A few weeks ago I wrote an article on this blog about small press comic book writers and publishers. In the article I briefly looked at some of the small press publishers that have been appearing in abundance in the UK. You can read the article here:
The discussion on small press comics and self-published comics is raging in the UK. Some see it as a culture growing at a healthy rate. While others think it is saturating the market with low quality work.
Andy Oliver, over at Broken Frontier, has written a two part feature exploring the positives and negatives of the growth the UK is experiencing in Small Presses. He expands on several elements that I touched on. Andy’s article entitled ‘State of the Small Press Nation- Is Self and Micro Comics Publishing in the UK Growing Faster than its Potential Audience?’ asks;
whether there’s a down side to the rapidly expanding UK small press world. Is the potential readership failing to match the growth rate of new practitioners? Is this a common experience for creators? Is their audience being squeezed as a result? And, crucially, has this been noticeably affecting sales?
Many prominent figures in UK independent comics share their opinions in the article including Martin Eden, Colin Mathieson of Accent UK and David White and Ricky Miller of Avery Hill Publishing.
Find below links to both parts of Andy Oliver’s article.
What do people think of Small Press and self published comics and its rise in the UK. Do you think it is helping or crushing artists and publishers?
With reviews on Letters To Walter Kovacs I am going to go a different way about how I choose what to review. Every person I interview I ask for his or her 3 favourite comics that have come out this year. I will then read and review one of these comics. By doing it this way I hope to find out about the newest and most exciting comics.
This week our recommendations come from Saam, of Hats and Milk Comics, but he gave me 5 comics to read instead of three. The five comics he recommends are:
‘Youth is Wasted’ by Noah Van Sciver (Ad House).
‘Bimba Vol 1’ by Donya Todd.
‘That’s Because You’re a Robot’ by David Quantick and Shaky Kane (Image).
‘Eltingville Fighting Club’ by Evan Dorkin (Dark Horse).
‘Southern Bastards’ by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour (Image).
I have decided to review ‘That’s Because You’re A Robot’ because I have heard many positive things about Shaky Kane, but until now I have never read any of his work.
‘That’s Because You’re A Robot’ is a stand alone comic about two buddy cops named Jeff and Matt. The comic is based in a pumped up surreal future, where Jeff and Matt must unravel a conspiracy involving the criminal underworld and the police department. While all of this is going on the pair are grappling with a dilemma: one of them is a robot but neither of them knows which.
This comic isn’t the most serious. Instead, it subverts the classic troupes of action films. In particular it makes fun of the buddy cop narrative which has been so popular in Hollywood films for decades. The comic’s writer David Quantick enjoys parodying films such as Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour and Bad Boys. The conspiracy plot of the comic acts as the background for Jeff and Matt to trade fast and witty dialogue about why each one thinks the other is a robot. Here is just a small example:
‘Jeff: I know I’m not a robot Matt. Matt: How’s that Jeff?. Jeff: Because I don’t feel like a robot. Matt: Maybe you don’t feel anything because you are a robot!’
The dialogue isn’t the only positive of this comic. The pages of this comic are filled with many action sequences where we get to see large explosions and massive fights between the two cops and a group of weird criminals that include a cowboy, a bed sheet ghost and a leprechaun. These scenes demonstrate the strong relationship between writer and artists as they allow the bombastic pop-art of Shaky Kane to take precedent over dialogue.
Throughout this comic there are several splash pages and a couple of two page spreads which is rare to see in such a short comic. But Shaky Kane takes full advantage by overpowering your eyes with every visual stimulus possible. Yet, it is one of his subtler splash pages, towards the end of the comic, that proves to be his most powerful. The page depicts the death of the Ager. In this single page we see the man age backwards from an old man into a pile of dust. A block of yellow serves as the background thus allowing the Ager to take center stage in his final moments.
This comic revels in pocking fun and grossly exaggerating many of the narrative troupes that genre comics and films find themselves stuck in. Troupes such as buddy cops, the angry chief of police, shoot outs etc. But it never loses itself in its own self-referential smugness. The artwork and prose compliment each other as neither takes itself too seriously. Instead both artists and writer seem to be trying to have as much fun as possible. The only downside to this comic is its a stand alone. Personally, I would love to read a whole mini-series dedicated to this story.
