While comic book piracy is a growing concern for major publishers, it was probably the last thing on Gordon Mclean’s mind when he self-published the first issue of his debut comic book No More Heroes in the UK a few weeks ago. He was surprised then when, in an unprecedented turn of events, his small press title was discovered being pirated on a torrent website. Not only that, but the sheer amount of times it had been downloaded meant that his book was as popular with the site’s users as mainstream titles Batman and The Walking Dead.
Centred on an everyday slacker who finds himself the unwitting accessory of a super-hero murder, No More Heroes is a twisted, raucous spin on the murder-mystery genre; and like all small press titles, very much a labour of love for its creator. Inspired by a Mark Millar talk at last year’s Kapow! Comic Convention, Mclean wrote the first issue on the train home from London to Glasgow that very evening. Over the next few months took the last of the money he’d received from recently being made redundant and used it to assemble a creative team including artist Caio Oliveira to bring his vision to fruition. It was a gamble that paid off; since its debut No More Heroes has been met with praise from critics, retailers, and now pirates alike.
We caught up with Gordon for a chat as downloads continued to rise for a talk about piracy, embracing the situation he had found himself in, and writing on pigeons.
Asides from the popularity on the torrent site, how have you found the initial response to the book?
It’s all been positive so far, which was a huge relief! No-one’s went “What the hell is this sh*t?” yet, so I’m counting that as a win. Every review has been good and a few have made comparisons with Garth Ennis – as a huge Ennis fan that’s an incredible compliment. Even if they’d said “it’s not as good as Ennis” I’d still be happy with that! But fortunately that hasn’t been the case. There have also been numerous nice emails from readers and comic store owners so over all it’s just been one big smile-inducing launch period.
Have you checked how many downloads are we currently sitting at?
At present, eighteen hundred times. It’s also part of a torrent that collects all the comics released over the week, which means you could add close to another seven hundred to that figure.
Can you talk us through how you found out about the book being made available for torrenting? What was your initial reaction to finding out that the book you’d worked to put together being made so readily available like that?
I was messaged by Linsay Powell from Comics Anonymous to give me the news, asking me if I already knew about it, or had maybe even torrented it myself as a PR stunt. That wasn’t the case, and for a moment I was stunned to see No More Heroes among the “top torrents” along with Walking Dead, Ultimate X-Men and Batman. Then I thought about those sixteen hundred downloads – that’s how many downloads it was at when we discovered it – and all those lost sales, and how if the downloaders all paid even one buck for the comic it would’ve put us in the black.
I could’ve gotten angry and wallowed in misery but what’s the point in that? It would’ve changed nothing. If there was a button I could’ve pushed to take a payment from every downloader’s account I would’ve pressed it but no-one’s invented that yet and I’m not smart enough. Sometimes my microwave outsmarts me! Instead I thought “sod it! I’m using this!” and put a press release together detailing how a small press comic by two unknown creators with no publicity was up there with the big boys and sent it everywhere. Then it was on to forums, Facebook, Twitter – a coffee-fuelled media blitz. If I couldn’t get the money I was going to get as much PR as possible instead!
It’s not as if the book wasn’t available digitally. Along with physical copies you’ve been selling if as a PDF from your site for £1, or $1.58 for our American cousins. Given the low price that you were offering it at, and the fact that there’s already a ten page preview on your website, does that make you more surprised that the book has been pirated?
Yeah, firstly because it’s a small press comic with no advertising campaign behind it and second because it was so cheap. It’s depressing that they weren’t even willing to pay a buck for something that was self-funded via my redundancy money and the sale of my Playstation games collection. I guess that’s the reality of living in the online era: everything can be free if you want it to be. I understand this is the reality of the situation now and probably always will be until the internet comes alive and becomes Skynet.
Have you considered contacting the site in question to have the torrent removed?
I think that would probably be pointless. A new one can be re-upped in minutes or via alternate sites, plus so many people have already nabbed it and can share it if they want that it would be like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.
Given that it’s basically a one-man operation in terms of distributing the book, I know that you’re very much in touch with those that purchase the comic directly from you. Have you had any response from the people who have obtained No More Heroes without paying for it?
I actually have had a few people email to say they downloaded No More Heroes and liked it so much they wanted to give me a few quid for it, which was a nice surprise. Maybe there’s hope yet?
With that in mind, what you would you say to anyone who has torrented the book?
Please help us out! We’re not a big company with millions of dollars behind us, we’re just a couple of guys right at the bottom of the industry trying to scrape by. No-one’s paying us a wage and if we don’t make money from sales then we don’t make money, full stop. What’s one buck, really?
Has this experience put you off from providing digital copies of future instalments?
I don’t think so as I’m aware of how fast people seem to be able to scan print copies and get them online too. Most of the sales have actually been for the digital copy and because of the higher cost of shipping the print copies abroad I appreciate that digital is the only way to get it to interested readers at a reasonable price.
Does this affect the production of the second issue?
It’s forcing me to look for other sources of money, yeah (how much does a kidney go for?), but I’m determined to finish No More Heroes because I want to make sure readers who’ve helped us out by buying the comic get the answer to the mystery of what really happened to Dark Justice. Plus Caio’s artwork for the upcoming issues is far too good not to share. So the story will be finished and answers will be revealed unless I get hit by a bus or Caio’s arms fall off. Maybe both! Maybe he was driving the bus! Not sure how that situation would come about but you never know.
What I’m really hoping for is that a publisher hears about our small press comic getting an unusual amount of attention, sees that it’s popular and picks it up. That would be the dream ending for all this and make sure the future of No More Heroes is in safe hands!
It’s safe to say that No More Heroes isn’t the only thing you’re working on just now though, right? What else have you got lined up?
Umpteen projects! I’ve written the first couple of scripts for another comic series, but whether or not that sees the light of day depends on what happens with No More Heroes. However, I’ve written a few shorts for upcoming superhero and horror anthologies from GLoW (the Glasgow League of Writers) so there’s at least a couple more comic things on the way.
I’ve also completed a script for a feature-length film that will go into production this year if we can get the funding. It’s always about the money, isn’t it? A sitcom pilot’s being written up too. Basically I’m going to keep writing and writing until something gets picked up and I achieve the Holy Grail of getting someone to pay me for my stories. I’m not going to give up – even if I end up homeless and living on the streets I’ll just start writing on the back of pigeons.