Category Archives: abstract art

the long list interview – Harley R’s Ugly Mug

Find Harley online here

All art by Harley R and the House of Harley unless otherwise noted

Please note – I have a story in Ugly Mug 6

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ZL – Hi Harley! Thanx for agreeing to this interview, I’m really interested to find out more about you, your history in the small press and the history of Ugly Mug!

HR – Delighted to be asked.

ZL – It’s probably best to start with a bit about where and when you grew up and how you first got involved in the small press?

HR – Sure. I grew up in West London. My parents were Aussies who emigrated to the UK in the mid-‘60s.

I like to say that I was brought up as an Atheist with a Protestant work ethic and Catholic taste. Also, my dad has always applied himself successfully to many different types of jobs and activities with endless enthusiasm and vigour and I owe a lot to him for showing me that a busy life is a good life.

ZL – I wonder how your parents having come from Australia affected your childhood, did you find that they had a different attitude to life and culture from those around you and, if so, how did that affect you and how you felt about yourself?

HR – Well it’s handy to have two passports and be able to pick which team to support in the Ashes. I’ve got lots of powerful memories of visiting Oz as a youth (I haven’t been back as an adult) – such as the goods trains that used to hurtle through the field behind my grandma’s house like giant iron caterpillars, or the enormous huntsman spiders that lived in every corner of my uncle’s farm. I used to amuse myself at school by saying I could speak ‘Australian’ and then jabbering some nonsense. But to be honest I can’t pinpoint anything that made me feel significantly ‘different’ to people I grew up with in London. 

ZL – Tell me a bit about your time in school?

HR – The biggest impression my primary schooling made on me, outside of the actual lessons, was when our headmaster broke into the school at night, killed all the animals in the school’s science lab and blamed it all on ‘awful teenagers’ (a story recounted, with names changed, in Ugly Mug 4). 

He was a very strange and unpleasant man who for some reason had it in for Australia and used school assemblies to regale us with absurd and blatantly ridiculous reasons that no one should ever visit the country. So that taught me some healthy scepticism about adults at a young age.

ZL – My god, that must have felt fairly personal. 

So, comprehensive was better than primary school?

HR – In all I had a pretty typical and happy middle-class comprehensive school childhood. I went to the same secondary school as cartoonist Brett Ewins (RIP), although he was there some years before me. I often used to see him walking past the school, but I never got the courage up to introduce myself, to my regret.

Winding back a bit, my folks, unusually for Australians, had no interest in sport so unlike most 1970s boys who liked to spend their time kicking footballs around down the local park, I gravitated towards drawing and other solitary pursuits.

I can date my desire to be a cartoonist to September 1977 when six-year-old me saw a TV advert for a new UK Marvel comic called The Complete Fantastic Four. I pestered my dad to order it from our local newsagents but there was a mix-up and the first issue of Plug, a Beano spin-off which launched the same week, popped through the mailbox instead. I somehow persuaded my dad to let me get both – so right from the start I was interested in humour and superheroes/fantasy, which you can probably see coming through in Ugly Mug.

The splash page from my first exposure to The Fantastic Four, featuring a miserable and despairing Ben Grimm wandering the streets of New York, is indelibly burned into my memory. Something about the combination of bold visuals, larger-than-life characters and wild storytelling in both those comics gripped my imagination and has never let go. That’s when I knew cartooning was what I wanted to do, although lots of other things have been added into the mix over the years.

ZL – So where in the timescales does drawing and writing come? I’m guessing you could well have been drawing for a while by this point, but I’d be thinking you weren’t writing at age six, or were you very precocious? Actually, how easy did you find reading that comic? Stan Lee’s language could be pretty flowery.

HR – I was a keen reader and I don’t remember struggling with those early Marvel comics, although no doubt lots of it passed over my head.

It’s hard to remember when writing and drawing came together for me. My early creative outputs involved things like making elaborate paper railways which ran around the house or filming magic tricks using primitive stop motion on my dad’s home video camera. 

In English lessons at school I wrote a lot of rambling fantasy stories, which were bigger on imagination than structure or coherence. When I was nine I sent an outline for a Doctor Who story to the BBC which was rejected, unsurprisingly as it featured all my favourite villains and lots of spaceships being blown up and would have been well beyond the Beeb’s budget to film even if the story had been any good. (We still have the rejection letter).

ZL – We were chatting a while ago and you mentioned to me that you put Ugly Mug on hold when you went to university, so how old were you when you first started editing it and what spurred you on to put it out?

HR – I started it while I was still in high school and it ran for around four years. Although my dream at that stage was to be a full-time cartoonist, by the time I got involved in the small press I’d realised that it was very difficult to make a living out of comics. Credit to those that do, but in the mid-late ‘80s the mainstream comics world where I might have learned my craft just didn’t appeal to me. I never had any interest in being an illustrator or drawing things to order, although I have a lot of respect for people who can do that. So I made a conscious decision to pursue a career outside art – which I don’t regret and which has been rewarding in lots of ways. That has left art for my own time and means I have complete freedom over what I draw. Just not as much time to draw as I’d like.

Steve Way

ZL – How did you get to know that earning a living in comics was so difficult and how did that make you feel at the time you found out? Or to put it another way, what was it about comics that meant you weren’t put off from creating them by the knowledge that you couldn’t earn much from them?

HR – Another hard one to reconstruct forty years on, especially as it was mixed up with so many changes in outlook as my teens rolled on. But the aspiration to do comics is a given for me, it’s etched into my thought processes and it’s not something I ever sit and weigh up the pros and cons of. 

ZL – So what type of production was it, was it printed or photocopied and how did you get it out to people?

HR – The first three issues of Ugly Mug were xeroxed at local print shops, and the print quality was very mixed as you might expect, with lots of grey smudging on the pages. But at least they came stapled. For issue 2 I recruited some fellow A-Level art students to hand colour the cover according to the artist Ed Pinsent’s specification, which was also a good excuse to spend time with girls I fancied.

I think the cover price was in the order of a quid for the first two and two quid for the double-sized issue 3. The print run for issues 1-3 was probably a couple of hundred each and they eventually went, mostly sold via the Fast Fiction stall and mail order service, apart from a handful of copies I still have (available for purchase at inflation-busting prices via https://houseofharley.net/shop).

Leo Eze

For issue 4 I splashed out on professional printing which meant committing to a lot more copies to justify the investment in the (pre-digital) plates. It looked great, apart from the wrong tone of green being used on the cover and overwhelming Marc Baines’ brilliant drawing. I should have asked for a proof copy! Lessons learned.

Marc Baines

But the release of UM4 coincided with me moving away from London to go to university and having a whole bunch of new things in my life to think about. So I didn’t give it the focus it needed and consequently it didn’t make the splash I hoped it would. And that was the end of that for the next three decades.

ZL – Stepping backwards a minute to get some context, and throwing a bit of a twofer out there, what first drew you to small press comics and what drew you into making them?

HR – At primary school, some mates and I wrote and drew a regular comic strip for our school magazine, very heavily inspired by Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett’s loosely drawn and irreverent strips for various Marvel UK mags.

In my early teens I aspired to work for 2000AD, spent lots of time copying drawings of Judge Dredd and co and got pretty good at it. But by the time I went to my first comic convention when I was around 15, I’d become interested in indie comics, especially Love and Rockets, and had just discovered Escape, which featured a lot of material by British small press artists.

At a small press panel at one of the mid-80s UKCAC events, I introduced myself to Glenn Dakin and Ed Pinsent and showed them some of my crude comic strips about a superhero called Captain Maroon, who spent most of his time arguing with supervillains and his girlfriend rather than using his powers which were never particularly well defined. I guess Glenn and Ed must have seen something in those strips because, firstly, Glenn put me in touch with the political cartoonist Steve Way, later the Cartoon Editor of Punch, and we had a mail correspondence which lasted several years. We actually spent most of our time talking about life in general rather than comics and he was a very welcome sounding board for my developing teenage view of life.

Secondly, Ed offered me a slot in Fast Fiction magazine which he was editing, and we ended up becoming great friends and eventually musical collaborators. It’s a sort of mentor-friend relationship which endures to this day, although we don’t get to see each other as often as I’d like. Ed introduced me to different ways of thinking about art which took me off the conventional path I would probably have gone down otherwise and I’m eternally grateful for that.

Harley (contents page), Ed Pinsent

With Ed’s encouragement, I self-published a collection of Captain Maroon stories and went swiftly from there to Ugly Mug, which was an attempt to create an irreverent regular publication in the spirit of the comics anthologies I loved, like Mad, Weirdo and Raw – encompassing personal, experimental work as well as humorous stuff. With an anthology you can take lots of risks – if someone doesn’t like a strip, there’s another one coming along soon.

