About a month ago I got to talk to Marc Ellerby about his web diary comic, Ellerbisms, its move to digital, print, and other totally brilliant stuff. Then the struggle bus named “you’re almost done with grad school get your bleeping life together” hit me full steam ahead. But I’m back and I’m pleased to bring you this awesome interview, criminally late as it is. And now on with the show!
I Speak Comics: Would you mind giving us a quick rundown of Ellerbisms? Why did you decide to create a diary comic?
Marc Ellerby: During my second year of university Top Shelf was bringing out a bunch of autobio graphic novels and I got into them in a big way. American Elf had just started to pick up steam, Jeffrey Brown’s books were coming out and then Blankets hit and everyone and their mate wanted to draw autobio comics about girls.
I liked the way they were relatable to me even though I had never met the author, I connected with them in a way that I could see correlations with my own life. Sometimes the comics were heartbreaking and sometimes they were hilarious and I couldn’t get enough of them. So I did some diary comics for my third year project and I enjoyed making them so much that I thought I’d pick them up a few years later as a web comic.
ISC: Ellerbisms ended in 2010, but it just made it to print in November of 2012. Did it take two years to find a publisher or were you just content to have the comic live on the web?
ME: I ended Ellerbisms as I needed a break from it as I really had enough of looking at my life and putting it out to the general public – it had just stopped being fun. The two year gap in part was to get my head around “how is this going to work as a book; with a beginning, middle and end?” as it’s a diary comic and narrative is sometimes lost due to the spiralling nature of the genre.
Also about a year after the strip ended the relationship that I was in for the majority of the comic was falling apart and that was pretty hard to go through. I knew I wanted to deal with that in the book, and that in itself was the most difficult part of the book to do so I just put it off for a while. So even though the comic ended in 2010, I wanted to do a lot of new material for the book to give it context and a definitive narrative as opposed to just “hey look at this funny thing that happened to me”. When the relationship ended I knew what the book’s focus was going to be (and in a lot of ways drawing those comics helped me work through a lot of things and put it all in perspective).
I tried to get it in with a couple of publishers but none got back to me so I thought I’d do it myself and make the print edition the best I possibly could. So it has nice paper, it’s got rounded corners (to ape the sketchbook that I drew the comics in) and it has a spot varnish element on the cover. With Great Beast the creator is the publisher, so the person/s behind the comic pay for the print runs and the digital costs ourselves and then reap all the cash back. No one else takes a cut other than the printers, the apps and the stores etc.
ISC: How does it feel to hold three years of work? Literally hundreds of daily snippets of your life. Has there been any sort of catharsis as you reread your strips? Are you embarrassed about anything? Would you say that you’ve grown?
ME: Oh it’s a mixed feeling for sure. In some ways it’s great to hold a body of work and see your artwork progress but at the same time there’s the early strips that are just awful and I skim past them. Skip to the good bits!
I know there’s some super personal stuff in there and that’s a worry but I knew that was going to come with the territory with autobio, you’re not always the hero of your own story and sometimes you’re a dick because you’re human. You have to be honest not only with yourself but with your reader and it’s easy to brush the bad times aside but that’s not how life goes.
I think I’ve grown artistically but I don’t know about personally. I feel like I could quite easily make the same mistakes as before (though I’d try really hard not to).
ISC: What do you like about web comics? I mean why start Ellerbisms on the Internet as opposed to print minicomics or something along those lines?
ME: I did a few mini comics when Ellerbisms started online and I tried to make them as appealing as possible with recycled cardboard covers and nice paper but yeah no one really wanted them, they just wanted a book! I like the immediacy of webcomics, the best feedback I’ve got from my readers is in the comment sections (and also the opposite of that is true I guess) and it’s nice to build up an audience and interact with them online and at conventions. There’s not a huge amount of outgoings for publishing on the web (apart from the hosting and domain fees) and you can reach more people than you could with print comics for sure.
ISC: But you’ve also done work in print, like Love the Way You Love for Oni. What are some of the awesome things about working in print? Crappy things?
