I first saw Morgan Gleave’s work on the 1977-2000AD group for a strip in The ’77 magazine that they publish. I immediately loved the character design and graffiti-styled cartooning. I was struck with a memory of Samurai Jam by Andi Watson, not so much in style or layout, but in the life of the line and world design.
I’ve found Morgan to be a very positive person, both in his posts and in the interactions I’ve had with him. I know it shouldn’t matter, but there’s something of that positive and fun attitude that glows out of his work. It’s fun, daft but also deftly giving to the audience.
Can you tell us a bit about the first creator whose work you recognised?
Hmmmm… Probably Maurice Sendak, creator of Where the Wild Things Are. That book and In the Night Kitchen were my favourites when I was little. I still have my original copy of In the Night Kitchen, complete with crayon scribbles!
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
In The Night Kitchen – Maurice Sendak
Which creators do you remember first copying?
Kevin O’Neill and Carlos Ezquerra. 2000ad was the first comic I bought every week. I did some huge copies of Ezquerra’s take on The Stainless Steel Rat and Angelina, which my stepdad mounted and framed for me. They’re in my old portfolios in the attic…
Who was the creator that you first thought ‘I’m going to be as good as you!’?
Probably O’Neill. I copied a lot of his Nemesis artwork, and he definitely influenced me for a long time.
Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?
Mike Mignola is my biggest influence, as a writer and an artist. Although my style has definitely become my own, he is without doubt my favourite storyteller. Mal Earl is amazing too, we’ve struck up an incredible friendship over working on The ’77. I love his style and use of colours.
Which creators do you most often think about?
Mignola! There’s probably tons more, but I keep going back to him!
Can you name the first three creative peers that come into your head and tell a little bit about why?
My stepdad… he saw I had talent and encouraged me to draw and be creative. I followed in his footsteps and became a graphic designer. Pete Fowler… another HUGE influence and inspiration, I love the worlds and characters he creates. Great music too! Ed Doyle… we met over The ’77, have become good friends, and I’m working on some great stuff with him. He’s so positive and encouraging. Lovely chap.
Finally, can you tell us a bit about your recent work and yourself?
This year has been crazy… In the first week of January, I was asked to send art to LA for a skate video premiere, Tic Tac Skate School reached out and asked me to recreate their logo (I’ve done TONS for them since, and am an ambassador for the school), and was contacted by The ’77, which was a dream come true… PUBLISHED COMICS! I’m now working on LOTS of strips for them.
Having grown up on comics and skateboarding, this year has seen so many of my dreams come true. I’ve had comics published, designed stickers and clothing for Tic Tac, and my first skateboard deck will be out soon. I’ve also been interviewed for an amazing podcast, The Mouth of Manliness, who I’ve supported since they started last year… it’s about masculinity and mental health, with a huge dose of creativity thrown in.
I had a huge breakdown last year, and nearly gave up on comics completely. But I started skateboarding again, and slowly started writing and drawing again. I’ve done more comics this year than ever before. And I’ve won online skate competitions! I’m in quite a good place now… I can genuinely say I’m happy for the first time in years.
Thank you very much for taking the time to fill this out and let us into your mind.
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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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020
ZL – You’ve published a number of zines now, through Colossive Press, have you any plans for new publications?
CP – Oh yes! Putting out the first few things through CP last year was a bit like opening the floodgates to ten or fifteen years’ worth of ideas that I’d not had the opportunity or confidence to pursue. They’re all at a fairly nebulous stage, so I need to focus on one at a time and get it done – it’s easy to get a bit paralysed and not know which way to go first.
We’re also launching 3:52 AM, an A6 zine of words and photography by our brilliant friend VJ Sellar, based on her experience of insomnia (and raising money for the Maggie’s Wallace centre in Cambridge). I like to think we’ve coaxed her into the world of zines, and hopefully there are more to come.