It was published by the House of Harley, my answer to Stan Lee calling Marvel the House of Ideas. The HoH is a sort of fantasy publishing imprint which can be whatever I want it to be. It has proved to be a highly flexible and durable ‘brand’ which has grown to encompass (in my head at least) edible products, hotel chains and boutique fashion wear. It also helps draw a line between my artistic and personal life which I think is important.

ZL – How did you get to know and recruit other creators to contribute and what sort of request did you give them?

Tom Baxter Tiffin

HR – For several years I helped out selling small press comics on Ed’s Fast Fiction stall at the bi-monthly comic fairs at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. So I got to meet lots of interesting artists that way. I also was a regular attendee of the fortnightly Escape gatherings organised by Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury at the Duke’s Head in Great Russell Street, where I first discovered the joys and dangers of Tennant’s Extra lager (rarely seen now in London pubs) and became good friends with Tom Baxter Tiffin, Marc Baines, John Bagnall, Mark Robinson and other talented people.

Marc Baines

My ‘editorial’ policy for Ugly Mug though was simply to ask people whose work I liked if they’d contribute, and thankfully most of them said yes.

ZL – I often read a lot about the London Comic Mart and how influential that was on getting works out from groups like Fast Fiction so it’s interesting to know that you were a part of that scene. You mention meeting up and talking a lot, so I wondered what it was that inspired your conversations. There’s a lot of talk about the TV ad for Marvel UK titles, but I also see a lot more European comics influence in the works of Ed Pinsent or Phil Elliott who were both involved in Fast Fiction, so what was the cultural stew, inside and outside comics, that was feeding Fast Fiction, or at least, your experience of it?

John Bagnall

HR – An off-the-top-of-my-head sample of the cultural artefacts and artistes I was introduced to by the Fast Fiction and Escape crowd – Krazy Kat, Herbie, Bizarro Superman, Raw, the Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, the Beverly Hillbillies, Sgt Bilko, The Sweet Smell of Success, William Wyler’s The Collector, The Cat and the Canary (Bob Hope), Harvey (the rabbit), Kiss Me Deadly, My Neighbour Totoro, Kenneth Anger, Eraserhead, Raoul Servais’ terrifying animation Harpya, Stan Brakhage, Jean-Luc Godard, Gerhard Richter, Paolo Uccello

ZL – I’ve mentioned in a brief facebook review I did that this book really feels like a work made by the late 70’s early 80’s group of creators from the small press, it has the absurdity that is played very straight faced, but it also lacks bitter cynicism, maybe it’s more romantically cynical? (Have I just created my own definition there??) So, I’m going for another twofer here. Do you feel like you were part of a generation of creators and if so, who would you say were your peers? Do you feel like small press comics are a different beast now, with different tastes and a different blood running through its veins?

HR – I think there’s too much negativity, pessimism about humanity and general cynicism doing the rounds in wider society, so I’m very pleased you’ve said that. It’s hard to recall what was going through my mind when I was putting the original run together, but I have always liked a mix of sweet and sour, like life really. The ‘theme’ for Ugly Mug 5 was ‘optimism/pessimism’ – a tension which was very much on my mind during lockdown – and contributors were free to place themselves wherever they liked on that spectrum – so while there’s some very bleak stuff in there, there’s lots of light and humanity too.

As for the 1980s, I feel very lucky to have been welcomed and accepted by the ‘Fast Fiction gang’, and it was an exciting, inspiring time for me. But I also recognise I was ten years or more younger than most of them. I was immature in many ways and had a lot to learn about life and art. As Peter Stanbury observed back then, ‘Harley hasn’t lived yet’.

I confess I’m not that au fait with modern small press stuff. What I’ve seen in shops seems to be overly biographical or graphically experimental in a way that doesn’t particularly engage me. But I realise there may be great stuff out there I’m not aware of and reviving Ugly Mug has prompted me to think I should look again.

ZL – Pursuing that more, what do you think influenced you and your peers to make that work and do you feel that there were other streams of work around that were significantly different to what you were making?

HR – The artists associated with Fast Fiction and the small press scene were all very different, but if they had anything in common it was a) a love for comics and b) wide ranging interests outside comics.

For a long while I’ve thought that mainstream comics are too insular. By the time Jack Kirby and all those great Silver Age artists produced their best work for Marvel and DC, they’d grown up and been to war and worked in different industries and had drawn every type of comic you could imagine, so there was lots of different stuff feeding into those superhero stories. But by the mid-80s you had a generation of artists copying from those older cartoonists with, I would say, diminishing returns, and it went downhill from there as far as I’m concerned. I’m generalising a lot I realise, and possibly unfairly, but I find visiting comic shops these days a depressing experience. I buy what I’m after, have a quick look round to see if anything else grabs my attention, and get out as quick as I can.

Chris Reynolds

I should be clear that I think there is lots of untapped potential in comics, so I remain optimistic about the medium’s long-term future. But what appealed to me about the small press, apart from the sense of creative freedom, was that it was influenced by lots of other aspects of culture – fine art, literature, Hollywood movies, trash culture, experimental film, and life in general. And the aim was to use the freedom of self-publishing to say something personal and interesting. A Chris Reynolds or an Ed Pinsent strip or a Carol Swain strip are all totally unique, only they could have done them.

Carol Swain

Fundamentally I like the freedom – and cheapness – of comics. All you need is a piece of paper and something to draw with and you can put anything you like on it. That cheapness also means you can take risks which are much harder to do with, say, films, which involve a lot of money, people and organisation to make, even when it’s an indie production.

After the comic marts, a loose group of us often retreated to Ed’s flat to chat about comics, art and films. Mark Robinson remarked that when he came to London he expected the small press scene would be like a group of wild Californian cartoonists indulging in plentiful sex and drugs, but it was more of an urbane gathering with tea and cakes – and that’s what it was like.

Mike, Darryl Cunningham

That small press spirit spilled out into Escape of course but also semi-mainstream publishers such as Harrier Comics and Fox Comics in Australia. But by the early 90s, the artists I liked had gone off to pursue other things, and I felt the small press was becoming a vehicle for cartoonists to build up portfolios and get spotted for mainstream comics, rather than to produce personal work which was interesting in its own right. It’s an understandable approach to CV building, but it didn’t appeal to me. I got much more interested in music which seemed to be more vibrant and experimental at that time.

Julian Geek

ZL – Just thinking about this further, how do you see yourself in relation to the history of small press comics in the UK? Is there a history that you feel a part of from the 70’s or even the 60’s. Or do you feel that the 80’s was where small press and alternative comics took off in the UK? Is it even that you see more of a link with the likes of DIY zines than you do with comics at all?

HR – I think there was something open-ended and outward-looking in the art I most liked from that time. I think honest personal takes on life are very important and are what people respond to at the end of the day. To be clear, by ‘personal takes’ I don’t mean dwelling on oneself, or minutely detailed autobiographical strips which are a creative dead end if ever there was one. There’s been a lot of bad art created in the slipstream of Robert Crumb, but the biographical aspect of his work is deceptive – he distils something profound out of his experiences.

As for me, I don’t delude myself that I was anything other than a minor figure in the 80’s small press scene, but I am always very pleased when I learn that someone has kept their collection of Ugly Mugs all those years. That said, I’m more interested today in looking forward.

Davy Francis

ZL – I guess the big question is, why did you come back and why now?

HR – Well, partly because I only got to publish the first four chapters of Ed’s Saga of the Scroll epic, and there were eight more episodes to go, six now. (Ed gave up waiting, understandably, and published the complete story some years ago, although with his blessing I intend to continue serialising it, meaning there should be 12 issues of Ugly Mug at least).

As far as my own comics went, it always felt like unfinished business. But it was a long process getting back to it, way too long really. I was seriously missing art after a few years at university, so I packed off for a month to the Cyprus School of Art Summer School to try to get the creative juices going again. As I discovered, that ‘summer school’ mainly involved hanging around with naked women, riding scooters around town on a fake licence and drinking Keo beer, all of which was a lot of fun, but no art was being produced. I can’t blame it all on the distractions – I was too bogged down in trying to find the perfect idea to work on.

When I got back to England I thought ‘this is ridiculous’ and started keeping sketchbooks, working rapidly and not caring too much about the result, just drawing whatever I was interested in (predominantly, but not exclusively, women). I had a full-time job and had to fit this in wherever I could – so for example I sketched fellow commuters on the tube journey to work, trying to draw everyone in the carriage before they or I got off. (I highly recommend that as a way to learn to draw people quickly, if not accurately.) And at home I drew from whatever printed material was around the house, mainly Sunday magazines and fashion supplements. I know that drawing from photos is considered to be bad form for artists, but if you approach it with a certain amount of irreverence and spontaneity, I think you can learn a lot about how to convey personality and draw clothes and the like.

