Insomina Publications is fast becoming something of a rising star in the UK indie publishing press, with graphic novels such as Cancertown and the upcoming Burke & Hare just some of its well-received titles. As the company prepares to launch its much-anticipated Vigil range - graphic novels re-telling the events, lives and stories of famous men and women - David Hailwood chats with with Crawford Coutts, Insomnia Publications Managing Director...
downthetubes: When was Insomnia first formed, and how did you get involved?
Crawford Coutts: Since as long as I can remember, I’d always wanted to start-up and run my own business. When I was completing my degree at Dundee University back in 2005, Alasdair Duncan approached me with a screenplay script. I had been reading a lot of independent comics, such as 30 Days of Night from IDW, by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, and The Red Star by Archangel Studio’s by Christian Gossett and noticed that there was an increase in creator-owned work which was being aimed at mature readers with more novel-style themes and content, which was appealing to a wider audience.
By the time I'd graduated, I suggested to Alasdair that we should adapt his script into a six-issue mini-series and try something different with it, but first of all, we had to undertake a huge amount of research to ensure we were starting from the strongest possible position.
I began my comics career by illustrating our first series, Daemon, which was released in January 2007. Unfortunately, due to the demand on my time required to run the business, I had to stop only three issues in to the six issue series.
We wanted to emphasize that Insomnia was not just another indie "company" which would produce one product and then disappear like so many people trying to self-publish, I wanted the company to grow into a publishing house, and with the interest and success of our Layer Zero anthology series we had started this process.
The decision to take on the role of "Managing Director" rather than "artist" was very difficult, but incidentally came at a crucial time and has since enabled us to get our products into the high street bookstore as well as online shops like Amazon and we are becoming more accepted by the general public rather than purely comic-book fans.
downthetubes: What type of material is Insomnia most likely to publish? Is there any particular genre you would avoid, or have a personal disliking for?
We produce a wide range of Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Horror titles. With each of our products, we look to publish something which is unusual, literate, challenging and thought provoking. Most of our books are aimed at teen/mature readers and most have an 18+ age rating so we're not limiting our content and restricting character development.
We're pretty open to most genres, as long as it's meets some (or all) of the above criteria. Readers of the likes of From Hell, A History of Violence, Road to Perdition, Fell and Nightly News will undoubtedly like our titles.
downthetubes: Which small press/independent titles would you recommend, and why?
Crawford: Unfortunately, I don’t really get a chance to read many other titles these days, and if I do it's mainly researching what the "competition" is up to! I do have a huge "to-read" pile sitting by the bedside, which is ever increasing!
I’ve been paying close attention to C2D4 and their new Graphic Novel, Jack in the Box, which looks stunning. I picked up some of the individual issues by Tony Wicks and Martin Buxton and I’m looking forward to seeing how the full book has turned out. Martin’s created a wonderful mix of sci-fi and the surreal complimented by Tony’s exceptional art style.
There’s some pretty good looking books from Studio 407 which I’d like to get my hands on as well, along with (Bob) Heske Horror's award winning Bone Chiller Anthology series which I’ve heard great things about.
Incidentally, Bob is currently producing another anthology, entitled 2012 which will be one to watch out for. Many of the Insomnia creators have been involved with this project, including Stephen “Cancertown” Downey. In fact many of the Insomnia creators have lots other projects on the go, either self-published or with other indie companies.
downthetubes: What advice would you offer aspiring comic artists and writers?
Crawford: Keep writing, drawing, inking, colouring, and generally "creating" as much as possible. Practice when you can and don’t be afraid to submit your work to publishers. Be sure to check out submissions guidelines and look at the current products they have to see if your ideas will fit in with what they produce.
There are many small press and indie publishers out there who are looking for contributions to anthology series, showcases, magazines etc and they’re great places to get initial feedback, constructive criticism and hopefully exposure which unfortunately the larger, mainstream publishers just can’t do.
downthetubes: Which of the upcoming Insomnia releases are you most excited about?
Crawofrd: There’s so many books currently in production it’s very hard to pick any particular titles, and to be honest, I’m very excited about them all. Next month, we're launching our first title from our new Bio-Graphic Novel imprint, Vigil (which is very exciting in itself).
Burke & Hare will be released at the British International Comics Show (BICS) followed closely with several signing events in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The book is completely research-based on the historical facts, written by Martin Conaghan, illustrated by Will Pickering, with letters by Paul McLaren and a cover by Rian Hughes.
