Lazy Sunday Read – Tom Spooner (The Spoonster Spouts)

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(NOTE – it mentions Colossive Press, they have published me)

A great little list of creators and publishers.

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Lazy Sunday Read – Solrad

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(NOTE – a zine I created has received a favourable review on this site)

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publisher – Fieldmouse Press

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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

The Short List – Russell Mark Olson SKRAWLLORD

Martin Simpson - SKRAWL 1 COV TITLE_small
Martin Simpson – SKRAWL 1 cover

SKRAWL can be found on Kickstarter

 

Anyone that’s followed zinelove or iesorno on any kind of social media knows I’m partial to a few creators including Phil Elliott and Nick Prolix who have both featured on the site and who I might have banged on about a bit…

When I saw Russel Mark Olson dropping hints about a magazine that would feature both, as well as his own work I was immediately interested, even more so when I saw the names of the others involved, many of them creators I was checking out on social media already. Then they blew through their Kickstarter goal on day one and added in Lucy Sullivan and Mark Stafford whilst also putting out a rallying cry dropping the names of some mighty UK anthologies that I love.

So, I thought I’d followed up with some questions to dig into it and flesh out their plans and ethos. You can see more details about the anthology and contributors at the end of the interview!

 

Interview!!

ZL – You mentioned that the SKRAWLLORDZ formed after meeting up and chatting at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and I was wandering what it was at that meeting that galvanised you as a group to get together and put out SKRAWL?

RMO – Away from the con, we were sharing an Airbnb. While individually, most of us knew each other, none of us knew everyone. But we all knew of each other’s work. I took my laptop and a microphone along in the hopes that at some point during the weekend-long convention we’d get a chance to all sit down together and talk comics. The Friday night before the con we recorded over an hour’s worth of discussion on topics ranging from individual process to the ins-and-outs of printing. From that conversation, and many more over the weekend, we bonded and formed the SKRAWLLORDZ. For the particulars, you’ll have to ask the group’s chronicler, Pete Taylor. We kept in touch and over the coming months the idea for a joint publication developed. Looking back, it was a pretty natural progression. Put a bunch of comic makers together in a room full of chimps on typewriters and eventually the chimps type out a note to the comic makers reading “Make a damned comic together, morons!”.

ZL – You’ve mentioned Escape, Revolver and Pssst! as inspirations, what is it you see in these that’s common to what you hope to achieve with SKRAWL?

RMO – Firstly, the magazine format allowed these great publications to stay nimble, agile. To bring in topical work that could address issues quickly and not get bogged down in exposition. The format allows for comics, journalism, prose, and the kitchen sink to sit side-by-side without being a jarring read. These magazines could capture a moment in comics and culture so quickly and effectively. We’d really like to be able to bottle that lightning.

Secondly, we loved the freedom to think about short form and long form comics. That’s the beauty of anthology mags. Ongoing stories and one-offs. If say, Nick Prolix hit on an idea that we wanted to run with, he could produce 5-8 pages every issue of a single thought or storyline while still being able to focus on his personal body of work. If say, he decided that he wanted to change tack for one issue, the melting pot magazine allows that. If he wanted to run with a political space thriller and dropped it into an issue of Slang Pictorial and had to elbow out the residents of Bouveray Town, readers might be a bit confused. The mag allows for that freedom of experimentation and for quick directional changes.

Tertiarily, collaboration. In future, we plan on doing much more of it. We’re all cartoonists, meaning we write and draw, and can letter, colour, do product design, the whole kit-and-kaboodle. We’re all confident with each other to send scripts around, share inking work, do colours here, or letter there. Many hands make light work.

Fourth, the opportunity to invite some incredible talent to add to the mags. To give both industry stalwarts and up-and-comers a chance to explore, or maybe dust-off stuff that’s been sitting around for years which has yet been able to find a home. At the moment, everyone is UK-based. But it’d be great to run with the international ethos of LICAF and bring Europeans, South Americans–hell, the world— to SKRAWLEscape did that brilliantly. Something Pete said recently has really stuck with me. “I’m a fan of good comics. If it’s a good comic, we want it in SKRAWL.”

Lastly, they all had a bit of an edge. Hard to define, harder to capture. I suppose it boils down to risk. Risk in many forms. I think we’re all pretty comfortable with risk. Pssst!, Escape and Revolver were definitely happy taking risks.

Gustaffo Vargas The Oak Tree
Gustaffo Vargas – The Oak Tree from SKRAWL

ZL – As you’ve already blown through your first target and will definitely be putting out your first issue, what are your plans, if any, for the future?

RMO – The short answer: there will be more SKRAWL. The longer answer is a bit inchoate. We’re ironing out the details at the moment, but the things that we’re sure of, is that we have loved putting this together and want to do more. More contributors, more collaboration, wider reach. What we’re not sure of is output. Ideally, we’ll put out two a year. That might mean making the individual issues leaner, maybe 3 SKRAWLLORDZ per issue + guests, or the SKRAWLZ will do more collaborative pieces while guests can show off what they do best, or a combination of these things. We’re all involved in other projects, so we have to cut our cloth to measure, but we’re staying forward thinking. That’s not necessarily a hinderance. Ultimately, SKRAWL, as Pete said above, is about good comics. It wouldn’t surprise me if it naturally evolves. It probably will several times. But at its heart, we’ll do our best to take risks, explore, collaborate, and lift other voices.

 

ZL – I’m always banging on about money, so I have to ask whether any of you will be making anything from this anthology and whether your future plans include paying contributors or using additional money to widen distribution or anything else you may have thought of?

RMO – Possibly not the soundest business model, but almost all of the money will be going to pay our guests and cover print costs. Anything that’s left over we’ll be using towards the magazine. That may mean figuring out distribution channels (we’d love for SKRAWL to act as an ambassador for the UK scene (even though we do plan on widening our net and bringing in international voices), so possibly translated editions), convention representation, promotional materials, marketing, or plugging back into guest rates for the next one. Ideally, we’d get to a place of self-sustainability. But print markets are increasingly tumultuous, new and established magazines bite the dust daily.  We might move towards a subscription model if we can get a few issues out on a trackable schedule, but these are all questions that we’ll be deliberating on once the first issue is in circulation. It’s exciting, wild stuff. Possibly a little mad. But no one stays in comics for the money.

Russell Mark Olson - Goldhorn from SKRAWL
Russell Mark Olson – Goldhorn from SKRAWL

ZL – Last question, I promise, what do you hope Skrawl will bring to the current marketplace for comics and the history of comics?

RMO – Maybe it’s just because we’re in the shadow of Covid-19, but this “feels” like one of those Moments in Comics. Distribution has been partially/temporarily disrupted. Books have been canned, pushed back, mothballed. Artists and writers are roaming the prairies, tasting the dust, listening to the ground for the tell-tale signs of buffalo, dipping their tin pans in streams new. Retailers have scrambled onto their rooftops, their eyes scanning the horizon for the arrival of the airlift helicopters. When we started planning SKRAWL, Covid had yet to hit the news, but by coincidence, we feel we’ve tapped into something, a moment, which is bigger than your average occurrences. How SKRAWL fits into that moment, we’ll have to wait and see. But there have been anthology periodicals which have managed to be more than just a genre vehicle, more than just a single-topical-issue-mag-of-the-hour. This is possibly–as were books like those mentioned above or RAW or Rubber Blanket–a time capsule of what was going on in the UK indie scene at this point in time.

Let me add a caveat to that. The UK indie scene is massive and has talent of which no single mag could possibly hold. The last thing we’d want to do is self-proclaim ourselves to be the keepers of the keys. Lemme tell you. Give us a set of keys and we will lose them faster than a hot minute. But our camaraderie, and our combined network means that all of those creators currently delivering gold are an email away from joining in on the fun. I guess we’re all at a point in our careers where we’ve been around long enough to have a decent grip on the ins and outs of book production but aren’t so swamped with phone calls from the big leagues that has allowed us to confidently produce something which we feel is a good and necessary addition to the indie market. How does that sound? Time will tell. Finger’s crossed in twenty years from now an aspiring UK cartoonist will find a bundle of SKRAWLS in her local Oxfam for a tenner, and she’ll take them home, read them, and then feel inspired to call her friends and say, hey, let’s make something special. That or “Christ, people didn’t know how to draw back then.” I’d be happy with either. Being remembered is being remembered, right?

RosiePackwood-ascend
Rosie Packwood – Ascend from SKRAWL

ZL – I’m sure they will be inspired! On which note, tell us some more about the details of the anthology.

RMO – Continuing in the tradition of Escape, Pssst!, and Revolver , SKRAWL is a comic anthology magazine featuring cartoonists, artists, and writers primarily from the UK’s independent comic scene. The magazine was launched on Kickstarter on August 1st and met its goal in under 24 hours. With a long list of up-and-coming UK talent as well as established professionals, SKRAWL promises to be one of the most exciting comic anthologies of the year.

The core of SKRAWL are the SKRAWLLORDZ (Mark Hughes (Silverbeard), Russell Mark Olson (Gateway City; Tripwire Award Best New Talent 2018; Yancy Street Award Best UK artist 2018), Nick Prolix (Slang Pictorial), Martin Simpson (Needleman, Pipedream Comics Top 10 Indie Comics of the Year 2018), Pete Taylor (Silverbeard) and Gustaffo Vargas (Manu, Pipedream Comics Indie Comic of the Year winner, 2019)) who formed during last year’s LICAF. The magazine will also feature guest spots by their chums, including UK-indie royalty Phil Elliott (Tales from Gimbley), Rosie Packwood (Bun), Jessica Lucas (Yours, Yesterday), Matt Simmons (Bastard Galaxia), and the Cartoon Museum’s Artist-in-residence, Mark Stafford(The Bad Bad Place). To further accentuate the magazine-ness of the anthology, John Reppion (Conspiracy of Ravens) and Lucy Sullivan (Barking) will provide an illustrated short folk horror story.

The SKRAWL Kickstarter campaign offers backers the chance to get on board the publication either as a fully digital or print edition, with retailer tiers for comic shops and bookstores. The magazine will be US format, (a bit bigger and a lot wider than a US comic– at 280 x 210mm) perfect bound, and currently sitting at a page count of 84… but we’d like to expand outwards a bit through stretch goals.

The campaign can be found on Kickstarter. Funding began August 1st and ends on Thursday, August 20th at noon BST. Digital backers can get the full magazine for £5, while the physical magazine is £12 (plus shipping). Retailers in the UKand EU can take advantage of the retailer tier which offers 8 copies for £48 (plus shipping). For more information, please email skrawllordz@gmail.com.

Gallery of contributors

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

Small (press) oaks – Ben Nunn

Ben is the artist of the small press comic The Secret Protectors (we reviewed issues 1&2 here and read our interview with them here) and does his own comedy strip on Webtoons called Guff Canyon.

Yesterday we posted an interview with Adam Wheeler, his collaborator and the writer on The Secret Protectors.

Like many creators of his generation he mixes US superhero and manga comic influences

They’re currently Kickstarting a collected edition of the first 4 issues of the series (you can sign up for the first two issues for free here and you can see art from the series throughout the article!!) You can back it here.

You can find The Secret Protectors here

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Ben is on  instagram

It’s over to Ben now

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

John Romita Jr
John Romita Jr

As a kid I remember seeing issues of Spider-man illustrated by John Romita Jr. Before that I’d devoured every Superman and Batman/Superman comic I’d been able to get my hands on, so I was fairly familiar with the John Byrne influenced style of the time but Romita Jr stood out and made me think about comics in a whole new way. They didn’t have to be in the typical comic book style, there was a lot more room for experimentation than I thought possible.

 

Which creators do you remember first copying?

When Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT were airing on Toonami in the early 2000s I would record them on VHS. Then, after watching a new episode a couple of times I’d pinpoint some cool frames and pause the tape on those moments so I could copy them. This was not a good system. Anyone who’s ever paused a VHS knows the screen becomes a distorted mess of static, discolouration and incomprehensible blurs. Somehow, I did manage to eke out some good frames and had a lot of fun doing so.

VHS scroll
VHS scroll

 

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

I’m not sure this is a thought I’ve ever exactly had for a well-known creator. Growing up it was more about imitating people’s styles because I liked them, not necessarily to get better. That said, I do distinctly remember when I was about six years old, I saw an awesome piece of Batman fanart in a Batman/Superman comic. The kid who’d drawn it was ten and I remember being blown away and not being able to imagine being that good at ten years old. If I saw the drawing today, I’d probably think differently but I do sometimes wonder if I caught up with that kid in the next few years.

 

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

At the moment I’m really loving the work of Bilquis Evely of The Dreaming and Soroush Barazesh (AKA Koteri Ink) of Kings of Nowhere. They both have very strong, distinctive styles that create a great sense of tone and atmosphere. They’re also both just incredibly technically proficient.

Soroush Barazesh (AKA Koteri Ink) - Kings of Nowhere
Soroush Barazesh (AKA Koteri Ink) – Kings of Nowhere

 

Which creators do you most often think about?

Frankie Boyle

I don’t listen to as much stand-up comedy as I used to, and I think that’s partly due to Frankie Boyle. Frankie Boyle is incredible at summoning up an incredibly precise image with as few words as possible. In his BBC Three show New World Order he calls upon imagery that’s mad, grotesque or surreal but it’s always to serve a greater point. In his Mock the Week days he’d take cheap shots for the sake of shock but these days he always has something valuable to say and always says it in a brutal but uniquely valuable way. If brevity is the soul of wit then he’s really got that nailed, and the ability to be concise is a huge element in both illustration and writing.

 

Can you name the first three creative peers that come into your head and tell a little bit about why?

Die Hard of the Dead - Written by Matthew M Stapleton Art by Mark Hooley
Die Hard of the Dead – Written by Matthew M Stapleton Art by Mark Hooley

We’re relatively new to the con circuit as we’ve only been at it for a few years, but we’ve met some great people doing some really fantastic work. The first that comes to mind is Matt Stapleton (@what_if_stories), writer of the What If Stories. He takes pop culture icons and adds a horror twist. Die Hard of the Dead for instance is Die Hard plus zombies. His ideas have a lot of potential on their own but it’s the execution that really makes them stand out. His writing is great, and he’s teamed up with some fantastic artists too.

 

 

 

Sam Dempsey
Sam Dempsey

A few years ago I did a bit of a business course where I met comic book artist Sam Dempsey (@dempseyillustrates), we’ve kept in touch on and off over the years and whenever I see him pop up on my Instagram feed I know I’m in for something special. Every now and again I’ll check back on his feed just to get another look at all the awesome work he’s done.

Rhys Wootton
Rhys Wootton

Rhys Wootton (@rhyswootton) is another artist we’ve come across in our con experiences. He’s worked with Matt on What If Stories and has some really awesome comic art for sale. Definitely another one worth checking out.

 

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

Ben Image
Ben from The Secret Protectors (not to be mistaken for Ben Nunn the artist!!)

My recent work has been a bit eclectic as far as comics go. I’ve been working on the superhero series The Secret Protectors with Adam for a few years now but since the beginning of 2020 I’ve also been doing a series called Guff Canyon which might best be described as gag strips on Webtoon. They’re mostly little four panel skits about whatever pops into my head. The Secret Protectors is definitely way more towards the mainstream end of the spectrum and heavily influenced by classic X-Men so it’s fun to have a different kind of creative outlet in a totally different style. I think it’s important to have different kinds of projects on the go so you don’t get creatively burnt out. Standalone jokes are also a fun way to stretch my uh…nonsense muscles…

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

Guff Canyon
Guff Canyon

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

 

Small (press) oaks – Adam Wheeler

Adam is the writer of the small press comic The Secret Protectors (we reviewed issues 1&2 here and read our interview with them here)

Like many of us, Adam balances a job and writing, looking to grow creatively and get his story out into the world. What appealed to me about The Secret Protectors particularly is that it’s a raw work, finding its voice and style and watching Adam and Ben Nunn (the artist on the series) grow is as much a part of the story as the actual comic.

They’re currently Kickstarting a collected edition of the first 4 issues of the series (you can sign up for the first two issues for free here and you can see art from the series throughout the article!!) You can back it here.

http://kck.st/2CKH9pP

You can find The Secret Protectors here

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Over to Adam

small press superhero comic the secret protectors in this image one of the heroes with flame powers is running and set fire to something
Secret Protectors

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

Yeah of course, you know, I don’t think I realised it till I got a lot older, but the first creators who really left a lasting effect on me were Filmation (responsible for He-Man), Eastman & Laird who somehow thought up TMNT, along with Toei animation who created the Transformers cartoon. Perhaps even more important are husband and wife Eric & Julia Lewald, the two main creatives behind the X-Men animated series. That show, I can genuinely say, really taught me a lot and instilled in me morals I hold to this day. It was an absolutely great show! Crazy to credit that to a kids Saturday morning cartoon I know but I don’t think you can overestimate how important our younger years are in defining the adults we’ll grow in to.

 

Which creators do you remember first copying?

I remember as a kid playing with my action figures and it was never enough to just have the good guys facing off against the bad guys for the sake of a cool battle. I can vividly remember trying to create the Secret Wars storyline with my figures. Instead of just Marvel characters though I’d have Turtles there as well, along with a bunch of other figures. I remember I couldn’t include Transformers or Thundercats though! They didn’t scale well! It would have been ludicrous to include them too! As for my adult years, I’ve tried to not outright copy anyone of course but at this point I’ve so many influences that play into my storytelling approach.

 

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

Woah, tough one that! Creatively I’ve always wanted to try and have my own way. As a small press indie guy, I’m not sure its about trying to be better than someone else. I think it’s more about improving your craft, learning from your mistakes and growing as a person to improve your work!

 

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

There’s so many! If I had to narrow it down, I guess I’d have go with a top 5 format, so:

David Chase – The creator of, in my opinion, the best TV series ever – The Sopranos. It’s been labelled all kinds of superlatives, I’m not sure I can really add anything to the list. I’ve heard it described as an 86hr film, which is probably about right. It just never misses a beat and the storytelling is just so deep and rich. It’s the only series I’ve ever watched over from start to finish more than once. I’ll definitely been watching it a third time at some point in my life!

Spawn 300 by Todd McFarlane
Spawn 300 by Todd McFarlane

David Simon – The man is responsible for a bunch of incredible TV series, such as The Wire, Show Me a Hero & The Deuce. I’m a pretty unemotional guy but Simon is phenomenal at drawing you in emotionally before then absolutely crushing you. Show Me a Hero in particular left me completely exhausted.

Christopher Nolan – He’s just never made a bad film, in fact, I’d argue literally all his work is top drawer stuff. Not only does he tell original, amazing stories, he does it in a way that is normally a way you’ve never been shown a story before.

Todd McFarlane – When Todd left Marvel and started up Image, he, along with the other founders of Image changed the industry forever. In Spawn, he has the longest running independent comic of all time and on a personal note, anytime I see an interview with him he just seems so humble and grounded. He worked his absolute arse off to get where he is and to improve himself. He’s gone from aspiring, struggling artist to a one-man empire! He makes comics, films and toys! The man must never sleep!

Chris Claremont – The man wrote X-Men for 25 years! The longevity and quality of his work is pretty much unparalleled. To quote the great late Stan Lee ‘Nuff said’.

There’s plenty more but this is a pretty good representation.

 

Which creators do you most often think about?

I actually try not to really! I’d end up depressing myself by comparing myself to someone on top of the, figurative, mountain that I’d love to ascend! I kid, of course! That’s a tough one. I try to focus on being better personally. Just keeping my head down and doing ‘me’.

 

Can you name the first three creative peers that come into your head and tell a little bit about why?

Sure, first up! Matt Stapleton – The mind behind What If? Stories. He’s such a great guy! He’s one of those people whose enthusiasm is just unrelenting! Some might find that jarring but it’s honestly infectious! In a good way! He’s so positive when taking on a challenge, like his recent Kickstarter for instance, he smashes it! If you’ve got a dream and want to make it happen, surround yourself with individuals like Matt. People who dream and believe!

InstaSave
Ben Nunn – 2000AD submission from sample script

Ben Nunn – The second half of The Secret Protectors duo. Ben’s great! We’ve been working together now on The Secret Protectors since 2017. We’ve both developed a lot since then but Ben’s improvement is remarkable. He’s never happy with his work and he’s constantly looking to do better. If I let him, he’d probably completely redo issue 1! Hahaha!

 

Lastly. My wife! Kate Wheeler. Now, she’s not a typical creative. She is an actress but she’s not currently working. She had to get a real job to pay the bills unfortunately. But she is my muse. She’s the only reason I developed the belief needed to go out there and get my comic made in the first place! She is my number one confidant, partner, friend and consigliere! The Silvio to my Tony Soprano so to speak.

 

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

I’d love to shamelessly plug my Kickstarter which is Live right now! It’s for my comic book series The Secret Protectors! It’s Ben and mine’s take on the superhero genre. There’s sci-fi and fantasy aplenty but it’s more about the drama and tension between the characters themselves! It’s the story I feel I’m here to tell, essentially. There’s not a day that passes that I don’t think about it in some way, shape or form! It’s definitely my burden to carry! My curse!

(editor’s note — It’s here – remember!)

I also recently wrote the short story ‘The Ville’ – download The ‘Ville – By Adam Wheeler. Completely different to anything comic related. To be honest, I just wanted to challenge myself to make something up new. Something that was a complete departure. Just to prove that I could, more than anything.

As for me, I’m Adam Wheeler a 35-year-old male. I’ve been creating & crafting stories since I can remember, not that anyone ever asked me too. I’m not so interesting. I’m just a working-class guy with aspirations. Cliché I know but it’s the best backstory I could come up with for myself.

 

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

Praise Image

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

 

Small (press) oaks – Robert Wells

As promised, we’ve got part two of our two-fer from the team bringing Department of the Peculiar – Goes Pop to Kickstarter RIGHT NOW. This time artist Robert Wells. Part one of the two-fer featured Rol Hirst, writer of DotP.

Rob’s been on zine love before, so this makes him our first returning interviewee for the site (stealing the position at the last moment from someone else that I was slow to respond to!!).

 

He seems to be constantly busy drawing something and collaborating with creators whose work I enjoy, which is how I came across his work in the first place. He has really strong chops when it comes to drawing and designing characters and a lovely turn in understated snipe, so that’s been a bonus – as well as being lovely to chat to.

You can buy from him here, check out some free downloads of DotP here and back it here, and socially follow him on    twitter     instagram     or facebook

DotP 2 heroes insert
DotP 2 Heroes? stretch goal!!

 

Over to you Rob – tell us a bit about yourself and your tastes

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

The first comic creator was John Byrne. I remember thinking that the art in X-Men, which he was still drawing at the time, looked similar to the art in a Marvel Premiere two-parter featuring Ant-Man (#47 and #48), then I noticed the credits in a comic for the first time and realised that people actually drew these things.

marvel-premiere-47-48
Marvel Premiere-47-48

Outside of comics, I was about to give the same answer as Rol (Hirst – writer of Department of the Peculiar – see interview here) and say Stephen King, as I’ve read quite a lot of his books (probably less than half of them but that’s still a lot). Then I remembered that when I was a kid, I really liked James Bond films and that I read a lot of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books (and some written by other people) when I was at secondary school. That was probably the first time I ever saw a film or TV series and then went and on to discover the source material, which was often quite different. (I have no interest in James Bond at all now.)

