Disclosure – Colossive Press published a zine by me and I have published two contributor only zines with one of the Colossive Press people.
ZL – You’ve published a number of zines now, through Colossive Press, have you any plans for new publications?
CP – Oh yes! Putting out the first few things through CP last year was a bit like opening the floodgates to ten or fifteen years’ worth of ideas that I’d not had the opportunity or confidence to pursue. They’re all at a fairly nebulous stage, so I need to focus on one at a time and get it done – it’s easy to get a bit paralysed and not know which way to go first.
Ahead of the Sheffield Zine Fair on May 18th, Jane (my wife) has compiled Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) – a book of intriguing photos by her dad, Gordon Gibbens, who was also the subject of How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least for a While). As well as his street art photography, Gordon used to hunt down press launches, demonstrations, festivals, marches, etc. As a result, there’s a lot of splendid and strange shots in his archive.
We’re also launching 3:52 AM, an A6 zine of words and photography by our brilliant friend VJ Sellar, based on her experience of insomnia (and raising money for the Maggie’s Wallace centre in Cambridge). I like to think we’ve coaxed her into the world of zines, and hopefully there are more to come.
Given the time I’d also like to publish more things by other people, as a bit of a patron. I’d like Colossive to be a bit like Ghost Box or some of the small music labels I follow on Bandcamp, finding interesting work with a strong identity and bringing it to the world.
ZL – Do you remember the first time?
CP – At my age, most of my “firsts” are lost in the mists of time. However, I’d say that the first work in the print medium that really blew my mind was Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright. As a teenager I was a casual and slightly ironic reader of whatever comics I could find in the newsagents of Chorley. However, when I landed a plum part-time job at Morrisons (in 1985), my horizons soon spread to Odyssey 7 in Manchester, where the world of comics opened up in front of me like a thousand-leaved lotus blossom. And one of the first goodies I picked up was book one of Arkwright.
Even though I was also getting into series like Swamp Thing, American Flagg! and Moonshadow, Arkwright totally captivated me with the intricacy of the narrative and the incredible craft of its execution. When, after a seemingly interminable hiatus, the second and third volumes dropped, Talbot’s mastery of the medium just seemed to expand exponentially.
As much as anything, the whole work implanted the idea that at their best, whether dealing with the mundane or the cosmic, comics could do stuff that other mediums couldn’t even dream of. That notion has kept me coming back, through thick and thin, for 30-odd years.
ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, what would be the project you’d make to be remembered by?
CP – Ha – I’d have no idea what to do with a budget! I guess a full-blown Croydon Spaceport visitor experience somewhere in the town’s now legendary Whitgift Centre, complete with historical artefacts, audio-visual displays and – naturally – a lavishly furnished gift shop.
ZL – Ad Astra is an alternative history story, what was the initial trigger for that idea?
CP – Oh blimey… I think that somewhere along the line, during a period of creative paralysis, I had an idea for a series of one-page text-and-image concoctions under the overall title Going Somewhere, Going Nowhere, based on the idea of travel and journeys. Little one-shots I could aim to wrap up quickly.
One of the notions I had was a voice remembering when the 119 bus used to go as far as Croydon Spaceport, how it used to be packed with people going to see the launches etc. I think that came about from the heritage work being done at the site of Croydon Airport – the very first London airport – and the sort of faded sci-fi, “lost future” feel that some of the town gives off.
Anyway, one of the benefits of my characteristic procrastination is that the idea had time to germinate in my noddle into something a bit richer. I started to come up with a more detailed timeline and cast list for the short and ultimately disappointing history of Croydon’s municipal space programme.
Another influence was a bit of street art that thousands of people walk past every day without even noticing. Underneath Blackfriars Bridge in London, the pedestrian underpass is decorated with tile displays showing alternative plans for the bridge, scenes from its construction etc. However, some enterprising ‘guerilla historian’ has dug out the Letraset and staged a bit of an intervention to come up with an alternative history involving flat-pack bridges from Argos and lost instruction manuals. I loved the element of absolute toot being delivered in a very straight-faced way.
The final piece of the jigsaw was the discovery of Flickr Commons, where various institutions make their image archives available with no copyright restrictions. With NASA and the San Diego Air and Space Museum among the participating institutions, I soon found plenty of images that lent themselves to gags or unlikely developments. Once I’d cracked the format, it kind of wrote itself.
ZL – You’ve had a lot of success and good feedback from ‘How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life…’ As that’s such a personal book, what does that feel like and mean to you?
CP – We’ve both been blown away by the response to the book – and we’re very proud on Gordon’s behalf. The initial aim was to showcase some of his photographs and the brilliant work of the street artists he admired. But Gordon was such an amazing man that Jane just had to tell his story.
Gordon was effectively written off when he received his second terminal cancer diagnosis in July 2016. but within weeks he was out with his camera again. Although he was clearly very frail, nobody on the graffiti scene really knew how ill Gordon was or what he was going through. Many of them have only found out recently through the book – something we now regret in a way.
There’s been a massive wave of affection and admiration for Gordon from all over the world, both from those who knew him and from complete strangers. We always knew what a brilliant person he was, of course, but it’s been great to spread the word. And although she’ll kill me for saying this, I’m pleased that more people now appreciate what Jane went through and what an amazing support she was for her dad.
All profits from the book are going to St Christopher’s hospice in Sydenham (south-east London), from where Gordon set off on some of his final graffiti trips. With a little help from our friends – including Steve from London Calling Blog, who organised a charity street art walk in Penge – we’ve now raised more than £1,300, and we hope that figure will continue to rise. (We’ll also be donating the profits from Things My Dad Saw…)
We’re very pleased and proud to be able to support such a worthy cause in return for all the help St Christopher’s has given our family. Jane’s mum Pat was also cared for there, and following Gordon’s death, Jane received bereavement counselling through the hospice. Its work is absolutely vital to the local community, but it remains alarmingly underfunded.
Ultimately, the message of the book is: find something you love doing then find a way to carry on doing it. That’s one of the driving impulses behind DIY culture, and it’s what we’re both trying to do with Colossive.
all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019