letters to walter kovacs

A Cardiff Comic Blog

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Interivew: CJ Reay

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


KickStarting: Comics

This weekly feature by Graphic Policy looks at how much money is raised each week for Comic projects on Kick Starter. It is promising to see self-published comics like ‘Sorcery 101 Omnibus vol 1 of 2’ raising sums as a large as $26,048 and another 10 comics reaching their funding goal.This style of self funded comics breaks down the traditional business model by removing big publishers and placing the power of choice in readers hands.With $138,959 pledged towards independent comic projects in the last month, it looks like I will have  to start reading some kick starter comics myself.

Graphic Policy

Money_CashIt’s a new week and KickStarting: Comics is back with a look at how much was raised/pledged for comic projects on Kickstarter for the past week!

I realize some projects are not in US dollars, but they all will count the same regardless of origin, for now. $1 US will be the same as $1 CAD, $1 AUD, etc.

Over the past week 10 projects were successfully funded.

For the past week from January 5 to January 11 the statistics are:

Average goal: $6,233.90
Average pledged: $9,732.50
Average number of backers: 215.50
Average pledge: $45.16
Average percent raised: 156.12%
Most common given amount: $30 (447 times)
Most money from pledge level: $30 level brought in $13,410

Total pledged for the week: $97,325

For the week, the top projects were:

The top grossing project: Sorcery 101 Omnibus Vol 1 of 2 – $26,048

Most backers: Sorcery 101 Omnibus Vol 1…

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Interview With Liz Prince.

Liz Prince with a copy of 'Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir'.

Liz Prince with a copy of ‘Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir’.

2014 was a big year for award winning comic book creator Liz Prince. First in February, Top Shelf published ‘Alone Forever: The Singles Collection’ a book that brings together Liz’s popular online comic about single life and dating. Liz then released her first graphic novel ‘Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir’. In typical Liz Prince fashion, ‘Tomboy’ is an unflinching, humorous and sometimes poignant comic about how difficult it is growing up when you don’t fit the typical gender stereotypes. Tomboy has already gained critical acclaim by being nominated for the ‘Goodreads Choice Award for Best Graphic Novel’ and by appearing on numerous ‘Best of 2014’ lists.

I managed to catch up with Liz a few days after Christmas. Despite the festivities being over Liz managed to rustle up a lot of enthusiasm while discussing why memoir is her favourite genre, how punk inspired her comics and how 2014 was the year of the C’s.

What made you decide now was the right time to write and publish Tomboy?

Tomboy came about because Zest, a small press YA publisher, contacted me to see if I was interested in drawing a non-fiction graphic novel for a Teen audience.  Tomboy was the only story that seemed like it could cater to a younger audience, as most of my work is “for adults”.  I’ve always wanted to write a graphic novel, but I had been putting it off because I didn’t feel like I was ready, or good enough. But then I decided it was time to jump in and do it already.  In hindsight I’m so glad that I waited, because Tomboy truly is the book I wanted to write: I am so proud of the end result.

When writing about your own childhood, you are fundamentally grappling with how your adult identity formed. How did you start going about structuring, writing and drawing about such a difficult subject objectively?

I don’t really believe that memoir can ever be “objective”; it is a narrative told solely through one person’s point of view.  Memoir to me is more of a reality-based fiction: the events in Tomboy really happened, but they are my version of events, and the timeline is fudged here and there to make the story move forward. It’s the same with the characters who are more like amalgamations of people I knew, instead of one person.

Writing about my entire life, from the time I was a toddler to being 17 years old, took a lot of focus in order to create an actual narrative. By using gender as the theme of the book it made it a lot easier to stay on task. It helped me to avoid just telling every fun anecdote that popped into my mind.

Tomboy is my childhood through Liz-coloured glasses; To be more accurate it’s through 32-year-old Liz-coloured glasses.

Is Tomboy as honest as it could be, or was there anything you thought was too personal to put in it?

Tomboy is as honest as it could be; I was more concerned with protecting the other characters in the book, than with protecting myself.

