Sunday, November 22, 2009

A week in the life of Spandex

So then, you might just have heard what happened this week with Spandex. It’s been an incredible week! It hit the Sun website, the Metro newspaper, and then it went on to reach several more newspapers, and the story (the world’s ‘first gay superteam’) has hit websites all around the world - Russia, Spain, Argentina, Australia… It’s been absolutely incredible! An absolute dream come true, but also in some ways, quite daunting and scary.
A lot of people have been asking me ‘how did you do it?’ and so I thought I’d try to document exactly what happened, because it’s fairly interesting, I think. It’s certainly been a massive learning curve for me.
So anyway, after a full year finishing Issue One, Spandex is finally ready to get printed (this is in October). It’s an absolute experiment for me. It’s 40 pages, full colour, so not cheap to produce (although I did get a good deal on it) and to be honest, I just want to get it into people’s hands now, so I dipped into my savings and never really expected or even cared about earning back the money I spent on it. I just wanted to gauge reactions and give copies to the people who have helped me in its creation, so I see the 350-odd quid I spend on printing as a one-time only indulgence. I think I earned it.
I start the ‘distribution’ and so far, so good, a pretty nice reaction, generally very positive, and I also set about finishing the Spandex website, including setting up Paypal links etc. I also do a comic show, the Comiket, and the reaction is great - people like the colourful new comic (including kids - oops, it’s too adult for them) and I’m really grateful to Paul Gravett for plugging its launch in the Comiket flyer.
Then I start putting a press release together, which is basically a 9-page PDF full of lots of artwork, blurb and selling points. I send it out to 3 or 4 UK gay mags, including Diva, and Diva is the only publication that replies - the Editor seems quite into it, and asks for a copy.
And this is where everything changed. I’m looking at Digital Spy and I can’t find a contact for love nor money, so I ask my friend, who is in Marketing, if he knows a contact at DS. He asks me why, so I explain, and he says ‘Mart, I know loads of people, let’s do this together’. We’re both busy, so this takes over a week to get organised, but it involves a very important pub chat where we go over my press release. It’s all wrong - you can’t send a PDF press release, because how are people supposed to grab images from it? My Marketing chum then talks me through some pretty obvious changes that need to be made, plus additions, including adding a page at the end, ‘For Editorial Information’, which is basically a character breakdown. You really have to just tell journalists what the selling points are and make their lives easier and just send some jpegs. So that’s done, and I select the images to send out. We also set up a separate email address for Spandex that we can both access.
Monday 16 November comes along, and I’ve got a day off work (it's new Tori Amos album day ;-D. My mate sends the press release out and I’m at home drawing. 5pm, My Marketing mate calls me and says ‘Mart, the Metro have emailed, they want to interview you!’ I’m sitting there relaxing, and he tells me to get this interview done as soon as possible so I can hit tomorrow’s paper. He coaches me a bit on what I should say and what I should avoid saying. With his push, I really nail the answers, but it’s too late to get into the paper anyway.
Tuesday 17 Nov, I’m back at work. Things go crazy. My MM calls me and says ‘Mart, you’re on the homepage of The Sun’s website’. He’s in shock, I later find out that he’s only ever been involved with a couple of Marketing campaigns that have had this kind of coverage. I get a call from BBC Radio Sussex, they want to interview me. A local Brighton news team want to interview me too. I’m at work!! What do you do?? Luckily my boss is happy for me to ‘make up the time’. I head out at 11am for the Radio interview at BBC Centre near Oxford Street (I see Vanessa Feltz and Colin Murray on the way). Radio and TV interviews are completely out of my comfort zone but I’m willing to give it a go, plus I love talking about my comic. I get to the place and the secretary dumps me in a room on my own with a microphone and headphones (the DJ is in Brighton). She goes out for lunch and leaves me completely on my own! Eventually, ’Danny Pike’ comes on the headphones and the interview goes well - I think I made him laugh. I get the cliched surge of adrenaline when I'm being interviewed, and all worries die away. All through the interview, I’m stuffing Spandex into envelopes - I’m getting a lot of orders online…
Rush back to work, and immediately go into the TV interview for Brighton local news. It goes well, and the camera-man is really into comics so I make sure he gets a couple of freebies from the office. I don't see the final interview and I don't hear the radio one either - I don't like seeing or hearing myself on TV or radio, but my mates hear the radio one on i-player and say it's good.
Luckily the interviews then go quiet, but I get several requests from websites for imagery (this evolves as a panicked scramble on my work machine to find the good stuff - until over the week I get a good folder of pics that I’m happy with - although most people tend to only use the stock images anyway - the giant lesbian pic, the team shot, etc). Comments on the Sun page vary from ‘this looks lovely’ to ‘he draws like a 4 year old’ (‘I had been aiming for a 3 year old’ was my comeback, and a joke I made on the radio earlier). The negative comments do weigh heavily, and it’s easy to forget how lovely everyone else is.
In the meantime, the orders are coming through thick and fast, and I’m starting to worry about the amount of copies I’ve got, and the amount of time I have to send these out.
