zine library! zineopolis

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with a whole online collection of zines available to look through, this is an exciting online journey as well as being a physical resource in the University of Portsmouth

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Check out the work of Jackie Batey, one of the curators, on twitter

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zine library! Fanzineteca / Uzinefanzine

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A list of all the zines in their collection with a little precis for each one.

There’s also a physical exhibition on at the moment at the Casa das Artes Bissaya Barreto.

This is a typical entry and an interesting sounding zine

MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2021

Brevary

A “road zine” by Bruno Pires. Beautiful typewritten texts reminiscent of the fanzines of the 80s and 90s, accompanied by excellent photographs. Brevário could also be a “perzine”, that is, a personal zine, where the author put some pieces of his experiences.

A very beautiful fanzine in an edition of just 50 copies. A pleasant surprise for a “first” fanzine. We want more …

This one also has a lovely little write up

This is the most recent and is one I’ve read and enjoyed myself, I can recommend Peter Bangs zines.

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Reviewer Revue – Nicholas Burman

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Header art by Sander Ettema

ZL – Hi, thanx for agreeing to talk to us!

NB – No worries at all. Though I’m more used to asking the questions, so this is definitely an odd experience. I wrote much of this before reading Ryan Carey’s interview you’ve already posted. If people want less rambling – or more concrete – ideas, I’d say definitely go to your chat with him.

ZL – Hah, I’m sure you’re equally as cogent!
Let’s start with a bit of an introduction, can you tell us your name, where you live and on what site(s) and how long you have been reviewing?

NB – I’m Nick, from the UK and currently living in Spain. I’ve been writing about comics since about 2018-19, although I did do some zines in my teens which featured comics on the back cover (not by me, but by some very generous folk who were self publishing around that time). I actually write about arts and culture more broadly for a range of places, though about comics specifically I contribute to The Comics Journal and SOLRAD on a relatively regular basis.

When relevant, I also write about comics for The Quietus. Additionally, I’ve done some work on comics in the academic sphere. I was a student assistant for a comics conference in Amsterdam in 2018, had an article about Martin Vaughn James’s The Cage published by the FRAME Journal of Literary Studies and have also contributed two definitions to the forthcoming Key Terms in Comics Studies, published by Palgrave this autumn and edited by three great comics scholars: Erin La Cour, Simon Grennan and Rik Spanjers.

ZL – When and where did you publish your first review?

NB – I believe that my first published review was of Sander Ettema’s Friends in Many Places for Daniel Elkin’s old Your Chicken Enemy site. I’ve discussed Ettema’s work in a couple of contexts now and brought him on board to do the art for a magazine I recently published Focus. When I say “brought on board”, I mean he very kindly offered his time and attention and talent and risograph skills to make the cover better than I’d wished for. I massively appreciate the time and energy he spent on that. I really like the themes of isolation and bodily confusion that crop up in his strange character designs and impressionistic, wild worlds. Was great to have that review up, also because it was my first interaction with Elkin, who is now my editor at SOLRAD. Elkin is someone I enjoy getting feedback from, he always tightens up my pieces. Nothing is more valuable to a writer than a considerate and precise editor.

ZL – Now, I’m always pleased and surprised to hear anyone say this in small press circles! There’s generally an idea that floats around in small press and self publishing that editors are the enemy of good work. So, do you consider that as something that matches your opinion of what you want to read or are there times where you’re sat there thinking ‘Argh, if only someone could have spoken to them about … this would be better/achieve more?’ and has publishing something yourself changed or made you double down on that opinion?

NB – I guess there’s a difference with artistic work and non-fiction writing. They serve very different purposes. The main point of nonfiction writing is to make a point of fact or opinion very clear and – usually – persuasive. Artistic work in the broadest sense doesn’t have this as a limitation. I guess it’s hard for an editor to always edit with the artist’s intent in mind? But for everything and everybody, as far as my experience tells me feedback from knowledgeable people is always beneficial. In terms of written work, I think it’s usually obvious when writers haven’t had an editor or put their work through a self-editing process.

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott Zoe Thorogood

Whether I double down on an opinion or not depends, I hope, on the strength of an argument. A perhaps relevant case in point: I reviewed Zoe Thorogood’s recent book for TCJ, one of its themes is disability, specifically blindness. One of my points was that I read this as a metaphor rather than something aiming to be documentary or real life-inspired, and I subsequently found this “theme” underdeveloped. A later review in SOLRAD, by a writer who I understand to have lived experience with disability, which I don’t, countered my point and said that the fact that the way blindness is dealt with in the book is much closer to how people with disabilities experience them, i.e.  it’s not their one defining factor; or shouldn’t be, of course. Not much to do with editing, but I definitely learnt a bit about “how I read” from that interaction.

One (by which I mean me) needs to learn to take constructive criticism and feedback, even if it’s not directed directly at you – otherwise you risk becoming like Frank Miller’s online fanbase.

ZL – What kind of work do you review and what would you say are your two or three biggest comfort spots for work when reviewing?

NB – I guess a speciality of mine is reviewing indie European work for American platforms.

Mostly, I review work if it’s an artist I think deserves some attention or if there’s something in there that I think can be teased out and that will make for an interesting piece. I really subscribe to the idea that a review (of anything!) should be interesting in and of itself. Perhaps because of my recent schooling, during reviews I tend to veer off to theories or wider social contexts or concerns that I think a work is interacting with – or part of. I’m not an artist, and I’m not sure if artists would like my reviews. Primarily, I am a reader, and my writing about stuff is a way to engage in the discourse with other readers about the times we’re living in and how the art that is being made and surrounds us corresponds with these realities. My big hope would be that good writing about comics brings more people into the fold without gentrifying it. That’s also why I’m very keen to do long form reviews of zines and other non mainstream formats, and also fill up my end of year selections with zines and bilingual anthologies and what not.

ZL – Very interesting, but I’m not sure I’d agree.

As someone that’s done some reviewing and someone who’s had reviews of his own work, I have to say that I think reviews of the kind of work Solrad is covering definitely matter to the creators, it’s often the only time they’ll get any kind of engagement and feedback on what they’re doing.

Certainly your review of the second season of Colossive Cartography that included my own zine made me assured that I’d communicated exactly what I wanted to communicate and in the way I’d hoped to. For something that’s never going to sell lots and make me rich, it’s gratifying to know that the effort mattered and that the work was understood.

I’ve also similarly received feedback on some of the reviews that I’ve done and people are always grateful to see someone reading out of them what they have put in, if that makes sense.

NB – That’s very nice for you to say, and I’ve definitely experienced other artists liking when I’ve said positive things about their stuff, and even when I’ve offered light criticism. I definitely don’t want to sound dismissive or rude. For me it’s about finding a balance between not wanting to write for artists (being a brown nose) and also not feeling arrogant enough to think I have anything to offer artists, because I don’t! At most I only have skills other writers may find useful. That’s why I centre the reading community in my thought process. If I ever get round to making a zine or comic in the future, I guess that would change and those worlds would start getting more fused.

ZL – Just to go back to your first statement, because my knowledge of interesting European creators is pretty poor, what countries/scenes do you see as being vital and interesting in Europe at the moment, as a critic that is. By which I mean, critics of the avant garde are often there to search out work that’s trying new things or doing old things in original ways maybe and I wonder if there are any scenes or countries where you can feel the shock of the new more than others right now?

NB – There’s way too much! One thing with Europe is the language barriers. This makes selling across borders difficult, and thus an artist’s market is limited to their domestic one. Apart from France and Belgium, I don’t think there’s many, if any, other EU countries which take comics very seriously, or where they’re seen as something normal to read. 

Spain of course has a really fascinating and diverse scene. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the only European country to have a country-specific anthology out in English: Spanish Fever. However, that book is actually a bit unrepresentative. For one thing, it misses out the tradition of gross-out, sexed up comix from Spain that started under and boomed immediately after the Franco regime. There’s also a huge amount of vocally feminist and queer theory inspired female and LGBTQ+ artists coming up these days as well. If you want to dip into as many contemporary Spanish artists at once, I’d recommend getting hold of copies of Genie Espinosa’s Raras, Tmeo, Fracaso Total and Auto Bulling.

I’ll also draw some attention to some work from my previous home, the Netherlands. Kutlul is a Rotterdam-Berlin comix anthology zine well worth everyone’s time. Aline is a large format, glossy art-comics anthology. It has featured headline contributors such as Wasco and Typex and also a bunch of emerging Dutch talent. Exciting.

Scandinavia always has loads going on, too. I guess a lot of people are already aware of Tommi Musturi’s ongoing Future series. I recently got my hands on the latest copy of RADBRÆKKET, haven’t dug into it yet but looks really promising, despite the language barrier.

There’s books from across Europe which I wish were available in English. One of them is Ugo Bienvenu’s Préférence Système,

another is Kraut by Peter Pontiac. Nazario’s Anarcoma was available in the 1980s in English but that edition is near impossible to find outside of the US I think.

If anyone has any leads to a copy of that, hit me up. Funnily enough, a lot of these are available in Spanish, French, Dutch, German, whatever, but not English. I think the UK’s metaphorical distance from the continent’s cultural influence has a lot to do with that.

There’s a few EU based publishers putting out translated work. Europe Comics are probably the biggest, although their typical style isn’t my thing. Centrala has really gained pace recently, they have some exciting things coming out in various languages. I think they split their time between translating into Polish and English.

This answer could be as long as a book. To keep it short I’ll finish by shouting out Stripburger, a crazy affordable comics magazine and a stalwart of the Eastern European scene.

ZL – Describe your approach to a review. 

NB – I do try and summarise a plot without including spoilers. Though it is hard to properly analyse something if you can’t fully delve into the conclusion. In the most part I’m interested in a work’s effect and context. One can definitely negatively criticise something while liking it. You can also just totally rip work apart if it deserves it, or if a negative voice on a particular artist or book deserves to be heard. In the main, however, I’m not too interested in “I like this” or “I don’t like this” criticism. So what? Tell me what’s going on with the thing, and why.

ZL – What would you say are the key things a creator should do or think about when asking for reviews of their work?

NB – One issue with comics is that because the scene is so small it’s hard to have distance with work and artists. I’ve rarely been assigned things to read; it’s almost always been me pitching, and that creates a weird relationship with the work if I’m having to get hold of it beforehand. From bigger publishers it’s fine because you’re dealing with PR people, for smaller things I purchase them if they look interesting and then I’ll sometimes reach out to an artist if I’ve really liked what they’ve done or if our paths cross serendipitously. One reason for this approach is because I don’t expect small press and indie artists to send me stuff for free. I know covering the costs of this sort of thing is a struggle and as I said before, I’m primarily a reader, and being a fan of the medium means that I think I should financially support artists when I can buy giving them some of my money sometimes. This approach also means that I don’t actually review stuff too often because my budget and space for comics is perennially limited.

Do feel free to get in touch with editors at sites from Broken Frontier or TCJ or SOLRAD, et al. They might distribute your work to someone relevant, or include it in a summary review column. Asking to have a snippet of your work “premiered” on such sites is a good way to go. Unless you’re talking about getting coverage in The Guardian or the New Yorker, I’m a bit suspicious of the idea that it’s that important or necessary to get your work reviewed – certainly so if you’re interested in material gains (this also relates to what we’ve already discussed in terms of the point of getting reviewed). (My hunch is that it’s more important to the audience than to the artists. The reviews I see getting the most traction are of works from artists who already have profiles. Although for sure reviews can give you some cultural capital.) Having said that, I do know one guy who makes mini zines who sold a handful after I briefly reviewed his work in the Quietus one time.


It’s a tricky subject. My thoughts right now are: just let whatever you’re doing grow organically. If someone like me wants to review your work, then great, hopefully they say something nice about it. 

It seems to me that sending work to other artists is a more useful way to spend your time and money. Comics is dominated by its practitioners.

Send it to stores which stock work similar to yours, or of artists which you really like. Nothing has been more important in my discovery of artists than the stores I have visited.  I should also mention comics fairs and conventions, so there it is.

If I was writing for more mainstream publications I would probably have more useful things to say about this. Probably because of my own work situation and my developing politics, I find the hustler mentality increasingly depraved. Cultivate community rather than irregular spotlights, it’ll do you better in the long term, I think. I think that’s what the Fieldmouse Press project is about, and essentially what Fantagraphics/Comics Journal did through the ‘80s. It’s a good tactic.

ZL – I think that’s all interesting, particularly the idea of sharing work with other artists. I know in some of the groups I hang around on, since the pandemic hit there’s been increased talk about the 80’s and 90’s and how mini-comix makers used to share work with each other. I know I’m certainly obsessed with the idea of doing something close to an old fashioned APA (if you don’t know what that is, it stands for Amatuer Press Association and basically it was a group of people who all regularly produced work to a subject and schedule and there was a central mailer that collated work from all contributors every month or quarter and then sent out a publication collecting all of those submissions.) I’ve seen a number of such groups spring up doing similar things. Which is a bit off target to what I’m going to ask next, but I think relevant nonetheless. I don’t know enough of your past to know whether Focus is your first move into publishing, but I was wondering whether you see that as an extension of creating that community you talk about and of your own critical work?

NB – Focus indeed came out of this sort of mentality, although was born out of me realising that lots of people were working around the same topic as me (‘sound’), and during the first quarantine I had the time and the money to put something together. As I mentioned, I did zines (music fanzines) back in my teens. Since then I’ve been involved in various projects, some paper based but mostly digital, as a contributor and/or editor. One reason Focus happened was because I really wanted to do a print project again. I’m going to try to publish something again in the future, though it’ll definitely be small format. Posting A4 stuff gets pricey.

How this feeds into my work or thinking etc. is a bit vague to me; right now it’s all one big soup of activity. If you’ll allow me to get theoretical for a minute: there’s an article by Anna Poletti on Arts Everywhere that’s part of a series about the “polity of literature” Six Contracting Theses on Literature in the Polity of Literature. That and the other articles in the series which I’ve read do really interesting thought work in terms of drawing out what exactly community in terms of literature means (in this case, literature can refer to anything that can be ‘read’ in the broadest sense of that term). And also the political potential of such groups/communities. 

I think the fact that we’re constantly labouring and being exploited by the digital platforms we habitually use is something that we’re starting to collectively understand. But this is very hard to recognise when you’re on them, and this awareness is always pushed to some space in our consciousness that we don’t often pay attention to by the exact platforms that we use, in the way in which they manufacture consent for their own existence and ways of functioning. There is no such relationship with paper. In a recent interview, Adam Curtis was talking about how the internet has failed to liberate us because the algorithms which currently organise it as a social space constantly push us to nostalgia, and acting only through the prism of things that have already happened. I hesitatingly make the suggestion that paper is a space in which we are still able to imagine futures which are different from the past. 

I’m now thinking about the Colossive Cartographies project which you contributed to. There are far more ways to present or reimagine the world in that very simple use of paper (not forgetting it is far less surveilled) than is available to a majority of people using the internet in the present moment.

ZL – Can you tell us about the review you’re most proud of and why that is?

NB – Overall, I’m pretty happy with my work for SOLRAD. Am also very thankful they keep inviting me back. I’m still quite chuffed with my review of Yoshiharu Tsuge’s The Man Without Talent. It was such a great book and it was a pleasure to write about it. I hope my review captured the spirit of Tsuge’s work. Not that it needed much encouragement, everyone was all over it last year regardless of what I had to say about it.  

ZL – Lastly, can you tell us where to find your reviews please!

NB – Talking about being a hustler… You can find my portfolio (!) over on my site: https://nicholascburman.com/. I also have a newsletter you can sign up to where I talk about newly published writings of mine, comics oriented and otherwise. Initially it was a bimonthly thing, although right now it’s a little more regular, about one every 1-1.5 months. 

ZL – Thanx so much for your time!

NB – And thank you!

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zine library! Salford Zine Library

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Reviewer Revue – Ryan Carey (Four Color Apocalypse and Solrad)

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ZL – Hi, thanx for agreeing to talk to us!

RC -My pleasure, thank you for the invite!

ZL – Let’s start with a bit of an introduction, can you tell us your name, where you live and what site(s) we can find you on and how long you have been reviewing?

RC – My name’s Ryan Carey, I’m from Minneapolis, and I’ve been cranking out reviews for about a decade now, first doing primarily grindhouse and low-budget movies, and gradually transitioning into reviewing more and more comics and art ‘zines as time went on. These days I’m more or less done with the film review game, although a lot of my stuff is still up at my old blog, Trash Film Guru, but my current ongoing concern, so to speak, is Four Color Apocalypse where I try to post two or three new reviews of things I find interesting every week, and I’m also one of the co-founders of comic arts non-profit Fieldmouse Press, where I both serve on the board and function as the “lead” critic of our website, Solrad, so you can find a new column from me on there every Friday, as well.

ZL – When and where did you publish your first review?

RC – I deleted my first review ages ago, and can no longer stand to look at my early stuff. I was a rank amateur and probably feel the same way about it that a cartoonist does about their early work. I was having fun putting my thoughts out into the world because I’m an opinionated bastard by nature, but at the time that’s ALL I really was. Today I flatter myself that I actually know what I’m talking about and am a better writer as a result, but hey — I’m sure there are plenty who would disagree with that assessment!

ZL – What kind of work do you review and what would you say are your two or three biggest comfort spots for work when reviewing?

RC – My favorite things to review are avant-garde and experimental comics, mainly of the self-published variety, that literally no one else reviews and that very few people are even aware of. I like to think that I’m helping good artists expand their reach and maybe even sell a few more books. I don’t know that I have any “comfort spots” — I prefer to read and review things that either make me actively UNcomfortable, or that at least force me to consider the ideas they are presenting, and the methodology they are using to present it WITH, in new and unconventional ways.

Mike Shea-Wright’s Beach

ZL – Describe your approach to a review. 

RC – I don’t really have an approach, I just start typing. Really. One thing I HATE both as a reader and as a writer are belabored plot recaps, I think they’re a total drag and don’t prove that you UNDERSTOOD anything, only that you read it, so I tend to focus more on what the IDEAS behind a work are and an artist’s methodology. Anyone can write a story synopsis, but it takes something approaching actual skill to let someone know why that story is worth their time and money. I also like to review a lot of non-narrative work, so the idea of a story recap in that context is a complete non-starter. So yeah, I guess I’m more about “pulling things apart” and examining whether or not an artist has achieved what I feel they set out to do.

ZL – What would you say are the key things a creator should do or think about when asking for reviews of their work?

RC – Look at the work of the critic you are reaching out to first and decide if they’re the person you really want to be writing about your stuff. I get that there are so many homemade works out there these days that many creators are hungry for any kind of attention they can muster up for theirs, but seriously — I get inundated with stuff in the mail that just isn’t in my wheelhouse at all, and while much of it is probably quite good for what it is, I’m just not the guy to be sending your super-hero or magical girl comics to. Just as there are comics for every taste these days, there are critics for every type of comic, so focus your outreach on critics that you KNOW love to read, and subsequently write about, the kind of stuff that you make. This is advice that applies to my situation specifically AND to everybody out there in general, creators and critics alike.

ZL – Can you tell us about the review you’re most proud of and why that is?

RC – I’m exceptionally proud of my review of Alex Graham’s Dog Biscuits because it’s a comic that tons of people read but that a lot of people also imposed their own agendas onto as it was serialized rather than allowing the work to speak for itself. I like to think I cut through the extraneous bullshit and noise and really analyzed what Graham was communicating with the story. But hey, judge for yourself.

ZL – Lastly, can you tell us where to find your reviews please!

RC – As mentioned earlier, my own blog is Four Color Apocalypse, and you can find a bunch of my stuff at Solrad. I also maintain a Patreon, which I update three times per week and you can join for as little as a buck a month, so help a guy out with a little beer money if you feel so inclined by going over there.

