Benjamin Read writes comics and makes films. He wrote the True Grit and Super 8 comic adaptations, and also wrote and produced the films Warhouse and 500 Miles North. He is also one of the founder members of the Improper Books comics collective, and is fuelled principally by tea and whimsy.
Porcelain, which has gained huge acclaim and has already been selected to be added to the National Art Library’s comic archive, is his debut book with Chris Wildgoose, but they have several others in the works via the Improper Books imprint.
downthetubes: Porcelain is Improper Books first title – how did you come up with the concept and how long did it take to develop?
Benjamin: For the one and only time ever in my creative life, it was a dream. I woke up from a feverish night with the girl, the walled garden, an elderly wizard and the strange creations that kept him safe all clear in my head. It was a total gift. Granted there was a fair bit of legwork consequent to that, and it took me months of back and forth with Chris to realise the character concepts, but essentially, it was all a dream. Sometimes you get a free pass, I guess.
downthetubes: Are you working in a traditional way to create your books – script, art, colour, letters, or is there more of a concept stage, discussing the plot, storyboarding etc given your film backgrounds?
Benjamin: Big old concept stage. Until our beloved editor, Matt Gibbs, put his foot down, my scripts were scratchy guidelines, more like film scripts, and Chris and I would spend hours on the phone hashing stuff out. I’ve come to realise that this is extremely lazy on my part (and adds weeks to the process) and now write horribly long-winded Alan Moore-style prose scripts, in a bid to answer all the questions before they’re asked.
We still have a significant design stage built-in though – story is exclusively my domain (tyrant that I am), but we then go into the separate stages of designs, thumbs, pencils, inks, colours & lettering. I think the highly polished look of our work can be accounted for by our minute attention to detail. The willingness to do this ongoing process of editing definitely comes from my background in film.
downthetubes: The characters you’ve come up have such clear characters – did you work up guides to each before the project began in earnest or did they grow as the story unfolded?
Benjamin: If you mean visually then, as referenced above, yup, big old design stage. Chris is a genius when it comes to ‘acting’ character through his designs and art, so it’s like having real people to play with on the page. (I am blessed)
downthetubes: What’s the reaction been to Porcelain? Are you pleased?
Benjamin: Utterly brilliant. Ecstatic. I’m honestly gobsmacked (and very grateful) at how people have taken it to heart. People whose work I’ve admired for years have said very nice things about it and, perhaps more excitingly, members of the book-buying public have picked it up and given it the most lovely reviews. We couldn’t be more pleased.
downthetubes: As a new publisher, what has been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to face getting your first book “out there” in front of potential readers?
Benjamin: Ha! Where to start? Indie publishing as a whole is not innocent of complication (but then nothing worthwhile is, I’ve learned). I’ve got a background in publishing and, despite this, the complexities of pre-press, and the difficulties of distribution have not been the simplest of things to deal with.
Gawd help anybody who goes into that with no experience at all. Publishers earn their money, at every stage of the process, and we shouldn’t forget that.
I think you need to start with the highest quality book you can make, then approach its marketing and distribution as professionally as possible and accept that it’ll be bloody hard work whatever.
downthetubes: What’s your next project and when does it launch?
Benjamin: Chris and I have the first instalment of our silent, sci-fi/fantasy epic, Butterfly Gate, coming out in the summer, then the first episode of our fairy tale book, Briar, in the autumn. In the meanwhile, I’m doing a piece called Frost Fair with the brilliant Alice Duke. It’s a gothic love story and I’m very excited about that.
I’m also working with Laura Trinder on our all-ages postman-to-the-supernatural book, Night Post. Also forthcoming from Improper Books is the lovely humorous fantasy from Matt Gibbs and Bevis Musson, Knight & Dragon, and Matt’s medieval whodunit, Aelfwin & Mildryd.
downthetubes: You’ve assembled a great team of creators – how many titles are you planning to publish each year, given the perceived wisdom from book distributors is that six titles a year is about the maximum for a smaller operation to properly promote to readers and sellers?
Benjamin: We’ll be doing a number of episodic books that come out in standalone single volumes – Briar and Butterfly Gate are both good examples of that – each will run to a couple of instalments a year, done as 48 page books. That plus the odd OGN should put us around the six titles mark.
We have no plans to swamp the market or stretch ourselves to breaking point either – we all have other projects on, and Improper is meant to represent the work of our collective, not be a machine churning out ‘content’.
downthetubes: Do you think this kind of project would be possible without the editorial management, marketing and distribution possibilities afforded by the Internet?
Benjamin: Simply not a prayer. Internet and indies go together like me and whisky. Skype alone keeps us in business on a daily basis, and Twitter has arguably given us the bulk of our audience. The Internet is the great equaliser – soapbox, shopfront and salon.
downthetubes: Above anything else, what one piece of advice would you offer aspiring comic artists?
Benjamin: I would simply say to draw, keep drawing and keep putting the work up and out, and making your own stuff. Once you’re good enough (and you’ll know when that is) then shout about it.
The crowd finds good stuff, you just need to get good enough first.
• More about Improper Books at: www.improperbooks.com