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the long list interview – Harley R’s Ugly Mug

Find Harley online here

All art by Harley R and the House of Harley unless otherwise noted

Please note – I have a story in Ugly Mug 6

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ZL – Hi Harley! Thanx for agreeing to this interview, I’m really interested to find out more about you, your history in the small press and the history of Ugly Mug!

HR – Delighted to be asked.

ZL – It’s probably best to start with a bit about where and when you grew up and how you first got involved in the small press?

HR – Sure. I grew up in West London. My parents were Aussies who emigrated to the UK in the mid-‘60s.

I like to say that I was brought up as an Atheist with a Protestant work ethic and Catholic taste. Also, my dad has always applied himself successfully to many different types of jobs and activities with endless enthusiasm and vigour and I owe a lot to him for showing me that a busy life is a good life.

ZL – I wonder how your parents having come from Australia affected your childhood, did you find that they had a different attitude to life and culture from those around you and, if so, how did that affect you and how you felt about yourself?

HR – Well it’s handy to have two passports and be able to pick which team to support in the Ashes. I’ve got lots of powerful memories of visiting Oz as a youth (I haven’t been back as an adult) – such as the goods trains that used to hurtle through the field behind my grandma’s house like giant iron caterpillars, or the enormous huntsman spiders that lived in every corner of my uncle’s farm. I used to amuse myself at school by saying I could speak ‘Australian’ and then jabbering some nonsense. But to be honest I can’t pinpoint anything that made me feel significantly ‘different’ to people I grew up with in London. 

ZL – Tell me a bit about your time in school?

HR – The biggest impression my primary schooling made on me, outside of the actual lessons, was when our headmaster broke into the school at night, killed all the animals in the school’s science lab and blamed it all on ‘awful teenagers’ (a story recounted, with names changed, in Ugly Mug 4). 

He was a very strange and unpleasant man who for some reason had it in for Australia and used school assemblies to regale us with absurd and blatantly ridiculous reasons that no one should ever visit the country. So that taught me some healthy scepticism about adults at a young age.

ZL – My god, that must have felt fairly personal. 

So, comprehensive was better than primary school?

HR – In all I had a pretty typical and happy middle-class comprehensive school childhood. I went to the same secondary school as cartoonist Brett Ewins (RIP), although he was there some years before me. I often used to see him walking past the school, but I never got the courage up to introduce myself, to my regret.

Winding back a bit, my folks, unusually for Australians, had no interest in sport so unlike most 1970s boys who liked to spend their time kicking footballs around down the local park, I gravitated towards drawing and other solitary pursuits.

I can date my desire to be a cartoonist to September 1977 when six-year-old me saw a TV advert for a new UK Marvel comic called The Complete Fantastic Four. I pestered my dad to order it from our local newsagents but there was a mix-up and the first issue of Plug, a Beano spin-off which launched the same week, popped through the mailbox instead. I somehow persuaded my dad to let me get both – so right from the start I was interested in humour and superheroes/fantasy, which you can probably see coming through in Ugly Mug.

The splash page from my first exposure to The Fantastic Four, featuring a miserable and despairing Ben Grimm wandering the streets of New York, is indelibly burned into my memory. Something about the combination of bold visuals, larger-than-life characters and wild storytelling in both those comics gripped my imagination and has never let go. That’s when I knew cartooning was what I wanted to do, although lots of other things have been added into the mix over the years.

ZL – So where in the timescales does drawing and writing come? I’m guessing you could well have been drawing for a while by this point, but I’d be thinking you weren’t writing at age six, or were you very precocious? Actually, how easy did you find reading that comic? Stan Lee’s language could be pretty flowery.

HR – I was a keen reader and I don’t remember struggling with those early Marvel comics, although no doubt lots of it passed over my head.

It’s hard to remember when writing and drawing came together for me. My early creative outputs involved things like making elaborate paper railways which ran around the house or filming magic tricks using primitive stop motion on my dad’s home video camera. 

In English lessons at school I wrote a lot of rambling fantasy stories, which were bigger on imagination than structure or coherence. When I was nine I sent an outline for a Doctor Who story to the BBC which was rejected, unsurprisingly as it featured all my favourite villains and lots of spaceships being blown up and would have been well beyond the Beeb’s budget to film even if the story had been any good. (We still have the rejection letter).

ZL – We were chatting a while ago and you mentioned to me that you put Ugly Mug on hold when you went to university, so how old were you when you first started editing it and what spurred you on to put it out?

HR – I started it while I was still in high school and it ran for around four years. Although my dream at that stage was to be a full-time cartoonist, by the time I got involved in the small press I’d realised that it was very difficult to make a living out of comics. Credit to those that do, but in the mid-late ‘80s the mainstream comics world where I might have learned my craft just didn’t appeal to me. I never had any interest in being an illustrator or drawing things to order, although I have a lot of respect for people who can do that. So I made a conscious decision to pursue a career outside art – which I don’t regret and which has been rewarding in lots of ways. That has left art for my own time and means I have complete freedom over what I draw. Just not as much time to draw as I’d like.

Steve Way

ZL – How did you get to know that earning a living in comics was so difficult and how did that make you feel at the time you found out? Or to put it another way, what was it about comics that meant you weren’t put off from creating them by the knowledge that you couldn’t earn much from them?

HR – Another hard one to reconstruct forty years on, especially as it was mixed up with so many changes in outlook as my teens rolled on. But the aspiration to do comics is a given for me, it’s etched into my thought processes and it’s not something I ever sit and weigh up the pros and cons of. 

ZL – So what type of production was it, was it printed or photocopied and how did you get it out to people?

HR – The first three issues of Ugly Mug were xeroxed at local print shops, and the print quality was very mixed as you might expect, with lots of grey smudging on the pages. But at least they came stapled. For issue 2 I recruited some fellow A-Level art students to hand colour the cover according to the artist Ed Pinsent’s specification, which was also a good excuse to spend time with girls I fancied.

I think the cover price was in the order of a quid for the first two and two quid for the double-sized issue 3. The print run for issues 1-3 was probably a couple of hundred each and they eventually went, mostly sold via the Fast Fiction stall and mail order service, apart from a handful of copies I still have (available for purchase at inflation-busting prices via https://houseofharley.net/shop).

Leo Eze

For issue 4 I splashed out on professional printing which meant committing to a lot more copies to justify the investment in the (pre-digital) plates. It looked great, apart from the wrong tone of green being used on the cover and overwhelming Marc Baines’ brilliant drawing. I should have asked for a proof copy! Lessons learned.

Marc Baines

But the release of UM4 coincided with me moving away from London to go to university and having a whole bunch of new things in my life to think about. So I didn’t give it the focus it needed and consequently it didn’t make the splash I hoped it would. And that was the end of that for the next three decades.

ZL – Stepping backwards a minute to get some context, and throwing a bit of a twofer out there, what first drew you to small press comics and what drew you into making them?

HR – At primary school, some mates and I wrote and drew a regular comic strip for our school magazine, very heavily inspired by Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett’s loosely drawn and irreverent strips for various Marvel UK mags.

In my early teens I aspired to work for 2000AD, spent lots of time copying drawings of Judge Dredd and co and got pretty good at it. But by the time I went to my first comic convention when I was around 15, I’d become interested in indie comics, especially Love and Rockets, and had just discovered Escape, which featured a lot of material by British small press artists.

At a small press panel at one of the mid-80s UKCAC events, I introduced myself to Glenn Dakin and Ed Pinsent and showed them some of my crude comic strips about a superhero called Captain Maroon, who spent most of his time arguing with supervillains and his girlfriend rather than using his powers which were never particularly well defined. I guess Glenn and Ed must have seen something in those strips because, firstly, Glenn put me in touch with the political cartoonist Steve Way, later the Cartoon Editor of Punch, and we had a mail correspondence which lasted several years. We actually spent most of our time talking about life in general rather than comics and he was a very welcome sounding board for my developing teenage view of life.

Secondly, Ed offered me a slot in Fast Fiction magazine which he was editing, and we ended up becoming great friends and eventually musical collaborators. It’s a sort of mentor-friend relationship which endures to this day, although we don’t get to see each other as often as I’d like. Ed introduced me to different ways of thinking about art which took me off the conventional path I would probably have gone down otherwise and I’m eternally grateful for that.

Harley (contents page), Ed Pinsent

With Ed’s encouragement, I self-published a collection of Captain Maroon stories and went swiftly from there to Ugly Mug, which was an attempt to create an irreverent regular publication in the spirit of the comics anthologies I loved, like Mad, Weirdo and Raw – encompassing personal, experimental work as well as humorous stuff. With an anthology you can take lots of risks – if someone doesn’t like a strip, there’s another one coming along soon.

It was published by the House of Harley, my answer to Stan Lee calling Marvel the House of Ideas. The HoH is a sort of fantasy publishing imprint which can be whatever I want it to be. It has proved to be a highly flexible and durable ‘brand’ which has grown to encompass (in my head at least) edible products, hotel chains and boutique fashion wear. It also helps draw a line between my artistic and personal life which I think is important.

ZL – How did you get to know and recruit other creators to contribute and what sort of request did you give them?

Tom Baxter Tiffin

HR – For several years I helped out selling small press comics on Ed’s Fast Fiction stall at the bi-monthly comic fairs at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. So I got to meet lots of interesting artists that way. I also was a regular attendee of the fortnightly Escape gatherings organised by Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury at the Duke’s Head in Great Russell Street, where I first discovered the joys and dangers of Tennant’s Extra lager (rarely seen now in London pubs) and became good friends with Tom Baxter Tiffin, Marc Baines, John Bagnall, Mark Robinson and other talented people.

Marc Baines

My ‘editorial’ policy for Ugly Mug though was simply to ask people whose work I liked if they’d contribute, and thankfully most of them said yes.

ZL – I often read a lot about the London Comic Mart and how influential that was on getting works out from groups like Fast Fiction so it’s interesting to know that you were a part of that scene. You mention meeting up and talking a lot, so I wondered what it was that inspired your conversations. There’s a lot of talk about the TV ad for Marvel UK titles, but I also see a lot more European comics influence in the works of Ed Pinsent or Phil Elliott who were both involved in Fast Fiction, so what was the cultural stew, inside and outside comics, that was feeding Fast Fiction, or at least, your experience of it?

John Bagnall

HR – An off-the-top-of-my-head sample of the cultural artefacts and artistes I was introduced to by the Fast Fiction and Escape crowd – Krazy Kat, Herbie, Bizarro Superman, Raw, the Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, the Beverly Hillbillies, Sgt Bilko, The Sweet Smell of Success, William Wyler’s The Collector, The Cat and the Canary (Bob Hope), Harvey (the rabbit), Kiss Me Deadly, My Neighbour Totoro, Kenneth Anger, Eraserhead, Raoul Servais’ terrifying animation Harpya, Stan Brakhage, Jean-Luc Godard, Gerhard Richter, Paolo Uccello

ZL – I’ve mentioned in a brief facebook review I did that this book really feels like a work made by the late 70’s early 80’s group of creators from the small press, it has the absurdity that is played very straight faced, but it also lacks bitter cynicism, maybe it’s more romantically cynical? (Have I just created my own definition there??) So, I’m going for another twofer here. Do you feel like you were part of a generation of creators and if so, who would you say were your peers? Do you feel like small press comics are a different beast now, with different tastes and a different blood running through its veins?

HR – I think there’s too much negativity, pessimism about humanity and general cynicism doing the rounds in wider society, so I’m very pleased you’ve said that. It’s hard to recall what was going through my mind when I was putting the original run together, but I have always liked a mix of sweet and sour, like life really. The ‘theme’ for Ugly Mug 5 was ‘optimism/pessimism’ – a tension which was very much on my mind during lockdown – and contributors were free to place themselves wherever they liked on that spectrum – so while there’s some very bleak stuff in there, there’s lots of light and humanity too.

As for the 1980s, I feel very lucky to have been welcomed and accepted by the ‘Fast Fiction gang’, and it was an exciting, inspiring time for me. But I also recognise I was ten years or more younger than most of them. I was immature in many ways and had a lot to learn about life and art. As Peter Stanbury observed back then, ‘Harley hasn’t lived yet’.

I confess I’m not that au fait with modern small press stuff. What I’ve seen in shops seems to be overly biographical or graphically experimental in a way that doesn’t particularly engage me. But I realise there may be great stuff out there I’m not aware of and reviving Ugly Mug has prompted me to think I should look again.

ZL – Pursuing that more, what do you think influenced you and your peers to make that work and do you feel that there were other streams of work around that were significantly different to what you were making?

HR – The artists associated with Fast Fiction and the small press scene were all very different, but if they had anything in common it was a) a love for comics and b) wide ranging interests outside comics.

For a long while I’ve thought that mainstream comics are too insular. By the time Jack Kirby and all those great Silver Age artists produced their best work for Marvel and DC, they’d grown up and been to war and worked in different industries and had drawn every type of comic you could imagine, so there was lots of different stuff feeding into those superhero stories. But by the mid-80s you had a generation of artists copying from those older cartoonists with, I would say, diminishing returns, and it went downhill from there as far as I’m concerned. I’m generalising a lot I realise, and possibly unfairly, but I find visiting comic shops these days a depressing experience. I buy what I’m after, have a quick look round to see if anything else grabs my attention, and get out as quick as I can.

Chris Reynolds

I should be clear that I think there is lots of untapped potential in comics, so I remain optimistic about the medium’s long-term future. But what appealed to me about the small press, apart from the sense of creative freedom, was that it was influenced by lots of other aspects of culture – fine art, literature, Hollywood movies, trash culture, experimental film, and life in general. And the aim was to use the freedom of self-publishing to say something personal and interesting. A Chris Reynolds or an Ed Pinsent strip or a Carol Swain strip are all totally unique, only they could have done them.

Carol Swain

Fundamentally I like the freedom – and cheapness – of comics. All you need is a piece of paper and something to draw with and you can put anything you like on it. That cheapness also means you can take risks which are much harder to do with, say, films, which involve a lot of money, people and organisation to make, even when it’s an indie production.

After the comic marts, a loose group of us often retreated to Ed’s flat to chat about comics, art and films. Mark Robinson remarked that when he came to London he expected the small press scene would be like a group of wild Californian cartoonists indulging in plentiful sex and drugs, but it was more of an urbane gathering with tea and cakes – and that’s what it was like.

Mike, Darryl Cunningham

That small press spirit spilled out into Escape of course but also semi-mainstream publishers such as Harrier Comics and Fox Comics in Australia. But by the early 90s, the artists I liked had gone off to pursue other things, and I felt the small press was becoming a vehicle for cartoonists to build up portfolios and get spotted for mainstream comics, rather than to produce personal work which was interesting in its own right. It’s an understandable approach to CV building, but it didn’t appeal to me. I got much more interested in music which seemed to be more vibrant and experimental at that time.

Julian Geek

ZL – Just thinking about this further, how do you see yourself in relation to the history of small press comics in the UK? Is there a history that you feel a part of from the 70’s or even the 60’s. Or do you feel that the 80’s was where small press and alternative comics took off in the UK? Is it even that you see more of a link with the likes of DIY zines than you do with comics at all?

HR – I think there was something open-ended and outward-looking in the art I most liked from that time. I think honest personal takes on life are very important and are what people respond to at the end of the day. To be clear, by ‘personal takes’ I don’t mean dwelling on oneself, or minutely detailed autobiographical strips which are a creative dead end if ever there was one. There’s been a lot of bad art created in the slipstream of Robert Crumb, but the biographical aspect of his work is deceptive – he distils something profound out of his experiences.

As for me, I don’t delude myself that I was anything other than a minor figure in the 80’s small press scene, but I am always very pleased when I learn that someone has kept their collection of Ugly Mugs all those years. That said, I’m more interested today in looking forward.

Davy Francis

ZL – I guess the big question is, why did you come back and why now?

HR – Well, partly because I only got to publish the first four chapters of Ed’s Saga of the Scroll epic, and there were eight more episodes to go, six now. (Ed gave up waiting, understandably, and published the complete story some years ago, although with his blessing I intend to continue serialising it, meaning there should be 12 issues of Ugly Mug at least).

As far as my own comics went, it always felt like unfinished business. But it was a long process getting back to it, way too long really. I was seriously missing art after a few years at university, so I packed off for a month to the Cyprus School of Art Summer School to try to get the creative juices going again. As I discovered, that ‘summer school’ mainly involved hanging around with naked women, riding scooters around town on a fake licence and drinking Keo beer, all of which was a lot of fun, but no art was being produced. I can’t blame it all on the distractions – I was too bogged down in trying to find the perfect idea to work on.

When I got back to England I thought ‘this is ridiculous’ and started keeping sketchbooks, working rapidly and not caring too much about the result, just drawing whatever I was interested in (predominantly, but not exclusively, women). I had a full-time job and had to fit this in wherever I could – so for example I sketched fellow commuters on the tube journey to work, trying to draw everyone in the carriage before they or I got off. (I highly recommend that as a way to learn to draw people quickly, if not accurately.) And at home I drew from whatever printed material was around the house, mainly Sunday magazines and fashion supplements. I know that drawing from photos is considered to be bad form for artists, but if you approach it with a certain amount of irreverence and spontaneity, I think you can learn a lot about how to convey personality and draw clothes and the like.

Over time I got looser and looser in my sketches and began treating my source material as a springboard. I developed some intuitive techniques for abstracting drawings until unexpected and interesting results would appear on the page.

Around 2015 I also got involved in the London life drawing boom and went to as many sessions as I could for a few years. I really liked the different approaches of the groups, from traditional art nudes to burlesque and it was a brilliant way to loosen up even more as well as experiment with techniques and materials.

(Some highlights from my sketchbooks and life drawings have been collected into a series of House of Harley artbooks, available from https://houseofharley.net/shop)

So, I’d always kept drawing and posting examples regularly to my blog, and I developed a lot of different styles and approaches which I knew I wanted to put to use somehow. And life keeps coming up with stuff to respond to and comment on.

That urge to draw comics and tell stories had never gone away. On the rare occasions I had a day or two to myself, I would draw a comic strip just to prove to myself that I could still do it (and some of these pages ended up in Ugly Mug 5). But the ‘final straw’ that led to getting back into comics was turning fifty. I thought if I don’t get a move on now, I’ll never get back to it.

ZL – So why bring it back as a printed magazine, why not a website or e-zine?

