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Issue One: the future of Scotland's comic book industry

Issue One: the future of Scotland's comic book industry

The last time comic fans descended on the CCA, it was for a full-blown comic convention.

Last night, however, there were no comics for sale (nor was there a cosplayer in sight). Instead the Scottish Independence Comic Book Alliance (SICBA) invited comic fans to have a discussion about the future of the comic industry in Scotland.

With six questions, a panel which consisted of academics, publishers and retailers and an audience keen to contribute to the discussion, Scotland's first ever comic book symposium was held at the CCA last night.

Scotland has always had a flourishing comics community but has enjoyed increasing mainstream acknowledgement in previous years.

Last year's Glasgow Comic Con was a two-day sell-out, fans queued for hours outside the SECC for MCM Comic Con and Edinburgh International Book Festival introduced Stripped - the book festival's first ever comics and graphic novel strand.

Incorporating comics into education

The discussion began by asking how comics could be further implemented into education.

The University of Dundee runs a postgraduate course in Comic Studies and incorporates comics-based electives into the university's undergraduate English programme.

Dr Chris Murray, who introduced the modules, said he was met with next to no resistance from the academy when introducing comics to higher education. He concluded it was usually the media that went for the "easy headline".

Dr Laurence Grove also dismissed the idea that using comics in education was "dumbing down". He noted that the University of Glasgow were among the first universities to give lectures in English instead of Latin, purely because it was practical, and likened teaching comics to this.

He was also quick to highlights Scotland's, particularly Glasgow's, role in comics - with the first ever comic book believed to be Glasgow's The Looking Glass in 1825.

via STV via STV

Creative Scotland's Jennifer Niven shed some light on how comics were being used in as educational tools in school - citing an upcoming graphic novel from the Scottish Book Trust about conservationist John Muir which will be circulated around Scottish schools next month.

Glasgow-based comics duo Metaphrog also came into conversation.

In addition to touring schools and running children's comic workshops, Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers were commissioned by the Scottish Book Trust to create *Skint * - a graphic novel created to educate the public on money management.

Breaking into the industry

With many independent comic creators in attendance, talk turned to breaking into the comics industry.

Retailers Forbidden Planet International and Plan B Books talked about the shops' own independent press sections, with the panel's Peter Watson saying that Forbidden Planet Glasgow is always looking to its expand its small press shelves.

Forbidden Planet International blog editor Joe Gordon also mentioned the importance of creators contacting comic blogs and reviewers to get their work out there.

Black Hearted Press founder Sha Nazir mentioned organisations like Big Comic Page and Glasgow League of Writers who both operate on volunteer-led basis. He mentioned that the CCA had lent SICBA the room for free and that marketing comics often involved skill-sharing in order to move forward.

DC Thomson's Maria Welsh spoke of the importance of knowing your audience, product branding and warned that a "broad brush stroke won't work" when selling small press comics.

She recommended that independent creators looking for funding and help at a local level before turning to larger funding bodies like Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government - the former of which was, at one point, challenged by a creator on the complexity of its funding applications.

Should comics being doing more to encourage women?

Interestingly, an audience member addressed the feeling of intimidation among female comic fans.

The panel were delighted to report the gender gap within comics appears to be closing - in the case of Duncan Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Phillip Vaughn reported that women outnumber men 70 to 30.

Glasgow Comic Con figures showed that female convention attendance was 46% – with Sha Nazir suggesting that this was due to the increased “openness” of the event in the last few years.

Despite this, however, another audience member told of her negative experiences walking into a Glasgow comic shop and being treated poorly by staff members and customers – citing a comic strip by artist Noelle Stevenson. Female anthology Team Girl Comic have also tackled similar subjects in their work.

The issue of age was also brought up, to which Sha Nazir admitted he didn't make his first comic until he was 35 years old.

What's next?

With this year's literary festivals looming and dozens of conventions and expos to take place across the country in the coming months – Dee-Con, Something Bloody Awesome and Glasgow Comic Con to name but three – the discussion concluded with the proposal of a national academy for comics.

Attendees certainly thought the discussion was a step in the right direction.

Dr Grove was among those confident that a national academy is the way forward for the comics industry, adding: "We've got the history, the current day and the future".

SICBA's fourth annual comic book awards are currently taking submissions. They've also partnered with Big Comic Page, a Scotland-based comics webzine.

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