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

Small (press) oaks – Rachael Ball

Rachael Ball has been making comics for a long time now. Part of the Deadline generation that did impressive work for the magazine whilst it existed then all but disappeared from view afterwards before coming back to the fold with vital, deep and fascinating new graphic novels, starting with The Inflatable Woman, which she first serialised on tumblr. That’s how I reconnected with her work and I’m happy to see that she’s now been busy making comics on a regular basis for a long time since.

Rachael’s art and writing are both gentle and coaxing, they create and delineate a narrative world that is always slightly absurdist but never cruel. It’s no so much a calm world, but it most certainly is never grim, where there is threat, it feels genuine as the characters are real enough for you to care about them and what happens to them.

Rachael Ball

Rachael can be found here

twitter                     instagram                     tumblr

 

So, here is Rachael

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

When I was growing up we had a collection of comic books by Giles and a few by the American satirist Jules Feiffer’s (Sick, Sick, Sick and Passionella.) My favourite graphic novel though was ‘Kontiki and I’ by Erik Hesselberg who after the Second World War was one of Thor Heyerdahl’s team that sailed on a raft from Peru to Easter Island in order to prove that early humans could have made the trip. The drawings are really beautiful. It’s warm and funny and hand drawn with ink cartoons in a daily diary style.

KONTIKI
Kon-Tiki and I by Erik Hesselberg

 

Which creators do you remember first copying?

The first was definitely a copy of Giles’ iconic Grandma character. I think I was about 5 years old. I can picture myself doing it. I’m sitting on the arm of an armchair, drawing by a lamp. We were out of paper so my Mum gave me some tracing paper to use instead. I copied the Granma very carefully onto the tracing paper and was so proud of it. I took it to school the next day and other girls (not surprisingly!), accused me of tracing it. Poor me! I was so sad!

Giles - Grandma

 

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

When I was a child my first passion was kid’s books, particularly fairy tales. I always wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. Still chasing that dream! I loved Thackeray’s Rose and the Ring and the illustrations of Robin Jacques. I can see their influence on my characters today and also perhaps how fairy tale tropes often seep into my stories. But yep those two! I wanted to be like them and be as good as them both all wrapped up into one!

 

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

Chester Brown’s ‘I Never Liked You Anyway’ is a fabulous book. Brown is a master observer of nuance in characters. Jillian Tamaki, I’m always blown away by her work. She literally makes me gasp! I was having a good study of Clement Ouberie’s work the other day. His work is relaxed, human… beautiful! Superb use of colour and his technique is great. Storywise, ‘Beautiful Darkness’ by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët can’t be bettered. It really stays with you afterwards and the cuteness of the characters makes the message of the story even more powerful.

 

Which creators do you most often think about?

Same as above.

 

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

Brecht Evens – I love the way he thinks outside of the box, compositionally. His pages are so well crafted and the compositions are soooo clever. I feel like he uses some kind of perspective device but I can’t fathom what it is! They look like there’s vanishing points all across the page or none at all. They are almost medieval compositionally.

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Brecht Evens

I’ve been following Ottilie Hainsworth’s Corona diary comics recently. They’re lovely. They make me laugh. It’s like she’s opened the window into her life for all to see.

 

Corona Diary by Ottilie Hainsworth
Corona Diary by Ottilie Hainsworth

The Finnish cartoonist Emmi Valve has started doing these lovely personal mailout comics recently. I got my first in the post the other day. Each envelope is filled with zines with her life and thoughts in comic form and extra special objects. She’s doing another in August.

I recommend them. They cost 12 Euro

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Emmi Valve

@dreamhouseartletter on Facebook

Emmi Valve - Dreamhouse Art Letter facebook header

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

My most recent published graphic novel was Wolf (2018 Selfmadehero based on the loss of my father as a child), Two very different but fun jobs I had last year – Lizzie Boyle invited me to create a script for a ‘Bella at the Bar’ strip for Rebellion’s remake of Tammy and Jinty. It was Illustrated by the fabulous Vanessa Cardinali with text by Jim Campbell. Bella was one of my favourite childhood comic characters so that was a real gift! I was also asked to illustrate a script for Tony ‘Ez’ Esmond’sThe Whore Chronicles’ based on transcriptions of interviews with prostitutes. It was a fascinating job. I felt that I had a real responsibility towards the woman behind my script.

I really enjoyed not having to do the writing as well! It was so relaxing illustrating somebody else’s words. I’d love to do more of that.

What I’m up to now – I’m about to actually get down to scripting AND DRAWING my next graphic novel, ‘The Patsy Paper’s which I’ve been planning for ages. It’s a satirical tale of my experiences teaching in a state school that was gradually falling apart under austerity.

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The Patsy Paper character sketches

I’ve also been working on a kid’s picture book sample and I’m planning on doing more light, short kid’s stories whilst making The Patsy Papers. The GN is proving complex so it will be nice to have something light hearted to balance things out.

 

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

 

 

BARKING review – The River Runs Through

Lucy and BARKING can be found here:

twitter           facebook           website           BARKING at Unbound

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The river runs through as an itchy line of darkness

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

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

Scratched onto the page

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

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

 

Staring reality in the face

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

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

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Leaning on genre to create form

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

You’re always talking nonsense

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

Word screeds

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

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

 

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

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

 

This is the end

 

 

the long list interview – Lucy Sullivan

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

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

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Lucy and BARKING can be found here:

twitter           facebook           website           BARKING at Unbound

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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IND-XED thumbnail

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

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

 

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

LS – Many thanks. Long live zine love!