ZL – Thanx so much for your time!

RC – Thank you, this was fun!

zine library! Glasgow Zine Library

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Reviewer Revue – Nyx (Sea Green Zines)

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ZL – Hi, thanx for agreeing to talk to us!

Nyx – Hello! Thanks so much for inviting me to chat. 

ZL – Let’s start with a bit of an introduction, can you tell us your name, where you live and what site(s) and how long you have been reviewing? 

Nyx – I’m Nyx or Silver Nyx. I’m a zine reviewer living in regional Australia and have been reviewing for something like eight years now.  

ZL – When and where did you publish your first review?

Nyx – I started and have always published my reviews on SeaGreenZines.com – though I don’t think I even had the domain when I first got started. I actually looked back and found my very, very first reviews – which are a far cry from the structure I have now (haha). Zines! Glorious Zine (Reviews)! – Sea Green Zines I still remember being so happy and excited about the world of zines and absolutely loving that blogging provided a way to share those passions.  

ZL – What kind of work do you review and what would you say are your two or three biggest comfort spots for work when reviewing? 

Nyx – I pretty much review anything except perhaps heavy political or religious things… but I haven’t had anything like that come in yet. I try to approach everything with an open mind. My comfort zones are definitely perzines, mental health/illness zines, and gaming zines. Of course there is variety in each genre, but I feel like I resonate the most with those. 

ZL – Describe your approach to a review.  

Nyx – I think I started to touch on this with the previous answer in that I try to approach every zine I read with an open mind. There’s always something to learn, a perspective to understand (even if I don’t agree with it), a life experience I will have never otherwise known.  

Structurally, I try to give an impression of the physical and artistic qualities of a work and the ways it resonated with me. Obviously my tastes aren’t always going to match with other people, so I try to give not only my perspective of why it worked for me but also why it might work for others.  

I’m by no means any kind of professional or expert when it comes to zines or reviewing them. Sometimes I have one thousand words to share about a zine, and sometimes I only have ten. But if I’m excited about a zine, I’ll share those ten words just as passionately as I will share the one thousand. 

ZL – What would you say are the key things a creator should do or think about when asking for reviews of their work? 

Nyx – I have thought about writing a blog post on this particular subject a few times, but I always feel a little strange about writing how I’d like to receive something. That said, contacting me in advance isn’t a requirement by any means but is definitely appreciated. It gives me the chance to talk about things like my lacking knowledge regarding poetry or how long it might take for me to get to review a zine.  

Whether I’ve been contacted in advance or not, I greatly, greatly appreciate a note. If you look at my reviews, you can see that I like to have a title, creator name, and one or two links (be they social, websites, shop URLs, etc). When someone saves me time finding this information by either having it in their zine already or including it on a note, it’s so nice. I received one zine that came with a note that had all that information along with price, a synopsis, and other details. That blew me away. But I just as often receive zines with no note, no contacts in the zine, and no mention of having contacted me previously. I like a mystery as much as the next person, but… 

In general, I think it’s another case of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you received something for review, how would you like it? Would you like any additional information not included in the zine? Those sorts of things. 

ZL – Can you tell us about the review you’re most proud of and why that is? 

Nyx – Oh, that is a tough one! I’ve reviewed quite a few zines at this point. There have been so much that has made me laugh, made me cry… There are times I’ve told myself I really needed to calm down or I’d end up writing a zine-length review of a zine.  

I think, however, I will go with Pieces #13 on being a romantic asexual. Even though I’m not a romantic asexual, that particular zine opened up so much understanding of myself and my experiences thanks to Nichole sharing her experiences. I think that’s the review for me that felt the most raw… the most like I was sharing a part of myself and not simply reviewing a zine. 

Zine Review: Pieces #13 on being a romantic asexual  

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ZL – Lastly, can you tell us where to find your reviews please! 

Nyxwww.seagreenzines.com is the hub for pretty much everything I do – especially posting my zine reviews. If you’d like to check out the zines I have reviewed in the past, I have the handy dandy zine review index here: Zine Review Index – Sea Green Zines  

ZL – Thanx so much for your time! 

Nyx – Thank you for inviting me to chat. ❤ 

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zine library! Scarborough Zine Library

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Reviewer Revue – Warren E Elliott

ZL – Hi, thanks for agreeing to talk to us!

Let’s start with a bit of an introduction, can you tell us your name, where you live and what site(s) and how long you have been reviewing?

WEE – Hi! I’m Warren E. Elliott and I currently live in southeast Arizona near the Mexican border. I post my reviews to my Blog and to The Poopsheet Foundation. I’ve been reviewing zines and comics (and for a while music and movies) since late 1999.

ZL – When and where did you publish your first review?

WEE – Ah, the first review. In the winter of 1999 I was serving on active duty in the U.S. Army and deployed to Kosovo. While experiencing my first Balkan winter I responded to an online request for a reviewer for a zine called Muuna Takeena published out of Finland. I was bored during my downtime and just wanted something interesting to read. I agreed to review whatever was sent my way and the zine’s editor/publisher agreed to send me packages of zines and comics. It was a great relationship that continued for about a year. After I moved back to the states I continued to send reviews to Muuna Takeena and, with the editor’s blessing, I began posting reviews online too. 

Seeing my reviews published in Muuna Takeena was exciting and it allowed me to engage with readers. As I recall readers would write letters/emails to the editor commenting on each issue and several were regarding my reviews. It was nice to interact with people like that and encouraged me to keep reviewing things.

ZL – What kind of work do you review and what would you say are your two or three biggest comfort spots for work when reviewing?

WEE – I started out reviewing anything indie creators wanted to send my way, but for the past few years I’ve focused mostly on comics and comics related zines. I’m a comics creator and cartoonist myself, so pretty much anything related to comics or art will resonate with me. I really enjoy studying how others create. The page compositions, linework, design, it all grabs my attention. I sometimes take way too long to write a review because I’m so busy studying every line on every page. I can easily get lost in the details.

ZL – Describe your approach to a review. 

WEE – I read the comic/zine cover-to-cover. Then I go back and make notes on things like pacing, story telling, and art. I try to give an overall, brief description of what I’m reviewing. I’ll call out the things that impress me, but I won’t bring attention to things I don’t like. That’s not what I’m about. I want to promote what others are doing, not harp on their weaknesses.

ZL – What would you say are the key things a creator should do or think about when asking for reviews of their work?

WEE – For me, always provide ordering/contact information! I hate to receive something and not know how to tell others how to get it. Other than that I would say be patient. Most reviewers have other commitments in their lives so it may take a long time to get to your publication. If you really need a review fast, tell the reviewer.

ZL – Can you tell us about the review you’re most proud of and why that is?

WEE – Ha! I’ve been doing this for so long it’s hard to narrow favorites down. I’ve received feedback from creators thanking me for my reviews and telling me I’ve given them the encouragement they needed to keep going. That’s always a rewarding feeling and motivates me to keep reviewing. But the one review I’m most proud of is one from several years ago and it has nothing to do with what I wrote, but rather what I posted on my own website. It was a queer zine that had a drawing of a nude man’s torso revealing his penis. When I posted the cover image along with the review it seemed innocent enough to me. I mean males of just about every species have some sort of a penis, but at least one other person thought otherwise. 

This guy, who is still active in the small press comics scene, took to numerous message boards to spread lies about me and claim that I had set the small press back a decade by daring to post a zine cover with a penis on it! Although at the time I was pissed about the lies, now I can say I’m proud to have evoked such a reaction. 

ZL – Lastly, can you tell us where to find your reviews please!

You can find my reviews at:

Mini comics by Michael Neno

ZL – Thanks so much for your time!

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It’s mini zine March peeps

Hello – the wonderful Nyx started this 6 years ago and I really like it, so check it out! If you’re making mini-zines why not let her know or use the #minizinemarch tag on social media (or just follow it yourself to see what others are up to)

Mini zines are anything smaller than A5.

Here’s a short video explaining it all

She’ll also be posting a mini-zine review each day on her site

The first review is up here:

zine library! Denver Zine Library

(click on the images to follow the links)

webstore

twitter

all contents copyright their respective owners

zine library! Sherwood Forest Zine Library

(click on the images to follow the links)

website

online zine library

twitter

instagram

facebook

all content copyright its respective owner

A funny thing happened along the way

Here’s a thing that I often find happens to me on social media.

I followed a little rabbit hole on facebook and found some treasure at the end.
You know it gives you those friend suggestions every so often? Well, there was one with this visual that caught my eye (that there header right above) and I thought I’d take a looksee as I was bored. I realised straight away that the account wasn’t the artist, so I messaged them and asked who was.

They got back to me and now I have this cool little story I got to read and this amazing artist to follow and a lovely little interaction with a lovely human being (well, one who was lovely to me anyway) so YAY internets and social media!

Check ’em out

Julia Round (check out tweets on @hypnojoo) kindly messaged me a link to a copy of the comic story the image came from (it’s the introduction to her book Gothic for Girls about Misty and British Comics (if you scroll down, there’s a downloadable pdf excerpt that includes the strip I’m talking about).

The artist is Letty Wilson (check out tweets on @toadlett) and their art is so cool 
see

Image

So, you know what, just reach out sometimes and good things can be found!

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Thought Bubble recommendations – it’s still live so you can still use it!!

Thought Bubble 2020 Con is still live

Check out 20 of our favourite creators from the show

Been trawling through and picked out 20 rec from the STILL LIVE @ThoughtBubbleUK
with @douglasnoble @wineandzine @WeAreHappyClam @AveryHillPubl @chip_collective @GustaffoVargas @neilslorance @AndreIllustrate @johannaost @peonygent @seanazz @hotelfred @steveningramart @Ze_Burnay Sajan Rai @WIP_Comics @katchapman Idiot Corpse @julesscheele @russell_m_olson

Douglas Noble (and collaborators!) – @douglasnoble

Wine and Zine@wineandzine

Happy Clam@WeAreHappyClam

Avery Hill@AveryHillPubl

Chip Collective@chip_collective

Gustaffo Vargas@GustaffoVargas

Neil Slorance (and collaborators) – @neilslorance

Andre Caetano@AndreIllustrate

Johanna Ost@johannaost

Peony Gent@peonygent

Phatcomics (Sean Azzopardi)@seanazz

Roger Langridge@hotelfred

Steven Ingram@steveningramart

Ze Burnay@Ze_Burnay

Sajan Raioh_hai_ku

WIP Comics@WIP_Comics

Katriona Chapman@katchapman

Breakwater Katriona Chapman

Idiot Corpse@idiotcorpse

Jules Scheele@julesscheele

Russell Mark Olson@russell_m_olson

comix economix – an interview with Avery Hill’s Ricky Miller

I think the true nature of what makes Avery Hill a truly worthy publisher comes not from the work that they publish, but from the approach that they take.

It seems to me that the two most important things to be taken from this whole interview would be these comments, “..we had a responsibility to sell as many books as possible and make some money for the creators…” and “…we put a massive amount of our time into the company and don’t take any money for that…”

It’s that approach to creator first commerce that I admire. It seems to pervade their whole ethos and, I think, informs much of their editorial aesthetic as well – people first. At the heart of what they do is the belief that people matter and so should be shown respect.

Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure Steven Tillotson

ZL – Hi and thanx for agreeing to this interview!

Having looked around, you seem to have entered your 15th year as a publishing company and it seems like a terrible year to be in business, especially the business of comics. It made me think though, did you believe you’d last 15 years when you started, do you feel like you’ve accomplished more than you ever thought you could?

RM – It’s actually 8 years that we’ve been an LTD and a couple of years of making zines before that.

I think when we started, we probably saw it going a few years and our major aim was to have a nice row of a few books on our shelf which wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for us.

I Love This Part Tillie Walden

To some extent that’s still the philosophy of what we do, although as we’ve taken on more overheads, we’ve had to make a few more decisions based on business reasons rather than other reasons. We didn’t have any idea that one day we’d be doing print runs in the thousands rather than in the tens and that we’d actually have books winning awards! The day that Tillie (Walden) got nominated for an Eisner for I Love This Part is still one of the most mind-blowing things to have happened.

ZL – I don’t know if you want to, but that sentence ‘…although as we’ve taken on more overheads, we’ve had to make a few more decisions based on business reasons rather than other reasons. ‘, really cries out for unpacking a bit! 

It’s very open to interpretation and I’d love to dig out some detail. 

A Projection Seekan Hui

With comic companies so often being so negative, I’d normally be inclined to read that as, ‘we’ve started screwing creators and shipping production out to the cheapest printer we can find’. However, in my experience, creators seem incredibly positive about working with you, both in terms of the value you add to their work and your treatment of their works as published. 

So, my assumption about what you’re saying here is that the kind of projects you take on has changed rather than the treatment of creators or is it something else entirely?

A Quiet Disaster Alex Potts

RM – It’s more that we now think a lot more about how commercial a project is before we take it on. This hasn’t led us yet to do a project JUST for commercial reasons, every book we’ve put out we believe in from a creative point of view and it’s a book we’d love to read ourselves, but we’ve probably had to not pursue a few projects where we just didn’t see it making any money at all. In the past we might have gone ahead with that type of project just for artistic reasons, but we’re trying not to do that anymore. It means saying no to some books we might love to do, but in the long run it’s best for us and also for the creators.

ZL – For me, the whole idea of taking on ‘overheads’ seems damn scary! It’s sort of the difference between being in zine publishing and book publishing. Which is a loaded statement for sure.

Artifical Flowers Rachael Smith

What I mean is, for me zine publishing doesn’t require much money up front and doesn’t really expect to do more than break even or even just net back a bunch of reading through swaps. Book publishing carries the expectation of income to fund new publications, carrying back stock, selling in bulk and at discount, handling returns and all sorts of other time consuming and expensive upfront costs and gambles.

Does that seem like a fair view or am I over simplifying matters horribly!?

RM – The main thing is just not totally overstretching ourselves. We’ve so far not had to do anything financially that we couldn’t see a way of surviving if everything went wrong. We always pay invoices immediately, especially for staff and smaller businesses that we deal with and being responsible is really important in that we don’t want anyone else to hurt from mistakes we make.

On A Sunbeam Tillie Walden

Our biggest costs are always by far print costs. Reprinting something like On A Sunbeam is a massive cost. Our latest reprint of that cost £20K+, but that’s a book that will always sell and it’s just a short-term cash flow problem rather than a risk.

Breakwater Katriona Chapman

ZL – Do you miss the simplicity and immediacy of zine publishing. I don’t mean that as a ‘would you prefer to go back to zines’, more of a question of whether you appreciated having the opportunity to approach publishing in that manner and whether that had its own appeal and does that appeal still exist for you?

RM – I don’t really miss the zine aesthetic, I was never particularly into it. Dave might feel differently on that score as he was very much the one who produced all of those early zines that got us started and I was just a contributor for most of that. I like buying and reading zines more than I did making them. I’d encourage every creator to self-publish something at least once as it gives you a great education in the whole process of making, selling and marketing a book. 

Butter Tubbs Donya Todd

ZL – In the face of all that complexity, what is it about the process that keeps you going and motivated, what emotional aspects of it reward you, as I presume you’re not rolling in money from this, it’s publishing and comics after all!

RM – I’m more interested in getting as big an audience for what we do as possible and I get most of my enjoyment now from figuring out the business side of things and seeing how far people like us can get without any insider knowledge, connections or experience other than what we’ve managed to gather as we go along. I see our logo as something of a metaphor for this, that we’re bunking over a fence into the publishing industry. 

Days Simon Moreton

ZL – We’ve dived quickly into depth here without really getting any history for context, which is terrible in an interview! So, to step backwards for a minute, how about you tell us what background you have with comics?

RM – Dave, the AHP co-publisher/co-owner, and I have been friends since school and definitely bonded through comics (as well as music). We both started reading lots of Marvel UK stuff when we were very young. I was particularly into Transformers and used to do my own Transformers fancomic when I was about 14. Then when we met at senior school we were reading some superhero stuff (it was the early 90s so mainly the Image guys pre and post them leaving Marvel) and then the DC mature readers titles that became Vertigo, like Sandman, Animal Man and Shade. Also a few self-published titles, such as Strangers In Paradise, Bone, Hepcats and A Distant Soil. Cerebus was probably the biggest one for us though (until it went off the rails) and I’d say that a lot of the stuff that Dave Sim used to discuss, with regards to creator ownership and self-publishing, still massively resonates in how we think about Avery Hill.

We both drifted from comics when we went to uni and then Dave got back into them when we were in our late 20s and leant me Y: The Last Man and Fables, which got me back into them as well.

Deep Space Canine Comic Book Slumber Party

ZL – I’m always interested to see Dave Sim mentioned because of how his place in comics seems to have shifted from Cerebus as a comic and more to what he did when publishing it and what he wrote about publishing itself. I could do a whole discussion about the value of the comic, but that’s a whole other interview!

What I am intrigued by is, how a publisher took what Dave Sim said and got inspired by it when you consider how anti publishers and pro creators doing it all themselves his writing was. So, at what point in Avery Hill’s history did he influence you and what impact does he still have on your approach to creators and publishing?

Victory Point Owen D. Pomery

RM – I think the main thing is the stress on creator freedom and ownership. We don’t take any rights from creators in terms of licensing, image, etc. And they’re totally free to tell their story however they want. The way he worked directly with comic retailers as well is really important and how he built his audience from the ground up pre-social media.

Desolation Wilderness Claire Scully

ZL – As a random question, have you ever considered reaching out to Gerhard and seeing if he’d want to be published, can you imagine a comic just filled with his illustrations of different environments!

RM – I’m not sure if he’s ever written a comic, but I’d definitely love to see a nice book of his drawings!

Escape From Bitch Mountain Comic Book Slumber Party

ZL –  Just to tack a further wide open question on there, what do you think the legacy of that generation of self-publishers has had on comics now? I personally feel it did a lot to re-introduce diversity of subjects and approach back into comics and spurred what I’d class as the book market side of comics.

RM – I’d love to read an Easy Riders, Raging Bulls type book on those creators and that time. I’m sure it would be fascinating, although equally male-centric. I’m not sure that many of today’s younger creators have read much of that stuff and I don’t think any of them are making enough from self-publishing to turn up at shows in limos like Sim used to. I think we have to look at it more in the context of an Image style business model nowadays, where books like Saga, The Walking Dead, etc kept some of that ethos, albeit with some work-for-hire aspects that Sim would frown on. The most influential on today’s market from that time is definitely Jeff Smith’s Bone, which blew the doors off of the middle-grade market. The lasting influence there is massive.

Follow Me In Katriona Chapman

ZL – Going back a bit to something else you mentioned, specifically publishing your own Transformers fan comic, and I can’t leave that stone unturned! What was it called and was it something you did for yourself and your friends or did you put it out to the wider world and are there still copies available to buy or maybe a link to read it somewhere?

RM – Thankfully it was pre-internet and I don’t think it will surface. It was done through a Transformers fan club and was an incredibly ambitious prequel to the whole Transformers saga called Pathformers that (shockingly) I abandoned after about 6 issues. Sadly, a lost masterpiece of the form.

Goatherded Charlo Frade

ZL – Do you think that early experience had an influence on setting up and beginning Avery Hill?

RM – I don’t think I would have thought of doing Metroland if it hadn’t have been for the Transformers comic, but I always enjoyed writing and drawing so I’m not sure.

A City Inside Tillie Walden

ZL – I’m a nosy person that’s very interested in how people get to a point, not just what they do, so I’d really like to know what was the trigger that finally persuaded you to publish your first book?