Over time I got looser and looser in my sketches and began treating my source material as a springboard. I developed some intuitive techniques for abstracting drawings until unexpected and interesting results would appear on the page.

Around 2015 I also got involved in the London life drawing boom and went to as many sessions as I could for a few years. I really liked the different approaches of the groups, from traditional art nudes to burlesque and it was a brilliant way to loosen up even more as well as experiment with techniques and materials.

(Some highlights from my sketchbooks and life drawings have been collected into a series of House of Harley artbooks, available from https://houseofharley.net/shop)

So, I’d always kept drawing and posting examples regularly to my blog, and I developed a lot of different styles and approaches which I knew I wanted to put to use somehow. And life keeps coming up with stuff to respond to and comment on.

That urge to draw comics and tell stories had never gone away. On the rare occasions I had a day or two to myself, I would draw a comic strip just to prove to myself that I could still do it (and some of these pages ended up in Ugly Mug 5). But the ‘final straw’ that led to getting back into comics was turning fifty. I thought if I don’t get a move on now, I’ll never get back to it.

ZL – So why bring it back as a printed magazine, why not a website or e-zine?

Bob Lynch, Lightning

HR – I’ve always loved printed objects for some reason I struggle to pin down. Nowadays I spend too much time working on screens for work so digital comics hold no interest whatsoever for me as a format (however good the content might be).

ZL – Also, why continue with an anthology, what interested you in the first place about creating with others? I know back in the 80’s anthologies were much more common, but they’re quite rare now, and I wonder whether you thought about that when thinking about restarting Ugly Mug at all?

John Watson

HR – Well many hands make light work. I have a family, a day job and other commitments, so there’s only so much I can produce and I wanted this return to be a substantial piece of work. Beyond that it just seemed like a natural continuation of what went before.

ZL – Just to pull those two questions together a bit, was it more the fear of never getting to publish again, or a combination where; you’ve settled in your career, your family has got old enough to allow you time to undertake publishing? I guess what I’m saying is, is it just a matter that your age pushed you to it, or is it more that enough has changed to open your mind to the idea and your confidence in your own work is enough that it feels possible? 

HR – There’s never enough time, so it was a matter of finding spaces in the day to devote to the mag and then getting down to it. Other than that, there was a gradual accumulation of factors – most of which were nothing to do with comics – that led up to me thinking ‘I know how to do this’. 

ZL – I think we’ve also established my love of a two-fer, so, do you feel that being a part of an anthology gives a voice to a community? By which I mean that the grouping of like spirited works, works that are appealing to the central motivator (that’s you Harley in less obscure terms!) lets you situate your work within an artistic space? It’s like you’re carving out a space in existence not only for your own work but you’re also giving a home to the vision of your work by situating it with other works you want to see exist within the world. Does that make sense?

HR – I can’t say to what degree the artists featured in Ugly Mug comprise a community with a coherent voice. I haven’t even met half the people in the latest one. And the ones I do know, we disagree about lots of things. But I see what you’re getting at.

Mark Robinson, Martin Millard

Compiling the magazine is all very instinctive. I had a theme in mind for the latest issue which winds through it in different ways, but when it came to sequencing the stories, they fell into two obvious groups, so that’s how I organised it. This was totally unplanned and just leapt out at me when the final contributions came in. I’m not saying what those themes are, people will either pick up on them or they won’t and perhaps they’ll spot themes that I hadn’t even noticed. I like that creative serendipity and hopefully it means there’s more to Ugly Mug than ‘just’ a bunch of drawings and strips by people whose work I like. 

ZL – Just thinking about creators now and coming back to publishing, have you stayed in touch with your peers, I know you’ve said that you’ve not stayed current with other small press creators, but I wonder if there are a few that you are aware of and that you think share an aesthetic or creative spirit with what you are making?

HR – Yes. Ed Pinsent has always carried on making brilliant comic strips, but for a decade or so he and I made noisy improvised music together, recording albums and playing gigs as Mystery Dick (named after an old Dandy character). We also formed a trio called Pestrepeller with Savage Pencil. There’s some samples of our music on http://www.mysterydick.com/discography.html and we have two further albums in the can which I’m very proud of and still intend to get a proper release for. Also look out for Pestrepeller’s 40 minute cover version of the Bonzo Dog Band’s ‘Noises for the Leg’, coming to YouTube soon.

As well as Ed, I’m still in touch with many of the original Ugly Mug contributors and producing the new one gave me an excuse to track down some old friends I’d lost touch with.

But although Ugly Mug 5 featured a lot of familiar faces, I was determined that it would not be an exercise in nostalgia. All the artists have moved on in the three decades since the original run and their work has developed in different ways. The 21st Century Ugly Mug is a continuation of the little traditions we established back then but also contains, hopefully, a few surprises.

When I decided to revive it, I was watching Twin Peaks: The Return and I loved the way David Lynch and Mark Frost brought it back after a 25 year gap, picking up the story and producing something in the spirit of the original yet in many ways an evolution and improvement. Hence some of the Twin Peaks references that fans of the series may have spotted in Ugly Mug 5. And I also tried to emulate the show’s air of mystery and open-endedness. We need more of that in comics, and the world in general.

Other than that, I was thinking more about music like The Fall, B-52s, Sparks and Sun Ra. 

As far as other contemporary cartoonists go, I like the Hernandez Brothers, Ben Katchor, Robert Crumb, and Peter Bagge. I’ve just belatedly discovered Jason Atomic’s Satanic Mojo and I’m enjoying its totally un-PC British take on underground comix

I approached some interesting (non-comics) artists I’ve come across on social media about appearing in Ugly Mug 6 and I’m really pleased that most of them said yes. More about them in a minute.

I’m open to submissions too. Issue 6 came out in October and the intention from here on is that Ugly Mug will be an annual event. 

Some Ugly Mug contributors who are active online are Ed Pinsent, Chris Reynolds, John Bagnall & Savage Pencil

Ed Pinsent

ZL – Thanx for taking the time for this interview Harley, it’s been really interesting. Here at zinelove we always like to share the love, so this is your chance to drop three links for creators whose work you’ve found interesting recently and finally to plug anything else you feel needs plugging!

HR – Been a pleasure. 

I’m going to take the opportunity to mention a couple of artists who are featured in Ugly Mug 6 but, as far as I know, wouldn’t consider themselves cartoonists, so they may not be familiar to your readers.

Masaman is a mysterious and remarkably prolific Japanese artist who appears to spend his or her life posting bold and dynamic pen and ink drawings to Twitter (or perhaps they’re digital drawings, but I like the fact I can’t tell). Every time I look, there’s another addition to this crazy stream-of-consciousness visual notebook. The drawings are fascinating mashups of oddly designed monsters and semi-human figures, which could be made out of mud or jelly, with Escher-like visual conundrums.

Patricia Gaignat is a New York resident and enthusiastic participant in local art groups. She sketches evocative postcard-like nighttime scenes of quiet corners of the city, and fills folded paper booklets with drawings of the characters she meets in her art groups. These pen-and-ink folks all look the viewer direct in the eye, inviting us to join in the camaraderie. I think of them as the benevolent cousins of the Blue Meanies in the Yellow Submarine. She also draws lovely little nudes who look like they’re going to jump off the page and start frolicking around your kitchen table.

Patricia Gaignat

Finally, many of your readers will be familiar with Ed Pinsent’s comic strips, but perhaps not his role as a ResonanceFM DJ. His Friday evening Sound Projector radio show showcases experimental music from around the world as well as highlights from Ed’s extensive personal collection. Its motto is ‘Better listening through imagination’, a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorse and would apply to reading comics too. Many years worth of archives are available on the Sound Projector website, a real treasure trove.  

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2022

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Review – Not This House by Gareth A Hopkins

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Gareth Hopkins is really one of the main reasons I got back into comics reading and particularly became interested in the small press and zine culture.

His comics are not comics as you think of them, they’re not linear representations of actions and events. They are stories and his stories have become more linear and less like the broken poetry you’ll find in Intercorstal Extension. His art, though, remains mercurial and abstract, sometimes colourful and explosive, with pages broken up by panel shapes and sometimes, as with Not This House, like mists of lines and spots of black where suddenly something coalesces into almost the shape you’re reading about.

