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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

10 Questions: Wizards Keep Publisher Tim Perkins

Tim Perkins
With Christmas coming around I thought it would be a good idea to check out Wizards Keep Publishing’s Worlds End on downthetubes and find out how the next book is coming along.

Creator and publisher Tim Perkins' book is simply brilliant, a great Christmas present for both young and old. Wonderful characters, beautiful art, a whole new universe to explore.

Worlds End Volume 1: The Riders on the Storm had its world launch last year in Malta followed a few days later with a UK launch to much lauded praise from both the fans and Tim’s contemporaries in the field of comics. Since then the book has garnered many new fans and seen heaps of praise given to it. The exciting, fun-filled book is an all-ages graphic novel and is being marketed as “Science Fusion,” melding elements of science fiction with fantasy.

A coming of age story mixed with themes of friendship and quests amidst the trials and tribulations of the invasion of an alien horde intent on “aqua-forming” their otherwise tranquil world. The question is, will a little magic be enough to stop the bad guys known as the Aoevill.

Tim Perkins is an award winning comic illustrator and writer based in the UK and has worked on comics as diverse as Dark Dominion, Transformers, Thundercats, Doctor Who, Judge Dredd, Dreamstone, Earthworm Jim and Hot Wheels for such illustrious giants as Marvel, DC, 2000AD, Defiant and Tekno, amongst a great many others, since 1983. He is also a concept artist, designer and writer in the worlds of themed rides and attractions and animation, as well as lecturing about comics, storytelling and creativity and is the founder and lecturer of the Fantasy Art Unlimited art course.

He is now company director of Wizards Keep Publishing, the publishing imprint of Wizards Keep Limited. The Worlds End graphic novel is the first major publication from the company.

downthetubes: Your Worlds End project has been up and running for some time now. Are you pleased with progress?

Tim Perkins: Yes, I am extremely pleased with how things are progressing with Worlds End. The thing is that I don’t just write and draw the books – I’m also producing all the graphics, and sorting the administration for the company as well as handling the entire PR, marketing and branding.

Add to that the fact I am also the managing director of the company, so things move at a slower pace production wise on the artwork side of things once all the writing is done for each book. The books are all plotted out with extensive notes and initial drafts and in relation to the production schedule the writing takes up a very small percentage of the time.


It’s getting to the stage where I need to employ a full-time PA to help with the day-to-day running of things and an admin assistant to free up my time more to work on the artwork more on a daily basis. The fact I get any real work done is amazing really. Most directors handle the business side of things whilst others do the actual production whereas in the case of Wizards Keep I wear both hats.

Since Wizards Keep Limited was incorporated in June of 2005 things have grown in a controlled, but exciting way. Nowadays not only have we got the Wizards Keep website and my Wizards Keep Blog – we also have the Worlds End website, our Worlds End Trailer, which introduces the first book, our Wizards Keep Publishing and Worlds End FaceBook Pages, the Twitter accounts and a lot of other Internet presence on the other networks. So our web presence is quite extensive. This was very much part of the initial business plan to saturate the web as much as possible with information and artwork from both the new company and the Worlds End concept. It has taken a long time to achieve, but we are finally there.

The merchandise side of the company is growing too and we have just added the colouring book to my deadlines schedule, not just the production schedule. We also have some new product lines in development on top of all the other things we have at the moment. I am excited about these as it gives us a whole new level of awareness to present to the fans and customers.

The books, themselves, are being very well received by the public outside of what we know as traditional comics fandom, which was always the aim here at the Keep. We have been expanding our potential market and now we are seeing comics fans starting to come on board and liking what they see too.


downthetubes: What kind of feedback have you had to the universe you have created?

Tim: The feedback has been unbelievable, it really has. We were receiving very positive feedback when the books were first being announced and the Ashcan was first produced. One thing I noticed back then was the demographic split. We were seeing equal amounts of girls and boys and women and men looking very positively at the work. This has continued and at the moment we seem to have slightly more than half of the readership being girls and women, which is something we wanted to achieve, but to be honest never really expected, so the readership is exactly the kind we want on board.

