Over 2008 I wrote weekly for ComicsVillage.com, during a very exciting time in the UK comix scene..
My columns are concerned with four aspects surrounding comics – social community, economic factors, festival and exhibition coverage and modes of distribution.
One of the ways Oliver Lambden promotes his comic , is through monthly Monday club nights at Inigo, Clapham Junction (as featured recently in The London Lite.) Just one aspect of multi-varied new venues. So, I sent out a few questions to Jeremy Dennis-Day, Cliodhna Lyons, and Malcy Duff, a few of the venue versatile comix artists I know.
Let’s go !
1. You’re an exhibitionist. You love it. Pubs, cafes, community workshops, cinemas…mainly with relation to exporting your comics work and tie-ins… Which other forums, outside comics-specifics venues, have you contributed at ?
Jeremy: Zine/comics tables at gigs and festivals. Ladyfests, especially, always have zine tables. One of my maybes for a long time has been setting up something a bit like this at one of the Oxford nights. Gappy Tooth might be up for it, I’m not sure. I’m not quite sure we have critical mass, though. There need to be a few people zineing, then it takes off.
Womens, alt and underground bookshops and galleries. There are some people who run distro for this stuff, too. Obviously this a specialism — they’re not going to be interested in everything. For a bit I ran a comic with Damian a lot more like a zine, with articles and stuff, inspired by the zine scene.
Galleries, art events and expos — I’ve never moved in on the Oxford Literary Festival but I know other people in the UK have had success with this, notably Jay and Selina. For me — cultural festivals seem to be appropriately vague and I’ve put stuff into several. They need someone agitating for comics before it gets noticed as a genre, though — the Belfast one I went to had a big name comics artist on board. I don’t think this is special treatment for comics — poetry, say, can end up just as sidelined –people tend to focus on what they have demonstrations of enthusiasm and support from.
Livejournal’s a great place for comics, too — and I’m including that because unlike all the web comics places it’s not aimed at comics + cartoonists. I sell with a paypal button, the occasional mini and I do send them all over the world. It’s not loads of people, but I’ve seen other people and I know you can do better. I’m not on there for the self-promotion, though, although it’s obviously nice when it happens…
Malcy : I play in a band called USURPER which is me and my friend Ali Robertson, who runs a label called GIANT TANK. The TANK used to be a band but has now folded. I have done a lot of poster and album artwork for the label over the last 5 years. Some of this was shown in an exhibition I did called I HATE ADVERTISING ( a kinda dumb title but relates to my contradictions in working on those specific pieces ) which was hanged in the Cameo cinema bar November and December 2006.
The gigs I play are organised by my best mate Ali Robertson who runs GIANT TANK, which is a record label which also puts on gigs. We play together in the band USURPER. Ali tries very hard to get gigs in Edinburgh (the town where we both stay) because he has to. It is not a town which encourages an alternative unless you count drum and bass as the latest edge cut, and I ceratinly don’t. So it’s not easy for him but he does it and has succeeded. And like Ali I tend to look for alternatives in exhibiting my work because you have to. I think on the art front there tends to be more opportunties than on the music front but maybe a certain type of art. Comics still get up people’s noses which is a power and a pain at the same time.
Cliodhna : A lot depends on the type of comics you do. Some comics only suit the comic scene – anything with spandex is usually only going to appeal to one market or with regards to alternative press comics about making comics [personal pet peeve] are not really going to find much of market outside of the standard comic scene.
All other types of comics usually have a built in “other” market that people don’t think of. I’ve done a lot of political comics that I’ve been able to display/market at some college gatherings/socialist rallies around Dublin and submit art to socialist newsletters. I’ve done comics about World War I and managed to dump a few copies at a small book shop focused on history books that wouldn’t normally carry comics. I also took my comics to a number of fine art festivals. Most art festivals have an area for artists to sell on the street – normally it’s lots of pretty watercolours and oil paintings but there’s no rule about what you can sell so I’ve brought a folding table along and set out my comics and prints.
My friend did a comic based on work by James Joyce so, as he is USA based, I brought copies over and brought them around to the various bloomsday celebrations [the biggest James Joyce festival] in Dublin one year. The comic Fetish man works both at comic cons and also at fetish fairs. A local Irish artist Bob Byrne started a free comic anthology called the Shiznit and he made it a slightly different size to standard mini comics and one of the reasons was it would fit in the postcard holders you find in most coffee shops. Bob also did a mural comic as part of a skateboarding event organized in Dublin last summer. Another Irish artist BrenB teamed up with a DJ and had a drawing/music night in a Dublin club – artists drew on one side of large pieces of perspex to the beat of the music while the audience was on other side dancing and watching the artists work.