Wednesday 18 Nov. I’m in bed at 7am, and my best mate calls me - Spandex is on page 3 of The Metro newspaper (one of London’s biggest free morning newspapers). Several other friends text and phone. Me and my Marketing guy are in shock. The orders for Spandex increase. The Daily Star calls me for an interview which goes well, but I don’t think they run it.
But for me, The Metro is a dream come true. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve seen features on the death of Cap America, or Batwoman being a lesbian, and I’ve thought, ‘sigh, I’d love for my comics to get some kind of attention’. Whatever happens from here-on in, I think it’s safe to say that a dream has definitely come true.
In the meantime, I am really struggling at work. The Spandex orders are coming in thick and fast, and my copies are running dangerously low, shops are asking for copies, and I also have to make sure I have enough copies for the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds at the weekend.
I also discover a couple of financial things. First up, I had NO idea (yes I’m stupid) that Paypal took a fee from your earnings, which mounts up to about 10% of each copy. It doesn’t sound like much, but it all mounts up, so I have to start thinking about increasing the price slightly so that I’m not losing out here. Things have certainly moved on from The O Men days, where I’d maybe get about 30 or 40 orders and I’d pay for all the postage myself. I’ve got to be very careful. I also have to really think about the US postage. Initially I have it at $4, which is just ridiculous. To ‘break even’ on an issue, I have to make about half the cover price, then there’s Paypal’s fee, and post to the US costs a couple of quid, so I set the price at $7.50 to make sure that I am covering my costs. Imagine if I’d left the price at $4 and then had hundreds of orders. I’d have lost out massively, and pretty much lost all my savings - disaster. I want to go to Japan next year, and the thought of losing all my money for that because of a silly mistake is awful. One good thing is that people are buying the PDF of the comic where no paper product/printing is involved.
In the meantime, things are really manic. I’m trying to do my full time job, but I’m also trying to keep on top of orders - especially for the PDFs - and I’m making sure I’m monitoring press emails. My mind is a bit of a whirl, and to be honest, I’m finding it very hard to focus on my job (it doesn’t help that I’m not sleeping, waking up at 4am, cos I’m so wired). At work, I’m having a vague idea that I have meetings, I just don’t seem able to focus on emails etc, so I just make sure I keep asking my boss when the meetings are (although I manage to be half an hour late for one...). I also feel a bit isolated from my mates and start to miss them, as I’ve lost my regular email contact with them.
In all this, I am actually surprised a publisher or an agent hasn’t got in touch. Maybe they think I’m all professionally set up. Nothing could be further from the truth! It's just me doing it all and I have been really struggling.
What else happens, let me think... I do a string of interviews for a variety of people, including people doing dissertations, a very cool guy off the Wired blog and more. In the meantime, I’m getting a lot of nice comments on my website. People just seem generally ecstatic about the whole gay super team situation. One Russian guy asks for some images so I send them to him and get the following message - ‘you have become a real media hero in recent days’. I mean, what can you say to that?
Friday 20 Nov, things are starting to quieten down, media-wise, thank goodness. I am gearing up for a 2nd printing of Spandex and sort out my quotes. I’m not happy with the situation though - I have about 300 orders to process, only 70 copies left, and the 2nd printing won’t be ready for a few days, which means people won’t get Spandex for at least a week. I’m worried that people will get pissed off with me, and in the meantime I’m also pretty much seeing at least one order come thru on Paypal every half hour. Crazy and daunting! A lot of the people who have ordered Spandex are a mainstream audience, they don’t understand the ramshackle world of independent comments, and one unnoticed negative comment on my Facebook page could do a lot of damage.
I decide to go thru with going to Thought Bubble - I had been in two minds because a) I am exhausted and b) I have so few copies of Spandex left. I'm frightened to leave my emails for a couple of days, but what the hell. Thought Bubble is a success though. Sales are steady, and I do come back with a few copies, which is good, as I can fulfill a few Paypal orders. The best thing about doing a comic con like Thought Bubble is that you can really gauge the reaction of people and see what they like and don’t like. For instance, the ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Lesbian’ picture is very popular and makes people laugh, Glitter is popular with the younger kids and about 60% of the audience is female. I thoroughly enjoy talking to everyone, including some mature lesbian women, some giggly teens and some generally ecstatic people. I’m also incredibly appreciative of the straight male guys who bought a copy off me - it just goes to show how things have moved on. They don’t care about any possible ‘stigma’ there might be involved in buying a gay comic. Each and every person I met in Leeds at the con truly touched my heart.
So now, I’m back at home. I have maybe 40 copies of issue one left, so I can do a mini mailout before I get the 2nd printing, but in the meantime I can write all the envelopes out in preparation. Finally after a mad week, things have calmed down, and I can start to get on top of things. I have taken a couple of days off work to ‘re-group’ and I have an interview with Radio Dublin on Monday.
I’m also thinking about pitching it as a TV show, and I’m also seriously thinking about doing an Issue Two…


