Comicking: The January Ashcans

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

Welcome to an occasional collection of comics art, news, snippets and stories of note. Once a month, I’ll bring the easter egg extras that don’t make it to my regular columns, but are a tasty treat nonetheless.

Black Books

Is an independent literary fair, part of the cultural regeneration of Northern Ireland, within NI Culture’s Out To Lunch festival. This weekend Paddy Brown will be manning a stand there, selling work from the North and South, now including Blackshapes’ Phil Barrett.

Keep a look out for special guests!

Eggheads
On Tuesday this week, Paddy completed recording at BBC Scotland for an episode of the knowledge based quiz show, Eggheads along with fellow Belfast comics creators on his team: Stephen Downey (CANCERTOWN) and PJ Holden (JUDGE DREDD) Eggheads features four rounds of specific knowledge followed by a fifth on general knowlege. Teams compete against an Eggheads team of boffs and brainiacs. (PJ’s photo from the BBC lobby here.)

When Eggheads had a cartoonist team appear on the show in October last year, a series of knock-outs and a tense tie-break resulted in a win for The Cartoonists. Could it be that the targeted recruitment of more cartoonists just several weeks after means the Eggheads are out for ink blood or yoke? Be careful guys! Downey confirms this edition of Eggheads had Jeremy Vine hosting, which means it will air over the Summer or Autumn.

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Battlefields: Happy Valley is the latest wartime offering from Garth Ennis, published by Dynamite. An air squadron taking on The Third Reich in 1942, over the industrial centre of the Ruhr. Apparently the story made PJ cry.

A panel from Happy Valley is replicated in PJ’s short autobiographical comic drawn in an hour that’s got a great Eddie Campbell quality to it.

Oh Mr. Robinson and His Quango…
Belfast politics are in the news this week as it’s transpired MP Iris Robinson has resigned. She’s had some rather serious mental health issues, undeclared business contracts, lots of cash and the 19-yr old waiter. In the fall-out, her husband the First Minister of Northern Ireland has stood down from his post until the enquiry reaches it’s findings. Oddly, the region’s newspapers are mostly lacking selections from political cartoonists. Here’s some contributions from Stevie Lee on Tuesday, firstly with Peter’s replacement MLA Nigel Dodds and then with Martin McGuinness and replacement First Minister Arlene Foster

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Announcing the dates of Derry’s 2D Festival, 2010 David Campbell writes,

“2D, although we are late on the go this year, is happening and will be on from the 3-5th June, in the Verbal Arts Centre and Sandinos, with a similar format to previous years. We are working on guests and contentat the minute and will be publicising the dates as much as we can from here on in, so any help with that is appreciated. Be glad to have you along as an exhibitor again if you’re up for it.”

There are few better ways to spend a weekend than in this real community event and rational for hedonistic partying. It’s the fourth annual festival and last year there was critical debate, Bryan Talbolt, David Lloyd, sketches and workshops for children, dancing and blurred vision. David, my answer is Yes.The 2D website can be found here.

On the subject of Irish political cartooning, do check out these lovely sketches on David’s blog.

There Was More Than One Gunman

Never far from critical clarity, Dubliner John Robbins ruffled a few feathers on the indy comix scene in 2001 with the release of Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll. The tract explored the motivations of self-publishing cartoonists, and their agendas in product contents agendas through a short repeated question: “Why do you do it?” In many ways, Closing Shots strikes and cuts the small press in much the same way as Roland Barthes’ Death of the Authordeconstructed the culture of writing and the merit of the act when bound to coded referencing of other texts.

Shortly after publication, the text was carried at Bugpowder.com and for a while open to comments and criticism. It’s still a solidly articulate and insightful prose with a directed ire towards contemporary mainstream storytelling. Valuable for discerning reviewers, critics and mostly, thinking creatives on the scenes.