 

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

 

Star Bright Review

Star Bright can be found online, on twitter and bought here

Alice Clarke can be found online, on twitter , on instagram and facebook

Rob Zwetsloot can also be found on twitter

At the beginning of the year I wrote about 5  works that I thought deserved recognition. One of these was Star Bright and you’ll find what I wrote about it here, this will be a very specific dig into just a little thing I noticed in the work that struck me.

I keep coming back to this work for a couple of personal reasons, not the least of which is that it’s really a good world to spend time in. By that I mean that, I enjoy how calm it is, that it’s filled with kindness, but most of all, the strongest sense that brings me back is how it models acceptance. Sometimes showing an answer is the best way to help someone with hard questions.

So, I guess I’ve read it four or five times by now, critically read it I should qualify and then the other night, that’s mid-April 2020 or mid COVID-19 lockdown, I just sat down to enjoy it and not dig in.

Then I started noticing something I’d not picked up before, which is one of the joys of re-reading really. Now, I can’t say for definite whether it was intentional, whether it was the writer or the artist or the team figuring it out. I can say it doesn’t matter, sometimes you’re a good story because things happened that came together well. I can tell you that I had seen these things, but not consciously considered them before. To unpack that, my mind has felt the story being built those actions, but until now I’d never THOUGHT about how that was achieved.

I’m going to stop being coy in just a few more lines, but I want one more piece of context before I do that. When you write a story, you will have actions, scenarios and often similes and analogies in your story. It’s considered good literature if you manage these in a consistent way, so all similes relate to water or fire. In visual media you can achieve the same but in a slightly different manner, they are often repeated visual cues. Critics have picked apart works like Watchmen for its use of such literary techniques.

Well, here I was stuck inside and facing another seven weeks before I could go out. I have a child we’re having to shield and had spent two weeks with them having to be separated from my other two children and then from me as we showed symptoms. Then I was reading and seeing all these panels with hands clutched away from friends, afraid to reach out as well as panels of hands just gently held, friends in love with their friends. It was like fire through my veins, but it was also so very simple and very human and that’s why I keep coming back to this beautiful little comic.

 

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

the long list interview – Alice Clarke and Rob Zwesloot

cover for the graphic novel star bright of a young girl wishing she had a friend

I spoke to Alice a long time ago and have been very slow in getting this interview up on the site, for which I apologise.

I’d seen Star Bright in the small press section of my local comic shop (without realising that Alice worked there at the time) and was intrigued by it, flicking through, but never quite committing as it wasn’t my normal art style. When I put out a call for interviews and reviews and Alice responded I was pleased as it gave me the reason to engage and test that prejudice. I’m glad I got that chance as I was particularly struck by Star Bright, so struck I awarded it one of the five Paper Underground awards zine love gave out for 2019. I was very moved by the story, it ended with an admittedly quiet emotional outcome, but it hit with quite a heavy weight.

I also want to thank Rob Zwetsloot for their additional responses (and help with editing!!)

That there are only 200 copies, and not all are sold, seems to me a big shame. It’s a strong and accessible work, even for younger children and it seems like a comic that could fly with the right publisher to raise awareness and get some strong distribution.

Star Bright can be found online, on twitter and bought here

Alice Clarke can be found online, on twitter , on instagram and facebook

Rob Zwetsloot can also be found on twitter

cover for the graphic novel star bright of a young girl wishing she had a friend

ZL – Hi Alice, could you give a brief introduction about yourself first of all?

AC – Hi Iestyn! I’m a Brighton born & raised artist. I’ve been drawing since a young age and graduated from the University of Brighton with honours in Illustration in 2017. I lived in Texas for two years from when I was about twelve, which is where I first came across manga in my middle school library, and ever since then I’ve been hooked on comics.

ZL – I guess the obvious question is, what have you been doing since the strip finished up at the end of October 2018, apart from, running a successful Kickstarter to get it physically published?

AC – It took quite a few months to fulfil the Kickstarter as I was doing almost everything by myself and I was working full time. In April I quit my job to sort and pack all my earthly possessions and on the 1st of May I moved to Japan – so since then it’s been an adjustment period I suppose! Comics-wise I’m working on my first solo comics project, a lot of which has been building up the courage to start drawing. I’m thumbnailing it right now!

ZL – How did it feel to see the Kickstarter do so well, and then receive positive reviews from the likes of Broken Frontier as well?

AC – It took me a long time to work up the confidence to even try to make a comic in the first place and I only feel I was able to do it with the support of my wonderful co-creator and writer, Rob Zwetsloot, as well as friends and peers who cheered me on every step of the way. So, for the Kickstarter to be such a success, I was completely overwhelmed and overjoyed. I am extremely grateful that people such as Stephen at Page 45 and Holly at Broken Frontier took the time to read and review our work and say such nice things about it.

ZL – You got a lot of backers, I was wondering how many copies you had produced over and above those to fill the initial Kickstarter orders and how well they are selling, and where people can buy them if they want a copy?

AC – We had a pretty small print run of 200 copies, around half of which were for the Kickstarter. We have around 30 left over not including copies may be left on shelves in comic book stores – my previous workplace, Dave’s Comics in Brighton, Page 45, all the Travelling Man stores…
You can buy them on my Etsy store! Rob is fulfilling orders at the moment since most of our readers are in the UK, it didn’t make sense to send them to myself in Japan.

