Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A most Remorseful Day: rest in peace, Colin Dexter


Just read about the death of Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Morse. He was 86 and had not been well enough to make his usual cameos during last year's filming of Endeavour series 4, but news of his passing still comes as a shock, and a sadness.

I had the pleasure of meeting Colin several times at signings during the 1990s when he was still writing new Morse novels. He was friendly and quick of wit, with a ready smile and a genuine affection for his readers - a true gentleman of an author.

I read all his novels and loved the Morse TV series. When both ended - the novels in 1999, the show a year later - I wanted to capture my appreciation for them. From that was born The Complete Inspector Morse, published by Reynolds & Hearn in 2002.

The book was a modest success, and three revised editions followed at R&H to reflect the enduring appeal of Colin Dexter's characters. When Titan commissioned a new edition in 2011, just as news of a young Morse TV drama set in the 1960s was breaking.

Four series of Endeavour have followed, with an extended fifth run of episodes in the works for 2018. And I have maintained my appreciation by adding the new show to my appreciative text, now an ebook entitled Endeavour: The Complete Inspector Morse.

Colin Dexter is gone, but his wonderful characters endure thanks to screenwriter Russell Lewis, actor Shaun Evans, and all those involved at Mammoth. There's even a new Morse play on Radio 4 this Saturday, House of Ghosts, written by Alma Cullen.

For those of us who have enjoyed Morse on page or on screen - the worldwide TV audience was estimated at a billion in more than 200 countries - this is a terribly sad day. For Colin Dexter's family and friends, it must be far worse. Our thoughts are with them.
Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
- A.E. Housman

Monday, March 13, 2017

Celebrating some of 2000AD's unsung heroes

A prominent 2000AD creator recently published a list of unsung heroes from the weekly's 40 year history, all of them deserving recognition for their contribution. Well, here's another list of heroes from various periods in the Galaxy's greatest comic.

RICHARD BURTON
Less than a dozen editors have spent any time in the big chair at 2000AD, so there's not many people who understand the unique stresses and strains that come with the Rosette of Sirius. Among those few, Richard gets little credit for doing a sterling job in near-impossible circumstances. He took over when creative talent was leaving for the promise of recognition and royalties elsewhere.

Richard kept the comic going and managed to turn things around, putting together an amazing run of iconic stories and art. The Horned God, Zenith, Necropolis, the death of Johnny Alpha - all part of his tenure. So time were Button Man, Hewligan's Haircut, and the first graphic novel collections. Richard also had the tricky task of introducing colour to the prog, and responding to the advent of Toxic.

Were there mistakes along the way? Of course. Any 2000AD editor who claims to have presided over a perfect era is deluding themselves, just like any creator who always finds someone else to blame when things go wrong. But Richard deserves credit for the many things his editorship did achieve, often against overwhelming odds and amid endless mockery of his droid counterpart Burt.

STEVE YEOWELL
This artist has been around the pages of 2000AD for the better part of thirty years, a consumate professional who always delivers. From his early work on Zenith through strips like Maniac 5, Devlin Waugh, Red Seas and many more, Steve is the artist any editor wants to employ. He can draw scripts that appear impossible, sending them on time, every time. You want storytelling that looks effortless? You want an artist who doesn't need their ego stroked to get the job done? Send for Steve Yeowell.

CHRIS BLYTHE
Colourists don't get noticed, unless they mess up. It is one of the invisible jobs in comics, along with lettering and design and - to an extent - editing. A great colourist serves the story and  artist, and Chris is a great colourist. He took computer colouring in 2000AD great leaps forward, enhancing the look of Judge Dredd in particular and the comic as a whole. I'm not sure I ever met Chris, but he did stellar work week in, week out. Most everything looks better with Chris on colouring.

JOHN TOMLINSON
Another former editor of 2000AD, and a writer for the Galaxy's greatest comic as well. John was a freelance assistant in the early 1990s and became editor for a spell, working with Steve MacManus after the previous incumbent was made redundant in a brutal round of cost-cutting. John didn't have long to make his mark as editor, but his contributions are still important such as commissioning Nikolai Dante and America II. He also wrote two under-appreciated strips - the anarchic Armoured Gideon, and the more measured Mercy Heights.

THE LETTERERS
Just as great colourists go unnoticed, so do wonderful letterers - and 2000AD has been served by some giants in that area. The legendary Tom Frame, the wonderful Annie Parkhouse and Ellie de Ville, plus craftsmen like Steve Potter and more recently Simon Bowland. You don't appreciate how good these people are until you attempt some lettering for yourself. It's a skill and an art, leading the eye around the page, shaping the narrative while remaining unnoticed. Truly, letterers are heroes.

AND SO MANY MORE...
Artists like Simon Davis and Colin MacNeil, pouring all their talents and their creative energies into telling stories through paint. Amazing cover artists like Jason Brashill and Mark Harrison, who can bring the front of a comic to life - and who are no slouches at storytelling inside that cover. Art editors and designers like Steve Cook, whose iconic logo still graces the front of 2000AD today and deservedly so.

And the current editor Matt Smith, longest-serving of all the Thargs by many years - he may not be a screaming extrovert like some predecessors, but his time in the Command Module has proven to be among the most fruitful, most trouble-free and more important in 2000AD history. Long may he wear the Rosette of Sirius with pride!

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Top 10 covers I commissioned for 2000AD titles

The 40th anniversary edition of THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, the unfiltered history of 2000AD by myself and Karl Stock, has reminded me of the amazing talents with whom I was lucky enough to work. I spent twelve years in editorial on various 2000AD titles from 1990 until 2001, going from freelance to staff and back to freelance again.