Given the time I’d also like to publish more things by other people, as a bit of a patron. I’d like Colossive to be a bit like Ghost Box or some of the small music labels I follow on Bandcamp, finding interesting work with a strong identity and bringing it to the world.
ZL – Do you remember the first time?
CP – At my age, most of my “firsts” are lost in the mists of time. However, I’d say that the first work in the print medium that really blew my mind was Bryan Talbot’sLuther Arkwright. As a teenager I was a casual and slightly ironic reader of whatever comics I could find in the newsagents of Chorley. However, when I landed a plum part-time job at Morrisons (in 1985), my horizons soon spread to Odyssey 7 in Manchester, where the world of comics opened up in front of me like a thousand-leaved lotus blossom. And one of the first goodies I picked up was book one of Arkwright.
Even though I was also getting into series like Swamp Thing, American Flagg! and Moonshadow, Arkwright totally captivated me with the intricacy of the narrative and the incredible craft of its execution. When, after a seemingly interminable hiatus, the second and third volumes dropped, Talbot’s mastery of the medium just seemed to expand exponentially.
As much as anything, the whole work implanted the idea that at their best, whether dealing with the mundane or the cosmic, comics could do stuff that other mediums couldn’t even dream of. That notion has kept me coming back, through thick and thin, for 30-odd years.
ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, what would be the project you’d make to be remembered by?
CP – Ha – I’d have no idea what to do with a budget! I guess a full-blown Croydon Spaceport visitor experience somewhere in the town’s now legendary Whitgift Centre, complete with historical artefacts, audio-visual displays and – naturally – a lavishly furnished gift shop.
ZL – Ad Astra is an alternative history story, what was the initial trigger for that idea?
CP – Oh blimey… I think that somewhere along the line, during a period of creative paralysis, I had an idea for a series of one-page text-and-image concoctions under the overall title Going Somewhere, Going Nowhere, based on the idea of travel and journeys. Little one-shots I could aim to wrap up quickly.
One of the notions I had was a voice remembering when the 119 bus used to go as far as Croydon Spaceport, how it used to be packed with people going to see the launches etc. I think that came about from the heritage work being done at the site of Croydon Airport – the very first London airport – and the sort of faded sci-fi, “lost future” feel that some of the town gives off.
Anyway, one of the benefits of my characteristic procrastination is that the idea had time to germinate in my noddle into something a bit richer. I started to come up with a more detailed timeline and cast list for the short and ultimately disappointing history of Croydon’s municipal space programme.
Another influence was a bit of street art that thousands of people walk past every day without even noticing. Underneath Blackfriars Bridge in London, the pedestrian underpass is decorated with tile displays showing alternative plans for the bridge, scenes from its construction etc. However, some enterprising ‘guerilla historian’ has dug out the Letraset and staged a bit of an intervention to come up with an alternative history involving flat-pack bridges from Argos and lost instruction manuals. I loved the element of absolute toot being delivered in a very straight-faced way.
The final piece of the jigsaw was the discovery of Flickr Commons, where various institutions make their image archives available with no copyright restrictions. With NASA and the San Diego Air and Space Museum among the participating institutions, I soon found plenty of images that lent themselves to gags or unlikely developments. Once I’d cracked the format, it kind of wrote itself.
ZL – You’ve had a lot of success and good feedback from ‘How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life…’ As that’s such a personal book, what does that feel like and mean to you?
CP – We’ve both been blown away by the response to the book – and we’re very proud on Gordon’s behalf. The initial aim was to showcase some of his photographs and the brilliant work of the street artists he admired. But Gordon was such an amazing man that Jane just had to tell his story.
Gordon was effectively written off when he received his second terminal cancer diagnosis in July 2016. but within weeks he was out with his camera again. Although he was clearly very frail, nobody on the graffiti scene really knew how ill Gordon was or what he was going through. Many of them have only found out recently through the book – something we now regret in a way.
