Tasmania, it’s apology time.
It’s been almost a year and a half since I launched the Long Weekend in Alice Springs into the world at the inaugural Tasmanian Writers Festival in Hobart in March 2013. It’s been quite a year for this little self-published wonder and I thought I’d do a little write-up of its successes and failures … though, thankfully, I don’t know of many failures … or how a book fails … but anyhow.
I’m writing this the day after I opened the second exhibition of original art from the graphic novel here in Wintery HOBART. I probably won’t pull out the original art again, my mind has moved on. But it seems appropriate that I reflect on it all. It occurred to me that whilst I was making this book I was living here in Hobart, but mentally and emotionally I was grappling with a project that forced me to not be present, to not be here in Tasmania. I was in Central Australia. Head still in the dust, barrelling down dirt highways in landcruisers.
I was quite distracted by this work of art.
Then, years later, once I finished the book I had to flog it like crazy; I’d put too much work in: it cannot go unnoticed NOW! And so the book had numerous launches in different spots in 2013, which has helped sales along – Hobart, Alice Springs, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. The Alice Springs launch was by far the biggest, and funnest, and it was accompanied by the first exhibition at the gallery in Alice Springs – Watch This Space – a well-loved institution. It was launched by lots of interesting, wonderful sods – Dr Anne Noonan (who I used to work with in Central Oz), Pat Grant (comic-maker extraordinaire), Bernard Caleo (Svengali of Melbourne comics and great enthusiast of this book), Penny McDonald (NT Film), Lindsay Arnold (Tassie comic-legend), Jennifer Mills (good mate and wonderful author). To share this book with these people made it extra special.
Because of these launches, and because of the promotion that was part of the successful crowd-funding campaign, the book pretty much sold out of its first print-run of 500 within about two and a half months … which took me completely by surprise, so I got it reprinted again in Hobart (again by Monotone Art printers, who are very nice to work with), this time printing 1000 copies just in time for the book to be reviewed by the Weekend Australian Newspaper in their Review magazine. This helped in getting the book into bookstores across Australia, which seemed to be a better place to sell this book than in comic-stores, though it landed in a few of them too. To date I have offloaded a total of about 1250 copies Australia-wide, which I’m chuffed and proud of … given I self-distributed and posted and emailed and whatnot. I had thought that initial 500 would last me a few years, and they would be sitting under my bed.
Whilst I can honestly say that I have no idea how anyone printing a book in Australia can make any money at all – I am very proud to have printed it locally and going to the effort of keeping everything as local as possible. It certainly isn’t a money-spinner, but that was never the point anyhow.
The most exciting aspect about sending a graphic novel into the world has been the responses to it. I had thought that the only people who’d read this would be comic-obssessed people … and I didn’t know if they would get into it, because of the content … nothing against comic-obssessed people at all, I’m certain they would be able to understand such a book, but the book is a little serious and full-on and I wasn’t certain of how it would fit into the genre-focused world of comics … I wasn’t quite sure who my audience was, because I made this book for me … and not really for anyone else. It turns out – there’s lots of MEs out there. Who knew?
What I found was, most people who read the book – WEREN’T comic-readers … most of the discussions about the book that I encountered were NOT even about the comic-form, they went immediately to the content. This surprised me most, because many readers didn’t even seem to really be aware of the medium at all when they read it. Some of my favourite responses have been from Central Australia, where the people who live this content daily can grasp it with their mind and hearts. As is probably true of any peripheral area, the political discussions on the Eastern seaboard about Central Australia have always lacked any real understanding of the problems faced by those who live there. For this reason, to be acknowledged in the Territory was the best: it meant a lot to both Craig and I when the book was awarded the Non Fiction Book Award at the NT Read awards in Darwin in May of 2014.
I am glad that I decided to put on this exhibition in Hobart though, though the content of the book has absolutely nothing to do with Tasmania – but the book was made, designed and printed in Tassie. I couldn’t have done the work in Central Australia. To live in the desert is to live by the seat of your pants, every day surreal things happen, you get swept along by an unusual force. I didn’t even notice until I left. I needed to move away, the distance to clear my mind and digest all the things I had to sift through to be able to work this comic into existence. So I came to Hobart. It was crucial. But the local Tassie community was also crucial with their support and feedback and enthusiasm. Now I have a month-long exhibition which I can show to the Hobartian mob. I can say to them “This is what I did before I truly lived here emotionally and mentally. Isn’t that nice. It’ll be up for a month,”
“BUT this is a line in the sand – after this – you and me – we can start dating properly – we can live together in this creative community of Taswegia”
“Sorry I was so distracted before, I hope you understand”
“I’d like to be more present now”