Jack Fallow, or the ‘Geordie Yeti’ as I once saw him described as in an article, is a Newcastle based comic artist whose been self-publishing comics since his early teens. Now in his late twenties Jack has developed both a unique style in his art and writing. His art is characterized by his classically alternative cartoony characters and his stark use of black and whites. While in his autobiographical writing he explores themes such as sexuality, gender issues, physical insecurities, family history and social isolation with a blunt honesty and humor.
Find out more about Jack’s work here: http://www.jackfallows.com/
I managed to catch up with Jack a few weeks ago. In our interview we had a chat about how his own life is his biggest influence, how Jack thinks the British comic scene is incredible and how in Jack’s eyes Liz Prince maybe the best comic book writer / artist of all time.
So here is what Jack had to say for himself.
Why do you use your own life as the primary source for your work?
I’ve been self-publishing for thirteen years now and the content of my work has changed a lot in that time. This is mostly down to a cycle of self-loathing. It doesn’t take long for me to end up hating my work after it’s finished and my main motivation is the voice inside my head saying “you need to do something totally different to this now”. The exception to that rule is my recent return to autobiographical stuff. While all of my work features big elements of my own life, the diary comics are an effort to just tell the truth. Its taken this long to work up the courage to do that but it’s a rule I’m trying to live by in everything I do these days – my comics, illustration, music and relationships with people. In doing this, I’ve managed to reach more people on a deeper level, which has been a total dream come true. The kid version of me would be really proud to know that I eventually found out I wasn’t so weird and all alone just by making comics and having people read them and tell me they were relatable. So I think I’ll stick this out for a while.
Issues of gender are prevalent in your work. Do you think it’s important to be vocal about these issues?
The simple answer to that is absolutely, yes. The longer answer is almost too insurmountable to put into a single response as it permeates so much of our culture and daily experience. I think the gender binary is a damaging concept and enforces ideals that can be alienating and oppressive to a lot of people. The world at large can be doing a lot more than it is to understand gender identities better, and it would take very little effort. In the cases where I’ve touched on it with my comics or music, it’s kind of been circumstantial because it’s just something I think about a whole lot. I haven’t built up to my big gender comic yet but you can expect it in an issue of Axolotl somewhere down the line!
What artists have had the biggest influence on your style?
My whole comics career has been an exercise in plagiarism so it’s pretty hard to pick out specific cartoonists. I tend to become infatuated with small things in people’s work – the way they draw eyes, or backgrounds, or their panel borders or page layouts. I assimilate them into my own visual vocabulary and make this kind of half-assed, mediocre broth out of it all. People I know I’ve stolen from include Chris Ware, Rutu Modan, Julia Wertz and Daniel Clowes to name just a few!
Jack, you are a very productive comic artist, I am always seeing your work pop up in zines and across the internet. Can you please tell me what cool stuff you have lined up for the future?
I’ve really cut back on commissioned work but I do have a couple of record covers on the horizon on that front. Comics-wise, I’m just being opportunistic and taking offers to include work in cool sounding stuff if and when those opportunities arise. I founded this non-profit arts group called The Paper Jam Comics Collective and we’ve got a food themed anthology set for release in the new year and probably another before 2015 is over. But mostly, it’s all about Axolotl now. I’m just using that as a platform for everything I want to do to make it all a bit more manageable and easy to follow for people. Kind of the same way Clowes used Eightball, or Ware used Acme Novelty Library or Tomine used Optic Nerve, except, you know, not a work of genius or anything.
What do you think of the British independent comic scene?
I think we have a totally amazing scene here. I’ve been regularly exhibiting at conventions since around 2005/2006 and made some of the best friends and met some of the most amazing humans I’ve ever encountered in my life. The level and variety of talents on show is breathtaking, the work being produced continues to keep my interest in the medium peaked (it waned a lot when I was working in a comic shop). Above all of that though, there’s a real sense of community and inclusion. Creators love sharing ideas and resources, welcoming new people to the medium and offering help and advice. This isn’t without the occasional exception, of course, but on the whole I’m proud to say we’re pretty fucking rad when it comes to doing comics right.
Every person I interview I ask for his or her 3 favourite comics that have come out this year. I will then read and review one of those comics. This is all basically an excuse for me to find out about loads of new comics. So Jack can you recommend me your three favourite comics from the past year?
‘Tomboy’ by Liz Prince has to be my number one. As soon as I put the book down, I went home and drew a comic about it and posted it online. Rather than repeat everything I said in words, you ought to just read that instead. You can still find it on my blog. (Find below this comic in full) Liz Prince is unbelievable. Liz Prince for president of all comics forever.
