A letter from Warren Ellis about COMICS OR NOT

Well, I’m having to re-plan pretty much the next two years of my life. I was building my very own imprint at a comics publisher, but the lockdown and the general fuckery of trusting your exclusive distribution in comics shops and bookstores to a single entity who immediately upon lockdown announced that they weren’t paying anybody pretty much put paid to that and the serial print comics business.

I’m helping out another publishing partner with a new initiative – we’re calling that PROJECT GENEVA, and the contracts have been exchanged — but my hoped-for happy few years alternating tv work with releasing streams of new original comics material into the world is not to be.

I considered it my last chance to make any kind of impact in the comics medium, after a career I think we can consider solidly middling at best. But, the thing is, you have to be okay with letting that stuff go. Sometimes, events just blindly conspire and there’s a perfect storm and everything happens at once to get in your way. And you can fight and kick and push but in the end it’s just you trying to push eighteen tons of debris uphill and you have to be okay with saying, all right, I’m just going to leave this here and see if I can find a better road to something else. You don’t give up, but you do accept that the wall between you and the thing you were going to do isn’t going to fall down no matter how much you scratch at it.

So, if you ever wondered why my weird career has involved working in several different fields at once? Now you know. Sometimes you just have to go and do the other thing.

It’s on my mind because I’ve been putting the last of it to bed this week, and talking to a few people about the current condition of comics.

This was actually an interesting read. It was also, frankly, good news in a field without much of it:

At this point, Danica and I started to realize more and more that we were going to be okay. That said, there was a reason for this: our whole operation was built upon the idea that Diamond wasn’t going to be around forever – and that single issues might not be long for this world.

I was sad, though, that the writer noted that a retailer group’s “document that has since been made private” – sad that it’s been made private, as I wanted more people to see it — “detailing a litany of direct market retailer demands to the industry. It is filled with mostly ludicrous requests.”

I particularly enjoyed the demand, in that document, that all publishers create dollar comics. Because I still fondly remember all the abuse I got from comic shop retailers when I priced FELL at $1.99. You people claim you have long memories, but mine’s longer.

If you’re missing your books, check to see if your local comics retailer is doing mail-order or curbside pickups. I’ve heard tell of one retail chain doing a personal shopping service over Skype, which I think is brilliant.

If you don’t know if you have a local comics shop, try the Comic Shop Locator Service. I bet you anything your local store will be thrilled to hear from you and help you spend money. (And if they’re not, then you just found out something about your local store.)

Similarly, you might be lucky enough to have an independent bookstore within reach. Try the Indie Bookstore Finder in the US and the Bookshop Finder in the UK. These good people will generally be delighted to order books and graphic novels for you and arrange some kind of mailout or pickup.

Vaguely related: the opportunities and difficulties of virtual author events. The numbers involved may seem small, but in-person bookstore events are already limited by available space, and selling ten extra copies of a new hardback can be, for a small indie store, the difference between paying a week’s utilities and not. And the events make a difference to everyone — I remember we blew through the first printing of NORMAL halfway through my tour.

I’m actually finishing episode 107 of HEAVEN’S FOREST today. Eight-episode season. I deliver 108 at the end of the month, and then have about six weeks of polishing the scripts up. At this point, I’ve been working with my co-producers, my Netflix execs, and my specialist consultant, who tries to keep me on the straight and narrow as I write my wonky modern-ish remix of the Ramayana source material. But it’s mostly been me sitting here puzzling the show out on my own. In a few weeks, that all ends.

The scripts will be in the hands of our co-directors — we haven’t done the announcements yet, but the show has a WoC directing team — and the artists, and it starts being all theirs.

Television, even animation television, is always a bigger thing than doing comics. More people, harder and longer work. And more fun, to be honest. You’re interacting with a lot more people, there are more calls and email chains, and there’s always a lot of laughter. CASTLEVANIA, generally, has been a riot. And I’m not just talking about the time I had to teach Alejandra how to swear. It was a steep learning curve for me, and, as Sam Deats can attest from the time I just shouted IT’S A FUCKING BOAT at him, I’m not there yet.

(After that, BOAT became a regular note from me and from Sam, meaning “it’s basically fucking obvious, stop overthinking it, just draw the fucking thing and leave me alone.” Use it in good health.)

So I’ve learned to be happy with the point where I have to step back and let the show be theirs. Now, dozens of other minds get to take what I’ve done, and better it, and extrapolate from it, and adapt it, and make it into a real thing that exists in the world. And the thing is: I get to sit back and see that happen now. And it’s kind of magical, every time. I’m getting big downloads of early design art every few days now. Every single time, there’s something in there that makes me say, “hell, I never would have thought of that.” That’s an amazing thing. I love it when that happens. I made somebody think of something that I never ever would have gotten to on my own. That’s the thing you have to get next to, and learn to live with, and let yourself love.

Yeah. You have to be okay with letting stuff go.

It’s a hell of a process. I could do it forever.

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