“In France, comics are part of the country’s cultural identity. Every home will have a comic collection.” Comic creator and publisher, Nicolas Rossert says about the influence comic books have in his home country.
Born in Paris, France, Nicolas grew up around comics, and knew from a young age that was the career he wanted to pursue. He attended Robert Gordon University here in Aberdeen city, where he initially studied Journalism with Publishing. Within 6 months of graduating from his masters degree in design, he began Sloth Comics, a French comic publishing company, of which he is the director.
Sloth Comics publishes a range of comics in the action, fantasy and humor genre. The main aim of the publishing company is to bring a little more culture into the UK comic market, by translating European titles into English. If you are a fan of any of these genres, then Sloth Comics is the publishing company to check out. With a variety of different titles that will appeal to different audiences, Sloth Comics is a treasure trove of indie gems.
I met Nick a while back at local comic book store, Asylum, and as a person he is incredibly warm and always easy to talk to. His work so far in the comic scene is incredibly vast, and it is interesting to learn more about the publishing industry, and learn more about comic books within another country and culture.
As a comic book publisher, creator and writer, the work by Nick and Sloth Comics is endlessly fascinating and I was incredibly excited to have an interview with him just recently.
1. So first of all, could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your work?
I think one of the first things you need to know is that, despite my accent, I’m from Paris, France, and have lived there most of my life. In France, comics are part of the country’s cultural identity. Every home will have a comic collection.
I guess the most important title I have is director of Sloth Publishing Limited, but I do a lot of different jobs under that umbrella including editor, letterer, translator, designer and writer. A big part of the editor job is choosing what to publish and what to translate. I only have a very limited budget, so I don’t have much room for error on that front. I used to say I do everything but draw, but now I also draw, mainly for prints or for the sloth comics website. I drew the background and all the sloths on http://www.slothcomics.co.uk. I also do freelance and design books, translate comics or letter for various other publishers and independent comic creators as well as teach writing workshops in French and English.
2. What initially drew you to a career in comics?
This is where the French part becomes important. I’ve always had access to comics. My father had a varied and eclectic collection which only became more so after our three-year stay in the USA adding mainly Sunday comic strips to the collection with the likes of Dilbert, Garfield, Non-Sequitur, and The Far Side. At that stage, when I was about six or seven years old, I already wanted to be a comic creator. I think the decisive moment was probably when I was ten. I remember my dad giving me La Croisière des Oubliés illustrated by Enki Bilal. It was just something else, from the art to the story. After reading that book, I just knew I wanted to work in comics.
3. You studied at The Robert Gordon University, and has the city of Aberdeen helped shape your career in any way?
I ended up in Aberdeen because RGU had the most interesting course in publishing and I really wanted to learn about the business side of comic books. I have to give quite a bit of credit to Asylum. Mike and his patrons were a great sounding board for my publishing ideas and discussions on the reality of the comic book business. Asylum is more than just a shop, it’s a meeting place for comic lovers, which allowed me to discuss my business and career ideas. The signings held there also allowed me to meet actual comic professionals and get their advice on my entrepreneurial ambitions. My teachers at RGU were also very supportive and the whole course gave me the knowledge and confidence I needed to make my dream a reality.
4. Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
That’s a tough one. I think I’d have to say my dad. He’s always been incredibly supportive and has given me invaluable advice. He’s also the one who needs to be credited for introducing me to comic books from all over the world. He really gave me a passion for the medium and an introduction to its versatility.
I also must give Daniel Selig credit. We’ve been friends since we were eleven or twelve and we’ve been making comics together since then. He wanted to be a comic book artist, and I was more interested in writing, so we started collaborating. We ended up doing a full-length comic book together, it was a parody of anti-hero comics. It also showed people that we were determined to create comics and try to make a career out of it. He’s also the man behind the Sloth Comics logo!
5. When you were beginning your career, what was the best piece of advice that you were given?
It’s hard to pick just one. I think I’d have to go with “don’t let people forget that you exist”. It was during my first work experience placement with an independent publisher called Plexus. I was helping to prepare the London Book Fair for the boss, Sandra Wake. She explained that, even if you have nothing to show or nothing new to offer, don’t let your collaborators, colleagues, potential clients or business partners forget that you exist. It’s mainly in the context of book fairs and comic cons, but it was also repeated to me by a few French publishers I do business with. It’s good to show everyone you’re still in business and still working. It’s also much nicer to meet face to face and be more than a name on an email.
6. As a publisher, how do you feel about the independent comic book scene?
In the UK, I’d say it’s thriving. There’s more and more people creating new and interesting titles and experimenting with the medium. The independent comic book scene is really growing and only getting more diverse. I love it!
7. You are the editor-in-chief for Sloth Comics, and I was wondering if you could just tell me a bit about the history of Sloth Comics?