‘A Measure of Space’ by Kristyna Baczynski really bowled me over. It was a late entrant for 2014 but watching Kristyna’s visual language grow from vast to universe-engulfing over the last few years has been so amazing. It’s the kind of book you could switch your brain off and enjoy aesthetically or switch your brain on and have your heart ripped clean out. A great musing on solitude vs. loneliness, a prevalent subject in my life right now!
‘Double Dare Ya’ (Riot Grrrl anthology). Literally the coolest thing I’ve seen committed to print in a very long time. It’s feminist, it’s punk rock, it’s slickly produced but has all its DIY credentials intact and it boasts one of the most eye-popping contributor lists you could imagine. It’s like the Bikini Kill basement show of UK independent cartoonists and it deserves to take up space on your book shelf.
Comix, independent comics, alternative comics or DIY comics. Whatever you want to call them in Britain there has been a boom in comics that work separate from the mainstream world of spandex clad super heroes. With Thought Bubble festival in its 14th year and publishers like Nobrow and Self-Made Hero going strong the UK independent comic landscape is looking healthy.
Key to the infrastructure of independent comics is the self-publishing comic artists and small press publishers who persistently work in their bedrooms creating and publishing comics. It’s here that prestigious artists like Bryan Talbot started off. But who are the new people who are drawing, writing, printing and selling small press comics, and how do they work differently to modern ‘mainstream’ comics and publishers?
Josh Hicks is a self styled DIY comic book artists from Cardiff. Like many other DIY comic artists he splits his time between writing and drawing comics in his bedroom come studio in Cathays with working full time. His room is evidence of his art house credentials as it’s littered with comics by Chris Ware, Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb. A book of Hayao Miyazaki’s essays can also be found hidden amongst the comics.
After drawing all his life, its only in the past year when he began working full time as a story boarder for a CGI company that Josh started taking drawing and self publishing his comics more seriously. People are already taking notice. Most notably the free London comic ‘OFF LIFE’ published his 4 page comic about how depressing clubbing makes him feel. Day to day life is Josh’s biggest inspiration for his comics as he writes about ‘what terrible thing thats have happened to’ him recently.
All of OFF LIFE’s past issues can be read for free online at their website: http://offlife.co.uk/magazines/
It is small presses and independent publishers like OFF LIFE which are important to UK alternative comics according to Josh. ‘It breaks down the barrier between reader, artists and publisher’. It made him feel ‘like there is a goal possible and you aren’t just throwing web comics out into the Internet at random’.
But there are concerns about the UK scene as most publishers and events are in London or Leeds. Josh feels alienated by this and instead wants to see ‘smaller communities growing in regional areas. Where I am now there isn’t a lot going on. There is Space Junkie Press who are based in Cardiff but I would like there to be more satellite scenes.’
Set up two years ago Space Junkie Press is run by Owen Williams . With only a circulation of a couple of hundred for each comic Space Junkie is an example of one of the UK’s many small presses. For Owen DIY publishers define themselves against larger ‘mainstream’ publishers as their ‘first priority is the art itself. There is not the misguided attempt to market it and ruin it.’
‘The Gutter’, Space Junkie’s most famous output, is a semi-regular anthology series. It features two page black and white strips produced by an array of UK artists including Donya Todd, Michael Parkin, Jack Fallows and Dom Jordan. One of Space Junkie’s most distinguishing elements is its close relationship with the DIY music scene. The last issue of ‘The Gutter’ came with a free compilation of bands who share the same do it your self ethos as the comic does. This compilation included Plaids, Playlounge, Dirty Vampires and others. This makes sense as Owen has played in DIY fuzz-pop band Joanna Gruesome for several years.
Owen sees Space Junkie Press as a political statement against capitalism as he chooses to print with Leeds ethical co-operative printers Footprint . ‘I would hope to see more people taking a political stance on the way they publish comics. I think in the terms of production and in terms of addressing the tradition of the very exclusively male comic book world.’
One publisher who addresses these issues is London’s Crumb Cabin. Founded by Joey Four, Crumb Cabin publish zines and illustration based books as well as comics. Like Space Junkie, Crumb Cabin integrates music with their published works. Every one of their zines or comics comes with an accompanying EP by a DIY band. For example, Esther Pearl Watson’s ‘Nubin and Nutz’ comic comes with ‘Our First Album’ by Argentinian indie rock band Los Cripis.