There’s been a massive wave of affection and admiration for Gordon from all over the world, both from those who knew him and from complete strangers. We always knew what a brilliant person he was, of course, but it’s been great to spread the word. And although she’ll kill me for saying this, I’m pleased that more people now appreciate what Jane went through and what an amazing support she was for her dad.
All profits from the book are going to St Christopher’s hospice in Sydenham (south-east London), from where Gordon set off on some of his final graffiti trips. With a little help from our friends – including Steve from London Calling Blog, who organised a charity street art walk in Penge – we’ve now raised more than £1,300, and we hope that figure will continue to rise. (We’ll also be donating the profits from Things My Dad Saw…)
We’re very pleased and proud to be able to support such a worthy cause in return for all the help St Christopher’s has given our family. Jane’s mum Pat was also cared for there, and following Gordon’s death, Jane received bereavement counselling through the hospice. Its work is absolutely vital to the local community, but it remains alarmingly underfunded.
Ultimately, the message of the book is: find something you love doing then find a way to carry on doing it. That’s one of the driving impulses behind DIY culture, and it’s what we’re both trying to do with Colossive.
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ZL – What is your history with zines and how did that lead to zines.need.you?
ZNY – I began writing zines as a teenager – as a kid I’d make my own little magazines but didn’t realise that zines existed until I was about 16 and got into mailart through the internet. I made 20 copies of my first zine on a photocopier in a newsagent in 2001 and gave it to my friends. I’ve been making them intermittently ever since – zine fests help foster a community of zinesters, and more recently Instagram is good for seeings what’s out there. I’m not particularly prolific in terms of making zines but I think about them a lot and love them as a way of sharing experiences and ideas. Zines Need You is a new project that came out of thinking quite hard about who doesn’t get heard in the zine scene and how that can be changed. I’ve been involved in DIY scenes for 15 years and wanted to use that familiarity to open the door a little wider. I’m a middle class white punk and zine fests often feature alot of people like me – it can be a little too comfortable and I would like that to change. ZNY seems like a low key place to start – its a small project to help get zines into print that might not otherwise be published. We’re keen to do a good job with a small project rather than promising the world and half-arsing it – we’ve committed to printing a zine a month for 2019 then by the end of the year we should have some idea of whether its sustainable to continue.
ZL – What sort of process do you use to decide on recipients for the zines.need.you monthly publishing deal?
ZNY – There isn’t much of a process so far as it’s early days, and certainly no standard criteria for inclusivity. We are keen to avoid people feeling like they have to list all their points of marginalisation in order to get our attention so we’re largely trusting them to decide for themselves whether they need our help or not. We also don’t want people to feel like we’ll only print things they’ve written that focus on their experiences of oppression because we want them to be as free as anyone else to write about whatever they like. Some of my favourite zines are hilariously frivolous and making those shouldn’t be a luxury, you know? I think there’s a danger that those financially supporting projects can end up expecting to have influence over what is created, so in this project we’re trying to be mindful of that dynamic and so far staying out of people’s creative process as much as possible. That said it’s been really cool to get lots of queries about different parts of zine making and nice to be able to share knowledge about printing, cut and paste, mini zines, zine fests and so on.
We are bringing our experiences and knowledge of anti-oppressive practice to this project so there is a core ethos to who we are interested in hearing from. We’re keen for this project to show solidarity with communities of colour, disabled creators, neurodivergent folks, working class makers and so on, and especially the people who live in the overlap of those identities. There have always been rad zines being made by these folks but there are more that haven’t been printed for lack of funds and encouragement and that’s where ZNY hopes to offer a signal boost.
ZL – Do you remember the first time?