ZL – I’ve read Star Bright myself and – terrible person I am – as soon as you said it took you two and a half years I went and looked at the first drawings and the last ones to see what improvement there was.  I was struck by two things straight away.

The character designs were strong from the outset, it is easy to tell characters apart and there’s great scope for communicating their emotions, which is very important in this story.

Your figure work and anatomy were very strong by the end, also your line work was much more assured.

Do you see the difference and how do you feel about your progress?

AC – Thank you so much. That’s not terrible at all – I always do the same, I think it’s fascinating to see someone’s growth in this way! For me personally, I feel the change is immense (I actually can’t bear looking at the old pages haha) and I learned so much as I drew each page of the comic – people aren’t kidding when they say if you want to get better drawing, draw a comic. It forced me to draw many things I would never usually draw (backgrounds!!) and think about how to lay out each page and panel in a way that was visually interesting but conveyed more than just an illustration on its own would. I think I also got a bit more confident in my work and was more willing to take risks with angles, poses, etc.

ZL – Is there a point where you thought that the drawing really hit its stride and you felt that you were achieving an outcome you could be proud of, were you proud right from the start?

friends having a sleepover, one is brushing the hair of another
chapter 3 frontispiece

AC – I don’t think I was particularly proud of my work (meaning the drawings themselves) until maybe end of chapter 3, chapter 4. A long way in, I know, but I have a lot of self-confidence issues with my drawing (thanks art school) and it wasn’t until that far in that I think I found my stride and the way I wanted to draw the comic. I am pretty proud of all the pages at and after that point.

ZL – What was the genesis of this comic, did you know the writer Rob before you started working together?

AC – I think we knew of each other through mutual friends and the UK cosplay community, but it wasn’t until I put it out on Twitter that I was looking for a writer for a comic project that we really started talking. Rob came to me with a rough outline of ideas and character concepts and I just loved it straightaway, the rest is history!

ZL – I find it interesting that you call it out as an LGBT comic, because, to me at least, it’s far more universal, dealing with social anxiety and self-image. I’m particularly interested to see a comic written by someone with different life experiences that handles the feelings and emotions of teenage girls so convincingly and wondered what inspiration and insight Rob drew on to write the story. Did you work together on the storyline and character decisions or was this a more traditional writer and artist collaboration?

AC – As LGBT creators we always want to create work that reflects ourselves and our community in one way or another, and while Star Bright may not feature a story with a hard-hitting LGBT subtext, I think it’s important that people can read and access comics and books that feature gay and trans characters without that necessarily being the focus of the story. Especially as a book aimed at a younger audience who may not have figured out or even thought about those things yet (I know I certainly hadn’t when I was Zoe’s age…) I wanted to manifest LGBT themes in a manner that was more suggestive but also conspicuous. Accepted. Like Robin and Sarah always showing up holding hands, Zoe and Star’s progression from friendship to something more just being accepted. I hope that makes sense.

Robin and Sarah in the background holding hands in the background whilst Star and Zoe walk by talking with each other
Robin and Sarah in the background holding hands

Rob is non-binary, so I think those self-image issues and feelings of anxiety and not fitting in would not be too dissimilar to a young teenage girl’s at all. Although it was chiefly Rob who wrote the story, it was quite different when originally brought to  – there are whole characters we decided together not to use in the final version.
I would say we were co-creators more than anything else when it came to the script, and as someone who was once exactly in Zoe’s shoes, a young teen girl struggling at school with loneliness and friendship troubles, I did my best to help nuance Rob’s wonderful script in a way that echoed my experiences. In that way I think we are a little bit outside the traditional writer-artist style of collaboration. Rob also gave me almost complete freedom with page layouts and pacing, only really giving me stage direction and visual pointers when they had a strong idea for how a certain page or scene needed to be drawn. I think our collaborative method was really symbiotic and we both helped each other constantly to build on our strengths and grow our skills.

ZL – This sounds like an interesting point and I’d like to bring Rob in on this and get their point of view, how did you find the experience of writing about teenage girls?

RZ – First and foremost, I wrote these characters as just people, with wants and desires, different history and life experiences. I think that’s important with storytelling, otherwise you’re concentrating on just one part of them (and it reeeaaaalllllly shows when you do). A lot of Zoe’s character was based on me growing up and some of the problems I faced. It was sort of wish fulfilment for how I’d liked to have been able to face my issues while I was still a teenager. It’s been nice to learn that a lot of other people had these sorts of experiences, so I wasn’t quite as lonely as I thought – although I guess the irony there is, we were all too lonely to reach out to each other at the time. Having said that, while writing the story I was worried that I might end up not writing the girls ‘correctly’ – despite the agnostic approach to creating the characters, I don’t have experience as a teenage girl. I think at one point I was even asking friends “did you ever just talk in Simpsons quotes as a kid?”.

However, I said to Alice at the start that she should correct me if I did something wrong. It really helped with the way the scripts were written. I’d write the chapter, do my edit passes, tweak it until I was happy with it (or as happy as I could get), and then Alice and I would read through it together and punch it up, almost like a TV show writers’ room. We’d add bits and change stuff for story reasons, consistency, for better visual layout in the comic, etc. It definitely would not have been as good as it is without her input. I think Zoe ended up an amalgam of Alice and myself in the end, and really the only mistake I made with them was initially writing them a bit too mature. We added in more of the uncertainty and confusion of being fourteen and left it up to the reader.