Unlike Space Junkie Press, Crumb Cabin control every part of the production including the printing. Joey owns his own riso printer which he bought with help from the Prince’s Trust. ‘I spent a lot of money paying for someone else to print some zines and figured if I owned the printer myself I could cut costs and print more of my own stuff. But more importantly it meant I could give other people the opportunity to bring their ideas to print and distribute.’ The printer was bought second hand from the Conservative Party in Oxford and originally came with only blue and black ink.
With Crumb Cabin showing no signs of stopping, Space Junkie Press releasing a new issue of The Gutter in January and Josh Hicks working on his longest piece of work to date it looks like alternative comics will continue their stand against big publishers and mainstream comics for a few more years.
For those interested you can listen to Owen Williams and Josh Hicks’ full interviews below.
Just stumbled on this comic. I have never heard of Derf Backderf before but from the write up here and the small exerts, his new work ‘True Stories’ looks like an intriguing read. I am always interested by comics that embrace the classic strip format. Backderf does it in ‘True Stories’ by using four panels for each small story.
I’ve been vaguely aware of Derf Backderf’s cartoons for a while but never took the plunge into reading them. Sadly, I’ve missed out vastly as these cartoons might on the surface be a mutant cross between Peter Bagge, Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar, and while there’s elements of those creators work in here, this is a different voice from those other creators. These are a collection of four panel stories of incidents Backderf saw and they can be sad, funny, or just plain weird as is often the case in life.
These are wonderfully funny, cynical and weird cartoons that tell stories about life in big cities. Yes, this is obviously set in American but these are the sort of universal weirdness that you’ll see anywhere in the developed world and that’s what’s so great about this collection of cartoons.
I’d recommend buying this as it’s just glorious comics. It…
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With reviews on Letters To Walter Kovacs I am going to go a slightly different way about how I choose what to review. Every person I interview I ask for his or her 3 favourite comics that have come out this year. I will then read and review one of these comics. By doing it this way I hope to find out about the newest and most exciting comics.
The first three recommendations come from David Bath one of the co-founders of Cardiff Comics who I wrote an article about a few weeks ago. The three comics he recommends are:
Father’s Day by Michael Richardson / Gabriel Guzman (Dark Horse)
War Stories by Garth Ennis / Keith Burns (Avatar)
The Royals Masters of War by Rob Williams / Simon Coleby (Vertigo)
Of these three I have decided to review Father’s Day as Dave called it his favorite comic of this year.
Father’s Day is a classic crime comic written by the founder of Dark Horse Mike Richardson. It’s about an abounded child finding and confronting her long lost Father but he turns out to be an old mob enforcer called the ‘East Side Butcher’ whose been in hiding to protect her. Oh and guess what by finding her Father she has just lead a bunch of low life creeps to his front door who are hell bent on killing both of them.
As you can tell by this brief summary of the plot Father’s Day is equal part ultra violence and family melodrama. Nothing particularly groundbreaking for the world of comic books but it is fun enough to hold your attention span for 20+ pages. It reads like a pulpier version of John Wagner’s ‘A History Of Violence’ with a touch more attitude. Similar elements run through both such as the theme of people’s inability to escape violent pasts, the ominous underworld figures and the small town setting. But Father’s Day does not reach anywhere near the heights of Wagner’s classic.
Gabriel Guzman’s artwork, much like the plot of Father’s Day, fits perfectly within modern mainstream comic book conventions. You could find similar artwork if you open any comic coming out from DC, Marvel or Dark Horse. This is not to say it is bad but there is nothing particularly expressionistic about it, instead Guzman’s artwork goes for a simplified realism which I for one am bored of seeing in comics. However the cover, drawn by Keron Grant is intriguing in its use of blurred colours and lines which jars with the rigidness of Guzman’s artwork. The fear on the Father’s face on the cover represents a depth of emotion not seen anywhere else in this comic.
This comic was fun enough with its fist fights and wise cracks but lacked any real direction. Regardless of its cliffhanger ending I doubt I will be hunting out the next issue of this four part series. Father’s Day embraces the idea of the comic as an action film but just wasn’t fun enough to warrant any great deal of attention. Its only redeeming quality is the cover artwork by Keron Grant. It’s a shame he couldn’t have done the whole comic.