Well, it’s the Tuesday after MCM, and of all the things I’d planned to do today writing this blog post was not one of them. However, after some interesting conversations at the weekend, and in light of some posts I’m seeing on social media, I thought it worth sharing some of my thoughts on the issues facing the Comic Village as a community, if only in the interest of starting a discussion.

I don’t know what the platform for such a discussion would be, nor do I know if these are the correct words to get things started. If you’re reading this, your input as either a creator or a punter would be greatly appreciated.

Before I start, however, I’d just like to clarify some of terms I’ll be using throughout. These aren’t the Oxford English Dictionary definitions but it’s how I think of them, and I hope you’ll agree that they have currency when discussing the problems at hand.


Comic Village – while this is traditionally used to refer to the collection of comic creators and artists at MCM conventions, in the context of this article I will be using it as a blanket term for this same group of people as seen across all UK conventions. In short, these are the indie creators who exhibit at conventions off their own backs, traditionally without the backing of publishers covering flights, accommodation etc. This term can also be used to refer to the area of the convention floor at MCM shows where these creators are housed, but in the context of this article I’ll be using it to refer to these creators, as people, collectively as a community.

British Comic Industry – British ‘professionals’ making comics. Why distinguish between the two? Well, frankly, this is a thorny definition, and there is a lot of overlap between these groups. Are all members of the Comic Village part of the British Comic Industry? Absolutely. Is everyone in the British Comic Industry part of the Comic Village? No… and there are a wealth of issues and concerns facing one that are rarely discussed by the other. It’s a personal bugbear of mine when an article is published about ‘how to make comics’ or ‘the realities of making comics’ and it’s written entirely from the perspective of a successful British creator whose work is published primarily by Image, Marvel, 2000AD etc. Their work is valid and their opinion valuable, but it’s a world away from the trenches of making and selling your own comic at a show, and attending conventions not just because you want to but because you need the sales to fund your next book or that book is simply not getting made.

So, to expand on this, in the context of this definition: 2000AD as a company is absolutely a foundation stone of the British Comic Industry. So would be Titan. But neither are part of the Comic Village. I don’t mean to ruffle any feathers; this is simply how I see it. As a community we need to claim an identity in order to make our voice heard, and part of that is establishing where the limits of our influence and concerns lie.

MCM – the daddy of UK conventions, if only in terms of size. Can refer to MCM London or any one of the orbital shows in other UK cities, or the greater MCM company. Or even a state of mind, I don’t know. Many of these issues are not MCM specific, but MCM seems to have become symptomatic of the issues affecting the community so I’m using it as a scapegoat and example.

MCM London

Okay, back to the present. This weekend just gone was the MCM London May 2017 convention. For myself and my colleagues in Big Punch Studios (Lucy, Nich and Ali) MCM has always been one of the highlights of the year. Admittedly, it’s also something of a glorious nightmare, but when selling books and meeting people are essential for building a fan community, and helping to make your next book a reality, you can’t ignore the lure of what’s been described as the third-largest comic convention in the English speaking world (citation needed).

MCM is not about comics. I’d say that not even a fifth of MCM is about comics. MCM is unashamedly a celebration of fan, or geek, culture. While it’s a shame that I have to say this, I think it’s important to state that I do not have a problem with this. The purpose of this article is certainly not to shame or blame cosplayers or anime fans for the woes of indie creators. They’re enjoying themselves and bringing colour to a type of event that has traditionally been quite elitist. Comic cons are evolving into exceptionally open and accepting environments for people to express their love of something, or their identity, without fear of judgement. Even if indie comics aren’t the primary draw for convention goers, and even if we make up less than 10% of the floorplan, with 200,000 people through the doors on a busy weekend some of that interest has to trickle down to us.

However, as a wiser person once pointed out: ‘comic cons are becoming carnivals – and it’s very hard to run a book shop in the middle of a carnival.’

So, despite all this, when MCM rolls around, we’re first in line – fingers hovering over the registration button – to book a table. Because when you’re making comics at an indie level, and production costs are so high and your profit margins are so razor thin, you need that audience.

Which makes it all the harder when creators attend MCM and have a bad show in terms of sales.

