Uproar Comics is one of Northern Ireland’s newest and most distinctive small businesses. The third issue of its ‘Zombies Hi’ comic was published last week and sales are increasing with each issue.
Zombies have taken over the rest of the world, but in the walled city of Londonderry the gates have closed for the first time in 300 years, as the surviving residents keep out the marauding zombies. “But it’s more about the survivors, as with all the best zombie stories,” explains co-founder Kevin Logue. He adds: “There is some politics and social comment.”
Kevin runs Uproar Comics with two close friends, Daniel McLaughlin and John Campbell, though other storywriters are encouraged to contribute to each issue. Kevin and Daniel are friends from early childhood, while he and John met doing a fine arts course several years ago. But the inspiration that drew them together for Uproar was a 15 week course at Derry’s Verbal Arts Centre on comic art and digital illustration that finished early last year.
The three were particularly inspired by the Verbal Arts Centre’s ‘comic artist in residence’, David Campbell. “He showed us interesting ways of doing things and got us to take it more seriously,” says Kevin.
The first edition of Zombies Hi was published in June this year, with the Verbal Arts Centre letting the group use its printing press. “The first two issues have gone better than we could have imagined,” explains Logue. “We set out because of our love of doing this. We have been surprised by the interest all over Northern Ireland, not just in Derry.
“It will be stocked in Waterstone’s and, all being well, it will be on sale in Coleraine, Newry and Belfast. It is already on sale in Omagh. We thought it would only sell in Derry, but it is going well in the wider Northern Ireland. It is going really, really well.
“We are closing a deal now on the sale of another 1,000 copies of the first issue. And that is without any advertising budget, just by word of mouth.”
One of the opportunities with current technologies is to make comics available across a wide selection of media. The original artwork is digital, which makes it easy for it to be published in various formats. Working in partnership with a digital publication website, Graphicly, the comic is being made available now via the iPhone, Android and Blackberry.
The three founders are also looking at spin-off opportunities – not least those created by Derry becoming City of Culture 2013 and by the Digital Derry initiative. Digital Derry – led by the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce and backed by the city’s urban regeneration company Ilex – aims to make the city an international centre for digital business.
Both the City Centre Initiative – an agency promoting trade in Derry’s city centre – and the City of Culture Company are keen that Uproar Comics becomes engaged in the city’s tourism industry. Consequently, the company is now negotiating for city centre premises from which visitors will be offered the chance to be drawn in the walled city – complete with vampires. The group is aware of the commercial opportunities from City of Culture: the Turner Prize event alone is expected to attract 70,000 people.
But the group is determined that the spin-off activities will not detract from its core business – the comic. “By the end of this year we want to be on sale throughout Northern Ireland,” says Kevin. “From there we want to take it internationally. We are selling some copies to Australia and to other countries. Derry has a tremendous amount of global ties. After that it will not just be zombies – we want to do other things.”