The comments have been very supportive and the characters are now being spoken about like they have existed for far longer than they have. The universe building I have been so keen to make work is getting the most attention I suppose. The readers have picked up on just how comprehensive this new universe is and how little has actually been shown as yet in these early days.

Another thing, which lots of folks have picked up on is the fact that the world of Gaeyrth is a character in itself and every bit as important a part of the cast as the rest of the characters. Things we are constantly hearing are keywords such as homely, wholesome, exciting, fun-filled and the like.

Then there are the comments about the artwork, which are incredibly complimentary. The painted approach means I have been able to add the details I have never been afforded the time to put into any of my previous work for the comics and book companies I have worked for in the past. This attention to detail, whether that is actual detail or simply the addition of critters and creatures and planets in the skies within the panels is all worthwhile as far as the readership is concerned from their comments.

As both the writer and artist on the books that makes me feel like I am doing it right.


downthetubes: How far into Book 2 are you and what can we expect?

Tim: As I write this the cover is designed and actually being drawn today ready for painting – This time I am producing the cover as one of the first pieces of artwork to display to the public. There are several pages of the actual strip work complete and some others laid out. The first of the spot illustrations is completely finished and this will first see print at this year’s MaltaComicCon (where we launched the books last year) in their convention calendar. This will also be one of the promotional pieces for Worlds End – Volume 2 – A Hard Reign’s Gonna Fall.

I have written all the textual stuff for the second book, whereas with book one I had only written the strip until late spring, early summer last year, which meant most of the front and back pages as well as the endpapers and cover where all produced in a three month period from script to finished artwork, which looking back now was sheer madness as the paints on the strip were still incomplete too. The only text parts for the second volume that I don’t have ready yet are the Foreword and Introduction, which will obviously be written by others.

This time around, without giving too much away, I show the consequences of the first book. In The Riders on the Storm I set up several plot threads, which we were constantly flitting between. I was also able to show a great many epic vistas from lots of different places on the planet. I was also constantly showing the fantasy elements as well as the science fiction elements too. With the second book I became very aware because of the storyline that I had to be very careful not to fall into the trap of keeping the story confined to one of two scenes and definitely not talking heads.

In the first book I frequently looked at the themes of the quest and the chase. This time around I expanded on this, despite the storyline potentially confining things. In this new volume I have changed gear once again and as the book progresses we slip from first gear to top gear as the tale moves along, pretty much as I did last time around. This time, however the scales are tipped even more against our heroes and the action becomes much more frenetic, the characters more fearful and the story more fraught with danger as we follow their saga.

There will be lots of epic vistas again – I have made sure of that and this will be a constant theme throughout the entire series. I want to wow the readers and take them to places I know I would certainly love to go. Kids love this kind of spectacle whether they are six or a hundred and six and I intend to keep on providing them as long as folks continue to enjoy them.

There are some new characters introduced too and some new plot twists too. There is lots of intrigue starting to be seen amidst the invasion. This new book also introduces all the technology being used by the bad guys – the Aoevill – to aqua-form this otherwise tranquil world. I am also keeping a tight rein on the actual time scales over which the story is taking place, so in real terms we see night and day in exactly the same way as the characters do.

At the moment and for the next two or three weeks I have had to halt the production schedule of the second volume to add the colouring and storybook, which I promised would follow up behind the first volume. This is so we are ready for a launch, again at this year’s MaltaComicCon in December and for a Christmas release worldwide too. But once this book has gone to print then the second volume will be back on the schedule. There are no actual release dates as yet, but the plan is to get the second volume ready to receive a publication date as soon as possible – stay tuned as they say.

downthetubes: Have any of the characters developed a life of their own as you've expanded the story, or are you keeping a tight leash on the storyline?

Tim: I suppose all of the characters have developed over the time since I first created them back when I was working for Marvel comics around 1987. Although they haven’t really changed in their actual characterisations – they have always been pretty much set in stone. When I first came up with the concept I pretty much had them sorted as far as who they were, how they talked, and acted, and how they would interact with each other. The only real changes and they are slight are the designs of the characters. There is a sketchbook section at the back of the first book, which shows these early designs and there are only minor differences between those original sketches and how they look now.