During that time I commissioned close to 500 different covers from dozens of different artists. Just for fun, here are my top 10 picks from among the many. I could easily have picked another 40 for this list, but these ten will do as a representative sample for today...

Pop Art inspired piece by Sean Phillips for the Judge Dredd Megazine's relaunch as a fortnightly title in 1992 - and this really did pop on the shelves. It was an experimental effort, but one that worked well and was distinctly different from other comics of the time.

Dean Ormston painted this lush image of the Dark Judges for The Complete Judge Dredd, a monthly re-presenting the future lawman's stories in order. It gave 1990s artists a chance to homage to classic strips - in this case, Brian Bolland's Judge Death Lives.

A portrait of Judge Hershey for the Megazine by Simon Davis, now better known for his work on Sinister Dexter and Sláine. Outside the world of British comics, Simon is an acclaimed portrait artist so he was the perfect choice for this striking image of Hershey.

Dozens of the covers I commissioned were homages to artists and striking images. For this Sláine cover I asked Duncan Fegredo to channel Gustav Klimt. It was a fun subversion to have the male character naked and the woman fully clothed for a change.

Jock painted a cracking Missionary Man cover for the Judge Dredd Megazine but the image didn't work with our required elements until I tried an extreme close-up, running the text down one side like an old Wanted poster.Not perfect, but eye-catching.

Steven Cook was 2000AD's art editor for many years and always eager to push the design envelope. He was creating some amazing photo imagery for other titles, so when Devlin Waugh went Bollywood it seemed the perfect opportunity to challenge the norm.

I have an abiding aversion to periodicals who put snow on their logo for the Xmas issue, but am not averse to theming a cover should a fitting idea arise. Kevin Walker provided this festive image for the Megazine, a change from his familiar fully painted style.

Another homage cover, this time spoofing a Tim Bradstreet painting for the Vertigo crime anthology comic mini-series Gangland. The redoubtable Cliff Robinson drew Dredd on the porcelain throne, reflecting a wry Gordon Rennie & Chris Weston story inside.

Dermot Power is a great artist who now works almost exclusively in design for films, a sad loss for comics. I managed to lure him back a few times to provide covers, and this image is a corker. I love how it captures Devlin Waugh's utter nonchalance.

The best single issue I edited, with my all-time favourite cover. Brian Bolland provided this homage to the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo by Joe Rosenthal, with 2000AD characters atop a mound of past British comics - a tribute to those who went before...

Monday, February 13, 2017

2000AD event with acclaimed comics artist Colin MacNeil at Biggar Library this Saturday, Feb 18th

There's a special event at Biggar Library from 1pm this Saturday - February 18th- to celebrate the launch of THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, an unfiltered history of iconic British comic 2000AD written by me with additional material by Karl Stock. [I was editor of 2000AD from 1996 until the year 2000 when I moved to Biggar!]

Joining me at the signing event is acclaimed Scottish comics artist Colin MacNeil, who will sketching and talking about his work. Celebrated for drawing beloved 2000AD characters like Judge Dredd and Chopper, Colin has also illustrated Captain America, Batman and Conan the Barbarian in an amazing career spanning thirty years.

This special event is being organised by Biggar Library and Biggar's own Atkinson-Pryce Books, the Scottish Independent Bookshop of the Year for 2016. The event is free, but please let the library know you are coming by calling 01899 222 060 before Saturday.

Copies of THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD will be available to buy on the day. This heavily illustrated, glossy colour hardback costs £35, but everyone who buys a copy on the day also gets a bundle of 2000AD or Dredd comics from my private collection as a bonus.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Loving the Alien: a guide to running 2000AD [c.2000]

THRLL-POWER OVERLOAD - an unfiltered history of iconic British comic 2000AD - is published this week in a new to celebrate the anthology's 40th anniversary. Written by me and Karl Stock, this lushly illustrated hardback tome reveals how the Galaxy's greatest comic was born, prospered and survived 40 years - often against the odds.

When I was stepping down as editor of 2000AD - in the summer of 2000- I wrote a bluffer's guide to running the weekly. Andy Diggle was succeeding me, but he was getting a new assistant and I thought a little background might be helpful. [That person proved to be Matt Smith, who's run the comic since 2002 - an epic stint.]

Just for fun, here is a lightly edited version of that guide. Advances in comics creation and publishing mean much of the content is out of date, even quaint by 2017 standards, and some of what's included is verging on the arcane that will fascinate only the most obsessive  [people like me, frankly]. But it might be of interest to some, so let the editorial burbling commence...


1.    Who does what for the Galaxy’s greatest comic

2000 AD is currently put together by a dedicated editorial team of 1.8 people. That breaks down to one full-time editor (David Bishop – DB hereafter), a part-time assistant editor (Andy Diggle – AD hereafter) and a part-time designer (Steve Cook – SC here after).

• DB has resigned as editor of 2000 AD and finishes on June 29, 2000.
He will be replaced by AD as editor, effective June 30, 2000.

• AD is currently editor of the Judge Dredd Megazine (40% of his time, editor of Sonic the Comic (20%) and assistant editor of 2000 AD (40%).

(From July, Sonic the Comic  will pass to another editor at Egmont Fleetway. The Megazine will be edited by DB on a freelance, out-of-house basis from July, leaving Andy to work solely on 2000 AD.)

• SC designs 2000 AD on a part-time contract with Egmont Fleetway, two days a week. His official title is Art Editor of 2000 AD.

