The first “proper” comic I released was Sugar Glider issue 1 in November 2011.
Without that comic I wouldn’t have done everything I have since then. The series is incredibly important to me - it’s helped me forge friendships and even a business. And now issue 3 (the final in the series) is due to be released.
(Once Sugar Glider 3 is released, I’m going to blog about having completed two small press comic book series)
To celebrate the release of Sugar Glider 3, we’re running a “Variant Cover” Competition. All you have to do is download the JPG or PSD files from Dropbox and then design a great cover and email it to email@example.com. The winner will receive issue 3 and a load of other goodies.
You can read every Sugar Glider comic for free to research your cover: ONE, SGS 1, TWO, ANTHONY, SGS 2.
Here are some of the entries so far:
I Love The Toon by Jack Couvela
Gliding by George Beedham
Icon by Oscillating Brow
To Glide No More by Matthew Craig
New Year. Old Year.
January brings with it a glut of “here’s what I did last year” blogs and I’ve been responsible for some in the past. And here’s another. But a really quick one.
-Art Heroes started getting somewhere: we released 3 Halcyon & Tenderfoot comics to a great response and we started really gelling as a team. We also facilitated quite a few comic book workshops and definitely made a difference to some young people’s days/lives.
-No new Sugar Glider comics were published, but I wrote the final issue and Gary has drawn most of it. Plus, we started uploading all of the comics to the site when issue 1 sold out of its third printing.
-I moved in with Lily, her mother moved out, we took on all the financial implications of having a bank-owned property and I decided to grow up. I now work for a fantastic arts organisation and get to see human beings a few days a week. Lily works for a coffee shop, but hopes to be working in the arts after some volunteering and personal work.
-I spent a lot of time sanding floors and painting walls in the house, because it was in a really bad way. It still is, but we have two rooms to live in now.
-Thought Bubble was excellent. Just brilliant. I still haven’t judged the character competition, though. And sometimes that makes it hard to sleep at night.
-The main thing I learned last year was that worrying about thing (see above) and making plans and pushing yourself to achieve matters - but nowhere near as much as having fun and living matters. I started to achieve a much better balance.
Christmas Presents 2012
My family always gives a lot of presents at Christmas. We do without stuff all year round (like phoning during peak times, eating at restaurants etc) and then make a big fuss at Christmas. This has been a strange situation I’ve not always agreed with, but it makes my mam happy, and that’s enough for me. Plus, receiving all of these presents isn’t bed… eh?
Here are all the comics I received this year:
Captain America by Ed Brubaker
I’ve enjoyed every bit of Brubaker’s epic Captain America storyline so far, so I’m looking forward to reading The Marvels Project (always too expensive for me to pick up for myself) and the final section of the Cap story - only two more (unreleased) trades to pick up and it’s all over.
Classic US Indie comics
I’ve always loved Mike Allred’s Marvel work, so I decided to pick up his creator owned Madman series recently. These are the last two books in the series (although their are some crossovers and one-shots that might not be collected in these 6 Image books).
The Mike Allred interview in his Modern Masterworks book included mentions of lots of 1990s independent comic book series. Grendel was one of them. It used to be mentioned in Wizard Magazine all the time too. But I won’t hold that against it.
Because I’ve never read Hellboy, and that seems like a mistake.
I don’t usually like anthologies, but volume 1 was fantastic. I couldn’t afford to pick this up at last year’s conventions so I’m really looking forward to diving in with this.
Despite all the acclaim, I didn’t pick Nelson up because of my dislike for anthologies. But it fits into my anthology exceptions rules, as it’s really telling one story throughout. The talent involved is magnificent too, and I couldn’t keep ignoring all that acclaim.
Again, everyone is raving about this one. And I’m making an effort to read less Marvel and DC and support more independent publications.
It looks like my first post-Christmas purchase will be the first Bulletproof Coffin book. I’ve read and heard lots about it. I’ve been to panels about it. I like David Hine’s other work. I’m very much looking forward to this.
I’ve become very interested in pulp heroes in the last half of this year, so I’m looking forward to reading this book, which also happens to feature a lot of my favourite creators.
Lily reads comics too. And we share a lot of these comics, so here are the other additions to the Clifford/Daniels library:
We’re clearly a very lucky couple with a lot of great books to read. And, aside from the other Bulletproof Coffin, we probably won’t be buying any more books until Thought Bubble in November.
We’ll be finishing the painting on our office/library tomorrow and then bringing all of the furniture and comics/books down from my parents’ home on Thursday. I’ll definitely be posting some photos when we’ve got everything finished in there. And you know what? Then I’ll have nothing but writing to get on with.
Best of the Year
I blogged about my favourite things of the year for the FPI blog.
