The Ragamuffin Speaks: Where Do We Go from Here?

I attended a few comic conventions when I was young, I went to UKCAC in the early nineties, I went to one at Alexandra Palace around the same time and met Jim Lee, and then after I dropped out of University to “break into comics” I went up to Glasgow to the convention there and had a less than encouraging portfolio review with 2000AD (it’s okay, my art was awful). Life took me away from comics for a while after that – let’s not get into my life story here – but I eventually returned to comics in 2005. I was putting together the comic that would ultimately be known as Alpha Gods. At that time I had no artist and had no idea, really, how to find one and so was doing the art myself using a 3D computer art package called Poser (some of you just gasped in horror, I know). In fact, some of that early Poser art can be seen on the back cover of the current hardback special edition of Alpha Gods: Emergence, and you can see more of it in the previous paperback edition. But I digress… the point is that I’d put together a mock up of the first issue of my comic, which I was fairly pleased with at the time (looking back it was awful, but hey…) and I wanted to take it along to a comic convention and find someone to publish it. Because, you know, I clearly have an ego the size of the planet. Actually, not true… I was terrified.

I’d been off the scene for a long time and had no idea what to expect. In my mind there was a thriving UK comics scene with lots of dynamic publishers who’d be eager to see what I had to offer. The reality didn’t exactly match up with that. I headed down to the first and only Brighton Comic Expo in November 2005 and, looking round… it was mostly people with photocopied comics, stapled together at home. This… wasn’t what I was expecting… these weren’t the kind of comics I wanted to make. In fact, there was only one publisher that was anything like what I was looking for, and that was Markosia. I was nervous, I walked around the whole convention several times and my then wife was getting increasingly annoyed with me (to be fair, she wasn’t feeling very well that day either) and told me to just stop being silly and go and talk to them. And that’s how I met Harry Markos. He took a look through my comic, kinda liked what he saw and said he’d be in touch and that I should check out their forum online. To cut a long story short… that’s how I ended up colouring for Markosia, and then lettering for Markosia… doing pre-press for Markosia… editing for Markosia… and, eventually, many years later, they did publish Alpha Gods, although in a very different form! They’ve also published quite a lot of other books by me too…

However, that’s not really what I wanted to write about, you see the really significant thing there, or at least one of them – it was, looking back, a very fateful day – was the invitation to check out their forum. You see, it was on that forum that I first encountered a guy named Pete Rogers. Which brings us to the second significant convention in this story, the Bristol International Comic Expo 2006. It was at Bristol that I first properly met Pete, and we had a few drinks together. Well, I say a few drinks, it was quite a lot. And we did what many people have done after a few drinks at a comic convention; we decided that we really should start up our own comic book company. He had some short stories that had never seen the light of day through no fault of his own and so did I… and he’d been playing with the idea of putting them out in an anthology, called Eleventh Hour, under the label of… Orang Utan Comics. We agreed that we would combine out efforts and return the next year with the first issue. And we very nearly did just that…

You see, our printer didn’t deliver in time, so Orang Utan Comics’ convention debut saw us selling ash can editions of Eleventh Hour #1 that I’d printed off at home and stapled together the night before (yes, thank you, I am well aware of the irony there!). I still remember looking around me at what was, then, the biggest comic convention in the UK and knowing exactly what I wanted. I wanted a booth, like the 2000AD guys had, I wanted to be at that level… at the UK’s largest comic book convention. That was my goal.

A year later and we were back at Bristol, not only had we put out two critically acclaimed issues of Eleventh Hour, but we had just released Eleventh Hour Vol. 1 through Markosia, a graphic novel length anthology…and we’d even picked up an Eagle Award nomination for Favourite British Comic Book: Black and White. We had, you might say, hit the ground running.

So why am I telling you any of this now? What’s so significant about it right this minute? Well, as I’m sitting here tonight my car is fully packed with boxes of comics and graphic novels, with banners and promo cards and…so much stuff. Tomorrow, at first light, I head off to the Excel centre to help set up what is now the UK’s largest comic convention – London Super Comic Convention. (Yeah, I know, there’s a bigger UK show that calls itself a comic con, but you know and I know that it’s not really a comic con…). We have a booth… we have a booth just like 2000AD… just like Avatar do… we have a selection of popular and critically acclaimed graphic novels. The two new books I’m launching at the show have forewords written by industry legends Mike Collins and Mike Carey. Actually, this is our third year of having a booth at LSCC… but it feels different this year… maybe because of the new books. It feels like… well, like we’ve reached the point that I wanted us to reach when we started out.

So that begs the question – where do we go from here?

Ian D Sharman

Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Fandom Wanderers.

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