When I first created it I wrote extensive notes about each character and where they came from, as well as how they would initially react to the situation they found themselves thrust into and how they would all change, or not throughout the stories. This made it easier when I first came back to the characters around 2003 to start looking at re-developing them for a potential graphic novel series.

Back when I first started revising things I was looking to develop something to produce as a graphic novel. It wasn’t necessarily the first thing I thought of to release as the first book, but when I looked at other concepts I had in the archives I realised there were some films at the time that were either in development, or had been recently released that were too close to those in genre and direction and I didn’t want to release a book, which intimated I was jumping on a band wagon. When I looked at Worlds End again it just seemed right. Besides the idea behind the concept of a place where you could literally fall off the end of the world had inspired me since being a schoolboy. I talk about this in my afterword, so I won’t spoil things for any future readers by going into more detail here.

The stories are all fully plotted with initial draft scripts and extensive notes for each book; these look at how each one relates to each other and how they in turn each help to develop the overall series. The stories already exist in tight form; they just need final drafts writing. Each book has extra pages at the front and back, which give insights into this new universe and its inhabitants. These all go into helping to flesh out the background information for the reader, some of which will not even appear in the first four books, but which will help to make the universe in which they live more real.

Over time the characters and the world called Gaeyrth have become an intimate part of my life and are now a virtual extension of my real family. They are real to me, not in a physical sense, but one in which I can relate to each of them and know exactly how each would react in any given situation – something, which gradually changes with them during the series.

downthetubes: How many people are working on the Worlds End project?

Tim: I’m both writing and illustrating the Worlds End series, as well as creating all the graphics and promotional material, so it really is pretty much my vision. This is the first time I have ever had this kind of control over any of my characters.

Behind the scenes I have a great team on board helping with the production side of things as we get nearer to the publication of the books. James Hill is doing a wonderful job editing the scripts for me. We have always worked well together whether that is James writing the scripts or as my editor on the comics for other publishers in the past. Now he is my wingman. I have developed some guidelines for keeping the characters speaking “in character,” which help him enormously.

People in the comics industry have been saying for a while that I didn’t want to work under the constraints of an editor, but that is untrue. What I want is someone to see a better turn of phrase, or remove any repetition of words, typos, missed grammar and the like without having to dilute any of my vision because someone else wants to simply say they did something to develop the concept. In other words James is someone who can pick up the ball when I drop it. Quite often we read the things we have written not as they actually are, but as we thought we said them on the page and miss the obvious whereas a fresh pair of eyes enables those gaffs to be seen. I find that it’s far easier to edit the work of others in mind for this reason.

James is very sympathetic to this and suggests changes, rather demands them. Sometimes the changes are perfect too and other times when I explain why I think they aren’t we keep to the original when the overall plan is put forward, like when I am setting up a sub-plot for a future event in the storyline. It’s the best working relationship with any editor I have ever had and why I chose James to work alongside me on this project.

Alongside of James is my colour flats assistant, Yel Zamor who does a fantastic job of laying the digital foundations for me to paint on top of. She is fast and has a great eye for detailing. She enables me to work on a great many layers making the workflow on the computers much easier to achieve.

Albert Deschesne of Richard Starkings’ Comicraft is producing the lettering. Albert is another who has a keen eye for detail and his balloon flow over the page is typical of the craftsmanship of the company. There was only ever going to be one company I was going to employ to do this, if I wasn’t going to letter the books myself and I feel lucky that I have managed to secure that side of production with them.

Last in line, but a vital guy to have at my back, especially at the “crunch time” is production designer, Rob Sharp. An artist in his own right, Rob and I have worked together on a great many books over the years. His skills on the computer at putting the books together makes my life much easier when the books are being laid down ready for print and set up for pre-flight.

I am using Print Media in Bosnia to print them and they are quite simply the best-produced books I have ever seen my work in. The printing and binding is magnificent and I am so proud of what we have achieved with the publication of the first volume.

downthetubes: Have you had any interest from other mediums in your universe? It's crying out to be a childrens' animation, surely?

