Well let the boys all sing and the boys all shout for tomorrow

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.

London Underground Comics feat. Alan Moore – By Oli Smith

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

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Andrew Luke

King of Comics (Jan 27, 2008)

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.

My columns are concerned with four aspects surrounding comics – social community, economic factors, festival and exhibition coverage and modes of distribution.

Grave Graham Bettany had been warned if he was drinking with Bisley he’d end up in a hotel in Amsterdam dressed in girls clothes and unable to feel his legs. The next morning he sat on the steps outside the Birmingham International Comics Show (BICS) with me – a cigarette in his hand, and Simon Bisley’s guest badge subtly rested on his jacket. “It must be an awesome responsibility to be the King of Comics”, his statement a moment floating smoke. “Still everyone gets their shot here. Everyone’s the King of Comics for a day.”

The BBC’s Brilliant Comics Britannia series propagated this publicly held myth of a dead UK comics industry. Bar the Dandy, Beano, 2000 AD and Viz, UK cartoonists only work for Stateside publishers. In fact, the UK comics industry has been booming for many years. Currently several hundred publishers are contributing and the financial health…um….this calculator worked fine when I was looking analyzing the profits of the UK defense employees.

The cracks in the system are most noticeable at big events. Case study fair – Birmingham (BICS). The average event in recent years is about £40 per table per day. (BICS gave special priority for to Indy publishers – allocating at least 30 tables and selling them at a £70 lower rate [for two days]). Split between three creators this is manageable. Equivalent to a print run of well over a hundred copies of a base 28 page black and white booklet. These publishers rarely break even on profit, as generally this means raising cover prices, and selling nearly all their product. Then there are costs of beer, sandwiches, travel, beer, accommodation, beer, meals, and time off their jobs. These contributions help to pay appearance fees for already financially capable A-listers hotel rooms, flights, manilas, coronas, and sometimes, damn selfish egos. Oddly enough, the money rarely barely stays in the hands of those who organize these events. Shane Chebsey, front man of BICS, and the main distributor for UK self-published comics over the last eight years was a little out of pocket after the previous event. As Shane told me, “You live and learn”. Organizers of previous large gigs, such as Kev F Sutherland (Comics99, 2000), and Dez Skinn (Brighton Comics Expo 2005), have also faced similar problems with being out of pocket at their events. The Thing is an exception to the festival management earner rule, were the management income is an executive wage conservatively estimated from different soures at between £1,500-£3,000. Sources close to organiser Finlay state that the paid team under him are kept to a minimum, and at a minimum wage. This figure includes outgoings, though a post-profit outgoing of hall rent (between £1,000-£2,000) and payment for the website in the year ahead maybe where this profit is going. That, and any plasma screen that’s given to him.

I’ve not the figures for the 2008 Bristol Expo to hand, but exhibitors costs have risen. For The Thing 2008 is costing between £60-£70 a table and BICS 2008 has risen to £90 for the weekend for small pressers.

There is a serious concern among commentators that the UK comics scene unwittingly slides to a vanity press situation. One example: the Judge Dredd Megazine work-for-free controversy, where editor Matt Smith offered a six-page platform to small pressers to “show off their wares and plug their titles/websites.” It’s been interpreted as exploitative, encouraging, as opportunity for advertising, as sponsorship-with-a-catch, as good CV material, and as a destructive in-road to a long-term reduction of wages for all creators. A worrying signifier that The Megazine, owned by one of the country’s top gaming companies, Rebellion, can’t even pay some of their cartoonists minimum wage.