In November, a revised edition was uploaded. If the original on Bugpowder is the ‘Shock’ tract for thinking critically about the comics you read and create, the new edition is the ‘Coax’. Yet perhaps more damning, certainly more directed and appearing clearer: much more relevant to a generation online were alternative transforms to new mainstream.

“Oftentimes there is a misconception among small press creators that they are rebels with suppressed talent, struggling against the might of the inferior mainstream and producing work of greater substance. This romanticised view also alludes to a notion that any production of material beneath the small press umbrella is somehow underground in nature. ”

In requests I publish an interview on the piece, John has stated he prefers the work to speak for itself. John’s new website, Downright Bockedy, is here.

The Baillie Train
David Baillie, author of The Indiscriminate Device and Tongue of the Dead has been blogging from Hôpital Avicenne in Paris, were he and Daniel Goodbrey have been working on something interesting,

“Mr G had been approached by virtuoso architect Valerio Ferrari about a proposed art installation in a Parisian hospital. His  idea was that it would take the form of something like a web comic, but one that would be navigated by physically travelling through a space rather than clicking in a browser.”

More about it on David’s blog where he goes on to document his trip from Paris on Tuesday to a big important meeting at BBC Scotland. (Not for Eggheads, no)
Still, if you want conspiracy, I heard rumours of a meeting of other 2000AD types thereabouts….

The Beagle Has Flown
My stage directions for a renewed British Comics Awards ceremony featured on Alltern8.com last month. It met with confusion from editors and a resounding silence from readers who viewed it in healthy numbers. On the same day the piece saw print, it was to be joined by that of another high profile comics  journalist confirming that there have been developments in The Eagles story. Just before it was put on the back burner for verification purposes.

Escape
Last month, Paul Gravett announced the return of Escape. Here’s what he told me in an email on Monday,

“it is early days and we’re not planning many books to start with. There will be the Escape anthology returning for graphic short stories.”

Escape has a special place in British comics history. Indeed it featured a wealth of talent and over the 19 issues helped to launch the careers of Eddie Campbell, Dave McKean, Neil Gaiman and Jamie Hewlett among others.. Interesting times ahead: the story is here.

Oli Who?
Professional indy comics activist of London Underground Comics, Oli Smith, is writing Doctor Who. According to the recent official Doctor Who Magazine (DWM), an audiobook ‘The Runaway Train’, presumably voiced by Matt Smith and Karen Gillian may be due out this June. In fact there’s already an Amazon entry for it.  The following month sees the release of his first full-length novel, “Nuclear Time” as part of the BBC New Series Adventures. He’ll also be putting some of those comic scripting skills to good use on DWM.

Stalking Sean
I appear to be stalking Oli’s cohort, Sean Azzopardi, whose work ethic is off the scale lately. He’s contributed pages in the shape of “My Only Friend” (oposite) to ’69 Love Songs’ A strip blog interpreting songs from the album of the same name by The Magnetic Fields. (Amazon link) There are also some fantastic contributions by Hum “Lew” Davies, Ton Humberstone, Elizabeth Jordan and a host of others.  A wonderful find.
Sean has also been spotted taking part in the 100 Days project: a creative concept to create something beautiful to make the world a better place. Ahh, that’s nice. Sean is posting his creations at his Phatcatz website.

Oh, and you can read my review of Sean’s action fantasy story, Necessary Monsters right here on Alltern8.com

All this exposure, it’s an arrest waiting to happen.

Radio Resonating Comix
Over the last few years Resonance FM, a London community arts radio, has allowed comics journalist Alex Fitch to present his rather excellent show, Panel Borders. In that vein comes the Alternative Press Hour, a monthly show “dedicated to comix, zines and DIY culture” featuring Gareth Brookes and Jimi Gherkin. The first show features interviews with London Zine Symposium organiser Edd Baldry and Mike Lake, co-founder of Titan Distribution and Forbidden Planet. Broadcasts this Friday (15th) at 9pm and should probably be online by Monday.