The convention experience

Firstly, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that this was not the case for us. As it happens, we had a good show. We know that some of our friends had good shows. However, just as many of our peers had awful experiences – and that’s assuming we ignore the generally poor treatment that creators receive behind the scenes, from booking frenzy to inconsiderate security guards to overpriced food and travel costs to a lack of promotion from organisers. These are just the lumps we take as standard.

We’ve also had terrible experiences at both MCM shows and other conventions. I’ve personally had shows where I’ve wanted to drown myself in a bucket of my own tears, live on the convention floor (I doubt anyone would have noticed). Calculating quite how a show is going to pan out is pure witchcraft. Even examining a convention’s track record is becoming increasingly unreliable. Even reliable conventions can have bad weekends – whereas I’ve been to tiny shows in unconventional (hah) locations that have been utterly brilliant.

There are many factors that make a show ‘good’. How organisers treat indie creators is important. Travel considerations are always in the back of your mind. But we have to honest with ourselves: sales make all the difference. Profit is not a dirty word, and caring about it does not invalidate your artistic credibility. We’re all doing this for the love, but at the same time if you’re spending upwards of £800 over a weekend in terms of table costs, food, travel and printing, and only making £100 back, then I’m sorry but this is not sustainable. You have to value and look after yourself, and respect your own work – because no one else is going to. Maybe you have a day job that allows you to keep doing this (I certainly do), but unless you can manage your expenses and turnover to make your costs bearable, your art is going to become a heavy burden: one that may eventually prevent you from doing what you love through sheer economics.

I don’t pretend to fully understand maths, but I have to respect it.

When you consider how hard it is for indie creators to make ends meet, it’s all the more galling when a convention ups its prices for exhibitor tables in the face of falling ticket sales. London Super Comic Con, I’m looking at you. LSCC was my first ever convention, and I was happy to defend it for the longest time; but upping your prices by 50% each year, and then charging exhibitors for a second ticket and even a second chair, is disgraceful, especially when you consider the low attendance. In 2016 LSCC became the most expensive UK comic convention to exhibit at, beating the now-defunct Kapow. It’s telling that LSCC, for 2017, has now moved into the venue that Kapow once inhabited. Big Punch Studios will not be attending.

From the perspective of organisers, however, maybe this is understandable. See above: we have to respect the maths. Indie creators are not a draw for punters. Indie creators do not sell tickets. Conventions are a business at heart, and if we want another show next year, organisers have to make their money back. In the best, most benign cases, this is through movie promotions, game stands, celebrity signings or big appearances from Marvel or DC. These bring in the fans, who in turn may then take an interest in us. In the worst cases, indie creators are a resource to be plundered by unscrupulous organisers. They know we’re desperate for table space. They know we have no bargaining power. And just as you can’t get a refund upon seeing a crappy film, once they’ve sold you the ticket, it’s over. The deal is done. The moment you book that table it doesn’t matter how awful that convention turns out to be, they’ve already got your money.

Sometimes, creators can take action and boycott a show, or get the word out to fellow creators. If a convention has gained enough negative press, occasionally the Comic Village turns its back on it. However, let’s be honest here, this is an industry built on desperation. We need that recognition and exposure – it’s our lifeblood – and for every creator vowing never to attend a particular show again there’ll be another two lining up to book a table… because they have no other choice. We need conventions. I’m just not sure they really need us.

Side note: I’m not even going to touch on the subject of ‘fake’ shows branding themselves as comic conventions but having no comic guests in attendance. That’s a debate (and a valid one) for another day.


Over the course of the last 2-3 years, Big Punch Studios have experienced a slow but steady decline in sales across all UK conventions. It’s not something we talk about publicly, because we’re a business and, like all creators, we’re sensitive about our work. At the same time, we’re still able to keep the lights on. We’re fortunate to do well enough out of conventions to keep doing what we do and to keep making these funny books. But it’s hard work, and it requires a lot of focus. Conventions probably contribute about 90% of our turnover, and unless something changes we’d be lost without them. As above: we need conventions.