Bob Lynch, Lightning

HR – I’ve always loved printed objects for some reason I struggle to pin down. Nowadays I spend too much time working on screens for work so digital comics hold no interest whatsoever for me as a format (however good the content might be).

ZL – Also, why continue with an anthology, what interested you in the first place about creating with others? I know back in the 80’s anthologies were much more common, but they’re quite rare now, and I wonder whether you thought about that when thinking about restarting Ugly Mug at all?

John Watson

HR – Well many hands make light work. I have a family, a day job and other commitments, so there’s only so much I can produce and I wanted this return to be a substantial piece of work. Beyond that it just seemed like a natural continuation of what went before.

ZL – Just to pull those two questions together a bit, was it more the fear of never getting to publish again, or a combination where; you’ve settled in your career, your family has got old enough to allow you time to undertake publishing? I guess what I’m saying is, is it just a matter that your age pushed you to it, or is it more that enough has changed to open your mind to the idea and your confidence in your own work is enough that it feels possible? 

HR – There’s never enough time, so it was a matter of finding spaces in the day to devote to the mag and then getting down to it. Other than that, there was a gradual accumulation of factors – most of which were nothing to do with comics – that led up to me thinking ‘I know how to do this’. 

ZL – I think we’ve also established my love of a two-fer, so, do you feel that being a part of an anthology gives a voice to a community? By which I mean that the grouping of like spirited works, works that are appealing to the central motivator (that’s you Harley in less obscure terms!) lets you situate your work within an artistic space? It’s like you’re carving out a space in existence not only for your own work but you’re also giving a home to the vision of your work by situating it with other works you want to see exist within the world. Does that make sense?

HR – I can’t say to what degree the artists featured in Ugly Mug comprise a community with a coherent voice. I haven’t even met half the people in the latest one. And the ones I do know, we disagree about lots of things. But I see what you’re getting at.

Mark Robinson, Martin Millard

Compiling the magazine is all very instinctive. I had a theme in mind for the latest issue which winds through it in different ways, but when it came to sequencing the stories, they fell into two obvious groups, so that’s how I organised it. This was totally unplanned and just leapt out at me when the final contributions came in. I’m not saying what those themes are, people will either pick up on them or they won’t and perhaps they’ll spot themes that I hadn’t even noticed. I like that creative serendipity and hopefully it means there’s more to Ugly Mug than ‘just’ a bunch of drawings and strips by people whose work I like. 

ZL – Just thinking about creators now and coming back to publishing, have you stayed in touch with your peers, I know you’ve said that you’ve not stayed current with other small press creators, but I wonder if there are a few that you are aware of and that you think share an aesthetic or creative spirit with what you are making?

HR – Yes. Ed Pinsent has always carried on making brilliant comic strips, but for a decade or so he and I made noisy improvised music together, recording albums and playing gigs as Mystery Dick (named after an old Dandy character). We also formed a trio called Pestrepeller with Savage Pencil. There’s some samples of our music on http://www.mysterydick.com/discography.html and we have two further albums in the can which I’m very proud of and still intend to get a proper release for. Also look out for Pestrepeller’s 40 minute cover version of the Bonzo Dog Band’s ‘Noises for the Leg’, coming to YouTube soon.

As well as Ed, I’m still in touch with many of the original Ugly Mug contributors and producing the new one gave me an excuse to track down some old friends I’d lost touch with.

But although Ugly Mug 5 featured a lot of familiar faces, I was determined that it would not be an exercise in nostalgia. All the artists have moved on in the three decades since the original run and their work has developed in different ways. The 21st Century Ugly Mug is a continuation of the little traditions we established back then but also contains, hopefully, a few surprises.

When I decided to revive it, I was watching Twin Peaks: The Return and I loved the way David Lynch and Mark Frost brought it back after a 25 year gap, picking up the story and producing something in the spirit of the original yet in many ways an evolution and improvement. Hence some of the Twin Peaks references that fans of the series may have spotted in Ugly Mug 5. And I also tried to emulate the show’s air of mystery and open-endedness. We need more of that in comics, and the world in general.

Other than that, I was thinking more about music like The Fall, B-52s, Sparks and Sun Ra. 

As far as other contemporary cartoonists go, I like the Hernandez Brothers, Ben Katchor, Robert Crumb, and Peter Bagge. I’ve just belatedly discovered Jason Atomic’s Satanic Mojo and I’m enjoying its totally un-PC British take on underground comix

I approached some interesting (non-comics) artists I’ve come across on social media about appearing in Ugly Mug 6 and I’m really pleased that most of them said yes. More about them in a minute.

I’m open to submissions too. Issue 6 came out in October and the intention from here on is that Ugly Mug will be an annual event. 

Some Ugly Mug contributors who are active online are Ed Pinsent, Chris Reynolds, John Bagnall & Savage Pencil

Ed Pinsent

ZL – Thanx for taking the time for this interview Harley, it’s been really interesting. Here at zinelove we always like to share the love, so this is your chance to drop three links for creators whose work you’ve found interesting recently and finally to plug anything else you feel needs plugging!

HR – Been a pleasure. 

I’m going to take the opportunity to mention a couple of artists who are featured in Ugly Mug 6 but, as far as I know, wouldn’t consider themselves cartoonists, so they may not be familiar to your readers.

Masaman is a mysterious and remarkably prolific Japanese artist who appears to spend his or her life posting bold and dynamic pen and ink drawings to Twitter (or perhaps they’re digital drawings, but I like the fact I can’t tell). Every time I look, there’s another addition to this crazy stream-of-consciousness visual notebook. The drawings are fascinating mashups of oddly designed monsters and semi-human figures, which could be made out of mud or jelly, with Escher-like visual conundrums.

Patricia Gaignat is a New York resident and enthusiastic participant in local art groups. She sketches evocative postcard-like nighttime scenes of quiet corners of the city, and fills folded paper booklets with drawings of the characters she meets in her art groups. These pen-and-ink folks all look the viewer direct in the eye, inviting us to join in the camaraderie. I think of them as the benevolent cousins of the Blue Meanies in the Yellow Submarine. She also draws lovely little nudes who look like they’re going to jump off the page and start frolicking around your kitchen table.

Patricia Gaignat

Finally, many of your readers will be familiar with Ed Pinsent’s comic strips, but perhaps not his role as a ResonanceFM DJ. His Friday evening Sound Projector radio show showcases experimental music from around the world as well as highlights from Ed’s extensive personal collection. Its motto is ‘Better listening through imagination’, a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorse and would apply to reading comics too. Many years worth of archives are available on the Sound Projector website, a real treasure trove.  

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2022


Mini Comix Co-Op – Danny Ferbert interview

You can find Danny on facebook

ZL – Hi! And thanx for agreeing to this interview

We’ll get into the details about the Mini Comix Co-Op in a minute, but I thought it would be good to get a little background on you first of all, if that’s ok?

Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you based now?

DF – I was born in Nashua, NH. I grew up in Florida, primarily Margate and then in high school we moved to Port Saint Lucie. I currently live in Joplin, MO. I’ve been here since 2012 I think. Still weird to me to realize I’ve been here that long.

ZL – What is your history with zines and mini comix?

DF – I have drawn comics my whole life. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do. I drew a webcomic in high school with a childhood friend. I did most of the work. It was a total South Park rip-off we made up when we were in 4th grade. We did 2 10 episode seasons and then I got burnt out by the 3rd season.

My first comic I printed was right after finishing high school. My friend and I put together a convention in Port Saint Lucie and I did a fan comic, or doujin of a manga called Genshiken back in 06. Printed 100 copies and sold zero. Lost all the books in a move shortly after moving. I have 1 copy. It isn’t good.

I joined the web forums Whitechapel and Gingerbox after high school and those were basically my schools I used to improve as a cartoonist and was shown about printing my own mini-comix. I printed 3 zines before moving to Joplin and I released an additional 3 zines very quickly from there. After printing the zines I searched for places to get more exposure through zine shows like S.P.A.C.E. and FLUKE and I discovered the mini-comix co-op.

ZL – I can’t believe that you lost nearly all of the copies of your first ever zine!

I think the experience of making a zine and then having nowhere to sell it may well have been a very common experience back then, without social media to help. I know I certainly had that experience, I made two and never sold a single copy and had no idea how to get them out to readers. I used to take them with me to the second hand book stall I worked at and no-one ever paid them the slightest attention!

By the time I found out about other zines that I could advertise in or contribute to I’d lost my confidence and given up on the idea.

I never really followed chat groups. I was nowhere near the internet at that time, so you’re part of a generation that had this much more interactive involvement with other zinemakers from around the world. How much do you feel that interaction fostered you and kept you making, or is it a more complicated picture of zine shows, letter swaps and forum friendships? I wonder if there are any groups where people network about zines in the same way?

DF – Oh yea. With my first book I was in high school and I didn’t know anything. I picked up little bits from the manga magazine Shonen Jump but it wasn’t until after high school and I started exploring being a cartoonist more that I discovered different tools to use and the forums were big in that. It also allowed me to collaborate with different writers and contribute to different things.

The internet is a different place now. You don’t see forums as much, there is reddit and Facebook and Twitter that have kinda homogenized the internet so you don’t have to go to as many places. I was big on Live Journal starting in high school and before that I just made my own websites and talked in chat rooms. The information is easier to access now though. You can just watch a cartoonist tutorial on YouTube now to find out the tools of the trade.

ZL – Did you regularly attend events before you Covid came along? How does it feel not getting to have those shows to go to anymore?

DF – I actually hadn’t been to a show in maybe 5 years before covid. I had difficulty with my home life for a while. My partner needed more of my focus so the art was coming out slower as I focused on life. I never completely stopped but I would have long stretches of no activity.

I have lots of social anxiety and I’m not a very good salesman so I was never that big in to selling at shows, but I knew it was necessary. It fills me with dread thinking about sitting behind that table by myself. Normally I would sell enough to cover my expenses. I plan to do a bunch of shows again when this pandemic is over and I have finished the book I’m working on.

ZL – I’m also interested in the fact that you’re linking yourself into the doujin culture around manga as I was reading about Comiket and how huge that fanzine culture and show is in Japan! That’s a zine show with ¾ of a million attendees!! Can you imagine something like that happening? 

DF – I’m still trying to visit Japan. I almost went right before the pandemic but due to some flight shenanigans I ended up stuck in San Francisco. It’s been frustrating. I also wanted to sell at a show there and I’ve looked at the applications for Comiket before to see if it would line up with my visit. I try to keep up with my zine making friend over in Japan, Ian McM, to see what shows he’s going to.

ZL – Circling back to the Co-Op, could you tell us a bit about what inspires you to run it, whether that’s a person, an ethos or a visionary utopian dream. Basically, I’m wondering what do you hope it will achieve and what triggered you to organise this?

DF – When I discovered the Co-op it was kinda defunct. Doug McNamara was running it but life happens and he didn’t have time for it. I emailed him interested in contributing and he told me he wasn’t really doing it anymore so I asked if I could take it over because it seemed like too good an idea to let die. He sent me all the books he had and even transferred the domain to redirect to the WordPress page I made.

I emailed everyone I had a book for who I could find online to let them know I took the Co-op over. I met all kinds of artists that way, like Everette Green who was running the Little Rock zine nite that I became a regular to and even designed a poster for. Unfortunately the show hasn’t happened for some time.

I liked the idea of the co-op because I think it’s an important resource for someone who is starting out. You mentioned earlier about not knowing what to do with your zines when you were starting out. I think a lot of people starting out don’t know what to do with their work and are just trying to get some exposure and make some connections. I get a lot of new zine makers, especially during the pandemic. I wish I had more resources to offer. I need to update the website with some of the new creators and stuff and I don’t really advertise the group that much. These are just the kind of things I struggle with doing for my own work. I can only do so much by myself.

ZL – Getting into brass tacks for a moment I thought it might be useful to get some extra details around the Co-Op. I’ve read the details on your site Mini Comix Co-Op and they make it clear, but I just thought it might be interesting to know a few extra things.

You mention only having to pay the cost of mailing comix but I was wondering whether that meant just the cost to whomever is sending their zine or whether there needs to be a contribution towards the return costs as well?

DF – A contributor only has to pay the postage to send their books in. I cover the cost of sending books out. I only get a few contributors a year so it’s not a huge burden on me or anything. I think it’s an important resource for the mini-comix community so I don’t mind.

ZL – If people did want to chip in towards the costs, is there a way of them donating towards those costs, do you have an account or are you happy to receive stamps etc?

DF – I have a PayPal ferberton@gmail.com. No one has ever offered that though. I just occasionally get extra books from people just for me which I appreciate as a comic fan. I just got a nice care package from Adam Yeater recently and Charles Brubaker is always sending me stuff.

ZL – You request at least 5 copies be sent in, does it have to be 5 of the same comic or can it be a mix of different issues?

DF – A mix is fine. The 5 is simply so that there is plenty in stock for the next contributors.

ZL – You also mention it being best to send 10 but are you happy to receive more than that and if not, is there a reasonable gap you’d suggest before sending in another batch, I mean, could you send in 120 and then say, send me 10 each month?!

DF– I have gotten some really big lots. There are only so many different books so if you contribute 10 books 30 times that’s 30 different books. I don’t know how many different books I have right now but that is pretty close. So I appreciate it if the book lots are limited and infrequent. 10 books once a year is more than enough honestly. I used to have a spreadsheet to keep track of who got what books so they wouldn’t get doubles but that laptop was stolen and I didn’t bother trying to make another.

ZL – Are there any types of content that you’re not willing to handle within the Co-Op and, on a similar note, are you happy to manage the content sent out to contributors if they let you know they may be triggered or offended by certain content?

DF–  I don’t put any limits on the artists like that. I’ve gotten stick figures, I’ve gotten gross out humor or graphic illustrations. I’ve never had anyone say they didn’t want any types of books but I’d be willing to cater to someone’s wishes. I don’t mind.

ZL – Taking a deeper dive and possibly stepping into controversy here, what do you class as mini comix, as within your remit and outside the remit? I mean, I’ve done what I class as a comic and it’s A6 in size but I’m wondering whether an abstract photo comic would be considered for inclusion in the scheme?

DF – I think “mini” comix doesn’t really describe what I accept. I want to share any work from any artist that prints their own work. I’ve gotten magazine size books. I’ve gotten hand drawn books. I’ve gotten photozines. If an artist is willing to take the time to make it and wants their book sitting next to other “mini” comix then they have a spot. I’m not super into a lot of rules honestly.

ZL – You’ve mentioned being happy to send work around the world, so I was wondering whether you had links to some worldwide creators that have been involved in the Co-Op?

DF – I don’t remember which one’s come from where so I don’t really know any, I just so happened to get a new mini just recently though that I am mailing out for now from @pkortjohncomix in the UK. It’s a fun mini, a French Ultraman fighting a giant monster. I remember doing something similar as one of my first comics.

ZL – It would be great to see what kind of comix you’re stocking right now, if you’re able to share any.

DF – Here is what I’ll be sending to that UK contributor. I try to give a wide variety of different creators and styles. Some of these artists I have multiple books from, such as from Brian Pepicelli who did the Fault Line book.

ZL – We have two traditions on Zine Love, one of which is to always ask people to share their love and tell us about three creators whose work they are loving right now. Who would that be for you?

DF – I haven’t been buying any new books recently. I’ve just been reading what people send in for the co-op and stuff I find in the dollar bins. Adam Yeater has been sending me some cool and interesting mini-comix lately. I always love getting a package from Charles Brubaker and seeing what he’s doing with his animation. Everette Green released a pandemic book and it’s as funny and gross as you’d expect from him. I’d also like to say my buddy Cameron Callahan has released his second volume to his anthology Built From Human Parts. Cameron is one of the first people I started talking to online who was making mini-comix like myself and we’ve been struggling through it ever since. He’s going to be taking a hiatus from his art and I know I’ve had to do the same several times, life just gets in the way sometimes. Get a copy of his new book while you can, lots of people worked hard on it. 

ZL – The other tradition is to always ask about what you’re up to right now and what you have available, so feel free to tell us a bit more about your own work?

DF- Last year I created a mini-comix for Halloween and this year I printed it with a new back-up comix added for Halloween with a sticker pack I did with my girlfriend. I’ve got a comic that will eventually maybe come out through a friend’s zine. Not sure when that’ll be. I am currently working on a submission for Antarctic Press.

Most of my books are still available on my website where you can also read the Halloween comic I made along with most of my comix that are in print are available on my website for free. I don’t work in any particular genre, you’ll find auto-bio, sci-fi, fantasy, humor, action, love stories, something for everyone.

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

Reviewer Revue – Nicholas Burman

Find him here – website

Header art by Sander Ettema

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott Zoe Thorogood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZL – Describe your approach to a review. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZL – Thanx so much for your time!

NB – And thank you!

all content copyright its respective owners

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

Find Ryan here Four Color Apocalypse Solrad twitter facebook

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

RC -My pleasure, thank you for the invite!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Shea-Wright’s Beach

ZL – Describe your approach to a review. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZL – Thanx so much for your time!

RC – Thank you, this was fun!

Reviewer Revue – Nyx (Sea Green Zines)

Find Nyx here – website webstore ko-fi youtube twitter instagram facebook

Header art by Wolfram-Jaymes von Keesing (twitter instagram facebook)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZL – Describe your approach to a review.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zine Review: Pieces #13 on being a romantic asexual  

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

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

ZL – Thanx so much for your time! 

Nyx – Thank you for inviting me to chat. ❤ 

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Reviewer Revue – Ryan (Pocket Thoughts)

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

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

RE – Hi, my name is Ryan, and I live in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.  I publish Pocket Thoughts zines and co-host the Zinespiration Chat with Craig [Atkinson] from Five O’Clock Zines.  It’s like I’m Regis and Craig is Kathie-Lee.  Don’t let him tell you otherwise.

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

RE – I think the first real Zinespiration chat was with Richard Larios from Feral Publication.  It was really rad, because after a year or so of reading his work and engaging in text messages via Instagram etc, it was just so cool to have a face-to-face video chat in real time. And really, it’s felt similar with all the zinesters I’ve interviewed since.  Like, how cool is that?

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

RE – I make a point of checking out any and all zines.  I personally find different kinds of inspiration from them, even if the content isn’t something I’d normally be interested in reading.  I love other individuals’ viewpoints, but also from a design standpoint, it’s neat to see someone else’s creative process and how they may approach an idea or topic differently than I would, or another zinester friend of mine would.

