Over 2008 I wrote weekly for ComicsVillage.com, during a very exciting time in the UK comix scene. Since then, I’ve seen new ways of approaching things, changed opinions. This is the 2nd column, and focusses on the Camden Comics stall at the end of their first six weeks of business.
My columns are concerned with four aspects surrounding comics – social community, economic factors, festival and exhibition coverage and modes of distribution.
The London Underground Comics stall in Camden Market has in the past week surprise marketed an optimistic future of British comics artists. Last Sunday morning, five cartoonists set their feel-good dancing indy spirit loose on Facebook, YouTube and several forums and websites. Director Oli Smith has set a professional series of edited clips of the playful trading community to a Beck tune.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. (link)
Then on Wednesday I get a note from Oli along the lines of, “Oh, nearly forgot. Oliver (Tales From The Flat) Lambden and I are interviewed by Alex Fitch for half an hour on Resonance 104 FM tomorrow. Could you give us a mention on Bugpowder ?”
The show is archived here courtesy of Panel Borders.
I’m about to text him back with some smartarse response enquiring as to when he’s getting his first Vertigo book, when he follows up with “Going to meet Alan Moore on Saturday”
And before seven days in comics could pass, here they are again.
So yeah, I bussed for London. Ran a bit late as I woke up to discover my house was on fire. Luckily the fire-crew had it well in hand and only my ashtray caught alight. Backstory: A festival I’m exhibiting at next month had so passionately involved the organiser that he’d become obsessed with me. He began sending me oddities through the mail. A Magnum P-45 assembly kit, a signed photograph of himself holding a target, pieces of a German Panzer tank. The final straw was his attempts to pay me to write his suicide note, a commission my good friend Matthew Badham encouraged me to turn down. Turns out it was my blood levels had started the blaze.
Grabbing my memos for Iranian, Chinese, Algerian and Iranian government figures and a stack of my homemade 24 hour comics (but forgetting Jeremy’s comics bah me), I made my way to the coach. Marble Arch Central Line Station, transferring at Tottenham Court; a walk to the Northern Line, then onto Platform 3, Northbound. Getting off at Camden Town is probably not the best station on a Saturday for visitors who don’t handle typically small stairways and crowds well.
Took a right or two at the exit of the stations. At the junction opposite The Worlds End pub, if I recall. Right, Towards Barclays, unless you need cash from the ATM, there are a few other cash machines further left.
Camden Comic’s stall is right and keep going. My point of destination is a big yellow font that spells out Camden Lock Market on the bridge, green and blue background.
I pass Rymans, hanging jewels, fluffies, hats and scarves across from the professional Mohawk promoters of Hair-Masters. Past the electric ball-room. There are Spanish sounds. Living lights, special lights, Bongo drums and cymbals and electric guitar and a slender lad dancing like Michael Stipe did in the 1980s, ZOOM dancing. Football scarves, and opposite is Ladieswear store Punkyfish. Hats ! Hats ! Hats ! Gloves, Tattoo specialists. Bucks Head Pub, KFC, Mega-Giant bubbles, Tattoo piercing, Corsets, Street Art sigils. I smell doughnuts, see bananas. Dance through human traffic. Sounds of The Clash from the punk images T-shirt seller. Crossing Jamestown Road, looking at all these larger-than-life shopfront signs, I realise this is what all those radical Brit comics artists who passed through 2000 AD at some point, were drawing on, inspiration.
(Photo: Information Britain)
Over the hill onto the bridge, the quay, the sunlight and trees. Riverview bridge, canal side, bars and eateries. I spot a Holiday Inn. Last Hemp store before the bridge. A Birdyman is there every week. Past the Twiggy and Woody Allen portraits, and the Goth and Punk Market opposite.
Take a left at the oranges and chocolates, and a left again into the downstairs hall. I accidentally take another wrong turning, it doesn’t matter.