James Bond covers
James Bond covers

Which creators do you remember first copying?

Maybe John Byrne but I probably copied things out of comics before that not knowing the names of the artists I was copying.

 

More generally I’d say Charles Bukowski, whose work I probably wouldn’t enjoy much at all now and may even find quite offensive, but I liked it a lot when I was in my early-20s. ‘Copied’ may be an exaggeration but around the time I was reading a lot of his stuff I started going to a writers’ workshop to improve my writing and in the couple of years I was going there I wrote a lot of semi-autobiographical short stories that often involved a lot of drinking.

Charles Bukowski covers
Charles Bukowski covers

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

I don’t know how to answer that really. I’ve hoped to be as good as a lot of creators, but I don’t know that I’ve ever thought that I would be as good as someone, not even artists whose work I dislike. I’ve certainly seen a lot of art that’s made me think ‘I could do better than that’ but that’s generally the work of amateurs who I wouldn’t be able to name. Art I tend to dislike in professional comics I usually dislike because it’s bland or conforms to some dull house style (I’m thinking of a lot of DC comics from a decade or more ago) but even then the artists involved probably have a better grasp of anatomy and better basic drawing skills than me, they are just working to tough deadlines and drawing characters who have to be drawn in a certain way.

 

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

Cult_of_Luna_-_Mariner
Cult of Luna – Mariner with Julie Christmas

Sean Phillips, who I still can’t believe I was cheeky enough to ask to do a pin-up for DOTP Goes POP! #1 after he told me he liked my book. Not only did he agree, he even posted me the original art.

Other than that, I can’t think of one particular example right now but like Rol I love Better Call Saul and watch a lot of TV in general, particularly US TV, and I’m sure that influences my storytelling. I also listen to a lot of music – particularly metal – while I’m drawing and that really helps me to switch off and lose myself in my work.

 

Which creators do you most often think about?

Jaime Hernandez = Love and Rockets
Jaime Hernandez = Love and Rockets

For comics it’s Jaime Hernandez. He was already great when I discovered Love and Rockets in 1986/1987 but he has somehow kept getting better. I often go for long periods without engaging with his work at all (I haven’t bought any issues of the current Love and Rockets series yet and because I rarely get to visit good comic shops, I haven’t even seen them) but I always pick up the collections and come back to it eventually.

More generally? Now I will say Stephen King, even if what I’m usually thinking is just: ‘Bloody hell, he’s somehow written three more huge books since the last one I read, and I still haven’t read at least 20 of the ones I picked up in charity shops a decade or more ago!’

 

Can you name the first three creative peers that come into your head and tell a little bit about why?

Rol, Paul Rainey (who encouraged me to start drawing comics again at a time when I had almost given up on it), and Martin Eden (who I exchange long emails with very regularly).

Paul Rainey - Thunder Brother Special -cover Paul Rainey – Thunder Brother Special -cover
Martin Eden - Zeros Martin Eden – Zeros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

I’m 51, married, no kids, two dogs. I live in Kent. I self-published my first comic in 1991, when I was 22, published a handful of other comics in the ‘90s, didn’t do much at all in the 2000s, but got back into it big-time in the 2010s, when I was in my early-40s. It’s only since I did my graphic novel (which even I didn’t think I’d actually finish when I started it) that I feel like I’ve developed any confidence and really got going. I’d be happy for everything I did before that point, along with the years I wasted doing things other than drawing, to be stricken from the record. I write and draw but now I seem to be mostly drawing and I’m quite enjoying collaborating with other people on comics for a change.

 

I’m currently working on Department of the Peculiar Goes POP! #2 (just finishing off a 3-page back-up strip but the rest is done)

 

About to start drawing a 6-page sci-fi strip, written by Paul Duncan, for The ’77 #3

 

Malty Heave #2 (with Phil Elliott). I have written most of my story for this horror-themed issue, which will probably be out for Halloween now, but Phil and I have both been distracted by other things and haven’t really got going with drawing it yet (although Phil has drawn at least two pages of his strip).

 

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

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

 

Small (press) oaks – Rol Hirst

cover for the The Jock by Nigel Lowrey

zine love is all about talking to people about their art to encourage others to see how easy it is to create.

We love digging into the personal histories of those that inspire us, especially when those histories can open a wider world out to us to delve into and discover new things to excite and inspire us. So, we thought we could start up a feature where we asked creators what their earliest inspirations were, both in their chosen fields and in art in general and what continues to inspire them. I think of it as a bit like Mass Observation, but for the small press, an oral record of personal histories outside of the accepted norms of history.

We may even, if we get enough responses, start doing silly charts about the biggest influences, who knows!

 

With that in mind we thought it would be fun to reach out to some creators we know and admire and get the ball rolling – we’re going to start with a two-fer from the team bringing Department of the Peculiar – Goes Pop to Kickstarter RIGHT NOW

DOTP Goes Pop 2 - cover - Robert Wells
art by Robert Wells

First up – we’re going to talk to Rol Hirst, tomorrow will be Robert Wells. If you’re my age and from the UK comic collecting scene, you’re likely to remember Rol Hirst as a reviewer in the truly excellent Comics International. A reviewer who ended his run by taking up writing comics! Rol along with a reviewer called Francis Barbieri (which I desperately hope I’ve spelled correctly) were the two that most aligned with my tastes in comics and had a nice pithy touch to their work.

 

It’s good to know that Rol Is still working and making – and particularly nice to see that dry humour continues in the comics he creates – check out some free downloads of the comic here and back it here.

Buy some of Rol (and collaborators) comics here in digital or physical form

Rol also regularly posts about music on his site My Top Ten

Over to you Rol – tell us a bit about yourself and your tastes

 

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

In comics it was probably John Byrne. I started reading comics around the time he took over the Fantastic Four and I was a huge fan of his art and back-to-basics storytelling for years. Back in my letter-hacking days, he even started to recognise me as a fan, one time sending me a signed copy of a novel he’d written. I felt like I stabbed him in the back a bit years later when he took over the writing and art on Amazing Spider-Man and I was reviewing in Comics International at the time… but I stand by those reviews, his work on Spider-Man was atrocious. Shames, because most of his work up to (and even after) that point still stands up well today.

Sorry, John.

Fantastic Four - Art by John Byrne

 

In general, it would be Stephen King. Even though he often struggles with an ending (don’t we all?) and lately is far too comfortable falling back on familiar tropes, his narrative voice always fascinates and entertains. He has been a constant companion.

 

Which creators do you remember first copying?

Mr Men by Roger Hargreaves

That’d probably be Byrne as well. The first comic strip I created was called Sharpshift, and I ripped off quite a bit of his Alpha Flight run in that… and because I couldn’t draw for toffee (and hasn’t yet started conning gullible artist folk into drawing my mad ramblings for free), I pretty much traced all my figures from old Byrne comics.

That’s for comics at least, outside of that it would be Roger Hargreaves. I spent ages drawing my own Mr. Men books when I was a kid.

 

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

I’m not going to answer that question, but I hope I can explain why. Throughout my time reading comics – particularly once I started writing them myself – I could pretty much divide professional writers into two camps: those I knew I’d never be as good as (probably most of them, to be honest) and those I knew I was better than (and if you knew me, you’d know self-confidence is not my forte) and I couldn’t ever explain how they’d got where they were. There are a couple of particularly high-profile creators who have made millions from comics that I know I can write a better story than any day of the week… but I’m not going to name them, because they might be a favourite of somebody reading this, and everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

That’s the same for everything, really.

TMSAV 2cover
Too Much Sex & Voilence issue 2 cover by Nigel Lowrey

 

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

In comics, it’s probably Rob (Wells). If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be writing comics anymore, since I’d pretty much left them behind 6 or 7 years ago. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have him drawing Department of the Peculiar. That has inspired me to start writing again.

I admire Vince Gilligan as a writer. The character, pacing and detail in Breaking Bad & Better Call Saul puts everything else in its shadow.

 

 

 

Which creators do you most often think about?

What, in some kind of pervy way? I always thought Walt Simonson had a very fine beard.

Seriously though, there’s only one answer to this question: Stan Lee. Without him, my life would be lacking in so many ways.

Bruce Springsteen would be my answer outside of comics. A different kind of storytelling, but always there for me.

 

Can you name the first three creative peers that come into your head and tell a little bit about why?

Rob, obviously. Nige Lowrey, who was the main artist on my first long-running comic, The Jock, and really should have become a superstar but missed the boat like so many of us. And then probably Davey Metcalfe, who I’ve known as long as Nige, and who has been a constant collaborator on various projects over the years, and always goes above and beyond to help out. After that, I could go on and on…

Pjang 1 cover
Pjang 1 cover

 

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

I’m Rol Hirst, a writer and English teacher whose previous comics include The Jock (which ran for more than 30 issues in the ’90s), PJANG and Too Much Sex and Violence. I live in Huddersfield with my partner, Louise, and son, Sam. I like music, scones and too much coffee.

 

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

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

 

go look – Sajan Rai

Sajan Rai’s approach to colour and character design is very modern and exiting as it, but the subject matter is very different to anything I’m seeing elsewhere, drawing on worn and damaged images and a distinctly Asian idiom.

To me it’s all very fresh and intriguingly different.

(click on images to follow links)

Sajan Rai - website
website

 

Sajan Rai - Patreon
patreon

 

Sajan Rai - shop
web shop

 

Sajan Rai - twitter
twitter

 

Sajan Rai - instagram
instagram

 

Sajan Rai - facebook
facebook

 

 

go look – Morgan Gleave

I knew nothing about Morgan Gleave’s work until I saw an image on The 77 comic Kickstarter, and instantly liked the cartooning – very strong design sense and stylish posing of figures. Very cool looking – which is defintely a fair description of his work, having dug through it – cool, stylishly posed, well designed.

(click on images to follow links)

Morgan Gleave - 77 Comic
characters in a strip for The 77 on Kickstarter until Sunday, March 1 2020 11:59 PM GMT

 

Morgan Gleave - website
website

Morgan Gleave - ko-fi

 

Morgan Gleave - twitter
twitter

 

Morgan Gleave - instagram
instagram

 

 

Morgan Gleave - facebook
facebook

 

 

Go Fund – The 77

Campaign finishing Sunday, March 1 2020 11:59 PM

Already fully funded and well into their stretch goals, The 77 is ready to deliver your pre-order

Featuring work by some of my personal favourites and some new to me as well

You’ll be getting comic legends Ian Gibson and Phil Elliott along with greats like Mal Earl

I’m also very excited by the looks of Neil Sims and Alan Holloway’s Temporal Anarchy and Morgan Gleave’s cartooning for The Tempered Curse

 

Here are some of my favourite sample images

 

 

 

 

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 Fund – Sarah Millman

npc tea a fantasy comic set in modern day cardiff this scene feature the summoning of a demon via a magic portal

Campaign finishing Friday, February 28 2020 7:00 PM UTC +00:00.

Welsh seems to be a theme in my kickstarter recommendations, can’t think why…
Anyway, this has some really clean cartooning that communicates character and emotion really well. Also demons, elves, coffee shops and Cardiff – there’s a good brew to sit down with whilst you contemplate the modern world passing you by.
Oh – and it’s mostly a collection of existing stuff, so you know it will be produced.