Also, when setting up the company, what was the initial impetus to make Avery Hill exist? I just think it would be interesting to know whether the original dream has been met, but also, digging into that a bit deeper, what moment persuaded you that it was possible to go out and publish comic books?

Finally, to heap in the questions like an avalanche, what did you think you’d be able to achieve, in what timescale?

Metroland 1, 2, 3 & 4

RM – Dave wanted to start a zine called Tiny Dancing and I decided to contribute a comic to it called Metroland, which I used to write and draw. As we got more into that world we found loads of other comics creators who were much better than us, like Tim Bird, Owen Pomery and Simon Moreton and decided we should just publish their stuff instead. So the first book we put out that wasn’t by one of us was Grey Area by Tim and the The Megatherium Club by Owen. Simon’s collection, Days, was the first big graphic novel we ever did.

Grey Area Our Town Tim Bird

We had absolutely no background in publishing, no contacts, no financial backing and not much of an idea about the small-press scene. We didn’t really expect it to go anywhere and thought it would just fizzle out at some point. There was definitely no grand plan. We often compare ourselves to those small record companies that start because they like a band, like Electric Honey, Jeepster, or Factory Records. I like the idea of doing something where no one can tell you “No” and taking control of what you want to do. Neither of us would be remotely interested in working for another publisher (I’d maybe consider running Marvel for them…).

Internet Crusader George Wylesol

ZL – I’m going to jump around because that’s how my head works sometimes and because I realise it would be good to get some context.

I know many people don’t really want to talk about numbers, particularly sales and income, but I’m not one of them! Forewarned is forearmed I fully believe. So, what were your initial expectations for sales and break even for published comics and on what did you base those? Was there a network of people you could reach out and did you reach out to them?

Zebedee and the Valentines Abs Bailey

RM – From the point of view of the books making money, we didn’t start out with that intention and the print runs and costs were never going to generate a meaningful profit. We were fan amateurs doing our best to publicise work by people we liked (and we had to like both their work and the person themselves) and that was very clear to all of the creators as well. However, at a certain point it got big enough that we realised those terms had changed and that we had to take it even more seriously and that we had a responsibility to sell as many books as possible and make some money for the creators. A lot of companies can start as hobbies and then grow beyond that and it’s really, really important to notice when you have crossed that line so that you don’t start failing to deliver to the expectations of your creators. We feel a deep responsibility to the creators for the amount of work they put in. We want the final book to look as good as possible and sell as many copies as we can.

Ismyre B Mure

ZL – I don’t want to derail this set of questions yet, so I’ll come back to some of those points in a bit, if that’s alright? I’m wondering if you ever achieved those initial numbers, or blew them out of the water, or did you find yourself still sitting on a fair amount of dead stock?

RM – We made some mistakes in the early days in terms of print runs. Everyone does. It’s rare you have “just enough” books, which is what everyone is trying to aim for. You either get stuck with a load or you go to a 2nd print after a short period of time because you printed too few.

It’s Cold in the River at Night Alex Potts

ZL – What did you do to decide on those initial numbers, was it based on a marketplace assessment, segmented by a target audience, more of a finger in the air informed guess, or the more hopeful, ‘well if I sell this amount it’ll cover all the costs and it doesn’t seem that unreasonable to expect these sales figures’?

And the punchier question, how much better have you got at making those estimates now that you’ve been at this for so many years?

I would guess there’s no great problem thinking you’ll only sell 500 and suddenly finding 5,000 ordered. Of course, I’m just assuming that, so feel free to re-educate me!

Tower in the Sea B. Mure

RM – It’s all finger in the air as in those days we had no clue what print runs other publishers were doing. A few people took us under their wing and gave us some idea. I’ve always been interested in developing out the business side, so I always ask people questions. All of the published data is close to useless for comics as so many aren’t sold through tills. We’re a lot better than we were, but we’re still pretty conservative and get taken by surprise a lot. Storage is expensive, printing is expensive, shipping is expensive…it’s an expensive business.

We have UK and US distributors who sell our books directly to bookshops and to comic shops, either directly or through Diamond. All books are returnable, so each month we’ll get a hit on books that come back. A while ago we got notified of 650 books that were returned and unsellable again due to slight dings or scratches on them, so they have to go to be recycled and we lose all of the money on those. They pay us on a 4-6 month lag, so it takes that long to get any money back on most books. Which means cash-flow is king. You need a pipeline of good sellers to be able to stay afloat if you don’t have big financial reserves as you’re always paying for the next book out of the money from the previous book.

Maleficium Edie OP

ZL – Heading back to your earlier point about starting as amateur publishers, could you expand a bit on what expectations you set yourself at first and how realistic those sales or rather, your measures for sales, were in the end? How much of the continuation of publishing over the time was linked to your expectations shifting to meet reality and what emotional effect that had upon you?

There’s also the flip, in terms of how creators’ expectations have been managed by you in this process. Have you ever had to sit a creator down and go ‘Slow down, you’re thinking mountains and we’re thinking hills’?

The Rabbit Rachael Smith

RM – It’s all emotional with us. If the creator is happy, we’re happy. If the creator is delighted, we’re delighted. If the creator is not happy, we feel awful. A lot of that is managing expectations at the outset. 

The main focus for me for the past few years has been putting everything possible in place from a structural perspective to make sure that we can do as good a job as possible. That’s distribution, printers, marketing, PR. and sales. It’s all about sales when it comes down to it. Every job we do in this company is about sales. A friend of ours, Gareth Brookes, who makes graphic novels and some years ago we published a couple of zines by, said something the other day which really resonated with me. He said that we’re “too professional” and I knew what he meant, in that we can give the impression that we’re bigger and more successful than we are in reality. That’s because we put a massive amount of our time into the company and don’t take any money for that (we have day jobs). We also hire three contractors to work on sales, marketing and publicity who are all great at their jobs and we punch way above our weight.

Marble Cake Scott Jason Smith

ZL – This is a tricky one to slip in, but I wonder after how much emotion and anxiety you expected to be involved in the process and whether you were prepared for how much there actually was?

There seems to be a lot of opportunity to build up a large amount of guilt around having your expectations for success and having to reconcile that with reality and having to deal with the creator’s own sense of worth and expectations of what makes that work worthwhile?

RM – I didn’t expect any anxiety. I expected to care, but not anxiety. The way we work, we get emotionally invested in every creator and we don’t want to let them down in any way. A lot of them we’d consider good friends. I feel massive amounts of guilt when we take tough decisions, but everything we do is done with good intent and never about our financial gain. There have been some lows, especially in the early days where we probably made some mistakes due to lack of experience or lack of resources. If a book doesn’t sell enough it’s always our fault and we just have to try harder. We do the best we can.

Mimi and the Wolves Alabaster Pizzo

ZL – I think emotional investment is probably the least thought out part of anyone’s initial business plan, it’s almost always ‘Where do I get the money to make this?’ What advice would you give about remaining emotionally healthy when getting into publishing?

RM – I don’t think it’s taken a massive toll on us; we can sleep at night and I can look every creator in the eye because I know we’ve cared about each book and done our best. I’d say you just have to be very honest and aware of your capabilities. You also need a business model where you and the creator share success, so you’re all working towards the same goal.

Parsley Girl Matthew Swan

ZL – I’m thinking not just about being a publisher, but also considering your creators’ emotional wellbeing now. At the start of becoming a publisher did you begin by managing the creator’s expectations, or did you start to realise they needed managing?

Or, have you been lucky to work with creators that are already realistic? I hope you’ve never found yourself dealing with a creator whose work you thought had gone successfully into the market where they were devastated that it had been a failure, and I wouldn’t want to open old wounds for anyone.

I am intrigued though about what you do when something goes very badly or very well, what challenges does that offer you as a publisher, particularly a publisher that has managed long term relationships with a number of creators.

Permanent Press Luke Healy

What happens, say, if they’re disappointed in responses or sales, but you’re proud and can see that they could go on and achieve more – what do you feel is your role in that situation?

RM – A lot of the time we’re the creator’s first experience of working with a publisher, which is a responsibility that we take seriously. I like to think that we’re a really good publisher to start a career with as we’ll look after them as much as possible and also not rip them off or keep any rights that we shouldn’t. We’ve worked with a number of creators who have gone on to bigger publishers and we always feel great about that. It’s a feather in our cap and means we’ve done our job right. It also helps the sales of their books with us if the creator is then being marketed by a bigger company.

Seasons Mike Medaglia

ZL – You don’t take submissions of work so how do you find new creators to work with? Do you actively search out creators on social media or through word of mouth from other creators or did you start this with a hit list of creators you wanted to publish? Basically, how does a work or creator get on Avery Hill’s radar and how do you think about prioritising that work for publication? Is that approach to do with being curators as much as publishers, about carving a space in comics that looks like the shape of your tastes?

Walking Distance Lizzy Stewart

RM – We’ve always had a very loose list of creators that we’d like to do a book by at some point. A few of those we’ve managed to tick off in recent times, such as B. Mure, Lizzy Stewart and Kristyna Baczynski. We like the process of curating what we do; seeking out the creators in various places. We follow lots of people we like on social media and Patreon and always seek out new creators at shows. If they’ve self-published it’s a big bonus as then you know they can get a project completed and also understand a lot of the production side of things as well. Getting submissions ends up taking lots of time and 99% of the time we’ve had to pass on the projects, so it’s not particularly fun for us. We’ve also now got such a large roster of existing creators that we really want to leave space for them to come to us with new projects as well.

Retrograde Orbit Kristyna Bacynski

ZL – I noticed that you hired outsiders to fill non-editorial roles and seeing how considered your other decisions have been, I’m presuming that’s because you valued the editorial role most? Would that be fair to say?  

RM – I think having someone freelance as an editor would be a loss of control over the relationship with the creator that I wouldn’t particularly enjoy. I think so much of what we do with Avery Hill and what makes us different is that it’s locked into mine and Dave’s taste and aesthetic and it’s that influence that we bring to bear on the creative process. It would be hard to relinquish that input and those decisions to someone else and then having to just market and sell something we didn’t feel like a tiny bit of ourselves had been involved in. That’s pretty much why we don’t publish works in translation that other publishers have put out or why we don’t really like taking finished projects.

Something City Ellice Weaver

ZL – How much editorial input do you have in any work that you produce or does that vary depending on the creator?

RM – It varies greatly. There are some creators that basically just want us to proof-read it and then there are some that want input at every stage of the process. I’m happy with either scenario really, we try to work however they’d like to work. Ideally they would rough out the whole book in a way that’s legible and I’d then go through and make suggestions on structure and pacing and anything I don’t think is right in the story. Then they go off and start drawing it and I’ll give input as and when required. Then feedback on dialogue and any bits that might need redrawing if they haven’t come out right. Mostly I just make suggestions and leave them to determine if they agree with what I’m saying. I like to make it clear it’s their book and their vision and I’m just asking them questions to make sure they’ve thought about all of their decisions. Just because I don’t like something or don’t think it’s the right decision, it doesn’t mean they should change it. It’s their work and they have to be happy with what ends up on the finished page.

Swear Jar Abe Christie

ZL – Philosophically, what do you aim to achieve through your input? 

RM – Really I think we consider ourselves more project managers than editors. We’re there to help them get it done and make sure they’re happy with the results. We’re enablers, and that can take many different forms; mainly it’s about keeping them confident in their ability to complete it and helping them where necessary. It’s more people skills than anything.

Terrible Means B. Mure

ZL – Considering what’s going on in the comics market are you worried about your future sales or are your sales firm outside of the direct market of comic shops thanks to your use of book distributors? To add to that thought, what are your opinions about the future of print comics both here in the UK and in the US as well? 

RM – I think the direct market is definitely on its last legs, but there’s still a place for specialist comic shops in whatever comes out of it. I feel like in the UK, where shops are a lot less reliant on Diamond and already use multiple distributors and wholesalers, we’re in a good place to weather what comes next. Although obviously the full repercussions of Covid on top of all of this are still working their way through the system. We sell a lot of books through bookstores and directly through our online store so we’re prepared for whatever happens. But the relationships we have with a lot of comics stores are vital and without them I’m not sure what the wider industry would look like in this country. I don’t think the answer is just to become a small part of the wider book industry, we still need our specialist places to champion this medium.

The Beginner’s Guide to Being Outside Gill Hatcher

ZL – What do you think your company’s legacy has been in the market place and in creators lives so far?

That’s a slightly loaded question I know! But I think this is one of those issues of appreciation.

Tom Spurgeon used to say that he thought comics has this built in attitude towards believing everything that has not got a run for 100’s of issues behind it is a complete failure. I’m with him in believing this is completely wrong headed.

To put it in personal terms. You’ve also introduced artists who are now published with other companies and have therefore then gone on to create more work.

If you sit back and reflect upon that, how does it make you feel about your efforts?

What We Don’t Talk About Charlot Kristensen

RM – I’m proud to see our creators go on to greater successes. Publishing the first books of people like Tille Walden, Zoe Thorogood and Charlot Kristensen will be a great legacy. I hope we’ve given them a good experience and platform to jump off from and that they’ll come back one day when they have a personal project they want to do that doesn’t fit anywhere else. I think the way we do things has also influenced publishers like Good Comics, who put out great books. I’m not sure beyond that at the moment, we’re still going and I think will only get stronger, so the full extent of what we’ve done isn’t clear to us yet.

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott Zoe Thorogood

ZL – Do you see yourselves continuing to grow in terms of output and staff numbers or do you feel you’ve reached a good balance of what you can achieve within the limits of your energy levels?

RM – We’ve just hired someone to do the bookkeeping which means that I don’t have to do it anymore and to me that’s the most exciting thing to happen this year!

The Flood That Did Come Patrick Wray

ZL – Right – to lighten things up and spread some love. Which three creators would you recommend people search out if they were fans of Avery Hill books?

RM

Casey Nowak 

Patrick Kyle

Sophia Foster-Dimino

ZL – What’s the last (non-Avery Hill) comic or zine that you read that made you really think about what it was talking about or how it was using comics?

RM – I only very recently started getting into manga and it’s totally reinvigorated me. My main favourite is 20th Century Boys which might be the best comic I’ve ever read. It’s an incredible lesson in storytelling structure and the art is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Working with creators like Tillie Walden, Charlot Kristensen and Zoe Thorogood who are heavily influenced by manga has really made me appreciate what that language can bring to comics and I think some of the most interesting things happening in the US and UK area mesh traditional UK/US comics and manga.

The Great North Wood Tim Bird

ZL – I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk to us and for giving such honest answers. I hope you enjoyed the process!

RM – Thanks for the opportunity to talk about some of this stuff, it definitely made me think!

ZL – And finally – please plug away anything you want to plug!!

RM – You can check out all of our titles in our store!

https://averyhillpublishing.bigcartel.com

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

Thought Bubble recommendations – 5 favourites for Friday

Check out 5 of our favourite creators from the show

groups and individuals

Mindless Ones, Silence & Pals

including site favourites Paul Jon Milne, Dan White, Fraser Geesin, Gareth Hopkins & Hitsville UK

New to me – Mathilde Heu who has a very lithe art adaptable art style

Claire O’Brien – whose zine Music Venues of Leeds is one I’ve seen around and liked the look of, but didn’t know who had made it!

Another new one (to me) – Alex Assan – with a long running web comic with a great premise – Shade Runners

Site favourite Lucy Sullivan who is amazing – check out our review of Barking

BARKING review – The River Runs Through

Lucy and BARKING can be found here:

twitter           facebook           website           BARKING at Unbound

 

BARKING is the story of a woman whose breaking heart also breaks her mind. Death cracked her reality, making the black dog her new shadow in life.

This is a harrowing book. Bleak and painful with no easy solutions and little in the way of kindness shown throughout. At this time of lockdown, it was affecting in odd ways. The most emotionally charged scene for me was when the main character walked through an underpass, it captured the scene so perfectly I was suddenly struck by the reality of being locked in for months now. Similarly, that sense of an altered reality felt uncomfortably close, like a shadow casting over me, like an itch scratching at the back of my head throughout.

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I mean to say, you’re not going to walk away from a reading with the sense that all’s well and good with the world. You are going to walk in someone else’s footstep for a time though. For me, there are times that it’s a walk uncomfortably close to my own path. I can tell you that there are moments where it feels very much like reality is on the page, even when that reality is genuinely all in the mind.

BARKING is a bravura work. A work centred wholly on emotion and the depiction of personal experience.

BARKING swims in black, mental and physical. Scratched onto paper; sometimes kinetic and neurotic, sometimes fluid and loose and occasionally still and filled with captured life and place. It’s hard reading, mentally but easy to follow. It’s no simple drama, it is a gothic horror drenched in sturm und drang, the melodrama turned up loud.

In terms of story, it starts with Alix fully immersed in a psychotic episode, being chased by the police. She is sectioned and admitted to a hospital for treatment where details of what led to her breakdown come out as Alix slowly walks back to reality. It’s a simple story of breaking and climbing from the wreckage. As well, though, it is a highly structured and carefully put forward work of literature that is neither linear nor straightforward. It drops you in the reality of Alix straight away and plays one little game with plot. The real heart is not the plot, nor the skills, it’s the story as experienced, the altered reality that you’re dropped into. A first-person narrative constructed as a first-person reality. Visually building delirium in a way that first-person prose never could.

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To slip back to prosaic for a second – this is a work where it’s got so much going on you can almost never know what to talk about. I could just list the amount of moments where the drawings are beautiful, the images reflect each other structurally or the textures just look totally incredible. I could detail story moments that pulled me up and hit close to home, but that would never give a flavour of the whole experience.

So, I’m going to do something a bit looser here – different ways to think around this book.

 

The river runs through as an itchy line of darkness

In literary studies the use of themes, similes and metaphor are very important. Often what marks the literary worth is the quality of language, the intelligent use of simile, and how it helps highlight themes and character traits. Maintaining consistency of subject can reinforce your major and minor themes. It is similar in music as well as film. Characters will have the same tune or the same framing to create a consistency that allows the creator to trigger reactions and connections that build subconsciously within a work. Leitmotif, in other words.

Lucy runs the River Thames through the work constantly, the lines of the drawings hark back to the lines of the dark waters. The river is both the site where reality fractured and the altered reality that Alix treads through every day. She can’t help walking through it, dripping and at points almost drowning in it.  Whether it’s hanging over her head or rushing round her ankles, the tow of the dark tides is as constant a companion as the black dog belittling her.

Scratched onto the page

And really that scratching active line is the major leitmotif at work, it holds up players as puppets, it drags bodies around and down and curls them into balls. The free, loose movements and their frantic pace fluid along the width of the page are suddenly dragged upward and tied together in the cramped environs of the hospital.

The lines scratch in and out of the narrative darkening and lifting with Alix’s own distance from reality.

 

Staring reality in the face

Lucy communicates a lot of what happens through her art, whether that’s the chaos in the mind or the emotional state of her characters. The way Alix holds her hands to her chest and peeks round corners that aren’t there tells you all you need to know about her mental state and how fragile she feels at that time.

Her environs blur off into lines of black so that you know they just aren’t reaching her, reality is just floating out of reach. What strikes hardest though, for me at least, are those moment where detailed sketches of real places are included. There’s something about the nature and approach of those drawings that’s so rich that it interrupts the darkness and identifies itself as REAL reality, the world truly impinging on Alix’s mind. It’s a strong metaphor and a simple method of communicating an incredibly complex concept. They are also very beautiful images that you could happily look at for a long time, so they also provide much needed breathing space in a difficult read.

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Leaning on genre to create form

Whilst reading and re-reading BARKING for this review a couple of things popped up that struck me as very relevant to BARKING and how Lucy handles the story.

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The latter was a blog post by M John Harrison that I’ll quote in full.

