Spoiling for a Brawl(er)! An interview with Time Bomb Comics publisher Steve Tanner

Brawler is a great looking new comics project from Time Bomb Comics – and a Kickstarter campaign for pre-orders that launched just last week has already hit target.

downthetubes caught up with publisher Steve Tanner to talk to him about the new anthology and other Time Bomb projects…

Steve Tanner, public face of Time Bomb Comics - whether he like it or not!

Steve Tanner, public face of Time Bomb Comics – whether he like it or not!

Steve is a Birmingham-based writer, the face behind Time Bomb Comics, an independent comics publisher that has become a mainstay within the British comics community since it began publishing in 2007. Through Time Bomb, he’s published a wide and diverse range of titles with a wide range of creators, but he also uses it as a platform for much of my own work as well.

Over the last few years Steve is probably become best known for devising and writing Flintlock, an ongoing anthology adventure series set entirely in the 18th Century, and for running several successful pre-order campaigns through Kickstarter. These have been for Flintlock and other books published by Time Bomb and have proved to be a terrific way of finding a new audience.

Steve is also, of course, also familiar face at comic conventions and pop culture events across the UK, where he’s also known for wearing eye-catching jackets!

downthetubes: Steve. what is Brawler and how did the project come about?

Steve Tanner: It was a Facebook post by Jason Cobley, fondly reminiscing about the 1980s anthology mag Warrior – and wishing there was something like it today. So I replied, “Me too! Let’s do it!” And we did! We then swapped a few ideas of what we both would like to do with the book, came into some alignment and asked several writers to pitch ideas.

Brawler #1 Cover - Time Bomb Comics

Cover art by Staz Johnson

The brief was simple – a short story or chapter, featuring a strong story with a lead who would be memorable and/or different. The thinking with Brawler is that each of the stories could be considered the lead strip, and carry a title solo. Some of them have already of course – both Frankenstein, Texas and Amnesia Agents released successful indie one-shots last year, but the stories in Brawler are all new, with no filler.

Once we received the pitches we whittled them down to characters and ideas that we felt really would make the first issue of Brawler something special.

28 AR by Richmond Clements and Nigel Dobbyn

28 AR by Richmond Clements and Nigel Dobbyn

The first issues offers “28 AR” by Richmond Clements and Nigel Dobbyn; “Major Rakhana” by myself and Pete Woods; “Banshee Space Exorcist” by Katie Cunningham and Grace Toscano; “Amnesia Agents” by Jason Cobley and James Gray; “Fortune” by Fraser Campbell and James Corcoran; “Frankenstein, Texas” by Dan Whitehead and David Hitchcock; and “Keiko Panda” by Jason Conley and Mitz.

Major Rakhana by Steve Tanner and Pete Woods

Major Rakhana by Steve Tanner and Pete Woods

Each issue of Brawler can be pre-ordered through Kickstarter and will be available at comic cons across the country. I’m also hoping some of the particularly indie-friendly comic shops might Want to stock it.

downthetubes: Was it inspired by any particular British comics of the past?

Steve: As I’ve said, Warrior is the key influence, but there’s also some early 2000AD in there, particularly Progs 20 – 40 or so. Yes, that sounds a bit specific, no, we’re keeping that one a bit of a surprise, but readers of Brawler #1 will hopefully realise the link when they see it – if they’re of a certain vintage!

Banshee Space Exorcist by Katie Cunningham and Grace Toscano

Banshee Space Exorcist by Katie Cunningham and Grace Toscano

Amnesia Agents by Jason Cobley and James Gray

Amnesia Agents by Jason Cobley and James Gray

downthetubes: Am I right in thinking that at this stage the Brawler project is profit share based?

Steve: No, as soon as it became a Time Bomb Comic the number crunching included guaranteed creator payments. Every creator who has work published in Brawler gets a page rate, regardless of any pre order success.

However, the campaign itself also included a funding threshold for those creator payments to be increased should the book achieve a specific level of interest. It has, they will, so I’m very pleased about that!

Fortune by Fraser Campbell and James Corcoran

Fortune by Fraser Campbell and James Corcoran

Frankenstein, Texas by Dan Whitehead and David Hitchcock

Frankenstein, Texas by Dan Whitehead and David Hitchcock

downthetubes: Why did you decide to fund this project through Kickstarter?

Steve: I’m not, I’m using Kickstarter as a pre-order opportunity which is a key difference and is how I’ve approached all nine of my successful campaigns.

The campaign target for Brawler #1 was £1000, but the actual cost to produce Brawler #1 is considerably more. If the Brawler #1 campaign failed, the book would still have been printed and the creators still paid. The pre order allows readers globally to get the book, and at a better rate than if they did get it from a con or store.

A successful pre-order also allows extras to be included that either won’t be available for general sale or for additional cost. For example, the print of Staz Johnson‘s cover art is only available through the Kickstarter campaign. And as the £15 reward to get that also includes digital and printed copies of Brawler #1 and a further £20 of free content that’s been added by the success of the campaign so far, we’re properly rewarding those that purchase the book through the campaign, I think.

Keiko Panda by Jason Conley and Mitz

Keiko Panda by Jason Conley and Mitz

downthetubes: You’ve launched a number of Time Bomb Comics through Kickstarter – what are the benefits for you using the crowd funding platform, as an independent comics publisher?

Steve: I believe Kickstarter is a viable distribution alternative to Diamond. Some still haven’t realised that yet including, I suspect, Diamond! That’s how I use the platform, that’s how others are also starting to use it and whilst there’s still a huge gap between the two options to distribute comics globally and challenges with both, Kickstarter has really opened up a whole new world of opportunity.