ZNY – The first zines I came across were ones that I got in the mail as part of art swaps coordinated online. The first few I got came from Australia and America and turned up in these wild envelopes covered in stickers or made out of x-rays. They absolutely blew my mind – looking back now the content wasn’t anything exceptional but the realisation that you could just crack on and make a zine and that there were other people out there who would read them was huge. Like I mentioned before I had been making these little homemade magazines since I was a kid and I’d always had this fascination with the form of magazines – free gifts and cut out coupons and letters pages. Finding there was a big scene of scrappy homemade versions of magazines was wonderful, and also tied into to other interests like anarcho politics, feminism, punk, etc etc. I grew up in the countryside and our house was down a long lane. Once I was home from college I was miles from anyone so my lifeline was MSN messenger until I found mailart and zines. It was the first time I felt connected to other weirdos and gave me hope that I could get to a city and find some in real life, which I did as soon as I could. So while I’ve read zines since that are more interesting or better written, those first zines will always be special.
ZL – You’ve just announced your first recipient hit on the heels of what looked like an extremely well received launch, how does that feel?
ZNY – It’s been very unexpected – we were hoping for maybe 50 instagram followers and to tick over quietly but then we got 800 followers in the first week and we’re still growing. The project was conceived as a small and self-sustaining project (basically we committed to putting our own money in for the first year) that didn’t need donations. So we didn’t think massively about getting attention other than trying to get the word out to people who might want printing. But now that people do seems to have noticed us then it’s nice to think that our featured zinesters might get some extra readers. And getting some donations has meant that we can increase our monthly budget which is really exciting.
ZL – You get to build the world’s most exciting web platform, people flock to see it, which five creators do you first showcase and why?
ZNY – First up would be Jacq Applebee, our February zinester, because they write about so many different topics with realness and humour and generosity. I would love a world where Jacq’s zines got left around on bus seats and in hotel rooms so that people who really needed them would stumble across them.
Then it’d be Saffa Khan who is well known in the scene but should really be a household name. She makes these exquisite and intimate zines that are precious and profound and beautiful – she has her own risograph machine and has really pushed things forwards with her use of colour and interesting layouts. I always want there to be a space for splotchy cut and paste zines but I love that there are DIY artists making things beautiful too.
Third and fourth is a double whammy of Holly Casio and Seleena Laverne Daye who each put out their own zines but are close friends who met as penfriends on Teletext back in the day! They’ve been around zines longer than me and they kind of personify what I love about DIY – I first came across them as radical cheerleaders supporting The Gossip in 2003, since then between them they’ve been making art, zines, podcasts and loads of other shit. Since people are flocking to see my web platform I’d hope their showcase meant they could spend less time working and more time making glorious weird shit because it makes the world better. It’s hard to pick a final creator because I could go on forever so I’m going to pick a non zine wildcard, Kensuke Koike who is a collage artist I follow on instagram. His work is so simple and total genius, he manages to conjure humour, subversion and the unexpected out of a few cuts in old photos. It’s nice to run across people who spark off that sense of wonder and possibility with their work so I would recommend him to everyone, not that he needs my help!
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It’s one that’s as much ‘what I bring to the party’ as it is one that is about the work itself. I’m going to get a mildly philosophical, political and personal – so be warned!
There’s a discussion to have here about the project itself, around purpose and worth. This includes the wider discussion about identity and what that means and is at points in life.
A separate discussion about the actual physical issue and its content is needed as well.
My identity and chronic illness, or; identity, it’s not for everyone
Oddly, for someone who’s pretty healthy currently, my life has a few eras of chronic illness that mark my identity. I’m not sure I should delve too much about these matters as that’s not really the point of a review, to talk about myself in detail, is it? Yet, considering the project, I think it is the point, will I find my reflection or feel left out?
There are pieces in here that are so close to the bone of my own experiences that I’m never going to manage any kind of distance to discuss quality. However, there’s an argument to make about the worth of that experience in itself, (which I’ll make shortly).