 

ZL – What impressed me most with the art on this was how you used it so efficiently to highlight emotional states, it’s interesting to see someone approach a Japanese style comic that develops the use of body language and silent connections more than the hyper normal, speed line mania one usually sees being aped. The approach lifts what is really a small, introverted narrative and lends it a heavy sense of emotion, rather than playing up an opportunity for melodrama. I’m wondering if there was a conscious decision to play the story that way, or whether it was something that came from the characters as they emerged, or whether it was something that the two of you brought from your own influences?

powerful loneliness illustrated by a blank face girl walking away in darkness
powerful loneliness

AC – Thank you very much, I’m really pleased you picked up on some of my visual choices. I am not really sure, I think for my part I just tried to draw and convey the story and the emotions in a manner that felt natural to me. Some of my most favourite storytelling techniques in comics are found predominantly in manga, so a lot of the ways I decided to draw certain scenes involving drama and emotion are probably very influenced by Japanese comics. I find the quietness and subtlety of melodrama in manga oftentimes much more emotive and appealing than some of what I’ve seen in western comics, and I think it’s closer to reality so it works better for stories like Star Bright where the narrative is close to home and relatable, (well, except for the whole alien thing haha).

ZL – I don’t know whether you were aiming for this, but it’s definitely something that I picked up, whilst this is clearly a comic aimed at teenagers, a YA style, it’s also something that I, as an adult could read and identify with. The style is engaging and endearing and open and it feels like I’m getting an insight into the lives of the girls and girls that age in general. What was the aim of creating this story, who were you hoping to talk to and what was it you felt you had to say to them?

AC – Thank you so much. I really like books that have a wide appeal, that have something for everyone. Many of my favourite series fans’ ages range hugely so I guess maybe it’s a natural way for me to create work (Cardcaptor Sakura, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Lord of the Rings…)
For me, not having a voice when amongst my peers and the smothering feeling of loneliness and being misunderstood as a teenager was something I had rarely, perhaps never seen represented in books and comics I’d read, so I really wanted to voice it myself with this comic. With Star Bright, I was hoping to talk to that lonely girl who spends her school breaktimes at the library reading by herself, who begs her mum for sick notes, so she doesn’t have to go on school trips, the girl who’s always last to be picked in P.E., who never has a pair for group work. I’m sure there are lots and lots of Zoes out there in the world, and I wanted this book to find them somehow and let them know they’re not alone, and if they didn’t find them yet, there’s definitely a Star waiting for them.

ZL – It’s also surprising how, if you gave it as an elevator pitch, something seemingly sweet and so low stakes in terms of character arc, manages to be so engaging and supple in its storytelling. I genuinely came away feeling happy and like something good had happened in my day. Part of that was how well the art managed to communicate the characters feelings, both using body language, character interaction and then more subtle artistic effects, for example, when Star first goes and stays with Zoe’s friends. How much thought and how many tries did it takes to nail that approach? Did that solution just come naturally to you or did you think it through and try different approaches?

AC – Wow, thank you. That means a lot to me! We spent a lot of time reworking the last chapter and a half or so, trying to figure out the emotional beats and get the height of the drama just right for the bus scene with Zoe and Star. Like you say, it’s a low-stakes story and I was always worried that it wouldn’t be enough to engage some readers. It’s hard to know how many tries and rereads it took to get the script right, since I was always working with Rob right up until I had even finished drawing the page to tweak lines of dialogue, etc. I can say however that there are almost no pages I drew more than once or that changed dramatically from their original thumbnail sketch.

ZL – Final question, I promise!

What are your plans for the future, would you like to do more comics and see them published, or stick to webcomics, or are you out of the comics games for a while?

AC – I would love to have my comics published someday, it’d be a dream to be published by somebody like First Second. But small steps, for now I’d like to try and successfully complete something solo and really indulge in my interests.

ZL – …and you Rob?

RZ – At the moment I’m (very slowly) working on a new story concept that may end up as a book. As for Star Bright, it’s over for now but we may always return to it in the future.

ZL – Thanx for all your time

 

Paper Underground Award announcement

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

the long list interview- Steve Bull

Steve Bull runs a facebook group about the art of veteran comic creator Ian Gibson, a creator whose art I’ve enjoyed for a long time.

When I found the group, it was nice to see a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and someone so personally welcoming. He also introduced me to the 1977-2000AD group, which, as he mentions, he admins. Both groups are fun and I enjoy going on them in part because of the group dynaimcs, as much as the actual content. I thought it would be fun to interview Steve to find out more about him and his interest in running these groups.

I should also mention that Steve is involved in the anthology The 77, and is therefore involved in publishing creators wohse works I enjoy! It closes March 1st 2020, so you maty still be able to pledge, depending on when you’re reading this.

PLEDGE HERE

 

ZL – Hi Steve                               

Steve Bull - image
Steve Bull

Thanx for agreeing to an interview. How about we start with a little bit about your background? You clearly enjoy 2000AD, what is your background and current relationship with the magazine?

SB – It’s enjoyable being on this side of an interview for a change, so thanks for asking Iestyn.

I was originally introduced to the Prog by my cousin Ade at the beginning of the 80s. I’d have probably been 8 or 9 years old and my first prog would’ve been in the #200s but I can’t remember the exact one. I had been into war comics at the time so Rogue Trooper was a major factor in me embracing it straight away. 2000AD really was the perfect storm of fantasy/future/fantastic art and edgy writing.  I actually read the Prog religiously through the 80s before stopping completely in the early 90s. This sudden halt was probably more down to me hitting adulthood and searching for a real-life Halo Jones but did coincide with a particularly poor period of history in the prog where it tried very hard to be a ‘lads mag’ with cartoon boobs ☹.

