Sheridan Cottage Updates

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.

sherridancottage

Welcome to the twentieth Sheridan Cottage, and what is intended to be my final piece of comics journo-ism for some time. Nine months he says mercilessly, ah but with doubt, and oh, hope.

I’d like to say its all down to my involvement in re-launching Crisis (tipping Maxwell’s Earth) The truth is I’m sitting the final year of my degree – a mix made up of modules from Education and Human Development, History of Art, Sociology, Communications Media and Culture, International Relations and Film Studies. Oh, and Japanese.

This column went awright, didn’t it? I thought to round off I’d take a look at some of the areas I’ve covered over the run and see how things have played out.

That Gorramm Boycott

In the first column we reported on the steep issue of table costs at festivals. and the contentious and farcical effects of a small presser boycott. Before the article saw print I discovered I’d been named as a leading boycotter of the Web and Mini Comix Thing by London Underground Comics’ Oli Smith. Co-conspirator Leon Hewitt escaped with only a mild dose of ale tummy. It did get contentious though,
I take a holiday in India (6th-21st Jan)
Oli Smith tells Bugpowder.com’s Dan Fish I’m boycotting a major comics festival (Jan 20)
A thread of about 25 messages appears on the Thing message boards by the 22nd. (Organiser Pat Findlay deletes it and its not mentioned again. By then its gotten the LUC much publicity.)
Feb 2nd – I join the boycott of my own free will, concurring its a good idea.
Cliodhna Lyons and others making all sorts of assumptions about my nature as ‘mad’ and ‘scientist’.

(Pat makes another reference to emails between the two of us. Rather than his re-surfacing of these, they’re online here. Spoilers: It all ends in unpleasantness. Decide yourself.)

Instigator Oli Smith later challenges me with sabotaging ‘Low Energy Day’,
Oli was hoping to avoid overcrowding and create a social space.
Andy Luke was hoping to discuss the functionality of Bugpowder.com in a social space 
I back out, and Oli mentions it constantly, featured in Weekend Friends 2.

Can’t we all just get along ?
Next, happier times,

London Underground Comics

Approximarely a year old next week, Oli and THE Oliver Lambden among others have lined up a rather excellent looking one-year-aversary at the Prince Arthur Pub, London, Euston Station. The mart times with this years 24 Hour Comics Day, and Oli hopes the utility can fill the gap left by Gravett and ICA hosting of 24HR CMX Events. Check out the post here with the useful and informative YouTube vid.

Other Venues

A smart roundtable by Lyons, Dennis and Duff pushed the boat out further on thinking about new venues for selling comics. Jas Wilson had a rather interesting chat about this with me a few weeks ago. Jas has been shipping his book around as ‘a local product’, capitalising on community networks. Him & Her’s Smuggling Vacation is stocked at local hairdressers.

By Big Football Cup Match Day, Jas has approached landlords of his local pub about stocking copies of HIM AND HER’S somewhere prominent in the bar. I’m told half-time sales are very good.

There was also some talk about Olver and Laurence’s club nights. Some of these have been organised specifically to promote Tales From The Flat, with posters and cut-outs, and TFTF as a central image, and sales have been good. However, I did hear one tale of Oliver and Laurence showing up at a non-TFTF event and selling comics. Through word of mouth, their sales for that evening were in the hundreds. This is from a reliable source, but I’d treat it with a pinch of salt. Tasty.

For those who prefer the traditional route of shopping for comics around other comics venues I’ve also been informed that a leading comics mart dealer is seriously looking into opening mart days up to small pressers. I’m under embargo for divulging more details at present, but prep for it if you think you might like to add more exhibition tour dates in cities.

Maps At The Crossroads

Our two-part Maps At The Crossroads column delivered a snapshot of some of the comics scene on March 22nd in London, and probably generated more interest than anything else I’ve done.

I was told that the use of the Great Hall, Queen Mary University for an arts and crafts fair couldnt be arranged because of new decisions by the board of Governors relating to sales in that space. An Arts and Crafts event fell under the category of ‘non-commercial use’.  I reported that the Web and Mini Comix Thing was likely to be the last in that venue. Several months ago, another researcher got in touch with the news that the venue was now available for rent, at the price of 2,000pounds. This confirms analysis by Oli Smith.

Last weekend Pat Findlay announced the UK Web and Mini Comix Thing 2009 over at http://www.ukwebcomixthing.co.uk
Table costs appear to have remained the same as last year’s controversial hike.on a scale of 50pounds to 70pounds, depending on booking, and 3pounds per additional assistant. This has already generated some response on the forum.