Not This House continues his moves towards prose storytelling and does so with great skill. There’s a sense of really manipulating what’s happening with the images, how they almost make scenes that illustrate the words on the page, in particular page seven evokes the sense of moving through tunnels in the dark, which feels deeply fitting for the story unfolding at that point of the comic.

There’s also the sudden tonal shift that hits home so very effectively with the change in lettering style and tone of illustrations. The shift, feeling sudden and, for me, emotionally affecting.

All in all, this work picks up threads from his earlier work, such as the use of poetic repetition of key phrases, but also adds a sense of intentionalism that is skilled and assured whilst also delivering some very powerful emotional tonal shifts within the story. That Gareth can manage this with the art, the story and the lettering is impressive in an inspiring way, that he can make this work as an emotional story, with emotional heft without any of the normal props of drama shows why I find his work so inspiring.

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Contents copyright iestyn pettigrew, all rights reserved

Small (press) oaks – Gareth A Hopkins

Gareth was given an award by this site, so obviously we think he is great. I actually think his work is fascinating both in it’s evolution and it’s ability to be some of the most human and moving comics I’ve read without anything figurative or linear even being hinted at.

Which, to pick apart that sentence means that I think Gareth produces some amazing, human and meaningful comics. It also means that watching the evolution of his art style and his writing is as much a fascinating story as the work he produces.

His sudden explosion into colour work made me smile and breathless, but none of it surprised me as much as the warmth of Petrichor, possibly one of the truest works of modern poetry and of comics you could hope to encounter. Honestly a masterwork that should be read far and wide.

 

I’ll let him blather about himself now, rather than run off my mouth anymore.

Gareth Hopkins - portrait

Find Gareth Here

He’s @grthink everywhere

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buy Petrichor (editor’s note — I’m telling you not asking you)

 

Can you tell us a bit about the first creator whose work you recognised?

It’s a genuinely tough one to answer. When I first started reading 2000AD it was just a bunch of stuff by a bunch of people, and slowly it would have dawned on me that it was actually people behind the drawing and the words. The panel I remember having the most impact on me was from Harlem Heroes by Steve Dillon and Kev Walker, with a soldier getting stabbed in the back by a lady in cycling shorts – there was the violence, but it was so stylish, and loads of negative space. I think the first artist I really paid attention to was Chris Weston, especially on Canon Fodder. The first writer I distinctly remember having an influence was John Smith, a lot of my school assignments had stop-start rhythms and mentions of ‘bursts of white noise/static on the spine’ stuff like that, which I was trying to nick directly from Tyranny Rex.

Which creators do you remember first copying?

Timewise, it’s hard to separate them, it was a big glow of influences all at once. Looking at when I was 12/13 or so, I was copying scantily clad women by Liam Sharp, Batman Adventures by Mike Parobeck, non-footed muscle-bound superheroes in the Liefeld age of Marvel House Style and Strontium Dogs by Nigel Dobbyn.

Who was the creator that you first thought ‘I’m going to be as good as you!’?

Haha, I remember looking at Marvel Superhero comics and thinking ‘well, if I can’t work out how feet work, just make them a nondescript arrow shape, or hide them behind a rock or some smoke. So, Liefeld. There was definitely a sense of ‘if they can get away with it, so can I’ which I don’t mean pejoratively.

Rob Liefeld
Rob Liefeld

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

Man alive, this is a tough one. Most of my cues for inspiration come from musicians at the moment, I think. A few years ago I was reading a feature about Doseone that had a quote about him being one of the decade’s most important artists, and I don’t know if they meant art-artists, or musician-artists, but it redefined what an artist could be for me, and I spent a lot of time (and still do, really) trying to catch some of that sense when I make visual art. His approach to storytelling when he made the Hour Hero Yes albums with Subtle was probably the biggest single influence when I started making The Intercorstal, and ‘Less Is Orchestra’ which he made with Alias is one of my favourite albums of the last few years. There’s a line in it that goes ‘My zodiac sign’s “Don’t Feed The Animal”‘ which is just incredible. Lately I’ve been really influenced by God’s Wisdom & Lucy and their solo stuff, they share a lot of the elements I find inspirational in other art forms, which is a DIY attitude and distinct, individual voices that aren’t too fussed about whether people understand where they’re coming from.

 

Which creators do you most often think about?

I’ve already mentioned Doseone, so let’s put him in the drawer for a second. Probably the other one is Captain Beefheart? In terms of, if he can shout ‘A squid eating dough in a polyethelyne bag is fast & bulbous, got me?’, then I can make a comic about car parks that’s coloured in highlighter pens. The mainstream comic artist I talk about the most is definitely Sal Buscema, without a doubt. And in the small press world, it’s impossible not to look at the energy Paul Jon Milne puts into his comics and not immediately want to do something with as much… guts? as he puts in.

Sal Buscema

Can you name the first three creative peers that come into your head?

Paul Jon Milne

Grave Horticulture by Paul Jon Milne
Grave Horticulture by Paul Jon Milne

 

Tom Ward

Merrick The Sensational Elephantman by Tom Ward
Merrick The Sensational Elephantman by Tom Ward

Lucy Sullivan

H-8-9

Everything else

Concrete/Field

The 50Hz Hum Of Power - Concrete/Field
The 50Hz Hum Of Power – Concrete/Field

The Leaf Library

The Leaf Library
The Leaf Library

Walter Gross

The Fra Mauro Highlands - Walter Gross
The Fra Mauro Highlands – Walter Gross

Finally, can you tell us a bit about your recent work and yourself?

I’m Gareth A Hopkins, an artist and comics creator. I live in Essex with my wife and two kids, I think about ghosts a lot, drink terrible coffee and really hate gardening. I’ve been making comics for a long time, but only really thought I could do anything with them since 2016. I usually do everything.

I’m working on a short story collection called Explosive Sweet Freezer Razors which will be made up of 15 or 16 different short comics – one of those, Bullwise, will be appearing in the next edition of Emanations, and ‘Thunders’ is currently available to buy.

Bullwise Gareth A Hopkins page 2 RGB
Bullwise Gareth A Hopkins page 2

I’ve got a week’s residency coming up in September as part of Young Blood Initiative’sWake Up And Smell The Tear Gas‘ programme of events – details here:

Young Blood Initiative - Wake Up And Smell The Tear Gas

Young Blood Initiative – Wake Up And Smell The Tear Gas

Thank you very much for taking the time to fill this out and let us into your mind.

 

all art copyright and trademark its respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

 

go look – Anne Mette My Paaske

Anne Mette My Paaske is an illustrator and artist. Her work uses all king of media, including stitching and smudging!

I love what she achieves with her mark making, everything looks organic and alive. It often reminds me of pressed flowers.

(click on images to follow links)

 

Anne Mette My Paaske instagram
instagram

 

Anne Mette My Paaske The Tennis Manifesto 2

 

 

 

go look – Mal Earl

Fact – he’s in The 77 comic anthology
Opinion – his comics are poetic and stylish  like Wilde meets Beardsley in high fantasy
Also you can football chant his name
Mal Earl!Mal Earl! Mal Earl!
What more do you need to know?
(click on the image to follow the link)
Prodigal – Mal Earl contribution to The 77 comic anthology
Website

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Go Look – Sleepsutra

I saw a write up for Sleepsutra that sounded interesting so I went and looked up Won-Tolla

Sleepsutra

I enjoyed the artwork I saw and the ideas it raises, it looks like an interesting little project

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It deals with sleeplessness and the experience of insomnia, drawing upon the creators own life

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Go look – Mattias Gunnarsson

Mattias makes environmental art and the most incredible sketch zines and records of events. If you love art or drawing you want to swap with him – trust me!

(click on image for site)

Masu project featuring multicoloured beams used to form landscape artwebsite

Matias gunnarsson Instagram feed with a mix of his environmental sculptures and zines and the work of others

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Paper Underground Awards – Originally, I said that this would be – Best discovery I made in November (but it was really just being sarcastic) Then I received something in October that fitted the bill.

Originally, I said that this would be – Best discovery I made in November (but it was really just being sar

Originally, I said that this would be – Best discovery I made in November (but it was really just being sarcastic) Then I received something in October that fitted the bill.

Which is an odd title for an award, but there we go.

Download from here

Pages from Pannonica issue one by nick prolix featuring abstract black images on creamy coloured paper
Pages from Pannonica issue 1

The winner is Nick Prolix with his Pannonica series (and experience)

Originally, I included this as a dig at all those bests of lists that come out in December thereby blowing off everything that comes out in December.

Then in October and again In November I read part of an ongoing series that struck me as amazing and original, but also as something that concretised a feeling I’d had for a while about UK comics and zines and where I’m seeing work that I would consider vital and important.