Rogue Trooper
Rogue Trooper

Recently (in the last year) I’ve returned to the prog and taken up a subscription due in part to my involvement in the Facebook groups I admin (1977-2000AD and Imagination of Ian Gibson). But also due to some solid story-telling and wonderful art.

 

ZL – Where did reading turn into collecting and when did that make you a fan?

SB – I’m not sure anyone can really pinpoint when they became a collector, it’s quite a natural progression and at what point does a hoarder become a collector😊.  I’ve always had a bit of OCD about me, so from the start of my time with 2000AD I was surrounded by comics in neat piles and numerically ordered, so 2000AD naturally joined the hoards, although very quickly became number 1!  Only 2000AD and Eagle comic were elevated to the status of being reserved at my local newsagent to be collected religiously on the day of release (complete with misspelt ‘Stephen’ being written on the spine by my newsagent)

 

ZL – I know of two groups that you run on Facebook, both 2000AD related. Could you tell us a bit about those groups and any others you run, just a little about the ethos behind them, the kind of content and the atmosphere that can be expected when joining the group.

1977-2000 fb group
1977-2000AD facebook group

SB – Of course, The main one is 1977-2000AD I stumbled upon this group in a search for nostalgia a few years ago and was immediately struck by the friendly nature owner Ben K Sy had instilled. I go on to Facebook to enjoy myself so I really have no time for people who thrive on trolling and being vile to others. I actually got quite involved at a point when the group was growing and this growth led to the need for some trusty admin with a similar ethos to Ben.  Enter Dave Heeley a great guy who is everywhere in the community and soon after Dave came myself. All three of us were strangers to each other apart from the group interactions at that point but it became clear pretty early on that we were in tune and wanted the same friendly vibe for the group.  I also think it helped that all three of us had been avid readers in the golden age (70s-80s) but had lapsed soon after so had a zest to learn about what we’d missed.  Whilst other groups had members who could be very informative there were also sadly members who enjoyed waving an air of superiority over those ‘stupid’ enough to ask questions.  I like to think our group invites everyone to the conversation and is quick to help guide the more volatile through our hospitality 😊.

Imagination of Ian Gibson
Imagination of Ian Gibson facebook group

Another group Imagination of Ian Gibson was a more personal thing.  I’d grown up loving Ian’s art in 2000AD and was mesmerized (like many others) by Halo Jones.  This stayed with me long after I left the prog to the point that my lovely wife let me add Halo to the name of my first born child (Scarlett-Halo).  This was 14 years ago before I joined Facebook.  At the time I tracked down an email address and commissioned Ian to produce a piece with Halo Jones, Toby and my Daughter in it.  Ian created a fantastic full colour piece that hangs in my front room to this day (fading☹).  Sadly, I had learnt that Ian has had some health issues in recent years that has affected his ability to draw to his very high standards. I felt that it would be a great thing to create a group to showcase the work from his amazing career.  A number of artist groups I had come across on FB had been created after the artists had sadly passed away and this seemed like an opportunity to not only show the art but also engage the man himself with his fan community.  Which I’m really pleased to say has been a success on both sides.

The 77 page logo
The 77 facebook page

Last but not least is The77 Page’ I know you’ve heard of it 😉.  In short, we are producing a comic in the tradition of those we read in the 70s and 80s.  We were constantly surprised by the level of art and storytelling our group members were capable of, to the point we decided we would create an anthology comic that we could all enjoy.  This has been a labour of love and Ben K Sy has been the driving force supported by the admins of the 1977 group.  The comic has grown to the point that we are producing a huge first issue that features talent that has graced some of our favourite comics including many that have contributed to 2000AD. If any of your readers want to be involved from the start our Kickstarter runs until midnight on the 1st March so give us a click and a pledge 

The77 is a love letter to the comics that made us!

http://kck.st/3aHJKgJ

 

ZL – I’m always interested in these groups because, essentially, they seem to be the modern internet version of fanzines with commentary, ephemera and coordinated discussion. Is that what you’re aiming to achieve with these groups, an interactive version of a fanzine?

SB – In 1977-2000AD I think it’s been an organic thing to be honest. We just wanted a friendly place to chat and it expanded. There’s some very knowledgeable folk in the community who are always quick to share information to the group (looking at the likes of Burdis, Anorak and Wullie😉), Then we have a great bunch of Admins and Mods (Ben, Dave H, Morgan, Dave B,, Mick and Garry) that have in fact made the place feel like an interactive fanzine.  We also have ‘Prog Talent Royalty’ such as Ian Gibson, John Higgins, Glenn Fabry, Nick Percival, Liam Sharp, Paul Williams, Steven Austin, David Pugh, Dan Cornwall, John Wagner, Pat Mills and so many more (Sorry If I missed you out I’ll beg forgiveness later). They regularly get involved in posting and conversations and that makes it a special place for the fans. I’ve had many a conversation with fans who are completely star struck but so happy that they’ve had their comments responded to by the actual creators.  This is unique as the same fans have mentioned that when they meet creators at conventions it’s a real struggle to not get nervous and forget what they wanted to ask.