ZL – Describe your approach to a review. 

RE – The whole point of the Zinespiration Chat show is to show off and promote zinesters’ work to those who may not ordinarily discover them. Most important during the chat process is that the guest feels comfortable being there – ensuring ahead of time that we’re pronouncing names correctly, using their requested pronouns, and also pre-discussing any off limits topics to not bring up.  Otherwise, the goal is that we all have some fun and some laughs and let the zinesters’ personalities shine thru.

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

RE – A little research goes a long way.  Recently I had a band ask me to do a review of them in one of my zines, which is not something I do in my own zines, even tho there are lots of zines that specialize in rock-show and punk reviews as the meat and potatoes of the pages. I wish them all the luck in the world, but also, like, why are they asking me to review their band? I’m the dude who dressed up hot dog weenies in Halloween costumes, y’know?

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

RE – I dig ‘em all.  I just feel very fortunate to have gotten to know so many expressive and creative zinesters over the last few years.

ZL – Lastly, as Weirdo Brigade was an influence on how I’ve set this site up I thought I’d post this below!

ZL – Thanx so much for your time!

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Reviewer Revue – Micah Liesenfeld

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

ML – Sure! I love talking about comics.

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

ML – Micah Liesenfeld … I live in the city of St. Louis in the U.S.A. I’m publishing an anthology called “After That!” which is a continuation of Copy This! started by D. Blake Werts. The current regeneration is at issue 61. The site is here

After That! Is an anthology that interviews creators, but I have been funneling the actual “updates from the community” to Rick Bradford’s Poopsheet site to try and keep After That! publication costs down. Plus it helps keep the community of mini comics creators from becoming stretched too thin by having all these different places that essentially do the same thing.

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

ML – In 1994, I made a fanzine called “Pavement.” I was 17 years old. My reviews sounded like this: “Bone #14. If you haven’t read Bone, you’re nuts.” It was made on 11×17 sheets of paper and because it was in color, I’m sure I made only 1 copy… which I probably passed around at school and asked for my one copy back after people had read it. It also featured reviews about Star Trek and the Lion King. I was super cool.

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

ML – I enjoy “reviewing” mini comics and handmade books. Mainly because that’s what I make. I’m passionate about how a book gets made, so I really enjoy looking at the binding, the stitching (if any) and just looking the piece over that someone put effort into making both content and handcrafting the material.

ZL – Describe your approach to a review. 

ML – My style isn’t to critique. I like to “report” on what I’m seeing without adding my opinion about the work. Sometimes I can’t help sing its praises if it’s really great, but otherwise I don’t talk negatively about the work. I approach it as if I’m an archaeologist uncovering a time capsule and describing the artefact for my notes.

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

ML – When it comes to fanzines and minicomics, I don’t believe in gatekeeping quality. I’ll be happy to report on any little book regardless of whether the creator was age 5 or 95.

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

ML – I guess I liked this review I did about a pack of 5 minicomics I received from Mission Mini-Comix, because I was trying to carefully describe what I was seeing regardless of my lack of understanding about what I was seeing. Just because it wasn’t personally interesting to me doesn’t mean it might not be interesting to somebody else.

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

ML – Sure, here’s more specifically where my reviews are at on the Poopsheet:

ZL – Thanx so much for your time! Check out some of Micah’s other reviews here

A postcard submitted to Jessica Maybury’s postcard zine. 

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Small (press) oaks – John Freeman

John Freeman has an incredible history within the UK’s comic industry and continues to be a great custodian and supporter of its past, present and future. You only need to look at the end of this interview where he tells us a bit about himself to get an understanding of his involvement. I highly recommend Down The Tubes and it’s articles and reviewers, particularly if you love UK comics history or UK small press titles.

My own experiences with John have always been positive and friendly. He was very supportive when I launched a small Kickstarter for my comics anthology ‘The Seas’ and has always been very approachable any time I’ve contacted him. He is in all ways a professional and a gentleman. 

You can find John here: twitter downthetubes newsletter

Over to you John.

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

The first comic creators I probably recognised were those in the weekly 1960s comic TV Century 21, although few of them had a credit on the page. The main ones would be Frank Bellamy and Ron Embleton.

The Perishers
Jeff Hawke

However, I did know who drew my favourite newspaper strips such as The Perishers and Jeff Hawke. British comic creators rarely got credits in comics in the 1960s, although they had them in titles such as Eagle in the 1950s; rivals IPC and DC Thomson didn’t want them pinched. In the early 1970s, Countdown included credits and for me, Don Harley, Gerry Haylock, Harry Lindfield and Brian Lewis stood out alongside reprints from TV21.

Which creators do you remember first copying?

Bear in mind I’m perhaps better known as an editor and writer here rather than artist, but I drew very much with a nod toward Leo Baxendale and DC Thomson artists on Sparky when I did draw… badly, by the way!

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

I’ve never thought like that, a bit of imposter syndrome perhaps, although there have been times when I’ve despaired of a story or second guessed its plot and thought, “well I could definitely write that better!” I’ve gotten more intolerant of bad writing as I’ve gotten older. 

I find writing hard; as it should be, if it’s going to be good. At the same time, I’m constantly aware that you can spend too much time on a script, if you want to make a living you also need to know when to send it off and face the judgement of your editor!

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that the writers on comics such as TV21 and Sparky inspired me to write and draw my own comics from an early age. The editorial team at TV21 created a unified universe from the very different Gerry Anderson shows.

Writing advice from disparate creators such as Tom de Falco, Alan Grant, Paul Gravett, David Lloyd, Alan Moore, Richard Starkings and John Tomlinson guided my early writing, rather than influencing my actual writing; although I’m a believer in keeping panel descriptions succinct and trusting the artist rather than the old IPC format of “stage directing” every character in a panel. I’m happy if artists honour the invisible Z of comic storytelling, action running left to right through panels, first person speaking is drawn on the left and for goodness sake remember there will be word balloons and consider the top third of panels potential balloon space, and corners or dead space too, otherwise it’s your own fault if that beautiful background you decided to include gets covered up!

Which creators do you most often think about?

The ones working in a project I’m working on and making sure they’re happy with how things are going and also that they’re delivering on time.

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

I’m the founder of the comic news site downthetubes.net promoting British comics and the creation of comics, contributions welcome and donations via the site for the work welcomed.

I have worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years as , what I like to describe as a “freelance comics operative”, working as an editor, Creative Consultant and as a comics promoter. 

Initially working at Marvel UK, my editorial credits include titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, Star Trek Magazine, and comics such as Overkill, Death’s Head II, Simpsons Comics UK and STRIP Magazine. I also edited several digital and audio comics for ROK Comics, including “Team M.O.B.I.L.E.” (recently re-published in print by Antarctic Press) and “The Beatles Story”, and several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”. 

Most recently, I edited “Lost Fleet” and two Doctor Who mini-series for Titan Comics, both receiving critical acclaim.

My recent writing credits include re-introducing some classic humour characters to a modern audience in the “Cor and Buster Humour Special”, working with artist Lew Stringer;  and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable. 

Buster Cor 2019 Humour Special

I have also been writing a teaser strip tie-in for a new TV series, and working with Brazilian artists Wamberto Nicomedes and Rodval Matias on a creator-owned SF adventure, “Return to Planet Earth”.

I’m writing a mini series under Non Disclosure for B7 Media, who I worked with on the “The Dan Dare Audio Adventures”, to tie in with a new project. We also just launched an open call for art samples – here.

I’m still trying to continue Crucible with Smuzz – there’s an episode sitting there that needs lettering and it’s my bad that it hasn’t been done; and I’m having a great time working with Dan Dare and Thunderbirds artist Keith Page in bringing his marvellous “Charlotte Corday” stories to his fans, through Tapas, the most recent that’s complete being “Wonderbirds”. We’ve got some other stuff on the boil, too.


I also help promote the Lakes International Comic Art Festival which is virtual this year over 9th – 11th October 2020, and I’m working on a new gaming platform, a project that has been in the works for ages that I can’t say more about either!

In terms of myself? I enjoy reading, more walking since the Pandemic hit, our cats, time with my wife, decent telly, though I don’t watch much of it, and reading comics… when I’m not writing about them and their creators, which takes up more time!

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

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

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

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

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

Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure Steven Tillotson

ZL – Hi and thanx for agreeing to this interview!

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

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

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

I Love This Part Tillie Walden

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

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

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

A Projection Seekan Hui

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

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

A Quiet Disaster Alex Potts

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

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

Artifical Flowers Rachael Smith

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

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

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

On A Sunbeam Tillie Walden

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

Breakwater Katriona Chapman

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

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

Butter Tubbs Donya Todd

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

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

Days Simon Moreton

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

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

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

Deep Space Canine Comic Book Slumber Party

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

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

Victory Point Owen D. Pomery

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

Desolation Wilderness Claire Scully

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

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

Escape From Bitch Mountain Comic Book Slumber Party

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

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

Follow Me In Katriona Chapman

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

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

Goatherded Charlo Frade

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

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

A City Inside Tillie Walden

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

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

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

Metroland 1, 2, 3 & 4

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

Grey Area Our Town Tim Bird

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

Internet Crusader George Wylesol

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

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

Zebedee and the Valentines Abs Bailey

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

Ismyre B Mure

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

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

It’s Cold in the River at Night Alex Potts

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

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

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

Tower in the Sea B. Mure

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

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

Maleficium Edie OP

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

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

The Rabbit Rachael Smith

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

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

Marble Cake Scott Jason Smith

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

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

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

Mimi and the Wolves Alabaster Pizzo

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

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

Parsley Girl Matthew Swan

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

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

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

Permanent Press Luke Healy

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

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

Seasons Mike Medaglia

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

Walking Distance Lizzy Stewart

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

Retrograde Orbit Kristyna Bacynski

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

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

Something City Ellice Weaver

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

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

Swear Jar Abe Christie

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

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

Terrible Means B. Mure

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

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

The Beginner’s Guide to Being Outside Gill Hatcher

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

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

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

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

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

What We Don’t Talk About Charlot Kristensen

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

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott Zoe Thorogood

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

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

The Flood That Did Come Patrick Wray

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


Casey Nowak 

Patrick Kyle

Sophia Foster-Dimino

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

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

The Great North Wood Tim Bird

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

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

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

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


all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

the long list interview – Jog the Blog

As with many things modern in my comics world, I first learned about Jog from a link on Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter site. This was when Jog was on the Comics Comics site. 

For me, you can’t argue with the worth of Jog and his writing. I absolutely believe he represents the best of his generation in comics; diversely read, positive and generous in his attitude, unapologetic about his tastes, whilst honest about the merits of each work. Most admirable, I find, is the way he is so invested in communicating an experience rather than objectifying the quality for a work in competition with other works. That’s a rather contorted way of saying that he has no interest in building a canon or arguing ‘Best Of’ value, he wants to talk about what he sees within a work and puts it all in context to ensure you understand where his experience comes from, not to set works against each other.

A Jog review is an open discussion of the value he obtained and the issues he encountered when reading a work. It’s the tale of a quest, with the hero being the experience and the context given is the landscape within which that hero battled and grew. 

If you’ve ever read a review by either Tom or Jog you will possibly feel as I do, that it seems fitting that the former led to the latter. Both made reviews feel like free verse and sometimes stream of consciousness. They were never simply précis and quick judgement, they dug within the work and divined from its innards. What Jog’s works did was go deeper still and tell you what he felt and why, how that work functioned to elicit those responses. Critique not criticism and honest reflection not judgement. You learned as much about his thinking as you did the work dissected.

His prose was golden, where reading Tom’s reviews sometimes felt like drunken chats with friends, Jog felt like a guide describing the land he led you through, it’s history and geology, then telling tales around the campfire. 

What was best was that works both literate and crass were treated equally but their qualities were never equated, there was no argument that a crass work was art because he enjoyed it, there was no shame in liking trash and no anti-intellectual hatred of literature, everything that produced a reaction was worth it for that reaction, not because of how it personified Jog’s coolness. That’s why he is cool. 

It’s an aspiration of mine to achieve his spirit and generosity to all and everything, so getting to interview him is a satisfaction close to reading his work regularly and a huge honour. 

Find Jog on


listen to Comic Books Are Burning in Hell on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

How are you Jog?

J – Pretty good, just hoping I don’t have to do an interview today– oh fuck.

ZL – Ha!

I always like to start an interview by finding out where and when the person was born, where they were raised and where they are now. How about we begin like that?

Katzenjammer Kids

J – I was born in Pennsylvania to a middle-class family. I’m the oldest child. My youngest sister has kids now, very little kids, and I’ve been thinking about the role of adults in my early youth. I have been reading comics for as long as I can remember, and a very big factor in that was my mother’s aunt, who was basically my grandmother– my mother’s mother died when she was very small. Angie was somebody who read comics very keenly, going back to stuff like the Katzenjammer Kids, as it ran in the Depression. She was not an artist, or an academic, but she had the eye that develops when you pay close attention to a particular type of art. The first comics she would get for me were reprints of old Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse strips, which the publisher, Gladstone, had reoriented into comic books; I think she may have sensed the style of them as akin to those comics of her youth, in that she would always get me those before the Donald Ducks, or the other little kid comics. The propulsion of those strips was incredible – my eyes just flew along them, and I absorbed everything. I’d recite the stories later to kids on the school bus. I was six years old. 

Floyd Gottfredson
Mickey Mouse

I think I carry part of her with me; she’s been gone for a while now, but I’ve found that what I value in myself is a sort of intuitive sense in understanding the strength of images that I think she had as well. I’m not a trained critic. I never studied criticism in school – never took an English class or an Art class that wasn’t pressed onto me by a school curriculum. I went to Catholic schools until I was an adult – early on I was in some of those advanced placement programs that obnoxious people won’t shut up about online, but I burned out pretty fast; I almost flunked my senior year of high school. Then, I sort of just did what I wanted at a local Catholic college, studying politics and law, and I did so well that I got a scholarship to do postgraduate studies at a state school, which was nice, in that I didn’t wind up with six figures’ worth of student loans. I still had loans, but not nearly so much. I was completely mediocre at advanced academics, and I started working the first of several office jobs the moment I got out of school, because, well: you’ve got loans to pay off. But I’ve had it pretty good – I’ve worked full-time with no serious gaps since I stopped being a student, up through today. Knock on wood.

Recommended by Jog
Lale Westvind
(click image to go to buy it)

Anyway, my point is: I do not consider myself a professional writer, which is a specific and precarious trade, the situation of which can only be bettered through the solidarity and care of practitioners who navigate the writing trade to make their living. Only the most successful writers can earn enough to live on from one form of writing, so being a writer demands a versatility that comes from frequent, intensive work, and a great deal of legwork in hustling up gigs. In contrast, I am an occasional writer; I try my best to do no harm, and I offer whatever support I have to writers — I love writers, and I know a few — but I feel it is very crucial to understand the material differences between one who writes sometimes, to ‘express themself’ or whatever, and one who has made writing their job: you cannot traipse around stepping on the livelihood of others because you are a free spirit, nor should you wear the pretense of understanding the compromises and the struggles of writing as done by those who must write to eat, to sleep, to live. So, I do not fancy myself professional, though I do travel, sometimes, in the professional sphere, where I try to watch my elbows. 

ZL – I know you started off with your own blog on blogger, Jog the Blog, and I wondered why you started, what was it in your life that jelled at that moment in that way to start you off? I’m wondering back to an interview you did with Tom Spurgeon. In it you mentioned you just wanted a place to have the conversations you couldn’t with your friends as they weren’t interested in comics at all. I’m wondering, was that false modesty or honesty at that time,as in, do you feel like you were really hoping to roll it out into something more like the experience you ended up having?

Jeff Smith

JHa haa, it’s not modesty at all; after middle school, I just never had any friends who were interested in comics. We were all into movies, basically. But I was reading comics too. The only time in my life I ever really stopped was for a few years in high school; I was sick of superhero comics (the Clone Saga was going nowhere!) and I’d started spending my pizza delivery money on anime– I very clearly recall thinking as a teenager that anime was the natural evolution of comics, which was best left behind like a vestigial tail on the human embryo. But even then, I still read a few – my freshman year of college, Dark Horse started putting out the first phone books of Akira, and those caught my eye at the Waldenbooks at the mall. I’d sort of remembered Jeff Smith’s Bone from Wizard magazine and the back covers of Shadowhawk, and I’d never gotten to read that — the local comic book stores were very superhero-driven —

Chris Ware
Acme Novelty Library 4

so I mail-ordered a few of the trades, and I got ACME Novelty Library #4 as a free gift, and that really hit me hard. The only comic that hit me harder was this old Kitchen Sink anthology from the ‘90s that I found in a remainder store while on a family vacation to the shore: Twisted Sisters 2, all women. Very post-underground, and it blew the top off my head because I did not know comics could do things like that. Showing ‘pornographic’ things without wanting to arouse you; showing illegal, ‘bad’ things, depicting characters making bad choices – but not in the framework of a horror film, of a set narrative type with one of a few set denouements. Just being the thing, showing the stuff. Saying “this is it.” 

Twisted Sisters 2

Twisted Sisters broke the Taboo of Content for me. ACME broke the Taboo of Form, because those early Chris Ware comics, the stuff in the Quimby the Mouse collection, those tragic flowcharts of doomed love and death– it hammered into me that comics were a type of language, as opposed to an imperfect vehicle for delivering certain types of stories. There was a third taboo that was broken later on, but I’ll save that for later. Little cliffhanger, oooh! I’m Brian K. Vaughan!

I eventually got back into comics in a serious way because of Free Comic Book Day. Put me on the fucking website, I’m a testament. I’d read about the first FCBD, 2002, in the local newspaper, so I went to the Scranton comic book shop – Comics on the Green, still there.

Jim Woodring

The first year of FCBD was a little wooly – they weren’t just giving away the official books at the store, but a lot of their single-issue backstock, so I got a bunch of Jim Woodring comics, some weird items. I bought stuff too: a Phoebe Gloeckner book, because I remembered her vividly from Twisted Sisters; some of the Milligan/Allred X-Force issues, since I recalled Mike Allred from Wizard, and he was another one I’d never gotten to see up close. I came back the next week, and the next, and I just got back into comics in the biggest way, and I had absolutely nobody to talk to about it, so I did the natural thing for hopeless people and went online.

