Neil Gibson’s booth was one of the first that I stopped at when I made it into the Emerald City Comic Con. When talking with Neil I found his passion for comics unmatched and refreshing to see. We talked a little bit about his series Twisted Dark and he made me a pitch so good I had to buy Volume 1 right then and there.
Ian: I understand that you’re trying to gain a larger audience by hopping the pond to the US, how do you feel the US and British markets differ?
Neil: The US is a much larger market, and certainly at cons, people are a lot more open to reading comics. If you go to conventions in the UK a might higher percentage of people do not even read comics. They go for a day out, to dress up or because they like the superhero films. In the US people respect comics more – a lot of people in the UK wouldn’t dream of trying a comic because they assume it would be kid stuff. Americans will also spend more – I have had several people buy 6 volumes of my book after reading just four pages. That has only happened once in the UK.
Ian: How do you find them similar?
Neil: Broadly speaking I think they have quite similar tastes. What seems to sell well in America sells well here. The tastes in France, Italy or Japan are very different for example though Manga seems to be especially popular with young people in the US and UK.
Ian: We met at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle and I’m not very well traveled, especially out of the US, can you describe some similarities and differences in US versus British comic cons?
Neil: I think I have answered that already, but I think the main thing is the scale of everything. Everything is just bigger in the US with a lot more money thrown into displays and sets.
Ian: What are some ways besides cons that you have attempted to break into the US market?
Neil: Mostly it is word of mouth – people like our comics and talk about them 🙂 We have successfully crowd funded several comics and have just launched a web-app. It is still being beta tested, but that’s a great thing for your readers because they can read the first four volumes of the whole series for free during the test period. So they’d better hurry!
Ian: Here is a link to the App, give it a try!
Ian: Has it been tough getting noticed in the US?
Neil: We do very well at conventions and several schools use our comics to teach about social issues. I don’t think it’s that hard to get noticed, but getting stocked in stores has been a bit of an issue – almost weekly we get emails from people asking where they can buy our comics.
Ian: What are your overall goals in the US market?
Neil: Nothing less than all-out domination of the charts 🙂 No, our goal is to continuously reach more people. We are lucky to have some fantastic volunteers who love our comics and they are the real ones who are driving our growth – I’m really not the best at social media!
Ian: Your book series Twisted Dark is a bestseller in England, Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Neil: Not everyone will like it! Some people want superheroes and good looking people in revealing outfits. Some people like stories that challenge them and make them think a little. People have different tastes and that’s what makes the world interesting. Twisted Dark is a series of interconnected short stories that are all headed towards one big ending. Each story is complete in it’s own right, but when taken as part of the larger whole you really see what was intended. If you like the Twilight Zone, Tales from the crypt or Stephen King’s short stories you may well like it, but unlike those stories, all these ones are very realistic. They are quite dark and usually have a twist at the end – hence Twisted Dark.
Ian: Twisted Dark has some grown up themes but is still reasonable for people in their teenage years, is it hard to ride the line of adult theme and keeping it safe for most people to read?
Neil: I always say it is for 13+ because there isn’t swearing or nudity. But it really is about the personality of the reader. I have had fans as young as nine who tell me they like the book, and I’ve had some 35 year old who find the material too dark. I just focus on trying to tell interesting stories that don’t have to rely on gore or nudity.
Ian: Twisted Dark has a lot of different characters whose stories you intertwine, how do you keep all of these characters and their storylines in order?
Neil: Hah! I have a massive spreadsheet and I do mean massive keeping track of it all and where it is all headed. The very last story has been written and it is all heading there. There are over 100 recurring characters though and because we use different artists, you won’t always know they are the same character on the first reading.
Ian: Are any of these characters or scenarios based on something or someone real or are they purely fiction?
Neil: I certainly hope they are pure fiction! Oh wait, no in volume four there is a story called “Stories of chance” and in it there are 2 pages of two real like stories that are so improbable, but they really happened. I put them into the story because what happens to one character is literally her greatest fear and I wanted to suggest that these things do happen.