(N.B. Egmont Fleetway is currently advertising for an Editorial Assistant to work on 2000 AD full-time. It is hoped to have this person in place before DB’s departure from Egmont Fleetway.)

Other people at Egmont Fleetway whose work contributes to 2000 AD:-

• Managing Editor Steve MacManus – a former editor of 2000 AD, he offers editorial support if needed for holiday or sickness cover. He has little day to day input on the title.

• Product Manager Jess Manu and Marketing Assistant Jane Ballard – responsible for all promotions, cover-mounts and subscriptions.

• Marketing Manager Jon Rissik – effectively the publisher of 2000 AD, responsible for managing the title including budget control, circulation management, all marketing and promotions activities.

• Production Manager Sarah Colley – responsible for all production processes between editorial and distribution i.e. repro, printing, paper buying, contract negotiation of all elements of production process.

• Accounts Department – responsible for payroll, bought ledger (i.e. payments to contributors, contractors), royalties, budget monitoring.

• Syndication Manager Martin Morgan – responsible for all aspects of international publishing syndication of 2000 AD content; for control and storage of the 2000 AD archive of back issues, films and CDs; and for sending international courier packages.

• Executive Editor Gil Page – responsible for negotiating all licensing and merchandising deals e.g. action figures, video games etc.


2.    The Commissioning Process

All 2000 AD stories, artwork and cover images are created by self-employed freelancers who work from their own premises. They are commissioned by the editorial team – usually the editor, although there is flexibility about who deals with whom on a daily basis.

Covers: these are commissioned at any time up to a week before they are needed to go to repro. Ideally key cover art should be available four months in advance of publication, so it can be supplied to Diamond Comic Distributors for promotional purposes in the crucial Previews catalogue. Some covers are fully painted but most are either fully rendered on computer by the artist, or else drawn in black and white by an artist and then given to a colourist to fully render on computer.

Artists are required to submit a sketch first for our approval before being verbally given the go-ahead. Sometimes we pre-design covers to show artists the sort of thing we want, but we still require a sketch from them to confirm mutual comprehension of the concept.

Scripts: these are commissioned from freelance writers by the editorial team. Some stories are driven by ideas from the team, sometimes ideas are suggested as springboards for stories, but most are the creation of the writer. Generally writers are required to submit a plot synopsis first for approval before they are commissioned to script it.

Most scripts are now submitted via email. The bulk of 2000 AD is written by a handful of scribes. Longer serials are generally written with a specific artist in mind, as this helps build teamwork between the creators. Most 2000 AD writers work for more than one employer. They also tend to be writing more than one series for 2000 AD at any given time. Once a synopsis has been agreed, the story is verbally commissioned and terms agreed.

All stories for 2000 AD are commissioned on the basis that we acquire all rights in the material, in exchange for paying the creators a royalty and acknowledging them as the creators wherever possible. Contracts are only issued when a new series is being created for 2000 AD, to establish precedent. Thereafter all subsequent commissions for that series are made on the same terms as the initial contract. We currently issue a publishing contract and a separate audio/visual rights contract, which are prepared by the editor based on templates from our lawyers.

Artwork: this is commissioned from freelance artists by the editorial team. We send the artist a full script for each episode they are to draw, having agreed terms and a timetable for delivery. In some cases artists are issued with a written timetable, particularly if a job is time sensitive or the artist wants time keeping guidance.

Some artists are required to submit thumbnails or breakdowns of their work at an early stage. This is used to watch for any potential problems with story-telling, style and the art size – particularly with new artists being nurtured.

Some artists only pencil their pages, some deliver fully inked black and white art, some fully paint their jobs, others computer render their work. They are generally commissioned to do whatever they do best. The only exception is where artists are only asked to do part of a job (e.g. just the B&W art) because it enhances productivity if the colouring is done by someone else while the artist works on the next episode.

Like writers, artists who create new series are issued with publishing and audio/visual rights contracts. Unlike most writers, artists can require more attention to get their best work from them in a timely fashion. 2000 AD draws from a stable of about 40 artists, although only a dozen are in perpetual work for us.

We are moving towards having artists scan their mono art and supply that digitally to us – either on disc, via email or on “blind” pages on their own websites. This has already been done successfully as a pilot scheme with artist Simon Fraser, who lives in Vienna. It cuts down on courier and postage costs and speeds the editorial process.

Colouring: About half the strips in 2000 AD are coloured by specialists, rather than by the original artist. All specialist colouring is now done on computer and supplied on disc, which has dramatically cut the cost and time required for the production processes. Colouring is commissioned verbally with the colourist sent a copy of the script along with the physical art to work on.

Colourists get between £50 and £60 per page for their work. This may seem high in comparison to writers’ rates (between £35 and £80 a page, the average is £50), but colourists receive no royalties or secondary income from their work.

Lettering: All the strips in 2000 AD are lettering by self-employed freelancers on computer. We use four letterers on five strips – Tom Frame (Judge Dredd), Ellie De Ville (Sinister Dexter and others), Annie Parkhouse (Nikolai Dante and others), Steve Potter (whatever’s left). All the letterers have developed unique fonts, based on their own hand lettering style. Letterers are paid £20 per page.

Lettering could be done in-house, but it is quite time consuming. Our freelance letterers have invested heavily - and at their own expense - to go fully digital, so the work should remain with them. Lettering costs 2000 AD about £28,000 in fees per year.


