The Black Panel Diaries

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.

In 2008 I assigned myself to fledging London Underground Comics at Camden Market. I’d just taken to weekly writing for Comics Village. The column was Sheridan Cottage, and it felt like the best comics journalism. In that same spirit, this space once a month I’m chronicling similar: selling homemade comics at a free public market. The Black Box is a club venue in Belfast’s Cathedral Arts Quarter. It’s attached coffee shop is renowned for its finest pizza, says Paddy. Over the following months it wil play host to some of the Belfast Nashville festival, The Vagina Monologues, and gigs by The Fairport Convention, Luka Bloom, and PJ Gallagher. On Sunday mornings it also seems to double as a church social function. Weird. No time for either, I’m trying to sell my grandmother for an electric blanket and a packet of cigs.

black panel

The Black Box gives us chairs and space for a donation. It seems their interest is represented in genuine altruistic community promotion. When the Good Friday agreement spun and arranged post-war Ulster back in ’95, a ‘Peace Dividend’ saw city investment grow and a £1 billion regeneration of the Laganside. The Black Box is in this area that’s steeped with literary history. We’re selling comics from thirty-ish creators across Ireland. There’s a full list on the blogspot I set up.

Ok, time for a smoke.

It’s a cold Sunday at 1pm and my trade route in the new brick streets is blocked by a speaker and a group of student types. He’s talking of how three decades of Troubles created an attitude were no-one goes inside or even near the thriving Arts Quarter that they pushed so much money into. Proving his labelling theory, he leads them away.

It’s quieter today although my emergency heating bill is topped up, helped by giving away free mini-comics. Young and old come chat with us. Malachy Coney and his colloquial folk-tales are the subject of a few of these chats. Davy Francis, Will Simpson, Garth Ennis, PJ Holden, and John McCrea. For years, Coney too, has been an authentic Northern Irish known league comics creator. His four book Holy Cross series relayed the experience of Northern Ireland life even better than Ennis’ acclaimed Hellblazer: Heartland. The first Good Craic Comics gives the same poetic flavour with a decisive foray in the adventure genre of a local character. Mycroft Moriarty travels iconic Belfast landmarks: the city hall, the Ulster Museum and it’s sarcophagus, well-known culture spots of the old surviving the renewal.

The second issue of Good Craic Comics has been finished a few years, but funding body NI Arts and Culture rejected Coney’s application. What may have affected the decision was the author’s preference for a local printer rather than out-sourcing to cheaper England. The decision was appealed. Some wonder if there’s something about Mal’s type of comic they just don’t want to publish? Or was it part of the £400 million allocated to building a shopping complex to look like it was created by Michael Bay?

I sell a final comic and must make good on my pledge to copy up a new one for next month. Five copies, says Paddy. We quickly scriblle out the poster for ‘Playing with A Full Decker’ but it’s forty minutes to pack up. Another NI Culture endeavour at the Box, Black Books, is to run fortnightly and we’re invited along for the ride. So Feburary 23rd, we’ll be back again. Camden it ain’t, but there’s something there.

Mal Coney on the Irish Comics Wiki
Cue & Ehh? Interview with Mal.

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