Last year’s Thing, was, depending on who you talk to
“a great time”
“thanks for making it all possible”
“it was just dead”
“Arctic”
“Nothing seemed to be happening..no-one was talking to one another….and what was with that panel ?”
“He treated us all like we were schoolkids”
“There was no coffee…for miles”
“The panel was even quite good”
“There were drawing pads on the stage”

I’ll be boycotting the Thing as an exhibitor this year. Ironically, this column will probably lead to one of the first table bookings!

Where did Jack Brodies Go?

Rich Johnston, Teacake Comics and many others were pretty excited about Jack Brodies, the Camden-based comics shop and gallery which also sold tea, coffee, pastries and cakes. In dialogue with David Bircham, he too was pretty excited. The shop looked great and aesthetically, it was a real pleaser.

David had been talking to me about the official launch party on the 22nd, and “seemed pretty excited by the buzz I’d generated, and the material I’d been linking to.” However, the line went down and Jack Brodies ceased trading sometime after March 16, 2008, less than a month after opening. A London Underground Comics source casually mentioned its closure Mid-May.

Daley Osiyemi stated, “We decided to put Jack Brodies on hold for now while we try and move the publishing side of the business forward”. (May 29) The storefront remains fully decorated with the shutters down.

Growing Your Own Comics Festival

There seemed to me to be a surge in mini-cons or ‘pubcons’ this year. Jimi Gherkin with effort has been promoting theHandmade and Bound Event in London on Saturday 8 November. Ooh, and theres also DJs and bands that evening.

Jimi’s event site has some great links for small press.

Such as the London-based Small Publishers Fair on 24-25 October

Notes On Content

I did a bit of mouthing off about political and ethical content in comics. I’ve not yet bought a copy of Cliodhna Lyons “Sorry I can’t take your call but I’m off saving the world” anthology, but it is out and available from various comic shops, Lyons tour dates and the website, http://www.goalanthology.com/

The Paper Tiger Comix War Anthology in aid of CAAT has still not been released. Its been in development for two years. Sean Duffield is likely to prioritise it if you donate some money or time to Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) .

At ‘No Barcodes’ I also picked up the Do You Want To Kiss It Better?  collective’s first comic ‘Green’. “Printed on 100% recycled paper with inks based on vegetable oil from a press powered by wind turbines” It also features work by Rufus Dayglo and Leonie O’ Moore.

Truthfully, theres political agenda cartoonists aplenty if you want to find them – they just don’t bubble to the surface as often as folks more immersed in the comics community as I’ve been reading it..
So as much for me as for you,

John Stuart Clark (aka Brick)  http://www.brickbats.co.uk/ 
Polyp http://www.polyp.org.uk/
Cartoon Kate Evans http://www.cartoonkate.co.uk/
Kate Charlesworth http://www.katecharlesworth.com/
Luke Warm http://autografix.com

Dan Lester

Dan Lester has been making good on his committment to produce one 24hr comic per month for a year. With one “noble failure” and a few close calls under his belt, a few of these are archived at his blog. ‘Who Is Dan Lester?’ and ‘Ivan’s Comic’ join ‘The New Adventures of Bruce Lee’ and ‘Broken Hippos’ at http://sleazydanlester.blogspot.com/

His final piece in this series is due soon.

Comics At Markets

I’ve not yet had an opportunity to re-visit Oxford Market to sell comics, though a few dates from 17th December and another six dates over that period are open to me. Deirdre Ruane, Tom McNally and Aaron Murphy have expressed an interest in being involveed. I’ll put a flag up over Bugpowder.com when something comes up.

Bics 2008

A great success for me in terms of the social success. I got to hang with the organisers, professsionals and professionals. Socially, I was made aware regardless of whether folk have a good time as I did, that theres more of an excessive hedonism potential in large festivals. Small pressers get drunk and revel, but set them amongst professionals with established drinking records and things seem to be a little more uneven. The Friends of Shane Chebsey Foundation have asked that I not focus on  this too much. The Friends of Andy Luke League concur.

I also learned that Shane Chebsey’s Smallzone stake in Infinity & Beyond Comics, Shrewsbury, has within it ‘Heroes’, a coffee shop. Featured are a large white coffee called ‘The White Queen’ and other themed coffees and milkshakes, with names like ‘The Supersoldier Serum’.