Starting at the macro then; philosophically I have an issue with the conception of identity in and of itself. It’s one of those reductive concepts that imply a person is a thing and a thing is a single whole. By which I mean, to be personal for a second, people often believe a way of feeling or an experience means you have AN identity. I’m a white, middle-class man. That’s apparently AN identity, except, I’m someone who has mental health issues and I’m someone with a history of chronic illness and I’m someone who parents a child with chronic illness and that child happens to have learning difficulties. Oh, and I grew up as the child of hippies in a working-class area, in the 80’s in Wales, in a post-industrial town. So where do I have my IDENTITY in that, as opposed to talking about the experiences that have shaped me as a person?
Also, there’s the opposite side of this which talks about the identity of a group as if it’s all the same for each one. What is the identity of those with learning difficulties, for example, it’s different for my child than it is for someone with autism or downs syndrome. I’m pretty sure the experience of a person in America is different from a person in the UK, especially, getting back to subject, when it comes to chronic illness, because at least we in the UK don’t have to worry about paying for our medication or suffering or dying because we can’t. That’s a real and true issue in America.
There’s the further issue of awareness outside of that identity group. I wonder how many people could even conjure an understanding of why I’d mention growing up in Wales in the 80’s without just thinking about neon wearing kids dancing to Duran Duran, because, you know THE 80’S. I’ll tell you, that’s literally NOT what it was like then and gives the absolutely the wrong image of what it was. So, as I say, identity is just a great way to allow stereotyping, misconception and failed understanding. Even with good intentions. I’ll also call out identity as a renamed bigotry in certain hands. Everyone knows disabled people are in wheelchairs, so only wheelchair users are disabled? Sound familiar? Thought it yourself? I encounter exactly that attitude every day.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that identity sounds simple, but I believe it is essentialist, reductive, stereotyping and exclusionary more often than not.
I’ve had a 6 month long stay in hospital because of a childhood illness, I’ve had nearly 9 months in a hospital hospice because of my first child’s initial health issues. So am I the parent who was a sick child, the parent of a sick child, the parent (who was a sick child) of a sick child. Where does my niche go and where does my experience fail to meet the description and purpose and in failing to meet that do I end up feeling like my IDENTITY is not true, angry at not seeing myself represented?
Am I seeing too narrow a stereotype or caricature and what is the impact of that being delivered to the public as well? Will they, the inexperienced, limit themselves by only understanding the issue as represented here?
That really is the matter for the project to consider and the yard stick against which to measure it. How does it deal with these matters of representation, of diversity, of essentially becoming a gate keeper simply by existing!?
That’s a heavy matter, particularly considering who it is trying to represent, people already suffering in life in some way, shape or form.
I can see why the first issue dealt with identity. It’s a matter of setting out your stall, delivering your agenda for all to see. It really does need to be up front, because it really does tell you whether you’re in or out of this project. I know I keep banging on about this, and I’ll get to it, honestly!
First though I want to talk about another matter of inclusivity outside of the politics of representation. Does the zine communicate effectively with people who have a wide range of need, including some who may have learning difficulties? Can it deal with all of these when it is a project that relies upon open submissions? Particularly when it’s dealing with the cross-over of chronic illness and artistic expression?
I think they’ve done some very clever things that mean that this project is accessible to a wide range of needs. I’m know for certain that some of these works by themselves would communicate to my child with learning difficulties. Yet the editorial approach has made the issues raised in those works accessible to them. I’m no mind reader so I won’t claim to know whether they planned that or came upon those solutions by other routes. In the end that’s not what matters, it’s accessible in a very clever and low-key manner. I want to pick up on that here, because I think it speaks clearly about the strength of this project, it’s humanity and openess.
On the second inside page they have a whole series of speech balloons summarising the content and opinions of those present in the zine. Pithy little comments that give quick insights into their experiences. It’s a clever way of priming people to the content they’re about to encounter.
It’s also a good way of making some of the internal, often expressionistic or abstract work, more accessible to those who can’t understand complex abstract ideas. It means that, although certain work will never mean much to my child, I can still have a conversation around the subject that it deals with. It frees the art up to be expressive, whilst still highlighting the content in a way that’s not forced or invasive to the art.