Editor-in-chief is just a cooler way to say director. I started Sloth Comics six months after finishing my masters in design. It was dormant (not actively trading) for over a year after that while I worked on my business plan, found some funding and decided on what titles I would try to publish. I’d just moved down to London, as my partner was starting her degree in vet nursing. I was invited by Paul Gravett to a few comic events. He really likes the French comic book scene, so he took interest in what I wanted to do and was very encouraging. He also introduced me to the London comic creators’ community, which was fantastic to discuss my publishing ideas. I started by buying the rights to Booyah! I had all the skills needed to translate it, letter it and publish it, so it was a way to grow my catalogue relatively fast. It’s much faster to translate an already existing comic than to create one from scratch! From there, I realised there was a giant pool of French comics I could translate and publish myself, which kept my costs down. After setting up a few titles, I started working on my own intellectual properties.
8. You publish comics from the action, fantasy and humor genre. Is there a reason why you are attracted to working with those genres?
Yes, there’s a few very good reasons! I think there was a gap in the market for action, fantasy and comedy comics aimed at the UK market, so I wasn’t going to step on anyone’s toes, and had loads of room to grow within those genres. I also enjoy those genres the most, so it seemed like a good fit. I was also very influenced by the catalogues of my favourite French publishers which are action, fantasy, comedy and sci-fi. I didn’t jump on the sci-fi though as it’s 2000AD’s specialty and I don’t think I could compete with them there, nor do I want to. In the end, I run a business and I just wanted to play to my strengths.
9. Sloth Comics translate European comics for the US and UK market, was there an inspiration behind this decision? What was it that made you want to translate comics?
The inspiration is mainly a business decision. As I’ve said, it’s much faster to translate a comic than create one from scratch. It’s also something I can do alone. Translation is quite a big part of the book market, and I’ve worked on translations and adaptations beforehand, so it was familiar territory. The other big influence would simply be that there are a lot of French and Belgian comics I love. I wanted to make them accessible to all my English-speaking friends. I just hope to share part of my culture with others.
10. What do you think that the titles published by Sloth Comics can bring to the UK comics market?
I hope my translations bring a bit of another culture to the UK. I really just want to get more people into comics and offer something a bit different. In France, comics are universal, there’s something for everyone, but in the UK, I feel that the market is still very saturated with superheroes. I just want to offer an alternative. I really try to publish titles which are more appealing to a female readership. I see that as a big gap in the market, and I’m very happy to try and take that spot with Penny Blackfeather, Hopeless, Maine, and even Steam Hammer. I want to try and push interesting female protagonists, which are still all too rare.
11. Can you tell me a little bit about your typical working day.
I don’t think I have a typical working day. There’s the days where I work 18 hours without a break because deadlines are looming… Then there’s days where I’m waiting on a proof-reader or on a delivery and can’t move on without it, so I spend it waiting and pacing. I also spend quite a bit of time moving boxes of books. There’s comic con days too. You have to get up early, carry a lot of books and spend the day on your feet selling comics and chatting with visitors. Those can also be quite intense, and since they’re mostly on weekends, it’s no unusual for me to work seven days a week. I also spend time working on our website, or promotional material. Sometimes I spend the day in Photoshop cleaning up artwork, and others where I’m just doing layouts, translations or lettering. I also teach writing workshops, design badges or make roller banners. I also do freelance and my specialty is urgent jobs, so I’ve had to translate six books in two weeks or get a comic book ready to be printed in 48 hours when it needs a lot of work. I just have such varied responsibilities that I just don’t have a typical work day.
12. You have also written your own comic, Steam Hammer. What was the major differences between working as a writer, as compared to publishing?
I’ve been writing comics for longer than I’ve been publishing. I think the main difference is how you approach what you’re working on. As a writer I try and make a vivid and interesting story, but as an editor, I tend to put business first. I actually wrote Steam Hammer because I wanted to break into the steampunk market, so it was a business idea first then an artistic project. Writing is creating something from scratch, while editing is refining that writing so it’s as slick as possible and is the best it can possibly be. I must say I’m also very reluctant to publish myself. It’s very hard to edit your own work. When I do publish my own work, it’s mainly because I want to fill a gap in the market and I have a good idea on how to do that.
13. And lastly, do you have any advice for anyone who is looking to create their own comic books, or become a publisher like yourself?
Yeah, don’t give up! Comics take a lot of time to create, so just keep working at it and don’t let yourself be discouraged. Keep doing what you enjoy and the more you write, edit, draw, the better you get. It’s a pretty universal rule: the more you do something, the better you get at it. Comics have such amazing possibilities. You want to add an explosion in a film, you need special effects, money, specialists… You want to add an explosion in a comic, you just need ink! Oh, and don’t forget to keep your reading as varied as you can. There’s always something new to discover.