Moderated by Heidi MacDonald, this was a panel featuring a line-up of European artists discussing the rise and change in foreign comic markets. Panellists Stephanie Hans, Will Sliney, Emma Vieceli and Alvaro Martinez spoke for an hour about the respective comics industries in their home countries, as well as their move into comics and influences.
Each panellist had sent slides of their artwork across, and so the panel started with Heidi moving through each artist’s work in turn, explaining how their work fitted into the wider context of their country’s comics scene.
Will Sliney started, sharing artwork from his series Fearless Defenders at Marvel along with his own graphic novel Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cuchulainn. He said that the small press scene in Ireland had started to grow more noticeably over the last few years, mainly thanks to the internet. There are now a rising number of conventions and comic shops starting up in Ireland, and he cited a number of creators including Declan Shalvey, Nick Roche, Stephen Mooney and PJ Holden as part of a growing comics scene.
Art from Fearless Defenders #1 by Will Sliney
He first got into comics through the Panini reprints of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, which were the only American comics he could really get his hands on. One of the surprises for the American audience was the repeated statement from most panellists that it was difficult to get hold of new comics. There aren’t as many comic shops abroad, and comics aren’t sold in supermarkets or newsagents. As a result, most of the panel said they had gotten into comics through digital subscriptions or chance finds.
Alvaro Martinez has most recently been working on Ultimate X-Men, where he and Brian Wood co-created Ultimate Pixie (hurrah!). From the north of Spain, Martinez said that his gateway into comics had been through reading X-Men back-issues. This influence had stayed with him, so once he finished his fine art course he moved into comics. He displayed several panels of art, from pencils to ink and colours, and the audience gasped with each final piece.
The audience, it has to be said, were fantastic at this panel. They seemed really invested – and the room was full. They were really on-board with each new panel from the slideshow, especially some of Stephanie Hans’ cover work.
Emma Vieceli spoke about the English/UK comics scene, which had a boom and then a crash. Long-standing weekly comics like The Dandy have recently ended, and The Beano is losing sales. At the same time, she had brought a slide filled with logos from various publishers in the UK right now – The Phoenix, Great Beast, NoBrow, Sweatdrop and many others were present. Big book publishers like Jonathan Cape and Walker Books (who publish the Alex Rider comic adaptations, the latest of which will be by Vieceli and writer Antony Johnston) had moved into comics, and are doing new stuff.
There’s also a growing convention circuit, which has helped with networking. She counts manga amongst her influences, but carefully noted that she is just as influenced by cartoons like Garfield, and comics like the X-Men books. I believe she stated the idea that she wants “comics about everything for everyone”, which I have written and double-underlined in my notepad.
Croatian artist Esad Ribic was due to be on the panel, however didn’t appear due to a mix up of times. There is an emerging scene in Croatia, Heidi mentioned, with a number of artists getting noticed by companies like DC.
Art by Stephanie Hans
Stephanie Hans spoke of the French comics market, which she said was struggling currently. The system has been problematic over the last few years, especially in terms of royalties and other compensations. There are many conventions in France – very popular and hectic ones – which is both a benefit and a hindrance. She says that the conventions are so highly attended that it becomes difficult as a creator to pay due attention to everybody in your lines, because the lines are so, so long.
She started with cover art, which she draws digitally and paints. When Marvel’s talent scout (C.B. Cebulski who also met Sliney) saw her work, and asked her to join them – starting with the cover for Firestar, as seen above. She’s since done interior work also, most notably for Fearless Defenders and Journey Into Mystery.
Cebulski led into the first discussion, which was – how do you get noticed?
Sliney said that it was easier than ever to get things noticed now, due to the internet. He’d had been turned down by Marvel several times before they asked him to work for them. A few years ago he took out a loan, went to San Diego, and got his work in front of Marvel’s portfolio reviewers, who told him to go work on his art. The next year he did the same, and the same thing happened. So what he did then was refocus and got his work organised and online, setting up a small network of social media for fans to find and follow him.
Art from Ultimate X-Men, by Alvaro Martinez
Martinez said that he’d been reading comics from a young age, so moving into comics had always been his goal. He’d started by doing design work for films and magazine illustrations – as there isn’t a particularly strong comics industry in Spain. He said the country had maybe 20-30 artists who could claim to make a living from making comics, although there is an indie scene and many artists starting to come through. In Spain, the most popular comics are comedic books – one of which he said is called “Mortadelo” – David Macho very kindly provided a link to the character design here.
Vieceli agreed that Europe has a stronger sense of independent work, and America has started to catch onto that themselves, as an industry. She said that she herself wants to try and get out to more of the conventions held in mainland Europe, to find out more about the European scenes, characters, and iconography.
The French market seemed especially interesting as described by Hans during the panel. She read a lot of works like Asterix and the Smurfs when she was younger, but her father was also a fan of American comics. This was relatively rare in France, because apparently there was an ongoing practise of censoring American works – to protect the French market. Artists would be hired to redraw parts of American comics (such as the violence) so the works could be published in France. So an artist would come in on a scene of a severed hand, for example, and redraw the scene to take out the violence – and in some cases, the hand itself.
This is similar to a practise Tokyopo used to employ, Vieceli noted, where cigarettes would be replaced by lollypops.
Every artist on the panel has worked for Marvel – the CB Cebulski factor – which led to interesting discussion about the company. Martinez said that he felt very nervous about working on the characters, as John Byrne’s run on the X-Men were hugely influential on his own work. To be drawing those same characters was quite a nerve-racking experience, and he spent several months “freaking out.
Will Sliney noted that he’d never been asked to use any specific house style in Fearless Defenders. He also got given the final approval on the Irish accent used by one of the characters in the story, to check it was authentic. Working on that book sounded pretty collaborative, as he got to request that Shamrock – the Irish hero – appear in the story. He also pitched a story for a Banshee/Captain Britain team-up, because it would’ve been pretty funny to get those two together and see them clash.
Art by Emma Vieceli
Vieceli is currently doing a story for Young Avengers, but has worked for Marvel before, for Girl Comics. She had a two-pager in that anthology, and said she’d also felt nervous about drawing such iconic characters. And again, she hadn’t been asked to use a house style when drawing either of these stories – she had expected to be far more directed by the editors than she had been.
For the Q&A, the audience immediately went back to the topic of the availability of comics in Europe.
Emma Vieceli said that comics just aren’t sold in the usual stores. There is very little news-stand circulation, and even the weekly comics like The Phoenix have had to start out with a digital subscription model. The arrival of digital comics through ComiXology has made it possible for people in Europe to read comics as they come out. She also mentioned her work for the TV show Bates Motel, the artwork of which was made available online for download. Only… not in the UK, so she couldn’t read her own work!
Sliney talked about rights issues abroad, also. One example he gave was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which are published in America by IDW. However, the company don’t have the rights to distribute the comic to Ireland, so new releases were few and far between. He did also note that the release of Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cuchulainn had been seen as a massive deal in Ireland, and the book had done very well. There’s a growing market in Ireland for these sorts of traditional stories to be adapted into graphic novels and comics.
Vieceli added that the same thing was starting to happen in the UK with Arthurian works.
Stephanie Hans, who lives in Berlin now, also had started to get to grips with the German comics industry, which she said was mainly focused on independent and small-press comics currently.
With that, Heidi did a run-down on where you can find all the panellists, and concluded the panel. And if you WERE wondering where YOU can find the panellists:
Alvaro Martinez I’ve not been able to find online, but this year he’s worked on both Harbinger for Valiant and Ultimate X-Men for Marvel. Keep an eye out!
and Heidi MacDonald also has a blog, apparently.