Finally, it’s just been announced that Darryl Cunningham’s Psychiatric Tales is to be published in collected form in the US, by Bloomsbury. If you’ve not seen this, it’s worth a look and here it is.

If you have an area you’d like to see covered, or a story to share, I can be emailed at drew.luke(at)gmail.com on correspondence marked ‘Comicking’.

I’m also on TwitterFacebook and right here on Alltern8.com My loud new webcomic, Don’t Get Lost, is updated Thursdays.

Comicking is published most Tuesdays, except for next week as I’m taking a holiday.

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Comicking: Small Faire

This was my first column for the now defunct Alltern8.com, dated December 9th 2009

Pete Gravett stood facing the map of the British Isles on photo glass, ten by twenty wide in his study suite. Electron Orange lights illuminated the cities of London, Birmingham, Bristol and Palookaville. Technology to be proud of, live internet feeds delivering realtime updates to his 4D comics arts events calendar. He’d noticed the constellation change these last months, spread out to smaller areas in Exeter, in Telford, Leicester, Richmond and Inverness. This had been going on before that, he thought, accelerating since the Sean Olilamden’s stint at Camden market. The celebrity endorsements and music videos made the Camden set a YouTube sensation and their handmade comics led to them being mobbed by teenagers in a manner reserved for Jagger and Lennon. That populist wave continued with Jimi Gherkin, a folk singer, who would recruit an entire picturebook festival as his onstage accompaniment.

“Point of Sales Mode. Increase parameters to Maximum View”, requested Gravett.
“POS View is in Beta Mode. Buffering…”

The lights flickered briefly. From those representing monthly marts, SciFi, Fantasy and RPG Cons, a manifestation outward, multiplying in number. Recognisably mapping out the number of speciality stores, bookstores, libraries, then all over the NASA hardware display, a swarming. A church basement here, a pub there. His palm hovered over the screen for details on new locations. A workers’ co-operative, a market stall in a northern industrial town, car boot sale and a village fete. The whole country was filled with lights. As it began to map out the PubCons, the machine threatened to overheat.

“Shazam”, he uttered. “Its like some crazy Socialist revolution.”

The internet makes available once again the populist comics form for a mass readership. Through access to news and reviews we can determine ordering printed matter. Or find a bookstore or a comics festival within travelling distance. In recent years, the prices for self-publishing cartoonists selling their wares at these venues accelerated well above the £30 mark. The following Table Prices Controversy led to a split between cartoonists among a class income lines, resulting in an official boycott and numerous unofficial non-participation acts. Some self-publishers saw that one of the solutions was small fairs. In 2008, the collective London Underground Comics sold small press comics at Camden Lock Market almost every Saturday of the year. In 2009, Jimi Gherkin’s Alternative Press held a week long fair, three one-day events and ‘twinned’ with eleven or more other events within the community. Unsubstantiated reports have reached me that Gez Kelly of Golden Orbit, distributor at some of the monthly marts of four-colour boxed backing board comics, has begun to specialise in independent products. Add this to the news that a wing of Forbidden Planet International is running a trial small press section in its Birmingham store and access to original new British comics is increasingly fitter.

As a cartoonist and promoter of the form this gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. In the last fortnight, I presented at two small fairs and saw a lovely selection of comics from independent producers.

Dublin Zine Fair 2009

When I left Ireland in 2005, there was a ragtag of sporadic comics publications and an occassional event, little to call it a ‘scene’. By the time I returned, it was more public, more pro-active. Last weekend, I accompanied Paddy Brown, author of partwork mythology, The Ulster Cycle, from Belfast to Dublin. We were attending the second yearly Independents Day in The Co-Operative Food Building in the Newmarket area.