It also has a wonderful foreword from Alan Grant where he says, "Martin and Will have produced something of which they and their publisher - the relative newcomer, Insomnia - can be very proud. As well as being educational and entertaining, they've gone one better and given us something important. Hopefully, the Universe will ripple and change for a great many of their readers."
We'll be releasing a Special Convention Edition of Buskers at BICS. Earlier in the year we were approached by Sean Michael Wilson and Jeymes Samuel with this offbeat tale set in contemporary London with an array of odd but realistic characters.
The comic book is based on a story by Jeymes (who incidentally is the brother of the singer SEAL), which is being created both in graphic novel form and as a film. Buskers is written by Sean and illustrated by Michiru Morikawa, an incredibly talented Japanese artist who won the International Manga and Anime Festival Award a few years back.
Jeymes is currently working on the film version of Buskers with a cast including Kevin Spacey and Mos Def, and the different versions will complement each other. [Read our news item on this project here - Ed]
The Special Signed Convention Edition will be limited to 100 copies and includes a CD with exclusive music from the OST and bonus features.
downthetubes: Could you tell us a little about the new Vigil imprint?
Crawford: Vigil specifically deals with historical graphic novels and stories of a biographical nature. Think along the lines of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell or Frank Miller’s 300; we’re looking for rich stories based on fact, not facts dressed up as fiction.
The stories published under Vigil can be about a significant global event, the life of a famous personality or historical figure, cultural events, political scandals, wars, assassinations, rock stars, miscarriages of justice, cover-ups, conspiracies or inspirational tales from ordinary lives.
Biopics like Ali, Ray, Valkyrie, Frost/Nixon, JFK, Persepolis, Braveheart, Wyatt Earp, Apollo 13, Gandhi and Chariots of Fire are all similar to what we’re publishing. Each one tells a story about the life of someone unique, or chronicles events so dramatic and inspirational that they almost seem entirely fictional or unbelievable.
Historical accuracy was paramount in the development of Burke & Hare. Martin and Will spent much of the last year waist-deep in research material: original documents, biographies, contemporary maps, portraits, street scenes, architectural drawings, fashion illustrations, photos of antique furnishings and fireplaces - all to ensure that the representation of history in a comic offers something that cannot be achieved in any other medium.
This amount of effort is put into each Vigil title so that every book is as much a work of scholarship as entertainment and readers will almost be able to smell the setting every time they turn a page.
The next books we have signed for the line are Crowley: Wandering The Wastes by Martin Hayes, and Allen Pinkerton by Richmond Clements. We'll have more information on these at BICS.
downthetubes: Do Insomnia’s publications have a following in the US and other countries, or are you mostly concentrating on building up a UK fan base first?
Crawford: In the UK our titles are available in Waterstones, Borders and other good book stores, most of the independent comic shops including Forbidden Planet International and available online from Amazon.co.uk.
In France, our titles are available from Album and exclusively on sale from our independent stockist - Librairie Delvaux, 17 rue du Val, 77160, Provins.
Now that we're one of the largest Independent publishers in the UK and we have a pretty solid grounding in the market, we're currently researching distribution avenues to tap into the North American market - speaking with various shops, distributors and shipping companies. By early 2010, readers will hopefully be able to purchase our books from many of the book stores and comic shops.
Of course our books can currently be bought for international delivery from various online stores. If you want an excellent personal service, try Whatever Comics who are not only a fantastic comic shop providing international shipping, but who are also the sponsors of Cancertown.
downthetubes: I believe you also have plans to option movie rights for various comic projects; any luck generating interest so far?
Crawford: With the huge amount of interest from film studios in the comic industry, especially with the recent news of Disney and Time Warner acquiring Marvel and DC respectively, we believe our titles are well suited to adaptation into these areas.
We have a dedicated Agent based in New York who actively looks into optioning Film and TV rights for us so we’ll keep you posted of any news further down the line!
• A list of Insomnia's creators and their personal sites and blogs can be found on the official Insomnia blog: www.TheRedEye.co.uk
• Read David Hailwood's review of the upcoming Burke & Hare
• Read David Hailwood's review of Milk by Stref
• Read the downthetubes review of Cancertown
Dan Dare’s Number One Fan was … top Doctor Who artist Andrew Skilleter - Organised comics fandom in the UK is usually considered to have begun in the late 1960s when the first zines
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