For Your Con-sideration

This weekend, I’ll be at the wonderful Cardiff Comic Expo, whilst others head to the less modest London Super Comic Con. So it seemed a good time to blog some ideas on how to make events more sustainable.

The first cry from the crowd will undoubtedly be: “the most sustainable event is one you don’t have”. Fair enough but I think there is something magical about bringing people together under one roof to talk about their shared interests and passions and you just can’t beat the access that fans get to creators at a con.

That said, here are a few of the things that con organisers can think about that can make a real difference:

Venue: Pick a venue that has good public transport links, if you can. If you’re in a small town which is not well served by trains and buses, think about offering a minibus service from the nearest station to your venue. Tell VIPs and visitors about the options that are available to them so they can make an informed choice. Also ask some questions of your venue: what materials do they recycle? What happens to their general waste? Do they source food that is local, organic and / or seasonal? What steps do they take to reduce their environmental impacts? Most venues will be doing one or two things, and would relish the challenge of doing more – it’s good business sense for them if their customers are demanding it.

Communications and delegate stuff: Most pre-con communication will be electronic, but there’s often still a need for delegates to print off pieces of paper with their booking details on. Do they really need to? If so, can you use that piece of paper for anything else which will be useful on the day (a map to the venue? vouchers for discounts? details of the conference panels?)? It sounds picky to worry about one piece of paper, but when you have thousands of visitors, that’s a big pile of recycling that maybe you didn’t need to make. Think about things like wristbands, programmes, delegate bags. Of course you want to give people information to help them through the day, but do they need it all? Can you or they re-use any of it? Can printed materials be made smaller? Can bags be made from recycled fabric?

Exhibitors: It’s helpful to give exhibitors some advice on what you expect from them. At a major green exhibition at the Excel Centre, a height limit was put on stands (why do you need a 20 ft high stand anyway?), and all exhibitors were told they had to recycle or take their own rubbish away, or be penalised. It doesn’t need to be draconian, but something to say “please be conscious of your use of resources, bring what you need, take away what you don’t sell” or simply, in the Glastonbury phrase “leave no trace“.

For those who really want to delve into this, there is a British Standard – BS8901 – for Sustainable Event Management. In my day job, we work with a sustainable events checklist which is probably a bit more user friendly than the BS8901 document: get in touch if you’d like a copy. Likewise, if you’re organising a con and want to talk about some of these issues, email ecoblam@gmail.com or find us on Twitter: @EcoBLAM.

My question to you: what would you do to make a comic con more sustainable? Answers in a suitable comments box below….

Ream On: Sketchpads and Bristol Board

After the last journey through the world of paper – which was very much focused on single sheet, printer-type stuff – I thought I’d get a bit more specialist this time and look at two other staples of the comic artist’s diet: the sketchpad and Bristol board.

Are there recycled options available? Are they easy to buy? Are they affordable?

Here goes:

Sketchpads

There’s any number of recycled blank notebooks out there – mainly online or in specialist art or stationery shops. I thought I’d mention a couple:

The Moleskine range is a bit of a let-down in eco terms. All their notebooks are made with acid-free paper though this seems to be more a manufacturing technique related to durability than an environmental gain (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid-free_paper). Their “Folio” range of notebooks is FSC-certified, but their “Classic” range – the bog-standard one you can pick up in most bookshops – is not.

Canson produces a good range of recycled sketch pads, mainly spiral bound at the top or down the side, and available with a bit of Googling for £4 or £5.

Daler Rowney have now introduced their “Ecological Paper” range (which surely needs a bit of help from the branding team). Papers are 100% recycled, FSC-certified recycled and produced using renewable energy. Note that the term “FSC-certified recycled” doesn’t guarantee the origin of the paper, just that it is a 100% recycled product (to be fair, there would be no way of certifying the original material). There are A3 and A4 pads available at 120gsm and 200gsm. Availability seems to be limited to art shops – a good thing, support your local art shop!

Fabriano also produce a range of 200gsm Ecological Artist pads, again 100% recycled and produced using a good whack of renewable energy. An A3 200gsm pad can be bought via Amazon for the stonking price of £5.60; A4 pads are also available.

Bristol board

Bristol board is a thicker, more tactile paperboard that many artists use (for punters, most of the A3 pages that you can by at conventions are on Bristol board). The major art supply brands seem to dominate the market- companies like Daler Rowney, Strathmore or Winsor & Newton – and when I started writing this blog, I didn’t think there was a recycled alternative. Fortunately, I was wrong:

Canson XL seems to be the most widely available recycled Bristol board, and the only one coming in at 100% recycled. It gets an insightful review here (http://richadamsfineart.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/review-cansons-xl-recycled-bristol-pads/). There are Canson recycled pads available on Amazon for around £12 for a 11” x 14” pad of 25 sheets, which is pretty competitive with non-recycled product.

Bienfang produce a 50% recycled Bristol board too, available from www.artsupplyshop.co.uk. Their pricing seems a bit doolally so I’m not going to quote it here, but it could be even cheaper than the Canson board.

