Part 3 of 6 | Paul Gravett talks to Paul B Rainey about how life led him to create There’s No Time Like The Present, a graphic-novel project that has taken him seven years to complete, and how he got to Now. .
Living With Rejection
Paul Gravett: Did you go to comics conventions? What were you experiences of them? Did you get any advice or encouragement from meeting favourite creators there?
Paul B Rainey: Andrew Mannion and I used to attend UKCAC together. I thought UKCAC was great. I remember loving the panels. I always went to the 2000 AD panels. I was at the Watchmen panel at which Alan Moore got mobbed. (I wasn’t one of the mobbers. In fact, I remember feeling very disapproving of the mobbing). I always tried to attend the Escape panels (usually in the smaller room). I remember having my mind blown the first time I saw Eddie Campbell; this was a real-life comic character walking into the room! The more I liked a comic creator, the less likely I was to interact with them because I felt that my interactions were usually disastrous. I once stopped Grant Morrison to ask him something and couldn’t pay attention to his answer because he was wearing sunglasses indoors. I mean, really!
Paul Gravett: Did you contribute to any small press anthologies to get your work seen? Did you send your samples in to say UK Marvel or 2000 AD?
Paul B Rainey: I started sending unsolicited scripts to 2000 AD when I was about sixteen. The first rejection I got was very encouraging. The second, not so. The third simply said, “poor plot, poor dialogue, poor twist.” This “Future Shock” story featured a man being driven to violence because he couldn’t escape the constant inane chatter of a radio DJ. About six months after receiving the rejection, 2000 AD printed a John Wagner and Alan Grant “Judge Dredd” strip featuring a man driven to violence because he couldn’t escape the inane chatter of a radio DJ. Even at the time, I didn’t believe that they could have stolen my idea, but, equally, I couldn’t believe that it was a coincidence either. A few years ago, when I was re-reading the first one thousand issues or so of 2000 AD for my 2000 AD Prog Slog Blog, it occurred to me that what probably happened was that the real Tharg read my solicitation, rejected it, forgot about it and then, one night, down the pub with Wagner and/or Grant, suddenly thinks he has an idea for what could make a good “Judge Dredd” strip. I realised that I much preferred this free exchange of ideas to happen because the “Judge Dredd” story was much better than my “Future Shock” version of the idea. Publishers that have a no-unsolicited-solicitations policy in place because they fear this type of accusation are being overly cautious in my view. The experience didn’t stop me from sending in new scripts to 2000 AD but, eventually, even the increasingly curt rejection letters stopped.
“Even at the time, I didn’t believe that they could have stolen my idea,
but, equally, I couldn’t believe that it was a coincidence either.”
Paul B Rainey: I used to send comic strips to Viz. I started soon after first reading it around 1985 and their rejection letters were always very nice. Viz treat you with respect, regardless of you not being a professional artist. Anyway, every now and then I would submit a strip and it would then be rejected and then, one day, twenty-seven years later, I received an email from them saying that they would like to print a strip I had recently sent to them called “The 14 Year Old Stand-Up Comedian.” I’ve had something in most issues published since.
Paul Gravett: Tell me how the six issues of Memory Man came about and your goals and hopes for it. It was in an American comic-book format and obviously superhero-inspired. What reception did you get to it? What did you learn from doing this?
Paul B Rainey: I had read a lot of Dave Sim editorials in Cerebus about the virtues of self publishing and decided to get a loan and go for it. I think I worked out that I only needed to sell 5,000 copies to be able to leave my job and earn a living from it which seemed easy to me as I had managed to persuade Diamond Distributors to carry it. Unfortunately, my orders were little more than a hundred and, to make the unit price worthwhile, I needed to have at least 500 copies printed. Despite dwindling sales and haemorrhaging money, I produced six issues altogether before deciding to call it a day.
Small press people were always very supportive of Memory Man. I didn’t think of myself as being part of that scene at the time, but people who liked small press comics seemed to get that I was trying to make a comic that appealed to both superhero and Dan Clowes fans. I still remember fondly the people who were encouraging from that time, and they were mainly small-press people.
Paul Gravett: And what inspired Love Bomb—did you plan for this one to continue beyond two issues? Did you have other comic-book follow-ups also in mind or in sketch form brewing?
Paul B Rainey: The inherent flaw of the direct-sales market meant that the orders for Memory Man were going to continually diminish. I realised that if I knew when I started what I know now, then I would do things differently, and, one day, I thought, why not just start again? Love Bomb was an anthology of different strips of varying lengths, usually set in the same world as Memory Man but not featuring Memory Man, all drawn by me. Anyway, the ‘re-launch’ was a success of sorts as advance orders for issue one were for over 250 copies. Unfortunately, shortly after issue two came out, Diamond contacted me to say that they didn’t want to carry Love Bomb anymore because it wasn’t selling enough and that was the end of that.
“I still remember fondly the people who were encouraging from that time,
and they were mainly small-press people.”
Paul Gravett: I gather you got local arts grants to help you self-publish. Well done! So how did you get them, how did they help?
Paul B Rainey: I think when I was doing Memory Man, a friend told me that she was on the committee that gives out grants and suggested that I apply for one. I think I got £250 to cover the printing costs of an issue. A few years later, I applied again for a grant to finance the publication of a collection of my online ‘diary’ strips, Book Of Lists. If anyone reading this is thinking of applying, then please be aware that one of the criteria is that you need to be resident in Milton Keynes.
Paul Gravett: Were you trying to get your comics published professionally? Do you have a huge collection of rejection letters? (sorry to ask!) In an alternative biography of Paul B Rainey, what would you like to have happened, what professional ‘gig’ or big-time break would have been your ideal opportunity?
Paul B Rainey: Yes, I have quite a pile of rejection letters. 2000 AD, Viz, Oink, those Viz-a-like comics that were popular during the early nineties, Marvel, Deadline, The Dandy, The Beano, all the way up to more recent comics including The DFC and The Phoenix. I try not to worry about ‘ifs’ and ‘what might have beens’ too much. I think that I’m probably a better artist because of the relentless rejections I’ve had. Currently, my comics career is the best it’s ever been. I’m an occasional contributor to Viz and am currently working on something for ACES Weekly. If my career continues to improve at this rate then I calculate that I should be able to earn a living from comics in about two hundred and thirty years’ time.