3.    The Editorial Budget

Page Rates: These are set by a combination of historical precedent, budgetary constraints and quality. 2000 AD’s base rates have hardly shifted in the past 10 years. Base rate for new writers is £35 per page; for artists it is £120 for mono art and £180 for colour art. Lately we have been having more pencil and ink art splits, where base rates are £70 and £40 per page respectively. Base rate for colouring is £50.

Rates vary depending upon length of service – stay in work long enough for 2000 AD, your rate will creep up. Quality of output is another major factor, as is its importance to the comic – that’s why John Wagner gets more for Dredd than for writing other strips. Generally, colour art is set at mono page rate plus 50%.

As a rule of thumb, pages rates are set at the following levels for budgetary reasons: script costs should average £50 per page across an issue; art costs (including colouring) should average £200 per page; and lettering is uniformly £20 per page. Cover art usually costs £350. Where a strip is being published in black and white, we expect to pay up to £150 to get the best quality mono art.

Editorial Budget: From July 2000, the weekly will have 27 pages of strip, of which five pages will be mono art. This means the average editorial cost of each prog will be as follows:-

27 pages script @ £50 = £1350
22 pages colour art @ £200 = £4400
05 pages mono art @ £150 = £750
27 pages lettering @ £20 = £540
01 page cover art @ £350 = £350
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Total average cost = £7400

Each year 2000 AD publishes 49 standard 32-page progs, plus an end-of-year 100-page special issue which features 67 pages of strip. So the editorial budget for 2001 using the current format and page rates would be about £382,000. (It’s worth noting the 1996 editorial budget was over £500k – this has been slashed through editorial prudence.)


4.    The Backwards Extrapolation Art of Scheduling

2000 AD is an anthology title that usually runs five different strips in each issue. Judge Dredd appears in every prog over six pages. The final strip in each prog is also six pages long, while the three middle stories are five page episodes. Stories can run to any length, from one-off completes like Tharg’s Future Shocks to 26-part mega-epics. Over a year 2000 AD publishes nearly 1400 pages of new strip by dozens of different creators all working at different speeds in different locations.

As you can imagine, scheduling stories in 2000 AD can be a tad tricky.

A few simple rules have been developed to make easier the process of keeping this almost infinite assortment of plates spinning successfully. Never start running a multi-part serial until you have at least 70% of the artwork in hand. Choose your artists very carefully and monitor their time-keeping rigorously. Most crucially, use the art of backwards extrapolation when doing forward planning.

When trying to estimate when a new serial will be available for publication, we always calculate when the final episode should be completed and work backwards from that date. No artist works fast enough to produce an episode a week these days, so we have to stockpile artwork in advance to make sure we don’t run out halfway through a serial.

Here’s an example. In mid July John Burns will be available to begin painting Book IV of Nikolai Dante’s Tsar Wars saga. Book IV will be 12 episodes of six pages each. John Burns will produce one episode every four weeks on average. That means it will take him about 48 weeks to paint Book IV, not allowing time off for holidays or illness. So John Burns should finish painting Book IV by mid June 2001. Allow a week for lettering and the final part of Book IV should be ready to go to repro by the end of June, 2001.

2000 AD goes to repro about five weeks before it appears in shops. So at the end of June 2001, we will be sending Prog 1254 off to repro. That means Part 12 of Nikolai Dante: Tsar Wars Book IV could appear in Prog 1254, which goes on sale August 8th 2001. By backwards extrapolation, that means the serial could begin with Part 1 being published in Prog 1243, due to repro April 16th, going on sale May 23rd, 2001.

In fact, we have scheduled this serial to begin seven weeks later in Prog 1250 (due to repro June 4th, on sale July 11th). That issue will be the Summer relaunch with a line-up of  new Thrills beginning inside. This also allows an extra seven weeks safety margin. It’s worth noting that in this example, John Burns will have completed 11 out of 12 episodes before his first episode goes to repro.

Obviously, this stockpiling of work in progress requires financial investment and careful planning. 2000 AD has about £150,000 tied up in stock (scripts and artwork for future publication) at any given time. If you want great stories and art by top creators next year, you have to get them working on that material now!


5.    Getting the Prog Ready for Repro

Being a weekly, 2000 AD sends a new issue off to repro every seven days, usually each Monday – this is called our “press day”. It happens five weeks before the comic is due to go on sale. For example, Prog 1205 goes on sale August 9th, 2000.  It is due to repro on Monday, July 3rd.

Where we have painted colour artwork to appear in the prog, we send this to repro ahead of the rest of the issue for advance scanning. Our repro house supplies these hi-res scans to us on CD, from which we create low resolution images for use by the letterers. At present, it is rare for more than six pages in any prog to be painted art.

Ideally, all the colour artwork is ready a week before it is due to repro. The editorial team sub-edits the scripts and artwork for the episodes which will appear in that prog, to create the best version of the script for telling the story in harmony with the finished artwork.

Low resolution (72dpi) versions of the art for each page are positioned into a Quark Xpress document, along with the standard series logo, story title, part number and credit card EPS. A hard copy of this document is printed out for reference, while the low res art and Quark file are loaded onto a zip disc. This disc and the subbed script are given to the relevant freelance letterer, who has a week to letter the story and return it to the editorial team.

Three of the four letterers working for 2000 AD (Tom Frame, Steve Potter and Ellie De Ville) letter their strips in Quark, using unique fonts they have developed for the job. The other letterer, Annie Parkhouse, does her work in Illustrator and supplies EPSs of each page of lettering. Again, this is done in her own, unique font.

