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BLOG Spotlight On The UK Indies #1: Blank Slate Books

BLOGGERS’ WEEK Stacey Whittle puts the spotlight on the innovative indie comics publisher behind Psychiatric Tales and Luchadoras

If you walk into any comic shop and glance around, you will notice that the American market dominates the stands and you would be forgiven for thinking the British comic publishing scene was dead. This isn’t so; we have some wonderful independent publishing companies in the UK producing amazing, funny, beautiful and thought-provoking work. As a staunch supporter of our small and independent press I thought that I might introduce you to some of these UK publishers so you can experience for yourself (if you haven’t already) what wealth of talent we have on our doorsteps and the challenges they face as independent publishers. To begin with I had a chat with Kenny Penman of Blank Slate Books

SW: Firstly, could you tell us a little about Blank Slate and what you do?

KP: Blank Slate are publishing work by UK artists, many of whom have not been published before and selected works from around the world that we think worthy of translation but unlikely to get it as so few non-English works ever are. Our hope is that over time we will develop a lot of new artists who will help our company grow but also the whole UK alternative comic’s scene.

SW: Is it difficult promoting and distributing your books as an independent publisher in the current climate?

KP: I think it depends how good and innovative you are as a publisher. If I were to judge us, in the past I would say our focus was more getting the books out rather than promoted, although we have had Observer GN of the month and a lot of other media coverage. That’s changing and we are now becoming more in tune with promotion and marketing. Some other small comics companies like Self Made Hero do it very well. We have the advantage of some very good comics retailers in GOSH! , Page 45 and Forbidden Planet International and they have been very supportive. I do think it is hard to shout loud enough to make the book stores sit up and listen – although we are getting there through distributor Turnaround, my basic philosophy is print top rate material and eventually it will create a following that makes it easier for the books to come in the future.

SW: What do you think the biggest challenge facing smaller publishers is?

KP: I think the simple fact that they are boutique and often under-financed is probably the biggest. Most companies can only really afford to print the books – they don’t have extra cash lying around for promotional campaigns, etc, which might well grow the market faster. So if you produce a great GN and it happens to come out the same week as one from Cape you are struggling for the air of publicity. There is no shortage of artists in the UK and further afield, so finding great work isn’t a problem – finding a way to get it noticed can be. The internet helps a lot here: build strong Facebook and Twitter groups and you can reach a lot of people FREE.

SW: I am really looking forward to reading your next book Luchadoras (launching April 2011). Can you tell me a little about it and how it came about?

I don’t read French but I always have picked up foreign language books as I travel in Europe and I had always loved the look of Peggy Adam’s work. I got talking to Martin Steenton of the comic’s website Avoid the Future and he said that he and his partner Judith Taboy also loved Peggy, especially Luchadoras . They told me they were looking at some point to translate some French work for the English market and I jumped at the chance to do a project with them. As we both loved Peggy’s work we decided to go after Luchadoras . They’ve done a fantastic job on the translation and presentation of the book and I truly think it is an important book, whilst people may vaguely know about Ciudad Juarez; living inside the events – even if in story form – is a horrifying experience. The murder of so many young women is a major world tragedy that will shock people.

SW: Apart from Luchadoras , what’s next for Blank Slate?

KP: We’ve got a lot of upcoming projects in the works; two more books by the brilliant, and brilliantly funny German cartoonist Mawil, who is now beginning to gain the following here his work richly deserves. There's the start of our Chalk Marks project which will print new works from unpublished cartoonists in a lovely A4, dust jacketed format. Joe Decie’s is about to come out and we have three others in the works from names to watch: Luke Astorigin, Will Morris and Nick Edwards. We’ve another Oli East book coming soon, related to his Trains are... Mint work; a second volume from Darryl Cunningham of his Psychiatric Tales (our bestselling book so far), as well as his all-ages book Uncle Bob Adventures ; new work from Warwick Cadwell Johnson in the form of his amazing looking Gungle ; and at some point works from celebrated illustrators Stuart Kolakovic and Laurie J Proud.

We are also doing a few more German translations with books from Line Hoven, Uli Oesterle (the amazing Hector Umbra) and Isabel Krietz. We’ve got a few other things bubbling away which I can’t really speak about just yet but we should be publishing work by some well known UK artists soon and some other very interesting things. I know I’m biased but I think it’s a great line-up that will be loved by a lot of comic’s readers.

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