‘For maybe five decades, maybe more, I didn’t want my life to be what it was. It was perfectly ordinary, but I didn’t want to be in it. Writing and climbing were escape routes; I developed a bad memory to deal with the rest. Only now, after I’ve spent a few years in a life I want, do I see what an odd admission that is to make. People seem quite horrified by it; I don’t want to live among people who aren’t. How do you write about a life like that, legacy of your own poor management of childhood & adolescence, except veiled in concepts such as “haunting”, “navigation failure” or,” behaviour after a disaster”? I wouldn’t know where to begin. Living is the endless discovery that you’re weirder than you thought, & you’ll never retrieve any of it except via the metaphors you’ve had all along. That seems to have been one of the advantages of genre fiction for me’

A great way of talking about where genre transcends its own limits and becomes literature where tropes and ideas become a way of making the normal seem strange so we can more easily examine it.

Before that, on international women’s day, there was a thread on Frankenstein and Mary Shelley that discussed the backstory of its creation with many comments chimed in that she had created a whole new genre of fiction from that one novel. Now you can argue the case for or against that, and I would say what she did was build upon the existing structure of gothic novels and make that her own. What made it her own was that she had something to say and took a form and structure that helped get her point across whilst adding what she needed, where she needed it to keep to the path of personal truth. You could also argue for it being proto surrealism convincingly and likewise you could say it leans heavily into symbolism or romantic poetry. Whatever you want to take from a discussion of the structure of that story, the reality is, what drives it is not clever genre tropes, no inversion of expectation, what drives it is the very human drama it describes and plays out. However much lightning and drama it blows at you, at the heart you care because those characters exist as real emotional beings that speak truthfully about someone’s feelings or experience and you engage with those and that drives your interest.

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BARKING certainly shares themes with Frankenstein, with its questioning of who or what is a monster and the worth of science.  But more importantly, it deals with the humanising of the monster, of building a portrait of the world experienced by that monster to drive an axe through accepted norms with the sharp blade of humanism.

 

BARKING is not setting fire to genre and making something new. What it’s doing is building a work with a frame of genre and in reality, it doesn’t lean into those tropes in any meaningful sense. What I mean by this is that some may see the haunting in this novel as a ghostly experience, the tarot reading as a supernatural signifier. What I experienced when I read it felt utterly divorced from trope and genre style. You’re not seeing someone writing a spooky or scary story for the sake of shocks, it’s an affecting method of portraying the experience of Alix, a way of putting that experience out there for you to go through and experience yourself. The genre elements are almost like a sugar coating for those who don’t want to deal with the idea that this experience is a reality, the reality of Alix. It cushions the blow for those unable to accept altered reality is still reality for those in it.

By which I mean, it seems a genre story but it’s not using supernatural elements for terror, but to make explicit the hidden experiences of the mind. It is a work of surrealism in the true sense. Surrealisms aim was, according to leader André Breton, to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality“, or surreality. That, for me, is clearly what BARKING both aims to do and delivers with great élan.

 

You’re always talking nonsense

Oddly, in comics, particularly literary comics, the use of lettering and ‘sound effects’ is rarely used to convey much either psychological or audible experience. There are few works that aim to make use of integrating words in design and layout, at least with western traditions. The two series that took these techniques and ran with them to astounding effect both appeared in the 1980’s and we’ve rarely seen any experiments drawing upon either Cerebus or American Flagg. In fact, with the consigning of thought balloons to the ‘childish’ era of comics, psychological insight has come to be delivered through literary dialogues that read more like journal entries than experienced existence. Distinctly purple prose revealing no personality or emotion.

Word screeds

Lucy digs heavily into the opportunity that words in comics can deliver, sometimes drowning the scene in the negative aggressive self-hating screed constantly playing in Alix’s head. A screed at point almost completely unintelligible, sometimes rolling along in the background and sometime on point, ripping into her in the moment.

It’s an odd thing to call a comic creator brave for using one of the basic tools within their arsenal, but equally, considering how frowned upon the technique has become, it shows a commitment to delivering her message with all of the powers available to her to make it work.

 

BARKING is a big work. A work that roars with power and rage in the hope of making people feel the terror experienced by many encountering the mental health system and societies reactions to those in the grip of mental health issues.

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

This is the end

 

 

the long list interview – Lucy Sullivan

Lucy Sullivan’s BARKING has been out for a while now and has been receiving a lot of positive attention and rightly so. It’s a complex work delivered in a seemingly simple manner, one of those tricks that comics manage so well.

It’s been a long road to publication, not without its difficulties either, so we thought we’d talk to Lucy about the ups and downs of placing your book with a publisher and the marketplace for comics.

L-Sullivan-Pic

Lucy and BARKING can be found here:

twitter           facebook           website           BARKING at Unbound

 

ZL – Hi Lucy – and welcome back! Unfortunately, you’ve missed out on being our first returning interviewee, but you’re still one of our favourite creators!!

Congratulations on finishing BARKING and, even more so, on sticking to your guns to get it looking so good. I know it’s been a huge struggle, both creating it and finalising the book’s delivery. You’ve talked about the obstacles that you’ve faced in getting the book produced to a standard you consider acceptable and the difficulties you’ve hurdled in raising the funding to get published. I also know that your next project is going to be self-published. All of which would lead many to say that you probably wouldn’t recommend going down the route of mainstream publication.

But I’m intrigued and want to dig a bit into the whole process and what decisions took you to a publisher and what support and encouragement having a professional editor added to the process of creation.

First of all, though, I guess the elephant in the room would be whether it’s accurate to say you don’t like publishers? Would you swear off going through a publisher ever again, or do you think that this was something endemic to that specific publisher or situation?

LS – Hi!  Thanks, it does feel good to be nearly out the other side of bringing BARKING to print. It has been an epic trail with many hiccups along the way, but I feel I’ve had a crash course in crowdfunding, printing and publishing that’s set me up well for the future.

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I do still like the publishers though. It’s unlikely that I’d go down the route of Unbound again, especially now that Lizzie Kaye has moved on, but I would certainly work with a publisher again. I’m hoping to do so with my next long form idea and have a very selective list I would want to work with, all of which are Creator Owned contracts. I think if I couldn’t get a good deal with one of them, I would look to self-publishing. So far as zines and short form comics go that would be my preference anyway. I’m not going to pretend I’m not a bit of a control freak, I am. There’s so much time and effort that goes into making a comic that it has to live up to your expectations. In the case of BARKING there was a mistake made at the repro stage that lead to a drastic issue in the original print run with the black levels. It was a real battle to get it reprinted and if I hadn’t had funding from Arts Council England, I’m not sure it would have happened, but BARKING is a book about black so if its printed grey and inconsistently well that’s just not acceptable. I’m delighted that Unbound did the right thing and went for the reprint, they also went with Comic Printing UK as I had requested, and I think it’s a much better book for it.

Clearly and in light of recent discussions on social media there are many issues with publishing at the moment. The advances are poor to nonexistent and often come with frankly manipulative contracts. I’d come up against (and was beaten by) similar practices in the animation industry. It’s immoral that industries should prey on new talent, but many do. You have to know your worth and get whatever back up you can. I joined the Society of Authors when BARKING was picked up by Unbound. SOA went through my contract point by point and as such I retain many rights and can work with whomever I choose next. I think if you research properly and read every line there’s still a way to make it work but if you can, I’d say self-publish.

 

ZL – Yeah, it’s a shame that such matters are still being talked about in private circles and that companies feel the need to be so secretive about it all. It’s something that’s hard to quantify if you’re aspiring to get into the industry with aspirations for any kind of career. How much responsibility do you feel, having gone through a number of difficult situations to keep quiet for fear of blowing any further chances and how much do you feel you owe it to others to discuss such matters openly?

And for context – it’s not just creative companies that do this, they’re all pretty ish! In my real-world job, I was very gung-ho about the need to be open about such things so that companies didn’t get to play games with long-term employees. I willingly showed what I was being paid and it turned out to be significantly more than a more experienced, longer term employee. It meant that they ended up getting paid better as their managers were equally unhappy but unaware, but it caused them a lot of personal distress and that made me pause and re-consider what I had done, and I wonder where your thoughts on that would be and how this informs conversation about such subjects?

Barking running 1

LS – I do feel a responsibility to be open about the problems and realities of how publishers treat their creators. I think it has to be done with diplomacy as you can massively affect your chances of further employment. It’s been good to have groups emerging that are openly publicising page rates and problematic companies. It’s always complicated ground to cover but with more and more creators self-publishing then the question becomes what can they bring to your project that you can’t achieve without them? I’ve had a lot of disappointments in making BARKING that were directly down to my publisher but equally there’s much I’ve gained and done that I couldn’t have achieved as a self-published work so you’ve got to weigh the balance and talk to people. Most people are happy to discuss things privately but of course we’re all cautious.

 

ZL – Taking a step back in time, I’m sure that you’ve said in the past that Nick Abadzis introduced you to Lizzie Kaye at Unbound! and that led on to you having conversations and BARKING being accepted? What state was BARKING in before you took it to Unbound! and what input had you had and from whom at that point?

LS – Yep, Nick Abadzis is a wonderful fellow and good friend. We’ve been mates since he joined my evening life group way back when. Nick was over from NYC back in 2017 and came over to ours with his family for lunch. He knew I’d been working on my idea and at that stage I had 2 chapters completed and had home printed and bound some sample books to send to publishers. I think I’d sent to 3 or 4 but heard nothing back. I’d worked on the story mainly on my own but had a wee focus group with KidLit pals Fiona Ross & Sophie Ambrose. We’d meet up at Southbank centre and show our work-in-progress to each other for feedback. They were fun days but, as the other two were working on kids’ books, mine was a bit of a change of pace!

Anyway, it’s ridiculous how serendipitous it all was in the end, but Nick was going to SelfMadeHero’s birthday bash that night and got me in as a plus one. Had an amazing evening chatting to some ace comics creators and was trying not to fangirl at everyone when Nick pulled me over and introduced me to Lizzie Kaye and Andy Oliver of Broken Frontier. I was following them both online and got fairly flustered. Lizzie said Nick had told her about BARKING and she wanted to see it. I genuinely tried to talk her out of it. We were all a bit tipsy and I thought she was being nice, but she insisted. At that point a friend of ours, Luke Wilmot had put a PDF of the first two chapters together, so I went to email that to Lizzie and realised I didn’t have her email. So, Nick came to the rescue again! Then I had a 2-week jury service, a murder trail no less, to do before I heard back from Lizzie. It was one of the most intense fortnights of my life, but Lizzie loved the story and wanted to launch it with Unbound!. She was extremely honest about how hard the process would be, but I thought it would be a good route especially as Unbound! are a literary publisher and can get the books into high street shops.

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ZL – How did getting BARKING accepted make you feel about the book? Did it make it seem more legitimate or at least worth pursuing as it would see the light of day or did it make no difference to the project and your approach?

LS – Gaining Lizzie’s approval and being picked up did legitimise BARKING for me. Mental health and grief is a tricky subject and not the easiest to sell as a comic. I was absolute that I was telling an honest and therefore dark story and was not willing to compromise. Lizzie was all for that and she was very important in keeping me on that track. Although I was left alone to make the book we spoke often, and she always picked up when I was feeling pressured to lighten the story or give it ‘a happy ending’ by potential readers. I’m very grateful for her insight and faith that I could make exactly the book I wanted to make. I think Unbound! is a great platform for that, especially for mental health, I hope they will be commissioning graphic novels again in the future.

I know I would have made BARKING no matter what and the story would have been pretty much the same. My original plan was, if I couldn’t get a publisher onboard, to Kickstart it as a series of 5 books, 2 chapters per book. I think it works better as a graphic novel though. It is intended as a one shot, singular story so I’m very happy with the outcome now.

 

ZL – I guess I’m dancing around asking why you felt like going with a publisher at all, what process you took in looking for a publisher, did you do research, ask around about good or bad ones or was this more of an organic path of introduction, liking the editor and then going to the publisher on the back of that?

LS – I wanted to reach as many readers as possible with BARKING as it’s a universal experience and one I was very keen to open up a conversation about. I did a lot of research and mined websites like Broken Frontier for advice. I was constantly flitting between publishing and Kickstarting but I guess I did both in the end anyway. Unbound is essentially a Kickstarter to begin with as the author raises the full costs, in my case that was £13K. Then they do the rest; print, distribution, marketing. In theory. I think there’s some issues with their setup and the amount’s very hard to raise. It took over 18 months of crowdfunding plus the Arts Council grant and a generous donation from the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. It’s not one I’d say I’d readily do again, but I am going to. I’ve got 2 Kickstarters lined up but after that I’d like to work with another publisher. I think flitting between the two would work for me.

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ZL – Getting back from that little side trip, with hindsight, did the experience of working with Unbound! match up to the expectations you had?

LS – No, not really. You honestly couldn’t make up the things that went wrong with BARKING. Prior to the print issues there were delays with the printers as my original slot had to be changed but no-one rebooked it, so I went to the back of the queue when lots of books were being printed. Then when I was finally at the front of the queue, they’d used my uncoated paper on another book and had to reorder it. Then when that came, the machine broke down. It meant I had to launch at LICAF in 2019 without an actual book than again at Thought Bubble. BARKING had been named ‘Graphic Novel of the festival’ for TB by Broken Frontier and it was devastating to be there without the hardbacks. I then had to do my Arts Council exhibition, again without the books, but it was all going to be ok because I had a launch at GOSH! lined up in March. That got delayed due to the reprint and moved to April 17th and then… well who would’ve have seen a plague being the last hurdle! It’s been quite the experience, but I have a gorgeous looking book thanks to CPUK, it’s out in the world and getting great feedback so worth it in the end.

 

ZL – I genuinely think the follow-up should just be the whole process of getting to put the book out, it would be hilarious and painful and following generations would probably never believe it could possibly happen!

I do feel that what you got out in the end is an incredible product, having seen digital and physical, the digital pales in comparison. Probably, there’s the concern about how sales are affected by those missed opportunities on the one hand, but on the other, you must be pleased to see such an amazing book come out of it?

On a weird note – the book cover is completely medical wipe proof, there’s a fact you’d never have known without COVID-19.

LS – That is a surprising fact but possibly one Comic Printing UK thought of? Rich does know his comics!

I am very happy with the final book. The print quality is exactly what I’d hoped for and the impact it’s having on readers is more than I could’ve asked for. It was an incredibly stressful experience but as with such things I learnt an array of valuable lessons, made contacts I couldn’t have dreamed of at the start and have been forced to put my work out there. Doing so has led to becoming part of an amazing community. For all the gripes I have I still probably wouldn’t change any of the process. Perhaps that’s a lockdown perspective coming into effect? But I say the same about the events BARKING is based on. For all the trauma and difficulty in the end to change one bit would mean having a totally different life now and I wouldn’t want that.

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ZL – On a practical level, what did your editor bring to the project? Did you get feedback on the content – was it spelling errors, or storytelling input or even a sounding board for your ideas? Maybe even emotional support? A shoulder to cry on or a nagging/ coaxing voice to keep you on track and producing?
Was it more a matter of practical support – passing work from you to production staff and keeping Unbound up to date on your progress?

LS – Lizzie worked on an individual basis with each project she commissioned at Unbound!. I think her role was often changed and sometimes not credited there. For BARKING it was a practical and emotional support through the crowdfunding stages. She would put me in touch with people such as LICAF or Alex Fitch, who invited both Lizzie and I to talk at Cartoon County back in 2018. Lizzie also advised me on the technical aspects of the book and was the go between from me to the production staff at Unbound!. She wasn’t however involved in the print and therefore any of the problems. As I said before I was mainly left to create the book as I wanted. Lizzie did proof-read and check the spelling. I think if there had been issues or continuity problems, she would have advised me to remake parts but fortunately there were a couple of spelling mistakes but otherwise all good. Lizzie also came up with the idea of a wraparound cover and pointed out when my original design looked a bit… um, ill-placed shall we say! I think her experience and empathy for the project gave me the confidence I needed to stay true to my original idea. I’m really happy to have worked with her and would gladly do so again.

I’ve also done some work with other editors now and am getting a feel for their various ways of working. I really enjoyed working with Shelly Bond on my strip for Hey, Amateur! (Black Crown). I had to hand in a proper script prior to art working and it was quite a thrill to get notes back on it. It felt very legit! I’d happily work with Shelly again. I’ve also done a couple of commissions for Dark Horse on Black Hammer and they just sent the specs and the deadline. When a professional editor has that level of confidence in you it is a wonderful boost. I’ve been very lucky on that side of things so far. I do think an editor is a very important role. Especially in longer from work. It’s so easy to get to involved in your story and not keep a perspective on the bigger picture. I guess that’s why I’d like to keep working with publishers for my graphic novel ideas. Although I think there will be many changes in the industry in the very near future.

 

ZL – Other than your Unbound! editor, did you seek out other input and advice to help with the process from friends or peers and what type of feedback was that?

LS – As part of my crowdfunding campaign I produced a comic of the first 2 chapters and had it properly printed by CPUK. I got a lot of feedback from readers on that and some reviewers (like zine love!) and that was really helpful in going forward. Other than that, I didn’t show it to many people whilst I worked on it. I would talk some plot aspects through with my partner Stephen. He teaches Animation at Kingston School of Art and is excellent at story editing. But even he didn’t know the full story. I worked on it by writing a loose, cinematic style script for the whole story then thumb-nailing and sketching it out one chapter at a time. I basically thought about it constantly for the best part of a year. It felt like a giant, messy puzzle in my head that was slotted together and exorcised onto the page until it resembled pretty much what I set out to do. Not the most elegant description but true.

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ZL – Sounds perfect – I do something similar, except nothing I do ever comes out the way I imagined, it sort of progresses organically until I bin it or like it for what it became …and – the last question I promise – as you’re working with someone else’s script and your next project will be self-published do you think you’ll want any editorial advice and feedback? Do you see value in that feedback and conversational process? I mean, I’m presuming you’ll be having that with the writer, but will you be talking to friends and peers, or even just getting a spelling assist for typos. I guess I’m essentially wondering whether you see editorial input as useful or you prefer to go it your own way?

I’m also wondering though, whether you see editorial input as something that only comes with a publisher or whether you consider it as something available and worthwhile out of that structure?

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IND-XED thumbnail

LS – Interesting question. Yes, the current project is called IND-XED. It’s a script written by Fraser Campbell originally with Anna Readman drawing it. I came on board when Fraser put an artist call out on Twitter, BARKING was finishing, and I thought it would be the perfect palette cleanser. I love Fraser’s comics with Iain Laurie and it’s a cracking wee lo-fi sci-fi. Fraser and I chat as we go and I’m sending him the thumbnails before I fully colour the comic. It’s a very different look to BARKING and it’s nice to shoot the breeze and bounce ideas about with someone again. We’re getting a letterer on board so hopefully they’ll start being a part of the process soon too. I like collaborating and miss doing it as an animator.

After IND-XED I’m kickstarting a short comic called SHELTER. It’s a prequel to my next graphic novel THE BAD OL’ DAYS. It’s been brewing as an idea whilst making BARKING. I’ve been making notes and picking up visual research as I go, which is how BARKING was formed, so I guess it’s a process for me now. I might pass SHELTER to some fellow creators in its early stage to check it’s working out and definitely want to work with an editor on the long form idea. It’s a much more complicated story and has a bigger cast so I think I’ll need an external opinion especially as I’m basing parts on my childhood. It’s not auto-bio though. It’s a supernatural noir but my childhood was filled with some extraordinary folk that are just crying out to be in comics. I think a good editor is going to be vital in making it work, it’s a big idea and luckily, I know a few great editors now.

 

ZL – Thanx for all of your time Lucy and here’s to many years of success for you!