Emailing Oli Smith later in the day, I enquire as to directions from Chalk Farm Station. The stall is situated directly between the two, same stretch of road. Chalk Farm is the less busy station, with an elevator. Again, it’s a straight road towards that big muticoloured bridge. Heres Oli’s take on the landscape,
“marine ices, smell of smoke from the Enterprise, then frying from the chip shop…the roundhouse whose insides look like fairy lights, discount crockery, internet cafe, barfly indie kids, fair trade healthfood smells from coffee shop followed by esso oil, followed by shoes, and cafes, and shoes and cafes and then the railway bridge. ‘Orange Juice, freshly squeezed’ in time to trance’
Dan Lester has made it his aim to produce one new 24 hour comic a month, and two of these appear on the table. An amusing tale featuring alternating narratives which crossover to a clash between cartoon character Bruce Lee and street missionary Dave Sim. For my pick of the week, I’ll have to go with his new one, “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Zombies”, ‘cos its brill. Oliver Lambden is busy drawing away in Artist’s Corner. Oliver is a much more versatile and accomplished artist than is widely known. The stall is decorated with a few of his more colourful works, not including a piece from my previous visit which reminded me of the work of Moebius. David Baillie’s Mindy/Pool book has made a welcome return to the table. Of the twenty plus creators represented there, there’s 60% new stock since my visit a month ago. Socialising the fantastic something though always breaking off to welcome the same quality engagement with potential customers and customers.
Between one of these breaks, I ask naively, “Wheres Oli ?”
It’s not a long day for me. A shop for Eucalyptus, however go with the trader’s recommendation of the milder burgamot. The hands-on massage parlour upstairs offers a variety of affordable sessions from £10. I choose a treatment for the neurological system which has a very appealing effect on my chakra points. Then I run into Peter Lally of The Bedsit Journal. In the last two weeks, Peter has independently filled a table with small press comics he likes. He’s carrying Paper Tiger Comix, Liz Lunney (whose work includes a flipbook, Dinosaurs/Tofu and Cats), and works of an artist called Karoline who makes sweet-cute activity books for kids and adults. Grave Graham Bettany is represented, as is his star recommendation to me, Hannah Glickstein’s Skinny Bill.
Local Pete saw what Oli and the boys were doing and thought that it sounded like a fabulous and promising idea. We enthuse and agree that it does take a few socially networked folk to make it work. He remarks he didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes, and I tell him no such thing. You’re dancing, pal. His remarks echo those of the Camden Underground table manners. “Just want to offer people an alternative, to get their work out there and for people to see it. It’s nice to see people’s reactions, the looks on their faces”. As with the collective downstairs, his core customers seem to be teenage girls and women in their forties.
Peter and I feel a warm shadow come over us, we look up to a huge mop of curly black hair that turns out to be Oli Smith’s ego. “Alan Moore says he has fond memories of comics at Camden Market. He says he may just be round to see us next time he’s in the area. He likes the look of Hazy Thursday too. Compared me to Eddie Campbell though I don’t know whether I’d agree with that!”. My jaw drops and a manic laugh comes on, but Oli wants to regulate himself to normal size in case he steps on the venue ala Godzilla. I walk downstairs to continue the conversation, to the stall where new glossy cover ‘Whale Hunt’ by Ben Powis has almost sold out. I find I learn a lot about the comics I may like from looking at what the customers are attracted to. Gordon Johnston of Virginia Gallery stops by for a chat, a dance and to deliver some free mini-comics for our clientele. These aren’t particularly deep in narrative, just amusing ideas which make the most of eight pages. Visually, he has an excellent grasp of definition in his figures, backgrounds, and panel composition. Another customer, an older gent, hands us the url to his blog, inscribed in marker and with drawings on various pieces of wood he found in a skip: cleaned, cut and smoothed up in shapes of rectangles with slots, and stars.
Whale Hunt cover illustration by Ben Powis
I only man the table for about two hours. I’m impressed by Paul O’ Connell’s The Sound of Drowning, the collection Sean Azzopardi’s Twelve Hour Shift (which I really should have bought), and Nick Hayes’ 11 Folk Songs. However, it’s the end of day, and along with the works of Francesca Cassavotti, into the box they go. Unpacked again next Saturday, and joined by Jeremy Dennis’ Tiny Tea Comic, my print version of Sociology Comics, and goodness knows what else. With creators being offered the fair price of £3 per Saturday, it’s the closest Brit cartoonists have to a Fair Trade Comix trading solution.
Scented soaps. Green tea. Ambient mixes. Shiny trinkets. Breaking even without breaking a sweat. Comics at Camden. It’s Christmas warmth.. I daresay Spitalfields Market could benefit from something like this.
“I like the way the air tastes in the UK small press these days. Tastes of revolution”
– Oliver Lambden