(click on images to follow links)

http://kck.st/38XMkxy

Also – check out their accounts

 

twiiter header for sarah millman aka milmo aka heart_of_time featuring art from npc tea a fantasy comic set in modern day cardiff this scene feature the summoning of a demon via a magic portal
twitter

 

instagram feed of sarah millman creator of npc tea a fantasy comic set in modern day cardiff
instagram

 

facebook header for sarah millman comics and illustration creator of npc tea a fantasy comic set in modern day cardiff
facebook

 

 

 

Go Fund – Sam Mendez – Hand Signals vol.1 – Arwyddion Llaw

Campaign finishing Wednesday, February 12 2020 3:13 PM UTC +00:00

Going to be honest and say the Welsh caught my eye, then I lingered for the art

Love the drawing, the line weight and shapes and colours

(click on images to follow links)

http://kck.st/2t3QvZ8

Also – check out their accounts

instagram account for sam mendez featuring watercolour drawings, lifestyle photos and the zine
instagram

 

sam mendez twitter account floating chair
twitter

 

 

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.

Nix Comics Quarterly 1 Cover
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?

NWC01_Page_04

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.

Hawkins Teaser

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.

NCQ0819

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.

NCQ09_Page_06

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.”

NCQ09_Page_01

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.

kypussypre007

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.

eddie squid rise title

 

 

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 – Asa Wheatley

Kickstarter

Asa Wheatley –   twitter       web              Sammy Ward –  twitter      web

Michelle Marham –   twitter      web       instagram     patreon

Emma Graveling –  instagram

Emily Pearson –  twitter     web                  Kat Willott – instagram        web

Title

ZL – I was interested by the fact that most of the stories in the anthology were about female protagonists and made the connection that the artwork was also drawn by women artists, was this a conscious decision or did it just come about organically?

AW – Much of the media that influenced me growing up had strong female protagonists, Buffy, Tomb Raider, Terminator and I think this has ended up being reflected in the work I produce. More often than not I tend to write female protagonists and this anthology is no different. The choice to have only women artists wasn’t something I had decided from the start it was more something that occurred naturally as the anthology progressed. Kat, Sammy and Emma I all knew personally before starting the anthology. Kat I had originally worked with on Tails of Mystery and in its early stages this anthology contained a Tails of Mystery story but I felt it didn’t fit the tone but I still wanted to have Kat contribute to the story so wrote something that I thought her art style would complement nicely.

Sammy, I had wanted to work with for a while and Sprouting was an idea that she came up with in its earliest form and we fleshed out together with me writing it and her illustrating. Emma’s work I had seen previously and thought it’d be a great fit for the kind of story I was planning with Finders Keepers. From there I realised that the artists were all women and thought why not just stick with that and see how it goes. It wasn’t hard to find extremely talented women artists, Michelle I met at a convention, one of the MCM’s I believe, and Emily I was a fan of from her work on The Wilds and I had seen her posting on twitter about looking for cover work. And with that I had all the artists I needed.

ZL – I’m always interested in how a writer works with the artists on a story, so I was wondering whether the approach varied between each artist or whether there it varied between each story?

AW– So for some of the stories I wrote them specifically for the artists. With these I tended to write a little less detail leaving the artist to make decisions about placement or character look. The way the main character of Sprouting looks for example is all down to Sammy. I trusted in her design and she delivered fantastically. For Hanging in the Darkness the script was pretty sparse with much of the exact dialogue coming post art because I wanted the short to act as two stories within one, having worked with Kat before as well I was happy to leave a lot of it to her and the choice to have much of the final panels only lit by candlelight was her idea. Whereas with A Witch’s Penance I hadn’t worked with Michelle before, so I wanted to make sure I gave her as much as possible to work with and she absolutely smashed it. Some of my favourite things in that story are things that Michelle came up with without any direction from me at all.

For Finders Keepers I finished the story and just handed that over to Emma and asked her what she would be interested in illustrating to sit alongside it. I think the only illustration I requested was the final one. And then for the cover, which was completed before any of the interiors I gave Emily a brief synopsis of the stories within and she designed a few covers initially with us both agreeing the one that went on to become the actual cover our favourite. So, with each artist I took a different approach but the one thing I made sure not to do was restrain any of them.

 

ZL – What are your plans for the anthology and the stories in it, will A Witches’ Penance going to be ongoing, will there be further issues of the anthology sooner or later and will they feature the same artists or are you interested in finding new artists?Tails of Mystery issue 1

AW – I have a couple more anthologies planned for the future but the stories within Sprouting & Other Tales of the Curious will not be continued. I wanted to portray that these stories all resided within a bigger world around them and that there was maybe more to each of them if you looked but the stories are themselves complete. A Witch’s Penance is the most open ended of the four stories, but I wanted it to reflect the world it was in and the characters it contained where nothing is ever finished for them and the world keeps moving even if they aren’t around.

 

Tails of Mystery issue 2
Tails of Mystery issue 2 cover

ZL – You also write Tails of Mystery with artist Kat Willot, are there any plans for this title or any new titles planned?

AW – Yes, I’m currently working on the script for issue 3 and once that’s all done Kat will start illustrating the pages. Tails of Mystery is going to be a 4 issue complete mini-series so as of writing this we’re half way though the series. Within the first issue of Tails of Mystery we also featured a small back-up fantasy story titled World Weary centred on a Gnome barbarian and a Half-Orc monster hunter and we may also be working on some more stories for those characters in the future.

 

 

Tails of Mystery issue 1

Tails of Mystery issue 1 cover

 

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

Review – Sprouting and Other Tales of the Curious

 

Kickstarter

Asa Wheatley –   twitter       web              Sammy Ward –  twitter      web

Michelle Marham –   twitter      web       instagram     patreon

Emma Graveling –  instagram

Emily Pearson –  twitter     web                  Kat Willott – instagram        web

The Brief

I enjoyed reading this. There are some interesting subtexts to chew over and some skilled pacing and design. I really love that cover a lot!

The ongoing serial A Witch’s Penance had me interested to follow it. It was certainly my favourite story.

As an anthology, it felt consistent and well balanced. It mixed up approaches to story telling and left me thinking about some of its themes. It’s a solidly created anthology with some interesting and more personal moments. Essentially, it delivered a good read and I was left thinking.

Hanging in the Darkness Page 2
Hanging in the Darkness – page 2

The Detail

This is an anthology mixing prose and comics works. It uses a traditional ‘horror story with a twist’ format that, when I’m looking at it, seems well handled. Nothing comes from left field in terms of the twists. It manages the foreshadowing and punchlines well.

Now that probably sounds cold coming from me and that’s really a matter of my reading of the work. ‘Horror story with a twist ending’ is low on my list of likes unfortunately. However, there’s a bit more at work in these stories than just that format. Maybe I’m reading more in there, maybe I’m not, but I’m going to come back to both Sprouting and Hanging in the Darkness to get into my thoughts about what they made me think about.

First, I want to discuss Finders Keepers, the prose story, then go onto A Witch’s Penance.

Finders Keepers Page 3
Finders Keepers – page 3

Finders Keepers is a fine prose story but, for me, didn’t move me too much. It’s paced well, it develops it’s plot well, it builds its tension well. But that’s it, which is not a complaint or a method of damning anything, it’s a recognition that I don’t really get into these stories. The prose is clear, avoiding being purple and that’s to its benefit. I guess the only thing I wonder is what it’s trying to tell me or talk about? I hate saying that, because I hate anytime when someone says, ‘it was done well, but…’ because that’s just an awful snipe. Things have a right to exist the way the are without having to meet my sense of meaningful.

Unpicking my thoughts really does just bring me back to the fact that the style of story is not one I am personally invested in, with the other stories I feel like there’s enough extra there to dig hooks into me, where this one feels like a nice pot boiler without much to say for itself outside of being well executed. If you like stories with twist endings, it’s well made for you.

I like the illustrations style for the story. It reminds me of a Ladybird books and that matches the tones of the story and age of the characters well. They also given some very lively acting, giving a good sense of personality and action.

A Witch's Penance Page 2
A Witch’s Penance – page 2

A Witch’s Penance, the only ongoing story in the book, and the other two tales gave me much more of an idea that there’s something at work under the surface. I picked A Witch’s Penance out from the other two for a reason though. This story, at the moment, seems to have less of a theme and have more of a plot. Unlike the others, this is not a ‘twist at the end’ plot. This is very much a ‘revenge doubled’ plot. By which I mean, a mysterious figure with a past seems to be revenging something, but exacting this revenge sets up an excuse for the antagonist to also seek revenge. The circle of revenge is spinning and pulling in unwitting victims all around.

It’s not the plot, or even the characters that interest me as much as the approach to storytelling. Here, it’s very much that delivery which makes it my favourite in the anthology. The pacing and rhyming between panels is handled poetically.  It’s got that bouncy rhythm of doggerel verse. Plain, driving, seemingly simple but incredibly effective at dragging you along. To mix my metaphors. It’s a catchy pop chorus, very simple structure delivering something immediate and accessible and hiding some very clever production techniques underneath it all.

This piece comes into its own in the chase through the wood, with panel layout and the positioning of figures (and a tree!) creating rhythm, leading to comparisons between characters circumstances, if that makes sense? To pick that apart, I get a lovely, punchy sense of action happening. It’s tense here, because there’s a sense of the figures moving around each other, of proximity and the level of danger and luck involved in trying to escape and how thin the line between success and failure will be. The end delivers a couple of cliff-hangers that set the future wheels in motion and maintain that sense of things happening and matters to learn.

It’s difficult to know how the layout was decided, where writer and artist begin and end, but I would say that the layout and characterisation achieved in the woodland scene by Michelle Marham impressed me and I thought delivered the tightest storytelling in the anthology. Whoever worked it out, did a good job, but the delivery sells it well.

As mentioned, Hanging in The Darkness and Sprouting gave me a sense of subtext in the work. Each has a nice little plot. For both, the artwork is a little rough in places in terms of anatomy and expressing emotion but paces itself well. It adds atmosphere and I like the colouring on Hanging in The Darkness most of all, I’m not sure whether there was a single colourist, or if each artist did their own. As no colourist is named, it seems likely that each artist did their own work.

Hanging in the Darkness Page 1
Hanging in the Darkness – page 1

Hanging in The Darkness seems to me to be a study in the slow eroding of memory and the chill and dread that comes with the loss of that memory and, as such, the art is very much telling a separate story to the text. It’s atmospheric but lacks a bite of good character work to it. The art has a hard task as it’s there depicting a story that’s less engaging than the text, which gets to delve into and explore the deeper psychological content of the piece. The art is there to deliver the chills, which it does very nicely, but I can’t quite work out what point that was serving other than as a plot device.

Sprouting on the other hand has art that is very much in sync with the writing, adding layer to the words and working together to deliver additional depth to the plot. Where Hanging in The Darkness played with loss of identity and personality, Sprouting is dealing with a sense of dysmorphia and the ability to come to a safe space where we accept our form and ourselves. Where we find friends that accept us for who we are and, through that, a place in the world.

Sprouting PAGE 2
Sprouting – page 2

I very much feel like this idea needed more space to develop a sense of the person, to make them meaningful, for my tastes a story dealing with such themes needs to get me to see the lead as a person rather than delivering plot beats. I think the limit of the space and the scope of the storyline conspired against it making its message deeper and more meaningful by affecting me emotionally. It ended up delivering something polemical rather than persuasive or personal.

They’re both good ideas though, ways of dealing with their subjects that I thought were quite effective concepts, interesting ways to explore those concepts and personify the psychological physically.

I do feel like there was room for these two stories to breathe more and get down to the bone. It’s a bit grisly here, you can feel it roll around as you’re chewing over the idea. To be clearer, and I can’t second guess creators, but to me these seem like strong ideas that either space or time didn’t allow for a full resolution to. I didn’t come away with a sure image of what the creator was trying to say about these things, or whether they were meant more as hooks to hang a good story on. That may be on me, and that may indeed have been the intent here all along, but to me it felt like there was room to go deeper and more personal in these stories, to commit to an opinion. They had interesting things to bring up and interesting ways of personifying the abstract, I just wanted to know more about what they personally felt about these subjects, because I think there’s an interesting set of voices here.

