Interviews: bringing Brit classics back to life – Matt talks to Hibernia Comics’ David McDonald
David McDonald is one of the men behind Hibernia Comics, an independent publisher that reprints classic British comics and produces the non-fiction Comic Archive series. Hibernia do a cracking job and so, in an attempt to give them a bit of well-deserved publicity, we sent roving reporter Matt Badham to have a chat with him about their various publications and plans for the future, in this interview which is being published simultaneously on Down the Tubes and the FP blog.
Matt: What is Hibernia?
David: Hibernia is a (very!) small publisher of classic British comic material mostly from the seventies and eighties, and is based in Ireland. We also do the Comic Archive series, which is interviews and articles about the comics and the people behind them from the same era. Richard Pearce, who is based in Scotland, is also involved in producing the comics. Richard handles all the design and art clean-up, as well as being involved with the promotion.
Matt: Why do you do what you do?
David: I am a massive fan of comics, in particular of IPC titles from the mid-sixties to the late eighties. There is a wealth of fantastic material out there that remains unknown and forgotten. These stories, with their outlandish characters, black humour and glorious artwork, deserve to be seen again. It’s hard enough to sell well-known characters and in the slowly shrinking graphic novel and comic market, the sad fact is that a lot of this material will never be seen again. I want to do my best to make the cream of these comics available, in however small a print run. The print runs we do are typically 200 copies, occasionally doing a small reprint of titles that sell out. We try to get the artwork looking the best it can and print it on good quality paper. I think Richard and I have done that, as the artwork looks great!
That’s down to using a local printer too. Using a local printer means we can get samples to check the blacks and make sure everything looks good, and Richard is in contact with the printer’s designer to make sure the files are right, even down to small things like checking the spine is the right size to fit the book! Perfect-bound is the format I have moved to for the last few editions, which has worked well, and I think keeping the price as low as possible is really important. I think we have hit on a format that represents these stories well and is still affordable at a print run of 200.
Matt: Why do old comic strips of the type you’re reprinting need to see the light of day again?
David: They need to see the light of day firstly because they’re great material, with fantastic artwork. Sometimes the storytelling can seem a little dated, but it’s a different style of storytelling than you get in most comics outside of 2000 AD now. These three and four-page instalments are super-condensed storytelling, the complete opposite to a lot of widescreen comics that are now available (I’m not knocking them as they have their place too). I suppose there is a nostalgia about it too, bringing back [their] youth to forty-somethings!
Matt: What are you most proud of in terms of your publications so far?
David: Without trying to give a political answer, all of them! All the comic collections I have done so far are favourites, be it [in terms of] the artwork or great writing, these are great comics. Any John Wagner and Alan Grant [written] material, like Max or Doomlord, as it’s top-notch stuff. The Tower King too, written by Alan Hebden, has a cracking story with great art by Ortiz! The master! We’ve also published comics including art from Mike Western, who is one of the very best British artists and Eric Bradbury too, whose art is dark and unsettling. How can I pick one collection out of all of those!?!
On a more personal note, the Comic Archive books (there are two more in the works) have been the most time-consuming and have sometimes been frustrating but always the most rewarding too. To have had the opportunity to interview [artist] John Cooper and [art director] Jan Shepheard, was just fantastic.
To have Barrie Tomlinson, John Wagner, Kelvin Gosnell, Steve McManus, Pat Mills, Nick Landau, Dez Skinn and many, many more, help, give their time and recollections, and permission to use artwork is incredible and makes for a great read.
Matt: What would you do differently if you had your time again?
David: Funnily, I spoke to Paul Scott (him of [small press comics] Solar Wind and OVS [Omnivistascope]) on this recently. The first collection [Doomlord] I did over ten years ago (!?!) was a learning curve. I had helped Titan with their Steel Claw and Spider collections, lending my comic collection and helping with dates and artists etc., so I decided I could do it all by myself and went in feet first!
I got most of the contents right, with great reproduction. The art looked good and it’s a great story. We had Alan Grant doing the introduction. I decided not to go with the photo-stories first, which would be difficult and time-consuming to reprint correctly, so the first drawn story was chosen and Paul Scott did a synopsis of the photo-stories to bring readers up to date.* All good so far.
[*As readers will no doubt have gathered, Doomlord was a photo-strip before it became a more traditionally drawn strip.]
But I printed too many copies and did not have proper design on the comics themselves, which were both big mistakes.
Next up was The Thirteenth Floor Volume One. Richard Pearce was on board for the cover on this and a smaller print run made it a success.
Recession and four small kids put paid to comics for a while, except for two small press comics titled Tales from the Emerald Isle. The first concentrated on Irish 2000 AD characters. The second was a special put together for the 2D con in Derry, Northern Ireland.
We have learned something from every publication so far and have brought Hibernia to a place where The Complete Dracula Files is published and it looks great. What one thing would I do differently? [I would] have gotten Richard on board for Doomlord!
Matt: What have you got coming up?
David: In the near future I have the next Comic Archive called It’s Ghastly. [This is] interviews and articles with all those involved in the editorial side of Scream. Also included is a never before seen 16-page Nightcomers story, cover recreations to Scream issues 16, 17 and 18, and more! After that will be the House of Daemon, the classic from the new Eagle by Wagner, Grant and Ortiz, and after that will be another Comic Archive and more collections, but it’s a little too early yet to name those.
Matt: Where would you like to be in the future generally, in terms of Hibernia’s status as a publisher?
David: In the future, I’d like to see sales climb and have enough of a customer-base to support more diverse titles, like collections from ‘funny’ titles and maybe girls’ titles too. I also like the idea of holiday specials and annuals, and I’d love at some point to do new comics featuring classic characters.
FP would like to thank David and Matt for taking the time to share their thoughts with us; you can find out more about Hibernia Comics on their blog, their Twitter, check out their Facebook page and they have a shop on Comicsy.