Helsinki Comics Festival had moved to a new location this year in Suvilahti and despite the bit “out of city centre” place, proved very successful. There were about 11 000 visitors in the spacious halls of Suvilahti. This year’s theme was Latin America, which was present in the guest speakers and exhibitions alike.
But my main interest focused on one pre-event program high point: a presentation with comic artist agent Nicolas Grivel and a Finnish comics promoter Kirsi Kinnunen. Their event took place on 1st September and the afternoon was fully packed with valuable advice for the comic artists aspiring to conquer the whole wide world and beyond.
Nicolas Grivel told about his work as an agent. Grivel has a long experience in both the French and international markets. France is still the Place for the comic artists, as about 4000 titles are being published there annually.
Japan has a very large home market too, but it is difficult for a translated comic book to enter that market. The format in Japan is very different from what is the norm in Europe or North America. The US market has its challenges too. The number of titles published is incredibly small compared to the potential size of the market. In the US the publishing houses interested in comics can be counted with one hand, while in France there are about 40-50 publishers publishing comics regularly.
Nicolas Grivel urged all Finnish comic artists dreaming about the foreign markets to have a 20-page sample translation made and to go to the publishers with that in hand. He encouraged all not to shy away from Angoulême, as the French publishers are genuinely interested in finding new talents. Another option is of course to work with an agent like Grivel. He is interested in selling foreign rights for comic books that have already been published in Finnish or working with a WIP and finding the first publisher together with the artist. Nicolas Grivel is always on the look-out to find new artists, who perhaps don’t fit into their home markets (he mentioned especially some artists in Russia and China) but would do great in France or US.
Promoting Finnish Comics in France
Kirsi Kinnunen has been promoting Finnish comics in France for decades besides her own translating job (and of course translating Finnish comics in French). It all started when some Finnish artists she knew asked her to sell their work in France, knowing Kirsi had connections in the country. She began visiting Angoulême with samples of Finnish comics and she has helped several Finnish artists own their way of getting published there.
The Finnish comics scene has been built up in France from a scratch in the past 20 years and now about six new Finnish titles are being published in France annually.
Kirsi Kinnunen meets about 20 publishers every year in Angoulême, both French and international. She said she keeps presenting the Finnish comics to international publishers even though they are not very likely to publish, because no-one else is doing this promotion. Well, there’s a tip, if ever, for the new and coming Finnish comic artist agents! (Is there any?)
The Finns arrived in France on the beginning of the 21st century, which was the perfect timing, as the French publishers were just starting to look for new kind of comics and different artists to renew the market.
Find the Right Publisher
Both Nicolas Grivel and Kirsi Kinnunen stressed the importance of doing your homework before contacting a publisher. It is important to find a publisher, who is interested in your style and themes and even more important to find the right person inside a publishing house as one editor might have very different views from another editor.
WIP or a published book?
Nicolas Grivel told that it is easier to sell foreign rights of published books than get an advance to a work in progress. Despite this, both Grivel and Kinnunen told they’d be interested to work more with artists already beginning from the first steps of the creation process. Kinnunen also reminded that there is a good chance for a foreign publisher to get a publishing grant to publish a comic book in Finland – so it is possible for a Finnish artist to enter the Finnish markets from the outside too.
15% for the Agent
Nicolas Grivel told that agents usually take 10-20% commission. His fee is 15%. When considering which publishers to contact it is good to remember that a large publishing house may give you a big advance, but you’ll be just one of maybe ten books published per month and there’ll hardly be much marketing input for your book. In book stores the new books are removed within two weeks, if there’s not enough sales. A smaller publisher may pay a smaller advance, but is more inclined to market the book. Thus, it is worthwhile to reflect on which would be a better option in long term and perhaps aim at publishing both with a big publisher and a small publisher with different titles to receive income both now and in the future.
Grivel’s advice may feel utopian for many Finnish comic artists, who are accustomed to no sales reality. Kirsi Kinnunen said that many French artists admire the Finns for their courage to make the kind of comics they wish. But this is perhaps mainly due to the non-existing Finnish comic markets. The French artist has to keep in mind the commercial point of view in a whole different way than a Finnish artist.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
This takes us to the fact that if you wish to stay in the French market, you should publish at least every 2 to 3 years, preferably more often. This might be a problem to a Finnish artist not being able to work full time on comics due to lack of sales income.
Careful with the Contract
In Finland, a publishing contract can be just one page long. In France, it is usually 20 pages. It is normal for the publisher to reserve a right to make decisions on e.g. the cover and title and often this can be a good thing. The publisher has knowledge of the local market and knows what will sell there. But if the artist is adamant in keeping her/his right to decide on these issues, she/he should take care to make sure it is stated in the contract.
Before launching into a creative disagreement with a publisher, it is good to realize though, that an artist with a reputation of being “difficult” is not a very popular choice when it comes to buying new titles for the publisher.
The Web will Save Us
Johanna Rojola from the audience told that there are a number of Finnish comic artists now making a living with web comics. This is a new and coming option that would deserve more attention also at the Helsinki Comic Festival. Some Finnish web comics can be found at NetSarli.