Tony Foster produced the comic Atomic in the late 1980s and early 90s to great critical acclaim. Then he simply disappeared from comics into the world of family and work. 30 years later, after successfully editing ComicScene magazine since early 2018, he’s back with his first comic featuring original material – and it’s a hardback anthology. We speak to the creator behind the ComicScene Annual 2021 and talk about plans with ComicScene…
Firstly, how are you in this new normal world?
Tony Foster: I’m fine, thanks for asking.
You’re currently working on the ComicScene Annual. How did that come about?
Tony: I didn’t really want to do another comic, if I’m honest. The 320-page ComicScene Softcover Annual 2019 (a mix of reprints from Tony’s 90’s zine Atomic, web comics and some new material – Ed) did pretty well, but our printer, who I’d worked with for a number of years, disappeared off the face of the Earth during the second print run with all our files, plates, pre order funds and database.
We managed to get copies out at a significant four figure cost to ourselves, which was a bit of a blow. You can read it on the Comichaus App and it recently went back to number one on that, which was a surprise.
So what changed your mind about doing another comic book?
Tony: During lockdown, I saw a number of indie creators missing out on attending Comic Cons and missing out on sharing their comics and meeting friends. So I thought perhaps I could put something together under the ComicScene name that would get the creative juices flowing and perhaps make them a few quid.
I was also keen to produce a book of comic strips, in hardback, that would have longevity. I think that’s where comics are going and I wanted to be ahead of the curve in the UK. So the Annual came out of that thought process.
There’s something fairly unique about this project? I don’t think we’ve had many Kickstarter crossovers, apart from Tom Ward’s Merrick: The Sensational Elephantman & Doctor Crowe project a while back…
Tony: We have characters who have appeared in their own successful crowdfunding campaigns all under one cover in spin-off stories or background stories.
I wanted creators to have some fun with their creations and pitch something for everyone, and the Annual will appeal to kids and adults. I had published some reprints in ComicScene Magazine, which we started a couple of years ago, but people wanted some new material in a dedicated comic book. So here it is.
Did you get some help on the project?
Tony: I approached Steve Tanner of Time Bomb Comics, who’s publishing Brawler, an anthology kind of influenced by Warrior. I thought it was one of the better anthologies with a consistent voice, look and feel throughout. He also attends most of the Comic Cons, sells ComicScene for us, and knows a lot of people. I shared the idea with him and he helped us out.
I also wanted to provide an outlet for short or spin off stories from successful Kickstarters, then bring them all together in an annual, similar to the annual you may remember as a kid.
I don’t think it has ever been done before and I thought it would be kind of cool. It’s a true co-operative and hopefully people will respond to that and buy it.
Who did you approach and did they all say yes?
Tony: We had an initial hit list of names and characters we wanted. Most of the creators said yes, which was great. If they didn’t say yes, it was because they had some personal stuff going on and they might do something in the future.
Creators get paid, based on Kickstarter expectations. They get half the reward packages they provide and if we reach a certain number of sales, an extra royalty. So if we sell the same amount as Keanu Reeves’ current Kickstarter comic, BRZRKR, which has had over 14,000 backers, the creators would get over £950 a page. I kid you not! They probably need it more than he does!
They also retain total control over their work. If successful and they get a Netflix TV series on the back of it, I hope they remember me!
As someone kindly said, “It’s comics as they should be made.”
Will you do more in the future?
Tony: After my initial reluctance, I’m enjoying the ride. We don’t have to do our own pasting up, photocopying, mailing out and walking around comic shops anymore – although doing the Kickstarter was hard work and I am conscious we hounded people constantly to get through all the online noise especially.
All the people involved with our publications are facing their challenges at the moment but it’s been a fun project to work on, and I hope that readers will get a sense of that when they read the annual.
The work being sent to us is great. I’d love to do a Summer Special, but we will have to see what the response is.
What’s the plan with ComicScene, the Magazine? It’s not been in newsagents since lockdown…
Well, the Cornoavirus Pandemic has been a bit of a blow. We knew it would take two years to build up the magazine. I think you helped advise me there, John – and said don’t expect to make any money, and you were right! But the title was beginning to consolidate itself. We were starting to balance out the costs related to newsagent distribution against subscriptions/online sales/being in comic shops (which works out about 10 to 1) and the returns. International sales were helping. There was talk of US comic shops wanting to take copies which would have been a big help.. And then Covid-19 hit.
The Virus from Venus got Dan Dare?
Tony: Not quite. We have just got the Dan Dare issue 13 on to newsagents shelves (delayed from mid-April but sent out to subscribers and made available in comic shops already – Ed) and we may come back to the title at a later date.
However, our magazine feedback showed that people liked ComicScene but would prefer the publication had a distinct identity. Separate the indie/new comic news, retro comic features and if we were to have comic strips, make them new ones. So we are following that route.
So the Annual and History of Comics projects are the outcomes of that feedback?
Tony: The Annual (and a possible Summer Special) will provide the comics. The History of Comics Project we launched on Kickstarter starts in November. We also produced an Indie Yearbook for 2020 with Pipedream Comics, who did the State of Independents section for the magazine. We will also have eight pages each month covering indie and new comics in the new comic anthology, SHIFT, from Comic Toolbox/GetMyComics, alongside some fabulous comic strips.
What is the relationship with SHIFT?
Tony: SHIFT will be monthly and in newsagents, taking over our distribution, which we are negotiating now. It’s a changing picture, though. Footfall in shops is still low, there has been an increase in fees and a new cost for listing magazines about to be introduced. It’s making very niche magazines more difficult to produce. So everything we do in the future will have to be led by support from comic fans and readers. Being in shops will just be an add on.