Talking to fellow creators at the weekend, it was amazing how many people had experienced exactly the same thing: a steady decline in sales over the last 2-3 years. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint what might be causing it. As with many things in life, it’s unlikely to be one, dramatic cause. More likely, it’s a combination of factors, from fan fatigue to changing tastes. Maybe there are simply too many conventions per year, each drawing off the same audience. Or maybe the average convention goer is changing: creators have reported increased difficulty across the board in getting punters to engage with them. Even making eye contact can be hard. No one likes being sold to, admittedly, and we certainly have no innate right to attendees’ time or money, but it’s an observation that can’t be ignored. Could we do more as a community to be more welcoming to punters? Perhaps. Could organisers do more to promote the Comic Village as a place of interest and new discoveries? Absolutely. But maybe the demographics are changing. If convention goers, as a broad, sweeping generalisation, aren’t looking for indie books, what does this mean for us as creators?

That said, in terms of our personal experience, this was turned completely on its head over the weekend, with a wonderful selection of people stopping by the Big Punch table, chatting and taking an interest in our work. I don’t say this to rub it in the faces of anyone who experienced the opposite – I merely bring it up to highlight the fickle, unreliable nature of comic cons. Our success could well be because of our location: we were placed between a coffee stand and a main entrance; people seemed to be funnelled naturally past us. By contrast, we had a dire experience at MCM Birmingham just a couple of months prior. It was so bad that we didn’t bother coming back on the Sunday. Naughty, I know, but we had to cut our losses. We couldn’t afford to keep throwing our time and money into a pit that yielded no rewards.

So what can be done?

Big Punch has been talking in private for a long time now about a need to ‘break the tyranny of comic cons’. We need to reach a state where we are attending shows because we want to – because we want to meet fans, sell some books and have a good time – not because we need to and our business model hinges entirely upon them. As I’ve mentioned previously, indie comic creators need conventions more than the other way around, and being so reliant upon them doesn’t place us in a strong position for bargaining.

As ‘comic book’ creators we can learn a lot from webcomics. Frankly, the best business model I’ve seen for comics is one where you’re creating content all year round and publishing it online regularly, engaging with a switched-on fan base that supports, shares and discusses your work; buys merchandise and books; and then comes to find you at shows. A Kickstarter once a year for a collected, print edition of your work reaps great rewards. Generally, in the UK, the Comic Village is made up of comic book creators, whose work goes straight to print and is sold primarily across the table at conventions. The typical Comic Village fan is someone who attends one show a year, tracks down their favourite creator, and picks up the latest book in their series. If you can’t keep to a pace of creating one new book a year, you’re missing out on an engagement with that fan. The average fan has no idea of the demands, both financial and emotional, on creators in continually attending and exhibiting at shows. In general, and for the health of our community, we need to reach out to our fans and turn them into people who engage with us online all year long, rather than just in fleeting meetings once every 12 months at a convention. Patreon, social media, forums… even the comments section on your website. These are all things we need to utilise – and properly. This won’t happen until we shift some of our old ways of things.

Selling indie comic across a table is hard. We need to adapt and explore new avenues, and learn from our siblings in the online community, because conventions simply do not make things easy for us. The economics are stacked against us.

But until the day when we’re all attending conventions as the celebrity stars of our own private fan bases, we’re stuck with the current convention model and something needs to change.

The voice of the Comic Village

Nothing is going to change until the Comic Village unifies as a collective voice with the power to argue our case and defend the rights of indie creators at comic conventions. Please see my personal definition of ‘Comic Village’ above. This is not just an MCM issue. I would also like to highlight the work of the Comic Village Alliance group on Facebook in providing a forum for creators to compare notes and offer advice. It’s an invaluable resource and I’m glad it exists. I’m merely talking in general terms here, covering the broader issues affecting our community.

A recurring point raised over the weekend was a need to take action, and a general feeling that some kind of breaking point had been reached. The issue of unionising was also raised, something that had never occurred to me before. I hate conflict. I avoid even the suggestion of conflict like the plague. So when the idea of taking a stand and poking my head above the wall begins to appeal even to me, perhaps something does have to be done. I’m not sure if unionising is the answer, but I would like to see more power in the hands of the Comic Village to look after ourselves, and I can’t tell if my reluctance to make this leap is the natural fear that comes before taking essential and correct action, or just my innate desire to live a quiet life and avoid ever rocking the boat.

