PART TWO: The plan was to break in to comics by creating a web-publishing venture. The method would involve a little Grant Morrison and a lot of controversy. Craig McGill continues the story of the little site that never was.
06 September 2002

In the first instalment of this column, Craig McGill discussed the ideas behind Scomics and the peculiar first meeting of the site's prospective talents. In this second and final instalment, Craig looks at the challenges of publicity.

Scots aren't very good at exposing themselves. Probably something to do with the weather and stiff jail sentences, but this shyness has crept into the national psyche in many ways.

I wasn't having that. Here I was, editor in chief of what was going to be The World's Greatest Comic Site, and I was going to let every fucker in the world know about it.

This was the part I could do standing on my head. Comics may not be very good at promoting themselves to the world, but that's the creators' problem, in my opinion. Getting publicity is not hard. This is a world that devours information - there's a market for everything - but so many people seem to forget this.

So here's one tip that does work.

The best way to get coverage in the mass media is to have something newsworthy. And what's newsworthy? Anything that causes a row. Anything that shocks and surprises.

Superman and Batman characters having a gay relationship? Batman revealing he's a Catholic? That'll do nicely.

Here's what we came up with for the launch of Scomics:

I came up with a concept for a group of heroes from Scotland's past ­ Sawney Bean, Robert the Bruce, William Wallace and others - to be clones in a futuristic adventure/satire tale.

Clones, yawn. Yes, to the well-to-do superhero reader, they are old hat. I wasn't after that lot. I wanted the mainstream punter, and I know that anything involving a bunch of Scots heroes will get me coverage anywhere there are Scots.

'Getting publicity is not hard. The world devours information.' So I called up a news agency (for those not in the know, a news agency covers a lot of stories that newspaper staff can't. Reuters and Associated Press are the best known two) and told them about this strip called CLAN.

Guy on the other end talks to me for ten minutes, I send him some artwork.

Next day ­ bang!

Lots of papers had a bit about it. Some gave it a lot of space, some only gave it a small bit of space. But it worked. And the guy at the agency got paid from all the papers for providing a story. Everyone's happy.

Was I lucky? No. Just like sex, it's all in the timing. I called on Sunday, a traditionally slow news day, telling him about this strip, offered him some artwork and added that it was gathering interest in Hollywood. The last bit was not a lie. There were people in Hollywood wanting to see this. Friends of mine who worked for TV stations. They couldn't commission it or buy the rights as they were far too low the chain for that, but they were people in Hollywood who wanted to read the strip.

Use the media.

The publicity from that did so well that I ended up chatting on radio stations in New Zealand and America.

So that was step one. Step two was done slightly different. This time I went to the Sunday newspapers with another tale.

Speaking to the same agency guy, I told him that I was getting legal hassles from the estate of Tom Jones over a strip I was doing called TOM JONES: PAEDOPHILE HUNTER.

Shit, meet fan.

'I talked to a guy at a news agency for ten minutes. Next day - bang!' The agency man called the Jones estate; they said they hadn't heard of this but they will be looking into it now. Row created. Then I could get people outraged over the fact that this sort of thing was going to be in a comic book - by playing on their misconceptions of what a comic is - and then, by revealing the details of the storyline, I could actually get some people on my side.

Another big hit, but this time it was a double whammy. As I said, Sundays are a quiet news day, so if there's something decent in a Sunday paper, the Monday papers will also use it to fill some space, so the strip ­ and Scomics ­ gets another set of mentions.

At this point the buzz was good. SFX magazine in the UK had also done a nice piece on the site, so it was looking like time to be going live. But before that happened, there was one last media stunt to pull, and this one was a goodie.

One of the running criticisms of Scomics was that no one would go to look at tales by newcomers. The publicity coming in seemed to dispute that, but to be on the safe side I had a money shot.

And lo, that shot was called Morrison.

Almost 20 years ago, a young Glaswegian writer and artist by the name of Grant Morrison did a strip called CAPTAIN CLYDE, which was very down-to-earth in its approach and is something that very few of his fans will have seen. (The reason I had seen it was that, years ago, I worked up a pitch with some mental ideas that was a follow-up. The company interested in it went out of business, though.)

I approached Morrison nervously, as I know that in his work he prefers to look forward and not revisit old haunts, and asked if he would have any problems with this strip going up once a week. I would pay for the costs of transferring it from microfilm and if anyone approached us with advertising for the page then he could get the fee from that.

Apart from the offer of buying him a vodka and Red Bull, there was little else I could do.

To my relief, he said he had no problems with this, and added that he might write something to go along with it, which was an immense boost. I knew I had got it going now - nothing could fuck this up.

'I told myself they were too busy working to reply to my e-mails.' By this point, the basic website was up ­ a simple teaser in black and red.

Red was a good choice, because within a few weeks of getting things going there were fall-outs happening that involved more backstabbing than MACBETH and created more entertainment than the WWE. But it wasn't all bad news, as there was also less singing than your average episode of ALLY MCBEAL.

And it was here that it went past being pear-shaped straight to being shit-shaped.

We'd got the big gun involved, the website was there, the publicity was good, so it was time to start looking at kicking this thing off and going live.

Three weeks before the copy was due in, I put out mailings asking people for progress reports. There was a lack of replies.

No worries, I told myself. They're too busy working to be replying to e-mails.

Some people came back and told me they were having problems with my, quite frankly, OTT plans for the website. Fine, so there was a quick rethink done.

Hunting for inspiration, I went back to the 1970s/1980s classics like BATTLE, ACTION, 2000AD, ROY OF THE ROVERS, and so on. Back then, when US comics were hard to get over here, UK comics had three pages per strip ­ and they worked. So, motivated by the likes of CHARLEY'S WAR, the new rule was three pages a week, and we shoved back the launch date.

Getting three pages of Morrison a week wasn't a problem, because by this point I'd spent a good three-figure sum on trying to get some of his pages off microfiche and reproduced to a high quality.

Another call for progress reports was sent out. And to be fair, some people were busting a gut, but what was more surprising ­ then ­ was that the most vocal people were the one who were doing the least work.

So I held a pow-wow and demanded to know what was going on. The answer floored me: I hadn't been nasty enough.

Now God knows everyone can miss deadlines. That happens. But the problem these creators had was that I hadn't been on the phone, in the pub, chasing by e-mail, haranguing them for every piece. I was too nice to get them off their arses.

Scomics folded, before it could even begin. In closing, all I can do is apologise to the people who did work and worked well. In the end, there just weren't enough of us to get it going.

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