Infinity & Beyond, 31 Castle St, Shrewsbury, SY1 2BQ. The mail order website ishttp://www.infinitybeyond.co.uk/store/home.php

Shane tells me that BICS 2008’s financial outcome this year, was that they “didnt lose any money”, and are “in the black”. Chebbo is quite “proud of what were achieved”.

“We all had a good time”, indeed. Most folk there can’t have failed to have been charmed by the two promoters of the Leeds Thought Bubble Festival, who seemed to be working every table in a calm, professional and friendly manner. I’d love to be able to make it this year.

And I got a rather awesome BICS T-Shirt for my gophering efforts.

Likewise with the charm were the reps for Derry’s 2-D Comics Festival. Local cultural sponsorship has enabled them to provide exhibitor space for free again next year. Word coming out of the event last year was quite complimentary. The date has been set (already) as (from recollection) 13-14 June, but why not drop David an email through a website visit to confirm ?

The Jam Factory Oxford

So far there has been no response from the venue regarding my interest in the institution of a written contract between them and their exhibiting artists. Anyone fancy some cyber-activism ?

Out of Office 

Expect to see a one-off Sheridan Cottage roundtable covering the issues raised here in the next six months. Co-hosted by myself and Matt Badham with a plethora of industry figures on board. In the meantime, the comments sections are still there.

I’ll be back, who knows when ? Sometimes folk need to get away from comics talk for a while. My feeling is that comics are the antidote to the rigours, and should remain in the background. Medicalisation is a dangerous game.

That said I’m anxiously anticipating my next comic pick-up, including Lamben and Smith’s Bloc. You wanna see the preview.

-Love and Well Wishes
Andrew Luke
Comics Journalist on Sabbatical

Car Boots and International Shows – The Shane Chebsey Deal: pt.1

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.

sherridancottage

 

The UK comics scene has invoked dilligent workers including journalist publishers and promoters such as Paul Gravett, Dez Skinn and Phil Hall. In between the collapse of the weekly newsagent offerings the adult British comics industry rises from the underground into the emerging new virtual digital age. Shane Chebsey has been one of those pivotal figures of the previous decade in Brit comics. A major distributor in getting comics to people in the days were mail order was an only avenue, to the spotlight he’s walking into in organising the Birmingham International Comics Show. It’s my great pleasure to be able to present a two-part interview with Smallzone man Shane ‘Chebbo’ Chebsey.

shane chebsey by lew stringerPhoto provided with kind permission of Lew Stringer

Andrew: Tell us about your secret identity ? Who are you when you’re not Shane Chebsey, Comics Networker Extraordinaire?

Shane: Ha ha… if I told you I’d have to kill you.

Andrew:
 
Smallzone Distribution set up in 1999 and I’d see you at many of the comics festivals I’d attend. There’d be mad stories going around about you also selling small press comics at those rack-only marts, and out of car boots. At one point I began to see your future as touring around the country in a van with an open-hatch at the side. In terms of numbers how many events had a Smallzone table and are there any wild anecdotes from your time on the road?

Shane Chebsey: Hi Andy.
Well it’s not really that much of a wild life lugging comics around on trains and buses, so I’m afraid I don’t really have any crazy anecdotes for you, well not any that won’t result in my being sued for all I’m worth (which aint much) anyway.

smallzone

At one point Smallzone was at an event every Saturday, including Marts, conventions, markets, car boot sales – you name it, and I was there selling little photocopied comics.
That slowed down really when a) I got a job that meant I had to work Saturdays, and b) I got a PC in 2000 and started to build the first Smallzone Website.
Now I just tend to do major events, with a few marts as and when I have Saturday’s off.chebsey

Andrew: Its true then about the car boot sales ? Was fun had ? How many comics would you have shifted ?

Shane:  Fun was has indeed, especially when the rain came as you can imagine. Comics and rain don’t mix!

Andrew: I had this problem with the market stall in Oxford. Rain built up the night before giving us a canopy of doom. Five or more mini comics shoppers were soaked.

Shane: It ended up being a waste of time, and that’s why I no longer do them… also, I no longer have a friend with a car.

Andrew: Though there were other zines and comics mail dealers, Smallzone was seen, I think by many, to be the main game in town. Am I right to understand this was (asides from the help of your family), a solo endeavour in terms of the physical movement of boxes and main administrative duties?
How many comics were/are you dealing with distributing at the height of Smallzone’s business?

Shane: Help from family? You must be joking mate!
I’m afraid it’s always been a solo effort really. I started with just 8 publishers, and now I guess it must be around 300 and I still make no money!
I do tend to carry lighter boxes these days though, my back wouldn’t manage as much as it did back in the day.

