Interview: Aces Weekly one year on – we talk with David Lloyd
Many of us of a certain age grew up with the Great British anthology style comic every week – Battle, Warlord, Hotspur, 2000 AD, or the later monthlies like Deadline – which unlike the US model featured several strips by different writers and artists in each issue, some stand-alone shorts but many would be continuing serials, offering readers a variety of tales and often acting as a good way to introduce them to new writers and artists. One of our most respected creators, David Lloyd, decided to take this classic format and use it in a new way – all creator-owned strips, distributed digitally to cut out the middle-man, pretty much going directly from a group of top creators to the readers, and so was born Aces Weekly.
Just over a year ago David was kind enough to do one of our guest Commentary posts to explain the concept (see here) as Aces was launching, and with this ground-breaking digital creation now hitting its first anniversary we thought it was a good point to pause and see how it did in its first year and where it hopes to go in the next; once again David was kind enough to spare us some of his time:
FPI: David, it’s one year one since you and your friends established Aces Weekly, taking the classic British anthology comic into the creator-owned digital era. Since you’ve just reached this milestone perhaps we should look back to the beginning and ask what inspired you to create Aces Weekly?
David: Well, because it was easy to do, basically – completely unlike other publishing. And I’d long wanted to use that instant access to readers, having had my troubles in getting to them via reasons that were not of my making. Why be in the hands of those who don’t necessarily care as much as you do about your work, when you can try to make sure that it receives the attention it deserves by dealing with them directly? And cut out all those people who might let you down so you have much more income to split between your contributors. And I figured if you got as many good and marketable names together for such a project, it would be an easy sell.
FPI: You’ve been in the business for a good while, with your experience you must have had a good idea of some of the obstacles you’d have to overcome to get Aces off the ground. How did you approach dealing with those, and did you run into some problems you didn’t anticipate?
David: Aces Weekly was something that had never been tried before in a digital context – lots of webcomics around, but no anthologies like that – so I didn’t see that it would have any problems I was already familiar with, only new ones. We were very optimistic that our line-up of greats would get us as much attention as we needed, combined with some well-timed pre-publicity; and after that the combined fan-base of us all would be quite enough to get us off the ground easily. But we had to delay our launch – though to no-one’s knowledge because we were smart enough not to announce one ahead of being sure of adequate prep – because of contributors’ troubles that were not of their own making, and thus we lost some our promised creators.
And then, when we launched, we had an immediate problem with our pay system that came out of the blue. But, despite this, we had a very heartening flood of subscribers instantly, which made us feel absolutely great! The translation from fan-following to subscriber did not happen in the way we expected, though, which I still find puzzling – but from my observations since I think a huge part of that is because we’re not in print. Resistance to digital from those who usually buy print comic buyers is massive, I find. And the other problem I’ve come across is the availability of so much comic art on the net being free. So no matter however the great the deal is that you’re offering buyers – and our deal is very great – you’ve still not got the easy sell I envisioned at the beginning.
FPI: You’ve assembled quite a team of top-notch creators – how did persuade them to take part? Was the fact that the strips are all creator-owned a big factor for them, and the fact it is essentially all fellow creators doing the running?
David: Great artists like to take great risks, if they have the chance to. And they like the new and the different. On top of that, the model works – not to its best effect yet, but it works. And, yes, everyone owns everything they do – I just ask for a period of exclusivity for the story they do for us, not the concept or characters, just that one story for a length of time. They can also do whatever they like – which is probably the most radical thing that we actually do on Aces Weekly – we trust them completely within the parameters of some very modest restrictions on their freedom, and publish what they come up with. Because of that they can often do things they’d never get a chance to do anywhere else. Some of it experimental, some of it just extremely exotic! We share all the income equally on each volume. It’s a bit like a collective except I’m yet to get them all to act collectively in fully promoting Aces, which is a stick I’m always beating them with!
FPI: The classic British anthology weekly is something we grew up on, but probably not as familiar to readers from the US and other countries. What was it about that format that drew you to using it? The flexibility it allows in the mix of stories? Does it allow you to appeal to a wider readership, do you think?