ME: I think with black and white comics you still can’t beat print for the reproduction quality and up until a few years ago I’d say the same about colour comics, but now with HD screen tablets I’m not sure that’s the case (though I hate the reflection you get on those screens, there’s nothing like reading Hawkeye and seeing your face all big in the reflection). I still love print, I love the smell of the ink on the paper and there’s nothing like a good quality paper-stock.
Books are still exciting objects to hold and I think that’ll be the future of the industry, publishers are just going to have to make the best book they possibly can. Print’s declining but it can still be relevant and sustainable by doing super-nice editions, you gotta make your books Kindle-proof, you’ve got to give the reader a reason to buy it physically.
ISC: Now just last month you released Ellerbisms digitally, on digital platforms like Graphicly and comiXology. Can you talk a little bit about that process? Why move Ellerbisms to digital comics readers if people can just go to your site and read everything for free?
ME: Ah but they can’t read it all for free. There’s loads of new stuff in the book and you also get all those pages if you buy the book digitally. So, yes you can read the majority of it for free but I think if you’re going to charge people for it you have to give them something extra, something that they can’t get online.
So in the case of Ellerbisms it’s, well, it’s the rest of the story. I make another comic called Chloe Noonan: Monster Hunter and that came out as black and white mini comics first but for the digital edition I coloured all 130 pages to entice people drop £3 on it. It looks snazzy in colour and great to read on the tablets.
It’s important to offer your comics digitally as well as in print, the way people are reading books is changing and you have to adapt to that. It’s still in it’s infancy but it’s accelerating at such a speed that as a creator you can’t afford to not offer your books as ebooks. I’m still testing the waters to see what works and what doesn’t and what platforms are worth the headaches.
ISC: So now you’ve got Ellerbisms for free on the web, in a beautiful s0ftcover, and as a digital comic. I mean we can’t escape your books! But that’s a great thing right?
ME: Yeah it’s a good thing! Though I think my Twitter followers are just so sick of me mentioning the bloody thing now. “No, we get it, you have a book out, well done, you” But going back to my earlier point, you have to cater to all audiences, some people want it as a book, some want to read it on their phone, some want to read parts of it for free. Publishing isn’t just about doing one thing anymore it’s about offering people options, the reader dictates how they want to read their books and not the publisher. Which is exciting and scary and kind of really cool if you think about it. The shift in power has changed.
ISC: Last question, I swear. How do you feel about the future of digital comics? About the medium in general? Are we going to see more digital comics? More web comic creators moving their work to comics readers?
ME: I was never a successful webcomicker for many reasons (diary comics don’t reach high-audience numbers, I’m not great at doing t-shirts and it’s hard to market merchandise on a character that is essentially me) and I know it’s old-fashioned, I know I’m in the minority but what’s wrong with paying for the actual comics? Do I really have to make t-shirts and cups and coasters and tote-bags (though I do like making tote-bags) to make my comic profitable? So I see selling comics digitally as a vital step and it’s one that I hope stays and flourishes, especially for indie creators. I’m working on a new Chloe Noonan series to launch later this year and it was going to be a webcomic but now I’m not so sure, especially now that comiXology’s submit program has launched. It’ll be interesting to see if a digital comic can breakout in the same way that Kate Beaton did online and The Walking Dead did in print.
You can see everything Marc’s up to at his website – http://www.marcellerby.com – and all the Ellerbisms awesome you can handle over at http://www.ellerbisms.com. Be sure to check out Marc’s publishing company Great Beast for more incredible books, and if you’re into digital you can browse their digital collection over at comiXology. Need to get your hands on a print copy of Ellerbisms? Grab one here!
Marc Ellerby is a cartoonist based in Essex, England. His comic book work (or “graphic novels” or “graphic stories” or whatever the buzz word of the moment is) includes Ellerbisms, Chloe Noonan: Monster Hunter as well as illustrating comics such as Love The Way You Love for Oni Press and various short stories in anthologies published by Image Comics, Boom! Studios, Solipsistic Pop and We Are Words + Pictures.