Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A grand ship out on the ocean, all mounted with silver and gold

We are currently making plans for what we’d do with Mirabilis if we can get full control of the publishing rights. To explain that remark and put it in context, I need to take a short historical detour.

As I’m sure you’re aware, Mirabilis originally appeared in the last few issues of Random House’s short-lived weekly comic The DFC. Consequently they are the company that currently controls the publishing rights for those initial ten 5-page installments.

Leo, Martin, Nikos and I have plans for how we would turn that original stub of material into an 800-page epic. But of course to do so we need to be able to publish the first 7% of the story, namely the pages from The DFC. We’re still hopeful we can make some kind of deal to free up those rights. Currently it’s not doing any good for anybody, and the longer it languishes in limbo the harder it is for our whole team to resume, so we're trusting that reason will prevail. (Short pause while I bang my knuckles on this fine oak desk.)

So, if we can get back control of that first chapter, what will we do with our baby then? First of all, we’d reinstate the flipbook episodes on the Mirabilis website. The next step would be to immediately start publishing Mirabilis as a monthly comic book. Eventually there would be collected book editions too, of course, but I like the sense of community you get with a monthly comic, and even a small print readership would help to sustain the team (moral support being far more vital to creatives than financial support, though both are nice) as we continue to work on further installments.

Our current plans would lead to at least a three-year run for the Mirabilis comic, with the four big books (Winter, Spring, etc) appearing at six-monthly intervals once we are well under way. We have to ensure there’s not too much of a gap between release dates for the books because Mirabilis isn't like Alex Rider, for example, where each book is a standalone story. This is one continuous epic – more like Lord of the Rings, say - so readers won't want a long wait between volumes.

One thing we’d be able to consider is whether to stick with the old comic’s A4 format or go with regular US comic book size, which I prefer. It may be too late to change, as any resources we have are better spent creating new material rather than reworking the earlier stuff. That’s not a priority, then – though I do think it’d be a shame not to change it, as Mirabilis leans towards America rather than Europe in that split personality thing we Brits have going. A4 is not a format that would find much favor on the far side of the pond.

We’d look to put the comic out in electronic form too, of course, with PDFs on DriveThru and an app for both iPhone and iPad. All the episodic formats we can release it on would bring in regular revenue - maybe not a lot but it's cashflow, and that’s vital if we’re to keep the whole team together and have any chance of completing this Herculean task we set out to do.

That's not forgetting the Royal Mythological Society stuff, which could serve a useful peripheral function like the Black Freighter to Watchmen, or the Animatrix to The Matrix. We actually have the RMS shorts all ready for publication on the Kindle - and that material has the advantage that it could quite easily be repurposed if need be. I'll just keep touching the desk.

So those are all the what-ifs. What if we can’t get control of the opening installments, though? Well, in that case I suppose you may end up reading the adventures of blond John Spark and red-headed Astrid Fieldweather under the mysterious blue comet, in Fabulosia: 365 Days of Miracles. Or maybe we shouldn't even joke about that, judging by the look on their faces there...


  1. Reading this should be a real eye opener for all of us. I'm just amazed that a publisher with a property as exciting as Mirabilis on their desk seems so frozen with indecision. My feeling about Random House is that perhaps they are just too big, corporate and committee driven to make the kind of bold initiatives that are required these days.

    My friend Jon Higham who has twenty plus years of writing and drawing children's books and has seen the shift from the days when he could get a thumbs up from Sebastian Walker as opposed to leaving a proposal at the same publisher now to be picked over by a committee over a period of months, has turned his attention to to creating a series of stories around a character called Elly the Reindeer for ITouch and IPad apps, which he's putting together with a very enterprising developer in Mumbai. He's very into the ITunes Apps store and was expressing surprise that in spite of the fact the French have 100 graphic novels now as apps, Walker Books, Puffin, Random House - you name them, are still conspicuous by their absence.

    So your experience with Mirabilis sound like yet another indicator that some UK publishers have just got too ensnared with corporate thinking. There are I suspect a new generation of Sebastian Walkers, Andre Deutschs, Tom Boardmans and James Warrens but not I suspect working within the airless confines of a one take over too many publisher's committee room.

  2. I have been wary in the past of working with huge corporations for the reasons you cite, Peter, but in our case we may have had the opposite problem. Most of our dealings (which amount to one meeting and two phone calls in the last year) were not with RH themselves but with David Fickling Books. Now that the ball has been passed to RH itself, I'm actually pinning my hopes on the relentless yet dispassionate logic of corporate thinking, in that a comic like Mirabilis is of negligible interest to RH and in any case wouldn't be worth their while publishing without the involvement of its creators, but if we can find a way to continue it then it will cost them nothing and could even benefit them - at no risk, expense or effort to themselves. Our greatest allies could be the bean counters, if we can just get them to look at it!

    Our agent has been trying very hard since before Christmas to sort something out, the frustration being how slow it is. We already lost one chance at finance for the whole series and missed out on being able to take it to Bologna this year. But the upside is that we haven't actually been negotiating with RH up till now, and maybe they will reply to our agent's suggestions for ways to keep the project going.

    I love the idea of creatives getting a direct route to their audience with iPhone, etc, as you know. At the same time, I think it's been a wake-up call for some of those behemoth corporations. A friend of mine was telling me recently that working on a game for Disney has been a huge pleasure because they have made sure to listen to the developer's needs and even paid for the initial concepting stage. Allegedly even the BBC are starting to respond more openly and fluidly. If RH follow suit by letting us have our baby back, I'll be here praising them to the skies!