Petrichor, our initial award winner, is part of that wave. A wave that drives its visuals with non-representational art married to real life thoughts and emotions. It has narrative, but not story. Structure but not linearity.

Sort of a comic slipstream fiction, but nothing like it.

Anyway

Why name it?

Pannonica was something very surprising to me, considering Nick’s normal mode of comics are very representational and timebound. Here’s this printed and hand made zine with abstract images.  A zine related to tweets and Instagram posts. World building by building in the world rather than the fictional page. Yet, amazingly, it’s a work that still manages to be structured, human and about matters of life. Dealing with the humanity of his thoughts, his present concerns, his art history and art future. Not necessarily universal, but personally meaningful to me and timely – like it froze a wave and made a statue for generations to come to look upon.

What’s striking about Pannonica is how it creates narrative structure in the same manner as Nick’s story work, with call backs, shadowing plot points and running a theme through its paces.

iestyn

 

Go look – Sam Alden

Not such an active account sadly, but if you haven’t seen them before, the illusatrations and comics are absolutely amazing.

If you are familiar, just worth revisting and remembering.

sam alden comicbooks graphic novels illustration dancing friendship horse dragon chicken queen
website

 

sam alden comicbooks graphic novels illustration sketches turtle thumbnails woods
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Go look – Oliver East

this is the first post of Oliver East's work I ever shared 6 1/2 half years ago. it's a beautiful rendition of space and experience. rolling stock 186 4 october 2013
Rolling Stock 186 4 October 2013

this is the first post of Oliver East’s work I ever shared 6 1/2 half years ago. it’s a beautiful rendition of space and experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oliver East Rolling Stock 1 I own this comic zine It's a beautiful evocation of space Oliver East has been a hug influence upon my work
I own this comic zine It’s a beautiful evocation of space Oliver East has been a hug influence upon my work

 

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The Short List – Ken Reynolds

Disclosure – I provided the cover for the final collection of Sliced Quarterly, edited and published by Ken Reynolds

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cognition                                   sliced quarterly

 

ZL – I have the impression of you as a long-term and influential individual within the UK small press scene. How do you think of yourself in those terms and who would you consider your peers?

The Cherry on The Awesome Cake
The Cherry on The Awesome Cake

KR – Perception is a funny thing. I’ve only been involved in making comics in any capacity for the last 5 years or so… I started shortly after my daughter was born. That’s not really a long time when you consider how long it can take to pull small press comic projects together. We’re 3 years and 3 volumes in on Sliced Quarterly, and it took about 3 years to do 5 issues of Cognition. That felt pretty quick to me.

So, I don’t feel like I’ve been around for ages.

As for influence… If you run an anthology it can give off a perception of being ‘in charge’ but that’s never really the case with Sliced. I round things up rather than commission on that one.

All in all, I still feel as though I’m figuring things out. I think back 4 years to the person that had aspirations of making comics… I’d have looked at me now thinking, ‘wow, you made all this stuff’. I guess that’s the trick. Keep making books.

The only way I’ve ever felt influential is when I can help other creators. Something I will do any time I can. It’s indie comics, you don’t step on people on the way up, we all lift each other.

As for peers… I guess that’s just all the people I work with consistently, the people that help me as much as I try to help them. Chris Sides, Jimmy Furlong, Jon Laight. But I could list hundreds of creators. Anyone I’ve worked with through Sliced, anyone that’s hired me as a letterer.

COGNITION #0KS PT1 AW
Cognition issue 3 cover

There aren’t levels to me. If you’ve made a comic, any comic, you’re a creator. You’ve done something special. After that it’s all subjective. But if you’ve had an idea, do everything you have to do to get that book over the line and made a reality, you have my utmost respect. If you keep doing that over and over, you might get a reputation, I suppose? But if you make good stuff, you make good stuff. I always want to read books I love.

 

ZL – You’ve mentioned that you’re planning on focussing on single publications now that you’ve put Sliced Quarterly to bed, are there any concrete plans in place or is more of an ambition at the moment?

KR – I have one book that is a definite. We began to serialise a story over the last 5 issues or so. We got to a nice pausing point, and when I decided Vol 3 would be the last collection I promised the creator that I would continue to help them publish the story in some form. That is partly where the idea came from.

Ultimately this move is an extension of what Sliced has always been about. Getting stories in front of readers that don’t usually get that chance. Now it seems like a natural evolution to do the same thing with longer form books instead of short comics. My experience in self-publishing and crowdfunding can be useful to someone that is attempting it for the first time. It’s still that principle of helping other creators. The Sliced banner is just a label for that.

 

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

KR – The first thing I really remember loving when I was growing up that made me want to make something myself was Wallace and Gromit. I couldn’t get enough of it. The animation delighted me. I tinkered with simple animation throughout my design education, but I never fully committed to it.

META AFFLICTION AW-01
Meta Affliction

There was something about the style and sense of humour that made it all so accessible. It was tangible and real. Animation that you could reach out and touch. There is something special about stop motion animation, even now as it becomes more scarce. Anything that takes that much time, effort and artistry deserves attention and respect.

If we talk comics, I recall the moment I realised comics could be more than what I knew them to be from my childhood. I’d loved the Beano etc, but when one of my college tutors showed me Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, it opened my eyes and I went on to discover how diverse the medium can be. I wish more people had this sort of revelation. My main bugbear is comics being described as a genre rather than a medium. It’s reductive because comics can and should work in ANY genre.

 

 

ZL – You’ve spent a few years now working with creators as an instigator of some kind, what do you personally gain from taking that role?

KR – I think I’ve touched on this a little in an earlier question. In indie comics we HAVE to help one another. Simon Russell once said something that I thought particularly pertinent to this point. “Art isn’t a zero-sum game.” It isn’t a competition. By helping others succeed you don’t affect your own chances of success.

Another answer would be the realisation that lots of people helped me on the road to making my books, and I would have to be a huge arsehole not to do the same for others.

As for what I gain? Satisfaction. To know you helped someone makes books that are special. To know that without you something special had less chance of existing… If you think of it like that, then it’s a responsibility to help, isn’t it?

IN TROUBLE #1 PT1 AW
In Trouble issue 1

Making is the aim. It isn’t sales or reviews. It’s the process of making. That is the goal. Everything else is out of your control, and to put your hopes on how things are received is a set-up for failure and unhappiness.

Enjoying making something, put it out, it has a life of its own, make the next one. And the next.

 

ZL – You are gifted the opportunity to set up a new museum showcasing all of the creators who have influenced you from birth to now.  The first show is called ‘First, Formative and Now’ who do you pick and why?

KR – Oooooof! This is a brutal question.

First: 

The Hobbit – Tolkien

The first story I got really lost in. I return to it a lot and have recently begun studying the mythology Tolkien created in his lifetime.

Formative: 

Neville Brody

When I discovered and researched his work in college it cemented my career path.

Now:

The friends I’ve made in small press comics. The people I speak to regularly, the people I send my work to for feedback, and they in turn send their stuff to me. It’s comradeship, support and guidance from people that are trying to achieve similar goals in very different ways. It’s not competitive, we all want to see the others make the best stuff they can. There are hundreds of these small groups in the wider scene, everyone drives everyone else on and it’s a fantastic atmosphere to grow and explore your art. Each time I go to a convention, meet new people, see new work, it refuels me. Encourages me to make my next thing. The vibrancy and enthusiasm within indie comics is special, and we shouldn’t take it for granted.

 

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Simon Russell

 

buy Njord & Skadi

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review of Njord & Skadi

 

ZL – What made you choose folk tales for your series?

SR – Art is many things at the same time for audiences and artists, but one of the most important to me in this phase of my life is the idea that Art is Play – making or appreciating anything provokes an emotional response and in a world of hard noses and cold shoulders, the emotion I am most keen on pulling to the surface is delight.

Every time I set out to make comics, I was finding that I’d box myself in by insisting that the piece must be Original or Important or Worthwhile.

I think that was a valid reaction to seeing a lot of work that is very well executed but … why does it exist?

So much stuff consumed, with no change in my world and no desire to reread it left me muttering ‘that was well done, but why did you bother? And why should I care?’

But I was letting other people’s work dictate how I approached my own and that lead to me taking everything too seriously

I didn’t have that problem with my paintings or drawings – I was embracing accidents and chance and letting images grow from the different ways I could play with the media.

boing creations
Simon’s output

It seemed that retelling existing stories could be a way of getting past myself, so I wouldn’t obsess over the ‘value’ of a project and could enjoy the Play. Folk tales, myths and legends have been a recurring choice for me as a consumer over the years and I like the way that the same story can be told in ways that differ slightly or wildly. It’s like music in that respect.