Artist page
Artists page

 

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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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cognition                                   sliced quarterly

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COGNITION #0KS PT1 AW
Cognition issue 3 cover

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

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

META AFFLICTION AW-01
Meta Affliction

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

IN TROUBLE #1 PT1 AW
In Trouble issue 1

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

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

 

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

KR – Oooooof! This is a brutal question.

First: 

The Hobbit – Tolkien

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

Formative: 

Neville Brody

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

Now:

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

 

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Simon Russell

 

buy Njord & Skadi

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review of Njord & Skadi

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

boing creations
Simon’s output

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

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

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

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

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

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

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

 

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

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

 

Tales of the Norse Gods & Heroes by BL Picard

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

Thanks for asking!

The Long List interview – The Secret Protectors

Currently Kickstarting

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Review on zinelove

KS Image
The Secret Protectors

 

Having run the review of The Secret Protectors yesterday, I caught up with it’s two creators, Adam Wheeler and Ben Nunn in a follow up conversation after they very kindly responded to the draft review with some very interesting points.

They’ve been very accommodating and considerate, so I wanted to take a minute to give them a big thanx and wish them both well as they grow, and their comics grow with them.

 

The Secret Protectors Interview

 

ZL – What was the initial kernel of the idea for The Secret Protectors, that initial thought that made you start to build the whole story?

AW – The initial creation of The Secret Protectors characters and universe was a fair bit different to how Ben and I have it all structured at this point. These characters began, believe it or not, as Superheroes and Supervillains on the now defunct MMO ‘City Of Heroes’. I’ve always had a keen interest in sci-fi and fantasy. Playing that game as a young teen really allowed me to get my creative juices flowing. A fair amount of that ‘work’ still exists within these characters now. As time went on I started to imagine my own comic book universe where all my characters would take part in a grand narrative. As such, they’ve all ‘existed’ in my head for around a decade or so.

 

ZL – What are your backgrounds with comics?

BN – For me it all started when I was about 3 with watching the old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons with my nan. It wasn’t long before we were watching the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, then the New Adventures show, then we branched out into the Marvel offerings. Every time my mum dragged me shopping she’d get me a Superman/Batman comic but the first comic I really remember is one I still have to this day. An issue of Spider-Man illustrated by John Romita Jr. That’s when I saw the potential for telling stories with uniquely stylised artwork.

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AW – I’m bit older than Ben, so I can’t remember being 3yrs old! Ha!

But, growing up I always loved my cartoons, TMNT, Transformers, Batman TAS, X-Men, Spider-Man… the list of great cartoons is endless. As for comics a good friend of mine when we were growing up had a bunch of copies of older comics like ‘Journey into Mystery’, ‘Action Comics’ and some old Spider-Man comics. I wasn’t poor growing up, but I know money was tight for my parents and locally there wasn’t really anywhere to buy comics, so growing up they weren’t as big a part of my life as they became later on.

 

ZL – When did you start making comics and when did you start thinking about The Secret Protectors and the world you’ve built?

BN – I started off with some obscure webcomics in a kind of manga style but it wasn’t until meeting up with Adam that I decided to take it beyond a hobby.

AW – Hmm… I remember making a stick-man book when I was wasting classroom time at school but that’s about the limit of my artistic capability. I wouldn’t know exactly how to describe how bad my drawing is. With that said, making a comic alone is not something I’ve ever given any serious consideration to!

Although I had all the story written up for The Secret Protectors, I only began giving serious thought to it when I told my now fiancé (soon to be wife) Kate about my idea. She really got onboard with it and supported me in trying to get it actually made into a comic. It was not long after that I found Ben via a website. We met up soon after and began working on the project together.

 

ZL – Can you give us a few details about:-

  • The first creator you ever remember recognising the work of?
  • The first creator you remember copying or studying for hours to work out how they made things work?
  • Creator you most wanted to be like when growing up?

BN – John Romita Jr was easily the first creator I remember recognising. His characteristic style is what made comics real to me. While most of what I’d seen before that was very silver age, ironically heavily influenced by the likes of Romita Sr. But Romita Jr showed me that it was possible to create something totally visually different. In the days of dialup I became obsessed with Dragon Ball Z and found myself recording episodes onto VHS and desperately trying to copy that distinctive Toriyama style. Needless to say the weird warping that happened when you paused a VHS certainly didn’t help. I wouldn’t say I wanted to be like Romita Jr or Toriyama. I’ve always just wanted to create the best art I could and tell some great stories.

AW – As the one here who cannot draw at all this is a tough one. I do actually love both Romita Sr and Jr! Add Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and Alex Ross to that.

 

ZL – Are there any particular influences fuelling The Secret Protectors?

BN – When Adam approached me with the story we were in a Starbucks. Adam explained the premise then launched into an enthusiastic breakdown of the characters and their backstories, their world, and even the eventual endgame of the entire story.

Miles Morales by Sara Pichelli
Some of Ben’s inspiration – Miles Morales by Sara Pichelli

I think Adam and his enthusiasm has been a driving force. His drive to get these stories we believe in out there and in front of people has inspired me in my work on TSP and other projects. We’ve been really happy to have kids and adults coming up to us at events thrilled to see a black protagonist. I don’t know how much thought Adam gave to creating a diverse cast, I think it just came naturally when you’re writing a story that spans the globe. Not every superhero has to be a 6’2” white American dude with black hair, blue eyes and a jaw that could cut glass, right?

AW – There are so many influences… Some are perhaps more obvious than others. The genre of Superheroes is clearly our playground (The 90’s X-Men cartoon for instance) but beyond that I have so much love for actual sci-fi, fantasy and maybe just as importantly iconic series like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Fargo. These sorts of influences may not be apparent in an obvious sense, but I’ve always drawn great enjoyment from storytelling that makes you think, doesn’t spoon feed you, allows you to draw some of your own conclusions so to speak.

 

ZN – You’ve already made your goal on Kickstarter – that must feel pretty good! Was getting the money the main goal or were you hoping for something more out of Kickstarting your comic?

BN – We’ve been overwhelmed by the support. The idea that there are kids and teenagers out there that cared enough to contribute what they could means just as much as the people who were able to pledge on the higher end of things. I think the Kickstarter was about getting the audience excited and being able to offer them more bang for their buck. I probably can’t say too much about the statistics but we’ve had support from some very unexpected places.

What’s most exciting is that some young fans have already taken to drawing the characters even having only read issue 1 so we just want to be able to get it out there more and be able to thank people for their support in some cool and interesting ways. And, of course, how could we resist the opportunity to duct tape my phone to the wall for two hours while we tried to read a 2-minute script for the Kickstarter video!

AW – Having followed Tyler James (ComixLaunch) for a while I always thought that if we could find an initial audience that we could use Kickstarter as a platform for the project so that one day it could become self-sustaining. We’ve received amazing support on the campaign itself.

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Ben Nunn – 2000AD submission from sample script

With that said, I’m not a businessman, if I was, I probably wouldn’t be doing this! Ha! The Secret Protectors is very much a passion project. I draw great meaning from it. My main hope was that we could begin to garner a larger audience of readers. Promoting the comic and getting eyes on it has always been the toughest side of the ‘business’. I’m not a natural salesman and especially with something that has so much of my heart in it. Ben and I both know rejection is part of the game though. We have both had cause to pick each other at some point in this process.

 

ZL – I’m hoping the review comes across as supportive and that I enjoyed it! Sometimes I think I sound terribly negative!

AW – Ha! I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve read it a few times and I’d like to thank you for your honest feedback. We know we aren’t perfect and we’re still at the beginning of both our creative journey and actual story. That’s our first review! Ever! That’s a huge deal to me.

Issue 1 pacing was always a concern we had but we wanted to show the ‘status quo’ of this world and set things up. We wanted the reader to be able to just spend a bit of time with Ben before he gets dragged into the main conflict. He’s a normal guy and by showing him with his family we hoped to show how tough the decision would be to make in issue 2, obviously you can be the judge of whether or not we pulled that off! Ben doesn’t know or understand his powers and that’s something we hope to explore with him as the story unfolds.

BN – Yeah, the most important thing is honesty and I’ve got to say your review was thorough and will no doubt help us continue improving in future issues.

 

ZL – Going back to your comment about this being your first review ever, I’m interested in picking apart the experience of getting copies out to reviewers, whether you’ve found positive responses, or it’s been more a wall of silence! What you did to find sites that would be useful for promoting your comic and Kickstarter in general and what your method of contact was?

Also, generally, how it felt to send things out, waiting for a response, what it felt like if people haven’t responded?

Also – what was your first gut reaction to receiving a review and whether that felt different/ was different to how you thought it would be?

Ben Nunn - drawing from 2000AD sample script
Ben Nunn – drawing from 2000AD sample script

AW – Having never run a Kickstarter before I can’t say that I truly prepared for everything it would require from me. Even though we’ve surpassed our target if I could go back and start over I would probably do so. I realise now that we could have done a fair bit more pre-launch. I sent copies to quite a few people, I won’t name names, but essentially it’s been a wall of silence. I’m not at all salty or complaining about that though. Time is precious and those who do this sort of thing, like yourself, on behalf of Indie Comics are providing a service. There are so many projects out there at any one time that, understandably, getting reviews actually done is a real tough task if you don’t perhaps already have a reputation. That’s something that as a creator you need to expect and plan for. The only advice I could really offer is cast a wide net. Contact anyone and everyone!

As for receiving your review (as our first)

I can honestly say it’s a very humbling experience. By that, I mean, actually having our work prodded, tested and pulled apart is awesome! It’s helped us evaluate our work and goes down as a real sign of the progress we’ve made so far. Reviews should, in my opinion, always be tough on whatever the product in question may be. Reviewers / critics should be the stress test, the mechanism by which they the consumer can make an informed decision whether or not to spend their hard-earned money.

 

ZL – I wondered a bit about your thoughts on Ben being more a cypher and whether that’s a part of the plan, or a product of focussing in on the plot?

AW – I would admit that Ben does suffer slightly as you point out as the ‘cypher’ but our take was also that; he is extremely unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time at the beginning of issue 1. Bad things unfold and as a twenty-one-year-old growing up in a world where the existence of super-powered beings isn’t common knowledge he was completely out of his depth; emotionally, mentally and physically. He was basically a passenger as he’s in over his head.

 

ZL – I guess there’s a fine line between being a cypher and feeling lost and out of your depth and my feeling is Ben is too much of an empty vessel, I kept wanting to know what he was, how he was thinking but at the moment he seems to be all anger and little of the implied gentle side of him is coming out. Put another way, I feel like I spend more time thinking about him and who he is than I do feeling what this is like for him – if that makes sense?!

AW – There’s a few things to unpack here… so, as much as Ben is a very important character to our series this is also an ensemble title. With that said, we made a conscious decision to not spoon feed the reader too much. I definitely did not want us beating the reader over the head with a stick but it’s a fair criticism. Ben in the first issue is still reeling over the loss of his father. We made that decision early on that Ben should not be laughing and joking (just yet) as I don’t know how natural that would be. There’s a lot to Ben too, but at this stage in his journey he’s at sea really. He doesn’t know what’s going on, who to trust, what to do. He’s a mess. Issue 1 and 2 take place within quite a small timeframe.

We have a number of characters who, over the course of the next few issues will be introduced but spending time with Ben is definitely something the reader can expect, and we’re excited for.