I’m conflicted.

I would like there to be a detailed and in-depth discussion about this, and again I’m not sure what the ideal forum would be. Whatever our course of action, union or not, the biggest problem facing us is that the Comic Village is a community of individuals. We’re all artists (even self-aggrandising writers like myself) and we didn’t get into this in the name of activism. We just wanted to create things. But unless we’re willing to recognise our craft as a valid industry that needs protecting, and to sit down and discuss our problems together, the status quo will persist and we may lose to ability to continue doing what we love.

This is simply not going to happen unless the Comic Village finds a unified voice. I’ve talked a lot in this article about the problems with conventions and the desire to be able to negotiate with organisers to make them better for creators. We can’t change the world, however, until we get our own house in order. For all the talk of change and action over the weekend, there are still things that we, as creators, simply cannot agree on. Case in point, consider the following.

Fan art
The big one. Is there a place for fan art in the Comic Village? I’ve heard impassioned arguments on both sides of the debate. I have close friends who feel both ways about it. I personally feel that I would rather be recognised and remembered for my own IP and characters, than as someone who recreates other peoples’. That said, there are artists whose renditions of familiar characters are works of art in their own right, and whose talents are undeniably a draw for punters. It’s a grey area – and I’m just a writer, so I know my perspective on this is a bit skewed. MCM has an official stance on the matter, but it’s almost unenforceable, and I think the law, were anyone to ever raise it, definitely frowns on fan art. A discussion for another day, perhaps, but a prime example of something that’s dividing the community before we ever get started.

Bulk table booking
MCM offers heavily discounted tables for indie creators. It is, actually, one of the best things the organisers do – although it’s perhaps a sad indictment of the state of indie comics that this is necessary. It’s almost admitting that creating comics in the current model isn’t profitable. Big Punch Studios started out as two indie comics, Afterlife Inc. and 7STRING, each with its own table in the Comic Village. When we formed the studio, we starting booking these tables together, asking for them to be positioned next to each other. With four people exhibiting we’ve always been comfortable with two tables. When we wanted a larger convention presence we paid for it, forking out for a booth at a couple of shows. It was expensive, and it meant leaving the Comic Village behind to venture out into deeper, dealership waters, but we didn’t feel comfortable bulk-buying creator tables for the same amount of space but at a fraction of the cost. Last October we weren’t quick enough to get a Comic Village table, so we had to get a regular dealer table on the other side of the hall. Cheaper than a booth but still expensive. Last weekend we were back in our spiritual home, with two tables in the Comic Village. I think there needs to be a stance on etiquette when it comes to bulk-booking discounted tables, and I would favour a maximum limit of two tables per creator/company. I’m sorry, but every time I see a creator taking up eight tables in the Comic Village I just see the seven people who weren’t able to attend because of it. Tables sell out in five minutes. Demand is fierce and we’re limited by choice.

Minimum prices
If you’re selling a book for £10 and your neighbour is selling a book of comparable size for £1, does one devalue or undercut the other? Should there be a minimum recommended price for selling books or prints at a convention? Would enforcing this protect creators or just be tyrannical?

These are just a selection of the issues we need to come to a consensus on. Some I have strong feelings on, others I don’t. If you’re anything like me, I imagine you’re much the same. Some will affect you. Some won’t. But we all need to recognise that the Comic Village is more than just a group of well-meaning creators doing their own thing and generally moving in the same direction. The Comic Village is genuinely a wonderful, powerfully creative group of people. If you all hadn’t been so welcoming and helpful when I was starting out, I wouldn’t have lasted a year. Heck, if you hadn’t been so willing to share advice and warnings when I was just a punter I wouldn’t even have got started. I love the Comic Village; I love what it stands for; and it makes me sad and a little angry when I see this community getting hurt by things that are seemingly beyond its control, and it makes me think about ways in which we could turn it around if we’re willing to address some difficult questions and find a way to move forward.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. I’m sure I’m not even the first person to ask these questions. But if people are willing to sit down and talk about this, I’d love to chat and argue (as much as I hate confrontation) and laugh and have a drink with you, and maybe find a collective voice to make a change.

Because nothing is changing at present. And it needs to.