It’s Christmas soon. If I get my office sorted out soon, I’ll be able to return to some kind of blogging and writing schedule.
I’m writing a story for a comic now based on the Hero’s Journey. Is it cheating to use a template like this? I don’t think so - there would be no story or character without my input, I’m just using this framework as a shortcut to work. Without it, I’m just be reading Marvel Comics The Untold Story.
I’m off to Leeds today, in preparation for this weekend’s Thought Bubble comic convention. Thought Bubble is, without a doubt, an event you must attend at least once. The range of creators and panels is second to none, the organisers are friendly and helpful, and the venues are fantastic.
Speaking of venues, I’ll be in the Royal Armouries Hall at tables 62 and 63. You can see where on this floor plan. For more info on what I’ll be up to, visit ArtHeroes.co.uk.
This is what I look like. But with shorter hair. Say hello and ask me things.
Don’t Write Superhero Comics!
Around 18 months ago I arranged, and sat on, a panel at Bristol Comic Expo called What’s The Point of Small Press Superheroes? The panel was an excuse to talk about my comics and gain a bigger audience for Sugar Glider. It was also a reaction to the only criticism that SG had been receiving - “Yeah, it’s alright - but why make another superhero comic?” Indeed, my co-creator, Gary Bainbridge, was just as critical of our little comic.
My answer to the panel’s question, What’s the Point of Small Press Superheroes? (and, of course, I came up with this panel) was a very-Daniel-Clifford answer of “I’m putting the time, effort and money in here - I can do whatever I want to do, and superheroes is what I want to do.” An obnoxious answer - and a little naïve too.
A more well-reasoned answer to this question is that small press superhero comics can use superhero characters and tropes, but in “different” or “better” ways. Sugar Glider was an attempt at creating a contemporary British superhero that modern teens could relate to - something that wasn’t, and isn’t, available from the big publishers. Essentially, Sugar Glider aims to do what Spider-Man does in every other medium, but often struggles with in comics - reflect the lives of his fans.
Some people would say that small press superhero comics can exist in a world without crossovers. But Sugar Glider doesn’t - I convinced Gary it would be a good idea to release two anthologies featuring a whole universe of Sugar Glider characters.
Between Bristol 2011 and now, I have set-up a publishing and workshop facilitation company, Art Heroes, with Lee Robinson. We’ve published 3 issues of Halcyon & Tenderfoot, another small press superhero comic. What’s so different about this one? Well, it’s meant to be an all-ages book (see a previous blog for more on this), and it’s aimed squarely at people who have seen all the big superhero films but never read a comic.
In total, I’ve published 9 superhero comics since November 2010 - with two more (the final issues of Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot) to be released in the next few months.
So why is this blog titled “Don’t Write Superhero Comics”? Am I just scared of the competition? Am I oblivious to all that I’ve done? Do I regret everything I’ve created over the last few years? Was it all a pointless task?
I’m lucky enough to have had a lot of success with my comics - great reviews, really good sales and I’m quite pleased with the finished products. But there are things that publishing superhero comics will never help me achieve.
Self-publishing comic books is obviously a labour of love. If I was in it for the money, I’d have quit on the day I released Sugar Glider issue 1 - 26 sales made and a huge congratulations from my veteran comic creator friends. 26 is good? As I’ve already pointed out, I made these comics because I wanted to and, to some extent, because I had to. I’ve had ideas about superhero stories and comic books since I can remember - Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot have been like a release of tension.
The other side of self-publishing is to make a name for yourself, grow your reputation and gain the respect of the people you look up to and the people who might give you work in the future. And this is why I say “Don’t Write Superhero Comics”.
I recently met with a contemporary art gallery about running some comic book workshops to coincide with one of the gallery’s current exhibitions. Thankfully, the meeting went well and I was able to secure the work for Art Heroes. Clearly, this was down to the extensive experience we have running workshops - but a ‘slice of life’ or experiment comic would have really served us better in the meeting. The gallery never mentioned Halcyon & Tenderfoot and I knew not to mention it either.
But that’s outside of the comic book world.
Based on my experiences over the last few years, I’d say that a large proportion of the comic book community is either vehemently against the superhero genre, or just plain bored of it. This was a source of great annoyance for me until fairly recently. “Why would anyone hate a whole genre when there are good and bad stories being told in every type of comic?” I could understand not liking a genre, or not being arsed with a genre - but hating it? But now I think I get it.
The success of the superhero genre in comic books and in films has caused over-saturation. I’d guess that most people making a living from comics in the UK and USA are working on superhero comics. Some of these people probably aren’t happy that their idea for Cable gets green-lit while their brand-new-never-been-done-before concept could never even be entertained by their editor. Do these creators (and editors) want to read the small press superhero comic pushed under their nose at a convention?
