July is the time of year nerdists the country (and even the world) over converge to the city of London for Showmasters’ annual extravaganza, London Film and Comic Con. From Friday to Sunday the Olympia Exhibition Centre is taken over to make way for floods of merchandise dealers, props, stages, photo booths and signing areas whereby eager fans can collect autographs of their icons of yesteryear and today. It was whilst strolling along the event’s “Comic Zone" that I met the humble brains behind a small publisher that is a giant in the field of graphic novels in the UK.
In a market that is challenged by the increase in digital content and popularisation of stories through the medium of film and television shows, small companies like Markosia Enterprises Limited continue to thrive. What is their secret? How do they stay creative and competitive in an increasingly competitive industry and still remain one of the country’s top publishers of graphic novels? These are questions I posed to the founder of Markosia, Harry Markos. After purchasing my very own copy of "Harker" the official sequel to Bram Stoker's Gothic classic (and officially endorsed by the Stoker family), Harry and I sat down for a chat about the challenges of the publishing industry and how graphic novels (for which he as an undying passion) can shape the minds of our young.
What’s your background then Harry what did you do before setting up Markosia?
Well it’s not what I did before but what I was doing at the time. I had written a book that I was very proud of, it was a fantasy book. It was signed up by a UK based comic publishers to be adapted into a comic series. Then I had a full time job in security, then I had a back injury that kept me off work for five months. During those months I got to learn about the comics industry as I loved comics as a kid and that kind of brought me back into it and I realised that there was a lot to be gained from being in the industry again. So I got the rights back to my book, and took over the publication of the comic series. I hired the publisher that had signed it originally to be my editor in chief, formed the company, and signed a couple of their books over to us as well. That turned into a snowball effect and within six months we became the leading publisher of comic books. We had things like the “Starship Troopers” license, we published the “Kong; Skull Island” book which was very popular and we’ve now been around for over thirteen years.
You said you published book that you then turned into a comic book series. Was that the Lexion Chronicles?
Yes it was “The Lexion Chroinicles” I wrote it under a pseudonym because I have no hankering for being recognised or anything like that so I was quite happy to fade into the background. That book was really the seed that the company was based on so that’s why I kept the name.
So this is more than just a business for you this is actually a passion. Growing up on comic books as a kid what did you enjoy reading?
Believe it or not I was never into the American comics, I was always into the British comics and so the comics that I loved most of all were, well I bought the very first edition of 2000 AD, and I bought the issue religiously every week. It was a very popular book back then. I also bought "Roy of the Rovers" and "Tiger". When some of the American comics came over, the first ones that got me into the American style was Star Wars which was done by Howard Chaykin who ironically is now a good friend of mine. I just had a love for it, it was a medium that helped me with my reading and writing skills, it gave me a love of imagination. I owe a lot to the medium and it’s a shame it’s as underrated as it is nowadays.
|Harry Markos talking with a potential customer at London Film & Comic Con 2017|
Well it is growing although do you think maybe that the cinematic adaptations certainly of mainstream comics do you think it’s hurting it or helping?
I wouldn’t say it was hurting it but I don’t think it’s grown as a medium. I think the perception is that, but I don’t think that’s true because what people are flocking to are the movies, they are not buying more comics. Kids are not buying comics like they should be or used to. They’re getting into the whole superhero and action hero genre by means of the cinema, TV, or games. They’re entering the medium that way as opposed to buying the comics, which for me is sad because I personally think there are many useful ways that comics could benefit society. I think graphic novels should be used in schools for example as they would be a fantastic tool in the syllabus to teach. I mean how many reluctant readers are there in schools?
I just had a love for it, it was a medium that helped me with my reading and writing skills, it gave me a love of imagination. I owe a lot to the medium and it’s a shame it’s as underrated as it is nowadays.
Quite a few I would imagine. Actually touching on that are there any titles that you think should be read and studied in schools?
Absolutely, in fact much of the classics have been adapted into graphic novels. There’s a company that’s adapted most of the works of Shakespeare into graphic novels. We [Markosia] adapted “A Christmas Carol” and we’ve done "Beowulf", also we’re in the process of adapting “Robin Hood” and “Boudicca” as graphic novels. These are existing characters from our past that we are studying in our history, and graphic novels are a fantastic way to get children interested but I just don’t think they are being used enough sadly.
|The official sequel to Bram Stoker's "Dracula" just one of the many big titles brought to|
you by Markosia
That’s quite fascinating to hear. So coming back to your company Markosia, generally what titles and genre do you like to publish?
Well I don’t like to be pigeon holed and we’ve been criticised for that. We are mostly known for our horror and dark materials. I am not a fan of pigeon holing us in those genres because I want us to cover every genre. We do books for all ages and I want to publish more for all ages make kids more interested in graphic novels. I also want to cover more sci-fi, we simply don’t do enough sci-fi. However we are starting to expand now, into humour, cartoon books and we’re starting to publish novels and prose again, and would love to publish more of these. I am even talking to people about publishing books on photography. I just wants us to become more diverse as a publisher and I won’t turn down a book based on genre…ever.
And of course of you do invite artists and writers to pitch ideas to the company. Would you mind explaining the pitching process, and how people can go about submitting their work to you for consideration?
We’re not tied to a genre like I said before if the story is good enough we’ll take a look at it. What we want to see in a submission is at least a short synopsis and six pages of completed art. That would give us an idea roughly of what the books are about which helps us a lot. The six pages of artwork, that would generally be enough to tell me if the quality of the art will be good enough for publishing. Now if I like what I see I’ll be on the phone asking for more details and more art but generally I’ll make a decision based on that.
These are existing characters from our past that we are studying in our history and graphic novels are a fantastic way to get children interested but I just don’t think they are being used enough sadly.
To wrap up on a sour subject but hopefully with a positive note, we talked the other day about the challenges facing the publishing industry and you’ve said that despite those challenges you’ve managed to stay in business. What challenges do you think are facing the industry at the moment, especially the publishing of comics and graphic novels?
The publishing industry in generally is going through, in my opinion, quite a dip in particular with comics and graphic novels we’ve seen a reduction in sales across the board, despite the increase in quality and diverse titles it’s going through a tough time. We mentioned before the films, certainly the success of the films should bring more people into it but it’s not encouraging more sales. I don’t know if they are pushing them away but it’s certainly not having the effect that it should. The problem is the studios don’t care about that, they’ll go where the money is and if the films are making money then they’ll push the things that will continue to make the money. Sadly as is the case with many small publishers like us, we struggle regardless but we’ve managed to evolve our business into something that is profitable and the risks are minimised because of how operate as a publisher. We use a print on demand system, so we don’t have to store thousands of copies in a warehouse anymore, making our books available all over the world, as well as digitally, and at local shipping costs so that’s a huge advantage. The downside of what we do is that being a small publisher when we bring out press releases and information about new launches, no-one pretty much publicises it so our PR and press launches get lost in the midst of 20 new Marvel titles. So it’s a hard because we’re not a recognisable brand but we’ve soldiered on for thirteen/fourteen years now. We’re a solid little company and we consider ourselves a close knit family. We might have the occasional spat but we have great relationships with our creative partners and we always look to the future with confidence as opposed to negativity.
And of course events like London Film and Comic Con are a great way present your work and let potential customers see what you’re about.
This is a show where the people come to get autographs from famous people but we are the bonus for them, the comic zone is more of an additional bonus. If we can entice a few people to encourage them into the medium and to us as a company then for me I consider this weekend a success.
We’re a solid little company and we consider ourselves a close knit family. We might have the occasional spat but we have great relationships with our creative partners and we always look to the future with confidence as opposed to negativity.