Phoebe Gloeckner
Rick Veitch’s
The Maximortal

I liked message boards. I posted on Comicon, the one founded by Rick Veitch– one of the random comics that caught my aunt’s eye back in the day was a Veitch solo issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so Roarin’ Rick had entered my life at age 9 or 10; glad he’s still kicking, very much enjoying his new Maximortal issues. I’d actually already been reading The Comics Journal – I saw an issue at Borders Books in late 2001, and I’d thought “oh, I used to like comics” and I understood maybe 20% of what was being written in that magazine, but I not only stuck with it, I started lurking on the shores of the lake of fire that was their message board. 

And, right around that time, in 2002, this guy Dirk Deppey started writing the Journal’s weekday blog, ¡Journalista!, and a very big part of his coverage was linking to various discussions happening among comics blogs. And, after a few years– I’d never actually connected with anybody on message boards, because those places tend to become dominated very quickly by superstar posters, and from there a hierarchy is established; lesser voices get ignored. It didn’t help that I tended to go long when I wrote, which made my posts particularly easy to scroll past. Starting a blog seemed ideal, because it could be my own little dictatorship, where I would control all the dialogue, where people would have to voluntarily come to me through the comments section, where all inter-blog communication could be done through tedious exchanges of small essays – it was like Camelot. 

I started Jog – The Blog in the summer of 2004. I was working a summer job in the office of a local politician at that time, and I launched my first post from one of his computers. He’s no longer with us, but I know it will thrill him in Heaven to learn that a great cultural boon was struck from misuse of official resources.

ZL – I started reading your reviews when you were on the Comics Comics blog where, it seems to me, your authorial voice was very much mature and fully formed. How long did it take for you to feel like you’d found your voice and what was it that marked that moment for you?

J – Well, again – like most writers-on-comics going back to the fanzine era, I don’t have any formal education in criticism. I think the first critical writing I ever saw was some of Harlan Ellison’s essays on media when I was maybe 14, 15 years old, and I was trying to read SF– the first writing I ever got paid for were really awful SF stories I wrote and sold online as a teen. I mean, prayers up to the editors who deemed me worthy of paying, but those were pretty bad stories. The best of them was about the effect motion picture editing had on the dreams of people in the very early 20th century, inspiring one man to subconsciously invent a jetpack of sorts, which he then uses to visit a famous filmmaker, whom he discovers has had his mind permanently expanded through prolonged sex with a tentacle creature from beyond the stars; have I mentioned I was watching anime? Steampunk hentai aside, movies were really the engine of whatever critical faculties I developed. As soon as my family got a computer with internet access, I was going around on horror movie sites and message boards, which eventually led me to the whole small scene of quasi-academic writing that surrounded UK publishers like FAB Press. My immediate ancestor in critical writing is a guy named Stephen Thrower, who used to be in the band Coil, but also ran a cult movie zine called Eyeball. I was a little late (and on the wrong continent) to get into any of that, but I did ask my mother to get me his Lucio Fulci book, Beyond Terror, as a Christmas gift one year, which– my parents are very supportive of me, but when my mother looked at the FAB Press catalog, she found it so pornographic and offensive that it actually sort of freaked her out. I mean, Harlan Ellison freaked her out too – there’s a lot of sexual violence in “A Boy and His Dog”, actually, so this wasn’t the first incident; she still got me the book, because she wanted to encourage me, but she pleaded that I not ask her to deal with FAB Press any more, because she personally could not bear it. So, from that day forward, I made sure to save my own pizza delivery money to send to Britain so the devil Harvey Fenton would not cast his shadow upon her again.

Justin Green
Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary

Beyond Terror rewired my brain. I’d read criticism, but that was the first book that made me think critical writing was something I’d like to do. Thrower’s way of creating a simultaneity of the artist existing both within history and within the confines of their own autobiography, while the work exists both within and apart from them, expressed in a very maximalist and obsessive, completist style, was attractive to a boy like me who always longed to understand the outside boundaries of whatever I was thinking about; to ascertain the system which contains the terrifying chaos of existing. As a child, I spent some years in extraordinary fear of God – I would compulsively beg Him to kill everyone with a wave of his hand, and then beg Him not to, over and over; it’s like what Alison Bechdel describes in Fun Home, but explicitly religious. Or, Justin Green in Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, but without the sexual element. I lived those comics, man. 

Seeing an author like Thrower, who dared desire to consider everything – it was profound. Nightmare USA, which he did later, is the best book I’ve ever read about film. More recently, he watched every Jess Franco movie, which is more than 200 feature films, and wrote two huge books about that. I’m not saying my work is really like his, but he’s the lodestone for me.

I didn’t really explore any past comics critics until after I’d started writing myself. Carter Scholz, who embodied the extremely specific and unsparing ideas of quality inseparable from The Comics Journal– Gary Groth invented that voice, but Scholz perfected it. His prose novel, Radiance, is the greatest work of fiction ever written by a comics critic. Or Bob Levin, who folds his writing about comics into these digressive personal essays that loop around and fold into the essence of the comics he covers; his was the blogging voice before blogging existed. I love his work very much, but I didn’t know him at first.

When I started blogging, I did it every day. Every single day, I posted some piece of writing, no matter how small. I think I went a little over 1,000 days without ever missing a post, and that’s really how I learned to write. It’s a cliche, but I only learn how to do anything by doing it; and, I was reading widely from basically every other writer-on-comics out there enough that I was able to refine my approach and begin to figure myself out. It helped a lot that I was a student when I started, so I had some free time to work with; I was able to apply the habits that I developed there to a world where I’d have to start working. And, obviously, I had all the advantages of being unmarried and childless — which frees up a great deal of time and money — and simply being a white guy, with the presumption of authority and insulation from abuse that still comes with that.

God, I was just looking at that interview I did with Tom Spurgeon– back then, I was waking up at five in the fucking morning every day to post my precious gems online. Rise and grind! Who the hell was that guy?

ZL – To jump around in time a bit here, what’s the timeline of Jog the Blog to Comics Comics and how did that all come about?

JThe thing with blogging is that it’s never just you for very long. There was a critic at that time named Alan David Doane – he was a controversial figure back in the day; Bill Jemas knew who he was back when Bill Jemas was running Marvel. Within a year or so of my first post, ADD asked if he could repost a review I’d done of a Kevin Huizenga comic, Or Else #2, on his site, Comic Book Galaxy. He was the first person who’d ever deemed my writing interesting enough to be seen outside of my own site. I started writing little reviews for his site too, and eventually I covered some stuff by the nascent PictureBox, which was Dan Nadel’s publishing project.

I reviewed Matthew Thurber’s Carrot for Girls on Comic Book Galaxy — I believe PictureBox had sent them review copies, and the site’s editor, Christopher Allen, had asked if I’d wanted to cover them — and one of their first large books, Paper Rad, B.J. & da Dogs, by the art collective Paper Rad, on my own site. This was all in 2005. 

For some reason, the way I wrote about those things caught Dan’s eye. Maybe because, in those days, people would still raise questions about whether certain books were ‘really’ comics or not; I recall when Kramers Ergot 4 had first come out in ‘03, there was a bunch of chatter on the TCJ board about whether these were truly cartoonists in the book, instead of gallery art and/or illustration people stretching the definition of comics past where form was truly interesting and vital. I think people similarly did not know what to do with Paper Rad, who had fingers dipped in video art, installations, etc. As it happened, I had a glancing familiarity with their video work from lurking on the Something Awful message boards — which were kind of a cultural hub at that time, because there was a lot of piracy in there — and I was able to put together some talk of their thematics as it applied to their comics, instead of fussing over how ‘comics’ the comics were. At least, I think that’s what happened. Maybe I’m just the only one on the internet who reviewed it.

Paper Rad B.J. & da Dogs

Comics Comics was initially a newsprint magazine with an online presence; Dan and Tim Hodler were the editors, with Frank Santoro involved as, I believe, an editor-at-large. They started off around 2006, but there were only ever four issues of the print magazine. Tim eventually asked me if I’d wanted to do something for them, so I was in issues #3 and #4 of the print magazine. These would come out years apart, it wasn’t a monthly thing. The Comics Comics website was initially a personal blog for the editors, but they gradually started adding more contributors; Tim eventually asked me if I wanted to be part of the site, so I started with that in 2010. I don’t recall if he specifically asked me this, but what I mostly did was transplant a weekly blog feature I’d had going since the beginning of Jog – The Blog, THIS WEEK IN COMICS! By that time, my blogging had slowed down, so I just moved the main recurring part of the blog over to Comics Comics; in that way, Jog – The Blog was absorbed into Comics Comics, in the way Comics Comics would very soon fuse with the TCJ website in 2011.

ZL – To keep going backwards further, how well did Jog the Blog take off? What was happening, if you can remember that far back, in terms of views, but also in terms of attention and other review opportunities that came about?

J – I made friends, which was the original goal. Many of the most precious people in my life I met through comics blogging. But the issue then, after you have made friends, is: what are you still doing? I would say that I greatly liked the very presentational style of communication blogging offered; I am very bad at person-to-person talking. I mostly just stay quiet. I really love to write, though, as hard as it is sometimes. When I’m writing, I very occasionally feel like I’m catching something foreign to the innumerable minutes I spend inside my head, like there is life and thought beyond what I can readily articulate by considering it. Plus, I’m very arrogant, and when I see nothing out there that’s interesting about a good book, I become like St. Paul, issuing epistles with eyes raised and spit spilling from my lips. 

As for attention, I was surprised that anyone thought I was a good writer. Like, my first big Jog – The Blog post was actually a post I’d first put on the TCJ message board about a Dan Clowes comic, and absolutely nobody had liked it there. Nobody had particularly liked anything I’d written on a message board. I think comics blogs just had a different readership – when I started out, it was still a small enough scene that you could read all the comics blogs; everyone sort of knew each other, even if they never wrote directly to one another. There also wasn’t a huge separation between readers and bloggers– even less than there usually is in comics. 

None of this actually lasted for very long. Arguably, comics blogging was already dying as a DIY thing at the time I started, but two factors really hit it hard. First, it’s an unpaid, hobbyist thing; people get older, start families, or look for opportunities to make money from their hobby, which typically doesn’t involve running a blog. Second, the whole idea of online as a mass of small scenes was starting to collapse; you can pretend you’re just writing because you want to write, but everybody does want people to read their stuff, and as options expanded, readers began to gravitate more toward group blogs– as, to be fair, they always mostly did with the larger generalist sites, a la Boing Boing or the AV Club. The blogosphere was thus invoked into the collective side-hustles of its denizens, and now there is no blogosphere – there are just blogs. This is a blog we’re on now. But a blog is now something that a social media platform must lead you towards, rather than acting as the platform itself.I collaborated with a lot of people. Brian Hibbs was very generous in letting me and many others write for the blog of his retail store, Comix Experience. I actually did an extraordinarily bad, juvenalia-laden column very early for about a year for an publisher-cum-online platform called Komikwerks – a guy named Patrick Coyle recruited me for that, I think only a few months after Jog – The Blog started. I have the weird distinction of having written movie reviews for comiXology, back when they were trying to have a CBR type of presence; before they were bought by Amazon and became like gods. And, quite early on, I think in 2008, I started to collaborate with Tucker Stone, who was a blogger whose site was rapidly turning into a compendium of writing and media. I am still part of The Factual Opinion today, via the podcast Comic Books Are Burning In Hell, which I do with Tucker, as well as Chris Mautner, a TCJ mainstay who has been a very dear in-person friend of mine for eons — I have literally watched his children grow up — and Matt Seneca, whom I met pretty much the moment he began blogging, at the age of 11 or something. I still envy his youth.

ZL – My perception of Comics Comics is that it was more than a site that talked comics and more a community shaped around an ideology or maybe more aptly, a perception and reevaluation of what commercial comics meant and what comics could be. Having said that, it was an online site, so it’s hard to know how much the contributors felt it was a community as opposed to a space they wrote in. Which is an odd way to shape a question, but a great way to make a statement!!

So, did you feel like Comics Comics was something of a community that supported a way of seeing comics that wasn’t necessarily well represented at the time and did it feel like you were actively a part of shaping it whilst also being supported by?

I’m asking because it seemed to bring that argument about comics more attention and those ways of looking at work, to me, seem more common now. I feel like Comics Comics and Dan Nadel helped cement a set of arguments about how skilled and mainstream work, non-literary and non-underground work that is, can still succeed in being fascinating and inspiring for those making work despite lacking greater depth to its content.

J – Comics Comics was very much a community – probably the first one where I felt entirely at home. But I did not feel I had much of a role in shaping its perspective, because I came in pretty late – quite a few years after Dan and Tim had started up. They’d been together at least since the first issue of their arts revue, The Ganzfeld, in 2000. I’m sure they underwent their own evolution, but by the time Comics Comics started up in ‘06, they’d already pretty much cultivated their perspective, which I now would broadly define as viewing comics through the lens of drawing, of construction, apart from what I will call “the tyranny of content”: the notion that what a comic is about, controls what it is. I might be guilty of historical determinism here, because I also see this a step in a process which goes back to Kramers Ergot 4 articulating the idea of the visual and textural as preeminent in comics above ‘literary’ qualities; and, before that, the Fort Thunder idea of comics as a divination of motion and place, which was itself paired with a radical rejection of ideas of property and permanence: those artists were settled as a community in an repurposed factory (from which they were ultimately evicted), and created comics that were sometimes strictly for personal or local distribution, until outside publishers like Highwater Books came around. Comics Comics I see as a broader manifestation of those ideas; inevitably broad, I think, because they were promulgated as much by curators and critics as by artists. Mind you, PictureBox’s actual publishing slate was considered very ‘experimental’ by the wider comics industry, and obviously there was writing there that considered qualities beyond the purely visual. And, I suppose there was also an embrace of the sensational qualities of ‘trashy’ or generic work that stemmed from the power of their making, which you still hear espoused on the popular YouTube channels of today.

So, I don’t think I helped shape any of that, because it was already manifest. I think I was considered sympatico to such ideas – if anything, I probably pushed it further into commercial, depoliticised territory by running a fucking shopping list column as the major part of my corpus. I think everyone who wasn’t there from the beginning was in the same boat; Jeet Heer evidently feels very strongly about a traditional sort of literary, alternative comic, or the good qualities of newspaper strips as hailed in the manner going back decades. I mean, if you actually look at interviews with Chris Ware, to give a ‘literary’ comics example, he talks as much about comics as musical composition than about writerly qualities, so none of this is very cut and dry. Dan loves a ton of old strips. 

But I did feel like I ‘belonged’ at Comics Comics in a way I’d never felt at other group sites, no matter how much I enjoyed being in those places. The unsparing ‘big tent’ quality was very exciting. Most group sites back then said they were being inclusive of the form — and most of them, I think, sincerely meant that — but much of the work that was posted boiled back down to superhero comics before long, because those are the comics that come out every week, with interlocking story parts to track, and a ready volume of allusions to study aloud. Superhero comics thus facilitate the most writing; theirs is the hegemony of volume. I mean, I liked a bunch of superhero comics; I wrote about them a lot in the ‘00s, but I wasn’t following them that closely– and, if you don’t follow them closely, you have to learn to tithe a bit of your mind to keeping track of the discourse, lest you begin to feel very aloof from comics itself. Comics Comics, for me, was a genuine break from that predicament.

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ZL – Considering how many venues you’ve written for and the increasing sense of history or wider community associated with those places like Comics Comics or The Comics Journal did you feel anything different about working those venues than you did work your own blog?

J – If it’s a new venue, at first I try to adapt myself to the general tone of wherever I’m writing; this usually lasts for two pieces, after which I either absorb everything into my own voice, or lazily revert to my starting position – take your pick. The few times I wrote for Comics Alliance, for example, I would think to myself: this is a much bigger platform than usual, so I need to think about how to adapt the topics I’m passionate about to what their very distinct readership will be interested in seeing. I wrote a Steve Ditko piece for Comics Comics and a Steve Ditko piece for Comics Alliance, and they are completely different things, because the Comics Comics piece was for a venue I’d been writing at regularly and had become essentially my online home, while the Comics Alliance piece was a deliberate attempt to articulate the appeal of Ditko’s later works in “Comics Alliance” terms. That turned out to be really a big tangle, and the editor, Andy Khouri, did a lot of work whipping it into shape, so it probably wound up even more a native Comics Alliance piece than I’d anticipated. Definitely, when I’m working in print– I feel the weight of permanence, and it takes a while to sort through that. Some editors have been kind enough to have me back several times in their publication: Zack Soto & Milo George in Studygroup Magazine; Zainab Akhtar in Critical Chips; Kristy Valenti in the Complete Crepax. I always like the pieces I’ve done in later volumes more; I need to find my groove.

Comets Comets was an artist group. It wasn’t just Blaise Larmee; I would associate Jason Overby with them just as readily. Their ideological dispute with Comics Comics was more fundamental; it was tied to their practice as artists, working in abstracted or prismatic expressions of life-as-experienced. They embraced pranks, trolling, and shock tactics as inseparable from human exchange as it exists online. Or, that’s my broad and reductive interpretation; they were obviously not a perfectly unified group.

Overby, I associate with print work and short comics isolating and distending aspects of the comics form — pages with just grids and words, or drawings that are just partial representative forms, ‘unfinished’ — much more so than Larmee’s all-encompassing media refractions. If you can find a copy of Overby’s book collection, The Being Being, it’s a very interesting snapshot of the experimental work happening in minicomics at that time – contra, I suppose, the analytic connoisseurship that made up much of the Comics Comics body of writing, or Dan’s particular interests in publishing visionary or very local expressions of comics via books-as-objects – your CF, or Leon Sadler, Yuichi Yokoyama. Or Frank. I don’t think anyone at Comets Comets even knew who I was – it was a difference of artistic values, and I’m not an artist. They were opposed to the Comics Comics idea, to which I operated as a corollary– as happens when you align yourself with a group. 

ZL – How did it feel when Dan and Tim shuttered Comics Comics and moved to TCJ? Did it come with a sense of success or progress or even just a sense of wider opportunities, or did it not really register as different for you? It must have paid at least, or not really?!

J – It was definitely exciting, insofar as Dan and Tim got to keep their promise that they were going to start paying me once some money had come in. 