I’m also pleased that it’s meeting its own criteria of talking about both chronic illness and art dealing with chronic illness. The art is served well, with good reproduction and the physical item itself is on lovely paper with decent printing. More importantly, to me, it’s cleanly laid out and well labelled with details of the contributors, so it’s easy enough to go and find out more about their work if you want to. Simply put, it’s a well put together package, well edited to make it as accessible as a resource as well as a magazine to be enjoyed in and of itself. The mix and pacing of image and text is also well handled.
The project is also an interesting manner of dealing with chronic illness, dealing with aspects of daily life as well as more philosophical matters, for example, the second issue deals with having a sex life with a chronic illness. Identity is an interesting point, but it’s very BIG PICTURE. Sometimes you just want to know how to live through a day and the philosophy of it all matters much less.
I can imagine these being a great resource both online and within hospitals. A good library of these dealing with the philosophical and practical matters of life will make a good companion for someone dealing with chronic illness in their life, whether their own or someone else’s. Considering the subject, I think that’s important and appropriate. What’s the point in having this if it’s not a resource to help those it’s talking about.
So, finally, to talk about what’s in here on both the macro and micro scale, by which I mean – how well do I think it deals with the issue of identity and the associated matter of representation and what do I feel after reading the contributions included in here.
Well, firstly, some pieces are privileged with the nature of my own experience reflecting their content. There are those that aren’t and are still fascinating and there are those that aren’t my sort of thing. That’s again a ‘me’ thing though.
There’s a diverse range of experience. There are pieces that are short and blunt, some more like memoir. What all of them have in common, is that they talk about the personal, not the abstract. These are about PEOPLE talking about their experiences. Really, that’s how it gets around the matter of philosophy and politics. Everything is grounded in people and their experiences. The editorial team also take great care to identify that they are trying to reach out to as diverse a population as possible. The content is treated with respect, but the editorial tone is light, open and welcoming. It’s an encouraging approach, not a distancing one.
There is a work in here that I found fascinating as an artwork communicating the intangible. It tries to make visible the invisibleand uses such a beautifully simple idea it’s almost poetic. Considering that the solution is crumpled pieces of paper, I’m genuinely surprised by how visually interesting it is as well. I’m intrigued to see more, just because I can buy into that simple visual communication. It makes it very quick to get an insight into how day to day life can be for that person and for all suffers of endometriosis.
It also speaks of how different approaches can evoke different reactions in different people for different reasons. A piece like that, so abstract and so different from my experiences. My access into that is very much an appreciation of it as a method of communication, it’s an intellectual reaction entirely.
Very early on in this review I raised my own question about seeing myself reflected in pieces and how that skewed my ‘critical’ reaction to them, and what that meant within the context of this zine.
Well, I think it speaks volumes that there are pieces, dealing with people’s experiences of illness that are not mine, that can still evoke or trigger recognition in me. In particularthere is a very succinct piece (similar in visual style to the cover) that so sharply reflected one of the worst experiences of my child’s early illness that I was nearly shocked to tears at the memory.
I think it’s that recognition that gives this zine it’s power. I get to see someone whose illness, whose circumstances aren’t my own, reflecting my own feelings, so I get to see that not everything I experienced is niche, is my burden and mine alone. I think that I’m never going to identify with identity, but I can experience the sense of belonging to a community with shared experiences. Really, that’s the greatest comfort you can offer anyone who feels isolated and alone, the opportunity to recognise that there’s a community of people just like them in the world, even though they are not like them. This project delivers on that opportunity.
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.
Signal To Noise
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 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.
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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I know as fact that things just happen BECAUSE. Because being my personal truth, (personal truth – the little white lies that cover the cracks). BECAUSE meaning the millions of things that are always happening that you know nothing about, refuse to acknowledge, don’t want to talk about, aren’t interested in as they’re just not important enough to waste life time on, etc.