An Extract From Tomboy.

An Extract From Tomboy.

In Tomboy, I interpreted a dichotomy between the fictional females as depicted in films / popular culture and the real female figures of your life such as your Mother, Phyllis and Maggie the punk. What message are you trying to give here in relation to gender identity and the role of fiction and culture in forming those identities?  And what do you want to see change in the depiction of gender in fiction?

Roxane Gay wrote a great essay about why we feel the need to find female characters “likeable” in order to enjoy a film about women. She used Charlize Theron’s flawed human character in the film ‘Young Adult’ as her example.  Subsequently, a lot of reviews of the movie trashed it based on how unlikable her character is.  But, women are sometimes unlikeable, and that was one of the things that I appreciated about the film.

Anyway, this is a long winded way of saying women have traditionally been portrayed in a one-dimensional way, and that is obviously pretty damaging. It subconsciously dictates the ways that girls, and women are supposed to behave. Having a less rigid gender binary expressed is really important. The Swedish film ‘We Are The Best’ was a really great example of a movie about teenage girls in a punk band that eschews gender stereotypes.

While describing your narrative technique in this book, you referenced how you wanted the writing style to reflect the mental age you are at that point in the narrative. For example, it sounds like a ten year old’s thoughts when you are ten etc. Did it ever worry you by doing so Tomboy might lose some of its sophistication or depth?

I think since the driving narration in the book is very much my current self, I wasn’t in danger of the storytelling becoming too juvenile.  I don’t think I was all that successful at keeping the voice of my character at the different ages represented in the book separate. That could be because when I read it, I just hear myself very clearly.

One of the frustrating things that I read in a lot of reviews of Tomboy, on places like Goodreads, is there’s too much swearing in the book. This is a bummer for me, because that aspect of the script is true to the way that my friends and I talked. I think, for the most part, kids and teenagers swear A LOT. If you think that your kid doesn’t, you are fooling yourself. It’s one of the most accessible ways for kids to feel “grown up”. To me, leaving the swearing in was one of the ways I authenticated my experience.

Punk Rock Is Ruining My Teeth By Liz Prince.

How much did the local punk scene affect you and your work while growing up? Also as a bit of a punk myself is there any particular records from your old, or current local scene you would recommend?

Well, the direct effect was the ethos of Do It Yourself (DIY) culture. It inspired me to start self publishing my comics.  I found a lot of great anti-mainstream stuff in zines, that ultimately helped shape the way I think about things.

The portrait of punk that I painted in Tomboy highlighted its ability to empower women, but sadly this isn’t always the case. However, the good thing about punk is while there are still misogynistic leanings, there is a lot more conversation about why it’s like that, what it means and what we can do to change it.  Punk is not perfect, but there are folks in punk who are interested in becoming more self-aware about issues of sexism, racism, ableism, etc.

For me, 2015 was kind of a slow year for music. I was a little more sequestered from going out to shows. I wasn’t seeking out as much new stuff to listen to, but as the year ended and more people started putting together best of lists for records, I’ve started finding some cool stuff.  Standouts for me are The Capitalist Kids “At A Loss” (which has a great song that I kind of consider to the unofficial theme song of Tomboy, “Gender Binary Bop”),Chumped’s “Teenage Retirement”, and Caves “Leaving”.  I already made this joke in a different interview, but my musical tastes from this year are brought to you by the letter C.

Why do you draw in such a stripped down, line based style? Is this a reflection of your stripped down, unpretentious stories or merely an aesthetic choice?

It might be less of an aesthetic choice and more of a reflection of my actual skill level as an artist. It’s charmingly “simple” because I’ve never been very talented technically. But, I think that I have learned to employ narrative storytelling techniques well. I’m very much a “cartoonist”.

The upside of the situation is I feel like my artwork fits my stories well, especially because autobiographical comics, when written and drawn by the same person, seem to embody the way that person sees the world.  Ultimately, I wouldn’t ever feel comfortable trying to draw a sprawling fantasy epic, or a slick superhero story. Luckily I don’t have any interest in telling those stories, so I’m OK with my own limitations.