LS – Many thanks. Long live zine love!

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

the long list interview – Sarah Harris

Marvel corner box trading cards

**this is another very late post up of an interview – i think this has sat around for nigh on 8 months – so, please do bear that in mind when reading?**

When we talk about scenes we often talk about those creators working within a group, style or friendship circle. Rarely are activists who buoy up those scenes referred to or approached. Yet, as often as not, it is these individuals who make a scene vital. Not just because of their financial or social support, but because they organise and raise awareness, sometimes even being the creators of the support network that bring the scene together. Sometimes, arriving on their radar is something of a badge of approval.

Some of these people are purely activists, some are also creators themselves, and that’s what we have here with Sarah Harris. A creator who is also one the heroes of a scene, in this case UK small press comics and sometimes zines. This interview was done long while ago and I’ve been very slow in organising myself to get it live – so in the meantime, Sarah has since contributed to the comics anthology The Whore Chronicles, as organised by Anthony Esmond.

In this, I was particularly interested in how a fan moves into the role of a scene activist and sometime organiser. I think this is a fascinating interview, not just because of the insight into small, fan led occasions, but because Sarah is such an engaging person to talk to.

You can find her on     twitter     facebook     instagram

handmade flip-book

ZL – Hi Sarah, let’s start with the obvious question, can you tell us a bit about yourself please?

SH – I’m Sarah Harris, and in the grand scheme of comicky things I’m nobody remotely important. I’m just someone who has loved comic books for a number of decades, buys thousands of the little buggers (for other women it’s shoes and handbags, for me it’s paper pamphlets), and even reads about half of them…

 

ZL – What’s your history with comics?

SH – Like a lot of people of my age, it’s hard to remember a time before comics were a part of my life, as, in the *ahem* 70s when I was a nipper, ALL kids read comics. We literally had no other entertainment 😊 There were like 2 TV channels or something, not that my parents let me watch either of them, or there was tree climbing – and that’s no fun on a rainy day. So, I read real books when I wanted to feel intellectual, and comics when I wanted to be entertained – they were my equivalent of cartoons or computer games for young ‘uns nowadays, I guess.

Generally, though, I wasn’t following any specific comic from week to week until 2000AD which was the first one I had a proper newsagent subscription for. Before that I’d just spend my pocket money on spec on whatever looked good that week. I was lucky enough to get 2000AD from the very first issue at the age of 9 due to 1) a cool TV advert that said that the launch issue came with a free frisbee! (comics didn’t generally have free gifts back then and dear god I wanted that piece of round throwable plastic!) and 2) my dad being a huuuuuge science fiction fan who had given up on having a son to pass his passion down to – he saw an opportunity here to get me hooked on Heinlein and Wyndham and Van Vogt and Phil K Dick and Asimov and Aldiss and Bradbury and Arthur C Clarke, and it totally worked.

2000ad issue 1 cover

2000AD and, while it lasted, the wonderful British girls’ horror comic Misty, were my weekly obsession until the mid-80’s, when I moved away from home to work my gap year before university, and for the first time discovered that there were actual comic shops! Until then I thought they only came from newsagents, because I’m a twit.

Those shops were the original Denmark Street Forbidden Planet and a shop in Nottingham that might have been called Strange Tales (my gap year job was with IBM and I moved around between their London, Warwick and Nottingham offices) – and they blew my tiny miiiiiind. I was aware of American comics before this point, obviously, but I thought they were just all superheroes, which I had absolutely zero interest in (I blame Pat Mills for that 😊 2000AD was very snooty towards capes and spandex). But at Forbidden Planet and that Nottingham shop I discovered Swamp Thing! and Elektra Assassin! And Watchmen! I mean yes, they are all kind of still superheroes 😊 But they were more, I dunno, “edgy” 😊 and the art was amazing (and in some cases painted, which really sung to me). I was hooked…

I never looked back from that point, soon after came the time of Sandman and Vertigo, spooky narratives and lots of gorgeous painted and collaged artwork, and I was totally in my element. Horror, supernatural and sci-fi stories have been my lifelong sweet spot ever since.

 

ZL – What was it that made you start COLLECTING comics rather than just reading them

SH – Hmmmm… good question. I don’t think that I realised I was collecting at first. In the 90’s we had the big speculation boom with all the foil covers and variants and craziness – but that was mainly happening at the more testosterone-fuelled end of the superhero market, especially with the launch of Image – and that wasn’t ever my thing. All a bit too macho for me, all those muscles and pouches 😀

So, I figured that I was a reader but those “other people” were collectors.

Of course, by the time we got to the new millennium I had a converted garage full floor to ceiling with long boxes, containing many thousands of comics I’d not even got around to reading yet, and I couldn’t really deny any more that I was a collector (today I’d say hoarder 😊 ) – but it definitely crept up on me…

I carelessly lost all of that original collection (long sad story, sob! I could have retired on it!!) in the early 2000’s and for years I resisted getting back into comic collecting as it had hurt too much to say goodbye to them. I didn’t set foot in a comic shop again until around 2012, but from then it was a very slippery slope, and here I am again with a room full of boxes. This time around I’ve even started going back to the silver and bronze age and buying back issues of all those classic superhero comics I turned my nose up at for so many years. Turns out they are pretty good! Who knew???!!

 

ZL – When and why did you moved from collecting into FANDOM?

SH – To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know what “fandom” means. It’s a relatively recent term, I think, I can’t remember hearing it before a few years back, and I tend to associate it with big groups of people who rabidly support a TV show and get all arsey and defensive about it on twitter.

I don’t think I’m like that. Except maybe a bit with the Battlestar Galactica reboot (best show ever!!!!! If you don’t agree, fight me!!!)

I came late to conventions. I did go to lots of signings in the 80’s/90’s (mainly at Forbidden Planet in London and Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham) – but I never went to a UKCAC or anything like that. A lot of the guests were from the “superhero” side of things that, as we’ve already established, I stupidly thought I was too good for 😊 and I didn’t have any comic book reading pals to go with – everyone else I knew had grown out of them like you were supposed to and got into alcohol or drugs instead.

home made cosplay suit of full fantasy battle armour and sword

My first proper convention was LSCC (London Super Comic Convention) 2013, I think. I wasn’t really overly fussed about it in advance, I went as company for a non-comic-reading illustrator pal who wanted to see Artists Alley, not really knowing what to expect, and I had a blast! After that I went to quite a few, especially enjoying the more grass roots comic shows like True Believers (which is local to me and I haven’t missed one since they started).

My kids were young at that point and I had nobody to look after them while I went gallivanting, and they had no interest in comics (heathens), so if I wanted to go to a con for the day, I had to somehow get them interested enough to want to come with me. The route to that was cosplay – they really enjoyed the dressing up, and I got to buy comics while they did so. As a bonus, I discovered I was quite good at making their costumes and it was a fun hobby for a while (they have since outgrown it and I now just go to cons on my own, and no longer have to build armour for the privilege :D)

 

ZL – What differences do you see in the comic world since you first got involved, for example, how do you feel about getting closer access to creators through social media?

SH – I don’t know that I’m best placed to answer this one – as I don’t think I am really that closely involved in the “comic world” now, and I certainly wasn’t back in the day. I just read ‘em 😊

The question about how much I’m influenced by creators’ views and opinions and actions now is an interesting one though – the whole “can you separate the creator from the art”. I think I am pretty good at that. I don’t think that someone needs to be a wonderful person for me to enjoy their art or their writing. If you start going down that road, there are very few great pieces of music or classic works of literature that you couldn’t pick holes in. I think that’s a generational thing, more than anything. I think we old gits just got used to the fact that the people who created the art we liked weren’t always nice people! There are limits, obviously, but if it is just a case of someone being a bit of an arse on twitter, or not lining neatly up with my own politics, then I don’t care. If they make good comics, I’ll still read them.

 

ZL – What got you involved with the small press?

SH – All credit/blame here goes to the Awesome Comics Podcastepisode #8 (I think), 3 years or so ago. I had seen small press creators at their tables at various cons, but I had never had the courage to actually stop and look at any of the comics, figuring that I would be given the hard sell and end up buying a load of naff homemade comics that I didn’t want (sorry guys!!).

It was the week before Melksham comic con and the organisers had put a link to the podcast on their facebook page, as the ACP guys had done a kind of preview rundown of what was going to be at the con. I downloaded it for a listen in the car – mainly to see if they mentioned anything I could use to get the kids enthused – and they had Shaun Dobie on as a guest talking about his comic Descending Outlands. It was due to have a new issue launched at the con, and it sounded right up my street (I’m a sci fi girl, as previously discussed), and I decided to pick up a copy. Already knowing that the comic sounded good removed my fear of being hard sold something I didn’t want and gave me the guts to approach the table…. dressed as Rocket Raccoon 😊

From then on – having discovered that some small press comics are actually very good!! – I sought out reviews and recommendations from the Awesome chaps and other sources and have bought a TON of small press comics since. I still mainly buy mainstream comics, but small press is definitely a big part of my reading repertoire now.

Also, everyone is so damn friendly! I’ve made a load of new friends in the small press crowd, which was a real unexpected bonus side effect, after being a total loner in my comic reading hobby for the vast majority of my life.

 

ZL – What was the tipping point into organising a small press day at your local comic shop?

SH – I think I just wanted to contribute in some way. Suddenly I had this great new circle of friends who all make comics. I didn’t have any urge to make my own (which they all thought was weird 😊 ), but I wanted to join in or help somehow…

At the same time, my LCS (Incredible Comic Shop in Swindon, Wiltshire) moved to a much larger premises, and didn’t really have enough stock to fill it all. I asked if they would consider stocking some small press and they said yes, as long as I did all the work and they didn’t have to pay for anything 😊 So they gave me a couple of shelves, and I asked a few creators I knew to come along for a signing event to launch the new “department”. We had 5 tables, so it was like the world’s smallest convention, but it went down really well with the shop customers, and everyone had good sales – both the creators who were there – and those I had stocked on my small press shelves.

4 - shop event image 23 - shop event

ZL – What made you think it was worth doing a second time?

SH – The fact it went down so well the first time, I guess.

To date I’ve organised two small press signings at the shop with multiple creators (5 or 6 tables), and a couple of individual events for more mainstream artists. The first small press event was the best attended of the four. Unfortunately, as time went on, I think that the novelty of small press product and signings wore off for the shop and its customer base, and it is now very difficult to shift independent product there.

 

ZL – What support did you get when setting up the initial event and how did that change over time?

SH – There was definitely more enthusiasm at the start from the shop themselves – for the first event they printed leaflets and posters, and paid for online advertising, and most importantly, when customers came in store in the weeks before the event they were keen to tell everyone about it.

It made a difference when the shop was pushing hard on local promotion. Mainly they used flyers, (in store, but I also put them in the local library, on noticeboards etc), posters and locally targeted paid facebook ads. I also put links to the events on local community facebook groups, although I’m not sure how much good they did.

I did try to get the local newspaper to show an interest too, but they were spectacularly disinterested.😊

By the second/third event that support had all but gone, sadly, but perhaps that was down to me not cheerleading strongly enough. Also – at first, probably due to the novelty of it, the actual small press product was really moving off the shelves, so that was clearly a plus point for the shop, cash going through the tills… but the shop’s customers very quickly moved back to their Marvel/DC heartland and sadly it was difficult to keep their interest up in the indie stuff. To the extent that the last couple of events were so poorly attended that I was genuinely embarrassed. I felt so bad for the creators turning up to a field of tumbleweed, and that (combined with some health issues) has put me off doing any events this year. I am not writing them off completely forever, though.

It is even hard to sell Image / IDW / Dark Horse etc books to that crowd! These aren’t generally people who go to comic cons at all, so there was no “brand recognition” for any of the small press stuff. If it isn’t Marvel/DC IP it is a very hard sell. Therefore I can’t really blame the shop for moving their promotional muscle back behind things that are more likely to generate them actual funds.

Other people – such as the Awesome Comics Podcast, and Stuart over at True Believers – were great at both publicising and attending my little events, because they are heroes – but the podcast in particular covers the whole country, and it’s not easy persuading people to come to Swindon for the day! 😀

a comic if i ever saw oneIMG_8430

ZL – You mention the idea of ‘brand recognition’ and the difficulty in maintaining an interest from customers in small press creations. I’m wondering how much, you think, considering the fact that these comics can be 24 pages in length and take sometimes a year between issues and are often created in thanx to Kickstarter backers, how much do you think that robs them of a chance to sell well?

SH – It is difficult to maintain interest yes, I found it easier to sell one off comics or ones where there were already a few issues out, so they could buy up a set at once.

A few customers at the Swindon shop tried to put some of the small press stuff on their pull lists and were told that they didn’t really work that way as not diamond distributed plus it could be a long wait. They weren’t too impressed! They are used to monthly or fortnightly titles.

 

ZL – That’s an interesting consideration, with the environment you’re trying to sell in – these are comic shop buyers so they’re likely to be people who want regular publications to deliver regular updates and that’s likely to be an important sales point. Do you think that comic shops are a good place to sell these sorts of semi-annual comics creations?

SH – It’s definitely a different world for those used to having a pull list of regular ongoing comics. They like one offs or already complete collections best…

But in general, at least in a comic shop, you have a captive audience of people who actually already love and read comics… but who very rarely go to comic cons or have any other exposure to small press stuff. Most in our shop didn’t know the small press existed until we introduced them to it!  So, yes, I think it is a good place to sell small press IF you can keep the momentum and interest up.

Some customers weren’t interested and considered the small press stuff to be inferior in some way to their big 2 faves, but most were enthusiastic, at least at the start.

 

ZL – Just to loop back on something you said, there’s a point I want to pick apart a little more about advertising and expanding the audience for buying comics and particularly the issue of expanding that reach beyond the normal ‘monthlies’ crowd. It seems to me that, in general, comics is very much concerned with talking to comics people and we’re very locked into that closed circle of ‘collecting’. I think local advertising of an event can be an opportunity to open things up and I wondered if you felt the same, because there’s a dynamic here that I’m seeing, in terms of, with the flyers in store and with the facebook advertising, it’s still talking to the converted. Whereas, I’d say, you attempted to get the information out to a wider public. Had you considered that dichotomy before, was that why you were trying new places to drum up interest?

SH – Hmmm. Tricky question, and I don’t know all the answers. The best results we got for attendance at events were when the shop did targeted facebook advertising in the local area (so not just to the people who follow their page, they targeted anyone interested in comics within a 30-mile radius) and also when they printed flyers (which I distributed all over!) and posters. When they stopped doing this the attendance fell off significantly, but that was probably also down to natural attrition.

The creators themselves pushing the events and the fact that the shop carries their books, also helps a lot. Some are a lot better at that than others.

collage art and drawing from one of Sarah's hand made books

Whether we can get people into the shop who aren’t already interested in comics at all is the big question. It is possible that some of the small press titles might appeal to them more than the pro comics especially if superheroes aren’t their thing. The shop is very Marvel/DC heavy though, so that might put them off.

I actually found that the small press comics that were a little more arty or different sold a lot better at the shop than more trad superhero style stories. I think for the fans of more traditional types of comic stories, they would rather buy their usual pro titles and didn’t think the small press alternatives looked up to their standards. Whereas for an artsy autobiography comic, for example, Marvel and DC don’t really have an alternative offering for that.

With hindsight, I should have bought more of that alternative kind of stuff in and less of the traditional stuff. But I thought I would need lots of “normal” comics to transition my “normal” customers!

You live and learn…

 

ZL – OK, but I’d still say that most of that advertising was going to the ‘converted’ though.

SH – Ah. I didn’t explain myself properly. By facebook advertising I meant the shop originally paid extra to promote to local people but outside of their own page followers.  You can serve an advert to everyone within 30 miles of Swindon who likes comics, conventions, etc. That was what worked really well.

For the later events they stopped doing that and only posted on their own page (the captive audience, as you say).

Ditto with the flyers, I took those all over the place, local conventions, other shops, the library, the local market etc. Anywhere I could get the word out. But then for subsequent events they didn’t print any flyers.

So yeah basically, when they advertised beyond the existing shop base, it worked. But that costs money and they clearly didn’t think they saw enough return from the first one to justify that expense again. (I think they are wrong about that, they made plenty on their margin on the small press stuff alone, and I know that some of our event visitors bought standard shop stock while they were there too…)

a page reflecting Sarah's interest in street art

 

ZL – Ah – you did answer clearly, I think I was not clear enough!

I was thinking that the advertising, the flyers in the shop and even the facebook ad, they would be to people ALREADY interested in COMICS, rather than just general PEOPLE, the expanded audience I was thinking of. That’s what was interesting – only you tried something that took it to PEOPLE and not COMICS interested. You put it out on community message boards, went to the library, stretched to reach a different audience. I just wonder if that had continued where it would have gone. Maybe I’m deluding myself, I’m good at that! I seem to think that there must be better ways to get comics in front of people than we currently have.

Here I’m thinking about a little rant I had on twitter a while back, where I questioned whether graphic novels or comic magazines are actually likely to expand comics readership. I also question whether these individual, slow running comics are best served by being published individually on a slow timescale and whether something more on the model of 2000AD might not serve them better? Maybe even a group website along the lines of something like Aces Weekly or Study Group where brand and content can be regularly pushed, a wider base can build momentum? Maybe even advertising used to monetise the work?

I guess that’s a lot to ask you, so maybe a fairer question would be, how likely would you be to sign up to something like that – an anthology with regularly changing strips, either online or physical, or a combination, where the content gets packaged up at the end of a storyline, much like 2000AD monthly?

SH – I guess the Comichaus anthology is along those lines. That came out regularly every month and was pretty good. And, also the Dirty Rotten Comics anthology was similar in format. Not sure if either are still going though.  Anthologies are often a tough-ish sell in my experience as people flick through and judge it by the weakest looking story in the book. Trick is not to have any weak stories!

 

ZL – How does it feel to have stopped?

SH – Let’s say “paused” not stopped – never say never 😊 Another interesting question. To be honest, I totally feel like I failed. I should have worked harder at keeping the customer base interested in small press, written weekly reviews for the shop website, rotated the stock more often, been in store more often to hands-on sell stuff… But there was a limit to how much time I could devote to what felt like a losing battle, week in week out. And stock wise – I had already spent a hell of a lot of my own money buying comics upfront that are still sat there a couple of years down the line, stubbornly refusing to sell – and it gets to the point where you have to draw a line…

It was an experiment, to see if I could get the locals excited about small press enough to sustain a section of the shop, without it being any work or expense for the store owners – and it looked for a minute like it might work… but in the end, I failed.

That doesn’t take away from the success of the first two events though – they were a lot of fun, and lucrative for the attending creators, and I’m proud to have – at least temporarily – expanded a few Wiltshire comic readers’ horizons.

cover for Sliced Quarterly

ZL – On a final note, you mentioned earlier that your comic friends think you mad because you’re not trying to make your own comics. I find that interesting, because I know you’ve made your own books before (I’ve added images throughout the interview), and some of those are pretty comic like to me. Also, I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that you’re working on a short comic story, but I can’t find where I saw that, so maybe I’m just back to deluding myself again?

SH – Yeah. I’m slowly dipping my toes in with a short 5 pager I’m doing for an upcoming anthology that I can’t talk about yet and before that I did a cover for Sliced Quarterly, so I seem to be getting involved!

(EDIT – This was a strip that appeared in The Whore Chronicles co-ordinated by Anthony Esmond)

 

 

SHOP! International Authors

I know nothing about this publisher, but both Michael Moorcock and Michael Butterworth are listed on the editorial board and they have published a couple of books by Michael Butterworth, so that’s good enough for a mention as far as I’m concerned!