Tim: We have had a lot of interest from merchandise manufacturers so they have obviously seen the potential to make sales. We are developing some new product lines at the moment, which we hope to release soon.

The readers are always talking about this too and we are constantly asked if there are any plans for animation films or TV series, or video games, etc in place. Whilst there are no immediate plans there are obviously things aside on the back boiler. Taking the book into schools means I am always being asked by the children when it is coming out as an animation, which bodes very well for a market for Worlds End on the Big and TV screens. The trailer also goes down well in schools before I start talking about and showing the actual books.

I also go into colleges and universities where animation students have also seen the potential for turning the concept into animations and video games. So we may not be too far off if this can be translated into the same reaction from animation and game companies.

As always keep checking the websites for more up-to-date information – you can bet your bottom dollar we will announce it from the heavens as soon as we know anything ourselves.

We are seeing fans and students of animation starting to follow us on Twitter so who knows, we may get a call from someone at one of the animation studios in the near future?

downthetubes: You took a brave step by self-publishing Worlds End yourself. What do you think are the advantages to the creator going this route?

The most obvious main benefit to creating the new publishing company is that I am able to keep total creative control of my characters and my vision for the books. There are no boards or committees that can dilute the concept. The only boards in Wizards Keep are those upon which the artwork is produced. The characters react exactly as I want them to. They speak in exactly the way I think they would and this aspect of the books is very important to me. As I have already mentioned I employed the guy I reckon is the best editor in the business, James Hill to edit my graphic novels with me for this very reason – to help me keep the vision for the concept on an even keel.

The second main benefit is obviously the control over what my characters and stories can be merchandised for and on what products. This then leads to the obvious monetary ones, which means quite simply that any money made by Worlds End and its derivative products goes directly into Wizards Keep.

The most obvious negative aspect, at least it was in the initial days of setting up the business, is that when Worlds End was to go into initial production no payment would be due until we hit a point where we had sales from the books. Whereas working for another publisher means, at least by and large, that you get paid for the job upon completion of the job, or in the case of producing books paid incrementally. This was the entire premise behind the business plan for Wizards Keep. In the initial days there were some colleagues in the comics business that just didn’t get why we had other products for sale before the actual Worlds End graphic novel, or album came out and why we weren’t producing comic books – after all I was a comic creator.

The reason I chose this route was, in the first instance, because it was something I had wanted to do since I was in my mid-teens. In the second instance it was purely down to the fact that I knew there was little or no way we could get one of the big comics publishers interested. For example, they don’t really allow any creators to own their work, they don’t allow total control of a creator’s work to remain with that creator and they are not, for the most part interested in new work, especially creator owned, when they have their own franchises.

Now, those three things alone would have been enough to put me off approaching one of the other comics publishers, but when you add to that my experiences speaking to lots of other major “name” creators that had some superb work in their portfolios far better than anything they had ever had in print. Those same creators also telling me they were “only” portfolio pieces, which would never see print and you, can see why I was suddenly faced with a predicament. I had two choices do the same as they had and produce artwork, which would never see the light of day simply for my own pleasure, or take a chance and risk everything I had to make the dream of creating new stories real. I had done this once when I first made the leap to become a freelance comic creator, leaving my secure graphic design job behind without any of the knowledge I now had. I just needed to get the sanctioning of my Wife, Margaret and I could take the second of those routes. Thankfully she agreed and backed me 100% and here is where we find ourselves today.

Wizards Keep Publishing has been in talks with a few creators throughout our existence and in more recent times about publishing their work too. So this takes the company out of the realms of just acting as the vehicle to publish my work and is an exciting new route that lies before us.

downthetubes: Do you think self-publishing is any easier now than it used to be, in terms of reaching your potential fan base?

Tim: As far as promotion we now have the Internet, which has to be the biggest single change we have for potentially reaching a much larger audience. Certainly for Wizards Keep we have managed to reach a larger female audience than we perhaps otherwise could have done in the days before we had the worldwide web.

