Draw the Line in the USA and other comics stuff

So tempted to title this post ‘Drawn in the USA’ and especially as I just watched Blinded By the Light, but that wouldn’t be strictly accurate.

All the same! Draw The Line is to come out in the US, with Street Noise Books. Yes, that’s a proper publishing house, bringing out a new and different edition of the volume we self-published at the end of last year.

Way back in 2017, when Draw The Line first launched as a website, I approached several UK publishers to see if any of them might be interested in putting it out as a print book. Reactions were not all entirely negative, but even those who showed a little interest didn’t come through in the end.

So it was a real surprise to contact Street Noise and hear an enthusiastic ‘yes’ from them almost immediately: I thought,’Oh, so this is what it feels like!’ The big difference? Draw The Line was a perfect fit for their ethos, as summed up in their strapline ‘Real books for people who give a damn’. The lesson there seems almost too obvious to state: find a publisher that fits your project – but as it had taken us that long to find such a publisher, perhaps it is worth saying.

Ironically, given the book’s anti-capitalism pro-shop-local bent, the only place I can link to it right now is Amazon (but at least that’s a ‘Smile’ link which donates a small amount of sales to charity). I’ve been telling people to take the ISBN from there and then take it to your local independent bookshop.

I heard about Street Noise when LDComics interviewed fellow Brightonian Danny Noble, creator of Shame Pudding, also on Street Noise (which I haven’t read, but have been meaning to for ages: everyone says it is really very good). Out of interest I went an had a glance at their website – and the rest is, of course, history.

It’s been an interesting process. First of all Street Noise sent me a contract, which, as a member of the Society of Authors I was able to have checked by experts (who found nothing untoward but suggested a couple of amendments which Street Noise were happy to make) and I then received a small advance. This sum will go, as with all profits I make from this publication, to the refugees charity Choose Love, though at the moment it’s still sitting in my bank account. This is because I was a tiny bit paranoid that if publication didn’t go ahead for whatever reason, I’d have to pay it back – but as time has passed the project is certainly progressing, so I probably ought to just bite the bullet soon and transfer it over.

Street Noise made it clear from the start that they’d want to make some changes to the book in order to shape it to an American audience. I sent Liz, their Director, a copy of our own book so that she could see what the actual physical item looked and felt like. She liked it a lot, but their version will be very different. These days I’m thinking of ours as the coffee table version, while theirs will be a smaller, chunkier handbook that you might stuff into your backpack on your way out to change the world.

This new volume won’t include all the artwork that’s in the original: as editor, it’s been my job to keep in touch with the artists and let them know whose work will or won’t be included: obviously a pleasant task where it’s good news, but more delicate where it isn’t, especially as I’ve built up a personal relationship with many of the artists and have a fondness for all of the pieces and their themes.

One thing that made it easier was that decisions about what to exclude definitely weren’t made on the quality of the artwork, but whether it was felt that they fitted well into the book as a whole; or whether they would be understood within the US context. Several of the images are strongly UK-focused and perhaps more difficult to fully understand if you don’t live here.

Street Noise employed their own editor, which has also been interesting – and useful. In my day job I am very used to having colleagues pile into my writing to offer opinions on copy, make suggestions and edits. This process pretty much always means we end up with a better piece, so it’s no hardship at all to have a professional run their eye over the Draw The Line copy.

Also I don’t feel that much personal ownership of the words, since they were mostly created in a group effort: the Draw The Line artists put ideas onto a collaborative Google document early on in the project, much of which I later polished up a little bit to create the final copy and ensure it had a consistent voice. This approach definitely resulted in some repetition throughout the book, with similar ideas cropping up quite a lot: volunteering skills and time to charities; helping refugees learn your language, and signing petitions being some of the themes that recur.

So it’s been a welcome eye opener to have a clear-headed editor come in and assess all the text with an oversight that’s never really been there before, pointing out where messaging might not be as clear as it could be. And changing all the British –ise endings to –izes, of course.

Once I received the edits, I spent some time going through and either accepting or countering them: I’m keen for Draw The Line not to lose its original essence and there were nuances I would be sad to lose. Ultimately though, the project is Street Noise’s now, so there will be some points conceded and some where my view is taken on board. I’m weirdly comfortable with all of that – it feels like it has flown the nest, taken on its own life, but that Street Noise do know what they’re doing and they have a good vision for it. Ultimately the important things are that it inspires its new audiences to take action, and that it brings in some more proceeds for Choose Love.

In other comics news this week:

My video has been accepted for the Graphic Medicine conference, hooray. I don’t have any particular endgame in mind here, other than that it is good to spread my work to as many people as possible, and here is a large (and friendly) new audience to put it in front of.

I’ve pitched to the Nib. That was unexpected! But actually I’ve been thinking about this for a while: and as I’ve recently been giving a lot of thought to what exactly it is I want to do with comics, it’s clear that one direction I’m really desperate to take is to draw more political comics that go some way towards making a difference in the world. The Nib do an open call for their quarterly print comics and I figure I’ll just keep pitching until something sticks. I put in three ideas this time, for their ‘Nature’ themed issue. I’m not sure if I’m quite the right fit for them – their comics seem to be a bit more ‘nasty’ (for want of a better word) than I tend to make. But we’ll see.

An ex-colleague retweeted this: a preformatted spreadsheet to help you estimate how much time it’ll take you to complete your work. Well, I could fill it in to be certain, but I think I’m doing about a page a week on Satin and Tat (that is, sketching from the thumbnails, lettering, drawing and colouring).

I’ve just pencilled page 68. For all I might have inched forward by a page this week, I also added two pages to my plans, as I decided to give myself a bit more space for this particular sequence. So it is the very essence of one step forward and two steps back.

I joined in Rachael House‘s friendly Zoom draw and chat on Thursday. Rachael has just self published a chunky book of her comics created over the pandemic – it’s great. I told her that when I had read it, I had a strong sense of having been speaking to her for the last hour: it has that strong a voice and it really does bring her presence into the room. For clarity, that’s a good thing!

And finally, also on Twitter, Soaring Penguin laid out the difficulties that Brexit has brought to small publishers.

Half hour is UP! Let’s draw some comics.