 

For those that don’t know Michael Moorcock is a seminal writer of fantasy and science fiction revolutionising each in his own way. He was also the publisher of New Worlds – a science fiction anthology that championed the New Wave of Science Fiction.

international authors - michael butterworth
michael butterworth

Michael Butterworth, among many other things, has written Hawkwind novelisations and, most importantly to me, been the publisher of many great books and comics as Savoy Books, I have also just found out the he helped found Corridor8.

 

International Authors also publishes Emanations, which seems to be very interesting from the description at least.

 

Lots to check out!

(click on the images to follow the links)

 

international authors - website website

 

international authors - emanations emanations

 

 

Go Fund – 2020 publications from Birdcage Bottom Books

Campaign finishing Wednesday, March 11 2020 3:00 PM

There are 5 books in total. Every one of them looks like a great book, with great cartooning, great character design, even the single pages shown are intriguing storywise

The artwork is all very individual and exciting

I really wish I had more money so I could back the whole lot and get copies of their previous publications – that an option you can choose!

Really, really exciting comics here!

(click on images to follow links)

2020 publications from Birdcage Bottom Books

http://kck.st/2Sd82Ig

 

Here are some examples from the campaign page

 

Flop Sweat by Lance Ward
Flop Sweat by Lance Ward

Eddie's Weel by Patrick Dean
Eddie’s Weel by Patrick Dean

The Burning Hotels by Thomas Lampion
The Burning Hotels by Thomas Lampion

Woods by Mike Freiheit
Woods by Mike Freiheit

Malarkey by Novemeber Garcia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Fund – Dirty Diamonds 10: Death

example copy of dirty diamonds 10 on kickstarter an all women anthology about death

Campaign finishing Saturday, February 15 2020 4:59 AM

 

The example strips in the campaign all look really strong with an interesting range of styles and approach, but nothing seeming weak, just different

I’ve put some examples of those I find the most interesting

 

Christine Larsen page from the all women anthology dirty diamonds issue 10 about death

Christine Larsen     shop      twitter     instagram

page by Caitlin Skaalrud from all women comics anthology dirty diamonds issue 10 about death featuring the classic sheet covered ghost
Caitlin Skaalrud

 

Caitlin Skaalrud       shop       twitter       instagram       facebook

 

 

 

Go look -Ze Burnay

ze burnay illustration comicbooks graphic novel web comic death skeleton riding an elk and a knight in armour

I found Ze Burnay on tumblr where I enjoyed his character design, very tight cartooning on his figure work, a bit like Chester Brown. His backgrounds always had these great textured, detailed linework and I’ve really enjoyed seeing his character work develop along that way into the realistic style of his current graphic novel and illustrations.

Lovely to see a creator with such a versatile skillset.

ze burnay illustration comicbooks graphic novel web comic sketches records death ancient gods andromeda
shop

 

ze burnay illustration comicbooks graphic novel web comic sketches records death ancient gods andromeda
website

 

 

ze burnay illustration comicbooks graphic novel web comic sketches records death ancient gods andromeda
instagram

 

 

ze burnay illustration comicbooks graphic novel web comic sketches records death ancient gods andromeda
twitter

 

 

ze burnay illustration comicbooks graphic novel web comic sketches records death ancient gods andromeda
tumblr

 

 

ze burnay illustration comicbooks graphic novel web comic honey buzzard black and white line art
facebook

Go look – Sam Alden

sam alden comicbooks graphic novels illustration dancing friendship roller disco rollerskating derby

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
instagram

 

 

 

Go look – Oliver East

oliver east comic books strange ways and prime time rolling stock lanky homesick truant's cumbrian yarn take me back to manchester comic page previews

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

 

website

twitter

instagram

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comix economix – an interview with Nix Comics publisher Ken Eppstein

Kickstarter live here

 

Nix Rock Logo

 

website                                 facebook                                  twitter                            instagram

 

Intro

We’re back with a lovely long interview with cult comics publisher, maker and general poetry aficionado Ken Eppstein.
I’ve known about Nix Comics since its first being mentioned on The Comics Reporter and been intrigued by how grass roots and open it seems as a publisher.
Then I saw a blog post where Ken went into details on sales and breakeven and knew I had to dig into this. Ken was incredibly helpful and polite throughout this whole process and comes across as a genuine and honest person – it made it great fun to be in touch and sort this out.

 

KP Cover

Interview

Hi Ken

Hey iestyn!

ZL – I’m going to start all sensible and check my facts out first. My understanding is that Nix Comics started around 2008 as a publisher, is that right?

KE More like 2010 for Nix proper. I started doing some cartoons and submitting them to Roctober Magazine around 2008, though. They were adaptations of interviews that I had conducted a few years before that as part of a newsletter for Evil Empire Records’ regular customers. I couldn’t mentally have gotten to “Nix Comics” without Roctober. Advice/help from Jake Austen was pretty instrumental to me, though, so I wouldn’t quibble if you called 2008 the start in that sense.

ZL – I’ve read that you had decided to end your record shop and find new adventures. That went with coming back to comics and finding there weren’t many comics that suited your tastes, so you thought you’d make your own. Does that sound about right?

KE Hahaha…. “Decided” is a generous way to put it. The brick and mortar Evil Empire Records was a flop. Not enough people in Columbus who want to buy Billy Childish records, I guess. (Town full of fuckin’ heathens.)

By the time I was starting to do comics stuff, my retail efforts were limited to on-line sales, which didn’t bring me the same joy: the only part of running a retail operation that I really enjoy is meeting people and making recommendations. I was at a point where I needed more personally.  I can’t tell you why all the pieces of Nix Comics snapped into place specifically at that point in time, but long stifled creative urges were finally bubbling over in my brain.

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And yep… My perception was that there weren’t a lot of comics to my taste when I started making my own. And there hadn’t been for many years. I felt that way and said as much at the time, but I do feel like qualifying that opinion nowadays. I hadn’t had my ear to the ground for a while and the only experience I was going from was my knowledge of what was coming to stores that only sell Diamond distributed products. If I had bothered to actually go looking instead of shooting my mouth off, I would have found stuff.  What I should have said is “there is never enough” stuff that I personally want to read.

 

 

ZL – When you started, did you expect that you’d be able to make a good living – well, as good as selling records – from doing comics, or do you have an additional set of income, so it’s more of a moot point?

KE A good friend of mine once ribbed me by saying it was “awesome” that I based the Nix Comics business model on the tiny, mostly defunct, independent records that I loved. I had to laugh, because it was definitely true… My plans had a lot in common with how outfits like Estrus Records and Get Hip Records operated. Those labels were distribution efforts created to be vehicles for the Mono-Men and the Cynics, respectively, but they grew to include other acts that fit into that 90s garage punk scene. Anyways, I figured it would be a way to make a little extra side cash with the potential of it becoming a fulltime thing if all the streams converged properly.

I also was aware of the worst-case scenario, that maybe Nix would never would catch and I would blow a lot of money on something that only a handful of people appreciated. I mean… How much mass appeal can there be for a comic whose main distinctive feature is that the lead writer likes to include oblique references to Kasenetz & Katz Super Circus songs? I was (and am) cool with that in the sense that I don’t really have any other vices these days. Don’t drink or smoke or gamble outside of the occasional lottery ticket. Making comics keeps me out of trouble.

I should add for the record, Get Hip = NOT defunct! (Record pun intended.)

 

ZL – Is that lack of commercial need aided by you living somewhere cheap or do you just have low expectations for cost and lifestyle?

KE Ah… you know… My expectations are always butting up against my pragmatism. Expectations are my Mr. Hyde: furious, sad and confused that I can’t sell a couple thousand of the comics and zines that I feel are good and different. That’s what? 50 copies per state in the US? Even accounting for the relative paucity of people in Montana, that’s not an unreasonable goal, right?

My pragmatic Jekyll knows all too well that it’s never been easy or likely for artists to make a living. My guess is that it’s harder than ever because thanks to things like crowdfunding and print on demand services, the bar for entry into the field is lower than ever.  That’s great in the sense that I believe that all artists should have access to means for creation, but it’s a drag in terms of an overcrowded field.

The funny thing is I sometimes feel like I’m by default Hyde and I need to take the potion to turn into Jekyll.

 

ZL – Yeah, I know what you mean. I’ve got to a point where I feel like I’m so likely to fail it just doesn’t even matter anymore, not sure what that counts as but I’m going to coin the phrase ‘entropic pragmatism’ I’m so despondent it seems like it doesn’t actually matter so I can justify giving it a go. That sounds quite messed up when I say it out loud! Moving quickly back to you then…

When you first started up Nix comics what did you think you’d be able to achieve, in what timescale?

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KE Ack. You ask hard questions. Tough to answer because the immediate goal has always been the next book or next few books, whatever they may be. Everything else was (and is) pretty experimental.

I had a good day job at the time I started and spent year one throwing money at Nix, hoping it would jumpstart things.  My goals were pretty standard, I think, for wannabe publishers: I wanted to make sure all the artists got paid and to print enough copies that I could make some money if they all sold. I thought I would pick up distribution and get to the point where it was at least self-sustaining. I was also hoping to get a core group of artists locked down… Like, so they could plan on having X amount of work every year from me.

It was pretty clear to me by the end of the year that things just weren’t going to work out that way.

Second year I tried to just do titles where I paid artists a percentage of sales. Only two titles in 2012, Nix Western Comics and Nix Comics for Kids. It worked OK… Nix Western actually made both me and Bob Starker a little money. (Sad story: the little bit of money Bob made was by his account more money than he had made in his entire three-decade musical career.) Nix for Kids was a bomb and I went into the red for it and only paid Brian Kraft a pittance for a 20-page full color comic.

Kind of hated the extra work for not a lot of money involved in that whole process and, with the exception of the Belligerent Kitties minis, haven’t done anything but a flat rate for a maximum number of printings since. Like if I give somebody $150 for a Bus Stop Ned, that’s good for printing 2000 copies of that comic. Any other publications or merchandising would require a new deal. There’s potentially a lot more money on the back end for me than the artist gets up front, but I think that’s fair.

I also changed my plans for reach. After being rejected by Diamond and a brief relationship with Ubiquity Magazine distributors I adopted a “Columbus first, then the world” mentality. I’ve really tried to concentrate on being a notable publisher here in town in hopes that I can spring off of that into something more broadly notable. I have NO IDEA how to get that done, so no timeline on that goal.

For a long time, my focus was just on getting books out. I was pretty resigned to them not making money, but I really wanted them to get made! A couple of years ago I was forced to leave that “good job” and since have had sporadic employment. This has led to more of a focus on the books making money, or at least all of my side hustles making money. I miss the days when I could do whatever-the-fuck I wanted.

ZL – It seems like many creators have to flit about, scraping pennies together, more so than ever. I can’t really say why that is, I’m not sure anyone can, really. It seems like society is moving more and more to the job and side hustle and the hustle to the hustle. It’s like everything is just too much for even the basics to be affordable.

 

ZL – I skipped this in my fact check, sorry for going back but, for those who don’t know anything about you, could you give a brief history of Nix comics; where you’re based, and the kind of titles and creators you publish? Am I right in saying your based in Columbus, where CXC and the Billy Ireland started up in the last few years?

KE Yep, I’ve lived in Columbus for the past 30 years, minus a brief stay in Boston in the early 90s and a brief stay in San Francisco in the early 00s.  I think this is the 5th year for CXC coming up and the 7th for the current Billy Ireland digs. (Those numbers should be right within a year or so.)

The Billy Ireland had been around as a library and archive for many years prior to that: divided up between a warehouse and a tiny library in an Ohio State University basement… I think one of the great shames OSU should feel is that they kept such a great resource buried in a basement for fuckin’ decades. I’m glad now that it is starting to get the space and recognition it deserves.

Wait… This question was about me and Nix Comics. Like we said, I started working on Nix in 2010. My idea was to make the kind of comics that would sell well in record stores in addition to comic shops. The old saw is true: you write and publish about the stuff you know. There was also a certain amount of math to it, too: There were, I think, 3 comic shops in town at the time and 8 record shops. I knew the people at record shops but didn’t really know the comic shop folks at the time.

Digging down on that a little, I’ve always focused on music themed comics…. Whether that connection is something obvious like stories about bands and record stores, doing biographical material or just based on the artist also being a musician. That has led to a lot of different genres, artistic styles and book formats, so I don’t know how successful I’ve been in communicating that to readers. Sometimes I feel like no one else gets it and sometimes I feel like people get it and are just quietly nodding until I shut the fuck up.

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ZL – I was doing a bit of research on you and was very impressed by your commitment from the very start to have open books, particularly for the sake of the artists working with you, so they understood what had been achieved. As well as ensuring everyone was paid as fairly as you could.

Has that worked out positively for you, or not made any real kind of impact?

KE Well, I think that the answer to that has more to do with anecdotal experiences leading up to my deciding to pay artists. I guess first up, I am a recovering Stan Lee True Believer. I bit hard on the Stan mythos as a kid and it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I really read up on him as a subject and was forced to examine the reality of the person behind the myth. I still idolize the mythic figure in ways, but I want to be a better person as an actual collaborator, editor, and publisher. Same goes for Bill Gaines and Jim Warren…. I’d like to take the good from their careers and improve on the bad.

Along those lines, right before I started Nix Comics I had read Eric Davidson’s “We Never Learn” about 90s punk and garage. There’s a great part where Danny Kroha from the Gories relates about he had the most respect for Tim Warren from Crypt Records of all the record label folks because Warren always sent a sales report with a check every year. Kroha admitted that he sometimes doubted the accuracy of the numbers, but that Warren was the only label/distro that even bothered with regular reporting.

For more musical context, Nix Comics was also formed right on the heels of the Dead Kennedys’ royalty lawsuit. Not that I was ever a huge fan of the band, but I ended up losing a lot of respect for everyone involved in that mess.  Like, how on earth do these self-identified leftists end up fighting about royalties? It didn’t help that in addition to actual court, they tried the matter in the court of public opinion in the opening days of social media connectivity.

All that said, the experience that most fixed my point of view on all that was a personal one. Bear with me, because I’m going to tell a story without mentioning any names because it involves people I like on all ends and I don’t know the whole actual truth… But there’s a guy I know who worked at a local record store and is in a garage rock band of note. Not like Mudhoney level famous or anything, but beloved by a lot of people who are into such things. This fella and I were talking record store business when a specific distro came up, and my friend melted down. Like a full-on fist waving and red-faced vein-popping out of his forehead screaming meltdown.

He ranted on about how the distro in question was a bunch of crooks who owe his band money. I know the distro folks in question, and while I don’t doubt that they may have owed my friend money, I don’t think they are nefarious.  I do think they are capable of fucking up and not communicating well about it. I think all parties concerned are capable of blowing up and ending an argument before its resolved, creating a feud.  Anyways, I hated suddenly being in the middle of a fight like that and can only imagine how much I’d hate being actually a participant in the fight. Pretty much I want to avoid ever having somebody blast me like that, and the only way I can think of is to be as transparent and forthcoming as possible.

So… you know… Some altruism and some being chicken-shit was involved in setting those policies.

Has it had an impact? Maybe, but I think that’s not the right word for it. It’s bought me a lot of leeway with artists as they always know where I’m coming from. Maybe a little too much leeway as I still owe Rick Brooks a couple hundred bucks for his work in Nix Western #4. Similar, I feel like I owe Andy Bennett some extra money for Jenny Mae ‘N Jerry Wick because the page count went up on him between start and finish of the project. I don’t think and wouldn’t expect those guys to give me any leeway on all if I didn’t have open books and a history of making good.  I feel like I’m in a little bit of abuse of that goodwill at the moment and am working on making it right.

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ZL – This interview came about partly because of I follow you thanx to the mentions on Comics Reporter, but specifically because I picked up on your post about breaking even, and I wondered if you’d met with any increased interest because of that post? Has there been any kind of feedback at all really, or just some tumble weed and me going, ‘Oo, oo, that’s really interesting!’ because I’m nosy like that?

KE I do that kind of essay periodically and do get feedback and interest on them, mostly from people who are interested in the nuts and bolts of the industry. You’d have to ask him to be sure, but I think that kind of material is part of why Tom posts about me on Comics Reporter.

I guess the column I did for the Outhouse for a year or two had some fans. I look back on those writings, though, and kind of hate their tone… They read like I’m trying to “establish myself as an expert.” Maybe I was trying to do that, but nowadays I don’t like the idea of trying to turn experience into social currency.

I do keep beating head up against the notion that sharing information about my finances and how much money I pay to artists is a “big” selling point. It’s not. There are a few people for who that is true, but by in large, hardly anyone cares.

I also get a lot of fellow creator-types saying, “wow that’s really brave of you,” which is weird to me. I don’t understand what’s so scary about it. Like is it a big secret that making small press comics isn’t a moneymaking effort? Is money so personal that I’m breaking taboo by talking about it? Like revealing how the magic trick is done or wrestling match is choreographed or something? I dunno.

 

ZL – In my experience, money is always a risk area of conversation, I don’t tend to care about it, but then in my first few weeks at current job, I mentioned my pay rate around a colleague who’d been there longer, was more experienced and more senior and earning, it turns out, thousands less than me. They got quite personally upset and that shook me. I mean if they’d just been mad at work, I’d have felt vindicated, but that was personal for them, so it was really ‘urgh, why didn’t I shut up!’

I think it’s the same in most fields. Maybe, in the arts, it’s almost like having to admit you’re not a REAL artist if you can’t pay your way, you’re a hobbyist or something? I’m going off track and casting wild aspersions here.

Back to tack, I mentioned the reasons for why I follow you, because I’m always intrigued to know the causality of relationships, what led to what led to what etc. I wonder if part of what you’re trying to do is to create a space where work you can admire can start to flourish, where people can see it has a place to exist? Essentially, trying to create a place that suits you and then attract others to it. Or are you making stuff because you can’t stop yourself?

KE Yes to both.

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ZL – What are your feelings about the lack of honesty about numbers in comics in general – were you surprised by your numbers when they started coming in, or were you clued in early to sales and sales barriers within comics?

KE Is there dishonesty or just a deafening silence amongst the people involved? I guess that would be lies of omission, but I don’t feel like anyone out there is being particularly deceptive about the financial realities of making comics.

Going back to an earlier answer, an expectant Hyde was surprised and dismayed by sales numbers and the ever-pragmatic Jekyll wasn’t.

ZL – You make a fair point there, that’s a mis-characterisation, maybe it’s more accurate to say what are your feelings about the lack of a wider discussion about financial realities.

I’m guessing there will be many that haven’t read your article, so could you briefly describe where your sales are in terms of break even, just a sort of, ‘this many titles made money, this many titles are within 1-20 of making money, this many have a loooong way to go’?

KE Sorry for a bad interview answer here: They should just go read the essay! Or at least lookit the graph that answers your question!

Read here

ZL – That’s more than fair I think. It’s a good article, I enjoyed it very much.

Getting back to the start of Nix Comics, I’m interested to know how you decided on your initial numbers, was it based on a marketplace assessment, segmented by a target audience, more of a finger in the air, or the more hopeful, well if I sell this amount it’ll cover all the costs and it doesn’t seem that unreasonable to expect these sales figures?

KE For the first couple of years a lot of it was pretty much dictated by where the price breaks were on print runs. Since I had aspirations of getting distribution in year one, I had to print quantities that would get me to the point where selling at 40% of cover price made sense. While I was working hard to get my books in stores sans-distributor I was shooting for whatever print run quantity made sense to sell at 50% of cover. I guess I’m still at that point, but I have cut back my wholesale activities a lot because it’s a lot of work with crappy margins. I’d rather make the sale myself at cover price than sell a copy for half that only to see it slaving away on a forgotten shelf in some store. That shit is debilitating.