So, I reasoned that if I work (sometimes) under the banner of Once Upon Again… I would never run out of material or challenges and wouldn’t hit a what-to-do block when snatching odd hours for work, as I often have to.

I may never have tested the idea if it hadn’t been for a chance meeting with Jon Mason, the Storyteller who became a collaborator. We both had a love of Norse myths and the Marriage of Njord & Skadi turned out to be one we’d each been tinkering with independently – so it was a quick decision to work together on the new comic, focusing on ‘the giantess who came for revenge, but chose a husband… and then chose again.’

That makes Once Upon Again number 1, and number 2 is a 2-page comic I did of Loki & Coyote Talking By A Tree, but OUA 3 will probably be my more comical retelling of the Njord & Skadi tale – old stories being told and retold in different ways really appeals to the part of me that wants to use more than one approach and my interest/obsession with formalistic aspects of the comic form.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

SR – The first time? That was probably a Goofy t-shirt I had around age 5. I probably wore it for a while, but what I remember is tracing the image over and over and over and then drawing the cartoon character without tracing because I’d worked out the ellipses he was made from. And then drawing other figures. It may not be a true or accurate memory given how early it was, but I treasure it as the spark that lit a fire in me for drawing.

The first identifiable pieces of art I can remember loving were Tove Jansonn’s pictures with pen and word in Finn Family Moomintroll; Starry Night by Van Gogh (on a biscuit tin or a place mat at somebody’s house, I think); and the drawings of Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko in Mighty World of Marvel number 1 (and the t-shirt transfer that came with it! for somebody who never got in to self-expression through fashion, pictures on clothes seem to have loomed large in my formative 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?

SR – I’d like to publish a line of superior comic works by other artists – funded to create their best work over a proper time frame; edited and mentored and stretched to make each piece a substantial and lasting work; promoted and distributed to an audience that is taught to appreciate comics as more than stories or visuals

 

Tales of the Norse Gods & Heroes by BL Picard

 

ZL – What single creation would you settle down with and just chill?

SR – I watched Star Wars hundreds of times growing up so that film is definitely a relaxing comforter. I would read the works of Tove Jansson or the Tales of the Norse Gods & Heroes by BL Picard in books and Krazy Kat or Calvin & Hobbes in comics. Maybe listen to Colours by Ken Nordine (Spotify)or something

 

 

ZL – You have a new comic, NORSE COMIC: (Once Upon Again) The Marriage of Njord & Skadi, out soon.  What image from this work would you choose to have pasted all around town? Skadi cover image

SR – I guess I’d use the cover image for Njord & Skadi, because it shows her as the one with more gravitas and it’s obviously a ‘love story’ but it’s not a romance comic or a norse battle. Plus it shows the sort of drawing inside as well as anything can when so much of the art was made though deliberately accidental mark-making

Thanks for asking!

Review – Once Upon Again: The Marriage of Njord & Skadi

The Marriage of Njord and Skadi

By Jon Mason & Simon Russell

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It’s a funny thing getting something you’ve watched grow and come to life over a long time. It’s funnier when you realise, suddenly, how the experience of watching it grow is little to no indicator of what it is you end up getting. Which is a loopy sort of way to say, I’d never thought about this as a story and surprised myself upon reading it, reacting to the comic as a story rather than the artwork as ART.

That’s still not picked apart terribly well, so let’s talk about my background with this comic.

I knew Simon for a while before he started posting images for the comic. When I first saw Simon’s art on Instagram; these big splodges of messy colour, no form and all texture and space for the imagination; I immediately just loved them.

process-WIP
Mark making – colour and space – work in progress

Absolutely wanted to take those images, run away with them and make things with them. Then I watched him carve and inscribe meaning to them, hewing image out of those spacious textures, making space into form.

process-FINISHED
Finished page

They still LOOKED cool and I knew I’d buy the comic because I wanted to see that art and stare at it, all together. Compare it to what I’d seen made, space to form to object.

I backed it and recently picked up my copy from Simon and sat down at work, thinking I’d flip through and wallow a bit in all that mark making. Now, to digress from my own point a minute, the art is great, the writing too.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a lovely moment in this spread I particularly like. That little image set at the end of the left page telling a story in just two panels. Succinct but meaningful, art and words punching together to tell it all with impact.

Skadi-spread-1
Njord and Skadi spread

There’s also just this lovely balance and variety. That first panel stretching, summarising. How it places the end of the story told in those two bottom panels as a single moment before retelling the same story with greater emotional impact. That small panel/ large panel combination flipping on the next page. The story focus moving from past to present, from fire to ice. From one enemy to another. That first summary panel that stretches time reflected by the final summary panel that concatenates moments. Frozen memory, action bursting from the frozen castle.

This tale tells itself so simply whilst using this very clever structuring, pulling in colours and textures, balancing pacing and time patterns seamlessly. The images rhyme and pace and create new contexts without you even really paying that much attention to it. It’s structured so that it’s just there to tell the tale, it gets out of its own way and does the job it needs to do. Yet it’s so well thought out if you want to pay attention.

The strength of this comic, though, is the story-telling, the emotion it delivers. You don’t need to appreciate the art, you don’t need to admire the structuring. None of it is done to impress you. It’s written in word and image to make you feel, feel what is going on and nothing is getting in its way.

When I sat flipping through it at work I just read the odd word but had to turn back to the start to read from the beginning. I got to the end and just felt this welling up of sadness about what happened to the two of them. I don’t know whether we’re meant to feel like it was inevitable, whether it was good that it was fleeting, but I felt like it was a terrible and sad outcome to it all. It should have worked, they should have had the chance to stay and be. Sorry to be oblique but still spoil the story for you!

It’s now over a week later and I see that cover and I think about how I want to read it again and imagine how they could make it work, find the answer to their problem.

Skadi-spread-2
Feeling and emotions – succint and poetic

Njord and Skadi, that is, not the creators. My memory is fixed on the story and the creators and the creation don’t really matter at all.

To put a context to this, when I sat down to write this, I went back to look at my notes and realised that my plan was to talk about how awesome it was to see all of these marks off a flickering screen and sat on a page, how much I loved the mark making and how it was exciting to follow its journey; space to form to object. That’s not what was actually exciting at all. Reading the story, how the words and images were so in tune, was exciting. How all of it just wanted to tell this story, in fact the story itself, that’s what mattered.

Another slight digression, but I want to be a bit clearer here, when I’m talking about words and images being in tune, I’m not talking action to word matching, but rhythm and style. No words rhyme, they’re not epic couplets, yet it has that ‘rhyming’ rhythm one associates with poetry. Everything is told in these simple beats. Short clipped captions condense time to a feeling, a synopsis, to pack a punch. The same with time between and in the panels. You’re not getting a linear transcription of time passing here. You’re getting a succinct timeline carefully weighed up to deliver an emotional punch.

When I put the comic down I didn’t think about the art or the language. What I thought about was how sad it all was and kept thinking about that. About how differences can, in the end, tear us all down, keep us all apart. That’s what’s stayed with me. Just that crushing sense of emotion, of promise failed. It’s maybe a mirror of my mood, maybe a door into my feelings, maybe just melodrama on my part. But it’s there. That sense of being broken hearted, of seeing a story that’s an oblique observation of actual life and people; not just structure, characters and plot. A tale telling us what it feels like being broken and let down by life and how you can snatch a gift from that. That may be the message of the story, but it’s not how I felt afterwards, I felt like the world had let me and these people down by not having space for them to be together and it made me sad.

The Short List – Zeno Carta

Disclosure – I am currently working with Zeno Carta on an anthology planned to release in June.

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ZL – Your work is, so far, all black and white linework, would you like to see your work coloured?

ZC – I’ve been focusing for now on the rhythm of black and white because, while colour can do a lot, it can also easily overwhelm. Black and white is all most comics need to do their work, and I find that, when done well, black and white is actually clearer and more appealing. It’s hard to match good black and white design for pure impact.

That said, my most recent comic as of writing, “Warehouse (nsfw)” uses limited colour to do what black and white can’t.

C-SeriesRev.0.978Warehouse_zenocarta_p10detail
C-Series – Rev.0.978 – Warehouse – detail – page 10

I think that many comics treat colour almost like an afterthought, but colour has its own rhythms to consider–otherwise you lose the focus that black and white line art often has on its own. At the very least you need to know the colour wheel and basic pleasing palettes like dual and split complimentary.