Invincible - Ryan Ottley
Some of Ben’s inspiration – Invincible – Ryan Ottley

ZL – What are the longer-term plans for TSP? Is this intended as an ongoing series, a number of story arcs with a beginning and end to each, that also build to an overall story in sum? What kind of things can we expect to see dealt with in the series?

AW – Our plan, which may be naive given our experience, is for TSP to be a long running series. We know where we want to get to though and hopefully the reader sees that and enjoys it. Although on bare face value it’s a superhero comic we want to explore the notions of good and evil being relative. Other themes we want to explore are parenting and the duality of the human-psyche. It’s a tough one really because we don’t want to give too much away. This initial run, the first story arc, we envisage running at around 12 issues. These first 12 issues will really help develop and provide the reader context for the world. The characters all have lengthy backstories as to why they are the way they are which we’ll get the opportunity to explore more of in our future issues.

 

ZL – So, for me, this is interesting for the very reason that we’re talking themes and plots here and I wonder if it’s because they’re part of the big plan and less of the by issue planning? Anyway, that’s not actually a question sorry!

What plans have you got for dealing with the character of these individuals? Their relationships, the nature of who they are, how they behave? What I’m wondering is, for example, the scene in issue 2 where we see Mohammed and Mika. I thought that was a nicely handled way of showing the relationship and managed to put some flesh on the characters and on their relationship, so I’m wondering what sort of planning goes into that?

Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail
Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail

It felt very organic, was it planned in that way, or did it come to you from getting to know your characters?

AW – in my opinion the grand narrative of any story really should be shaped by the individual actions and motivations involved and that is something I believe we have achieved. Each of our characters, both good and bad, have their own way of thinking. Their own plans and schemes. Early on that may not be completely apparent but as things take shape the reader will notice things early on that we did that have affected the flow of events.

 

ZL – Are there any questions or points you had that you’d like to make?

AW – Firstly, the close-up on page 1 of issue 2 is actually of the mech, not the van, not sure if you wrote van by mistake or just thought it was the van / not the mech.

Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel
Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel

ZL – My bad! Sorry about that. Still is a beautiful panel though!!

And that brings up an interesting point? This is aimed at Ben more – what style of art do you normally create and what source and references, in terms of artists, are you pulling in to your work?

What is your input in the comic, do you share writing credits, are you working full script or sitting around and working it out together?

Does the style feel comfortable for you yet or do you find you’re still trying to figure it all out a lot?

One final one! What is your favourite moment/ drawing in the two comics and why?

AW – We were certainly trying to go for older ‘Adventure style’ comic sort of feel, as it’s set in the 80’s we wanted the art be similar to the styles employed in that era but obviously Ben has his own style on top of that. I’m a big fan of Claremont & Byrne’s long run on X-Men. We also thought that having the comic set in the past gives it the chance to have that, for lack of a better way of putting it, ‘nostalgia’ feel.

BN – Thanks! I suppose I like to draw from people like Ryan Ottley and Sara Pichelli. I’m not sure how much I specifically draw from either of them. Consciously I draw from Hirohiko Araki when it comes to faces, but with a bit more of a westernised slant. Occasionally I’ll work in a simpler style when I’m commissioned to do a light-hearted comic for a birthday or anniversary present. That’s apparently more reminiscent of Herge’s Adventures of Tintin which I apparently loved as a child, but truth be told I don’t have much of a memory of it.

Gyro Zepelli by Hirohiko Araki
Some of Ben’s inspiration – Gyro Zepelli by Hirohiko Araki

It’s hard to nail down how much of a collaboration the writing was, especially early on. There was definitely a lot of back and forth and we still discuss scripts in detail. Then there are those times when I’ll cheekily just do something differently to how it was written and just see what happens. Sorry Adam!

I enjoy the style and I think it’s evolving as I do. I spend a few hours every day studying so that’s always going to reflect in my work. Hopefully that’ll be as noticeable between issues 2 and 3 as it was between 1 and 2.

My favourite moment was one that you mentioned in your review. The panel of Wildfire propelling himself forward on page 4 of issue 2. That page was one of the last to be completed after an 11th hour decision to punch up the fight a bit. I think that shows. I’m always tempted to go through a whole issue again to bring it up to the level that I’m at by the time we finish but I’ve fallen down that hole before. I’m reminded of a quote, though I’m not sure where it comes from: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. Obviously, that could be taken as permission to half-arse things but I think of it as permission to let things go and keep moving forward, instead of getting trapped in an endless loop of building up and tearing down your own work and never showing anything to the world.

Ben Nunn - Game Of Thrones
Ben Nunn – Game Of Thrones

AW – To make this point easier I’ve just copied and pasted what you wrote:

“Just looking at things, we can also see that we’re dealing with a battle between diversity and racism/fascism/the shadow government”

So, just between us! As we get into spoiler territory that’s kind of it, but also kind of not. Now if it hits home that way then that’s our fault as the storyteller so I don’t take any fault with your description, the bad guys SCIMITAR, or Supreme Command for Incident Management and Initial Tactical Armed Response are obviously somewhat of a homage to Shield, or Hydra or any other clandestine organisation in comics, in a certain sense, however, we certainly weren’t going for them being viewed as fascist, is there a reason to you that that’s the case?

ZL – Well, partly, the Shadow Government is a form of fascism, but not of the race variety, (there are many forms of fascism as it’s essentially the belief that one group of people are superior to any others), it’s a form of free market fascism, where the possession of money and the associated power that comes with that, means you are worth more than poorer individuals. Also, though, there were the two thugs in the store with the Texas Flag, and one had a swastika, that sort of foreshadowed the presence of fascism and racism. The look of Mayhem Marauder is also quite fascistic and felt like a reference back to those thugs. I guess I’m saying, maybe my understanding of fascism is slightly different to others around the shadow government and that the character designs have sort of flagged a feeling about fascism being a part of the work’s themes.

Does that sound like a question even!!

Um – What are your thoughts on that?

AW – Gotcha! I see where you’re coming from now. Again, I’m careful to not go into spoiler territory. S.C.I.M.I.T.A.R have an agenda, but I can’t really go into that just yet, but they aren’t really drawing from a fascist playbook in my mind. The thugs in issue 1, we wanted individuals who were clearly detestable from the off. They were shaking down a shop for money. Ben, being a good guy (but naive) rushes in trying to do the ‘right’ thing and gets beaten down pretty quickly. As for Warren AKA Mayhem Marauder there’s a reason behind his appearance, something which again, will be explored later on in the series.

Ben Nunn - Hellboy fanart
Ben Nunn – Hellboy fanart

What we really wanted was to have a diverse set characters on both the good and bad side. This isn’t a tactical or political stand (we’re bombarded with more than enough of that in real life), it was more just a ‘why not?’. Why not have Ben be a black guy? Why not have Mika be Japanese? Why not have Mohammed be Asian? Instead of making our cast all white, black or any other ethnicity we wanted to have a diverse cast. But yeah, we certainly aren’t looking to go for anything racial at all. I’d love to know why you thought it?

 

ZL – The theme I picked up on was the use of a diverse cast, just generally, and sadly, nowadays that carries with it the weight of the current world political climate, with Islamophobia, institutionalised racism being highlighted by a highly racist American president and British ‘Johnny Foreigner’ scaremongering leading up to Brexit. There’s also the opposite side of the argument around why you’re writing in characters of colour when you’re not familiar with the culture or background.

So, I’m wondering from what you’ve said, whether you’ve had positive or negative or no feedback on any of those issues? Also, what have you done, in terms of research, to avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping characters by race and gender?

Essentially, it’s a very thorny area to walk in and I wonder how you’re planning on finding the safe path through?

BN – Speaking for myself I’m always wondering about that delicate balance. I think it comes down to doing your due diligence, but more than that, just treating characters like they’re human. Trump, Islamophobia, Brexit, they all come down to a basic lack of ability or willingness to empathise with people who are slightly different from you. I guess people just prefer to feel superior or succumb to fear (or both somehow) but at the core of being a good person, and at the core of good writing, is empathy and compassion.

AW – There’s certainly a minefield of different opinions out there on that subject. Personally, I don’t want The Secret Protectors to be a vehicle for my own personal politics. It’s a strange one really, I can see why politics often find their voice in comics, but I’ve always thought that if super-powered beings did exist then our way of politics would be completely different, if that makes any sense? There certainly comes a point where, logically, politics within the context of the story / world would need to be addressed but that doesn’t represent my own thoughts but rather reflects the story and the characters themselves.

I don’t want anyone to read our comic and feel like we’re preaching an agenda to them as that is not our prerogative. As for the diversity of our characters backgrounds I’ve always believed that good characters are written as individuals with their own mind, ambitions and problems. Their group identity should always be a secondary factor, that’s not to say it’s unimportant but I don’t think it should be the primary driver behind their actions.

The feedback so far, from readers, has been really great overall. I think, that with everything in life, if people can see you’re trying to put something good out into the world, even if it’s not their cup of tea, they do tend to get behind it. They can see its value and the love behind the project. I believe that the reason behind that is that, for the most part, we are more good than not.

TSP-LOGO-HEADER-E
The Secret Protectors

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

Review – Secret Protectors 1-2

 

TSP-LOGO-HEADER-E

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Let’s get this right at the beginning

At the start, this may seem like I’m going in hard on this comic and also going in hard for choosing to be something I don’t like.

So, I want to say this clearly up front.

I like this comic, it’s a work forming for sure. So if you want the slick, mature work of creators fully situated in their styles, or a very settled format of superhero comic similar to corporate comics, this is not what you’re looking for. I think it’s not yet formed, and I think it’s still firmly rooted in its genre work, but it does nothing badly. For most people who read the kind of thing I’ve reviewed before it’s likely not the kind of work that will interest them, and I’ll argue why I can fit this in my mind in the same space as those works at the end and why I think it has a virtue worth investing in. It’s entirely possible these are patronising things to say and I’m going to hold my hand up to that if I’m called out on it.

I also add the extra caveat that all comments about style and genre are not to be considered as a definition of the creators’ interests, influences or personal systems of categorising. They are comments upon my thoughts, values, and ways of thinking. They deal with what I’ve put together and brought to this work. Talk to the creators for their opinion.

It all gets quite deep and specific as I parse those things out for you.

On that sinister note, let’s go!

TSP - Logo SP

This is an interesting comic

Maybe you’re old enough, maybe this will mean nothing to you, but this really reminds me of the comics put out by Adventure Comics in the black and white glut. Now, I really like them, in fact, I’d say that I actually own comics just like this one.

They’re the sort of comics that mix ideas the creators have seen in fiction and thought, ‘Oh my god, I want to do a story with that in it because it’s so COOOOOOOL!’ Then there are moments where there is something so personal and out of context with the stuff in it that it throws you sideways. I like them for the very reason that they’re often just this weird stew of genre cliché and they’re often characterised by being about plot point and cool scenes and some stuff to string them together. I just like sitting down and parsing all of those influences out and enjoying how clearly these are people fulfilling their kid comic dreams.

This work is near to that experience, but there’s something more than that about it. It’s one of those ones where you can see it has potential for the creators to get better an not just sit making their own weird stew of fan-fiction.

Which is to say that this is a work that leans heavily on its inspirations, has not shaken off that inspiration enough to call itself its own thing yet, but it has these moments and ideas that could really be exploited if they dig into it. It’s a work you can see where the creators are figuring out their choices and solutions a hitting some and missing others.

Which is an appallingly long way of saying that this is the work of a team finding its feet between doing the stuff they’ve loved reading and wanted to make since they began wanting to make stuff and finding their own style and purpose and their own way to say it. They have made some quick steps between issues though.

I found the second issue, for example, much more interesting than the first both story and art wise.

