Now more than ever, comic books are at the forefront of nerd culture. With Marvel and DC now being top household names, people are becoming more well-acquainted with the literature behind the media and are discovering more about the comic book world. However, there is much more to this art form than superheroes.
To gain a better insight into the industry, I spoke to Tom Williams, an editor at Titan Comics. He believes that this sector is a unique one, different to other aspects of publishing. “Comics are wonderfully versatile and give creators the opportunity to weave fantastic, visually-engaging worlds and scenarios in a way that no other medium allows. With more people reading comics books than ever before, it's definitely an exciting industry to be a part of.”
Titan are one of the biggest comic book publishers in the industry, providing both new monthly comics titles and restoring old classics
Tom started out his career by studying Journalism and Creative Writing at university, before going on to gain experience in various roles, including jobs at many music titles including Big Cheese Magazine, Vive Le Rock and Louder Than War, as well as writing for the horror film magazine Gorezone. He also freelanced for various travel and lifestyle outlets, where he wrote many memorable gems of articles, including ‘Top Ten Slow Cookers’, and ‘Top Ten Things to do in Helsinki’.
For the record, he’s never been to Helsinki.
Tom then landed a job at Forbidden Planet, which is a part of Titan Entertainment Group, the company that owns Titan Comics. From there he managed to work his way into a position as an Editorial Assistant, and the rest is history. Titan are the powerhouse behind big names such as Star Wars Insider and the UK editions of Simpsons Comics. But it’s not just licensed work that the company works on, as Tom explains. “I started off working on mainly creator-owned comics. With these, you’d be set up with a writer and an artist who would pitch you their ideas. If we liked them, we would make them an offer and typically publish it as a four issue comic book, which could then potentially become a collectors graphic novel.”
Most of the writers who pitch to Titan will already have a portfolio under their belt to show off, which gives the editors a much clearer idea of an author’s style and ability. There’s also a lot of creative freedom in working with creator-owned work, as editors do not have to adhere to many restrictive regulations, and can work amongst a small team to develop a piece. This is the work that Tom primarily takes the lead on now.
Licensed pieces on the other hand are comics or magazines that are written based on existing work of another medium. So for example, Titan works closely with a number of different gaming labels, including Bethesda, Ubisoft and Bandai Namco Entertainment. The latter are the brains behind the massively popular game Dark Souls, which currently has several comic issues available to look at here.
The Dark Souls comics have been running since summer 2016. Also, how badass is this gal?
Tom states that to create content for this comic, the editorial team have to research heavily to become familiar with the game’s plot and world. “There’s a lot of lore seeded throughout the game, so you have to work really hard to know exactly what the story is about.” By doing this, the publishing teams are becoming a part of the gaming fandom, allowing them to pick up the language of the audience and understand what they really want to see from the comics.
And of course, they are limiting the chance that an obsessive gaming nerd will pick up on a plot inconsistency and rant about it on Reddit.
Gaming comics can also act as a developer of a plot within a series. Titan have just announced a comic series stemming from Bloodborne, an RPG game with a lovecraftian and steampunk feel. This announcement has received a lot of attention, and Tom explains why. “People are clamouring for a sequel to the game, and there’s hardly any other merchandise out there. So this comic will continue to develop the game’s unique world.”
Bloodborne will be written by Ales Kot, a well-known writer in the comic book scene, famous for his experimental work and daring choices. He is the writer behind titles such as Secret Avengers and Zero. Tom informed me that Ales is a massive fan of the game and knows the lore inside out, making his knowledge second-to-none. You can view the pre-order version here.
The first issue of Bloodborne: The Death of Sleep is scheduled to be released in February 2018. Keep an eye out!
Editorial teams can face challenges in creating work from licensed sources. This includes working around licensing laws, which can sometimes mean only being able to create original characters in a comic, and not use existing ones from the universe. This can be a challenge for marketing these comics, as the design team have to create imagery that is recognisable to the brand, without using content that is taken directly from the source.
Luckily, the team at Titan are a creative bunch of workers who are able to deal with work such as this. There are three main groups within the Titan Comics. The design team look after the illustration and imagery side. The editing team create the copy content, and cast an eye over the work to see if everything is interesting to read. Finally, the publisher looks at the work from a sales point of view, to see whether the content would do well in the stores. Of course though, Tom assures me that the industry does not put sales figures in front of creativity. “I don’t think I could work in it if they did. I would feel like I was selling my soul!”
This creativity allows the team at Titan to branch into new and exciting pieces of work. The company recently struck a deal with Hard Case Crime, a book company who specialise in crime fiction. Tom says, “They have taken detective-type novels, and are working with us to create crime/film noir comics, which is quite niche and unusual”. One example of the work that they create is the comic Peepland, which is based around the peep booths that used to exist in Times Square, New York of all places. But as Tom explains, “This was before they disneyfied the place, of course.”
Get a real taste of the noir genre with Peepland
This line of work requires continuity and accuracy, to ensure that all the facts are correct. It also draws in a new style of audience, typically of a higher age bracket, who are different to those who are fans of sci-fi and fantasy. This shows that comic books are constantly evolving, and moving away from what we stereotype them with.
It also demonstrates that those who work in the industry are researchers within their own right. They are tasked with creating content that is both highly detailed for fans, as well as entertaining and engaging for new readers. The creators also listen closely to their audiences, responding to feedback. Tom says, “We're always keen to engage with readers, particularly with licensed titles, which usually come with their own established fan bases. People care deeply about these characters and franchises so it's important to deliver stories that connect, listen to what the fans want, and take criticism onboard.”
Before talking to Tom, I certainly had no idea how many genres that this medium covered, and I for one am planning to take a look into all the intriguing content available. For anyone London-based, your best place to start would be Forbidden Planet. If you’re stuck for recommendations, the staff there are thoroughly knowledgeable and can help you get started on your comic book pilgrimage. If you can’t make it down to the big smoke anytime soon, all the comics are available on the website, here.