SHIFT is probably the first major UK comic launch in newsagents and will probably do very well as it’s all comic strips and looks great. It’s not produced by us but Comic Toolbox / GetMyComics. We just produce eight pages on new and indie comics, to help continue promoting comic creators work as best we can.
Being on newsagents shelves does hit an audience who don’t necessarily read our websites and social media. I’ve had countless messages from people who discovered comic shops, indie titles, titles from DC Thomson and Rebellion and some of the recent collected books from the magazine that they would have missed because they are simply not online or actively devouring websites, podcasts or vlogs.
I know people have been asking – how do you get the message about UK comics? ComicScene was in every UK newsagent and available internationally too. It had been noticed – it’s weird talking to people in the United States saying I read about this or that title over a coffee in Barnes and Noble today! So we hope to maintain that in some form.
I’d love to go on as we were, but we just fell short and didn’t quite have enough investment and cash flow to get through a worldwide epidemic!
So no more ComicScene as a stand alone monthly magazine in newsagents?
Tony: We may have a few ComicScene Specials up our sleeves but I’ve done 20 issues and I think they stand up against other similar publications over the years. I think maybe Escape still tops it, as they look as good today as they did in the 1990s.
There are a number of other magazines being produced from Tripwire, Crikey, AKA, the upcoming BAM from Steve Holland, over at Bear Alley, and Hibernia will continue doing great stuff – so perhaps we will focus on the hardback comics, the ComicScene section in SHIFT and the History of Comics for the time being.
The History of Comics is quite an undertaking?
Tony: Yeah. It will be a ten year project. One book featuring one year starting with 1984, 1977, 1950 and 1986. You’ll get four books quarterly to “binge read”.
I hope it will be a definitive piece of work with extras that have never appeared in any History of Comics before, including what fans responded to, unusual artefacts that would look great in a comic museum and nuggets of fandom.
John McShane is providing a series of cultural backdrop and comic overview articles, and we hope to direct you to further reading in collections, books about comics, web sites, podcasts, vlogs and add extra essays and features on a password protected part of our website that will be given to subscribers to the Comic Club. We are working on the first four issues and they are looking eclectic and great.
It’s potentially quite a costly collection, though?
Tony: Yes, so we’ve started a ComicScene Comic Club and you get the History of Comics series as part of that and a membership card. You’ll get your books far cheaper by setting up a monthly direct debit, so spreading the cost too.
The cost is about £10 a month, plus you can also add SHIFT on to your membership and there is an option to get the Specials and donate a comic book to a library/school of your choice.
You also say income into the Club funds your Comic Creator Directory?
Tony: We have launched and maintain a Comic Creators Directory. It currently features 50 creators and we are adding to it all the time.
It does take some time, and we are providing it for free so people can contact artists for commissions and we are also sharing it with libraries, schools and community groups to help promote comic reading and encourage them to think about comic workshops and talks, helping supplement creators income. Creators can also offer a discount on commissions with your Comic Club Membership Card.
We did think of a variety of ways we could fund maintaining such a resource but in the end thought if we can encourage as many people to sign up to the Club, then it keeps it simple, you get something in return and we can do what we hope to do for a while then that would be great. We are being proactive now and we hope when Covid restrictions lift that it will be a well-used resource in the future.
Tony, thanks for your time, and the very best of luck with your projects.
THE COMICSCENE ANNUAL 2021 LINE-UP
• “Alex Automatic” by Fraser Campbell and James Corcoran – a fantastic looking character
• “Three Captains” – Captain Commando is by Colin Maxwell in an old school annual duo ink style
• “Captain Cosmic” by Andy W Clift who had featured in ComicScene the magazine
• “Captain Wonder” by John Farrelly, who also featured in ComicScene, alongside Deja Who by Jim Wilkins.
• “Dick Turpin” by Steve Tanner and Roland Bird, “a great comic”, notes Tony, “and obviously we featured Steve’s Flintlock series in ComicScene“
• “Father’s Day” – a new black and white ghost story by Michael Powell and Phil Elliot
• The fabulous “Geek Girl v Mean Girl” by Sam Johnson
• “Girl-Knight” by JGV. “This is a new story coming to their own book soon by JGV,” says Tony, “who we approached and she thankfully said yes. She also did a great vlog about the challenges she faced doing the strip. ‘Gone Viral’ is based on story by nine-year-old Corbin Webb”
• “Harker” – who has just completed a successful Kickstarter, by Roger Gibson and Vincent Danks
• “Project Hoax” by Samuel George London, who featured in ComicScene with Milford Green, and Dan Butcher
• The brilliant “Mahoneys” by Richard Carrington and Brian Dawson
• “Mandy the Monster Hunter”, who features front and centre on Charlie Gillespie’s variant Annual cover, by Matt Warner and Mark Adams
• Moon “who I think looks a fabulous character,” Tony enthuses, “by Steve Penfold”
• “Trip of a Lifetime” by Peter Gouldson and Luke Haynes
• “Neil-Lithic and Tim” by Sentinel creators Alan Holloway and Ed Doyle
• “NPCTea” by Sarah Millman
• “Shaman Kane” by David Broughton, who has also created a superb alternative cover for the annual’s Kickstarter stretch goal
• “WESTERNoir” by Gary Crutchley and Dave West
• “Whackoman” who appeared in ComicScene on a regular basis, by Marc Jackson
“All this is rounded off with an endpiece by Rachael Smith, who did a brilliant series, ‘Quarantine Comics’, during lockdown,” Tony rounds off. “It will end it all quite nicely!”