And the great many creators/editors who enjoy creating superhero comics… will that small press superhero zine reach the top of their to-read pile anytime soon? I doubt it. They’re living in that superhero world for their job - they won’t want to spend their precious leisure time there too.
One of my friends is a veteran of the UK small press/indie scene. He’s a fantastic creator who has released some of the best superhero comics of the last decade or so. His comics have sold well, he’s had great reviews and generated column inches in national newspapers - but has he been snapped up to write the best X-Men comics since Morrison’s run. No.
Who was the last small press/indie comic creator who received Big Two work off the back of their own superhero book? I might be wrong, but I’d say Robert Kirkman with Invincible. However, Kirkman is also amazingly successful for The Walking Dead. I think that will have had more to do with his transition to Marvel Zombies and Ultimate X-Men than Invincible.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that my work in Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot is to such a remarkable standard that I should be fighting off the exclusive deals from Marvel and DC. I am suggesting that even if the work I’ve done is superhero comics was at that standard, I still wouldn’t be getting much traction - because people in the comics industry just aren’t interested in superhero comics.
I look at Twitter and see my favourite creators (some of them have worked on hero books) bemoaning the fact that publishers and readers are far more likely to respond to a so-so superhero book than a great spy story. I see this and think, “There’s nothing for me to say to this person if I meet them at a convention.” Or “I definitely can’t show them my work.” Even I, the kid who grew up playing with his Spider-Man figures, watching X-Men cartoons and reading more than his weight in the corresponding comic - even I become embarrassed about the stories I’ve written. Stories I’ve always wanted to write. Stories I’m passionate about.
I have noticed, however, that there isn’t the same sort of malice directed at heroes of the more pulp-variety. Superheroes without the garish outfit and fantastical powers are much more palatable. The inspiration for the superhero is acceptable, but the superhero is not. It’s simply, then. Eh? I can have my cake and eat it. I can create comics about heroes, just dress them up differently. My comics have never really been about awesome fights with powers, anyway. Sugar Glider and Halcyon & Tenderfoot are both about the insecurity of childhood, and battling against expectations.
I’m currently developing a number of projects. None of these are superhero comics. One is close to a superhero story - but it’s more of a supernatural adventure/thriller. All of these stories are about people fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds. Most of them will feature things I like about superheroes - melodrama, action, adventure, and symbolism. At least one of these stories will feature a cult of religious sect. And I like that sort of thing even more than I like superheroes.
Hopefully, I won’t feel too embarrassed while showing these stories around. Because that would be a damn shame.
So if you’re just starting out in comics and you want to achieve more than just having fun, gaining experience and improving your writing… DON’T WRITE SUPERHERO COMICS!
Halcyon & Tenderfoot issue 3 launches TOMORROW
The comic book publishing and workshop facilitation partnership I run with Lee Robinson, Art Heroes, is taking part in a huge event at Newcastle City Library tomorrow, Saturday 29th September, from 10am to 4:30pm.
Newcastle City Library will be buzzing with activity for the entire day, as they host a huge book sale, a celebration of their new Manga acquisitions (5000 books, I hear!) and the launch of Halcyon & Tenderfoot issue 3.
This will be the first Art Heroes event in Newcastle since our successful launch of issue 1 back in March, which means we’ll have issues 2 and 3 on sale in our home city for the very first time.
We’ll be signing, sketching and selling copies of our comics and have new merchandise available too. But, on top of that, we’ll be running two workshops and a comic book quiz.
10am - Create a Character workshop (suitable for 6-13 years) Daniel and Lee will give you the inside scoop on creating interesting comic book characters, before setting you loose to create your own! Workshop will last approximately one hour. Limited places available. Book your free place in advance by phoning 0191 2774100 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
11am - Signing session Your chance to pick up a signed copy of Halcyon & Tenderfoot issues 1-3, commission a unique sketch from Lee and chat to the creators. Signing will last approximately 45 minutes.
11.45am - Comic Book Stories (suitable for 10-16 years) Daniel and Lee guide you through creating your own comic book stories and translating your cool ideas into comic strips you can share with your friends. Workshop will last approximately one hour. Limited places available. Book you free place in advance by phoning 0191 2774100 or emailing email@example.com.
1pm - Signing session
2:30pm - Comic Book Quiz (suitable for 15 years and over) Do you think you know more about comics, Manga, cartoons, films and videogames than anyone else? Well, now you can prove it! Compete as a team or as an individual for brilliant prizes. Quiz will last approximately one and a half hour. Limited places available. Book your free place in advance by phoning 0191 2774100 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
4pm - Signing session