Josh Hicks, Space Junkie Press, Crumb Cabin: Small Press Publishers, The Unsung Heroes of UK Comics.
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.