Last but not least, Strathmore produces a range of”Windpower” papers. These are produced using 100% windpower – Strathmore doesn’t actually own wind turbines or generate its own energy, they buy renewable energy credits (ie, like buying green electricity for your home). They do have some recycled products (sketchpad, but not Bristol Board) which contain around 30% recycled material. Not great but a start….

 

I’d love to hear back from people using recycled Bristol board in particular – does it match up to the quality you need? Was it competitively priced? Buy some and let me know!

The Basics: Paper

For all that digital comics are marching across our landscape, this is still a world made of paper. Sketches, drafts, notes, thumbnails, roughs, pencils, inks and, in a few cases, colours: artists need the pulped and reconstituted fibres of trees as much as they need coffee, pencil sharpeners and longer deadlines than they’ve been given.

Paper is ubiquitous in our society. Look around any artist’s office and you’ll see sketchbooks, wads of A4, pads of A3, post-its, books about comics, comics about comics, comics, receipts, reminders, letters from the bank, rejection letters or, more happily, contracts.

And, in most cases, you can’t make comics without paper. Even a web comic probably started life as a doodle on a napkin or a character sketch on a torn-out page of someone else’s diary.

Paper is ubiquitous but it’s not innocent. Manufacturing paper is an energy intensive process and requires a large volume of water. It also involves an unpleasant array of chemicals, most notoriously chlorine for bleaching paper to the right degree of shiny whiteness. Paper is used haphazardly and without much care, although we have all become better at recycling it. And I haven’t even mentioned the trees.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some top tips for comic book artists thinking about how to lessen the environmental impact of their use of paper:

Reduce:

How can you cut down the number of pages that you use, without slicing chunks out of the script you’ve been given?

Get used to reading scripts online or on a phone rather than printing them out. If you do print, go double sided or print two pages to a side. Reformat documents that lazy writers have left with Word default margins. Stretch the margins out and pages will squeeze into less space.

Preparatory sketches don’t have to be one per page, and paper does come with two sides. Fill the gaps.

Replace:

Can you replace the paper that you are using with something else?

Some processes could be done digitally (most artists now colour digitally rather than painting). Others still demand paper, but you can change your buying habits from so-called virgin paper to recycled paper made with chemical free-processes. A good UK option for this is Evolve.

Look for the percentage recycled content (100% recycled A4 is easily available from Viking, The Green Stationery Company and a lot of art shops – if they don’t stock it, they’ll order it in; recycled A3 can be bought from The Green Stationery Company, Eco-Craft and The Green Office, among others). Most stationers, stores and online suppliers charge exactly the same for recycled A4 paper as they do for virgin paper, so price should not make a difference – in fact, recycled A3 is £6 per ream at The Green Office which is cheaper than non-recycled A3 at Viking. And many of the old gripes about recycled paper (it doesn’t print as well) no longer hold true. If you can’t purchase recycled paper then, at minimum, look for paper from sustainably managed forests, usually denoted by the FSC logo.

Recycled paper takes less energy to produce than virgin paper, on average about 40% less. Water and chemical impacts remain, so it’s worth looking for a paper supplier that has a broad environmental commitment (such as Evolve or Revive).

Reuse:

Paper that’s been used can be used again. Print on the back. Sketch on the back. Cut out pictures and sell them. Stick them to blank bits of card and post out original art for birthdays and Christmas.

You’re the creative one. You figure it out.

Recycle:

If you’re not doing this already, well, you should be, and shame on you. The majority of local councils across the UK offer paper recycling; many supermarkets have paper recycling bins outside; most schools have recycling bins too – it’s not hard. For all that we say “Yes, I recycle”, according to Friends of the Earth, only about half of paper used in the UK each year is recycled.

If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can recycle your old paper into… new paper.

Some local authorities have schemes to generate energy from different types of waste. This ensures that waste leads to a useful output, rather than simply rotting away in a landfill site. The aim should always be to minimise the amount of waste produced in the first place, and then to manage waste responsibly (preferably by recycling).

 

I’ll be writing soon about bigger paper issues: how publishers of comics and graphic novels can specify paper with reduced environmental impacts, how printers can think about their processes, how digital comics might have an impact on the overall comics scene. I also plan to write about some of the more specific papers that artists use, particularly Bristol Board.

In the meantime, happy drawing.

Introducing EcoBLAM!

Welcome to EcoBLAM!

We believe that comics can save the world.

Or, at least, that comics can be made, published, marketed and sold in ways that don’t harm the world more than is necessary.

EcoBLAM! is the meeting point for all things comics and all things sustainability. Whether you’re a creator, a publisher, a distributor,  a retailer, a con organiser or just a fan, EcoBLAM! can help you figure out ways to do what you do which will cut down on carbon emissions, save energy, cut waste and make your a more environmentally sustainable member of society. Some of the ideas here may also save you money.

What? Saving the planet and saving money?

Show me another superhero that can do that!

Naturally, it takes time to get all the content together for something like this. And this is Day 1. But follow us on Twitter – @EcoBLAM – and come back and visit from time to time. You might like it.