Even more selfishly– this was not my first time around with TCJ. In 2004, the same year I started Jog – The Blog, Dirk Deppey (whom I first mentioned 90,000 words ago) became managing editor of the TCJ print magazine. And, one of the projects he really wanted to do was a special issue on the topic of shōjo manga – commercial manga for girls, which had already become a formidable presence in comics as read by young people. The problem was, not many among the Journal’s regular contributors knew anything about shōjo manga; it wasn’t exactly a typical TCJ fascination. So, Dirk put out an open call online, and the shōjo manga issue of TCJ (#269, July ‘05) also wound up being the It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of comics blogging in the mid-’00s. I was Arnold Stang. It was the first time I’d ever had any writing in print.

I really fucked up with the Journal. I did a few small reviews after that, in addition to the daily blogging and whatever other guest spots were on the agenda, and then Tom Spurgeon, rest his soul, decided that I should take over his regular column about superhero comics. I mean, I was doing a lot, why couldn’t I do that too? Turns out: I couldn’t! I just shit the fucking bed. The first column I turned in was so bad that Gary Groth overrode Dirk and refused to even print it. I got a second one out that was ok; that one saw print. And then I just never finished another one. I became totally paralyzed. I should have been ready, but I wasn’t. 

So, to the extent that anybody at TCJ even remembered who I was by the time 2011 rolled around — Dirk had left the print magazine in ‘06, and the Journal entirely in ‘10 — my name was in the ‘wash out’ column. The idea that I would then do 300 or so installments of a weekly column was absolute fantasy. I mean, writing a column for that long is hardly impossible; I’d worked as a local newspaper correspondent for about a year, around ‘02, ‘03, and there were guys at that paper who’d been doing weekly columns for 15, 20 years without flagging at all. CBR used to have columnists who dashed ‘em off for ages. I just figured I was a fuckup. But then I did it, because I figured out the secret.

ZL – I know I definitely liked seeing your capsule reviews and recommended buys, I felt like those capsule reviews were just perfect for your style and absolutely fascinating. It felt like you did a lot of leg work and research for those. Is that the case and what made you think of approaching posts in that way?

J – Here is the secret. THIS WEEK IN COMICS!, when I started it in 2004 on Jog – The Blog, was a completely utilitarian thing – it was just a list of comics that were coming out that Wednesday, which looked good. I used it as a reference for myself. When Comics Comics asked for me to bring it over to them in 2010, I personally felt it was too meager a thing to post on a site that wasn’t my own, so I started adding pictures or a little introduction on top of the shopping list. By the time the TCJ iteration rolled around in 2011, I’d formulated this whole idea, where the column would go in two directions: the top half would be a small essay on something I had read that past week (THIS [PAST] WEEK IN COMICS), while the bottom half would be the shopping list of interesting things that were coming to Diamond-serviced comic book stores that Wednesday (THIS [COMING] WEEK IN COMICS). 

But really, it was all a trick. The secret to getting the column done, I’d found, was (1) having both a regular deadline, and (2) having an assured subject matter. I’d realized I had both – the column (1) had to be out in time to be useful to readers, and (2) I could always guarantee that I’d have a list of forthcoming comics I could riff on. And, because of that, my mind was freed of all its complexes, and I was able to write and write and write in the top half, which was really the major body of my critical work for those six years.

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It took a while to do. Those columns took three or four hours to write – sometimes more if I really went off on the top half. I already knew a lot about what was coming out — I mean, comics isn’t actually that big a place, and by 2011, I’d read a really enormous number of comics, because I wasn’t watching any tv, or going to the movies much, or playing any video games, or really interacting seriously with any media besides comics — so I didn’t need to do a ton of research, although there’d always be a few things I needed to look up, in addition to the normal work of going through the release list and picking what seemed like it might be good. I cast a very wide net, and I tried to focus on new or unknown artists, or small publishers. But the top half was always absolute self-indulgence, beholden to nobody’s idea of import but my own. Tim was the editor, but he never told me what to write about; not even once. He just trusted me.

ZL – What did it feel like doing that work? Was it always satisfying or was there a mental or emotional toll? I guess that’s an oblique way to ask why you decided to step back, what was it that led to that decision, or was there just a path you walked that ended at a point as there was nowhere else to go?

J – Having said all that I just said, I eventually got to the place where I began to feel that the column had become counterproductive, if not actively harmful.

I mean, what was that column? A codification of comics that mattered, according to me. But: it wasn’t simply that, it was mediated by whatever Diamond was sending to comic book stores that week. By 2017, when I quit, this represented a very limited selection. In fact, I would say that years before that, the most interesting artists — the ones who would most benefit from the visibility a site like TCJ could offer — were completely divorced, materially, from comic book stores, and certainly from Diamond Comic Distributors. They were excluded from that on a systems level, because they typically didn’t have the money or access needed to hit the order minimums Diamond had instituted years earlier, partially in response to the ridicule Diamond would attract when they would arbitrarily refuse to carry art comics like some of PictureBox’s, because they didn’t feel those books met the format or the appearance of professionalism necessary to dignify American retailers. 

A column like mine could offer them access, but it didn’t, because I wanted to keep things predictable by drawing from a list of items that would probably show up in certain places, rather than throwing myself into the vagaries of availability or paying close enough attention to who had put new works up for purchase at their online store. So, in continuing the column as it was, I’d created a fake idea of “comics” that acted explicitly to preclude the more interesting and deserving works. And when you realize you’re doing that, you have to ask yourself: why am I continuing? Is it vanity? Do I enjoy the power of slamming the gate shut in working people’s faces? Do I just want money? I was making $50.00 per column, which comes out to about $2,500.00 per year, which is more than a great number of art comics practitioners make from their own work. 

What I had to learn is that when you are a critic, you are building a reality. The moment you release anything to the public, you are no longer writing all the rules: what others see you doing, is the construction of an ideal world, in which the things that are valuable in art are presented. Do you want this world, this ideal, the very stuff of this reality, to be mediated by those forces which act to exclude the liveliest of the art; to concede, implicitly, that this is the terrain of reality: capitalist peculiarities cast as laws of physics which comics must obey? When goofball journalists read ‘comics’ through the lens of superhero movies, that is exactly what is happening: the invocation of critical reality, defined by the desires of the market, so that the market becomes the same as the art. They are not the same thing. If I was a professional writer, subject to the compromises working people make to put food on the table, I would have a different perspective, but part of the deal of not being a ‘writer’ in that sense, is that I can just choose to do something else. And for a long time, I didn’t – and I realized that was abhorrent.

On top of that, I’d started to become very tired. It was taking me longer and longer to do the column – at least some of each one I would have to do between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, because that was when Diamond would finalize their list for the week. It’d gotten so that I’d go to sleep as soon as I got home from work on Monday evening, and then I’d wake up at 2:00 AM on Tuesday to do the column, and then I’d go to work after that. By the time I pulled the plug I was basically Julianne Moore at the end of Safe, and that definitely contributed to my decision to just shut the column down instead of trying to reconfigure or ‘reform’ it. I felt I could do better work by writing in-depth about works that I like in a focused essay format, which is where I’m at now. 

You can’t just think about yourself in this. You have to think about the effect you have on others, including those who’ve given their whole fucking lives to this thing, you know? You can’t pretend you’re alone, that’s like driving a car without ever turning your head. 

This is entirely my perspective, and it was my idea alone to quit. 

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ZL – What did it feel like doing that work? Was it always satisfying or was there a mental or emotional toll? I guess that’s an oblique way to ask why you decided to step back, what was it that led to that decision, or was there just a path you walked that ended at a point as there was nowhere else to go?

J – Having said all that I just said, I eventually got to the place where I began to feel that the column had become counterproductive, if not actively harmful.

I mean, what was that column? A codification of comics that mattered, according to me. But: it wasn’t simply that, it was mediated by whatever Diamond was sending to comic book stores that week. By 2017, when I quit, this represented a very limited selection. In fact, I would say that years before that, the most interesting artists — the ones who would most benefit from the visibility a site like TCJ could offer — were completely divorced, materially, from comic book stores, and certainly from Diamond Comic Distributors. They were excluded from that on a systems level, because they typically didn’t have the money or access needed to hit the order minimums Diamond had instituted years earlier, partially in response to the ridicule Diamond would attract when they would arbitrarily refuse to carry art comics like some of PictureBox’s, because they didn’t feel those books met the format or the appearance of professionalism necessary to dignify American retailers. 

A column like mine could offer them access, but it didn’t, because I wanted to keep things predictable by drawing from a list of items that would probably show up in certain places, rather than throwing myself into the vagaries of availability or paying close enough attention to who had put new works up for purchase at their online store. So, in continuing the column as it was, I’d created a fake idea of “comics” that acted explicitly to preclude the more interesting and deserving works. And when you realize you’re doing that, you have to ask yourself: why am I continuing? Is it vanity? Do I enjoy the power of slamming the gate shut in working people’s faces? Do I just want money? I was making $50.00 per column, which comes out to about $2,500.00 per year, which is more than a great number of art comics practitioners make from their own work. 

What I had to learn is that when you are a critic, you are building a reality. The moment you release anything to the public, you are no longer writing all the rules: what others see you doing, is the construction of an ideal world, in which the things that are valuable in art are presented. Do you want this world, this ideal, the very stuff of this reality, to be mediated by those forces which act to exclude the liveliest of the art; to concede, implicitly, that this is the terrain of reality: capitalist peculiarities cast as laws of physics which comics must obey? When goofball journalists read ‘comics’ through the lens of superhero movies, that is exactly what is happening: the invocation of critical reality, defined by the desires of the market, so that the market becomes the same as the art. They are not the same thing. If I was a professional writer, subject to the compromises working people make to put food on the table, I would have a different perspective, but part of the deal of not being a ‘writer’ in that sense, is that I can just choose to do something else. And for a long time, I didn’t – and I realized that was abhorrent.      

On top of that, I’d started to become very tired. It was taking me longer and longer to do the column – at least some of each one I would have to do between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, because that was when Diamond would finalize their list for the week. It’d gotten so that I’d go to sleep as soon as I got home from work on Monday evening, and then I’d wake up at 2:00 AM on Tuesday to do the column, and then I’d go to work after that. By the time I pulled the plug I was basically Julianne Moore at the end of Safe, and that definitely contributed to my decision to just shut the column down instead of trying to reconfigure or ‘reform’ it. I felt I could do better work by writing in-depth about works that I like in a focused essay format, which is where I’m at now. 

You can’t just think about yourself in this. You have to think about the effect you have on others, including those who’ve given their whole fucking lives to this thing, you know? You can’t pretend you’re alone, that’s like driving a car without ever turning your head. 

This is entirely my perspective, and it was my idea alone to quit. 

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ZL – What does it feel like having stepped back from that regular schedule and what do you do with all of that time you have now?

J – I was haunted for a while. My body chemistry had altered itself around my Monday activities, so there was literally a lingering physical effect for a few months. And I felt some regret – I’d post a tiny mini version of my column sometimes on Twitter for a year or so after I quit, because I’d feel, compulsively, like I was letting good books sink into the abyss without anyone mentioning them. This messianic impulse is neither healthy nor productive, and I’ve tried since then to focus on doing what is more useful: running my social media accounts with a lot of links and (hopefully) useful words about interesting artists; writing in a purposeful and focused way.

I had a dream around the time I quit.

I dreamed that I was in a casino by my parents’ house. Grant Morrison was there, giving a talk in one of the lecture rooms. I started playing with my phone, and I did not notice that the lecture had ended until Morrison came up to me. “I haven’t seen you writing much lately,” he said. I wrote a lot about Morrison on Jog – The Blog, but I have no reason to believe that Grant Morrison has ever heard of me. “I’ve been very depressed,” I said, “and I haven’t been writing at all.” I had never told anybody about being depressed; I’m not even sure if I was, but I told this to Grant Morrison in my dream without any hesitation. “I understand,” he replied, touching my shoulder as he left.    

ZL – Do you ever see yourself coming back to those schedules and venues or taking something up more involved again? 

J – Oh, I’ve gotten the itch a few times to start a Patreon, but I suspect I’d burn out quickly and disappoint everyone. Who knows what’ll happen in the future, though? Maybe I’ll start streaming video games while reading aloud from back issues of the International Journal of Comic Art. I think that would really dazzle everyone, and restore comics to the circulation numbers of 1952.

ZL – Podcasts about comics really seem to be the new blogs and I wondered what the appeal of a podcast is over a written piece and whether you think a podcast can be as valuable for deeper consideration than those written articles?

J – The appeal of a podcast is that it is 1,000,000,000,000% easier to talk about something than write about it. Even in the first few episodes where I was scared out of my mind about speaking, I still knew that what I was doing was way fucking easier than even the shortest column I’d write. I mean, you can make podcasting harder – you can really produce the thing, and do scripted segments and have pro radio shit like ‘planning ahead’ and all that, but my ideal of podcasting is to create a document of a conversation between people, which you then push out into the ocean in your little bottle.  

But, I really need to make something clear about Comic Books Are Burning In Hell; I’m like Krusty the Clown, you know? I roll in, do the part, shake some hands, and it’s back to the limo (i.e. my gaming chair). Tucker does the production work on the show, like the posting of it, and the audio effects, whatever editing is necessary – keeping track of what’s what. Chris and Matt do the recording sometimes, they contribute stuff. Besides making declarations about what we should talk about, I contribute nothing; I think the only time I had anything to do with the actual recording of the show is one time I did an episode that was just me giving a monologue, and even then Tucker had to add in the songs at the beginning and end, and actually put it online. So, it’s very easy for me to sit here like a jackass and say podcasting is easy… but it’s definitely easier than writing, gimme a break. 

Plus, I get to hang out with my friends, which takes us back to my original blogging impulse. As far as the external value of this, I think hearing a number of different perspectives bouncing off one another is compelling in a live-recording setting in a way that dueling or complimentary essays probably aren’t, because you have the immediate reactions, the little tests of perspective – or the building of ideas quickly among people. And, there’s the parasocial aspect too; we didn’t do the show much in 2018, 2019, but the pandemic got us started again because we really wanted to be with each other — to be with other people — and I’ve heard that listeners really enjoy having us around as the social program has become more constricted by necessity.    ZL – What would be your ideal role in comics, if you could have any you wanted? I’m really intrigued by this because, unlike many critics and reviewers you genuinely don’t seem to be interested in rolling it into a creator gig in the industry.

Recommended by Jog
Andy Douglas Day
Boston Corbett
(click image to go to buy it)

There’s something about comics that sort of implies that if you think about these things it’s only because you want to be a part of those things. I think that probably has to do with the history of many commentators and much of the modern Western industry, well at least US and UK industries, coming from a fan, and fanzine more specifically, background.
There’s no criticism implied in this, I’m very much a creator that also reviews and some of my favourite creators are also my favourite reviewers, like Sarah Horrocks or Frank Santoro.

J – This goes back to what I said earlier about not being a professional writer. Not to impugn the power of fiction in our lives, but a job writing comics is really not very different from a job writing nonfiction, in the wide view. I think there is the lingering sense among genre comics readers that a gig writing comics is the awesome apex of a creative life, and while it’s possibly the great ambition of some of those practitioners, it is fundamentally a Writing Job. You hustle up what assignments you can, until you are maybe, hopefully, someday in the place where people come to you with gigs. You do your best; maybe sometimes you get outside your own head. It is magic, but you still exist in the world of economics – painfully so in the United States, where there is less aid for those deemed unproductive.

I have never been part of that world. I don’t really long for the golden idea of writing comics, because I’ve never been part of that broader trade. I do demand payment when I work for someone who’s not a close friend, of course – if you’re throwing your work out there for free you’re fucking over the people who need the money to live. I believe that solidarity is crucial, as paying gigs continue to shrink.   

ZL – What, if anything, do you think unifies the works that you enjoy, is there any one thought or feeling that you could pinpoint to say, that’s the kind of thing that’s going to mean I enjoy something, or is it more a matter of a work hitting at the right time and place and maybe another occasion it wouldn’t have felt the same. I guess, what I’m asking is whether there’s something, say, spiritual, attitudinal or aesthetic or just a vibe that a work gives off that you can sniff out and know you’ll enjoy it before you’ve even cracked it open.

J – On a recent podcast, Tucker told me that I tend to value works that communicate a total worldview. Which is to say, comics that evoke an entirely personal means of processing the stuff of reality. It’s funny, because I usually find myself addressing both the inside and the outside of a work: that which I feel is crucial about how the book operates. Sometimes, this branches out into a larger point about the surrounding context – “the critique of wisdom,” which addresses the manner in which a work is positioned in ‘comics’ and how its operation departs from the manner in which it has been plunked into the stream of commerce. Often, works have qualities that defy the manner in which they are contextualized, which I find to be a useful means of focusing attention on the work itself – demonstrating how it defies the categorizations forced upon it. Absolutely, you must never, ever just talk about the context; the context must be a means of drawing attention to the true qualities of the work, or else you’re just farting in the direction of marketing, and contributing to a managerial system that rewards connoisseurship and clever framing without necessarily benefiting the understanding of art, or the situation of artists.

Or, I could just become absorbed in detailing the cadence of the thing; the way it enunciates, it sings.  

ZL – Do you ever want to come back to maybe go deep and do something really rich, a book or a retrospective of a creator – I just imagine you getting to do a monogram series for maybe 10 creators where you really put them in context historically and do some heavy dives into their work. 

J – I’ve had a few informal deals to write small books for small publishers in the past, and I’ve always dropped out at some point in the process, because I don’t have the discipline to write very far into five digits. I become very negative about what I’ve written if I let it go for too long without posting it or turning it in for publication – and then I get caught in endless revisions. If I was a professional I’d have had to get over those neuroses, but as it is I’m limited in how long a piece can get before I decide it’s actually shit and I want it dead. It is such a blessed relief to reach the end of something! I think to write a book I’d have to just agree with myself to lock what I’ve written in a chest and force myself to move on; to force myself outside of my own head. Or just construct something of many small parts. Like comics are constructed, I suppose. I’d like to write a book. Somebody might find it in the future, and realize that I was once alive.

ZL – On  zinelove we’re all about sharing and context, so I wondered if there are any peers still active you feel you like to recommend to our readers?

J – If we’re talking about my contemporaries, the spirit of comics blogging is most alive today in Tegan O’Neil. She started out a bit before me, and still works in a very strong, unique voice that marries a comprehensive grasp of history to personal fascinations – with a rigorous skepticism of what informs those fascinations. Her piece on Tom King from last year is the best writing I’ve seen about the tricky character of ‘quality’ writing in corporate superhero comics, with all the baggage that comes with merely being a corporate superhero comic. Her blog is here, and her Patreon is here.  