BECAUSE being like this – Did you know microwaves were first created in the late 40’s? Not really popular until the 80’s BECAUSE. You could list cost, acceptability, blah, blah, blah. It’s just easier to accept that it was BECAUSE and get on with life. Is that the same attitude you want to take towards your future, your relationships?
Because is a default for the shoulder shrug, the pulled face, the ‘a butterfly’s wing flapping…’, the defeatist ‘oh who can be bothered’. I say or think BECAUSE as it’s so hard to face the thing I’m becausing about. The question is, is that how to live a good life (by which I mean attain contentment), (Happiness and the search for it, is a GRAIL quest, the modern search for eternal life).
Getting back to track. BECAUSE, then, is the enemy of a reviewer really. It is too often treated as a friend though. I guess that comes down to space and TL:DR. Too often a reviewer states that you’ll like a thing, rather than discussing what it does and why that should matter. It’s the gatekeeper mentality – I’m cool and I’ll tell you what’s cool, not argue why it’s worth your time.
It’s what I’ve been fighting with when thinking of a review for Warglitter. My urge is to say – get it BECAUSE it’s AWESOME, (another catchall for – too big to tell you).
I mean; it’s true, but it’s not honest. Yes, the two can be exclusive. Honesty requires the commitment to fullness, truth requires you don’t lie. I am not believer in truth, personal or universal, in case it wasn’t clear from the above. I’m going to be honest and say, I believe any search for TRUTH is the opportunity to avoid personal honesty and responsibility.
Now, you’ll be thinking, why are you telling me all this? (I like the sound of my own thoughts?) Well, because Warglitter – the person, not the zine – has crafted an amazing work where she’s starting to be honest with herself and maybe leaving the search for Truth behind. She may not even know it…
My evidence? Well, Warglitter lays out her purpose up front. She writes about why she writes a journal and tells us what commitments she made. She gives me all my clues right up front and right out clear.
These things are telling, to me at least.
write down beliefs and personal truths – having beliefs and personal truths next to each other sounds like someone being honest and then hiding a truth they don’t want to witness, saying ‘they’re not beliefs, they’re personal truths…’
A new addition to the list
dismantle your defence mechanism persona –having to go back and qualify and talk about personal psychology, about defences, seems a change in understanding. Time has given a gift of new understanding. Like 5 is the knee jerk reaction and then 8 is the slow dawning realisation of the Honest facts.
If that is the case, then these
keep up a regular tarot practice and dig deep
creating my next niche
work through depression and learn from it
are the pendulum swinging between how to be Honest and how to hide from it.
decorate this journal – make it a sacred object –says it all, fetishise that Truth. Then again, those later additions take it back down to earth – back to magic, down to earth. Pendulum swinging, swinging.
Being honest – why is this amazing?
There are so many echoes of what matters to me right now, what I’ve struggled with.
For me, this is a timely piece of work to appear before me.
It’s not what I’d do to deal with these subjects.
Likewise, Warglitter does things and holds belief that I have no personal commitment or interest in. Yet, here she is talking about things I’ve spent years struggling with, talking about things I’ve finally been able to think honestly about. Saying them in ways and contexts very different to mine and so making them clearer for me to see.
If you asked to label it, it’s a perzine verfremdung effect – I love Brecht’s idea that to make something more obvious, you should first make it appear strange.
It’s what I’m always hoping to achieve, but here made simple where I would hide it in layers of pomp.
That’s what I like about this, it’s like looking at my life but as I’ve never lived or experienced it, so I don’t have to hide from the truth it reveals.
What I take from this may not be what is meant by this and may not be what you get from this, but it is why I think this is an amazing piece of work.