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

ZC – No idea when I first liked something, but the comics I read as a kid were mostly Tintin and Peanuts. I pretty much believe that Herge and Schulz can teach you most of what you need to know about comics, before learning on your own. Learning comics is mostly practice–more of a craft than book-learning–but Tintin and Peanuts make a pretty good foundation.

Going back to those comics now, I think you can still see a sort of spark that explains why everyone knows them. I mean, it’s no fluke that they’re still popular, while the vast majority of comics never make it out of the basement. They have something to say, but know how to say it in a way that feels like a real experience.

ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world what would you create and where or how would you send it into the world?

ZC – Given unlimited time and resources and time, I’m sure I would start a whole bunch of crazy projects and never finish any of them. There’s far more creativity in restriction and discipline than there is in unlimited resources.

Restriction, both in time and money (and even in skill) forces you to think of new ways of doing things. If you’ve got to draw a page that’s supposed to be an intricate city scene but you’ve only got a few hours left, you’re going to have to figure out some different way of doing things that might actually end up being better from a design or story perspective, while still taking less time. In other words, restriction forces you to experiment.

This isn’t an excuse for laziness in comics, but rather what I mean is that, when given unlimited freedom, there’s nothing to spur you to change bad habits and discover new ways of doing things. (This the is the reason I tend to stick to a grid. I’ve got to box myself in or else I lose all sense.)

mkVI-3_DefaultMode_zenocarta_p04
MKVI-3 – Default Mode – page 4

ZL – I’m new to your work but have dug through your website and really love what I see. How long have you been drawing comics and what was the impetus to start putting them online?

ZC – I made comics as a kid but only came back recently. Right now I’m just sort of seeing what people might be interested in.

Or in more modern terms: In order to reach #success you must #motivate and #extricate your thoughts #fromdepressiontoinvention to #testthemarket and #findyourself today in this web of internet tubes that create a mirror on our life and demand our attention at every moment but take us even farther from the nature which would make us #happy, which is why you could do with a monthly #successquotes postcard (from my Patreon) with a custom sketch to help you out of the trap.

ZL – What is the most important influence on your current work?

ZC – Impossible to pick one. Some prominent influences recently would include 40s noir films, Mike Mignola, W.T. Frick, and vaporwave. There are ideas everywhere if you’re a curious sort.

I really liked those “influence maps” from a few years ago (basically ancient in internet time) because they revealed how far away influences can be even for people who have stuck with a similar style their whole career.

Or in other words, once when I was a teenager I was out in an old flat-bottomed aluminum boat. The water was really low that year, and a shoal that had never been a problem before suddenly looked way too close to the surface. I was still running fine, but instead of skimming the surface I decided to slow down. The boat lowered just enough that the propeller crunched where it shouldn’t, which snapped the shearing pins. And being the idiot I was at 15, I hadn’t replaced the spare shearing pins after tangling with some lily pads in a marsh the previous fall. I had to prop the motor and paddle a mile home, meaning that when I got there I had to eat moose instead of venison.

The Short List – Gareth Hopkins (@grthink)

Disclosure – I have worked with Gareth on a contributor’s copy only zine before and am currently working with him on an anthology planned to release in June.

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Petrichor         preview it      buy it        listen to Gareth talk about it

 

ZL –  I believe you started out drawing for fashion zines before moving on to drawing comic zines. Why the move to comic zines?

GH – I wasn’t doing fashion zines, but rather fashion illustration for Amelia’s Magazine. I’d already started working on The Intercorstal – I’d done 30 or so pages, I think? – but was looking for new challenges, and Amelia’s Magazine was a great place to do fashion and editorial illustrations. There’d be a call out from either Amelia herself or one of the writers, and you’d either get some reference or a list of things to Google, then given a day or so to come up with an image. It was a challenge at the time because I was always trying to do comicsy art, which sometimes worked really well (like when I did some illustrations of Tony & Guy which were very heavily trying to be Indigo Prime)

Toni-Guy-SS12-tall2-by-Gareth-A-Hopkins
Toni & Guy illustration by Gareth for Amelia’s Magazine

but sometimes went against the grain of what the magazine’s aesthetic. Not a lot directly came out of working with Amelia’s (some people were able to make the jump to commercial illustration jobs), but I got some hard lessons in prepping artwork for print (I was in the Compendium Of Fashion Illustration, but had never used CMYK before), made some great friends, and got really comfortable with working quickly.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

GH – I don’t really remember it but… there’s one panel from Revere, (by John Smith and Simon Harrison, appeared in 2000AD in the 90s) that sat in the back of my brain for years and years. It was the silhouette of a hand against the static of a TV, and the main character was trying to do some kind of magic spell using the static as a portal.

revere written in water crop
Revere Written by John Smith Art by Simon Harrison Published in 2000AD

In my brain it took up half a page, but when I re-read the comic 20-odd years later it was a tiny, incidental panel. There was just something about it that my brain glommed onto.

 

ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, what would be the project you’d make to be remembered by?

GH – So much of my work is the result of constraints – time, space, materials – that I don’t know what I’d do with unlimited resources. I’d definitely go large, make some kind of immersive environment, like MeowWolf, and I’d also like to make it collaborative somehow… but I don’t know if it would be memorable? Also… in general I think ‘Complete Creative Freedom’ makes people lazy. I can’t think of any situation where someone was given complete creative freedom where their art was better than when there were limits imposed — limits of budget, or content, or scale. Really good art, as far as I can tell (and I stand to be corrected) is always pushing against something.

 

ZL – You have quite a long history in the small press/ zine scene now, with a history of style shifts as well. Is there a style you’ve left behind that you feel revisiting would reap interesting rewards?

GH – Well, I’d sort of left behind the old ‘Intercorstal style’, which was very tight and careful, during ‘Found Forest Floor‘ which was very impulsive and loose, but made an intentional return to it when I worked on The Intercorstal: Extension. For anyone unfamiliar with how I made it, I’d done a project called ‘The Intercorstal 2’ 

which involved abstracting existing comics (by other artists that I liked) and also doing my own pages to the same format and dimensions. I’d been selling the results of that as a zine, but one time when I printed it out got the settings wrong and instead printed each A5 page in the middle of an A4 sheet. I didn’t want to waste the paper, so I decided to carry on the pages by filling out the space to either side of that, literally having to re-learn the styles and techniques I’d been using previously. There are some styles I can’t return to though… ‘Too Dry To Rot’ was originally intended as a return to the first Intercorstal pages that I’d done, but has since become a total rejection of them.

 

ZL – You have a graphic novel, Petrichor, out with Good Comics.  What image from this work would you choose to have tattooed on your back?

GH -I don’t know if there are any images from it that are defined enough to become tattoos. They’re so abstract that they’re more… audio than visual? Like, they give a sense of feeling, rather than being something identifiable to ‘read’ (which isn’t the same for many of my other comics, I should point out, where I’ve carefully constructed the images to work visually).

Petrichor page
Petrichor page

 

 

If I was going to get anything from Petrichor tattooed it’d be one of the repeating phrases, of which there’s a few to choose from. If it was to be tattooed somewhere where I’d see it, like on a forearm, I might go with ‘Vent Axia’…. but if it’s on my back it’s more for other people’s benefit, so I’d go with ‘It’s Easy To Forget How Many Times You’ve Fallen In Love’.

 

 

 

 

Intercorstal: Extension Review

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The Short List – Mattias Gunnarrson

Disclosure – I should let you all know that I have worked with Mattias on a contributor copy only zine.

MASU sculpture project, Traces of Movement
MASU sculpture project Halmstad, Sweden Spring 2018 Traces of Movement

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ZL – You are an artist often working with groups or on large public pieces – what place do zines have in your work?

MG – Zines and self-published work have its own platform in my practice, and then it plays different roles in different projects. For example, there is one solo track where I draw by myself and collect the drawings on a blog (visual notes) where a constantly changing narrative occurs, one that I can look at for a better understanding of how I am working and what topics or methods interest me at the moment. These drawings are turned in to a type of random collage zines every three months or so like an archive of my drawing work. Another type of zine is the series ”MASU Works” that I do together with my colleague Susanne when we collaborate as MASU and do larger scale sculpture work both in urban public space and as Land Art in the forest.

MASU Works 5

We use MASU Works to collect sketches, try out new types of methods, document projects as well as invite writers or produce exhibition catalogues. MW has an open format, with no specific logo, size, design or purpose but is rather elastic in its framework for whatever is the content. MW is both an ongoing process for us,an artist collective and a way for us to distribute and share our work and we make issues when we have projects.

Besides this I am also part of a few different situations where self-publishing is involved where either zines are produced, traded or lectured about as well as collected, archived and discussed.