In terms of critical peers of today, I’ve been really fascinated with Bubbles – it’s a very lo-fi print zine with an extremely specific point of view: art comics and weird manga. There’s long interviews and tons of short capsule recommendations, but it’s the totality of it that I really enjoy. Their whole crew is different from the usual people you see writing about art comics and manga online; it feels like a genuinely unique gathering of firm perspectives, which is really necessary if the critical discourse is going to go anywhere valuable. There are really good writers on TCJ too, though. Very recently, Helen Chazan wrote this terrific piece on an awful-looking Stan Lee biography from a major academic press, picking apart how even prestigious considerations of Stan the Man repeat the same old promotional cliches he wrote for himself decades ago – a critic who can offer sobriety on this topic is rare and valuable. I also love seeing Austin Price write about manga; his review of Taiyō Matsumoto’s recent work was some of the best stuff I’ve seen about an oft-mentioned artist who is not always treated with depth. I really hope he continues.    

And, I want to shout out my friend Sean McTiernan, who is my favorite podcaster in the world (discounting the pantheon of gods who record with me, of course). He’s a very refined comics reader, but his podcasts are fixed series about types of media that he finds interesting – right now he’s doing one short (20-40 minutes) episode every day in October, working through found footage horror movies. He has a fantastic episode on the old BBC1 hoax newscast Ghostwatch; how it both evokes the texture of British newscasting to unsettling effect, and also folds into its story the very sensational, fear-mongering reportage on sex crimes in British media as an unspoken, maybe unconscious firmament for its narrative. Hundreds of Pixelated Dead Bodies – great shit.      

ZL – Last question! Could you name one creator or creation you think has gone unrecognised that deserves some love?

J – The third taboo that was broken, back when I got back into reading comics — after the Taboo of Content and the Taboo of Form — was the Taboo of Quality. 

Right after I’d gotten back into comics, in 2002, the Comics Journal released the second in a line of LP-sized themed specials: Cartoonists on Music. There were articles in the front half, and then lots of new comics in the back, presented in that large, square format. I’d heard of a few of those artists, but the one that really caught my eye was this guy named Gerald Jablonski, who filled the entire fucking page with what had to be 30 or 40 tiny panels, absolutely stuffed with dialogue emitting through wild curly word balloon tails from tiny characters. What the fuck was that? I mean, what the fuck, I couldn’t read it!

Gerald Jablonski
Cryptic Wit

Not long after, I noticed an advertisement in a normal issue of the Journal for a solo comic by Jablonski: Cryptic Wit #1, which he had published that year with a grant from the Xeric Foundation (one of the few comics-centric artist grants, now sadly gone). I sent in a postal money order to his address, and he sent me back his comic, which was absolutely nothing but the same types of comics I’d seen in that Journal special. Every page had 27 or so panels, and panels had upwards of 50 words of dialogue each, unless they had absolutely none for dozens at a time. Every story was exactly one page long, and each of those pages concerned one of three scenarios: (1) a boy and his uncle who argue about something through prolonged, pun-laden exchanges, absolutely each and every one of which ultimately reveal that the boy’s teacher at school is an ant; (2) barnyard fables involving talking animals which are typically overwhelmed by the narration of Farmer Ned, who has a very low opinion of the state of the world and a very high opinion of the quality of his own storytelling; and (3) wordless, psychedelic battles between angelic and/or mutant boys.

This was, almost exactly, the wrong way to make a comic. If you’re doing a funny comic, you need a precise trajectory for the gags. If you’re doing a narrative comic, you’re supposed to strike a prudent balance between words and pictures. Everything about Cryptic Wit was utterly counterintuitive to any idea I’d ever had about how a comic was supposed to work – and I fucking loved it! I was completely enthralled! And I realized, eventually, that it was both extraordinarily weird and hyper-normal: a series of jokes, of exchanges, piled into a staggering accumulation of information.

And I realized, then, that one can absolutely succeed in failing to obey the rules of presumptive interest.

Gerald Jablonski has released exactly four comics: Empty Skull Comics (Fantagraphics, 1996); Cryptic Wit #1 (self-published, 2002); Cryptic Wit #2 (self-published, 2008); and Cryptic Wit #3 (self-published, 2012). A collection of some of the Cryptic Wit stories was subsequently presented in a very large format, in a book titled Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn (Fantagraphics, 2017) – my pull quote on the back of that is the proudest I’ve ever been of having my words plastered helplessly upon the work of others. 

I have no idea what the artist is doing now, because he isn’t online. When you’re online a lot, you begin to feel like in order to exist, you have be there all the time. I was a blogger; I was online every day. I still am. You’re encouraged to be available at all times, if you’re a writer; you’re told you need a social media presence, because that’s how you promote yourself. To let everyone know you’re relevant and working. If you skip a day, everyone will forget you. You’ll die. In fact, you’ll have never even existed, your bones washed away by the tide of content. 

But I know Gerald Jablonski is working. I know plenty of artists are out there working. And I want them to know, in an interview they’ll never read, that I fucking know they’re alive and I believe what they’re doing is good. I am very content with shouting into the abyss. 

I was a blogger.     

ZL – thanx for all your time answering these questions!

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

I was a blogger.     

ZL – thanx for all your time answering these questions!

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

the short list – Miguel Correia – Portuguese zinester

Miguel Correia

editor and publisher of Fanzine UltraViolenta

Find Miguel here

website           instagram         facebook

UltraViolenta is  35€ per 5 issues bundle on sale here 

How long have you been publishing zines?

Fanzine Ultra Violenta is an artistic fanzine founded and edited in Portugal by art director Miguel Correia since the beginning of the astonishing year of 2020.

This visual and conceptual exploration project brings together several artists, most of them from Portugal, but also from around the globe.

To this moment the collective consists of 28 artists and we believe that by the time the 12th edition is issued they will amount to 50.

So far there are five issues available and numbers 6 and 7 are already in the editorial stage. 

What do they include?

Each edition has a unique theme and compiles the works of up to five artists from different artistic areas. Each artist will freely interpret the chosen theme. On each edition the artist is given a textured and coloured sheet as a means to entice the creative process as well as to create an editorial guideline. There are no additional briefings or any other conditioning to the artists’ process apart from the given sheet.

The final results have been rather expressive and varied with compositions ranging from the punk and grunge culture to the urban graffiti culture, and even extending to the Dadaist movement’s manifestos. 

Themes for each issue have been 

Issue n1 -Fevereiro 2020-Theme: Eat

Issue n2 -Março 2020-Theme: Dream

Issue n3 -Abril 2020-Theme: Pandemic

Issue n4 -Maio 2020-Theme: Mutant

Issue nº5 -Junho 2020-Theme: Poison

Designers include Miguel Correia, Joana de Matos, João Tiago Fernandes, Nélia Costa, Vasco Cardoso, Inês de Carvalho, Pedro Marques ( Piteko), Vera Barbosa, Nevio Buzov, Isabel Nunes, João Cláudio Larraz, Ana Calisto, Marcelo Ribeiro, Luisa Maria Benito, Joseph Simão, Lara Teang, Luis Miguel Delgado, Arianna Picoli, Álvaro (Alph) Ferreira, Kali Kali, Ogata Tetsuo, Raquel Barrocas, Nuno Freire, Anna Klos, Elias Marques, Lydia Swinney, Sérgio Correia and Jorge Tavares.

What inspiration made you start?

This project takes us back to a pre digital time, a time where information was scarce and transmitting it was best conveyed through these fanzines, thus, making them the preferred method of divulgation of a given ideology by artists, music bands, photographers, writers and illustrators. Fanzines are mostly self-published and they are created using simple production methods in which artists make use of a myriad of different techniques. From photography, drawings, collages and cutouts to the use of risographs and even taking advantage of the iconic Xerox printers’ very unique expressiveness. All these were used to create a new form of transmitting art, a form that people could share between them and through which they could assert and discuss opinions on a given matter.

What inspiration keeps you going?

Fanzine Ultra Violenta’s goal is to encourage this form of artistic expression and to enfold the participating artists in a creative process of sharing and experimenting.

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the short list – Eduardo Cardoso – Portuguese zinester

Eduardo Cardoso

Publisher of Perseus and Atmosfera explosiva

Find Eduardo here

website facebook instagram   octodon   IUOMA

Thanx to Miguel Correira for organising and translating this interview a version of this interview in the original Portuguese can be found here

How long have you publishing zines?

I’ve been publishing zines for around 10 years.


What do they include?

They include collage, poetry, found poetry, etc.


What inspiration made you start?

Artist books. DIY and Mail Art publications.

What inspiration keeps you going?

The love for books and small publications. Mail Art.



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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

the short list – Rodolfo Mariano – Portuguese zinester

Find Rodolfo Mariano here

website         instagram

Thanx to Miguel Correira for organising and translating this interview a version of this interview in the original Portuguese can be found here

How long have you been publishing?

My first comic book/zine was self-published in 2012 while I was in art school, 12 pages of cheap drawing A4 paper, xerox printed.

My latest comic zine was printed and published last July, 36 pages, colour covers, professionally printed.

What does it include?

For a long while I’ve had my work featured in some zines made by other artists, small illustrations, covers, drawings and sketches… However my main activity, the heart and soul of my artistic work, was making comics using traditional media (pen, pencil, brush and india ink). 

What inspiration made you start?

At the time I was yearning for being able to design, print and publish my own comic books, my own titles and projects. Simultaneously I had another goal too, I really wanted to reach an audience because comics themselves tend to beg for having readers to whom books/zines/objects are small treasures. In Portugal there’s a tiny indie small press scene, which I’m still learning the ins and outs of, it was a very pleasant surprise back when I’ve started printing and selling my own books/zines getting to know such an awesome community. Since then I’ve been making friends and slowly growing my audience along the way.

What inspiration keeps you going?

I love the freedom to plan, create and publish my own comic books and be able to reach multiple audiences while growing as an artist and be part of a creative, open-minded, diverse community. Overall print as a medium with all it’s character and apparent limitless possibilities suits me and my creative process very well. There’s a long road ahead full of wonders, there’s no reason not to keep going.

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

the short list – Matilde Horta – Portuguese zinester

You can find Matilde here

online store          portfólio          instagram

Thanx to Miguel Correira for organising and translating this interview a version of this interview in the original Portuguese can be found here

Queens of Portugal

is the first fanzine I did with my 15 year old sister. We decided to make a project based on the things we’re both good at: Illustration and History. The idea of this project is to explore and show in small condensed booklets some topics from the History of Portugal that people know less about (or just things we love and want to share). Also to teach kids in a very short and illustrated way. The first edition was a success and we even did a second edition that is currently sold out. 

Who published it?

Me and my sister Maria did it all and published it ourselves

How long have you published it for?

We first published it in February 2020.

What does it include?

The book is a compilation of both illustration and text about history.

What inspiration made you start?

I wanted to draw queens’ portraits and my sister loves history so we combined both!

What inspiration keeps you going?

Our inspiration is mainly fun and knowledge. Still, we love the feeling of teaching our readers in an easy going way. Keep on researching about history and keep illustrating cultural artefacts and things we know that are important for our country, culture and for what we are.

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the short list – João Oliveira and Guilherme Ferrugento – Portuguese zinesters

Find João here

website               instagram

Thanx to Miguel Correira for organising and translating this interview a version of this interview in the original Portuguese can be found here

João Oliveira and Guilherme Ferrugento, authors of

Spooky Action At a Distance I

How long have you been publishing it?

The first edition of the zine was published in January 2020. It will be an annual publication with the next one to be published in the end of 2020 beginning of 2021.

What does it include?

Einstein’s ‘spooky action at a distance’ theory referred to ‘quantum entanglement’, which states that the measurement of one particle will instantly influence another particle, regardless of how far apart they are.

The idea of the publication was for each one of the artists to produce an image on alternate days as a way to inspire each other to draw more. Each image could take no more than 20 minutes.

The images would then travel back and forth between Brussels and Coimbra through the magic of instant messaging.

The drawings were then selected amongst nearly a hundred made between November 2018 and June 2019.

What inspiration made you start?

We used to push each other to draw during Uni and when we went our own ways this was how we managed to keep inspiring each other despite the physical distance.

What inspiration keeps you going?

The ability to stay connected through our art and to take a peak at each other’s way of seeing and representing the world. 

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the short list – Portuguese zinesters

On our zinelove chat facebook group Miguel Correia has been regularly posting links to his zine UltraViolenta. On the back of what he was doing I tracked down a group for Portuguese zinesters and asked to join. Miguel politely said it was there to help build a scene with Portugal and, being the nosy sod I am, I got to chatting with him about what it was like there at which point he kindly offered to float out a set of questions to his group and see what came back.

I asked a rough set of questions –

Who publishes their work?

How long have they published it for?

What do they include?

What inspiration made them start?

What inspiration keeps them going?

It turned out to be pure gold. We’ve got five great zinester interviews lined up for the week, all of which feature work that I would dearly love to own myself.

Hope you enjoy them all, AND if you are a Portuguese speaker you can visit these interviews over on Miguel’s site in it’s native tongue.

I’d like to give a thank you to everyone that has contributed to this and an even bigger thanx to Miguel for organising and translating these interviews. I hope you enjoy this work as much as I did and that you go an seek these peeps and their work out.


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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

Small (press) oaks – David Robertson

I know the name Fred Egg Comics better than I know the name David Robertson, but only because I’ve seen his comics mentioned by many of the people I follow.

What’s fascinating about David though, is that, as well as making comics, he talks and thinks about them and has a cultural reference more deeply steeped in fandom than mine. In fact, some of his strips drawing on sci-fi and Star Wars fandom are some of my favourite strips of his. You should check out his work as it’s very personal but very personable.

I’ll also add that he collaborates with some very good artists.

Fred Egg Comics logo

You can find David here

website        shop          blog          twitter

you can also find him on Comichaus if you subscribe

Over to David

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

Comics creators have a tradition of being minimised, if not made completely invisible, by the publishers of their work. So, the comics I would enjoy from companies like IPC and D.C. Thomson would pointedly not tell me who had done the work I liked, certainly in the 1970s. I didn’t have a name to attach to the style. So, it may be someone creative in the pop music field. I always loved music and was a big fan of The Police, getting all their albums for birthdays or Christmas as they came out.

The Police
The Police

Which creators do you remember first copying?

I was a big reader of Eagle and Starblazer comics and was fascinated by the extreme colour and shading contrasts, especially in characters’ faces, in the work of Ian Kennedy.

Dan Dare art by Ian Kennedy
Dan Dare art by Ian Kennedy

I also loved the comics of Jack Kirby, including his late 1970s Captain America and early 60s FF and Incredible Hulk, which were being reprinted in the UK.

Jack Kirby

I specifically remember looking at how Kirby drew fingers and copying that. Lastly, I used to watch Bugs Bunny and Danger Mouse cartoons on TV, drawing the characters from what was shown on screen. This was before the days of video and DVD, so you had to try to grab what you needed in a hurry.

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

I never thought that about any creator. I liked certain artists but didn’t think I would be as good as them. More the opposite, actually. I was obsessed with Al Williamson’s art for years (still am), and for a while was always trying to reach his style.

Al Willaimson
Al Willaimson

I realised all I could manage was a subpar version of what he did, and really even if I did manage to be “as good” as him – I would just be a Williamson clone. Trying not to be as good as other artists has allowed me to draw in my own style.

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

When I see good writing that ties story points or themes together in a good way, I get inspired. Sometimes I’ll be watching a programme on TV or reading about a group of people making something together, working hard on it, and I think I’d love to do something like that. Recently it’s been a documentary of making Blade Runner and reading Steve Howe’s book on playing guitar. Then I remember my field, my area for doing work like that, and giving something to the world, is in my comics. It does inspire me to get to work.

Which creators do you most often think about?

I think about comics creators Peter Bagge, Jack Kirby, James Kochalka, Carol Tyler, TV writer Russell T.Davies, Film director Stanley Kubrick, TV and film maker Chris Morris, actor Leonard Nimoy, musicians Prince, Frank Zappa. I think about their creative work, and how they talk about their creative work.

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

Zook and Max by Tim Kelly
Zook and Max by Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly is a cartoonist who I first came across in an APA 20 years ago. I love his style, and his humour. Even when I don’t know where he’s coming from, I always enjoy his work.  I’ll mention Tucker Stone of Comic Books are Burning in Hell. I always admire his storytelling, humour, insight and fearlessness. To me, that was the original comics podcast. Lastly, I’ll namecheck Treehouse Comics, launched by the two artists Stuart McAdam and Neil Scott, who I’ve enjoyed working with over the years.

Treehouse issue 5 Cover
Treehouse issue 5 Cover

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

I make comics, read comics and write about comics. My most recent Fred Egg Comic book is Mount a Rescue, which is an anthology written by me, with art from me and guest artists too. My own comics and articles have appeared in various anthologies, journals, magazines and websites. I contribute to workshops and podcasts. I’m a regular on That Comic Smell podcast. Other Fred Egg Comics I publish are the titles Bell Time; Berserkotron; Break the Cake; But a Dream!; Dump; Wow! Retracted; and Zero Sum Bubblegum. I love comics.

Previews of my latest comic book Mount a Rescue can be found here

Process posts for comics I am working on currently can be found here

Podcasts I appear on can be found here 

God Bless the Posties

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

Los Angeles November 2019
Los Angeles November 2019

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020



Long list interview – Adam Yeater

We spoke to Adam a little while ago about his influences and inspirations and found his answers intriguing, so we decided to dive in and dig a bit deeper. We just kept on going with it all until we ended up with a mammoth interview going into every corner of his mind, from practice and accessing his creativity, to grafting to make a living outside of the norms of the mainstream.

I think it’s a fascinating look into the practice, experiences and the will to succeed that powers Adam, as well as a window into the wider world of underground creators.


Adam Yeater being David Cameron

You can find Adam here

webstore                youtube                facebook


ZL – Hi Adam! Thanx for agreeing to this interview, hope you enjoy it. 

Let’s get introductions out of the way. For anyone that doesn’t know, can you tell us your name, where you grew up and where you currently live?

AY – My name is Mr. Adam Yeater. I grew up a swamp rat in Florida and traveled around a lot. I finally settled down in Arizona as a desert rat. I went from one Florida to another. 

