in an attractive and zingy format, liberated from the shackles of printing, distribution and retail costs and even if books as we know and love them aren't quite dead yet, there are now some very attractive alternatives to help you get the message out and perhaps even generate some much needed funding.

However one of the many attendant risks of going down the self funding path is that you might be in danger of getting all self delusional, in other words (gasp - choke!) the reason that the world of big time publishing isn't beating a path to your door is that actually the magnum opus that you are devising is in reality utter crap. At this point it's worth checking out what the world of big time publishing is putting it's resources behind and asking yourself is my project in the same league and even if it is, is it too similar to what's already out there?

Here for example are what Walker Books and Random House are currently flagging up as their leading Manga titles aimed at pretty much the same market as "Cloud 109" and from the little that I can glean they are indeed very successful. But successful to the point that's it's hardly going to be worth anybody else attempting to squeeze something similar looking into an already very crowded market place, I mean there are only so many "Disneyfied" Manga titles with antiseptically clean looking teens you can produce before it all gets to look really old hat.

So I go back to our kids Cary, Rabby and Gina and I know that they are the real deal, they and many of the other faces that you see are actually real people following this story (which is another twist on reality) and even in their cybernetic incarnations their actions and words are informed by their real lives. In fact in the research that David and I have done putting this story into the hands of young readers in schools as well as friends and family, we have discovered that the thing that engages with children and particularly girls, are the real world Gina, Cary and Rabby. The fact that they don't live in a world of safe and "Disneyfied" stereotypical cliches but do have to walk through underpasses smelling of piss and vomit does give their story just that little bit extra in terms of addressing a world that they as juvenile readers (helicopter parents notwithstanding) are starting to engage with.

And talking of seedy underpasses here's some work in progress for the endpapers of our book as well as the dedicated website that we're in the process of devising.


  1. Really interested in this idea of fact as I was reading this Jon Higham emailed news about his story being offered as an app. As you rightly say you need something that people will choose over and above what's already on offer and it would be a bonus if it were financially viable!
    I'll vote for your work/approach over the others shown.

  2. Hi Joanna, yes I had Jon around yesterday and saw his story on his IPod touch and it looked truly lovely. It's all on the cusp in terms of what's currently happening but I feel sure that in a few years time there's going to be a really thriving marketplace for this new medium.

  3. Cloud 109 is such a fantastic project, I'm not surprised a big name publisher was interested. But I have to say you're much better off doing it yourselves. A publisher would have advanced you a pittance, only a tiny fraction of the real labour you have to put into such a brilliantly original piece of work. And then they would have tied you up in legal and editorial wrangles, and they'd decide at a whim when and how they were going to publish your book, and you'd be treated like criminals when you came back and were made to beg for the money to get on with the second book. Oh, and they would also stuff up any hope of doing the digital versions because they are utterly clueless when it comes to both comics and digital publishing - the combination of the two is a killer punch to their greedy parasitic guts. Hmm, think I'll stay anonymous, but best of luck with Cloud 109 it looks great.

  4. Many thanks for your kind and encouraging words - which are real sustenance to both David and myself. I think in an ideal world it would be really good to find a publisher of vision and enterprise, but to fulfill that definition, they are going to be the little guys, who in most cases are being marginalized and pushed into insolvency by being unable to compete with the corporate leviathons that publishers have now become.

    But we did decide right from the start that we had to do this book our way and not by committee and the examples of current rival graphic novels which I posted are I think a real revelation in the way that corporate thinking leads to corporate product.

    Small sometimes is still beautiful.

  5. I look in my local Waterstones and it's amazing how much near-identical stuff there is on the manga shelves. I think that's why I was turned off manga for so long - though if you look at the US comic books I loved as a kid, they're all machine-produced, soulless and samey too.

    It seems so hard to get anything done if it doesn't fit the expected look. And that's actually not just true of graphic novels. Videogames and kids' TV keep coming up with the same characters, right down to the same expressions and clothing and hairstyles. When something original does come along, everyone goes "wow" and then they just try to do clones of it.

    Peter, that's one reason why what you and David are doing with Cloud 109 is so impressive. And btw I love that smell of piss and vomit in the underpass :)

  6. 'I love the smell of...', yes I can second that Dave, in fact said as much when I was round Peter's this week ! Cloud 109 is looking magnificent - I'd like both a hard copy and a digital one (for my ipod touch) when it comes out ! - I'm at the wee/twee pre-school end of the scale with my app (as mention in above posts) so no unpleasant smells in my tiny book, but I am excited by the positives that digital publishing could potentially bring to illustrators and creatives, and was showing Peter how one, the French publisher Ave! Comics have gone the whole hog already on this one. Type it in in itunes and take a peek at their web site. Even if you don't have an iphone/ipod you can see screen shots. I downloaded a sample, it works really well and you can turn on an animated feature which scrolls/zooms through the book in a filmic way. Will be even better on an ipad. They also give 'bonus' features such as preparatory sketches and the like. The future of publishing ? Maybe....

  7. Well without turning this into too much of a mutual admiration society, I would like to reiterate how excited I was seeing Jon's "Elly The Reindeer" (it's already in the ITunes Store) both in terms of the lovely artwork and also just how exciting it is seeing this new technology working as first hand.

    Very difficult to quantify how this is all going to work out in the long term, but as Waterstones shelves sag with current best sellers and TV tie-ins, it's really good to know that both creatives and adventurous readers can at last liberate themselves from the kind of corporate thinking that dominates so much of the current publishing world.

  8. great work i think your on to a winner keep the faith and im sure the rewards will be worth it :-)

  9. Many thanks Jon and great to hear from my old Sonic the Comic buddy (Halycon days).

    Loving your Tiger Steel bracelet visuals over at Haward Art House.

    Very tasty!