Tomboy is part of the long tradition of comic memoirs which includes the likes of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Do you wonder why the memoir has become such a popular genre in comics, especially outside of conventional comic reading circles? Do you think it has something to do with independent comics distancing themselves from their mainstream and genre based counterparts?

I’m a pretty biased person to ask this question to because memoir and autobio have always been my favourite genre. Not only for comics, but also everything else I read.  Even my taste in TV shows and movies usually stays firmly on the “slice-of-life” side of things.  I love the connection that can come from reading someone else’s true stories.  Whether or not those are the reasons that graphic memoir has found a readership outside of the traditional comics circles, I can’t say. But, there is definitely something in marketing that makes them seem very sophisticated (which is only sometimes the case).

Tomboy has made a huge impression this year with many people taking notice of it. This can be seen by how many ‘Best of  2014’ lists it’s appeared on. As your work becomes more popular does it put a pressure on your future work, and do you think inadvertently it is forcing you to change how you write?

I don’t know if the success of Tomboy will have an effect on “how” I write, it might have an effect on “what” I write.  Tomboy was my first graphic novel, and I loved the experience of having one project that I devoted all of my creative energy to. In the months since I finished Tomboy, returning to freelance work has felt substantially more scattered than it did previously.  I’m anxious to get started on whatever my next full-length project ends up being.

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. Liz can you recommend me your three favourite comics from the past year? Also I think this will make it your Best of 2014 list .

I’m so glad that I started actively using Goodreads to catalogue what books I read this year, because otherwise my mind would be a total blank when faced with this question.  I read a lot of prose novels this year, which is somewhat of a new development for me, so I have to dig a little deeper to remember what comics stood out to me in 2014.

‘How To Be Happy’ by Eleanor Davis is a collection of a dozen or so shorter comics, on varying themes, but they are all so breath-taking.

‘Get Over It!’ by Corinne Mucha is a wildly funny comic about getting over your first serious relationship.

‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast’.  I don’t know what’s happened to me. I used to really dislike Roz’s comics in the New Yorker, because they had this “get of my lawn, kids!” quality to them. But now, I think one of the side effects of getting older is that I like them now.  This memoir about what happens to parents at the end of their lives is smart and touching.

For all those Liz Prince fans I have some exciting news.  Liz is coming over to Britain to do an in-store comic signing at Orbital Comics in London on Saturday February 7th at 4pm.

Orbital Comics,

8 Great Newport Street,



Details of Liz’s appearance aren’t up on Orbital’s website, but should be soon.


Find out more about Liz’s work here: http://lizprincepower.com/

Sci-Fried Eggs Episode 60 #140625

The Discussion on Small Presses Continues ….

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?

Review – That’s Because You’re A Robot – David Quantick and Shaky Kane – Image Comics

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).

https://imagecomics.com/comics/releases/southern-bastards- .

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.


The Ager’s Final Moments In ‘That’s Because You’re A Robot’.

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 1

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!

'I Never Knew My Grandad' a comic by Jack about his Grandad.

The Opening Page Of A Comic About Jack’s Grandad. Drawn For The Paper Jam Comics Collective Anthology ‘Newcastle Stories… and that’

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.

The Opening Page From Jack's Comic About Liz Prince's TomboyJack liz 2

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.

Josh Hicks with OFF LIFE #10 featuring his comic.

Josh Hicks with OFF LIFE #10 featuring his comic.

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 #1

The Gutter #1

‘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.

The Gutter #2

The Gutter #2

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.

Crumb Cabin's Riso Printer

Crumb Cabin’s Riso Printer

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.



What I thought of True Stories #1

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.

My Little Underground


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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Review – Father’s Day #1 – Dark Horse Comics

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.

Dave's Recommendations

Dave’s Recommendations

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.

A page from Father's Day

A page from Father’s Day

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.

Another Example Page From Father's Day

Another Example Page From Father’s Day

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.