Social networking initially started by linking my name with both the company and later the concept names. Now they have both broken free and exist as their own unique entities. In effect the initial networking helped to reinvent the name of Tim Perkins as not just a comic creator, but also a publisher. Again this was a big part of the business plan right from the beginning before we were even incorporated.

The digital age means we can produce books in a far different way than when I first began creating comics professionally back in the mid-eighties. No longer do we have to have our work sent away for costly scans and negatives produced. Printing is far better, cheaper and easier to produce. So we can acquire our books in a much better environment than ever before. There is also the burgeoning web-comics-books scene too, but until any serious money is being made by the creators I don’t see that as the way forward.

We can also produce excellent POS, displays and banners now to promote and accompany us at conventions, talks, workshops, shows and festivals, etc. So the playing field as far as looking professional and real contenders to play against the premier division publishers is much more even – although without the bigger budgets that are afforded them. The way I look on this though is positive. They were not always so big – just like us they started small and grew and therein lies the trick to this.

I find it easier to get onto radio shows nowadays too as interest in the graphic novel as an art form of its own breaking away form the comic format grows with the radio stations and listeners.

TV is still more than a little hesitant to get comics creators on their digest format shows. However that is up to smaller publishers like us to change that. The one constant thing in life as they say is change, so we have to make the inevitable happen.

I suppose the trick to all of this though, especially with the web-based side of things, is to turn Internet friends, buddies or whatever other term that particular site uses to describe what we see as potential readers into actual readers.

downthetubes: Are you planning other product related to Worlds End - figures or toys for example?

Tim: A range of figurines has already been developed, but is awaiting the green light to go into production and there are plans to turn this avenue of our merchandising into a range of toys in the future. The books are the main focus though presently so most of the emphasis has to be on publishing these.

The figurines can be seen on the Wizards Keep website and Blog and on our Wizards Keeps FaceBook page. The ones on the main website show the development stages from concept art through the sculpting processes to final realisation.

As I have already mentioned the Worlds End Colouring & Storybook is already in production in time for a pre-Christmas release.

We have a Limited Edition Signed and Numbered Portfolio due to be added to both websites in the short term alongside a range of T-shirts.

Other than that we are presently developing some brand new product ranges to accompany those already in existence. We have not released any information on these at all at the moment. I can’t say more than this just now, other than to add that we are very close to a release date.

What one piece of advice would you give to a comic creator planning to self publish, based on your experience so far?

That depends on what direction the comic creator wishes to take, as there are two. If the plan is to simply create self-published or as I prefer to say “Creator-Owned” work for fun alongside work for other publishers, whilst hopefully making some return on the investment then I say go for it and have fun.

I am not looking at this from the perspective of what we now call small-press, but more along the lines of what we have seen before with existing professional creators taking the bull by the nose and creating and self-publishing their own work.

I must add here that the step from small-press to self-publishing was harder to achieve in the past, but with the right product and enough of a fan base nowadays even this is also achievable. That said whether it could then be made into a viable career is up to the individual and their own tenacity with a large portion of good luck thrown in for good measure.

If on the other hand the plan is to make a real living out of self-publishing and create, as I have – an actual publishing company that will eventually also publish the work of others – then expect to work harder and longer hours than you ever have, even when you work for another comic publisher. You have to wear many hats and you have to face up to the business side of things. Comics folks see the line split as the suits and the creators, well embarking upon this route means you have to become both and be as comfortable in an actual suit as a businessman as when you are behind the drawing board and computer. Oh, yes and be prepared to invest an incredible amount of money into the new business possibly running into six figures.

Would I change what I am doing with Wizards Keep and Worlds End though having said the above? No way, I am enjoying my career more now than I have ever done before.

If anyone wants to self-publish – Go for it!!!

• In addition to being able to order Worlds End from bookshops and online book stores you can also order copies direct from Wizards Keep here

• Check out the latest in Wizards Keep's projects over at www.wizards-keep.com. Special thanks to Tim for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk about his projects

All artwork in this interview is © Wizards Keep Limited and published here with permission

 

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