A Panel and Chat with TPub’s Neil Gibson – The London Book Fair 2015

CA - Neil Gibson I’d been very intrigued about TPub having encountered them for the first time just before Christmas so, seeing founder, owner and writer Neil Gibson was running a panel at the LBF’s Interactive Theatre, I decided to pop along. Aside from a very interesting talk and Q&A (over headphones!), Neil was good enough to spare some time for a chat and interview afterward…
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Having been lost in the sprawl of publishing-filled Olympia I was a little late for the ‘How Comics Help You in Your Studies and in your Career’ talk so – on the assumption that everyone else knew what they were doing – I grabbed a pair of headphones and settled in. CA - LBF 15 - photo by ActuaLittle
Neil’s professional background, it turns out, is in management consultancy, so doing comic project work in business communication is a natural offshoot of his core publishing business.

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The first example I hear of what he’s been up to is using the sequential form to address the issue of staff failing to understand the relevance of a procedure in a large corporation. It’s not a huge leap to say that the larger the company the greater the likelihood that communication is diluted, and that a perfectly reasonable ‘rule’ is ignored when people cannot relate to it. One comic simply pinned in a staff area apparently saved millions once the company’s employees understood the importance of the procedure.  Comics, as Neil elaborates, can communicate ideas in a non-threatening and compact form, especially with a degree of (carefully considered) humour.

CA - The 9-11 Report In terms of study the visual element of comics lends itself especially well not just to communication but also to retention and recall. Added to which – while we might endlessly try and break the retarded perspective of comics being only for kids – they do benefit from possessing a lighter tone to denser texts. In fact it turns out the comic form has been used by NASA, by Yahoo, by Google (employing the great Scott McLeod) and… the 9/11 Commission?!
Apparently yes! They’d compiled a report of such size you could use it to prop open the doors to the White House in a gale but, by the same reasoning, not get anybody to read it. A comic version condensing it was instead produced and the reading rate shot up.

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Neil also relates how comics are being used in raising health awareness, TPub having been involved with creating a comic on testicular cancer. Breast cancer rates have been dropping significantly while testicular cancer rates have not. If men are rather less open to the subject of their own vulnerability, especially with anything sex related, then perhaps the info-comic that has been created encouraging them to check themselves will help; they’re also being given by doctors to women to pass on to their partners who may be slightly more inclined to read such material than pick it up.

This tradition of using comics to communicate and educate is not new; in answer to a question Neil cites Will Eisner who got American GI’s reading in World War 2, using the medium to convey the importance of specific bits of maintenance amongst other matters. CA - Will Eisner example
It all comes down, as we’re rightly told, to the artist and the precision they can bring to communicating the subject matter in question.

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We’re into question time and the spectre of the lowbrow perception of comics is indeed raised. Neil has the restrained zeal of a late convert (as I later learn he was in his early 20’s and entirely of the view that comics were something he read ‘back then’ – and then he discovered Vertigo Comics…) His frustration at this continued ignorance is entirely evident. In fact the mission of his company is to get people reading comics and promote the benefits of doing so, lecturing at schools already being part of what they do. Neil believes (and far be it from me to suggest anything different) that comics should be part of the curriculum in schools along with books and film. He adds that comics promote literacy and reading them is known to segue into reading books.

Marvel logo Perhaps, Neil ponders, the predominance of the Big Two (Marvel and DC) colours perceptions. He’s already noted that the French have never suffered from a negative association of the medium. But the superhero is, after all, a very American invention, and one that has been embraced eagerly by the British market. Yet  – regardless of more sophisticated subject matter and storytelling in the genre, and that’s without even touching the deconstruction thereof – they conjure associations of childhood, and so also associations of growing out of childish things. DC
CA - Avengers Film LBF 15

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On an entirely related subject Neil notes how the first Avengers movie took more money than the whole comics industry that year, further that it’s a double-edged sword on the public perception: it generates interest in the genre and medium, but also reinforces the idea of comics being more or less synonymous with superheroes.

Someone questions why there are not more non-superhero films. But of course there are probably more than they realise, and this is the other side of the perception imbalance. The motifs of the superhero with costume and symbol make those films all the more recognisable: other comic adaptations are more likely to be perceived only ever as the film itself, and not associated with the original work.

Neil expands this to the international scene and the fact that Asia and the Far East is ‘where the money is’ – a very substantial amount of it anyway – and this is a market that wants sequels. The back catalogue of Steven Seagal movies, he notes, is simply numbered, as if he’s the same character in each. This means that the properties more likely to be considered of the greatest commercial potential internationally are those most likely to produce a sequel; and the superhero genre on average is, perhaps, more durable than some of the stunning high concept non-superhero comics that warrant standalone films only. CA - Steven_Seagal_by_Gage_Skidmore

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That’s the panel over but I’ve got a little more time with Neil to go over some of this and find out more about himself, his comics and TPub.

Watchmen logo 1600x1202 (2) As it turns out Neil never intended to be a writer, of comics or otherwise. In fact, as mentioned, he’d very much bought into the idea that comics were something his younger self read and not the twenty-something he then was. That was until he was introduced to Watchmen and then Vertigo with the likes of Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison et al. GN - Sandman V1
As a management consultant in Qatar, away from family and friends, he found he had time on his hands and began scripting what became Twisted Dark, a collection of individual stories that are somehow connected.

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People loved it: it went to number one in the Kindle charts. Back then, for want or need of anything else to call it, it was just Neil Gibson comics. But the sales of his work clearly got the entrepreneur in him thinking.

CBP - Twisted Dark V1 Because Management Consultancy is a well paid profession, and surely a job that he would have enjoyed in its own right. But to run a comics company…
‘It would like being on holiday every day,’ he says and, while doubtless being a little more involved than that and of course of some risk, that’s what he decided to do.
Neil Gibson Comics wasn’t sufficient for what he had planned; he decided on TPub for what is now his comics company. It’s comparatively early days but, aside from promoting the virtues of comics, what would Neil like TPub to one day be? A marque brand for the medium, producing the kind of quality comic that inspired him and broke his preconceptions of it. Because, sure Neil likes the writing and there’s no little appreciation for what he’s done. But, refreshingly, it’s discovering and publishing the talent that Neil really wants to do.

In fact having just checked in on their site again I noticed, with a grin, that they’ve added a recommendations page. They’ve broken down the medium into genres, each member of the team demonstrating their knowledge and command of the comic scene with recommendations across all publishers. Good for them.

But what’s that? A column showing TPub’s own plans and product publication schedule in those same categories? That’s particularly why I’m grinning.

I heard of TPub less than 5 months ago.

And already things are moving…

 

Check out TPub’s site, Neil’s graphic novels and upcoming plans and publications at: www.tpub.co.uk

 

And we caught up with Neil again at London Super Comic Con in 2016 – check out more about and the latest from TPub in that here!

 

More articles from the London Book Fair 2015:

A Coffee with… KARRIE FRANSMAN! At the London Book Fair 2015

Why the Graphic Novel? Panel coverage from The London Book Fair 2015

The London Book Fair: An Author’s Perspective by Chele Cooke