In terms of artist pay the quarterly has maintained a store rate as opposed to a page rate. It started as $150 for a short (1-3 pages) and $300 for a feature (4-8 pages). I offer a little more for features now. This kept things in the range where I could look at wholesale distribution as a viable option. I also wanted it to incentivize shorter submissions, which was a punk rock thing; viewing each issue as a compilation record, I wanted lots of short rippers and fewer drippy ballads. I don’t remember how I arrived at those specific rates.

 

ZL – It sounds like you were considering breaking even on sales. Would you say that’s what drove you at the start, were you considering this in terms of your own ongoing business concerns or were you aimed more at driving sales or attention to the creator(s) and their published work?

KE Clearly breaking even isn’t a prerequisite for me moving on to something else! I mean, ideally one project would pay for the next, but that’s just not the reality. Almost all of my decision drivers in that sense are whether or not I want to see the thing happen. More often than not the motivation for wanting the thing to happen is that I think the creators involved deserve an audience or that their work deserves “life.”

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ZL – I also wonder after what expectations you set yourself at first and how realistic those sales or rather, your measures for sales, were in the end. I just wonder how much energy over time has been linked to your expectations not being met by reality and what emotional effect that had upon you?

KE Shit. I’m always disappointed by sales. I’m in love with what I put out and don’t understand why it’s so damn hard to sell. There might be a step on the ladder where I’m satisfied with sales, but I ain’t hit it yet.

I don’t stress about it like some artists and publishers, because it’s not life or death for me, but I definitely feel it.

 

ZL – This is a tricky one to slip in, but, I wonder after how much emotion and anxiety you expected to be involved in the process and whether you were prepared for how much there actually was?

I particularly wonder after the amount of guilt involved in publishing, around having your own expectations for success and having to reconcile that with reality and having to deal with other creators’ own sense of worth and expectations of what makes that work worthwhile?

KE Well, I’m here to tell you that the anxiety of no-one-buying-my comic is NOWHERE near the anxiety level of starting and failing at a brick and mortar retail business. I would spend days alone in a shop sweating over how I was going to pay two rents, two electric bills, two phone bills, etc. There were days when I was hoping just one comic or record would sell so I could go buy some eggs for the week. I think that experience for me definitely tamps down any angst I might feel about comics. If a Nix Comic flops, I’m out some dough and I have to decide what to do with the boxes of unsold material, but I’m not sitting alone in a room sweating about how will I be able to pay for one of my two rents. Or worse, hoping for just one sale so I can buy some beans and rice on the way home.

I do struggle with my expectations versus the reality of things, but I find guilt to be one of those angsty emotions. Frustration that I can’t reach more people? Yes, definitely. Anguish that even in a group of noted weirdos, I’m still the weird kid out? Yeah, that too. I guess that on occasion I feel envy of peers who have some success. That in turn leads to guilt over having such shitty thoughts… But that’s not guilt about my lack of success.

ZL – Did you even consider emotions and their impact on you going into the process and did it rear itself as an issue more as you went on?

KE Yeah, I suppose I did. I’ve always hung out with artist types and was vicariously familiar with the ups and downs of an artistic career. Thanks to that I feel like I can avoid most of the emotional pitfalls of the process.

 

ZL – Moving away from commercial matters to more community related things, you’re now in something of a comics heartland I believe. I certainly know that I first heard of you from The Comic Reporter site and Tom Spurgeon mentioning you when he’d moved to Columbus and started working on CXC.

Have you seen anything of a change in the area relating to the new festival and the Billy Ireland library opening?

KE Well, they are big public resources and as such they are what people in the comics community make of them. Some members of the community embrace the Billy and CXC, making the most of their presence, and others don’t.

The Billy Ireland doesn’t have any specifically local bent to its programs, so I have a hard time saying that the institution has made changes to the local comics community. It’s just not part of their mission. The Billy did hire Caitlin McGurk who has been a tremendous friend and supporter of local artists since her first day on the job, so that’s pretty impactful.

I know that CXC has the desire to enhance the local community, but it’s not really their main focus. It’s a cool show: having a cool show in town is good for the community and they’ve been really good to me personally. I think there are some little things they could do here and there to help the local community, like hire a local artist to do a promo poster.

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ZL – Is there a sense of change within your comics community, or does it feel like that’s a million miles away from where you are?

KE I don’t know. I can’t speak for the Columbus comics community. It’s a pretty eclectic group with different needs and points of view. I’ll say this: It’s grown a lot. When I started it was pretty easy to go out and meet everybody who makes comics in Columbus. Now I only know a fraction of the crowd and more kids are starting up every day.

 

ZL – Thinking about the wider community, are you finding that the nature of the area itself is changing, are rents increasing for example? Does this make you concerned about how viable the lifestyle you can currently achieve is going to remain?

KE Yeah, like everywhere, rents are going up. Both residential and commercial. It’s driving out both a diversity of people and a diversity of businesses. That means fewer places to sell DIY type products combined with less money in everyone’s pockets. I am constantly ruminating over the increasing difficulty of day to day survival and what that means for art. This city right now is a lot different than the one I moved to 30 years ago and the changes are not “artistic lifestyle friendly.”

 

ZL – I seem to be hitting with some pretty heavy questions, sorry! I guess, particularly for someone based in the UK, the whole financial situation and publishing situation in America seems hard all round, especially when you’re having to think about medical bills or insurance as well!!

I’m going to lighten up a bit in a minute, I promise!

But not just yet!!!!

Tell us about your experience with running Kickstarter campaigns. You seem to have had your ups and downs with some failing to meet their target, but your most recent was pretty ambitious and ended up successfully. Have you picked that apart for yourself as to what may have made the difference?

lascaux titleKE If you’ll permit me to continue to beat the metaphor to death, the two campaigns that failed were run by Hyde and the others were Jekyll operations.

For the 2013 “Big Ask” I was asking for $25K and figured I could get around 300 people to subscribe. There were plenty of people who I considered my peers getting that kind of action at the time. Turns out that they were my artistic peers, but in terms of having an active network of fans I wasn’t even close to them. I don’t remember if I thought I could actually make it or if I was just swinging for the fences. Either way, I whiffed.

The mistake I made for the 2014 campaign was that I knew I was asking for a fairly large chunk, but I figured people would step up for the two artists I was focusing on. Darren Merinuk has done posters and record sleeves on the cheap for literally 100s of bands. Bob Ray Starker has played a million live shows with and contributed on dozens of records for local bands without ever getting paid. I mentally multiplied those “100s” and ”dozens” of bands by number of band members and figured that there were more than enough people out there who owed Darren and Bob a little something and that I would make goal easy. Turns out all of those fuckers are ingrates. Still mad. Fuckin’ fuckface fuckers.

 

ZL – Are you finding it easier to get purchases now that Kickstarter has become something more central to the comics production cycle? Or has this hurt you, with the money and attention getting spread thinner now?

KE For me personally? Kickstarter has been nothing but good. It’s a tool I understand, and my results have steadily gotten better over time. For the comic community as a whole, I do worry that it leads to overcrowding in the field since anyone who wants to make a comic book now can. That relationship between supply and demand is a real tricky thing.

 

ZL – Do you feel like this is a good way to sell and market your comics, along with convention attendance, or are you yearning, actively searching even, for a better way to get comics out there and making you money and getting you eyes on the work?

KE Ideally people would just go to my mail order site and I could skip the third parties and middle men. It really annoys me that that doesn’t seem to be a viable thing.

ZL – Yeah, I wonder if site like Kickstarter have had an effect on audience expectation, maybe now they expect to find everything in one place, at their convenience. I remember being in love with the idea of subscriptions as a (lazy) kid and as an adult, I sort of feel like a subscription model should be able to work, but, anecdotally, I’ve got the feeling that it’s dead on the vine now as an approach. Unless you’re big enough to get a Patreon running…

I’m veering off subject again! I’ll lighten up on the heavy finance stuff and try for some controversy instead!!

This is probably a horrible question, but not too bad as you write most of your stories yourself, so I’m going to ask it anyway!

What title that you published is:

Your personal favorite?

The work you’re most proud to have published?

More commercially, what was the greatest income made for a creator?

KE Funny story: I’m horrible at picking favorite anythings. I know I have them, but they don’t often bubble up when people ask me. Like recently someone asked me who my favorite actor is, and I couldn’t come up with a specific one. I went home and told my wife Kate about it and she just shook her head and told me that Vincent Price is clearly my favorite actor. She’s right of course. Unfortunately, for the purpose of this interview, I’m going to avoid embarrassing myself by asking her what my favorite Nix Comic is.

Right now, the book I’m most proud of releasing is Kent Grosswiler’s Beauty Found in Darkness. An illustrated book of urban haiku is about as far as I could push the envelope of “rock n roll comic” as I can imagine.

 

It was definitely a return to form of using artists peripheral to comics… Kent is an artistic polymath (Poet, painter, drummer) but not a comics guy. The illustrators on the book, Rob W. Jones and Alli MacGregor are fine artists, but also aren’t comic book people. It was really rewarding to work with all of them. Before that I think I was most proud of Nix Comics Quarterly #2. It’s not my “best” by far, but it was proof to myself that comics wasn’t just a one off for me. With issue #2 I knew that I could spend the rest of my life making comics if I want.

I don’t know for sure which artist I’ve paid the most money to. That’s a good question and probably worthy of some research and a personal blog post! It’s almost gotta be Andy Bennett since he has done two full lengths, a zine and a couple of features for Nix Comics Quarterly.
ZL – What is it you feel being published by Nix comics has brought to the creators that worked with you that they couldn’t have found for themselves?

KE Forgive me, but I’m not going to project on my collaborators that way. It’s got to be different for every one of them. If I can make more work for you, I’d be interested in hearing their answers if you are willing to ask them! (Hah!)

I know that there a few people who had never had their comics published by someone else before Nix. It’s a pretty cool feeling to have done that for someone.

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ZL – What is the best outcome you’ve seen for a creator or work that you published?

KE Three of the contributors to Nix Comics Quarterly #8 ended up winning Eisners last year! (John Jennings, Tillie Walden and Gideon Kendall) I can take exactly zero credit for that, but I’m so proud of them and happy that the world recognizes their talent and hard work as much as I do.

 

 

 

ZL – What do you think your company’s legacy has been in the market place and in creators lives so far?

That’s a slightly loaded question I know! But, I think this is one of those issues of appreciation.

If you sit back and reflect upon that, how does it make you feel about your efforts? Do you sit back and think about that?

KE Y’know, I always joke about selling the rights to my epitaph. “For $1000 bucks you can write whatever you want on my tombstone.” Or whatever. The joke comes from an honest, if somewhat morbid, place: I’m not going to care what’s scrawled on a rock after I’m dead. In a lot of ways, I feel the same way about my comics legacy. Such a thing is always written by other people and I don’t have a lot of control over it, so let it be what it will be.

That’s not to say I don’t celebrate my successes or ruminate over my failures as they happen. Each comic I put out is its own triumph. I’m not sure that I care that much about who or how much they are celebrated after I’ve stopped. Recognition for my efforts now would be nice. Same for being called out on my failings, I suppose, in the spirit of letting me know what I’m doing wrong so I can feel bad now and course correct.

 

ZL – Do you have plans to do anything differently in the future? I’m thinking, for example, of whether large magazines and large crowdfunding campaigns are going to remain viable, have you considered the success of companies like Oily comics and how they published comics through a subscription model, with regular publications and small page counts to keep it cheap and build momentum. Let’s face it, The End Of The Fucking World was published monthly with only eight photocopied pages and it’s done pretty well for itself. There are other publishers adopting this model, skip out on the big social media platforms. Have you considered that as an option?

KE I do have plans to do some things differently.

For one thing, I am going to make some format changes, which are a response to being sick of those break-even numbers. I’m sick of trying to get “there” five bucks at a time.  I need to make more stuff in the $10+ cover price range. One Idea I’m seriously toying with is doing my horror anthology comic as a 12×12 book with an optional LP compilation “de-luxe” version. It’s a pretty natural step, given that in my mind the comic anthology format is a clear parallel to compilation albums.

I’m thinking of doing a quarterly zine that is available for download as well as in print. Ideally It would be more ad revenue driven than sales revenue driven. I need to get on the hog with looking for sponsors for that.

Oily comics mini-comics was a really cool service, but I suspect the reason it’s no longer a thing is that it was a lot to keep in line. I love the idea of taking a classic zine club swap format and turning it into distribution, but there are so many moving parts involved in that and I don’t know if that machine bears up under the pressure of having paying third parties. (I also attribute the success of The End of the Fucking World more to Chuck’s talent and hard work than I do to the format it was released in.)

ZL – Yeah, I should have been clearer in saying that it did no harm to it putting it out in small chunks, but it seems to have made it easier in terms of ‘getting it done and getting it out there’.

 

ZL – Another question I’m wondering is whether digital would, in your opinion, have a place within your sales plans now, and what platforms would you consider if it does?

KE I am down for some digital zines, but not super keen on doing digital comics. I don’t personally consume comics that way and that prevents me from wrapping my head around how to make them. I’m not even happy with the way my books look in PDF form when I send them out for reviews… The page turns don’t work the same way!

elvis c

ZL – What are your sales venues in general?

KE Crowd funding, shows/events, my website, ebay and discogs. There are a few comic, record and bookstores that carry Nix Comics.

ZL – What are your most successful route to sales?

KE Crowfunding. Hands down. Lowest cost to entry and the biggest gains. It’s become the default marketplace for self-publishers and micro-presses.

 

ZL – Do you deal with any distributors for your work and do you have any insights on managing those relationships?

KE Not right now. Well… Bela Koe-Krompecher distributes his contributor copies of his books as part of the Anyway Records catalog with Revolver and sometimes Matador, so I suppose I do have distribution through his efforts.

I’m not sure that distribution is worth seeking out unless I can sell a few thousand copies. For that I would have to up my marketing budget significantly and the margins are so shitty even at that economy of scale to begin with. Maybe down the road if things grow, I’ll feel different.

 

ZL – What is an average sales lifetime for a work, as in, are all sales front loaded up to publication date or do you continuing making sales over an extended period of months or even years and how do you manage to generate those sales?

KE Average lifetime? I don’t know. Another good idea for a blog post! If we’re talking “lifetime” I guess that I would have declare some of them “dead” and I’m not sure that I’m willing to do that while the boxes are still sitting in my basement. They’re just comatose and may comeback, right? RIGHT!!??

The usual lifetime is that there’s a big burst of sales upon release and then a pretty dramatic drop off. Sales at that next level down tend to be steady for a year or so and then drop off again to almost nothing after that year. The only exceptions to that to date have been Nix Comics Quarterly #1, because when you meet new customers they normally want to start at the beginning and Jim Shephard: Negotiate Nothing which kept selling OK for a couple years thanks to Jim’s cult hero status. It has since settled down to the levels of other backstock.

I usually try to push backstock when something new is coming out, because it’s when I’m most likely to have fresh eyes on Nix as a whole. That’s my main strategy. I also try to bring copies of everything-but-everything with me when I’m at shows, because you never know who is going to want what. For stores that carry Nix books I try to rotate stock in and out. Chances are a book is new to someone!

I would welcome a good way to clear out backstock. I keep threatening to throw a small press/tiny record label “Box sale” where people like me vend backstock out of boxes of comics, records, CDs, et. all. at a deep discount.

 

ZL – Do you do that normally, engineer interest in older works with sales or packing them into bundles?

KE Yeah! At shows I usually offer the first four issues of Nix Comics Quarterly for $10, which is basically the wholesale rate. I usually sell at least a couple of those packs per show.

 

ZL – On a practical level, what happens to any stock still left over, is it propping up someone’s bed or hidden away in a storage facility somewhere costing extra money to store?

KE I have a decent sized house with a big basement and tiny home office, so no problem on the storage front. I do worry a little about dampness creeping in to the boxes in the basement (All issues 1-4 of the Quarterly) and would like to accelerate sales on those somehow.

kypussypre008

ZL – Thinking about the future, what do you think is the future for idiosyncratic comics of the kind that Nix comics publish, self-publishing, web comics, digital platforms or something else?

KE I have no idea. That’s serious crystal ball stuff, there.

The lefty in me hopes that print stays a viable option because it has the most potential for subversive use in the digital age. “They” can easily track and hack you on-line but try to hack this pamphlet I left in the men’s room of the Dubuque Greyhound station, jerk! (Not that I’ve ever been to Dubuque. You can’t prove that I have…)

Artistically speaking, I hope that short stories come back into vogue… I like my comic stories like I like my songs: Fast, loud and short! The whole sprawling epic thing that is in vogue across most genres really bores the piss outta me.

ZL – Yeah, definitely me as well, I don’t know why people like it. The whole idea of sitting down and watching some intricately plotted epic series where I have to keep everything fresh in my mind to understand what’s going on… I just want to switch off and relax, that’s harder effort than my job. How is that entertainment?

 

ZL – So, thinking again about community and particularly as you area publisher, so have to do some keeping your eye out for talent, which three creators would you recommend people search out if they are fans of Nix comics?

KE Oh man. I’m gonna tap out on this question. Too many people deserving of a nod and I don’t want to apply any sort of hierarchy to them. How about this, here are my three favorite ways to find new creators that I admire:

  • Follow zines, blogs and sites dedicated to uncovering new and old comics of all sorts. Some of my go tos are Almost Normal Comics, Poopsheet Foundation, anything Comics Reporter marks as OTBP, Your Chicken Enemy, Robyn Chapman’s Tiny Report, the review section of Razorcake Magazine… It doesn’t hurt to pick up old zines for their review sections, for that matter. Roctober had a great one.
  • Invest in anthology reading and take the time to look up the artists you find in them. It’s the cheapest way to get exposed to a lot of artists. It absolutely perplexes me that they don’t sell better for this very reason.
  • Look for publications by artists who you discover through their art in non-comics publications. (or other work like posters or record sleeves) You can kind of tell when a graphic artist has the chops to do narrative work, and chances are that if they have the skills, they’ve acted on them.

Hope that’s not too big a cop out.

ZL – Well, it’s just told anyone who wants to work with you how to get discovered by you.
ZL – How about we move onto fantasy futureland? Given unlimited time, budget and resources what 3 projects would you deliver so that you could retire proud?

KE Wow. Unlimited time budget and resources? We’re not talking about individual comics or publications at that point!

  • A Nix Comics Music festival. Put a bunch of comic/poster artists in a spotlight at the same time a bunch of the bands that inspire Nix play.
  • Open a Nix Comics brick and mortar flagship store. Something like Quimbys meets Amoeba Records.
  • Hire a full-time art and writing staff, giving them a salary, health insurance, vacation time and a chunk of the IP on anything they create.

 

ZL – Finally, what can we expect from you in the next 6 months?

KE At the moment I’m in the last days of my kickstarter crowdfunding two publications:

“Kenttucky Pussy” is a comic book by Sexton Ming and JT Dockery. The text elements are all poems by Sexton and inspire the visual narration by JT, so I’m really excited by this.  I’ve wanted to work with JT since I met him at the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) a buncha years back and I have been a fan of Sexton Ming ever since his role as the bionically enhanced and thoroughly evil Queen Victoria in Pervirella. (THAT movie is everything that the cyber punk genre failed to be!) “Kentucky Pussy” has everything that I would expect from a pairing of these two great artists: Lush imagery, outsider lamentations and proper use vulgarity. It’s weird to me that within two years I’ll have put out two poetry centered books. Never considered myself a “poetry guy.”