I think one of the most exciting things about Kickstarter is how it’s a level playing field – each campaign has as much chance of success as the next. There’s no self- appointed arbiter of taste deciding if you’re worth stocking or where to put you in the catalogue or on the shelf. With Kickstarter you are dealing directly with those that want to read and support your work – that’s massively beneficial to any creator.

The first backer on the Brawler #1 campaign lives in Finland – I think that says it all.

Flintlock Book Onedownthetubes: Flintlock deservedly gets a lot of attention from fans. Is it a favourite project and what else do you have planned?

I’m continually delighted by the success of Flintlock. It was very much a passion project and rejuvenated me, creatively. I’ve written more comics in the four years doing Flintlock that the previous eight – and I think has really helped identify both me and Time Bomb within the British comics community.

The support it has from female readers is wonderful, too.

I’ll be honest, the success of Flintlock also really helped making Time Bomb financially secure too, and to contract other creators to publish comics that they had produced. I realise I’m the public face of Time Bomb Comics but it was never intended to be a vehicle solely for my work. There are five projects that other creators are working on for Time Bomb at the moment, coming out over the next two to three years alongside the regular Flintlock, Bomb Scares and now Brawler books.

It’s exciting, it really is.

downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator/publisher?

Steve: It’s the excitement of switching on the device and finding something new has arrived in the inbox that’s linked to one of the projects I have in development. It’s when someone you don’t know reads your book and then lets you know how much they enjoyed it. It’s how your heart skips a beat when your latest, freshly printed book arrives with that unforgettable fresh ink aroma, and you’re holding that thing you made.

It’s talking to a nervous new creator at a convention and then seeing them debut their own project a year or so later, and they tell you that your conversation made a difference.

Bomb Scares Anthology Cover

The Bomb Scares anthology cover by Richard Elson and Dave Kendall

downthetubes: And the worst?

Steve: The hours you need to create and the hours you have never match up! There’s also a frustration with a lack of transparency that you encounter sometimes, from people who have a genuine enthusiasm for comics as a medium but are lacking the professionalism to be open and honest about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

The UK comics community is thriving, but small. So inappropriate behaviour or practice by anyone within that community quickly becomes known no matter what personal spin on it you send out on social media.

downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?

Steve: Undoubtedly doing interviews for inquisitive comics commentators, but also that there internet…

downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?

Steve: Much easier, because of that there internet. Digital distribution means that literally anyone can create a Comic and anyone in the world with the means can see it and the only cost involved is time . However, it’s become far more difficult to get regularly paid work with third party publishers through what used to be the traditional means to be a comics creator, though.

Brawler #1 Portsmouth Comic Con Variant Cover , with art by James Gray. A limited edition of 200 copies variant has been produced to mark the book's debut at Portsmouth Comic Con, and will be available to attendees of that show on 4th/5th May.

Brawler #1 Portsmouth Comic Con Variant Cover , with art by James Gray. A limited edition of 200 copies variant has been produced to mark the book’s debut at Portsmouth Comic Con, and will be available to attendees of that show on 4th/5th May.

downthetubes: How do comics events help creators and publishers most?

Steve: There’s so many events now that it’s possible to spend fifty weeks a year doing conventions but I’d question whether that would be a sensible thing to do. The events can provide a great means to reach your audience, and also network within the creator community which is so important.

However, it’s easy to get burned – some events are terribly promoted, if at all, with the same tired old guest list. Choose carefully, I’d say, and join some of the discussion groups on Facebook where those appearing at shows swap knowledge. Use that to determine if a show is worth attending, rather than the claims of the organiser, especially when it comes to expected attendance numbers. Some event organisers have become known for being a little, shall we say, optimistic about how busy their show will be.

As a rule of thumb, if the promoted possible attendance is higher than the entire population of the town or city where the event is being held, I’d be cautious!

A panel from episode six of "Dick Turpin and the Vengeful Shade", published by Steve Tanner of Time Bomb Comics via Drip, featuring art by Roland Bird. If you want to enjoy the rest of the page, and catch up on the story so far, check it out on Drip.

A panel from episode six of “Dick Turpin and the Vengeful Shade”, published by Steve Tanner of Time Bomb Comics via Drip, featuring art by Roland Bird. If you want to enjoy the rest of the page, and catch up on the story so far, check it out on Drip.

downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?

Steve: Get stuck in! Most of the creators actively involved in the UK comics community are very approachable and happy to give tips and share advice. Start small, and be realistic in your expectations, but start. And never, ever, underestimate the value of a professional letterer.

downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?

Steve: William Hogarth, who produced engravings in the 18th Century. Not comics as we know them, but still a fine example.of the early development of sequential storytelling. If Hogarth was alive now, he’d be working in comics!

downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic that you aren’t publishing yourself right now – and where can people get it?

Steve: I thought Killtopia was excellent – very deserving of its numerous accolades. Skies of Fire is head and shoulders of pretty much anything.

Westernoir from Accent UK is terrific as well, and for some reason is criminally overlooked by many of the regular Comics commentators.

downthetubes: Steve, thank you very much for your time. I’ve already backed Brawler myself and I’m looking forward to seeing it in print!

Questions by John Freeman

Check out the Brawler Kickstarter here

• Check out Time Bomb Comics: timebombcomics.com | Facebook | Twitter

Steve Tanner also publishes a blog and sneak peeks of Time Bomb Comics titles on the subscriber service Drip, Kickstarter’s tool for creators to find and build community around their creative practice

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