Comics International – a tale of two Mikes
If you cast your mind back to the start of this year there was a lot of speculation about the future of Comics International, long an institution among comics readers, especially here in the British Isles. When new issues failed to appear we had regular customers in our stores asking us what was going on – had it ceased publication, was it on hiatus, what were these rumours of a changeover? Well it wasn’t ceasing publication we were all relieved to hear, but there was a major change coming as the journal changed hands, with Mike Conroy coming in as the new editor. Dez Skinn’s long run on CI was always going to be a hard act to follow, but Mike has a long comics history himself, highlighted not least in the books he has authored on the medium and being instrumental in setting up the Eagle Awards, the UK’s premiere comics awards, so we knew the new hand on the tiller would belong to someone knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the medium.
Kenny spoke to Mike last February here on the blog about the obvious difficulties of taking over a publication, setting out the rules, the contributors, the features, layouts and art – all major headaches for any regular publication, magnified by the added problems of effectively re-launching CI under a new ownership after an absence of a few months from bookshelves. Comics International #201 was being eagerly anticipated by loyal readers but they were also wondering when it would come out and would it still be the CI they loved?
(the Man From U.N.C.L.E. cover for Comics International #204, due shortly)
“As far as I’m concerned, there are no sacred cows in CI but neither am I interested in change for change’s sake. I’ve a sharp learning curve ahead of me and I plan to introduce my innovations slowly. Given CI’s three-month absence, my first issue [#201] is to be something of a transitional one but it will certainly offer a good indication of where I’m going with the magazine.” Mike Conroy talking to Kenny on the blog back in February, just ahead of the launch of issue 201.
Well the good news is Mike and his team did fight through all those problems and CI returned to the shelves; loyal readers, worried that the long absence from the shelves would mean the changeover would actually equate to a vanishing act were relieved. However, the problems inherent in such a changeover continued to cause disruption with CI; of course the transitional period would throw up more problems, that’s pretty much in the nature of this kind of project and I think most readers understood this, willing to stick with CI, problems and all, until it settled down into a new regular pattern in a few months. However, with most of 2007 now gone past it still isn’t plain sailing, with issues of CI coming out intermittently since Mike last talked here with us back in February, which sparked fresh concerns among the readership. Recently one of those regular readers, Mike Kinsella from Ireland, sent us a copy of a letter he had sent to Mike Conroy outlining his worries and concerns about CI. Mike kindly gave us permission to post his letter here to see if other readers shared his concerns:
Dear Mr. Conroy,
I felt its time to write into you and express my concerns for Comics International.
I am a regular reader since I picked up issue 8 at a convention in London. Since then I have gotten most issues despite living in a remote part of Ireland and thanks to your subscription service.
I looked forward to my regular monthly issue, which passed away a couple of hours. Everything was read even the classifieds. But alas a regular monthly schedule is very rare lately. Since issue 200 dated November 2006, you have managed to produce 3 issues in 10 months.
Comics International as a brand I’m sure must be badly affected by this poor record. Okay I’m sure there was a handover period where things took a bit of reorganisation, but after 10 months the honeymoon is over.
What’s gone wrong?
In my opinion, you seem to be treating your customers like fools. Why? In the latest issue, the cover (issue 203, which does not have an issue number or date for some reason….maybe to increase shelf life) boasts 16 extra pages free. Since issue 200 to the current issue, the page count has been 100 (I counted them!). So tell me….did my 16 free pages fall out in the post?!?
Secondly, the price increase at issue 200 from £1.95 to £2.95 was worth it for such a landmark issue, but I felt that you should have reverted back to the previous 68 page format with its £1.95 price. Comics International is first and foremost a Newspaper and its price should reflect this. It seems you are milking the product for what its worth. Maybe if you kept the old format, you could have maintained a regular schedule with fewer pages to fill!
Thirdly, the content of Comics International has forgotten its roots. You cover comics related Film and TV items which should be left to the likes of SFX magazine and similar titles. The clue is in the title…COMICS International! Cover them if you have to, but limit it to a page or two. I understand by appealing to other markets you are getting more readers, but I understood the magazine was doing fine without them!
Fourthly, as mentioned earlier, the monthly schedule must be maintained. What good are advance monthly listings if they aren’t monthly?!? Old news is no news!
I’m guessing advertisers are thinking twice about using Comics International due to your recent lateness. It was advertisers who played a big part for the success of Comics International in its early days, and contributed to keeping the price of those issues down.
One more thing….bring back the editorial on page 3. It makes the magazine more personal!
This letter seems negative but, as a regular reader who still enjoys the magazine, I do not want to see the magazine fold due to loss of direction. Consider my comments and I hope that I can re-new my subscription with confidence in the future of the magazine. If your current lateness continues, then my current subscription should last until 2009 at least!