Andrew: Obviously theres a few ways in which folk can help ‘feed’ Smallzone? My own TRS2 micro-reviews used to run in Smallzone’s CAOF and Imagineers publications, for example. Or to go and do something independent as Oli Smith has done in Camden. Do you have a need for, and are you accepting, volunteer workers ? And how could folk help?

Shane: There’s no workplace for smallzone really other than the shop/ storage space at Infinity & Beyond and my spare room at home, so the best way folks can help the cause is to do distro themselves or set up stalls like Oli has done. I don’t often get to London, so Oli’s work at Camden is invaluable.

Another way folks can help is to link to the site, and publishers can help by listing smallzone as their distributor instead of not bothering.

Andrew: It’s long been held by myself and a few others that the Smallzone website is…well…fairly naff and ill-suited to looking at in terms of design. I think a superior volunteer web programmer might be welcome. On the other hand, the new Smallzone network for creators on Ning looks marvellous, really. Hats off, the design there is very refreshing. Inspired by a different approach to feeding distribution?

Shane: Well, I’m not a web designer, so I guess it is naff … yes. (You should have seen my first attempt when I was learning html, it was even worse).
However, no volunteer could possibly keep up with the work of updating the site the way I have to and I would not expect them to.
I am looking at buying a template with a full cart system, but as yet I’ve not found anything flexible enough to do what the current site does and not look like a template.

The Smallzone Ning community is not really a small press thing, more a comics industry meeting place without fans. I just thought it would be nice to include the small press in that and stay true to the original aims of smallzone… including giving small press the exposure and respect it deserves. No design involved on my part… it’s just a template network, but does the job very well.

However, something similar with a flexible shop template would be cool.

Andrew:  Travelling Man was a comic shop in your local vicinity which you managed to turn part of into a Smallzone shop, presumably with aspects of the Page 45 model in mind, is that right? How did this come about? What were the arrangements involved, and what gestures in space are available for someone to replicate what you had there, elsewhere?

Shane: I think the shop you are referring to is Infinity & Beyond in Shrewsbury near where I live.
I’d known the owners for many years, so when the space was available for rent I thought I’d give it a shot. The aim was to move more stock for publishers and to introduce Indy comics to more people.
It’s worked out very well on both counts. The rent means I still don’t make a penny, but it does shift stock, and gives me something to do with my weekends other than drink beer.
chebbo falling sky
I think it could be replicated elsewhere very easily and I have talked with another small press mover and shaker about branding the idea and moving it into other shops, but that thing called money makes it very difficult. I think in a city shop it would be profitable, but it would have to be a franchise to work properly.

Andrew: Travelling Man closed and I’m not fully aware of the circumstances. How much of this can be blamed on small press and mainstream obsessions with male power fantasies? And in relation to replicating the successes, what lessons were learnt for the hypothetical next time?

Shane: Don’t really know much about this, sorry.
I think it was just a case of… Oh I really don’t know, sorry.

Andrew: I understand a number of Smallzone distributed comics went missing, among the headaches for all concerned, in the closure of Travelling Man?

Shane: Yes, but only my own Scar Comics stuff, luckily the last batch of smallzone stuff had been paid for.

Andrew: Did anybody bother to accidentally or otherwise disappear my comics and how will I know? Have these issues been resolved?

Shane: Don’t worry Andy, none of your stuff was there.

Andrew: Seriously though, Bed sit Star Wars porn is immensely popular. Someone must have bought my comics, when was the last time you sold any?

Shane: Eh?

Andrew: Have you any desire to return to editing/publishing anthologies, and what’s interesting to you about the actual process of doing this or not doing this ?

Shane: I will – from time to time- do some more anthologies, although Andy Richmond is the half of Scar Comics that tends to do more of those.
My interest has turned to Graphic Novels. We have some great books in the pipeline that I hope will build on the success of Falling Sky, which –by the way – has now been optioned as a movie.

bics08

The Birmingham International Comics Show is a proper big grand UK comics festival managed by Shane, James Hodgkins and Andy Baker. It features such luminaries as Dave Gibbons and Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, and from what I heard the grand return of Hunt Emerson and his band to the Friday night stage. By clicking on the image you can view more details of the events, order tickets and find places to stay. The event has a new e-forum too which I expect to be filling up any time now. And to find out more about buying comics online and through the post, theres another below. I’ll be back with Shane next week were we talk more about the future plans and inner workings of Smallzone and BICS, in a very read-able piece including the words ‘boycott’ and ‘pay’. 

