Independent comic creators can come up with the best stories in the world, but if they can’t get their finished publication – created through crowdfunding, self financed or published by an independent – in front of potential customers, then they’re in trouble. Adrian and Dave Clarke and team at GetMyComics, a service developed by Comic Toolbox, are out to address that issue, big time, offering a new distribution service for printed comics… and publishing their own.
Adrian Clarke has been a friend to downthetubes for several years, sending me links and offering kind words about my rare convention appearances, but we started talking in earnest about the GetMyComics project back in May last year, when he and the Comic Toolbox team began road testing the service and site. They’ve put a heck of a lot of work into the project and are now ramping up other aspects of their plans, too.
I caught up with Adrian to talk about GetMyComics, which among other things, handles distribution of ComicScene magazine to the news trade (Issue Four is in shops now) and are also publishing a print edition of Simon Furman and Geoff Senior’s To the Death maxi series…
Adrian Clarke, who has worked in comic shops over the years and seen all the frustrations involved, grew up on comics, first the UK Disney comic and other younger reader titles, Enid Blyton’s Adventure Magazine (featuring some lovely John Ridgway artwork), and Transformers “which was what obviously appealed the most to me the most and became my first regular collected title.” But his older brothers both collected US comics, and he’d sneak into their rooms to read all about the X-Men, Justice League, Teen Titans, and Spider-Man.
Taking a career in network and computer infrastructure, website hosting and systems architecture, he’s combined his knowledge of that with his retail experience to try to make a difference to the comics industry, collectors and sellers alike, with GetMyComics.
A lifetime comic fan, starting with Starlord and 2000AD in the 1970s, through to establishing and running Avatar Comics/Guildford Games and Comics in the 1990s to the 2000s, a well rounded career within IT has put Dave Clarke in a position to be able to work closely with Adrian to deliver new business and systems that the comic industry deserves. Dave has aggregated a technical background with his extensive management and directorial experience giving him in a unique perspective which has been crucial in establishing the company’s long and short term vision, helping to action the development, direction, image, operational policies and initiatives at Comic Toolbox.
downthetubes: Thanks very much for talking to downthetubes. First, can you tell us what GetMyComics is? Readers will already know you distribute comics through your online service, but there’s more to the project, isn’t there?
Adrian Clarke: Get My Comics is just the tip of the iceberg. The Get My Comics web site is the face of our company, Comic Toolbox. The company provides a set of tools to help the industry, that can help creators, retailers and readers alike.
In addition to our consumers enhanced subscription service, we provide a service to comic stores to provide them subscription management, ordering, reporting, enriched data, along with enhanced title information also available to their customers.
A service to creators and publishers to reach the customers of the enrolled comic stores is also available. Creators can list their titles on our independent portal and will be presented to consumers of those stores to be pre-ordered – providing them a route to a previously unobtainable market.
downthetubes: How did Get My Comics come about?
Adrian: I used to work part time in my brother Dave’s comic shop in Guildford. University and my main job had carried me towards a technology career, but I always loved the world of comics and the culture. I had so many ideas about how to combine my technical knowledge and the experience I’d gained at the shop.
A few years later, myself and some friends started to build up these services, and created the online subscription service.
I couldn’t see anything that was quite right for the comics industry, in terms of web sites, with enough useful consumer friendly data, or indeed anything that made the process simple enough, so we started from there.
My brother and his partner from the shop days also came on board, and after exhaustive investigation, we recognised that our learnings could be applied to the industry as a whole and we could help shops improve their ordering processes and increase profits.
With our technological experience, and using data enrichment, we have developed systems that can help readers get exactly what they want, not only allowing them get a real view of what titles are available, but also be properly informed about new titles.
downthetubes: What were the major challenges getting a project like Get My Comics off the ground?
Adrian: Time! It’s always the enemy…. We have had so many ideas, and initially all development was carried out around our main jobs
We have experience running companies and projects, we have a solid understanding of technologies, and we have an attitude which allows us to grow and try new things.
downthetubes: Do you think independent comic creators think enough about the distribution and promotion of their comics when they start on a project?
Adrian: No, but those that do really understand the complexity and costs, probably don’t carry on…
There are a few crowd funding systems now that help, but the demographic is minuscule compared to what it could be, and what we hope we’ll bring. There is much more than just distribution and promotion… there’s the design and printing, and the logistics tying it all together. They’re the difference between a fun little project and an awesome looking product.
downthetubes: You don’t just offer British fans a service, you also enable international subscriptions. I know it’s early days, but are there particular titles overseas readers coming to your site are interested in?
Adrian: Actually, it’s pretty similar, fairly mainstream DC and Marvel heroes. We have customers in Europe and India now, but they’re not afraid to experiment. We hope that continues!
downthetubes: You help distribute ComicScene to UK newsagents, as well as offering it online. High street stores have gotten a fair bit of flack for shelving comics in the wrong place in their stores, and some have even put certain comics out of sight, citing theft issues. Have you found distribution to the “mainstream” a challenge?
Adrian: Luckily, Tony Foster (the man behind ComicScene) dealt with setting up the title’s distribution – there are groups that look after the management of accounts and elements of distribution which helps immensely. We act as more of a facilitator.
You’re right though, there needs to be a few lessons on shelf stacking for certain outlets!
downthetubes: You’re also working on publishing your own projects, with To the Death by Simon Furman and Geoff Senior being the first of these. How did that come about?
Adrian: From being a massive fanboy really! I grew up on their stuff, and I loved the digital (frame by framed) version of To The Death, but felt it needed to see print… and I knew Simon and Geoff wanted that, too. I put them in touch with Tony at ComicScene, as I thought maybe there was something that could be done, and ultimately the prequel story was released in the ComicScene annual.
We then had a couple of initial chats about working together on the release, when we were thinking about the new service to manage indie releases, to feed into our system for local comic shops as well as the GMC site.
downthetubes: Are there other independent titles you’re looking at – and what kind of books are you looking for?
Adrian: There are masses of great stories out there, covering practically every genre and subject. There is something for everyone, even if they don’t know it yet. Superheroes, Sci-fi and fantasy are most people’s first thought when it comes to comics and whilst, obviously, we cater for those genres, we also want to accommodate a much wider demographic.
We’ll be carrying some of Chris Geary‘s books very soon, you’ll know his work from Aces Weekly, and Black North from Mark McCann and Steven Austin, working with Zarjaz and Dogbreath editor Dave Evans, a graphic novel set in Northern Ireland in the 2080s, towards the end of the year.
But that’s just the beginning! We have an admin portal to let creators manage their own titles and stock… choose to use us for printing, additional promotion, etc.
downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now from the UK or elsewhere?
Adrian: Well, To The Death – obviously! It is fantastic.
I’m also a huge fan of Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s Descender. The sequel, Ascender, has just started, so I have high hopes for that.
downthetubes: Finally, what one piece of advice do you offer comic creators coming to you wanting to distribute their comic?
Adrian: Collaborate. Start talking to people – there are experts at different elements of the process, and we’re striving to facilitate that to help make a great products
downthetubes: Adrian, thank you very much for your time and the very best of luck with Get My Comics, To the Death and all your many other projects!
• Comic Toolbox is online at www.comictoolbox.com, offering Comic Retail and Consumer Services. They aim to increase sales in comic shops via existing suppliers, bring awareness of more products to existing comic readers and facilitate the link from creators to their readers in innovative new ways