ZL – For a little bit more background. You clearly enjoy underground and mini comix, so how did you first find out about them and what were you interested in before you started reading them?

AY – I discovered zines through the early Death/Grind Metal scene in the 90s. There was no internet so everything was done via snail mail. I used to get so much great printed matter. Demo tapes, fliers for bands, albums and review zines. I eventually started my own zine called Subliminal Message. We lived in Ohio in a shit hole little town. Trying to get high, fighting, reading comic books, listening to Metal, Punk Rock, Hardcore Rap and skateboarding.

Spewing Insects

I was a very industrious broke ass 14 year old kid. I found a way to get some of the mainstream metal record companies to send me promo stuff for their bands for review. I was getting stacks of stuff in the mail. The record companies were mailing backstage passes to me! My mom thought I was running a mail scam.

I once did a phone interview with Chris Barnes when he was in Cannibal Corpse. Chris called for an interview and my mom picked up the phone. He was like “Are you a fucking kid? Holy shit! I usually do interviews with old dudes?” We talked for an hour and half about Metallica selling out. It was amazing. I idolized these weirdos and was getting to just hang out with them. 

I did an interview with Cro-Mags right when the original singer got out of prison. I did an interview with Entombed for my high school newspaper! I even interviewed the Goo Goo Dolls when they were on Metalblade Records just for the hell of it. Those metal bands were my heroes. They treated me as an equal and I was this punk kid. They all encouraged me to keep at it. I was getting first hand knowledge of trying to make a living as a creative in American society from them. The good and bad. 

ZL – What did it feel like the first time you ever spoke to one of your heroes? It must have felt pretty excellent, right?

AY – It was awesome talking to those bands, it was a real rush. I would get so nervous. I got to hang with some of the bands before and after the shows. All these dudes just embraced me as one of them. I am super tall, so I looked a lot older than I was. I was also a big nerd for the metal scene so I was turning them onto all this other new stuff I was getting. I think they saw me as an oddity. Then we moved to Tucson where there was no metal scene. 

ZL – Is that why you stopped making your zine then, moving to Tucson?

AYYeah, moving from Ohio to Arizona. The scene was pretty lame in AZ. No bands would come through Tucson at the time. So I ditched the ‘zine and started a Grindcore band with some friends. We did pretty well for a local death metal act. We played shows with Napalm Death and smoked a ton of weed with Sadistic Intent, that was cool. 

Lots of drugs and drama, bandmates stealing from each other. . . even more drugs. It was a very fucked up time in my life that I am happy to have survived. 

ZL – At what point did you get back into zines and start to think that self-publishing comics was something you could do or that you were good at and wanted to do more with, to just keep going and going and see how far you could take it?

AY – After the band and metal zine I started printing my own mini comics and comic books. I really got into self publishing and art because I had nothing else really. My last “legit” job was as a janitor before I decided to do art and publish full time. I figured I would rather starve as an artist than starve scrubbing shit off toilets. Art is the only thing I have ever been really good at. So I just keep doing it. 

zines and mini-comics

ZL – Circling back to get a bit more from your background for a minute, what first turned you into a comic reader and from there, did you move to be a collector or fan, if that distinction makes sense!! And where in all of that did you start making your own comics?

AY- I was into comics a lot when I was young as a collector and fan before I moved into extreme music. I was keeping up with the medium but was focused on the death metal band I was in.

After the band. I was doing paintings and fine art for quite a while. I had also done comics on the side but my fine art was doing well. Then the housing market crashed and nobody was buying art for foreclosed homes. 

Luckily I had been doing an extreme comic strip in the metal ‘zines and in the mini comics I was doing. I saw that a local comic convention had started. So I printed them all up and booked a table. I sold out of my first printing and a bunch of art. That is when One Last Day started. 

ZL – How did that feel, selling out of books like that? I’m guessing it must have been quite a boost as you carried on and set up an online store! What was the convention like, if you remember at all, did you have a good time there chatting and meeting fans and creators? A lot of people talk about how much the community at a convention matters to them, was that important to you at the time?

AY – It was a real boost. From that little bit of seed money I have been able to keep the ball rolling and have kept printing comics ever since. The comics scene in Tucson in the early 90s was really small and bare bones. It was me and like 2 other indie guys actively printing their own comics. I have encouraged and fostered so many people to make their own comics since then. Many writers and artists from the Tucson scene are now in the mainstream and indie comics system. 

The couple who started the Tucson Comic Con have been the best thing for our local comix and art scene. Rather than neglecting local and indie comics they embraced and promoted them. I was so lucky to be in a place where the local comic convention focused heavily on independent comic artists. 

Adam Yeater at a con

I see kids that I taught inking classes to that are now publishing their comics on Amazon. Kids that now give me their books and thank me for all the support and inspiration I gave them. It is humbling. Before the ‘rona I was leaving 1000s of mini comics all over town instead of fliers for the last 15 years. It has exposed people in this town and state to my art and a world of comic books they never knew existed. 

ZL – Speaking of coronavirus, I’m wondering how much that has affected your income currently? Do you rely heavily on con sales or do you have a whole set of ways to get sales, which is a terrible way of asking that I’m really interested in how you generate sales for your work, what venues and sources and what sort of percentage of sales comes from them. Have you got a regular set of fans that buy everything, are you using email communications, just facebook?

AYIn today’s art and comics world every successful artist has to be a little bit Andy Worhol and a lot of P. T. Barnum. Otherwise nobody will give a shit about you. So I have a ton of different ways to move my stuff. The website is my main hub but I do small zine fests and shows whenever I can. I have been doing OK but had to switch gears during the crisis. My online sales picked up so that helped a lot. I also have new books coming out all this year. I think that helps too.

Comic conventions at one time were a really good source of income when I first started doing them. I was making great money. Every year it has become progressively less of a viable option for creators like me. The big comic shows are just pop culture festivals. The last few years a lot of the larger shows could care less about indie comics. Table prices and entry fees are way too high for a self publisher or upcoming creator to make any money. Especially out of state shows. Hotel, travel, etc. Because of this I was only doing smaller zine/comic shows and focusing on my online sales already. The virus was a great reason to really focus on my online presence. 


ZL – I first saw your work through a facebook group, one of the indie comics groups that sort of specializes in small press superhero and space operas, and I was wondering whether you think those groups help the creators reach more readers, or whether they are all more community pages as in it’s all people that want to make comics and they’re all working to support their own bubbles? (Obviously I’m exaggerating a little, they often have horror and then there’s oddball work that pops up, but there do seem to be a lot of big boob bad girls and massive muscles in some kind of genre thing. )

AY- I look at social media differently than most. I talk shit about comics on it but I have never used it as a political soapbox or a place to talk about my “personal journey”. I post my art and comix. That is it. I speak through my art. I like to “post and ghost”. I feel I am a healthier person for it. 

This year I have slowly been taking my art off all the platforms. They are not an unbiased purveyor of ideas. Like the original internet was intended for. Social media is making us all sick. Scientifically proven sick. 

World of Knonx

I have grown to hate the self imposed censorship imposed on social media by advertisers and cancel culture. We as artists should have the right to dictate our expression by taking risks. Without having to worry about some simp nerd in Silicon Valley shadow banning or blacklisting us. 

These leeches profit heavily on ALL of us. Especially artists. They work to infringe on our rights and hinder our freedom to express. The platforms are privatizing our existence. Fakebook and the Twits are just digital emotional vampires. 

They should be paying you a fee to use your content and sell it to their stupid advertisers. They make billions off you and you know what you get, a little dopamine for that “like”. Wow, sweet trade off. Not!!

We all need to stand up in some way as artists. Post fucked up art and weird shit all the time! I wanna see a sea of artistically drawn dicks and vaginas. Shitposts, and fucked up memes on my “news” feed. Random acts of artistic defiance. We need confrontational art more now than ever! I want to see original artwork that pushes against cultural dogmas and shitty societal norms. 

Instead I see oceans of fan art and trash pop culture mashups. Useless e-rage and cat pics. Art without confrontation is just advertising at this point. 

ZL – Now, that’s an interesting one, because there are two sides to the argument on this and I sort of flop wildly between the two without any great reason. I can see why social media is not going to allow seas of dicks – they are easy triggers to SEE, so they’re easy to switch off to maintain acceptability, it seems pointless to me, but is important to a lot of people, so… There’s also the issue of managing genuine freedom to express and people posting images of tentacles raping 6 year old girls and how you manage to monitor that, so it’s just EASIER not to try and figure it and blanket ban it all. 

What I think calls bullshit on their motives for me is that they’ll censor that, but allow neo-nazi lies or channels where people openly spout homophobic, racist or sexist bile. There’s a stinking dichotomy there that calls a lie to their talk of community and keeping us safe from damaging content. 

I certainly wouldn’t want to have to be the poor sod that sifted through all of this stuff to check it though!

Pippa Creme and the Pearl Necklace - Dexter Cockburn
Pippa Creme and the Pearl Necklace – Dexter Cockburn

Equally, with work like yours or – to call in someone else I follow who is always getting bumped from facebook – Dexter Cockburn – who does some great porn comics. I see these things as being completely ok and not deserving of banning, but seeing cape comics and how innately sexualised and soft porn like the women are made to look, that makes me feel very dubious, it seems wrong in that context, as it’s so pervasive and so unspoken and clandestine. 

AY – Exactly. It is weird how the mainstream sexulizes it’s heroes. The guys look just as bad. It is a form of repressed erotica. I think it all looks so funny. Balloon shaped breasts or the massive man bulge. There is a big market for that stuff so more power to them. 

It just seems erotica in comix is ok for some and not others. The censorship online is selective. Dexter is a comix friend of mine and a great example. The guidelines are so ambiguous and filled with jargon it becomes nonsense. 

I totally get censorship for criminal reasons. That is a no brainer. What I saw was not that. 

I saw the platforms actively destroy the online followings of some extreme horror artist’s I was following. Some of us had built large fan bases on Myspace and brought our fans over to FB with us. When FB started shutting accounts down it crushed a lot of those artist’s online communities and sales. A lot of artists had to start all new accounts with different names causing them to lose 1000s of followers. Some just gave up or stopped posting extreme art all together. They are still doing it to some of the Ero Goro artists from Japan. It is really fucked up.


ZL – That’s part of the curse and benefit of social media though, they give and then they take away when you’ve made them successful. I do wonder what we can do about that though, maybe they should migrate back to Myspace, maybe the whole retreat to mailing lists is the answer? I don’t know, we need community spaces but we need them to not go dark and end up being hiding places for crime or the dark web. What do you do about it, eh? Maybe you should start curating work into new mail lists and have link sites for different peoples’ interests!!

AY – I like that idea. I have always wanted to do a monthly brochure of underground creators. Like a double sided mailer. I might do one for the Smalll Press Express to hand out at shows. Getting the word out is why I do the YouTube channel. Nobody is shedding light on the best part of comics. The odd, voiceless, strange and marginalized. I think anything that promotes the underground scene and unites indy comic artists is good. I feel every little thing helps. We are all in this sinking ship together. The mainstream comics people keep poking holes in the boat. The indy creators have to keep bailing it out.

ZL – Moving on from that unanswerable conundrum… Is community important to you and comics? Is publishing and buying and communicating with other creators a way of building a place in the wider world for the kinds of things that you enjoy and the kind of things you want to make?

AY – What community. The comics community? 

It just saddens me so much lately. The internet and social media had so much potential to dissolve physical, cultural and social boundaries to our communication around the world. 

Instead most people have developed the attention span of a gnat. I doubt anyone will actually read all this. So I am just gonna lay it all out. How I see it as an outsider looking in.

There is a massive world of art and comics that is ignored in the west. It is where I exist as a creative. I work with toy making friends in South Korea and send comix pages to Artizines in Spain. Send instant messages to slap sticker artists in Japan. All in a few seconds!! This used to take weeks, even months via phone and mail. Many here just take this shit for granted. 

I had a “stick poke” tattooist from Taiwan ask if she could use one of my mini comic images in her little shop. How sick is that!! I live for that!!

I have worked with 100s of the most creative and amazing artists from all over the world. I have had enough love and inspiration from the global art community to last me two life times!!


The American comics community is a weird story. My books sell well. My fans are awesome. First time readers always come back. I do really well at every comic convention I have ever done, even small ones. I have printed, sold or given away thousands of my mini-comics, floppies and magazines. All over this crazy earth. 

Somehow I have largely existed as an outsider in Western comics. Other than a few supportive cats in the southwest comics scene like Brian Pulido. I feel like they largely just ignore my comics. I have had a few pros refer to my work as ‘zines’ as a sort of insult. 

Blood Desert 2

I started Blood Desert as a big middle finger to the whole corporate comics crowd. The main character is stuck with a permanent middle finger. Good luck co-opting that sucktards. 

Lake of Korz

When I complete the World of Knonx series I wanna only make comics that are a massive fuck you to that whole unimaganitive self indulgent English centric corporate comics world. I wanna make comics for shitheads all over the world like me.

Most of the comics in the mainstream indie world are leftovers from that hokey auto-bio movement. All of them are still pining over Crumb and Pekar to this day. 

Who knew making super boring comics about your masturbation habits and history no one cares about would be considered as works of high literary art. I guess it is an easy claim to make when the critics also work for the publishers of said high grade comic “art.”

That is just the indy crowd. At this point most people’s knowledge of modern comics comes from dopey stupor hero comics and movies that are made for mouthbreathers by ex-television writers. 

These books are made by “Professional” comic book writers that get top billing over a bunch of lazy artists. These are the same “professionals” who waste their time all day on Twitter and YouTube race baiting each other and blathering nonsense about politics. Somehow they can never seem to get books out on time or any real work done. Go figure. 

The Square

Can we all just agree that the comics Youtubers are totally obnoxious. Normal people do not care about all your dumb nerd drama. The “comics news” channels love to foment drama in the industry to make money off of more views. They live to promote division among creators. Mind numbing 4 hour live streams of inane political blather. Interviewing the same old industry jobbers about some dopey superhero comic they made 20 years ago. Effete dorks gushing jizz in their whitey tighties over their wonton nostalgia.

These formerly bullied nerds bully each other constantly online. Doxing, Blacklisting, Censoring, Attacking and Canceling each other. Bunch of grade school kid popularity bullshit. I want absolutely NO part of either side’s dysfunctional cult. These sad people must love to live in a heightened state of anxiety. 

There are 100s of amazing prolific working storytellers chomping at the bit to talk about and sell their titles. Why not interview and promote these creators. Artists who choose not to engage in either side’s petty childish games. Those creators are largely ignored or admonished for not taking sides. 

The industry seems to only want to dwell in nostalgia? A Nostalgia that actually hurts creators. I really wanna talk about Alan Moore. 

Let’s all wax about the greatness of Watchmen ONE last time and finally let it go. Watchmen is the comic book Alan Moore won’t even have in his house because of the disdain he has for the American comics industry.

Comics culture could care less about Alan. They talk about his work gushing with praise. Then they call the man a nutter behind his back. 

The majority of the comics press treated him like a clown and discounted his opinions at every turn. 

Watchmen, the comic they keep in print just so Alan does not regain any of the rights back. 

By promoting and working on Watchmen in any way they are all pretty much saying fuck you to Alan. It is just accepted by everyone. “Oh well! We should just keep screwing this dude cause we all really love those characters.” It is shameful.

Smashing robots

Shall I go on about the other creators that were screwed by this “industry”. Seigel, Shuster, Kirby, Finger, Simon and so many more.

The House of Morons track record with creatives is just as terrible. It would take all day to list the Big two’s transgressions against their freelancers. 

All their Editors in Chief make millions while their freelancers get crumbs.

Or maybe there is hope in the price gouging comic book store owners. They did nothing but complain about Diamond and the Big 2’s scams non stop for years. Then they still lap up everything they do or make like pablum. Accepting and still embracing this constant abuse. Over and over and over. I wonder if the majority of store owners are into BDSM? 

Should I bother mentioning all the sex predators that the major comics companies have been covering for?

So now after a long career and all my hard work building a loyal following I am supposed to kiss ass and play nice as a potential artist for them. I am supposed to work on shit I don’t care about? I get to beg for a job doing interior pages for less than minimum wage and no healthcare? No thanks. I am busy building my own worlds not piggybacking on the stolen worlds of others.

The US comics “industry” is kind of a total joke to me at this point. 

Watercolour art - included with orders

ZL – It sounds like you are existing as part of a community though, maybe not an American comics community, but an international underground art community, does that seem fair to say? 

AY – I was actually becoming a big part of the community for a popular comics Youtube channel for a minute until I was excommunicated. The two creators that host the channel constantly espouse to be a bastion for indie creators. As Maury Povich likes to say…” that is a lie.” 

The channel blacklisted me because of a mini comic I did showing cartoon portraits of accused sex predators and general jerks working in the American comics industry. 

I am not part of Comicsgate or any other stupid comics cult. I am not a lecherous ogre who harasses women at comics shows. I am a boring family man who makes weird comics. I speak through my art not by posting constant drama online.

I made a mini comic that someone didn’t like. That was it. Instead of finding out my side of things related to the matter these hosts just booted the videos my comics were featured in off their channel. They also had admins remove my posts off other platforms related to them. I was blatantly censored by these “artists.”

So looking back I think it had nothing to do with that mini comic. They have featured sexually violent work like Vigil’s. My stuff is tame in comparison. I feel they were threatened by my output and my dopey little youtube channel. Which is laughable. 

I have worked tirelessly my whole career to support marginalized creators in my community and around the world for over 20 years. 

At this point I would rather work with the people who get what I do and dwell in quiet obscurity rather than work with these kinds of self-serving troglodyte hacks that are so prevalent in the medium of modern mainstream comics and the art world. 

Most of these “pro comic artists” are just glorified fan artists with a little bit of stylized skill. I think that’s why all their books are so derivative of all the other stuff in the mainstream lexicon. They dwell in constant nostalgia and their work is proof of it. 

I actually feel sorry for them. To have so little faith in yourself that you have to try to take down other artists is such a sad pathetic way to live. 

One thing you can count on with some artists and comics creators. Their egos are as fragile as glass.

Comics culture in the US is steeped in all this kind of nonsensical dogma. It has become an idiotic cult of reactionary clones with Youtube and Twitter accounts. 