The lettering process has recently been stream-lined to go all-digital, but there are further improvements to be made. For example, most scripts are now supplied via email, so the subbed scripts could be supplied to the letterers on disc. Equally, the judicious use of ISDN for trafficking lettering files would also speed delivery. (Why not use email, you ask? Emailing 5MB files can be time consuming…)

By press day, we should have in hand all the colour strip artwork, already lettered and pretty much ready to go – from Prog 1200 that will constitute 27 pages of each 32 page prog. The other five pages are editorial content – the front cover; Nerve Centre (our contents page); a house ad page for the Megazine, subscriptions or relevant merchandise offers; Input (our letters page); and the Next Prog page.

These five pages are written by the editorial team and designed by Art Editor Steve Cook. Steve also designs all the DTP elements on the strip pages, usually just on the first and last pages of each episode. Steve Cook works two days a week designing 2000 AD, on a part-time contract. With the stream-lining of the lettering process, the amount of time required to design a standard issue of 2000 AD is decreasing. But it does require more design work by the permanent editorial team.


6.    The Production Process

Once a week a new issue of 2000 AD is sent to repro. At present, our repro house is Elements in Leeds (formerly Pre Press Services). They take all our digital files and run these through a rip, bringing all the elements of each page together as a single digital file. Elements outputs a set of digital proofs for each page and sends these to 2000 AD for checking and approval. Where alteration or correction is required, these changes are communicated to Elements.

Once the editorial team is happy with the final version, the proofs are sent back to Elements. The repro house then creates PDFs (portable document formats) of the issue and supplies these on disc to the printers (at present this is Goodhead in Bicester).

2000 AD used to be printed conventionally using four colour films. But the shift to digital lettering made it possible to shift to film-less printing. Previously the printers created photographic plates from the four colour films, now they make laser-etched plates from the digital instruction on the disc supplied by the repro house.

The printers create running sheet proofs from the PDFs for final checking by the editorial team, to ensure no elements have been lost during the repro process. Once these are approved, the issue is printed, bound, trimmed and bundled for collection by TNT.

Elements are allowed a week to do the repro work on 2000 AD – it takes nine days in the schedule because the job travels overnight between London and Leeds.

It’s worth noting that the change to all digital repro has brought substantial savings. At the start of this year the cost of repro was cut from £40 per page to £32 per page, in recognition of the increasingly digital nature of the material supplied. The official repro budget for 2000 AD this year is £51,916 in total, which equals £1018 per prog.

Now that 2000 AD’s lettering is all-digital, Elements has agreed to a split differential for repro. Pages with painted art requiring scanning now cost £30 per page, while the all digital pages cost £22 per page. This brings the average repro cost of an issue down to £752, saving more than £250 per week (about £13,000 per year).

It may be possible to eliminate using a repro house for most of the process, but this would requiring employing someone to create the PDFs – a time consuming and mind-numbing process. This could shave nearly £30,000 off the repro budget – but money would instead have to be spent on staff and equipment.


7.    Display Advertising in 2000 AD

This  appears so infrequently in 2000 AD as to be invisible. According to the published budget, the comic is supposed to generate £20,900 in ad revenue this year – only £400 per prog. In the first six months of the year, the comic has only had 2.25 pages of paid display advertising. It has had loose inserted flyers for book clubs too, but efforts to sell ad space in the weekly have been risible.

At present 2000 AD survives on its sales revenue alone. Selling one page of advertising into each prog would generate £50,000 revenue a year – a substantial contribution to the financial health of the weekly. This is an area where a little concerted effort, skill and enthusiasm can make a major difference to 2000 AD.


8.    Distribution and Circulation of 2000 AD

Here the editorial team has to plead ignorance. Andy and I have a little working knowledge but this has been gleaned from training courses and an induction day with our current distributors, Seymour. To learn more about this part of publishing 2000 AD, you need true experts. I have enclosed the handout notes from a highly recommended course run by the PPA in London – well worth attending. I would also suggest attending a PPA course called How the Newstrade Works. Both these courses are a half day each and convey essential information.


9.    2000 AD Subscriptions

2000 AD should have a much higher level of subscriptions. The last readership survey in 1998 indicated that 92% of respondents buy every prog. But only 7.5% subscribe to the Galaxy’s greatest comic. At present we have about 1800 subscribers from an average weekly sale of 24,000 (including subs and export).

Subscriptions have been one of the few areas where Fleetway has invested time and money, growing subs from 1500 last Christmas to the current levels. Former marketing manager Douglas Pocock was responsible for this focus on subs, because he believed 2000 AD should become a subscription only title (or be sold off).

Logically, the comic should have a higher subscription base – 23 out of 25 readers buy every issue every week, it’s cheaper to subscribe than to buy at a newsagent (£1.25 versus £1.40), and subscribers get their progs up to five days in advance of the comic appearing in shops.

However, British consumers expect to be able to buy any title they want from their local newsagent. They are resistant to subscribing because they prefer to retain their freedom of choice about whether or not to purchase a particular issue. Overcoming this mindset in a major obstacle to any attempt to take 2000 AD all-subscription.

Recent subs promotions have included:- a copy of BATMAN/JUDGE DREDD: Die Laughing Collected Edition; a STAR WARS or INVISIBLES graphic novel; a pewter Dredd keyring; mousemats; posters; t-shirts; and a variety of price incentives. No data is currently available about which of these promotions have been most successful.


10. 2000 AD Licensing

In the early 1990s Copyright Promotions Limited (CPL hereafter) acted as Egmont Fleetway’s Licensing agency. After the failure of the Stallone Dredd film, interest in licensing 2000 AD-related concepts died away and CPL ceased being our agents. Since 1996 Egmont Fleetway has adopted a passive attitude to licensing character universes from 2000 AD.