David: The theory is to get to a wider readership yes – to show a great variety and to a wider range of readership. I’d love to convert more of Joe Public to how great it is that we do, and this has the capability of doing that. And the Sunday pages were anthologies of a sort so we’re not entirely trying to sell a wide audience on something specifically British. I count a variety of stories to read a good thing, AND it’s the ideal format to put a bunch of creators together on as a collective concept, everyone works for the benefit of all in a group on any volume.
FPI: So one year on and how do you feel Aces has done for its first year? And what do you think it needs to accomplish to keep going in year two?
David: Aces has prevailed, is what it’s done – and principally through the great contributors, our fantastic Aces, who have faced down pressures on their time and their incomes to take a risk and join something, something pioneering that can – if we can only get enough ongoing subscribers – represent the future for the creator in comics. Go straight to the buyer with your work on screen, cut out all the unnecessary, blocking, cost-raising, intervening structures that baffle you in print, and get your income direct. Siegel and Shuster would have done that if they had the chance.
What we need to accomplish is more ongoing subscribers to keep going in the way I want it to, and if you have any readers who are considering being one, I ask them to please visit us at www.acesweekly.co.uk and see the terrific stuff we have to offer for less than one pound a week, every week! We have free samples to see, and single volumes for sale from one to five.
FPI: What creators and strips can we look forward to in the near future? I seem to recall at the Dundee Comic Expo you mentioned the delights of Santa Claus versus the Nazis?!
David: Santa Claus Versus The Nazis ‘ has run through three previous volumes and will conclude in Volume 7. It’s been one of the most popular strips we’ve published, and the trailer alone entertains terrifically, as I’m sure you remember from Dundee! And it’s been nominated in the British Comic Awards, one of which it more than deserves to win!
Also in Volume 7, we are collaborating with the incredibly successful rock band, Fearless Vampire Killers, to bring you a steampunk epic set in the distant future called ‘ The World of Erricus Vane ‘: written by band member, Laurence Beveridge, drawn by Nardo Conforti, coloured by Junior Tomlin, and lettered by Marshall Dillon. In #7 also, Batton Lash is coming back with more ‘ The First Gentleman of The Apocalypse ‘ and Val Mayerik and Jim Hudnall are lining up more ‘ Blue Cat ‘ for the future, and Steve Bissette is now definitely going to be in Volume Eight…!
FPI: Despite all the problems you have to deal with in bringing something like this to life, do you feel it is worth it? And do you think the fact creators can now make and distribute their work directly by digital methods is a boon to creators? Not to mention a chance for readers to get hold of more diverse work than they may see in print?
David: It’s all been worth it – I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and privileged to represent our fantastic Aces. And I’ve described the benefits that can and should accrue to creators freed from unnecessary ties to companies that want to own part of their work. You can own it all now – if you want to. It can be a revolution in the way creators in this field of the arts function. But all revolutions need lots of supporters, and if we don’t get them it’s a revolution that might fail.
FPI: Remind us again how to get hold of Aces Weekly – am I right in thinking you can grab a single issue just to check it out if you want, as well as subscribing?
David: Go to the website – you can buy single volumes from one to five. And catch me and other Aces at any con and you can buy a single volume in the form of a coded sketchcard for cash – which also comes with the bonus of a beautiful collectible miniature piece of art from one of our Aces or – at the very least – a sketch from me! But, forgive me, I urge you to subscribe. Less than one pound a week! For some of the finest talent in comic art! My case rests
FPI: David, thank you very much for talking to us. Aces Weekly is available digitally now, all creator-owned work from an impressive roster of some of the best in the business right now, well worthy of your support and reading time. You can visit the main Aces site here, follow it on Twitter and Facebook and of course you can keep up with David via his own site and Twitter. As David said you can also see any of the Aces crew at their various convention appearances to see about ordering the comic along with a sketch – David and several other Aces will be at the brand-new Lakes comic fest in October, as well as the MCM Expo that month, the San Diego bash, NYCC and David will be in Italy for the Lucca show at the end of next month too. David and other Aces such as Kev Hopgood, David Hine and more will be at the Star and Garter, 62 Poland Street in London’s Soho from 6.30pm on tonight celebrating the comics’ first birthday, readers are more than welcome to come along and chat with them.