“Whether you’re just starting out, or if you’re already creating comics and want to spend time with your peers, I hope there’ll be something for everyone.” Jon Lock on The Comics Summit in Cheltenham on July 14th and 15th
This July sees the first ever Comics Summit, a chance for indie and small press comic creators to share their knowledge and experience with each other, without the stresses of also having to man a comic convention table and make sales! The brainchild of Big Punch Studios’ Jon Lock, we caught him on a rare moment between marketing, making videos and re-organising venues to find out more about what The Comics Summit is all about.
So, the Comics Summit: what’s it all about it? Where is it going to be held and what is going to happen on the day?
Jon Lock: The Comics Summit takes place on the 14-15th July in Cheltenham. It’s free to attend and is an opportunity for comic creators to come together, outside of a convention setting, to share ideas and talk about some of the issues affecting our industry. Given that independent creators are so busy, we rarely have the time to talk – especially at conventions, where we’re occupied with customers and long hours behind a table – and this lack of dialogue may be holding us back.
I hope that the Summit will be an opportunity for creators to shine a light on the realities of what they do, be it challenges they’re facing or things that are going well. We’ve a great selection of panels spread over two days, with creators on hand to share their insight on topics ranging from funding to work-life balance to advocacy. Whether you’re just starting out, or if you’re already creating comics and want to spend time with your peers, I hope there’ll be something for everyone.
So tell us about what inspired you to set up this event? We’re guessing this your response to your blog post from last year about the state of indie comics and how the comics community need to unite together?
JL: Essentially, yes. 2017 was an interesting year for conventions – we had some very successful ones and some mixed ones – and it really brought some of problems we face to light. Both myself and Sarah Millman wrote blog posts that started a bit of a discussion, although perhaps the biggest takeaway was that it’s hard to have a proper conversation online when everyone’s spread across different forums – hence the thinking behind the Summit.
Also, when we talk about ‘breaking into comics’, from a surface-level perspective it’s always the same story: write a pitch, get picked up by the Big Two, go live the dream. There are countless articles and How To guides out there that say the same thing – and it’s an idea I certainly subscribed to when I was younger. However, for the majority of creators, making comics is done on an independent level. My primary thought was: ‘what about the people who get up at 5am on a Saturday to set up their convention table, or carry huge boxes of books to and from their car?’ I just wanted there to be a platform for these people to share their stories.
Why do you think now is such an important time to have this kind of get together?
JL: I’m not sure if there’ll ever be a perfect time for an event like this. Ideally, things would be better for independent creators and there would be no need for the Summit. However, given that it’s been a difficult couple of years, with many creators talking about diminishing sales or a lack of audience engagement, maybe now’s the time to try and talk about the challenges we’re facing. We’re all individuals – doing our own thing and making art in a variety of different forms – but if we can come together and find common ground, there’s a chance that things will go from merely ‘okay’ to ‘good’ or ‘great’.
What do you hope to achieve from the weekend? And what do you hope people will get from the weekend?
JL: Primarily, to get through it alive! Secondly, to have started a discussion. We talk about the comics community a lot, but as a community we rarely have the opportunity for reflection. Making comics by yourself or as a small team is hard – we don’t have the support systems of a larger company in place. You have to be a jack of all trades, covering marketing, social media, printing and distribution on top of actually making the thing, and that intense demand on our time can prevent us from thinking long term or planning ahead. It’s always one project at a time. I really hope that the Summit will be a resource for creators to help us to better do the things we love. If a creator is doing something well, or has tried something radical and new and experienced great results, wouldn’t you want to hear about it? Sharing ideas benefits everyone and would enrich us as a community.
Additionally, if we can find a shared voice, we would be in a stronger position to advocate for UK comics. Because when you go to a comic con and walk around the artist alley/comics village, you’re looking at the UK comics industry. These people, these creators, are UK comics – and yet, we don’t see ourselves that way. There’s still a perception that by being independent, we’re too small to matter. I’d like to see that change.
Who are you hoping to appeal to with this event? Is it just a glorified get together for the indie comics community? (And is that a bad thing if it is?) Or is it aimed at pros and semi-pros too?
JL: The Summit is aimed at creators, pure and simple. It’s definitely strange planning an event where there will be no ‘punters’. I think we’ve become conditioned to the idea that if a bunch of comic creators are in a room, it must be a convention.
The distinction between independent creators and ‘pros/semi-pros’ is an interesting issue in itself. We’re not going to exclude anyone who wants to get involved, but I think there’s a world of difference between someone who’s working for Marvel or DC, and someone whose experience of making comics involves setting up and running a table over a long weekend. Again, the old ‘5am on a Saturday’ test. If you love your art, and doing what you do, but know that it’s hard and wish it could be a little easier, then I hope the Summit will be of interest. Ask yourself ‘what if it never gets better than this?’ What if we’ll still be selling our books across a table in 10 years’ time? Would you be okay with that and what could we do to improve things?
I also think that the Summit would be of interest to anyone who’s starting out making comics. You have so much freedom and power at your disposal by doing things independently – and for the vast majority of creators, that’s the way your comic will become a reality. It would be good for aspiring creators to hear from people who are doing it for themselves – and doing it well – to see what’s possible outside of the traditional pathways.
And even if none of this comes to pass, and the Summit doesn’t reach these lofty goals, at least it will have been an opportunity for creators to hang out together! Because that too is something we rarely have time for.
What’s it like going from attendee to organiser? Have you been picking up any tips from veterans of the con scene?
JL: Enjoyable but stressful! I think the moment you begin work on anything that’s ‘for the community’, you become accountable to that community. My biggest concern is making sure that the event is worth everyone’s time, particularly if people are travelling long distances to be there. I’m immensely grateful to the creators who have volunteered their experience and insight, particularly to appear on panels. An event like this would be nothing without the people who participant. We don’t need one person riding in to ‘fix’ the comics industry. We need a breadth and wealth of perspectives. I’m trying very hard to keep that at the forefront of the mission statement!
You’ve had a few hiccups along the way, with the event originally being part of Comics Uncovered, but now being its own entity and the location and date changing.
JL: It was definitely a shame that Comics Uncovered was cancelled, but it was very kind of Shane and his team to offer to host the Summit in the first place, and I’m thankful for all his help in the early days of organising the event. When faced with having to find a new venue, I did consider finding a friendly convention that might serve as a new home for the Summit. However, the point of the event was that it would take place outside of a convention setting – if creators had to look after their tables, they wouldn’t be free to attend panels or participate in discussions. We needed a venue with no distractions, which prompted me to look closer to home in Cheltenham. Thankfully, I was able to source a venue that would allow us to make the Summit free to attend, which may have been a blessing in disguise. We also moved the event back a week so that it didn’t clash with Small Press Day.
Is this going to be a one off event or do you see this as a regular part of the comics calendar? Or does that all depend on the success of this events?
JL: I would love for the Summit to become a regular thing – a ‘summer retreat’ of sorts for creators needing an opportunity to recharge in between conventions. However, I don’t want to run before we can walk, and I’m happy for the time being to just see how the first show goes!
And finally, where can people get tickets from and how can they attend/find out more if they’re interested?
JL: Tickets are free and available from our website: comicssummit.wordpress.com. We also have a full list of speakers and panels if you’re looking to learn a little more about the event. I really hope you’ll join us in July.