Interivew: CJ Reay

by letterstowalterkovacs

The Travelling Man shop in Newcastle

The Travelling Man shop in Newcastle

Several weeks ago I published an article on small press and self-published comics in the UK.  I spoke to several people about the importance of this type of comic on the culture as a whole. However, I didn’t feature everyone I spoke to in the article. One person’s views I thought were especially interesting, but weren’t originally featured were those of CJ Reay. CJ Reay is a self-publishing comic artist himself, but also runs the independent and small press section in the York shop of the comic book chain Travelling Man. He expresses a point of view on small press comics from the perspective of the seller, which contrasts with the artist lead discussion seen in my previous article.

Why do you think it is important that your shop has a small press and independent comic section?

I think its important to show people that comics have a much bigger range and history than the mainstream ‘spandex’ titles. Self releasing comics is how a huge amount of contemporary greats such as Chris Ware, Jeffrey Brown, Anders Nilsen, Liz Prince etc got their stuff out there in the first place. So, as a way of encouraging and promoting the ‘future greats’ of comics, I think it’s super important to have a space for peoples’ self-published work in the store.

How many small press and independent comics does your shop stock?

Quite a bit! It ranges from scrappy photocopied zines to beautifully printed independent comics, and all sorts in between. We try and have a good range, from artistically centred illustrated publications, to punk fanzines, to self-published superhero comics.

Have you seen a rise in how many people are self-publishing?

Yes I think so. Digital production of comics has made things a lot easier for people to produce their own stuff. At the same time, a lot of illustrators and illustration students seem to be discovering the comics medium more and more. Publishers like Nobrow have brought beautiful illustration and comics together to create some brilliant books. I think a lot of people, not previously fans of comics are getting drawn into the medium by books published by groups like Nobrow, Koyama and even smaller publishers like Breakdown Press. It’s not that this didn’t happen before, but it seems more prevalent now.

Are more people buying smaller press works?

I think more people are getting in to and buying comics in general, which is great, but importantly a bigger range of people are buying, reading and creating comics.

Has your shop always had an independent and small press section?

We have, but I worked in the Newcastle store for a few years and I think the section there, although already in existence, really took off with the work that Jack Fallows put into it. Jack is an awesome comic artist from Newcastle, and he worked at the Newcastle store for a while. He started up a comics social night at the store, which took place every 2 weeks and brought together local artists and writers. The group (which is called Paper Jam and is still going strong!) helped set up a little community of like-minded comic nerds. Anthologies, events and all sorts of good stuff have come out of it!

What are the most interesting pieces of work you have seen on your shelves this year?

I really like the stuff being put out by Breakdown Press, in particular Treasure Island by Conor Willumsen. It’s a brilliantly written riso-printed comic series about two research scientists living in isolation together with their dog. Axolotl #2 by Jack Fallows came out recently and that’s a fantastic comic, mixing auto-bio with fiction on a range of issues such as family history and sexuality. It’s brill. Also, it’s not a small press comic, but Tomboy by Liz Prince is one of the best things I’ve read this year!

How do you think DIY / independent comics define themselves against the ‘mainstream’?

It’s tricky, as some independently produced comics are pretty derivative and are basically launch-boards for the creator to try and get ‘into the industry’. Whereas others really push the boat out, by using different printing methods, different approaches to narrative in order to stand out. I think the fact that within DIY comics you’ve got a much bigger number of people detailing their experiences and discussing stories and politics which aren’t of ‘the mainstream’, which aren’t of white cis-hetero men, is hugely important. For me this is why I create and read small press comics.

Whose your favourite publisher? Whose your favourite writer / artist?

Too many! Koyama Press, Nobrow, Breakdown Press, plus bigger publishers like Drawn and Quarterly. In terms of creators; Joey Allison Sayers, Anders Nilsen, Jesse Jacobs