I see that there is no solution to who you are, or what you’re feeling – there’s only being honest with yourself and dealing with those facts rather than just excusing yourself with BECAUSE, (because no one ever loved me, I’ll be unlovable… because I keep getting hurt, I’ll push everyone away – they’re all TRUE and you’ll never solve that TRUTH, you just have to be honest, face it and deal with it every day, but by facing it and putting it out there each day it might just get easier to be that better person, get that step closer to contentment and kindness.
This is a brave work and a hard path and deserves your attention because of the reward you may get from it.
ZL – You run a zine making group, how does that influence what you make and what made you want to start it in the first place?
WZ – I started a zine making club at the school where I teach. We had a rough year last spring and a coworker suggested I start a club. He said, on the hard days, he was always able to look forward to the club he runs because it was his time for sharing his passion with students who are actually interested. Late in the spring semester, it occurred to me that I should start a zine club. I talked it up in my classes and students are starting to learn about it by word of mouth. It’s pretty cool.
It does affect the kinds of stuff I put out there. I made the Carly Rae Jepsen Fanzine because I wanted to have an example I could show my students of different things you could try in a zine. I made the quiz and the mad libs because I remember seeing that kind of thing in teen magazines and enjoying them when I was growing up.
I wrote Guilt because that was a story from my own life that I always wanted to tell and I thought my students could relate to it. Usually, my fiction comes out very sinister and I didn’t want to share any of those stories or my poetry with them. Because I started the zine club, I chose to follow some ideas that I wouldn’t have usually. I thought I needed something wholesome to show them, so I made the opposite of what I’m usually inspired to make, and I really loved the process and the final results.
ZL – Do you remember the first time?
WZ – One of my earliest memories is of the music video for ‘Take On Me’ by a-ha. I was probably 3 or 4 years old and I was just transfixed by it. I didn’t see that video again until late at night in the mid-90’s. I think they actually showed it on Liquid Television, late night animation programming on MTV. There was no way I could have, but I felt like I had instinctively understood how that video was made as a toddler. Something about the live action world intersecting with the comic book world made sense to me. That moment when he reaches out of the comic book and the girl in the diner takes his hand is still just electrifying for me.
I really love music videos and actually use them in the classroom. There’s just something about that marriage of music and images that cuts me to my core. I can feel it in my solar plexus. A lot of music videos make me cry.
ZL – Given an unlimited budget and all the time in the world, what would be the project you’d make to be remembered by?
WZ – I don’t know, probably a one-night-only performance art event with some kind of giant multimedia collage and an interpretive dance routine going on simultaneously. And a lot of glitter. Barbra Streisand would stand next to it and she’d have to pretend to be very nice to people all night.
ZL – You’ve included a couple of drawings in the zines you have made and they’ve all been awesome, why don’t your zines include more art from you?
WZ – I think the Carly zine might be the only one I’ve made that doesn’t have something I drew in it, and that’s because I was really going for a more classic collage aesthetic but like the squeaky-clean version of that.
I doodle a lot, but I’ve never really had a good drawing practice. I kind of go through phases. Every once in a while, I tell myself I’m going to practice drawing every day and get REALLY good at it, but it never lasts long. I’ve always had a lot of different hobbies and creative outlets, but I’ve never really been aces at any one thing.
ZL – I know you talked a little about this on your initial Warglitter videos on YouTube, but some people may not have seen those, so, what made you want to do video reviews of zines?
WZ – I wanted to start a YouTube channel, but I never knew what to talk about. I felt like if I didn’t have something to offer people, no one would watch. Near the end of last summer, I started searching YouTube for channels devoted to talking about zines and I was really surprised at how few there were. And the zine videos with the most views weren’t even made by people with channels devoted to zines. I thought, ‘here are a few people who really care about something I’m interested in, and there aren’t so many people already talking about this that I would have to worry about getting views or filling my channel with content. We could just be a little community of people who are in it for love rather than money or notoriety.’ So the most obvious way for me to start, it seemed, was to review zines I was buying or getting from people through trades.
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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.
all art copyright and trademark it's respective owners. content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019