The Gibson group is a little different as I see it more as an interactive gallery of a special artist.  It does, however still allow the fan to interact directly with the artist and Ian is always happy to answer questions and give an insight into a particular work’s history. Ian is always very honest and engaging. Halo Jones

 

ZL – Do you think that the groups help the creators or the contributors more in these situations? Just unpacking that vague notion there, as you run the Ian Gibson page and seem to be in personal contact with him, I’m just wondering whether you’ve noticed his appreciation of that page and the opportunity to get his work back in front of fan’s eyes?

SB – It’s certainly a two-way street, the fans get a great opportunity to interact and in the case of Ian he has mentioned on a number of occasions how nice it is to have feedback and even new eyes on some of his past work.  I think it’s always a nice thing to have appreciation vocalised from time to time.  Most of us loved the art but the artists, by nature of the job they do, have spent a lot of time in solitude producing these artworks with very little feedback lol.

 

ZL – I’m also wondering whether a page like that creates a sense of urgency for that work, as in – getting work out into the market again, or more of a sense of comfort for the artist?

SB – The Gibson page falls more into ‘comfort’ due to the nature of Ian’s health making future commercial art projects unlikely at present time.  Although the sense of urgency for anything new is definitely something that has been experienced on the group recently with the Sketches Ian produced for charity (Cats Protection) and with the exclusive first look at ‘Lifeboat’ Book 1 and the process involved that we unveiled on the group.

 

ZL – Do you even consider such matters as important or is there a different driving force behind making such a page? I guess what I’m getting at is whether, when you know the person, is there a different feeling about running a group than there is when it’s something of a wider, less personality driven group like the 2000AD group?

SB – I would say we have a relationship and a group built on the foundation that I’m a fan that wanted to give something back to someone that influenced my childhood! In terms of the group I think you just create it with an idea of what you’d like to see then let it lead you organically.  This is definitely the same with 1977-2000AD as that has taken lots of twists and turns as new things have been tried.

 

ZL – What made you interested enough in these subjects to spend the time putting something together?

SB – Nostalgia and just the notion of giving back to something/someone that influenced me through my childhood.  Also, when I get enjoyment from something I want to share that with people.

Lifeboat

ZL – Are there any other subjects you’d love to start a group for, or join in a group about?

SB – That would’ve been The77 my friend.  The Page is running now though as mentioned and I can’t wait for everyone to get a copy and fall in love with British comic anthologies once again. I may have written one of the stories as well so sitting alongside some immense 2000AD Prog Talent is a fantastic thing for me personally

And as you’ve asked the question before I can confirm that Ian Gibson’s unpublished creator owned ‘LIFEBOAT’ will feature on the rear cover!!!!!

 

ZL – Last question, for you as a fan now, if you could get everyone in the world to read one book or series, what would it be?

SB – HALO JONES………er……no…… actually………… LIFEBOAT 😊

 

ZL – Thanx for your time Steve!

 

disclaimer – all artwork is copyright and trademark its respective owners

go look – Phil Elliott

Phil Elliott has been a comic’s mainstay for over 40 years!

His art is always beautifully designed and his range is impressively able to suit many genres. moods and purposes

he’s amazingly funny and clever at depicting humans and their emotional experiences

(click on images to follow links)

facebook art page

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 look – The Secret Protectors

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

I have a fondness for comics that are raw and starting out, where you can see the creators working out their influences and their craft each issue

The Secret Protectors satisfies this urge very nicely

(click on images to follow links)

webshop of the secret protectors a small press super hero comic
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secret protectors comic pages from the instagram account for the small press superhero comic
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facebook page for the secret protectors small press superhero comic featuring the comic logo
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Go look – Jake Wyatt

figures falling through space

It’s the depth of field and physicality of his world’s that I love about Jake Wyatt’s work.

He just builds solid believable spaces and characters that move dynamically. As much as they’re real looking individuals, they’re also larger than life pantomime cartoons delivering emotional meaning through exagerated body language that makes it easy to parse.

jake wyatt tumblr necropolis comic page fantasy art ancient cave magic tumblr

 

twitter jake wyatt sword fight from fantasy comic Necropolis twitter

 

 

Jake Wyatt instagram deer devil captain harlock sketches comic page thumb nails instagram

This will STAND THE GENERATIONS

images of comic character hugo tate from his initial stick figure stage to his more realistic and detailed final look mirroring the evolution of man image

This will STAND THE GENERATIONS award

There’s an urge in me to make this contrarian and go look for the more obscure option here. But that’s just daft because the whole point of this is to put out the work I most immediately feel has lasted, has maintained a relevance to the world and to those that are working here and now.

So – this one goes out to Nick Abadzis for Hugo Tate – details on Nick’s site here

And I sort of dealt with all this a while back on twitter – thread here  and another here

I was having a conversation with someone and was reminded of Hugo Tate by Nick Abadzis

It’s such an incredible piece of comics. It’s not a work that blew my mind, it’s a work that formed a small part of me, at points visualising what was hidden in me. It also made me think about life and about comics and stories, how to tell them, what they’re worth within this world.

In particular, the scene with his father, early on in the series and just after his father’s death struck me then and continues with me now. It’s nearly 30 years later, but I can still see that page, with its stick figure characters and how rawly, openly and cleverly it details that emotional situation. That truly was and still is a high-water mark for comics storytelling.

Kenny Penman did the world a huge service bringing the book back into print and in putting it out in such a suitable format, a manner that evidences it’s worth very clearly. I don’t know how easy it is to get hold of copies of that book currently. I do know my library has a copy, as I’ve flipped through it many times, settling in to read 5 or 10 pages of I have a moment of quiet with my kids when there.