So, to conclude your question I think self-publishing is constantly present in my practice in different formats.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time ?

MG – There are probably many of those moments that I have forgotten, but I think the one moment in recent years that took my breath away was the work of Tadashi Kawamata at Centre de Pompidou in Paris 2010. The actual exhibited pieces, a couple of loosely constructed huts or sheds that hung outside on the building facade, were of course great but what really got me was an image in a book from an older project: Apartment project “Tetra House N-3 W-26” 1983 Intervention in situ. In this project old wooden planks flow around the small house like the wind, almost encapsulating the building. The movement in the wood in relation to the solidness of the house is mindblowing.

Kawamata’s early projects really opened things up for me.

 

ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, what would be the project you’d make to be remembered by?

MG – Oh. It would be a project dealing with education.

I really like the Skateistan-project (www.skateistan.org) which started as a support structure for young girls in Afghanistan where they could go and learn how to skateboard, and once in the spot there was also education and an empowering environment. The project has branched out to more locations, also including boys.

Education for next generation global citizens is key.

So, if I had the means I would do projects like this in a bigger scale than I do now.

 

ZL – You work at a university that seems to have an amazing zine library, if you could suddenly find any one zine, what would be that treasure?

Organisation Is Not Neutral
Organisation Is Not Neutral Published January 2018

MG – 🙂 I am not sure about amazing yet, we are still very much setting it up, with just over 300 titles so far, but let’s hope we get there.

It is a difficult question, about the one great great treasure. I think for me it is mostly about the variety and the differences of the archive, that it holds  both writing and photo essays, screen printed zines and copy machined work, drawings, paintings, collages and poetry from professionals, students and kids. Of course it would be amazing with early works by Basquiat or Patty Smith, but still I believe that the zine world is not so much about stars and collectibles and rather about the possibility to get voices out and bypass the marketplace. So, I think the real gems in a zine collection are the ones where someone just could not resist telling the story, where it just had to be told.

 

ZL – Which one creator you love seeing do you feel the world knows too little about, and what would you like to tell us about them?

As I said before, Tadashi Kawamata is my always go-to artist. His way of working with materials, people and the space is extraordinary. Even though he is now realizing some real grand projects, I feel mostly connected to his smaller scale projects where there is such tactile connection between the different components. Also his drawings and models for the projects are incredible!

 

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Previous Interview – The Short List – mir.and.or

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – mir.and.or

Disclosure – I should let you all know that I have worked with mir.and.or on a contributor copy only zine and am currently working with mir.and.or on a project currently slated to publish in June.

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ZL – Why and when did you start making comics?

M – I have always wanted to make comics from a young age, originally just because of the aesthetic of traditional comics, the colours and line-art which I always loved. I also always found comics a very impressive art form as well, one that took a lot of time, effort and skill but wasn’t as self-indulgent as other illustrative professions. However I never actually made any sequential pieces until my third year of uni, before then I think I was a little scared that I might ruin the thing I admired the most, if I wasn’t good enough.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

M – In terms of comics I guess the one that stands out the most for me was Victor Moscoso’s super psychy comics from Zap. When I was 15 or so I used to be obsessed with psychedelic rock posters and I think someone at some point told me he did comics as Victor Moscosowell and I was just mind blown because I didn’t know comics like that even existed. But it definitely just felt a lot more natural to me than the narrative based comics I had been reading.

 

ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, what would be the project you’d make to be remembered by?

M – I think I’d really like to do a collaborative audio-visual comic with a band or musician which visualises a full album. I’d love to just do something really experimental with sound and perhaps even try out some kind of live events/exhibitions.

Hurricane page 1

ZL – You’ve featured in a number of anthologies that I know of, including Heavy Metal, do you have plans for any long form work??

M – There are quite a few stories I want to tell from my childhood which could translate into a series, but I think at this point I am still looking for the right way to visualise them. I don’t think I could really be happy with illustrating them in any traditional or representational way. I am working on finding an angle that allows me to show a really emotional side of being stuck in your own head as a kid and is less bothered by the events or characters in the stories.

Briz de Mar Page 7

 

ZL – What is the most important influence on your current work?

M – I’m usually influenced by a lot of different types of things, not necessarily comics or art. At the moment I really just like looking at textures, in particular within fashion. Just finding interesting fabrics and surfaces and looking at how they move. Then kind of thinking about what kind of feeling or emotion that texture has and from that I find a story. Which I guess is what designing for fashion is all about, although I don’t know too much about it.

 

 

Previous interview – The Short List – Shuffleplay comics

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

Intercorstal: Extension Review

Petrichor

Gareth’s new book, released by Good Comics – go check out the preview or buy it at the following links:

Petrichor Cover
Gareth Hopkins’ new book

Preview Petrichor                     Buy Petrichor               Listen to Gareth Talk About Petrichor

Intercorstal: Extension

I have a long history with Gareth Hopkins’ work, or so it feels anyway.  I was away a long time from looking at anything comics and Gareth’s were some of the first comic drawings I saw when I came back.  They stuck with me as they felt interesting and personal.  They are also the first abstract comics I’ve seen that felt like they had something to say, rather than something to do.

That’s quite an oblique description so let me explain more. Although these comics are abstract, they are not impersonal, not formal exercises.  There’s something in them that affects me, not just something I look at and think, well that’s interesting, then turn away because that’s all there is to engage with – ‘clever trick’ or ‘boring trick’.

However – until ‘Extension’ I’ve not read any of Gareth’s writing (in fact I think this may be the first comic published with Gareth’s own words. He’s recently had Petrichor published and I think that was written before Extension but published after).

I was surprised by how much emotion he evoked in this story. How evocative and captivating it was. In all honesty I never thought I’d get emotionally affected by any of this work, abstract comics essentially being a distancing concept. However, there is such a strength in this work, in the pacing of the words, the sequencing of the pages. It feels like poetry; epic, raw and deeply personal.

 

Intercorstal Extension close-up

He achieves an amazing range of pace and depth of meaning. To me, someone who easily glazes over when met by blank verse or stream of consciousness, I thought I’d pretty much delve into the images and skirt over the words. But I quickly found myself into the rhythm of the work, I could not believe how much life this had.  I was head nodding at the call backs and remixing in the text, it kept it fresh, giving a sense of cohesion, of purpose.

I was impressed by the general mood of the art – the density matched the mood of the text. I felt that the images belonged to the world of the words, even if they weren’t showing the same thing always. To make a weird analogy – it’s a piece of work similar to industrial music tracks – the images play a dark ambient music under the words that feel like a voice muttering dark and velvety.  Beautiful and painful like a Leonard Cohen song.

It’s the first times I’ve not found myself admiring Gareth’s design sense. I was too busy soaking in the atmosphere. The many, many moments where art and word weave emotively together. ‘When I wake up I’m going to absolutely’ big burst on the flip, bursting out of dream, a rupture of what they were trying to hold onto.  A drawing that, in the context of the other pages, could have stood out as quite light and cheesy, that instead lifted it up and hit home the sensation of a dream smashing on waking.

I soon found myself believing its rhythm, going along with it, persuaded I was reading rhyming verse where there was none. I felt like I’d been pulled along into a dance and now I understood its rhythm I could go with its steps. There was something in pithiness of the boxes that made it have that same bounce as rhyming couplets. None of it rhymed.  I’m not sure how much that was intentional, and how much intuitive (don’t call it luck – that’s a disservice to it), but it sucked me in to the story at that point.

It changed my appreciation from looking at the art, to feeling part of a moment.  It hit home with feeling. This was personal, someone secretly reaching out by hiding a human plea in a seemingly abstract (and so supposedly emotionless) piece of art. There is a point where the words suddenly, directly address, for me, the whole purpose of the piece, not in a meta sense, just directly, openly speaking a truth at the heart of the work. It was like someone suddenly swinging their down staring gaze to burrow into your soul whilst switching their mumble to a firebrand’s roar.

Intercorstal Extension Pages 15-16
An emotional turning point

To put it a clearer way – there’s a moment where it feels like you’re seeing the whole meaning of this swirling universe, the mists part and the path to the heart of it all is laid bare for you to follow.

The pages that followed are a beautiful synchronisation of text and image. Oddly they made me smile with relief and recognition, they felt like the first moment of human warmth, even though they’re filled with frailty and fear.  That happiness is a sort of prelude to deeper, fearful emotions to connect to. Some say just before you die, you suddenly get a second breath and that’s what his moment feels like, that last smile before the rattling breath brings the fear home.  A good and affecting end.

Previous Review – Barking by Lucy Sullivan

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019