Pig Monster

ZL – Thinking about that wider world of community and how there’s always been an underground arts community and sometimes people travelled through them, often linked to universities or small art publications. Do you feel like that community is something that is now easier to achieve and to curate for yourself with social media, but it involves a lot of effort and commitment to do that and that’s why it takes those in a scene, those dug into that creative feeling, to do that kind of curation?

AY – I guess It is easier to find new stuff now, but there is a lot of oversaturation online. Lots of skilled but boring fan art. Way too much fan art online. 

All the crowdfunded stuff is pretty boring and derivative of the mainstream comics they say they hate. Plus there is a high failure rate. Very slow/low delivery rate on those projects that nobody likes to talk about.

I kind of wish the companies cracked down on all the IP theft at shows and online the way they do obscenity. Before the pandemic the comic conventions in the states sucked for indie creators because of all the fanart.

ZL – Yeah, that seems to be a big issue all round, but it’s also tricky as a lot of indie creators make bucks doing commissions of existing mainstream IP. I also think that the move from mini comics and zines to pop-culture sources and attempts to be as professional as professional comics has done a lot of unspoken damage. Yeah, sure, you get a lot of a crowd, but how many are BUYERS?

AY – That is why I stopped making any kind of fanart about 15 years ago including commissions. I think fan art and commissions are a crutch for artists to lean on.

To me it shows a lack of ability to tell stories or have faith in their own creations. They are too afraid to go all in and only make and sell their own comics. They wanna draw cool spidey pin-ups not tell stories with art. There is a huge difference between the two kinds of artists.

The best Mangaka spend their whole careers telling these long form epic stories. We should aspire to that aesthetic not do a bunch of cool variant covers. 

It is easy to draw an existing IP. The design and imaginative work was done for you. You are just a human copy machine. It takes a lot of time and faith to go all in on your own ideas. I think a lot of artists try it and just give up and fall back on selling fan art at shows.

I do great at shows without any fan art. You don’t need it. I think selling fan art actually hurts indie creators. They are selling books for our competition. 

If you just offer people something new and different and work hard to sell that work they will buy it. I offer people something that is unique. Not just another Deadpool print or sketch.

ZL – Do you see yourself as part of a comics lineage, either style or approach wise? Do you feel it’s important to leave your own mark on the world, hence the making of items rather than posting online, or are you interested in building a space for now or are you trying to just get out what needs to be got out to keep your brain quiet?

AY: Comics lineage is less of a thing now because of oversaturation in the medium. Everyone can make and print their own comics now. So the key is to have your own style of storytelling. I don’t like the autobio comics genre but at least they know how to tell a story. 

That’s why I think physical media is still very important. An artist is not curtailed by the formats of printing anymore. You can adjust your style to any kind of printing process now. It used to be the other way around.

Aesthetically I want my work to be as beautiful and be as prolific as Osamu Tezuka was. Dark and creepy as Hideshi Hino‘s. Confrontational and cooky as Mike Diana‘s. With a mad dose of the dark action of a 2000AD Magazine. 

Boiled Angel - Mike Diana
Boiled Angel – Mike Diana

ZL – I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember the Mike Diana obscenity case and the outcome of that ridiculous situation? It was big, even in UK comic magazines at the time. I remember them telling him that he wasn’t even allowed to draw AT HOME and that they would be coming in to check that he wasn’t drawing! So, I guess there’s that as a check to what we were saying about social media silencing creators, it’s not like it’s a new phenomenon, sadly. 

AY – I started getting into making fucked up comics at the same time as him. I was making One Last Day which is nowhere near as extreme or pornographic as Mike’s stuff, but it was really violent. His case scared me into being real careful who I sent my books to. 

ZL – When did you first encounter Mike Diana’s work, then and what’s so inspiring about it?

AY- I have seen more of his work recently. I like the absolute absurdity of it. It was so hard to get out here in the west coast unless you ordered it. I am not a big fan of pornographic or cheesecake comics. I do like some of the cruder stuff that is just too weird to be arousing. The work exists more as a piece of weird art rather than porn in some odd way. I have not gotten to read a ton of his stuff. He is actually a big fan of mine on Instagram. The punk rock kid in me loves seeing a block of “likes” by Mike. I have mailed him a bunch of my comix for trade.If he is reading this “Yo man! You gotta mail me some of your books!” Heh! 


ZL – I’m also intrigued to know how you found out about 2000AD as my understanding is that it’s not well known over in the US. What’s your favourite strip from there?

AY: I got a huge run of the re printed 2000AD and Dredd comics from a comic store when I was 13. I really love the old Rogue Trooper strips the most. They were some of the best sci fi war comics made essentially. Those artists were all emulating those old Action war comics they were reading

Rogue Trooper - War Machine by dave Gibbons and Will Simpson
Rogue Trooper – War Machine by dave Gibbons and Will Simpson

Rogue Trooper – War Machine is a work of comics art. It definitely inspired a lot in my Blood Desert series. “The Fatties” stories in the early Judge Dredd strips are some of my all time favorite comics. I have read them a hundred times. It is just so nuts. I love that line between absurd and gross.

The Fatties - Judge Dredd
The Fatties – Judge Dredd

ZL Oh yeah, those early works were really UK punk as punk can be! I’m surprised you like Rogue Trooper more than Nemesis though, Pat Mills and especially Kev O’Niell’s art is extreme as extreme art gets in comics back then. You mention in many interviews I’ve read that Japanese comics, particularly horror comics, have been an influence. How much influence do you see from Japanese horror comics in small press and self-publishing circles, it’s something I see a lot of in the creators I follow for sure, but I’m wondering what your experience is?

Shrooms watercolour

AY – I follow the underground Japanese scene pretty well. I am pen pals/friends with some of the newer japanese horror artists. It is funny. They all wanna get published here and I want to get published there. 

There are huge barriers in Japanese comics for Westerners. I would kill to get World of Knonx published in Japan. It is specifically designed and made for a world audience. It needs no translation. Manga publishers should be more open to Western comic artists the way we have.

I have grown very weary of all manga flooding the market lately. Most of it is just nicer formated versions of reprints of that older stuff I read in the 80s. It is not the weird upcoming stuff you see on the shelves. 

The American publishers bend over backwards to reproduce a lot of Manga but largely ignore American artists working at the same level of productivity. It has become a one way street. 

ZL – I see that a lot of publishers seem less inclined to have cartoony horror, they seem to have decide it must all be cheesecake or more realistic, I mean, you’re not going to see the likes of Shaun McManus on Swamp Thing art chores nowadays, which seems absurd because cartooning lets you play up emotions or gore without it getting all pornographic and seedy. I wonder if part of it is that as well, they want everything in that style. It’s also something that’s changed in horror as well. You think about something like Saw and how realistic those horror movie effects are compared to, say Friday the 13th, it’s changed what horror is. You could laugh at those things, not so much Saw, they’re far more EARNEST and wanting to show things REALISTICALLY.

AY- Yes! Exactly. I have been embracing the cartoon aspect of comics very heavily. Cartooning is dying in comic books not just in the horror scene. Comics have lost the ability to move the fans to a desired emotion.

I think it has to do with the industry’s reliance on writers. Artists are usually more creative and experimental than writers. Artists think in images and writers think in words. Writers can hammer out stories all day. The storytelling artist has to really think about every panel in a conscious way and how it will move the story. Images should drive comics not inane narrative. I should be able to understand the story in a comic by just looking at the art. If not then both the writer and artist have failed. Being able to type does not automatically make your stories interesting. Kirby’s cartooning made all those comics great not Stan and his stupid dialogue. 


Personally I don’t wanna spend 12 hours drawing the perfect building in a panel that no one will care about. I wanna move the story. Cartooning creates a fluidity through the pages that perfect structure loses. Manga is great at moving you through a story in that way. 

World of Knonx 2

ZLSo, in all of the ways you make things and with all of your feelings about being a part of US comics and international makers, what place do you see your new youtube videos playing into what you do? Is it more boredom relief or is it a way of pumping up awareness of the community you enjoy?

AY: I do the YouTube channel for fun and to shed light on independent creators. I also wanna try to create a new narrative in comics. Not just regurgitate the one fed to us by reactionary corporate comix culture.

ZL – Why the trash talking of something at the end? I ask because I have this pet theory that there’s a strong link between people doing underground comics currently, especially over the top gross out ones, and wrestling and I’m wondering whether that’s a bunch of nonsense I’ve made up, or whether this is like the trash talk between wrestlers, a funny sort of way to make a point about something, to build some low stakes drama? Or, is it a way to disarm a serious point by making it funny! 

AY: A little bit of both I guess. There is some carney action to all creatives who do it for a living. I think a long life as an artist hardens you. 

Comic book artists could learn a lot from Tattooists. Talk to a hardcase who has been making money everyday drawing. The one doing it in your hometown the longest. That is someone who can teach you a lot. They have had to put up with so much stupid shit from customers and society. They have a confidence and respect for their trade few artists do. They have real confidence that is inspiring. They won’t even fuck with some stupid walk-in. They are not gonna deal with some kid who wants a shitty Mickey Mouse tat. Some hokey fan art commission bullshit. People pay them good fucking money for their original style, skill and creativity. Comic artists conceded all that when they settled for being what amounts to storyboarders for ex-TV writers. 

Artists have to always remember Western society devalues you at every turn. You really have to learn to sell your art and self. Your skin better be real thick. You hear “no” and that “you will fail” constantly! You will work your ass off just to barely make it in most creative fields. 

ZL – Yeah, that really comes with the territory, especially if you’re coming at it from an underprivileged background, art seems to still be a very middle class opportunity and still seems to need strong patronage to make a living, so if you’re aren’t populist or aren’t from the right background you need to get money from somewhere else or learn to live cheap. 

AY – Starting out it is always a struggle in any field but comics has kind of embraced and even fostered failure among it’s creatives. A perfect example. No one with the talent level of Tim Vigil’s should ever be living in poverty. Which he pretty much is. If Tim started in tattoos he would probably be pretty set by now. Instead he chose to work in comics. 

ZL – You seem to be really knocking out your comics and developing an amazing backlist. I remember sharing a video where, I think that you were drawing a page from The Lottery, where you were filling in your spot blacks with this chunky dip pen nib and that just seemed like it would take a long time to get work done! So, I’m wondering whether you’ve changed up a gear and started doing lots of work, or am I just in circles where I’m seeing you pop up and you’ve been constantly busy for a long time?

AY – I mainly use a brush for large areas. Sometimes a fat nib. I have had the same process for the last 10 years. I have always had a pretty good work ethic with my art but my tools are just that. Lots of trial and error for the first 5-10 years. I had no one to help or any training. I am a lot faster at inking with some modern stuff but it is still the same process it has always been. I try to only work full time M-F 9-5. I love creating so much I get addicted to it. I will draw 18 hours straight if I am not careful. 


ZL – What inspired you to get making, not necessarily the style you make, but the actual circumstances behind you getting yourself together to put out comics instead of just sketching or posting online? What is the difference for you between posting online and publishing?

AY – Posting online is just a form of promo to me. Online is so ephemeral. I feel printed comics and animation is the best way to tell new stories and get them out. Period. It is hard to say what inspired me to start creating. I can tell you how I create though. 

I have always hated the idea of needing drugs, a muse or constant inspiration as motivation. It is not a sustainable model. It is a crutch for lazy artists to lean on. We all can learn skills and borrow from influences to make pretty art but real creativity comes from our imaginations. 

Clive Barker said it in interview after interview for years! He spoke of how fostering the imagination is being lost and even stifled in today’s world. He stressed the utmost importance for working artists and children to have an active and focused imagination. He is the greatest living horror artist of our age. The Poe of our time and everyone completely ignored him!!

Well I didn’t! I would meditate and do mental exercises daily for years to try and imagine whole working worlds. Clive was 100% right. I don’t get artists’ block or any of that shit. 

So Many Comics

This is gonna sound super new age but it is the best way to explain it. With short meditation techniques I can light the fire of creativity instantly now. It can keep me awake some nights if I let it. My mind’s eye fills with the most moving and colorful images you could ever imagine. I have learned to embrace it and snatch stuff from the ether. It’s like a true form of art magick. When I break into the astral plane of endless creativity it recharges my inner being and overwhelms my soul with love, and joy. I am flooded with new ideas constantly. The Buddhists actually have a name for this place but the name escapes me. 

ZL – I remember reading that Moebius, Jean Giraud, the French comic artist took a similar approach, that he drew all his Moebius strips in a semi-conscious state of meditation, so it seems reasonable for you to do the same! 

AY – Exactly! I have read that and felt a kinship with him. I think Jim Woodring works in a similar fashion as well. 


ZL – Yeah, I’ve read that about Jim Woodring as well.

Looping back a second to The Lottery, I really admire the style of character design, the shapes you put down on the page, that I’ve seen in that. I’m guessing, from what you’ve just said, that much of these things arrive semi or fully formed? How much planning do you put into character design and story content and then could you give a general idea to how you approach a story and what you’re trying to achieve with your stories?

The Lottery

AY: Like I said prior, the initial ideas will come like a flood or in pieces. I will mentally “hang on” to my favorite ideas and build a story around them. Once I get most of it all sorted out in my brain I will do some general super loose thumbnails of a story or idea or the whole book. Sometimes I will start with a one shot style story and expand on it. The one shots will inspire more stories or ideas for other worlds as well. 

ZL – I know we touched on this earlier, but I’d like to dig deeper into whether you’re making money and what sort of sales you’re achieving, because, you know, I’m just damn nosey!
More seriously though, I think part of making and why people cease making is an unrealistic idea of what can be achieved within an arena. The amount of people coming into comics and underground comix all thinking they’ll end up on Adult Swim or bankrolling a comfortable life always saddens me. You know they will get worn out banging their drum to sell 10 copies and lose hundreds because they completely over print. 

Which is a very tortured way of asking whether you make money from your comics or, at least break even? Are you happy to tell us numbers of sales and if not exact amounts of income, what sort of percentage of your income comes from your comic sales and for context, the kind of lifestyle you currently live?

AY: I grew up pretty poor. I was out on my own at around 17 with zero money. So it has not been an easy road for me in art and comics. I am not complaining, I have made good money off my comix.

I print modestly with print on demand services. I can print a few copies up to a few 100 at a time. It just depends on demand. You don’t need to have a warehouse of stuff. I focus on the stuff that does well.

It took a long time but I am in a great spot on my own. Because of the virus a lot of the mainstream crowd are kind of sitting around with their dicks in their hands. While I am hammering out stories. I am 100% owner of all my titles. I am not an LLC so a corporation can’t get my “creative content” without my direct consent. 

Luckily I don’t really need them. I have done the math, I make way more per page and book then I ever would with a publisher. I can create, print, promo, mail and repeat. I have no need for censors, editors, publishers, stores, mob run distro or other middle men. They are all just standing between me and making the profit from my books. 

No one will admit it, but the Cerebus model is still the best model for creators to sell their comics. If you are serious about ownership. More people should have the same faith in their work as Dave Sim does. Only without being a total jerk. 

ZL – I’m guessing your politics don’t mesh with his, but I think Dave Sim is definitely someone who has lessons for self-publishers and creators alike. If you were going to pass on any of his advice, how would you summarise what you’ve taken from his example?

AY – His politics aside he was pretty cantankerous in most of his interviews but he was not afraid to speak his mind. Everyone is so afraid to speak up in fear of never getting or keeping that “sweet corporate comics gig”. 

Dave was right about a lot of stuff. If you can’t stand up for your own work then who will? Before I started reading all his interviews I thought he was just a jerk but now I kind of get his anger. I could only imagine what the mainstream tried to pull back then when they saw he wouldn’t play ball. What’s worse is nothing has changed really. All the shit he was raving about in comics is the same or even worse. 

I think he was really hated by the industry when he started speaking out about all the shadiness going on. It always felt the comics press started attacking his political stances after he started to state his opinions about the practices of some of these publishers. I don’t agree with him on a lot of stuff politically but he never backed down and stayed true to his ideals. I admire him for that. 

Comics has a long sordid history of trying to silence voices they don’t want to hear. It has happened to me and many others still to this day.

Blood Desert 3

ZL – How long has it taken to build up your back catalogue and what sort of tail end do you currently see on your titles, are we talking release and then forget it, sustained sales over months/years or occasional bumps when you get new titles out?

AY – It took 20 years to build the whole catalogue of large format stuff. I have printed 100s of different minis along the way. I now just mainly sell my larger format floppy and magazine stuff that does well continuously. I do have a goal to be able to fill a whole small magazine size comic book box with all my different floppy comics and mags. 

ZL – And how far away from that goal are you? 

AY – I have never actually checked. I would say I am well over halfway there. 

ZL – How do your sales and income compare to where you thought you’d be when you first started making your comics or did you not really care about that, other than not losing money?

AY: It is a weird thing that exists in indie comics. It is like they are ashamed of making money. 

You hear so much altruism in indie comics. “It is not always about the money man.” Tell that dumb shit to a career tattooist. They will laugh in your stupid face while they make $200 bucks an hour and drive off in their fully customized Dodge Challenger. While you stand there with a handful of comics and empty pockets. 

We should look at indy comics like tattooing or a little like a one man touring metal band or rap act. People wanna buy my books for my nutty unique style. So, yeah I am doing better than I ever could have dreamed of in such a dismal backwards looking field. I would rather be like a Tech 9 or Frank Zappa in comics. 

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

AY: Out of all my books I would say the World of Knonx series is my crowning achievement. I dumped every skill I have developed into one massive tale.

World of Knonx

Park Bench – by Christophe Chabouté. It is one of the most amazing comics made in the last few years. It is one of the most beautiful comics ever made. It flows like water. It is the zen of comix. I cried the first time I read It. 

The Park Bench - Christophe Chaboute
Park Bench – by Christophe Chabouté

I only make silent or wordless comics. So that is mainly what I am into. It is more common in European comics. So I try to mainly follow works coming from there. 

Comics should move us and excite us. Gross you out or move you to a new place emotionally. Not just be inane 80s TV sitcom serials. I am only interested in comics that exist and aspire to be comics. I have no interest in storyboards with dialogue. 

ZL – Thanx for your time Adam!

AY- Thanks for this in-depth interview. It is not often I get to talk deeply about things in comix that I care about. I never really get to explain how I create or how I truly feel about the medium.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak my mind. To everyone who has ever supported me and my art. I truly frikkin’ love you all!! 

Lopping off head

all art copyright and trademark its respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020


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