This is one of those things that episodic or chaptered comics does so well that doesn’t really exist in any other medium. You can grab 10-15 minutes with a work and get an excellent bit of a story in that time.

early Hugo Tate page depicting his visit to his father's house it is sad in tone
early Hugo Tate page

 

That string of tweets initiated a fair amount of feedback from UK comickers on how influential in opening their minds to what comics could do Hugo Tate was.

It’s a work that needs reprinting and distribution to as wide a base of readers as possible, both because of it’s worth to the medium and because of the great beating heart of humanity that lives within the work.

iestyn

Go look – Lizzie Stewart

Lizzie Stewart Walking distance graphic novel comicbook from avery hill

I’ve posted recommendations for Walking Distance in a few places a few times because it looks so amazing visually, and what I’ve seen online has struck a chord with me.

Walking is a very significant part of my life, it’s a part of who I am and how I think. Walking Distance feels like it manages a conversation that’s equally as personal and meaningful. Aside from Walking Distance, though, I’ve followed Lizzie’s work online for a few years as her illustration features such good design with form and colour casually managing the eye on the page.

Avery Hill currently carry Walking Distance – here

Lizzie Stewart Instagram treasure island various illustrations book and comicbooks graphic novels posters drawing event
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Lizzie Stewart twitter various illustrations book and comicbooks graphic novels posters drawing event
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Lizzie Stewart Instagram treasure island various illustrations book and comicbooks graphic novels posters drawing event
website

 

Go look – Briony May Smith

Briony May Smith illustrations

A great sense of simplicity in the design of characters and objects is matched with a lovely eye for pattern and colour. There’s a real sense of happiness and content I feel in these images. They’re soothing and friendly.

Briony May Smith website book covers including nosy crow walker book flying eye books nobrow macmillan featuring heidi michael morpurgo fairies stardust chicken
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Briony May Smith instagram account with fairies kangaroo crocodiles cave tunnels and the world
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Briony May Smith twitter girl sleeping with a deer faun fox inset of angry emperor
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Go look -Ze Burnay

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

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

Lovely to see a creator with such a versatile skillset.

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

 

 

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

 

 

ze burnay illustration comicbooks graphic novel web comic sketches records death ancient gods andromeda
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ze burnay illustration comicbooks graphic novel web comic sketches records death ancient gods andromeda
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ze burnay illustration comicbooks graphic novel web comic honey buzzard black and white line art
facebook

Go look – Sam Alden

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

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

If you are familiar, just worth revisting and remembering.

sam alden comicbooks graphic novels illustration dancing friendship horse dragon chicken queen
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sam alden comicbooks graphic novels illustration sketches turtle thumbnails woods
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Go look – Oliver East

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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comix economix – an interview with Nix Comics publisher Ken Eppstein

Kickstarter live here

 

Nix Rock Logo

 

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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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

But not just yet!!!!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

What title that you published is:

Your personal favorite?

The work you’re most proud to have published?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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!

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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.

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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 – 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.

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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 Long List interview – The Secret Protectors

Currently Kickstarting

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Review on zinelove

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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

The Short List – Zeno Carta

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Short List – J Edward Scott

Disclosure – I am working with Ed on a small zine with no set publication date as yet 

ZL –  You have a very idiosyncratic and personal style to your comics, but one very situated within the history of UK comics, how did you arrive at your style and how satisfied are you with it?

 

JES – When I started drawing with a view to doing it seriously, I did that thing most people do which is drawing in a way you think is how you’re meant to draw. In my case, to start with, that style was newspaper editorial cartoons, somewhere between Steve Bell and Ralph Steadman because that was what I wanted to do out of university. Probably (Gerald) Scarfe was in there too, but he is such an egregious old wind-bag, I’m less keen to admit to being fan. I then tried to simplify my style when I started doing small press Page 7 - Full Page Spreadcomics, trying to be like Tom Gauld (who I still love). Then I thought I’d try and go ultra-realistic like Brian Bolland or Arthur Ranson and do a long form gothic Frankenstein story (currently unfinished and mouldering in my parent’s attic). Anyway, the best piece of advice I ever heard was from a Chanel 4 fly-on-the-wall documentary about a kid trying to become a graffiti artist and the guy coaching him was having a go at him for not drawing enough. You should be drawing all the time, draw anything, develop your style. So I tried to focus on just draw things ‘wrong’ until I found out what the wrong drawings were trying to tell me. So that’s sort of it. Also, I creep in Kevin O’Neil and Mike McMahon’s house at the dead of night and suck bits of their brain out with a straw. Did I mention I have Michael Moorcock’s head in jar?Page 3 - Magic healing

 

 

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

JES – I really loved the Beano like most kids growing up. I also really enjoyed Adam West era Batman and the cartoon at the start of the show which I think got me hooked on cartoon violence. He-Man is lurking in Blade of Arozone, which is hardly surprising. Akira blew the back of my head off when I bought the first volume when I was a teenager after seeing the film on BBC 2. A big thing I am channelling at the moment is the Warhammer art of people like Ian Miller, Paul Bonner, Kev ‘Goblinmaster’ Adams and John Blanche, which I was obsessively into as a kid. I was actually more into Warhammer than comics growing up!

 

ZL – Do you yearn to work in colour?