(Comics International #204 – the ‘Baltimore’ cover)
Naturally we couldn’t leave it at that – what was going on at CI? Why had the publishing schedule been so erratic? What about rumours that it was about to fold, that the new owners had lost confidence? Rumours and speculation but no real answers. The only person who could really answer as to what was happening and if another issue of CI would indeed appear was Mike Conroy himself; it also seemed only fair to us to allow Mike to respond to Mike Kinsella’s points here too and explain events from the publisher’s side of things, the side most of us don’t see, the problems, the deadlines, the print schedules, getting work from contributors on time.
And it seemed to us that Mike K’s concerns obviously seemed to speak for the worries a lot of loyal readers had concerning CI; he wasn’t putting the boot into the ‘new guy’, rather it seemed to me that he obviously cared enough about CI that instead of simply cancelling his subscription and walking away he wanted to know what was going wrong, if it would be fixed and when he would next see an issue. In a way it is almost a back-handed compliment to CI that he cares enough to write that sort of letter. We asked Mike Conroy if he could respond to the points in Mike Kinsella’s letter and, to his credit, Mike agreed and kindly took some time out of trying to put the next issue of CI (issue 204) to bed to reply:
(the Doctor Who-themed cover for Comics International #204)
First, thank you for making us aware of Mike’s concerns – although I have to say that here at Comics International, we are certainly not complacent about how our dedicated readers feel about the magazine, and we are making every effort to publish the title regularly and ensure it maintains and, we hope, improves on the high standards set in the past.
Mike makes some interesting points and I can only apologise for CI’s haphazard scheduling. Unfortunately the reasons we seem to be languishing on a bimonthly frequency are many and varied. The magazine has been plagued with problems, many of which have been outside our control. However, we are not complacent about the situation and have spent the past few months addressing these difficulties.
I have also been assembling a new and enthusiastic team that will aid us in getting the magazine back on track. There’s still a ways to go, but things are already starting to come together.
Comics International #204 is at the printer now and #205 is moving forward nicely.
I must say, I couldn’t believe Mike’s suggestion that we seem to be treating our readers like fools! I’m certainly not foolish enough to think we can get away with slapping a “16 extra pages free” banner on the cover and offering only the standard 100 pages. If he’d care to check again, he’ll see the issue includes a 16-page Metal Mayhem insert sitting between pages 50 and 51. Also, the issue number is on the cover… just under the ‘C’ of Comics International.
As for reverting to the previous 68-page format, that was never going to happen. Even if issue #200 hadn’t been a bumper anniversary issue, we would still have upped the page count with #201. Many still consider CI as a newspaper but as I have pointed out in the magazine itself, those days are gone. Change was needed if it was to survive. My philosophy has always been: let the Internet be the daily papers, CI can be the Sundays! It’s my vision of the future – still news-driven but more in-depth features and interviews.
I can assure Mike that we have not forgotten CI’s roots. I’m a comics fan through and through, but the market is changing, and the editorial of CI has to reflect those changes. There’s more interest in the medium because of the comicbook movies. We want to attract new readers (to CI and to comics) by harnessing that interest. What publisher in their right mind would ignore increased orders following the inclusion of our recent TV and film comics features on Doctor Who and other franchises?
Equally, we’re looking to make CI a more rounded magazine, something that the casual comics reader – the sort that buys collections at Borders or wherever – would want to read.
By the same token, we have no intention of disenfranchising our core audience… I’m not that stupid!
Comics International has always evolved as the market and its fortunes changed. Right now, the title has the benefits of a new, supportive publisher who I’m taking every advantage of to evolve the title further and bring it to even more comics fans – however they found comics. Despite scheduling issues that have rightly prompted concerns from our loyal and much appreciated readers, the magazine is and our backers are fully committed to its long term existence, and so am I.
Finally, Mike’s not the first person to ask for the return of the editorial. I’m definitely going to have to give that some serious consideration. Just don’t expect Sez Dez Mark II!
(Comics International #204 with the Heroes-themed cover)
So there you have it – FPI would like to thank both Mike Kinsella and Mike Conroy for their time and for allowing us to post their letters here on the blog. As Mike C told us the latest issue is now physically at the printer, so barring any unforeseen problems we should be seeing that on the shelves of our stores shortly, which is welcome news, and the following issue seems to be well in hand too. However, it isn’t the end of the story exactly – it would be interesting to hear what other regular CI readers have to say on the matter. There’s no place for any rants or rudeness, but we’d welcome any well thought out observations – criticism or praise, hopes or concerns – on CI, because after all it is the opinions of those readers who have stuck by it that will ultimately determine how it continues, so please feel free to leave your thoughts on the situation in the comments.