The Reviewers Trade Principle / Were you must not DIY

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.

sherridancottage

Idea: The Reviewers trade principle.
18 March 2008

Ordinarily a lot of small pressers might trade comics, but what if they took this further, and traded reviews ? I guarantee you, there is no difficulty in finding a publishing point for your review. It seems a very practical principle attached to giving away a free comic. For my part if anybody would like to review one of my recently published comics I’ll do the same for you. If you’ve not got my comic, how about we trade and trade review ?

Now, as I mentioned the obligatory feeling that this entails affects a full-time comix reviewer quite badly. Over the years many have gone quite mad. They roam the hills, or coffee bars of Oslo, unkempt, unshaven, howling, telling curse stories, occasionally stinking of whiskey. What if we made it a game ? Where can you get your review published ? ComicBookResources, Silverbullet, Wizard.com ? SFX ? Bugpowder, Comics Village, IndieReview ? Or how about Women’s Own, Daily Mail, Q magazine, BBC or Empire ? No seriously- that ones doing it.

I think the growth promotion a reviews trade principle offers may be a mechanism that delivers fairly distributed rewards and audiences.

Well you don’t need to look so pleased : Were you must not DIY

18 March, 2008

With apologies to seen talents: if someone does a job for you, give them credit. Namedropping and good manners. Music tells us bands rock. Community optimism attraction.

In this unordinary fifteen years were self-pressing stripzine editors and creators become a focus for an unsponsored industry in chrysalis, there are pressures. The pressure of ‘knowing’, of work to visibility, while being a man or woman at the crossroads has claimed victims. I was going to name names, chances are if you’ve been in the comics clique for over a year you know one of those. Its much better to think of them as survivors too, those nexus individuals. I don’t mean to imply that comix doesn’t nurture those who care for it, but thats what I’m implying. There’s something missing.

Those seeking to represent a broad overview of the UK comics scene cannot must not adhere to the do it yourself ethos that cartoonists and zinesters hold to. There will be no puritan work ethic here. That would empower you and others, enrich the scene, produce some vitally incredible work — but it will destroy you. And that sucks for a number of reasons. Outside of the risks to your physical and mental health, it’s a threat to the more vital lynchpin networks of comics infrastructure. You don’t wanna do that.

Shane Chebsey has been running the central distribution Smallzone largely by himself for nearly ten years now if I recall. While far from complete, this has been the main stockist of sp booklets the breadth of the UK (until Forbidden Planet’s more recent interest). Can you picture one guy running the early Diamond Distributors outside of his full-time job and family devotions ? Theres been some kerfuffle lately about whether Smallzone is functioning to creators needs adequately, hardly surprising.

A young Oli Smith (yes, he does get younger), had asked me why Shane has close to a monopoly on distribution. I told him  because he’s perhaps the only one thats been going that extra bit. Showing up to almost every con, lugging the boxes around. Doing all the mailing out. Oli, if you want to help out I’m sure Shane would welcome it. So Oli goes off and forms London Underground Comics. The stall was an instant hit, has blazed a juggernaut of publicity. This week Oli has been featured by a Camden paper in a sort of celebrity of the week bit. He does a lot of the box-lugging as well as being a well photogenic frontman ! Though now Oli is caught with the problem of being turned to by creators from far and wide. His initial hopes went along the lines of foreseeing other creative collectives setting up other stalls. In London for instance, Spitalfields, Covent Garden etc

Even a farmers market would be conquerable by two to three comics creators  I reckon !

More gets done in the small press through individuals wishing to engage in a facilitator role. While the financial reward is negligible there are a multitude of fringe benefits for the successful folk – VIP invites to exclusive events, free comics, socialising with the lurkers to the guests of honour. Thankfully through the hard labour of our forebearers many of the structures to push this industry forward are already within place. We need only to dance !

Paypal
I always welcome paypal donations at drew dot luke at gmail dot com. I think it would be a bit irresponsible of me to write a column for free on economy and not ask for your moolah. Thanks to the guys at Comics Village for their support on this.
Also,

7comicsIn7weeks

My 7 small press publications in 7 weeks challenge is completed. Pdfs are 50p and print copies are £1 ! (‘Optimus and Me’ print version sold out)

If you happen to know of any unique pieces of comics socialising or sales geez a holler on drew dot luke at gmail dotcom. Best wishes, Andrew.