The company has fielded inquiries through Gil Page and negotiated deals where possible, but it has not actively gone out hawking these character universes to potential licensees such as computer games developers and the like. The sole exception was Fleetway Film and Television (FFTV hereafter), a company set up to find development deals for 2000 AD film and TV projects (live action or animated).

FFTV was not a great success, only setting up deals for Strontium Dog and Outlaw TV movies with Evolve Entertainment, to be sold on to America’s Showtime cable channel. FFTV’s best success was starting to address the black hole regarding the lack of paperwork proving Egmont Fleetway’s ownership of the audio/visual rights in its own characters. Otherwise FFTV just soaked up a lot of time and money for little return.

Current deals (not including syndicated publishing):-


Action figures          - Re:Action Figures launches Wave II this Autumn

Graphic novels       - Hamlyn is negotiating a new deal for 4 colour books
                                    - Titan Book is negotiating for several b&w books

CCG                            - Round Table wants to expand the deal for its Judge
Dredd collectible card game – but has real problems

Video Games           - Acclaim published a film-related Dredd game in ‘95
                                    - Gremlin published a non-film Dredd game in ‘97



11. Royalties

Egmont Fleetway prepares royalty statements once a year, with the royalty period covering the 12 month period between the preceding July and June (e.g. July 1999 – June 2000). The statements are currently prepared by David Webb in the Egmont Fleetway accounts department, based on information supplied to him from 2000 AD editorial, Martin Morgan in syndication and external licensees.

Once royalty statements are prepared, these are passed to editorial for final checking before being sent out to the relevant creators, along with a covering letter inviting them to invoice for the appropriate amount. (An example of a typical set of royalties is enclosed with this guide.) We do not send out statements if the amount involved is less than £20. These are carried forward to the next royalty period, along with any royalties which go unclaimed by any creators (total is usually £500).

CPL was Egmont Fleetway’s licensing agents for much of the 1990s and still has involvement in certain contracts. The Judge Dredd Megazine generates a reprint fee for the relevant writer and artist (£7.50 and £15 per page respectively) for any 2000 AD story re-run in its pages.

Egmont Fleetway’s Martin Morgan syndicates 2000 AD material around the world, regularly sending courtesy copies of the comic to his contacts in various countries. He also responds to inquiries from potential new syndication clients. Martin supplies data from these deals to accounts for preparation of royalty statements, cross-checking allocation accuracy with the 2000 AD editorial team.

Express Newspapers’ Daily Star published a Judge Dredd adventure strip for 17 years and continues to syndicate this material around the world. However, detailed information is rarely supplied by Express Newspapers, making it  difficult to create a meaningful breakdown of which creators should get what from the total – usually about £300.

Royalties come in from licensees who publish graphic novels starring 2000 AD characters – Titan Books, Hamlyn (formerly Octopus) and Dark Horse Comics. Royalties also arise from any and all other merchandising, such as the Round Table Dredd card game, Gremlin Interactive’s Judge Dredd Playstation game and others. Re:Action Figures will be declaring royalties for the 2000 AD action figures soon.

Egmont Fleetway pays reprint fees for any material it reprints in its own titles. These are almost always £7.50 per page for writers and £15 per page for artists. If we reprint 48 pages or more of a single story in a single publication, this is contractually classified as a graphic novel and the creators get a royalty instead of a reprint fee.

If there is more than one artist (e.g. a penciller and an inker), the reprint fee goes to the penciller unless the artists have made a special arrangement and told us about it.

Egmont Fleetway also pays royalties on any merchandise which we create and sell ourselves. In the past year we have launched a new range of 2000 AD merchandise, beginning with the Prog 2000 t-shirt. This merchandise is being created for us via a company called Mediator Marketing, which is handling fulfillment for a cut of the profits.

Here we pay creators an ex gratia payment of 10% of our net revenue from sales of the merchandise. This is split equally – 5% to the relevant writer, 5% to the relevant artist. However, if the item is drawn by someone other than the original artist creator, the royalty split alters because consumers are principally buying the specific imagery on the item. Then we split the 5% art royalty 80/20 – the actual artist whose work is being sold gets 4%, the character’s creator gets 1%.

In the case of the Prog 2000 t-shirt, this gets even more complicated because it features five characters. The writer split is fairly straight forward, going to Pat Mills (1% as creator of Nemesis), Robbie Morrison (1% as creator of Nikolai Dante), Gerry Finley-Day (1% as creator of Rogue Trooper),  and John Wagner (2% as creator of Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog).

But when it comes to the art split, the headaches really begin. The actual t-shirt artist Brian Bolland will get 4% of our net revenue. The other 1% of the art royalty is split between Kevin O’Neill (0.2% as creator of Nemesis), Simon Fraser (0.2% as creator of Nikolai Dante), Dave Gibbons (0.2% as creator of Nemesis), and Carlos Ezquerra (0.4% as creator of Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog).

N.B. Royalties from the Egmont Fleetway/DC Comics co-publishing deals for Judgement on Gotham and Die Laughing are issued separately from the main royalties to avoid confusion. Again, these statements are prepared and issued by Egmont Fleetway accounts department, based on information from our sales and from DC Comics. For convoluted historical reasons, DC Comics prepares and issues royalty statements for Vendetta on Gotham, The Ultimate Riddle and Dredd/Lobo.