Ian: Do you struggle writing about some of the more sensitive material or do you enjoy it?
Neil: If I watch a similar story from someone else I might occasionally squirm but because I make up my stories in my head it never really bothers me. I know it’s not real. 🙂
Ian: Do you hope to draw attention to some issues, for instance, the first story in Twisted Dark Vol. 1 with a suicidal child?
Neil: A lot of people have found those stories personal or therapeutic, which is why they are used in schools. We give PDF’s for free to any teacher who wants them. As for drawing attention, I really don’t want to be preachy – I try to show both sides to any issue, but I do like to highlight lesser known issues or just things that I find interesting.
Ian: Is it hard to write such twisted tales and do you ever need a break from the twisted?
Neil: I actually find it very easy! People say that it means I have a disturbed mind. I think I am a happy friendly chap and I hope they are wrong!
Ian: How do you go about finding the artists that you collaborate with?
Neil: In the early days it was hard, but now they often approach me which is nice. What matters with the artist (I feel) is that they are easy to get along with, they have good quality art, it is easy to see what is happening in each panel, they choose interesting shots and they know how to make a story flow.
Ian: What are some reasons you think Twisted Dark made it to the bestsellers list?
Neil: I don’t really know. A lot of people say they have never read a comic like it so I guess it is different from everything else out there on the market.
Ian: Tell us a little bit about some of your other titles?
Neil: Oof. There are a lot, but I’ll only tell you the ones that are available in the US. Because we are TPub, all our titles begin with T. They are:
Sex Dolls and Psychopaths. A mail man in LA who uses his postal route to scout potential houses to rob. Then they meet Tabatha… Check it out for free here.
Richard’s had a bad year. He lost his job, his girl, his self respect, and now he somehow knows how anyone is going to die just by looking at them. Check it out for free here.
An assassin who kills superheroes. Only he’s crap at it. TO make matters worse, his ex-wife is brilliant at it. Check it out for free here.
The most famous actor on Broadway in the 1920s is mugged, beaten up, and left for dead. This is the story of what he chooses to do next. Check it out for free here.
Ian: Do you have any titles that are more on the light hearted side compared to Twisted Dark?
Neil: We have Twisted Light which is the exact opposite. All the stories again have twist ending but they all leave you laughing. We also have The World of Chub Chub which is similar in tone to Calvin and Hobbes. Sadly they are all true stories about a really badly behaved kid. Me. It was never meant to be released – it was just a gift for my mother but she insisted I publish it so there you go.
Ian: Mom knows best, good on her!
These aren’t for sale yet in the US but you can read samples on our site.
Ian: Do you expect people to receive these titles as well as they have Twisted Dark?
Neil: I certainly hope so! Why don’t you tell your readers what you think of the samples?
Ian: I absolutely love them! Beyond that I consumed Twisted Dark Vol. 1 in less than a day, needless to say, I will be grabbing up the other volumes soon!
Ian: Would you like to see Twisted Dark or any other title be made into a movie or possibly a TV series?
Neil: I would indeed and I am currently in talks about it but it seems to move at a glacial pace. A lot of pitching I hear is about timing and luck – even Joe Hill couldn’t get the great Locke & Key picked up.
Ian: Too true, a little skill isn’t as valuable as a lot of luck.
Ian: What plans do you have for the future?
Neil: Lots more titles. We are actually launching a course for those new to comics to learn how we make them at TPub. I’ve discovered that though I like writing, what I really love it editing comics and coaching other creators to produce better comics. I think that is the job I was born for.
Ian: Where can people get a hold of your books?
Neil: We always recommend local comics shops because we want to support the community. But as I said we do have a little issue with them stocking us! Failing that there are bookshops and finally Amazon.
Ian: Where can people get a hold of you?