Print

The second book is a collection of Sketchbook art by me! For the past few years I have been drawing picture sleeves for 7” records in my sketchbooks. I cut them out and pair them with the record that inspired them; selling them at comic shows and record fairs. It’s a good fun way to take a lonely 7” and turn it into a unique part of someone’s collection. People have been asking me for a book version of it for a while… Hopefully they were for real about wanting one!

Kickstarter campaign

I also just overspent at a local comic sale, so I expect that I’ll write a zine about comic collecting in the same vein as my “Tales from the Crate” record collecting zine. I gotta recoup that money somehow!

ZL – I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk to us and for giving such honest answers. I hope you enjoyed the process!

KE Thanks! I did! A very in depth and unique interview.

 

The Short List – Tom Murphy, some of Colossive Press

Disclosure – Colossive Press published a zine by me and I have published two contributor only zines with one of the Colossive Press people.

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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.

Things Dad Saw cover 1200
Things My Dad Saw

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?

Odyssey 7
Odyssey 7 Manchester

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.

Page from Luther Arkwright
Page from Luther Arkwright

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.

Ad Astra cover 1200
Ad Astra

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.

 

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

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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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.

 

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Nyx of Sea Green Zines

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

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ZL – You were one of the first YouTube channels to discuss zines, but there seems to be a wave of sites recently, how does that feel?

Nyx – I’m struggling for the right words, to be honest. When I started reviewing zines on my blog, zine enthusiasts seemed few and far between when you stepped off the We Make Zines site. And when you did find others, you’d almost be just as likely to find places that hadn’t been updated in a long time or clearly stated they wouldn’t be posting/reviewing/etc anymore. I hesitate to call it ‘renewed’ enthusiasm because there are many people who were there all along, but it does feel thrilling to be able to see so many sites, channels, and socials popping up where people are letting their zine love shine.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

Nyx – I always loved books and reading, but the first time I truly fell in love with a book – or any creative work for that matter – is when I read The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. I fell completely and utterly in love with the world she created (since before I could read, I’d had a strange, unexplainable conviction that I was meant to be in a much more arid environment than I was), I loved the main character, Harry, who just wanted to fit in, and I of course loved the adventure of hidden heritage and going with your heart even when your head didn’t quite understand.

I rented and re-rented The Blue Sword from the library so many times, always desperately hoping that it would end up in the excess bin where I could purchase it. (The internet existed, but I certainly didn’t have a bank or credit card to use online.) That book gave me the courage to write my own first novel with a world all my own. A novel I would spend a lot of my pre-teen and teen years rewriting many times and loving every minute of it.

 

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

Nyx – Oh, my gosh. That is a question I think about quite a bit, both on the darker side with life being what it is and wondering if/how I’d be remembered and on the lighter side with what I would like to do had I the ability. My first thought went straight to a dream of mine to set up a multi-vendor website for zinemakers that doesn’t charge a huge amount of fees – big fees being a huge hindrance to people who want to sell $1-$5 items.

With an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, though, that would be thinking too small.Don't Call Me Cupcake 1

I would love to be able to set up a beautiful, relaxing distro bistro. Ha ha ha. A nice, open space that has coffee and nice food, plenty of tables and some comfy couches/chairs, a zine library section, and a zine shop as well. There would be a performance space in the corner for bands and zine readings as well as an adjoining room or two for holding workshops, zine club meetings, and we could even bring in travelling zinemakers to chat about what they’re working on – who could then sell their goods in the shop, of course.

This building would be paid for in full and a trust put into place so no one would have to contemplate selling it to pay the bills, etc. There’d be solar, water filters, and even a community garden space out back.

That might still be thinking too small, but I reckon it’d be fabulous.

 

ZL  – You’ve decided to start a distro up, can you give us some details about that and how it feels being trusted to rep other creators’ work?

Nyx – That I certainly have! I remember years back when I was first diving into zines: I was reading Stolen Sharpie Revolution, and when I got to the part about distros, I thought, “I want to run a distro someday.” Here we have the first little step. The distro will be officially opening within the next month – barring any hiccups. It will be its own shop tab on Sea Green Zines and will launch stocked with zines from Australia, Japan, and the US as well as my own.

Zine Pile

These kind of things need to be taken slowly and carefully if they are meant to last, so I’ve only been able to approach a few zinemakers so far. (I’m not selling on consignment and thus am approaching zinemakers instead of the other way around.) With reviewing, it’s all about my love for a zine. As a distro, it’s not enough to just love a zine; the zinemaker needs to trust me with their work. To have all positive responses so far has been absolutely brilliant.

 

ZL – I know you talked a little about having been published as a prose writer, but not in any great detail, could you tell us a bit about the experience?

Nyx – I’ve been writing stories since I could write. Even when I was very young, I understood that I was physically born to my biological family, but I was convinced that I wasn’t where I should be. Where I’d truly come from and where I belonged. I spent a lot of time thinking about that ‘other’ place and writing the stories that bloomed from there.

My first stories were not nearly so serious, though. One was about my brother letting out a nuclear fart that made humanity move to Mars, and another one about the ‘real’ story of the three little pigs and how history had it all wrong. Funny how I was so sympathetic to the wolf back then when, many years later, I’d start a series about werewolves.

I’ve been published in a few anthologies with short stories and non-fiction (Chicken Soup for the Soul if you’re familiar). I was lucky in that the experiences of submitting were clear cut and not at all vicious. Yes or no, read the contract at least a few times if it’s ‘yes’. It was an easy, straightforward introduction to mainstream publishing.

My three novels are self-published, though. I was never very patient, and that was to my detriment given the first book could use a rewrite. Live and learn, right? I taught myself along the way about formatting, layout, and so on, and it gave me the chance to meet a lot of great people who were/are cover designers, freelance editors, etc.

I adore zines through and through, but writing will always be my first love.

 

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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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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 – Lucy Sullivan

 

Disclosure – I’ve worked with Lucy on a small, contributor only zine in the past

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L-Sullivan-Pic
Lucy Sullivan thinking hard

ZL –  When and why did you begin creating comics?

LS – I’ve been making them on & off for myself since I started reading them. In the early days that’d be in honour of strips in the papers & anthology comics like Deadline & 2000AD but I showed this to almost no-one. I started making them to be read in 2016. I’d been trying to get BARKING off the ground after my friend Nick Abadzis encouraged me to do it but it took having my daughter in 2014 & (frustratingly at the time) losing work opportunities, so I found I had time on my hands. That’s never good with a mind like mine but then suddenly realised I could be using it to finally make comics. It seems ridiculous now that it took so long to get round to it but I had to commit myself fully to the practice and start figuring out what I had to say.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

LS – I was really taken in by an early love of female lead stories, comic shops were pretty unfriendly at the time so I took great comfort in reading ‘Tank Girl’ and ‘Halo Jones‘ but pretty much anything with artwork by Dave McKean was devoured over. A key read for me was ‘Signal To Noise’ (Gaiman/ McKean/ Ballamy) it’s a powerhouse team creating an extraordinary tale from inside one man’s thoughts as he comes to terms with his mortality. It changed everything I thought about comics & made me want to improve my skills drastically to create work that powerful.

 

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

LS – The deep seated wish for Barking would be a combined graphic novel & Animated Feature Film. It would be entirely hand drawn animation & shot on a rostrum camera with every music clearance I needed to get across the inspirations behind it. I would  Location-Print draft in some favourite creators in both comics and animation to help create it together or do it all myself because sadly I am that much of a control freak. That will probably be my epitaph.

 

ZL – You have a history in animation, do you feel that has an impact on the way you draw action?

LS – Yes, hugely. My brain is hard wired for motion. I can’t help it. I spend most of my time trying to work out which key pose would best describe the animation in my head. It’s incredibly satisfying when you get that moment right & horribly frustrating when you can’t. Key poses are at the root of 2D animation and working in the form taught me how a simple line can say so much. I’ve still got a lot to learn about the pacing and pagination of making comics. Although the volume of work to animate is intense the framing seems lazy in comparison. No matter what, you’re dealing with just a rectangle. It’s been a lot of fun playing with the page format, seeing how far I can push it but still make the story readable, at least I hope so.1in4zine

 

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

LS – Arrgghh, this is almost cruel. I tend to flit around genres & formats. Often reading 2 or 3 at a time. I’d love to get through my reading pile which is in 4 (growing) sections: Small Press, Graphic Novels, Literary & Academic. But if I had to choose I’ve just started ‘Gideon Falls’ (Lemire/ Sorrentino/ Stewart) it’s a cracker of a tale & gorgeously rendered, the art & colour is reminiscent of ‘Button Man’, plus it’s a huge collection already so lots to read. Or if I’m feeling focused I’d attempt to get through the entire ‘Akira’ Manga Collection. Otomo is a massive influence on my work, I can never tire of his draftsmanship. Or if I’m in a perverse mood the full ‘Twin Peaks’ output. Yup, that’ll keep me well occupied!

 

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

Review – Pocket Thoughts Annual #1

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Pocket Thoughts Annual #1

I love this little 16 pager in both thought and fact.

 

The Thought

It’s a gathering of a whole murders row of zinesters who gang about with each other online, by which I mean, there’s the core of a whole online scene here.  The thought that appeals so much here is the feeling that someone’s gathering up the troupe to put on a classic repartee performance for the audience. It’s the zine equivalent of a British ensemble cast. They all have their character they do so well that you never tire of seeing them do it. They’re all so good at what they do, they bring something new to it. They all like each other so much, that they just play together well and it’s damn fun to watch it all happen.

I love the thought that someone has finally put together this little scene as a physical object, it feels like the moment a notional thought has coalesced, a dream made reality is probably a step to far, maybe more a zine scene fest for your pocket?

The fact it’s a 16 pager of curated guests is as fitting as it gets really. Proper zine scene diy glory at its photocopied, immediate best. I should clarify why I say curated. Even if this wasn’t a by invitation production (by which I mean – I  have no knowledge of whether this was by invitation, or just ended up this way) you can still see who is in touch with who in this scene here. It’s really, as I say, a murders row of all the biggies in their scene. This isn’t some exclusionary thing though, just a gang of online friends putting a best foot forward for the fun of it to let people know what they’re at and invite them all in on it.

 

The Fact

It is a great little zine with everybody putting in a great turn. I literally liked everything in there. All killer, no filler is fair here – depending on your tastes of course. To expand a bit on that – this is just a great collection of zine creations. Its very typically zine; rough, Contents Listall about the personal. It get’s in there and talks quick and cheap or it speaks it’s own poetic idiom and asks you to meet it with your arms open. By that measure, everything is great because I feel that I get to know each contributor from their single page, there’s not one where I come away wandering what that person is about. As the zine is labelled ‘a showcase of zinesters from around the world’ you can’t ask for more.

For my own personal tastes, there are some that I connected with more than the others, but that’s more about me and my tastes and nature than it is about the quality of one over the other. I’m not going to go over them all, but 2 examples that stand out are Richard Larios’s (feral publications) piece, which is just so quick and blunt and to the point it made me absolutely smile. Literally the zine equivalent of a hardcore punk 30 second blast of rage. I don’t know if anyone knows who Steve Ditko is or what his later career after SpiderMan and Doctor Strange was like, but this had that same blunt, political smash of his later work (though a different political take). Latibule’s piece just struck a chord with its cleverly poetic image. What struck me was the way they both use the same language, but one is spitting and the other is singing (both in the best way).

To stop myself disappearing into a detailed little synopsis of every piece, what I want to say is that I like how the pieces have been ordered as much as I like the pieces. I like that there’s such a range of style and approach, but I also think that the individual pieces have been placed in an order that flatters each piece as part of the whole.

I’ve used the analogy of an album of music being about the whole rather than the strength of individual tracks and I think that this is the case here. What is all the more amazing is that this is the equivalent of a scene compilation but feels like an album and not a collection.

Really glad I got this and if you’re interested in zine scenes, this is a great little taster of this group.

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Tim Bird

NEW COMIC – Asleep In The Back

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GA4-2-2-copy
Grey Area – publishe by Avery Hill

ZL – Why and when did you start making comics and how many comics have you made?

TB – As a kid I was always drawing – little cartoons of my friends and family, doodles, comic strips. My friend came up with a character called Pseudoboy and I drew some comics about him, but it never occurred to me to publish them or show them to people outside my friendship group. It wasn’t until I visited Thought Bubble in 2010 that I realised there was such a large community of comic book creators self-publishing their work and I wanted to get involved! I started doing diary comics that I shared online and began a series called Grey Area, which was published by Avery Hill Publishing. There were four issues of Grey Area, and I self-published a few short comics before I made my first graphic novel, The Great North Wood, which was also published by Avery Hill Publishing last year.

I’ve also made lots of other short comics for various anthologies like Dirty Rotten Comics, Over The Line and Off Life.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

TB – I vividly remember my dad reading Tintin comics to me when I was very young, explaining how speech bubbles and thought bubbles worked, and how you followed the story by moving from one panel to the next. One image in particular stayed with me – a

TinTin
Tintin – Rascar Capac

character called Rascar Capac breaking through a window to throw a crystal ball full of poison at Tintin. It was terrifying to me when I was young, but I would dare myself to look at it and try and draw it.

 

 

 

 

 

ZL – I currently own only one of your comics, but really treasure it, ‘Rock & Pop‘. What impressed me was the way you took many short anecdotes and wound them into such an emotive narrative. How did you work how what would be in the story and how to pull it together?

Rock & Pop
Rock & Pop – Great little comic

TB – Rock & Pop started as a webcomic. The idea was to draw and post online one comic a week about a song that had inspired me or that I felt related to an important moment in my life. I started with songs that had felt important to me as a child (like Belinda Carlisle!) and continued through being a teenager, moving to London, meeting my wife, and having kids. The narrative all comes from my life, being interested in music. Just growing up really. People really responded to the webcomic, so collecting them for a print edition seemed like the right thing to do. Since self-publishing it, I’ve asked other people to send me comics based on their own responses to songs important to them, and have been posting them online – various-artists.co.uk (I’m always looking for new contributors for this!)

 

Various Artists
Various Artists – Tim’s music anthology website – Always seeking contributors

 

ZL – You’ve recently had your first graphic novel published, ‘The Great North Wood‘. I know you’ve published smaller works prior to that. What was the main difference between the two experiences?

TB – I tried to be more disciplined when I was writing the Great North Wood, making sure I had all the pages fully planned before I started drawing. With my shorter comics I often start drawing without really knowing where the story will end up, but with this longer project I thought I’d run into problems if I tried to do that. I spent a lot of time doing research for the book – studying the history of the area that the book’s about, and reading about folklore associated with forests and woodlands.   15    I think the fact that it’s a longer a piece of work, and took longer to create, means I invested more into it emotionally, and feel really attached to it. A lot of my comics are about a feeling of connection with a specific place, and spending so long writing about south-east London for this book has increased my bond with the area. I’ve recently finished a short comic called Asleep In The Back, and it’s been nice to feel a bit less involved with a piece of work – to put it down and move on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

TB – I don’t know about in comics – there’s so much good work being made right now that I don’t think I can pick just one creator to tell you about! In music though, I’m always surprised Debsey Wykes isn’t more well known. She sang backing vocals for Saint Etienne and has fronted two bands – Dolly Mixture and Birdie. They’re both great!

 

 

 

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Warglitter Review

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Warglitter Issue 1

 

I believe in coincidence.

I know as fact that things just happen BECAUSE. Because being my personal truth, (personal truth – the little white lies that cover the cracks). BECAUSE meaning the millions of things that are always happening that you know nothing about, refuse to acknowledge, don’t want to talk about, aren’t interested in as they’re just not important enough to waste life time on, etc.

BECAUSE being like this – Did you know microwaves were first created in the late 40’s? Not really popular until the 80’s BECAUSE. You could list cost, acceptability, blah, blah, blah. It’s just easier to accept that it was BECAUSE and get on with life. Is that the same attitude you want to take towards your future, your relationships?

Because is a default for the shoulder shrug, the pulled face, the ‘a butterfly’s wing flapping…’, the defeatist ‘oh who can be bothered’. I say or think BECAUSE as it’s so hard to face the thing I’m becausing about. The question is, is that how to live a good life (by which I mean attain contentment), (Happiness and the search for it, is a GRAIL quest, the modern search for eternal life).

Getting back to track. BECAUSE, then, is the enemy of a reviewer really. It is too often treated as a friend though. I guess that comes down to space and TL:DR. Too often a reviewer states that you’ll like a thing, rather than discussing what it does and why that should matter. It’s the gatekeeper mentality – I’m cool and I’ll tell you what’s cool, not argue why it’s worth your time.

It’s what I’ve been fighting with when thinking of a review for Warglitter. My urge is to say – get it BECAUSE it’s AWESOME, (another catchall for – too big to tell you).

I mean; it’s true, but it’s not honest. Yes, the two can be exclusive. Honesty requires the commitment to fullness, truth requires you don’t lie. I am not believer in truth, personal or universal, in case it wasn’t clear from the above. I’m going to be honest and say, I believe any search for TRUTH is the opportunity to avoid personal honesty and responsibility.

Warglitter Zines

 

Now, you’ll be thinking, why are you telling me all this? (I like the sound of my own thoughts?) Well, because Warglitter – the person, not the zine – has crafted an amazing work where she’s starting to be honest with herself and maybe leaving the search for Truth behind. She may not even know it…

My evidence? Well, Warglitter lays out her purpose up front. She writes about why she writes a journal and tells us what commitments she made. She gives me all my clues right up front and right out clear.

These things are telling, to me at least.

  1. write down beliefs and personal truths – having beliefs and personal truths next to each other sounds like someone being honest and then hiding a truth they don’t want to witness, saying ‘they’re not beliefs, they’re personal truths…’

A new addition to the list

  1. dismantle your defence mechanism persona –having to go back and qualify and talk about personal psychology, about defences, seems a change in understanding. Time has given a gift of new understanding. Like 5 is the knee jerk reaction and then 8 is the slow dawning realisation of the Honest facts.

If that is the case, then these

  1. keep up a regular tarot practice and dig deep
  2. creating my next niche
  3. work through depression and learn from it

are the pendulum swinging between how to be Honest and how to hide from it.

  1. decorate this journal – make it a sacred object –says it all, fetishise that Truth. Then again, those later additions take it back down to earth – back to magic, down to earth. Pendulum swinging, swinging.

Being honest – why is this amazing?

There are so many echoes of what matters to me right now, what I’ve struggled with.

For me, this is a timely piece of work to appear before me.

It’s not what I’d do to deal with these subjects.

Likewise, Warglitter does things and holds belief that I have no personal commitment or interest in. Yet, here she is talking about things I’ve spent years struggling with, talking about things I’ve finally been able to think honestly about. Saying them in ways and contexts very different to mine and so making them clearer for me to see.

If you asked to label it, it’s a perzine verfremdung effect – I love Brecht’s idea that to make something more obvious, you should first make it appear strange.

It’s what I’m always hoping to achieve, but here made simple where I would hide it in layers of pomp.

That’s what I like about this, it’s like looking at my life but as I’ve never lived or experienced it, so I don’t have to hide from the truth it reveals.

What I take from this may not be what is meant by this and may not be what you get from this, but it is why I think this is an amazing piece of work.

I see that there is no solution to who you are, or what you’re feeling – there’s only being honest with yourself and dealing with those facts rather than just excusing yourself with BECAUSE, (because no one ever loved me, I’ll be unlovable… because I keep getting hurt, I’ll push everyone away – they’re all TRUE and you’ll never solve that TRUTH, you just have to be honest, face it and deal with it every day, but by facing it and putting it out there each day it might just get easier to be that better person, get that step closer to contentment and kindness.

This is a brave work and a hard path and deserves your attention because of the reward you may get from it.

The Short List – Warglitter Zines Interview

Previous Review: Intercorstal: Extension Review

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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

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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