12. 2000 AD’s Archives

The 2000 AD archive is a mess. Originally, as each prog was published, the films were collected into a large brown envelope, labeled and stored at the archive. But then the problems began…

The best material was loaned to publishers around the world for syndication and some of it never came back. Films were taken from the original prog envelopes for use in Fleetway’s own reprint titles and then stored in a fresh envelope, marked with the name of the reprint title (e.g. Best of 2000 AD).

Recently the entire film archive was shifted and became completely jumbled as a result. Martin Morgan has begun a two-month project to sort out this mammoth mess. Once completed, it would be best if all 2000 AD-related material was shifted to its own storage facility.

Consider this fact: there have been about 1200 issues of 2000 AD, each with at least 32 pages. That’s 38,400 pages in the archive. About half those pages are made up of four individual films. That’s about 86,000 pages of film. Then there’s all the reprint titles (nearly 200 issues in total), the Judge Dredd Megazine films (nearly 180 issues) and the archive probably comprises more than 100,000 pieces of film.

Ideally, 2000 AD’s back catalogue would be stored in a digital archive. However, transferring the archive to digital format is a massive task that would take a lot of time and money. It’s worth noting that 2000 AD is now archived onto disc – this began circa Prog 1144 last May. It’s also worth noting that 2000 AD is now published as an all-digital product – there are no films created for current progs.


13. Exploiting 2000 AD’s back catalogue

The Galaxy’s greatest comic has a stunning archive of material by top creators. However, perhaps only 2000 pages of this (about 5%) is currently in print. That means the vast majority of the comic’s history is out of print. At the time of writing [summer 2000], you can no longer buy the Ballad of Halo Jones, Judge Death Lives, early ABC Warriors or anything starring Rogue Trooper, Robo Hunter, Zenith and many other great characters in English. (Some  are available in other languages.)

Hamlyn Publishing and Titan Books for currently negotiating for graphic novel reprint rights for several stories (in colour and mono respectively), but both are currently out of contract. There is no on-going programme of republishing 2000 AD’s classic comics material.

Earlier this year 2000 AD editorial began investigating the possibilities of short run digital printing of our own line of graphic novels. These would utilise the new digital archive to reprint recent popular hit series like Glimmer Rats and Nemesis X: The Final Conflict.

These could be a nice little earner if the books were sold off the page and carefully managed. For example, a collected edition of the black and white series Nemesis X selling for £6.99 would only have to sell 420 copies from a print run of 1000 to break even. If that print run sold out, it would make £2820. Increase the print run to 2000 copies and the break even rises to 540 copies. But a sell out would generate more than £7000 revenue after royalties have been paid to the creators!

Printing in colour is currently more expensive and pushes up costs but could still be lucrative. For example, the colour series Glimmer Rats selling at £7.50 would need 680 copies from a print run of 1000 to break even. A sell out would make £1730. Take the print run up to 2000 and break even in 900 copies, with a sell out making nearly £6000.

Hamlyn is only interested in publishing graphic novels featuring either Judge Dredd or Sláine, while Titan wants to reprint books it has already published such as Halo Jones and DR & Quinch.

There is money to be made 2000 AD’s vast archive. It seems insane to spend all this money originating great new material which only goes on sale for seven days before disappearing forever. Would Madonna spend a year preparing her new album then only have it available to buy for a week? 2000 AD's back catalogue is a huge potential revenue stream – it should be exploited! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

My PLR top ten titles for July 2015 - June 2016

Every year the Public Lending Right sends registered authors a statement estimating how many times their books were borrowed from UK libraries. To compensate for lost sales, the PLR pays nearly eight pence per loan. There's a maximum payment threshold [£6600] to prevent bestselling authors from draining the PLR's precious coffers of cash.

About 22,000 authors will get payments for the most recent PLR period [July 2015 - June 2016], with about 200 on the maximum of £6600. The fate of the PLR is in flux, as cash-strapped councils close libraries and eBooks alter reading habits. But authors still welcome this new year bonus.

It is free to register your books for PLR - just go here. Even if you only wrote [or drew, in the case of comics artist] part of a collection, you can still register your bit. I represent a tiny 3% of the Heavy Metal Dredd graphic novel, but it makes me a few pennies.

I’m a minnow for PLR payments, never getting more than £500 in any given year. After years of declining PLR payments while I focused on screenwriting, a gradual return to prose and publishing is seeing a gentle rise in the amount I am getting.

This year's top ten for my titles is a mixture 2000AD-related tomes, two different editions of the same Doctor Who novel, a Warhammer tie-in tome, and a long forgotten non-fiction book about the films of Michael Caine. That last book sold so badly, I think more people have read library copies over the past 13 years than ever bought the damned thing when it first came out in 2003.

It's a nice surprise to the Fiends of the Eastern Front graphic novel to which I contributed finally hit the top of my PLR list, after years of being the bridesmaid. The new hardback edition of Thrill-Power Overload might overtake it in future, andnd one day I might have a new novel on this list. Anyway, here are my top ten tomes for July 2015 - June 2016 (with previous year's placing in brackets).

1. (2) Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad (graphic novel, 2010)
2. (1) Heavy Metal Dredd (graphic novel, published 2009)
3. (-) Judge Dredd: Bad Moon Rising (2004)
4. (5) Doctor Who: Amorality Tale (new edition, 2015)
5. (-) Starring Michael Caine (2003)
6. (-) Doctor Who: Amorality Tale (2002)
7. (8) I Am The Law: Judge Dredd Omnibus (2006)
8. (3) A Massacre in Marienburg (2008)
9. (9) Fiends of the Eastern Front: Twilight of the Dead (2006)
10. (7) Fiends of the Eastern Front: The Blood Red Army (2006)  (2004)

Bubbling under - Judge Dredd: Kingdom of the Blind; A Nightmare on Elm Street: Suffer The Children; Thrill-Power Overload (hardback).