2. What steps did you take to go about accessing these and is there welcoming environments for doing so ?
Jeremy: Usually, I’ve been approached, I’ve never been very good at approaching people — which means that they have been welcoming, yes! For the festivals I’ve usually been tying it in with workshops, which helps, as you are an attraction, and get built into the organisation that way.
Cliodhna: 99% of the time I’ve had no issues. Most places that you wouldn’t normally see comics people are generally very up for having them particularly if they see it as something to be used as promotion for other stuff they sell. With the James Joyce comic, it went down well as people liked seeing Joyce presented in a new way. Most book shops I’ve found are very approachable – most will give you some shelf space on a trial. Even with big ass bookstore chains the managers usually have the power to buy stock from local writers to make a local interest shelf so no reason a local comic can’t fit on that shelf too.
Places usually associated with fine arts I find are normally the hardest to crack. When trying to find a venue for 24 hour comics day I contacted a number of galleries that offered space for hire and one that I had even attended a 24 hour life drawing session in so knew it could be left open for the 24 hours but most were stand offish when they heard the word “comic” but they can be brought round if you’re willing to push. I exhibited some original comic pages at a the irish craft associations gallery space in Dublin recently but I really had a blag my way into the show.
Malcy: I do believe that a certain art snobbery still exists in this country when asked what you do and yer response is the positive “I’m a cartoonist.” Sometimes you can see faces wither and almost fall off. A lot of people still do not count this practice as art. That could be seen as an initial obstacle but I think it’s the opposite, it frees you. Nothing really good and worthwhile is ever gonna come from large galleries and large institutions, there’s hints, but in the end it is the alternatives from these places, which ignore this set up even exists, that thrive creatively and will make work that is truly important. Be imaginative and brave and seek out alternatives. Place yer scribbles in a burn and see if the ink stays set. People are receptive and welcoming, and approach them with that in mind.
3. What level of reward, financial and creative aid, have these venues provided ?
Cliodhna: Depends on the venue. The fine arts venues I didn’t get the same level of satisfaction as I was use to at cons as there is less interaction with people. With galleries theres usually an opening night but then you go away and come back X amount of days/weeks later and you need to rely on the people running the space to give you feedback. People buying work from a fine art gallery are less likely to email you about your work then say someone buying work at a comic con is.
The same goes for book stores – unless you work in the store you can’t really hang out and see what people’s reaction to the work is so you have to hope they either contact you or those running the shop give you some feedback. However financially you do usually sell at a higher price points in galleries then you would at a comic con.
Jeremy: Travel expenses are normal for festivals — for workshops, talks, etc. you may also be able to get a fee, but watch out, I’ve talked myself out of a few things I would have liked to do by asking for a fee. Lots of arts stuff runs on a very limited budget! I’ve done bits of journalism off the back of some things, but, again, for no pay. People on the whole don’t seem to be very keen on paying me, possibly I’m just very bad at asking.
Malcy: I find gigs that we play to be good for meeting people and when you talk with other people about your work it can be a creative aid. It can inspire and encourage which, when you’re working on yer own a lot, is pretty important.
4. Have you any advice to comics artists stepping outside of the comics expo circuit, pitfalls they might avoid ?
Cliodhna: I would offer the same advice I offer to people doing cons – be professional and present your work to the best of your ability. Sometimes people can feel as they are showing comic work to people who aren’t familiar with comics they don’t need to finish the work to the same standard but if anything the opposite is true.
Jeremy: People you work with will have preconceived ideas about what comics are, and these may not the preconceived ideas you expect them to have, so check.
Malcy: You shoulda stepped out long ago, so get walking. I’ve never been part of a circuit so maybe you could tell me what it’s like on the inside. Is it like the cars on a track you get for Christmas?
- Donate to Jeremy Day’s whose comics are among the best on the interwebs. There may be a new collection out for March 22nd and also Jeremy will be exhibiting for a month in Oxford’s Jam Factory this August ! Has earned.
- Cliodhna Lyons work will be on display at the upcoming Liveline: Comics show. Its a group show featuring a selection of British and Irish small press comics and original comic art, running from the 1st of March to the 12th of April at the Riverside Gallery. Admission is free so if your in the area make sure to drop in. Or you could bring the gallery to you with a wee bit of cash closer to Cliodhna ?