Category Archives: paper underground

Small (press) oaks – Gareth A Hopkins

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

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

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


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

Gareth Hopkins - portrait

Find Gareth Here

He’s @grthink everywhere

website         twitter          instagram

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


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

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

Which creators do you remember first copying?

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

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

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

Rob Liefeld
Rob Liefeld

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

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


Which creators do you most often think about?

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

Sal Buscema

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

Paul Jon Milne

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


Tom Ward

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

Lucy Sullivan


Everything else


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

The Leaf Library

The Leaf Library
The Leaf Library

Walter Gross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Blood Initiative - Wake Up And Smell The Tear Gas

Young Blood Initiative – Wake Up And Smell The Tear Gas

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


all art copyright and trademark its respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020




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

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




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.


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

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

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

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

Download from here

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

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

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

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

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

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


Why name it?

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

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



Paper Underground Awards – Work that is something I’d never want to make, but really appreciated anyway

Work that is something I’d never want to make, but really appreciated anyway

Star Bright by Rob Zwetsloot and Alice Clarke – buy it here

This may be the most controversial award. I’ve had feedback that it might feel like a backhanded compliment. So, to clarify.
This award recognises a work that inspired me to recognise its impact upon me. Rather than inspiring a creative reaction it stirred me by being a great read; moving and affecting. It’s about enjoy things not for what they drive me to do, but for the enjoyment of experiencing them.
I hope that makes sense.
Star Bright is a low stake look at teenage life. It is a strong argument for acceptance. There is no melodrama, no angry railing at society, no big story moments. Yet it forcefully makes an argument for it cause. It’s a beautiful and emotional work that relies on creating empathy with the reader, quietly telling a meaningful story about people, loneliness and eventual acceptance.
It uses simple methods with, what one could almost call a utopian spirit, to make a big argument about life, diversity and accepting differences.
The art has a strong personality and communicates emotions and relationships extremely well. It works perfectly with the story to deliver its argument for equality by showing a world that is accepting and how it essentially functions the same as our world but without the hating. It delivers a window to another world and shows you that it won’t hurt or damage you, in fact, its existence will not affect your life at all, but it will make the life of others much better.
Cute and simple looking artwork that communicates the human experience and a simple and eloquent story that shows how the world can be rather than raising a fist to the world as is. I completely respect anything the raises the quiet voice of reason to make its argument to the wide world.

Paper Underground Awards – Work that I wish I had published in a large deluxe limited edition

Work that I wish I had published in a large deluxe limited edition

Aorta – by Sarah Horrocks (buy physical or digital)

Aorta splash page in black and white by sarah horrocks
Aorta splash page

I literally only know Sarah’s work from online – but god I wish I owned everything she has ever made.

I love her colour work; her choices of texture and pattern; her colour combinations are so vibrant, living and communicative I’d sink deep down into their glowing acid power like people claim to do with a Rothko.

What she achieves with computer textures makes me want to grab a pen and a brush and get that physically down on paper. Her art affects me the same Bill Sienkiewicz’s affected my childhood mind. I want to cut out and paste, to splash paint and hatch and scratch and design the page into perfect life. I want to perfect what they’ve put on paper, with my own hand because then I’ll have achieved a skill and greatness I could easily respect.

Which, I suppose, makes my choice either odd or contrary.

When I saw her post this double page from her current comic Aorta I contacted her straight away because it was just so impressive. All that texture to lose myself in – I actually put it up across the double screens I have at work.  I saw it and just imagined holding a big – A3 page size big – hardback book; textured paper, almost like watercolour paper and that image crisply set into that paper, so deep it stretches beyond the edge of vision, like an IMAX movie. Comics suffers to keep itself cheap and avoid ‘being elitist’. But I don’t see why we can’t have expensive, deeply beautiful objects as vehicles to portray these works. I think this art deserve engaging with in a manner that let’s you obscure the world around and just sink into this glorious world of marks, movement, design and texture, like you’re climbing through a dark forest.

Being able to immerse yourself into the reality on paper and letting the work argue for the respect it so readily deserves.



Paper Underground Awards – Most Romantic Work

Most Romantic work

Petrichor – by Gareth Hopkins (shop here)

This is my book of the year, no quibbles.

Until I read Gareth’s work, I would never have said that either romance or auto-biography would be the most important and urgent style I’m encountering in comics.

Yet, when I read this book I was moved nearly to tears, to rethink my own attitudes and to a sense of admiration for what was being said on these pages. I think Gareth’s work is amazing. I always have, from the moment I first saw it. But, generally, I’ve admired the images and the textures, structures, marks and sequencing. His work was very much visual pleasure.

Then he wrote Petrichor and later worked on Intercorstal: Extension which I’ve previously reviewed. Intercorstal: Extension was published prior to Petrichor, even though it was created after it. In both works the writing developed an elliptical, poetic and rhythmic style that dealt with life and memory as experiences rather than narrative. It’s almost poetry, but it’s not. I’d say it’s a clipped version similar in style to JG Ballard’s early novels, like The Drowned World. But somehow warm and human and emotionally affecting, whereas Ballard’s words are the experience of ennui.

Many works are labelled as being about love and death, it’s a great review cliché – this work is truly about the experience of both, of how living life comes with waves and troughs, how we change whilst staying the same person, maybe with altered priorities.

To be fair – it’s not going to be for everyone, it’s not narrative, it’s got no images of things, there’s marks and short, clipped lines of text. But if you let yourself experience it, it’s like being in the heart and mind of that person as life happens around them. Beautiful and poignant. Ultimately, it’s satisfying to see a book dedicated to sharing an individual’s humanity and love.


Paper Underground Awards – introduction

These are my way of thinking about what has mattered to me in zines and comics this year.

As much as they’re a way of recognising what I’ve found excellent, they’re also a thank you and a chart of what mattered to me at a time and place.

I don’t know whether these will matter to people, but then I’m not going to not do something from fear of embarrassing silence.

Originally there were going to be 5 awards, for the terribly practical reason that I could roll out an award a day over a week. Then something big happened in 2019 so now there’s going to be 6.

I think in the end, I’d like to see other people respond in kind to these awards and just do something that tells other people, but particularly the creators, why they liked their work in a little bit more detail and depth than a like, a purchase or an ‘Awesome’ – nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s great for people to take a minute and engage with the question of what they enjoyed about a certain work, consider the essential ‘thing’ within them that it satisfied.

Here are the categories:

1- Most Romantic work

2- Work that I wish I had published in a large deluxe limited edition

3- Work that is something I’d never want to make, but really appreciated anyway

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

5- This will STAND THE GENERATIONS award

6- Mystery award