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Ranking the first 13 episodes of Endeavour

To mark the publication of my new ebook Endeavour: The Complete Inspector Morse, I've written a listicle that ranks the show's first 13 episode. Totally subjective, it ranks episodes according to the levels of panache, wit, surprise and empathy they generate for me as a viewer. Ask me again tomorrow, the rankings would likely be very different. Feel free to debate my choices in the comments section, or propose your own rankings! Now, eyes down for a full house...


13th - RIDE: Even lesser episodes of Endeavour are more than a match for the better episodes of many police procedurals, but Ride’s tangle of plot threads and a lack of characters with whom to empathise make this a hard effort to love. The opener of Series Three gets plenty of marks for panache but the script lacks the show’s usual wit and the surprises feel forced, rather than the twists that feel inevitable in retrospect.

12th - NOCTURNE: A creepy, almost empty countryside boarding school, missing girls, a hundred-year-old massacre to solve, all set against the backdrop of the 1966 World Cup - yet somehow this episode is less than the sum of its parts. Since the show is based in a logical world, the ghost story is too obvious a red herring while the explanation for the killer’s action takes nearly six minutes to unravel. All in all, a curate’s egg.

11th - GIRL: Series openers are not a strongpoint for Endeavour, though there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Girl. By comparison to the stories that follow, this episode’s only issue is being a bit low-key. Girl could just as easily have been set a decade earlier or later, making little use of the 1960s period. But the arrival of new regulars like Constable Jim ‘Matey’ Strange is a big plus, pushing it close to the top ten.

10th - ARCADIA: This episode fully embraces its Summer of Love setting, and throws plenty of references to that late 1960s classic, The Graduate - plus an extended homage to Dirty Harry. The script is witty and looks luscious, but lacks the element of surprise that would elevate it further up this list. A few too many red herrings and a small-scale story keep Arcadia below the level it would otherwise deserve here.

9th - ROCKET: Plenty of wit and style on show here, with Craig Parkinson proving his star turn in Line of Duty was no fluke. This factory-based mystery based around a royal visit also digs into the past of young Morse as he gets intimate with an old acquaintance from his student days in Oxford. Some excellent work all round here, just edged out by the extra sizzle found in the episodes ranked higher.

8th - TROVE: A series opener that grips from start to finish, full of twists and turns, alarms and surprises. Fans of the original Inspector Morse series will enjoy the early appearance by a repugnant academic whose true evil will only become apparent in future. Lashings of noir styling, a painful trip to the big smoke for Endeavour and the arrival of Nurse Monica Hicks combine to make this the best series opener to date.

7th - PILOT: This is a corker from start to finish, with few things to complain about - so why isn’t it rated higher? The reason is not for what is here, but what isn’t. Regulars like Bright, Strange and Jakes would only appear when Endeavour got a full series, and they add another extra dimension to the show that’s a little absent here. The spy subplot is also superfluous to requirements, which explains why it was cut for US viewers.

6th - FUGUE: The obligatory serial killer toying with the police episode. Clever, canny and creepy in equal measure, this is a compelling tale with Morse and others in jeopardy as a high functioning sociopath [no, Sherlock, not you] performs a series of opera-inspired killings. The only frustration is it takes Endeavour and co so long to figure out what is obvious to any regular viewer of serial killer thrillers.

5th - SWAY: The margins between each episode at the top end of this list are finer than gossamer thread. So what lifts Sway above the likes of Fugue? It’s the supporting cast of characters at Burridges department store. They all seem like real people, with individual flaws and foibles, rather than temporary fodder for a crazed killer. Thursday’s heartbreak only adds to the impact of this high quality drama - a real gem.

4th - CODA: If the opening episodes of Endeavour can be a problem, series finales are almost always crackers. This was the endgame of Series Three, with a bank heist in the middle and the departure of Joan plucking the heartstrings at the end. Thursday coughing up a bullet will strain credulity for some viewers, but this is still a very strong effort - even if it can’t match the gut punch drama found in the other series finales.

3rd - PREY: The ultimate love it or hate it episode of Endeavour, the one with the tiger stalking people in leafy Oxford. Even attempting this storyline seems like an act of madness, but pulling it off verges on miraculous. Surprise, wit, panache - this really ticks all the boxes, hence it’s bronze medal finish here. Hard to imagine any other police series delivering this story with a straight face and making it work - masterful.

2nd - HOME: This episode is heart-breaking. Thursday faces his past as London gangsters come to claim Oxford, while Morse must confront his estranged family. In the midst of all that is a huge conspiracy, amazing snow-bound visuals and a genuinely surprising murder with the unlikeliest of culprits pulling the trigger. A stunning finale for the first series, exceeded only the next series finale a year later...

1st - NEVERLAND: Dark, bleakly funny, and profoundly disturbing are all accurate descriptions for the Series Two finale. Alas, shocking stories about cases of historic sexual abuse and their cover-ups remain timely, so the narrative behind this episode continues to resonate. The shocking cliffhanger left viewers gasping, while the 21-month wait for Series Three even more agonising. A stone cold classic in every aspect.

Series Four of Endeavour starts at 8pm, Sunday January 8th, 2017 on ITV. Where will those four episodes end up on this list? Can the series opener overcome the curse of the first story? Will the finale match the likes of Coda, Home and Neverland? We shall see...