Publicity-shy cartoonist and ex-reviewer John Robbins briefly made his second festival appearance in a decade and help us set up our stall. I met lots of active small pressers whose names I didnt know, which I’m inclined to think is a good thing. Differing from the cosplayers of traditional Comicon standard, the venue was populated by sexy anarcho socialist feminist zinesters with dreads and piercings and tarots and woolens. Behind my swearing robot comix collections was a Vegan cake stall and next to us, the sale of Palestinian hand crafted items by the Irish Solidarity Group. Not a Stormtrooper in sight! This gave me happy memories of Camden, dealing comics to a varied crowd who hadn’t necessarrilly come in search of them. I was selling around ten comics an hour and my voice became hoarse.

Some local self-publishers I met included Gar Shanley, Luke Fallon, and Deirdre De Barra whose ‘Found’ deserves special mention: a beautiful silent comic about isolation, connection and ascension which delivers love straight to the reader. I also picked up the American “Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf: A sex education comic book” which has a responsible and friendly attitude and an illustration style rooted in zines. Long-running Irish punk zinesters Loserdom were there, and they’d managed to get Jimi Gherkin’s Zine Collective stock on their table. Convention afficionado Cliodhna Lyons even appeared for fifteen minutes to pass on some stock, having flown from attendance at the Leeds Thought Bubble comics event the same day.

With a few copies exchanged at days end, Paddy and I packed up and drove out to Belfast for Phase 2 of our plan.

black box market 2009

The Black Box is a pub and nightclub on Hill Street in Belfast, which once a month opens its doors to a market. Exhibiting is free, though donations are expected. Organisers Helen and Ryan Darragh state,

“we have limited space. So we really have to work it out on the day. We try to do our best by each stall holder.”

Paddy and I laid out our comics and those given to us in Dublin, such as the works of Edition Book Arts, a collective made up of Paddy Lynch, Katie Blackwood and Phil Barrett. We attracted a crowd who were delighted to learn there were so many Irish cartoonists producing their own wares.

A cornucopia of wares presented browsers with varied choices. One exhibitor had Playmobil and Star Wars figures dangling from key rings. Local poet Christine Morrow manned a table were bus route images had become badges and Happy Mondays gig posters showed up on sustainable carry bags and mugs. The Handmade Brigade sold tea-towels with stitched in obscenities, which in their own way were quite amusing. Across from us a vinyl record seller told me he enjoyed the welcome opportunity, his usual sales route through Ebay having begun to dry up. Next to him Dale Mawhinney, a local painter who adapted some of his poems into comics. Across, an Anarchist collective who had Spain Rodriguez’s graphic novel, Che, proudly displayed under Karl Marx’s Capital. About ten of the twenty tables sold a few comics. None were quite so concentrated on the form as ours or the traditional collectors stall manned by Scott, Ron and Karen from The Sunnyside Comics Podcast.

During the day Davy Francis stopped for a chat. Davy worked on Oink! And his round and squiggly humour strips such as Cowpat County were an inspiration to me growing up. We were also joined by Danny Pongo, my co-writer over the last month on humour piece, Santa: The White Paper. As it was my birthday, Paddy and Danny took me for drinks after we’d packed up and we admired the unveiling of a new mural-in-progress nearby of celebrity caricatures.

black box market 2009a

As I write this, my email box dances with chatter about the next Black Box Comics Market, an accompanying website and a mini-comic collection to give out free to interested parties. In addition to the market on the first Sunday of the month, theres an additional date on January 17th there withBlack Books, as part of the Out To Lunch Arts Festival in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. In England, Jimi Gherkin has already confirmed the similar 2010 Alternative Press Fair for February 13th from noon to midnight at the St. Aloysius social club, Phoenix Road, London.

Theres a thing about the buzz of so many different people at these small fairs that gets my enthusiasm rising. It happens in a way I don’t get at comics conventions were the public have paid an entry fee and are surrounded by four-colour noise. I like the variety of zines
and baked cakes and comics just fitting in with other stuff, rather than isolated to a hall of their own. Where theres nothing special about comics, theres everything special about comics.
Further comics events throughout the year can be found at Paul Gravett’s always excellent Events list.