JES – Working in black and white was originally a practical choice because I was printing comics on a photocopier in Kinko’s (RIP) and I knew colour would cost more. I’m not averse to colour, but I really like that feeling of black, inky comics, so I will be monochrome for a while certainly.

 

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?  Page 12 - Single inky panel goodness

JES – Growing up in the 90’s there happened to be a lot of documentaries about underground comics, so I remember Robert Crumb being the first example of a guy being vaguely ‘rock and roll’ but not being a musician but instead doing something I could do (since I was no good at music). Formative is definitely Simon Bisley, who I tried to emulate as a teen-ager (with zero success). Current is a long list, but in terms of style, energy and imagination (not to mention jaw-dropping work ethic) I’m a big fan of Hyena Hell. On reflection, that’s the exhibition that taste forgot, isn’t it?

 

ZL – You’re due to release the second issue of your comic ‘The Blade of Arozone’, how well has the first issue done and how different are you feelings now compared to when you released the first one? Blade of Arozone

JES – I’m pretty buoyant at the moment – I’ve had some really good feed-back and some great support, especially from Tom Oldham of Breakdown Press and Gosh Comics. I’m mainly glad to have gone from being a guy who used to make small press comics a decade ago to a guy who makes small press comics again. I also really want to tell this story, so the fact there is a willing audience is excellent. The alternative was handing out pamphlets about Death Priests and Elderkin on the streets. There’s always that to fall back on, of course.

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

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 – Gareth Hopkins (@grthink)

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

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

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

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

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

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Petrichor page
Petrichor page

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Intercorstal: Extension Review

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Lucy Sullivan

 

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

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L-Sullivan-Pic
Lucy Sullivan thinking hard

ZL –  When and why did you begin creating comics?

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

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – Tim Bird

NEW COMIC – Asleep In The Back

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

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

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

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

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

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

TinTin
Tintin – Rascar Capac

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Rock & Pop
Rock & Pop – Great little comic

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

The Short List – wing three comics

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ZL – I’ve only seen your work on your instagram account, but I see that you produced or were producing a black and white zine, was this made and, considering how much of your account is in colour, why go with black and white?

WTC – The black and white zine is called “Clara” and is incomplete. I printed out a few copies of Part One to submit to the Laydeez do Comics award on my home printer. I was not successful in my award application and received feedback that it wasn’t clear – which

Clara
Clara – Graphic novel in progress

I agree with. This was the first time I ever submitted anything! I will keep working on it. At the moment, I’m planning for it to be a three-part series. Clara is hand-drawn in pencil. The pencil drawings started as rough sketches but then I received positive feedback on the pencil, so I kept it. I scanned the pencil drawings and used the multiplication tool in Photoshop to get the black and white look. The black and white aesthetic is a better match for the story about grief than the bright colours I often use in my sketches.

 

ZL – Do you remember the first time?

WTC – I remember discovering Frida Kahlo when I was a teenager. It was that time of life when I was exploring what it meant to be an individual and a woman for the first time. I was also suffering from chronic pain, so I connected with her physical and metaphysical suffering. I grew up in the countryside in the US and didn’t have many opportunities to see fine art. I first saw her paintings in books, so it wasn’t a single piece of work – it was her lifetime of self-portraits. I think her use of colour has stuck with me ever since.

Comics is an artform I discovered later in life. The first comics I totally loved was the Love and Rockets series by Gilbert and Jamie Hernandez. It completely blew my mind. They created a rich world of complex characters and great storylines that inspired me to want to do the same. It’s a crazy hard thing to do!

Underground Art - Blue Orange Guy
Underground Art – Blue Orange Guy

ZL – Someone contacts you and say they want you offer you a year long residency. Where would be your ideal location and what would you produce?

WTC – My ideal location would be the Japanese countryside. I would travel there with no expectations of what I would produce and see what happens.

 

ZL – I’m particularly in love with the texture of your Instagram images and wondered how what you use to create those images?

WTC – Thank you! My instagram account is mainly filled with London tube portraits. I use small brown paper sketchbooks from Paperchase that have this slightly grainy texture. They are the right size for clandestine drawing in public places! I use a mixture of posca pens and wax crayons. I look to draw people who are either asleep or

Underground Art - Pink Lips
Underground Art – Pink Lips

completely absorbed in a book or their phones, that’s why most have their eyes closed. I sketch with Posca pens and colour in my sketches with crayon at a later time. I rediscovered crayons on a train journey from London to Edinburgh while drawing with my kids. Kids are so good at mixed media!

 

ZL – Your colour choices are really exciting and individual, what is the most important influence on those choices and do you draw inspiration from a specific practitioner or style?

WTC – I love contrast – be it black and white minimalism or bright loud colours. I think my early influences helped develop my taste. Frida Kahlo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Mark Rothko were my first loves in art. One artist who recently made a huge impact on my colour choices is Lisa Brice. I saw her exhibit at Tate Britain and completely fell in love with her use of blue.

 

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Previous Interview – The Short List – Mattias Gunnarrson

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

Intercorstal: Extension Review

Petrichor

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

Petrichor Cover
Gareth Hopkins’ new book

Preview Petrichor                     Buy Petrichor               Listen to Gareth Talk About Petrichor

Intercorstal: Extension

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

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

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

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

 

Intercorstal Extension close-up

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

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

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

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

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

Intercorstal Extension Pages 15-16
An emotional turning point

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

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

Previous Review – Barking by Lucy Sullivan

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019

 

 

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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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019