 

 

Let’s go back in time

Now, we have to establish a bit here. This is a ‘modern’ superhero comic and I am genuinely not a fan of modern superhero comics, they take too long to get to anything and they don’t know that they’re too serious or how to package an idea. They equate heroic poses with emotional gravitas and, as with all modern media, angry emoting is seen as ‘character’ and ‘depicting male emotions’. I’m not a fan of either thing, it’s hysteria not emotion, its going ‘BOO’ when you could sneak up and tap someone quietly on their shoulder. It’s a smiling emoji rather than laughing with your friends.

That’s definitely a taste and age thing. It’s also a bit damn unfair of me to knock something for reminding me of a style that I’m not a fan of. However – there’s work in here that has a much more interesting nature than the genre it’s leaning into, so I need to deal with why I feel this could ‘move up’ (in my estimation). It is also the nature of this blog that I’m talking about my reaction to thing, so honesty around that is required.

To me, this story doesn’t get going into the characters quickly enough because it has decompressed its story too much. Its story also seems more plot than story, as in, stories have character arcs not just things that happen. Stories talk about something relatable to their audience, not relying on a familiarity with genre to carry the weight of identification.

Put another way, these could be interesting characters, but we don’t know them. We know their plot points, not their personality and those two things are very different in my head. We know the main character got his powers in a disaster and that there are shadowy powers at work and a superhero team at work. Just looking at things, we can also see that we’re dealing with a battle between diversity and racism/fascism/the shadow government.

All we know about the personality of the main character is that he’s a bit shy around a pretty girl, loves his family and gets angry when confused. We’re two issues in, for me that’s two chapters of this story, which means two chapters in and I’m still not comfortable about whether these he’s going to be an interesting character to read about. I know he’s there to be a cypher for the reader to identify with so they can be led into this new world through him, but he’s too much of a cypher, really too much of a stereotype and not a person yet. Sometimes you need to know the head of a character before you trust their heart and their insight.

As to the Secret Protectors, the same is true for them, except that there are some moments where you get a little ‘in’ on their relationships. I’m unsure whether issue 2 delivers more interest because of their presence, or their presence in issue 2 mean that they’re treated with more skill and so come across as more interesting.

I think the art also needs to work harder at selling this comic at this point as well. It’s uneven at the moment and fluctuates in ability sometimes panel to panel. There are moments where the anatomy is bang on, followed by some really awkward posing or poorly executed foreshortening and that throws around the reading of the story. On the whole though, those anatomy issues are about time and practice. There are more fundamental decisions here about the approach to the story where there’s an uneven approach that throws the story out. Choices of posing and pacing and sequencing that at points flatten the character portrayal or the excitement of the action, but at other points serve to really punch it up a notch.

 

Diving down into the detail

Now – I’m going to get into a quite close read of this here and this is where I talk about why I enjoyed this comic and what I see as its virtues. That all comes with the caveat that I’m neither writer, nor artist, nor editor and that none of these things are anything other than the reasons I have for reviewing and recommending this.

So, lets begin by picking 2 pages from issue 2 to compare, page 2 and a detail from page 5.

Page 2 is the first half of a double page spread and we’re seeing what should be a really impactful moment where a mech droid is confronting the Secret Protectors. I’ve decontextualized this a lot by removing the big robot, because I want to talk about character and the depiction of those characters.

If you look at the poses being struck here, I find them vey static and generic. There’s nothing individual about those poses where you couldn’t reverse the costumes and be showing them as having the same personality. Also, the composition relies very heavily on the action lines to feel dynamic. That barn in the background carries as much dynamic force as the figures themselves in my reading of the scene.

Compare that to the action shown on page 5, the position and shape of the body, the placing in the frame and the composition of the action between those two panels. They’re small on the page in the actual comic, but they carry much more action and punch and show more of the character’s personality, The writing here adds an extra element to the character depiction, seemingly at odds with the ‘go in there and do it’ look of the action we can see someone concerned with not causing harm to their enemy.

Then you look at that pose in the panel and instead of opting for a typical ‘blasting out flames’ pose, the arms are thrown backwards whilst getting into position, so now I see that the writing explains why they are thrown back without banging you on the head with a hammer.

Interestingly, the anatomy in both drawings is no better on a ‘realistic’ scale, it’s just that the flame panels have their own rhythm where those shapes put together make sense as a person running fast. Also the shapes made by the flames between each panel match up dynamically, twisting the eye around in a near circle, moving your eye down from top to bottom before retuning it to the right so you move on to the next panel. My eye moves quickly, like the action it’s depicting.

Even the computer art works differently; the orange flames, though very painterly, sit within the context of the image; whereas, the action lines on page 2 stand apart, almost speaking a different language to the image on the page.

Secret Protectors 1 page 4 detail
Secret Protectors 1 page 4 detail

The computer art has a nice pace of its own at points in this comic as well. There’s a panel on page 4 of the 1st issue that is just orange colour with a white speed line filter applied. It works, at that point, as a nice story beat, it’s very otherness serving to break out the rhythm of the story. The approach is not used in such a considered manner throughout though.

Secret Protectors 2 page 1
Secret Protectors 2 page 1

The 1st page of issue 2 also has an interesting moment like this and shows my point more clearly, I think. If you look at the whole page, the middle panel again uses some computer made speed lines to give a sense of dynamism. This time, I feel, they’re working against the real dynamism achieved in the figure drawing and panel composition. They’re dumped so artificially onto the panel it breaks up the flow of the story where it should move dynamically. Then you get that final panel, where there’s this amazing, expressionistic depiction of the van shown very realistically in the first panel. Break beat. Sinister yellow eyes glowing out. Impact of the message driven home. Game changer engaged. Essentially, such a different outcome.

 

Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel
Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel

I guess the point that’s being skirted around is that there is some really good work here, but I’m not sure that it’s a choice as part of the story delivery. I hope so for the creators, because these are interesting techniques to employ consciously. Personally, it doesn’t matter so much, intent doesn’t stop me from stopping and looking at that and thinking it is awesome.

But the application is inconsistent throughout the two issues and that’s a shame as it can really block the story at points.

Maybe one last group of examples might make my point clearer.

Secret Protectors 1 page 1
Secret Protectors 1 page 1

The use of computer colour and design on the drawings, particularly on the buildings, has a sort of deadening effect on the art quite often, as do the pacing and drawing choices. If you look at the 1st page of the 1st issue, the very precise nature of that building, the point of view disappearing into the centre of the building, the matching tones of most of the page, all of these serve to force you to just stare at the centre of the hospital complex. It’s a real work of effort to move your eye on.

When you do, it’s the same battle over again to move your eyes off those repeated panels, then again, the first panels of the bottom tier are matched so closely that the final panel of the page seems like it’s clipped from a completely different story. That page is just hard reading all the way through. Yet I can feel that it’s trying to create a rhyme on the page, a pace to draw you through.

Secret Protectors 1 page 9
Secret Protectors 1 page 9

I get the same feeling about the pacing set up on pages 8-9 of issue 1. Just looking at page 9, you can see the rhythm being aimed for. Yet it’s so flat, the characters aren’t made interesting in either drawing or writing. It’s stiff at all points. Maybe not stiff, forced, like the creators know they’ve got something to get across and they’re going to make it happen.

Now, why I’m interested in this comic can be seen when you contrast that with issue 2 page 13. Just stop and look out the layout and how it rhymes and matches up, window panes below matching panel layout above, colours in top and bottom tiers balancing yet contrasting. Even the way that the panels show the change in character personality. The anatomy may be no better or more consistent, but the pacing is on point so it doesn’t matter to me.

Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail
Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail

Look at how the relationship of characters is mirrored between their powers at work, the story beats are well chosen and well depicted. They sell the relationship of those characters to each other, rather than labouring the point. It’s subtler already. It’s unfolds before you rather than TELLING you about itself.

 

One last dive

I just want to look at this last page, mainly because of those bottom three panels and the way I like the look of them! Also though, because that middle panel works so well to deliver an emotional moment. Simple, good facial expression and body language and colours focussing the moment. Then those last three panels delivering such a different artistic style, changing the rhythm of the comic instantly. It’s moments like this that make me enjoy this comic.

Secret Protectors 2 page 7
Secret Protectors 2 page 7

It’s served up in a way that shows me some character and emotion, in a way that feels like it’s a personal solution for its creators. It’s fine entertainment and I’m all about that at times.

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Nick Prolix

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ZL – I’m really interested to know the influences for your comic?

NP – I call it a slice-of-life in as much as the characters and their stories are imagined if not directly from real life, then from lives that could plausibly have been real. Will Eisner prefaced A Contract With God by saying that the book contained “stories drawn from the endless flow of happenings characteristic of city life. Some are true. Some could be true.”

Issue 4 detail page 7
Issue 4 detail of page 7

I would say exactly the same for Slang Pictorial. I’ve taken characters, incidents, stories and sayings from my own life and the lives of my parents, recollections of friends and relatives, events recounted in memoirs, plots borrowed from TV narratives and the best lines stolen from the pulpiest paperbacks and mixed them all up in a hodgepodge to such a degree now that I’d be hard pressed to be able to tell you what was true and what was just plausibly, possibly true-ish in the sense that Eisner identified.

In terms of specific formal, thematic and structural influences I’d point to Film and Television as being very central to my thinking, as befits my coming from an academic Film Studies background. Take a love of the French New Wave, mix it with a deep admiration for the ambition of Anthony Newley’s criminally under-rated creative endeavours such as The Small World of Sammy Lee and The Strange World of Gurney Slade, chuck in as much Sam Selvon and Colin MacInnes as you can read plus the long-form narrative ambitions and character-driven genre storytelling of contemporary TV like Fargo and The Deuce and I’d say you’ve got a good sense of the kinds of art that feeds my drive to keep making The Sheep And The Wolves

The Sheep and The Wolves
The Sheep and The Wolves

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

Iron Man 150
Cover – Iron Man 150 Copyright Marvel Comics

NP – For comics it would be Iron Man #150, the special double-sized issue in which Tony Stark and Dr Doom find themselves thrown back in time to the court of King Arthur. It had fantastic John Romita Jr visuals and a done-in-one story featuring sorcery and pseudo-science and an army of undead zombie knights that I read and re-read hundreds of times. I found the comic in a pile of my primary school teacher’s rainy-day comic books and so had no idea of continuity or who the characters were beyond what I’d seen in cartoons, but I was absolutely hooked and have been an Iron Man mark ever since.

 

 

 

ZL – Your cartooning style is very reminiscent of classic Belgian cartooning styles. Is the style influenced by the retro nature of the content, or is the content influenced by your retro style of drawing?

NP – I have a very binary brain and so as a child I was a Marvel reader which meant I didn’t read DC and I was an Asterix fan and so avoided Tintin. I loved the energy and dynamism of Uderzo’s art and the knockabout humour of Goscinny’s writing and compared to that Herge’s clean lines were always too clean, his characters too buttoned-up and the worlds he created too rigid, rule-bound and well-ruled in terms of everything being about straight-lines whereas Asterix was all curves and swooshes, architecture bending and straining to contain the lolloping limbs of these bonkers characters. I loved the historical aspect of the stories being a big ancient history buff, but I also remember wishing that Goscinny and Uderzo would do stories set in more modern times, with gangsters and spies and detectives, etc. I had no idea that there existed a slew of artists and writers working in the magazines Spirou, Pilote and Heroic that were doing just that sort of stuff, Franquin with Spirou and Fantasio, Maurice Tillieux with Gil Jourdan, Francois Walthery and Natacha, even Peyo and Benny Breakiron. I only discovered this side of the Franco-Belgian bookshelf when I came back to comics about six years ago and ever since I’ve just been steeping myself ever deeper into this stuff.

Issue 3 detail page 4
Issue 3 detail of page 4

 

ZL – You are gifted the opportunity to set up a new museum showcasing all 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?