JamieB said...

Fascinating story, Mart. Glad you feel you're getting on top of things after a mad week. Just shows to go you, you were right to put aside O-Men for a while to make Spandex happen. Good luck with it.

Mart said...

Thanks Jamie!

Martin Stiff said...

Hey, dunno if you know Mart, but Spandex got a mention in the Guardian at the weekend! In their Guide supplement (a listings thing) they do a 'Populist' column (basically a hot list rundown of the week) and it says 'Superheroes of the Week: Spandex, a new comic features the word's first all-gay superhero troupe including Mr Mucles and Butch plus enemies like the Pink Ninjas'. If you haven't seen it I'll bring it in. Here's a link to the online version:

Mart said...

Hi Mart!
Yeah, Neil E texted me while I was up in Leeds at a comic con yesterday - I ran out and bought a copy hehe!

Bruno Sauerbronn said...

Hi Mart,

Im from Brazil, and the news about Spandex also got in here among gay website news and also thru independent comic artists in my country!

Man you are all over the world with our Spandex comics, and I hope you make a Spandex #2 ASAP, because it is a hit !!!

Mart said...

Thank you so much Bruno! I am pretty sure I will do issue two with the Pink Ninjas!
And then issue three, with gay zombies hehehe!
Lots of fun to come!

Unknown said...

Hi Martin

Upload your comics to Ka-Blam at least, then list them on their sister site, Indyplanet. It's print-on-demand, plus the postage is taken care of. Very useful for US and overseas orders especially as it's based in America. Just set your profit margin and you're off.

Shame CI isn't around anymore. I get lost as to what's around these days. Grant's Pest Control especially.

Mart said...

Thanks Chris - I will investigate!

Rich Johnston said...

"including Bleeding Cool, where Rich Johnston posts a sarcastic, scathing feature on Spandex"

I did nothing of the sort. I did run a sracastic scathing feature on lazy journalists though ... including the one at the Sun i passed the original story on to! 8-)

Mart said...

Yes you did, Rich - you were dismissive of most of my characters in that first column. That is my opinion and that is the opinion of my friends. I haven't read anything on your site since, just heard stuff from my friends. I offered to send you a copy so you could read it for yourself, but you didn't respond.
Maybe some journalists can be lazy, but c'mon, all the people who are throwing gay superteam names at me - would it surprise me if they hit the Google button or Amazon button? No it would not.

Rich Johnston said...

"you were dismissive of most of my characters in that first column."

No, I was dismissive of a couple of the characters names - James Bend, The Man With The Golden Bum sounded like something out of Russ Abbot. But the rest I wasn't dismissive of at all. And even that was tongue in cheek, hence the "did Sid James die in the Stonewall riots for nothing" reference.

I don't rememer getting an offer of the comic, but I'd read it by then.

You also said "I hear Rich Johnston is getting worse on his website, but I don’t bother looking - I just don’t want to know. Doesn’t the guy realise that this is good exposure for comics? I’m getting people buying my comic -"

What has that got to do with anything I've written. I did run a piece looking at how newspapers have run many "first gay superhero" headlines over the last twenty years, often the same papers, sometimes only months between said headlines. But that was just about journos, not about Spandex.

I congratulate you on all the press you've received, it can only be a good, thing and you've but together a very fun comic. And I've been reading the O Men for, well it feels about fifteen years... so it's well deserved.

Mart said...

Thank you, that is nice of you to compliment Spandex and O Men. Shake hands?

Rich Johnston said...

My hand is very shakey, how did you know?