Daniel Merlin-Goodbrey is the most exciting UK comics creator since Grant Morrison. He makes brilliant web and print comics, and at the ‘Big Futures ?’ panel at Birmingham he outlined the differences between Small Press creators supporting ‘convention’ festivals. The mini-comics crowd, involved with photocopiers and self-assembly, people who really shouldn’t be paying £40 per table per day. The second group of self-publishers adhere more closely to a business model, including monetary returns, and have better harnessed their skill. These are useful classifiers and the trend amongst festival organisers is to take account of this, though it’s not always a divisive behaviour. The panel makes some talk about comics printed by book publishers like Jonathan Cape, after higher profile serialisation in broad-sheet newspapers. These trends must surely encourage the cartoonist seeking to trade their art for cash. However my comics don’t sell that well and spurred on by the Guinness fuelled proclamations of the night before, I ask the panel why I might subsidise Mike Mignola and why I should stand for it? 2000 AD group columnist and self-publisher David Baillie answers in front of the Birmingham audience in his diplomatic way, “If the small press were to decide they wanted to boycott, or withdraw from these festivals then they simply wouldn’t happen. End of story.”

Sleazy Dan Lester at London Underground Comics - Andy Luke

UK Comics Expo 2008 : Small Pressers on Strike. The line of skinny indy kids requiring entrance via ex-Climate Camp tables loaded up with Favourite Crayon Stories. The coats and backpacks that usually hide under convention tables are strewn all along the front of the hotel, a nearby patch of green provides anchor for one of the protestor’s tents. Star guest can’t get near the entrance, a ‘Fair Trade Comix’ placard is thrust in his face, sets off his panic alarm. Hotel security can’t get past the six xerox machines blocking the door. A few of the pettier arguments of yore resurface- resurrected as horrible, bloody, punch-ups. There are small boys crying. A pensioner drops his groceries ! For those of you with faint constituents, some of these people are faking. Three minutes later, police mini-bus day trip. Fathers For Justice at the hotel windows. Familiar slacker and punk-art students, and the Scottish accent ! Handcuffs behind backs. Oh, there are a few screamers and howlers, folk raised in the land of exclamation after all. In the end though, copies of Summer Ball and Banal Pig are confiscated, creators Oli Smith, Gareth Brookes and Grave Graham loaded into the back of a van. I’m in there too – charged with very poorly impersonating Mark Thomas. A Diamond representative goads on Judge Dredd and his baton. Ironic weapon of choice too, considering the 2012 London Olympics seriously detract opportunities for Arts Council funding away from many comics festival events.

Let’s skip that relay.

Rubins at UK Web and Mini Comix Thing - Andy LukeCaption 2006 - Andy Luke

One of the main reasons for these cons is the joy that is of rich friendships, met and making. Through cons I’ve met people who have offered me a bed and tea, demanded I make myself at home while I was out on the street, and comforted me when loved ones passed away,  I’ve danced and tattooed with these people, dissected pop culture and been a listening ear after breakups. Loads of times I’ve accidentally modestly smiled at legends in human form, and discovered that the isolation of my time in Ulster was just an illusion. These and the chance to share productive talents with our friends and new faces and the outside spaces – it’s wrapped in the why we bother with ‘maybe-make-a-few-quid-ulp’. While the UK comic community is no angel, the social factor is one of its greatest strengths in this trade and club, outside the power of the medium. Placards fit right in at comics festivals. Think; you ever see one without a banner ?

Who has the time for a picket line about comics, really ? Or 197 other methods of non-violent action ?

Over the next few columns I aim to re-present varying business models creators and exhibitors should and do utilise to face the difficult and interesting years ahead. We’re towards go for a scene with air conditioning, coat hangers, and cloakrooms, gigs that positively rock, exhibitions were the cartoonist is queen, or king, or both, or their chosen states in between. Creator respect, fun, money, and rights.

There’s a Paypal button below here for myself. Please contribute as you exit if it is within your means.

  – Andrew Luke

“I’m king for a day, I’m a beautiful lay,
I’m gorgeously brave, Won’t you take me home to bed ?
I’m back in my job, I’m back in my job, every Monday morning
I’m back in my job, I’m back in my job, I’m back in my job, I was King for a day”

I’ll be using WayBack Machine to re-introduce the Sheridan Cottage series here weekly over the next few months.