Issue 2 detail page 20
Issue 2 detail of page 20

NP – I’d say First is going to be Dan Clowes, certainly not my earliest cartooning memory but very much someone whose work defined my return to comics in the early 2000s. I read Ghost World, David Boring and Ice Haven in pretty quick succession and each one seemed to progressively build on and transform what came before it. These were revelatory comics for me, both formally and thematically, in terms of what comics could be and say and how the interlinked craft of comics-making; of inking, hand-lettering and book and page design; all served to strengthen the kind of storytelling being showcased.

Formative is probably Franquin, a cartoonist I feel an affinity towards both in terms of his wonderful art style as well as, less positively, his psychology; but I am always trying to emulate and incorporate his character designs and world-building as well as to try and keep pushing myself to adopt new styles and techniques, adapting them hopefully into my repertoire in productive ways.

Now is definitely Gus Arriola, a cartoonist who doesn’t get enough love or column-inches, but his Gordo strip is very much everything I strive to make Slang Pictorial, expressive and animated cartooning in a character-driven soap-opera set within a fully-realised and jazz-infused world that’s just the epitome of hip, mid-century modern comics.

 

 

ZL – You are currently Kickstarting and you’re offering a package collecting all previous issues as well as the current 4th issue of Slang Pictorial. I like the way that the whole of the work is being made available as a tier, by the way! How was it to have successfully achieved your funding within 90 minutes?

NP – It’s always amazing when you hit that target and you can breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing that the project is going to get funded. Slang Pictorial #3 hit its target in under 12 hours and that was huge for me as it was my first ever time on Kickstarter and I really had no idea how it was going to go. I won’t say with #4 I was specifically trying to hit that 90 minute target but I did do a lot of work before hand in an effort to try and beat that previous result. So I set up a pre-launch mailing list, did a lot of Instagram and Twitter promotion to start hyping up the launch as well as offering a couple of Early Bird only rewards for backers who pledged on the first day. The point of doing all of that was to try and get us over the line as quickly as possible, but the fact that the project funded as quickly as it did is ultimately all down to the fantastic folks that jumped on board and did such a great job sharing and spreading the word.

Issue 1 page 23
Issue 1 page 23

In terms of the logistics of this Kickstarter, the funding will go towards printing issue #4 as well as reprinting some more of issue #3, issues #1 and #2 were reprinted as part of the previous campaign. I always try and budget the funding ask to cover printing enough copies of the comics to fulfil the backer rewards and leave me enough stock to cover convention sales for the following year. After issue #5, which I hope to launch at the end of this year, I am going to have to think about perhaps a trade collection of the first five, as I can see that after a certain point, new readers might like to engage with the work in a nice chunk, however I am very much committed to maintaining the serial form of the single issues. The challenge is working out a balance between what to keep exclusively for the individual issues and what to put in the trades by way of back matter, etc.

 

 

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

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

The Marriage of Njord and Skadi

By Jon Mason & Simon Russell

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

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

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

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

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

process-FINISHED
Finished page

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Skadi-spread-1
Njord and Skadi spread

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

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

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

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

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

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Feeling and emotions – succint and poetic

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

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

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

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

The Short List – Zeno Carta

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MKVI-3 – Default Mode – page 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review – Slang Pictorial 1-4 – Nick Prolix

KICKSTARTING NOW

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I like this series, it’s got a real charm to it. Bouncy, friendly and likeable and going down into depth on the characters. The characters are likeable and engaging. You’re not seeing great story arcs, you’re seeing the quotidian increment of people’s daily lives. Bad decisions, poor choices, changing attitudes. It layers them into the storyline, rather than laying them out in front of you. I guess that’s why I class this as a friendly comic to read. It’s not shouting at you about itself, it’s putting itself out there for you to hang out with and find out about.

I’m a huge fan of the book ‘Georgie Girl’. This is a descendant of that. It’s a descendant of those New English Library books with painted people draped on each other lustily and fags hanging from their lips. This is Kitchen Sink Drama. This is also cheeky Brit comics by the like of Hunt Emerson. It’s also low life story telling about wideboys. Not the Crays, not dangerous or evil, just cheap and desperate and showy and trashy.

This is the 60’s swinging London as lived by the poor in all its genre glory. All the characters you’d expect, or the class and cultural meters are fed in. There’s not a trick missed. This is 60’s kitchen sink drama, this is ‘Angry Young Man’ world, gladly lacking the entitlement and white male hero complex I see in those other works.

I probably need to pick that apart!

Stories can be about SOMETHING and they usually foreground those things as the main character, they ‘DEAL WITH’ depravation, personal disenfranchisement and everything that happens, happens to drive that point home.

Stories can be about SOMEONE and there’s your protagonist flexing their character muscles whilst others throw shade and reflection upon them but do little else.

This story is very much about SOMEWHERE and SOMEWHEN. This is 60’s Soho.

Issue 1 - first story page of sheep and the wolves

It’s seen through the lens of genre. Maybe genres? But it’s very clear that the milieu is the character. There are interesting people, there are fine twisty little plots, there are even big themes. None of those is the purpose of this comic. This is telling you about the lives lived and the environment that bred those lives. This is telling you the history, the changes but it’s dealing with it through the experiences of lives lived. That’s the key to this comic and what I like about it. It gives you a story, then it fleshes that story out with shades of past and future, with the view of the other people involved. Turn around, turn back, look at it again. What I like about issue 4 is how it goes back in time to things that have happened but it’s not plugging a hole in your knowledge, that flashback is somehow a linear part of the way the story makes sense.

I’m not sure that’s a clear point, so I want to re-iterate this thought. There is something in issue 4 that happens before the events in the previous 3 issues. Now, although that happens to be a travel back in linear time, it’s a linear movement forward in storytelling and character depth. That’s something as I’ve thought about this work that just seems amazing. Lord know if that’s planned. But I’m not concerned by what the Lord knows, I’m concerned with how it all works together. That’s truly a very impressive writing feat to achieve, to write backwards in time and make it feel like you’re moving the story forwards linearly.

Issue 4 really is that issue where the things click as well. I’m glad I got to read it as a series as it builds well when read together, issue 4 hits the stride of the main story threads, pulling the disparate little bits back in to one story. I’m glad I got to read it as a series with issue 4 as it lays any concerns I had to bed. What concerns?

There was a feeling of likeable characters and likeable work being made here, but it hadn’t made me feel it would hit an emotional depth. I felt like I could gladly indulge my like of the genre, spot the tropes being picked off. Carrying on my long running desire to talk about things no one knows much about, it had all the niceness of DC Comics ‘’Mazing Man’. Now I love to sit down with that and enjoy the beautiful cartooning and the fun little comic stories, but that comic is no great piece of work, it’s just a very nice piece of work. That also feels like it’s ambition as well, so it feels alright to meet it on that level.

Issue 2 - Dancing girls at the club
Issue 2 – Dancing girls at the club

This comic really doesn’t feel like it wants to be met at that level, because this has a feeling of something more about it. Aside from anything else, there’s the environment and how well put together it is. There’s the effort to make characters that clearly have depths to reveal as well. The concern I had in those first 3 issue is that these great characters wouldn’t have space to breathe in a story that leans into its genre trappings and delivers small sized chunks of story.

Issue 4 dropped then like a sugared pill. Relief followed by that sense of something finally getting deep and taking itself seriously in a way that is totally deserved. Clever structure, characters revealing depths, not UNEXPECTED depths, the soap opera version of depth. Totally understandable and believable levels of character that we just hadn’t seen yet.

I really want to see how this goes and I really want to own a big thick book where I can experience this in one sitting. In some ways, this is like Cerebus, it works really nicely as bits, but it hits home when it’s there in a big lump to experience.

What’s true of Slang Pictorial as it is of Cerebus, is that it’s damn good at drawing its world. This is consistently great cartooning. It’s very personal in style at this moment, oddly enough, considering how much it draws on the language of comics cartooning. It follows a lineage from classic Belgian cartoonists in the 50’s/ 60’s, think ‘Lucky Luke’ and ‘Asterix’. It leans into British Jazz great Hunt Emerson. Yet it has its own distinct design sense. It builds a consistent and detailed and believable world in its pages and it’s the kind of world you drop into and don’t notice the detail and skill shown on those pages. It’s not interested in showing you how well thought out and consistent it is, it’s is there to make this story grounded, to give you the in to the world you’re looking at. It just digs in and delivers story telling chops again and again.

Issue 3 - cartooning chops on great show
Issue 3 – cartooning chops on great show

Little marks changing the look of a character instantly to ‘woken up and feeling rough’ by slashing in some well-placed lines on their face.

You don’t have to think about this art, it does the hand holding and hard thinking for you to get that story told. But it does it with panache and style; clever, but gracefully so.

This is a damn fine comic series and a lot more clever than it would have you believe.

The Short List – Lucy Sullivan

 

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

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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!

 

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

Barking by Lucy Sullivan

Back Barking by Lucy Sullivan  Cover-B

That it ends on a double page spread  suddenly rich with detail and therefore rich with real world context; but also rich with texture, gesture and general drawing noise, seems so apt. It’s an exclamation mark rather than a full stop or comma. It lands like a cliff hanger, but it is delivered visually; stylistically rather than through a plotted beat.

Why is it apt? The whole work is mood driven rather than plot driven or even a real world driven. This is a work all about feeling someone else’s experience, whether it’s the communication of how it feels inside the person experiencing these events or the bafflement of those viewing that experience. Barking shifts from first person suddenly to a bystanding outsider’s view and then dives back in to altered reality and differentiates between none of it. Whichever perspective is being depicted is still clearly a psychological view. Until that last panel when suddenly, the pages aren’t the paired down sets of a self-absorbed mind, they’re the detailed frame of reality. That’s what makes it a punch line, that even in the real world the nightmare still holds form. It adeptly captures Alix’s true escape from reality. She hasn’t left it, she’s inserted her fantasy as a true part of it.

Barking works so well due to the intense nature of the artwork. Cleverly designed, often layouts are echoing work from pages before. Knowingly designed, enough detail to situate the action, but managing to show the distance from physical reality Alix has travelled in her psychosis. This is a psychological landscape, where self-absorption means little of reality fixes Alix’s attention and so little of it appears on the page.

But this is not laziness or to expedite production, this is to open out what the situation FEELS like. You are not meant to impartially view this character’s experience, you are meant to be IN IT with them. You will be Alix from start to finish. That’s delivered clearly from the first page on through the whole work.

You don’t know what is happening in that first panel, but you’re there and you know what it feels like to be in that situation. That lonely foot splashing, both giving the physical experience whilst illustrating the fleeting and confusing emotional experience. This is a story starting right in there without benefiting you with an explanation to distance you from what is happening. You’re confused, it’s clearly frightening and that’s exactly what Alix is experiencing.

There is a rhythm to the work that reinforces the experiences you see as well. Page 1 running looking backwards, page nine running looking backwards. Both real, but 1 is a big black dog, 9 are police officers, you believe the police are real and the dog is not, but you can’t tell that there’s a difference and you’re not meant to be able to, the two call back and forth just like Alix has mixed reality in her head.

Many people refer to world building as one of the fun things to see in Science Fiction or Fantasy, yet here are the same skills used to build the psychological world of the main character. This is modern Gothic using the landscape and the nature of the world to illustrate the psychology of the protagonist. Just like Gothic literature, this work is ‘sturm und drang’ drama, shadows growing and warping into giant spirit animals, death wishes lived out again and again. Both the art and the feeling are relentless and breathless. Nothing to lose yourself in, except those frenetic lines and smeared fearful mess of life.

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all art copyright and trademark it's respective owners. 
content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019