ComicsWest con report

Photos by Paul O’Mahony from this place on Fissbook

A fairly new comics convention is NUI (University) Galway’s ComicsWest. Organised by one of the biggest societies on campus, the event had a trial run last year and a visit from Warren Ellis in Spring. The best way to get there is to let Paddy Brown drive you, through the natural monument range of Sligo. The stuff, as he said, you can’t do justice to on film. The train journey can be quite pretty, but I’ve no info on planes. Warren Ellis cursed, but he does. Galway is a long oul run.

I’m going back, I say, surely as Roj Blake meant it. The event itself comprised a day of comics and zine makers selling, with some neat stuff like art zine For Flip’s Sake, Kearney and Browne’s relationship book, The Man With No Libido,. Derry’s producers of Zombies Hi  made maybe it’s con debut,  and they give me some good chat on distribution. There was also the obligatory appearance of work by master infilitrator, The Phil Barrett Machine. (He’s in your room; now.)

Nice to see David McDonald there too, who I owe £3 for the Doomlord collection.

Slow

 

Colm McElligott (Committee Host), Conor Keville and John Smith at ComicsWest. Next, Some people are engrossed by our comics, some reckon it is the best cake anywhere in Galway. My long-suffering giant, Paddy Brown, mans the fort. And that might be Hibernia Comics’ David McDonald to the right.

Paddy Brown at ComicsWest

Tea and coffee was on tap, and more provided biscuits than mankind was meant to have. The Society’s reading library was laid out on five tables surrounded by plenty of comfy chairs and lent a nice atmosphere to the occasion. Out back an animation suite had a few animations playing, and a live screening of The Invisible Artist, the film I wrote with Carl Boyle about forty years of Belfast comics creators. (It’s not online until next year, but if you wish you can buy a copy now for £10-£15 from Northern Visions’ website.)  The video room had been the locale of the pre-event gathering, and the reminder that the 1960s Batman movie was actually….bloody awesome. Jim Carrey’s Riddler written by Janet Scott Batchler? No. What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree and is very dangerous?  A sparrow with a machine gun! Yes, of course. Frank Gorshin, Lorenzo Semple Jr., Bob Kane.

NUIG Reading Room Writing for Comics

I hosted a piece on Writing for Comics in the art room upstairs. Followed with organiser  David Burdon  presenting a joyous piece on Science and the Superhero with some scrutiny on propaganda for good measure. Organisers confessed the event could have been better promoted, foot-fall was decent. Few hours dinner break didn’t harm pm panel attendance noticeably. So Mike Carroll, Maura McHugh, Paddy Brown and I sat taking questions from Eoin Butler Thornton and possibly Leigh Ashmore. Very relaxed, very interesting, one of the better panels I’ve sat on. Sure, they all read 2000AD for girls while I preferred adult comics like Transformers, but we had the flow of a symphonic jazz quartet. Someone made cookies.

ComicsWest is set to be one of Ireland’s great cons of the future. It’ll quickly gain the reputation that 2d, Hi-Ex and Caption have for prog innovation and I’d posit the reason for this: the event is well laid out, the people are very pretty and the organisers work well as a team. Very well. The university supports them, the social chemistry is gold, and the attendees are involved. There is of course a post-script to this, but for all intents and purposes, my con report is done. We must go next year.

The social connect was evidenced by me the night before in the bar. I educated the kids on the greatest superhero fight ever: Batman Vs Green “One Punch” Lantern. Eoin and I bonded over shared love of The Wire, and as a guest they were in awe of, I got some free reign to slag off Battlestar Galactica. I’d elected to spend the night in Colm’s free cot. An option that was curiously unavailable the following night after he disappeared from the pub and there might have been some girl involved I’m not sure for no verification documentary evidence is available but at least he got shome. Item A, the empty bottle of Southern Comfort, has now been removed. It was drank by myself, Leigh, Eoin and a third committee member as we spun yarns and shared declarations of mutual awesomeness in a house in the hills. Paddy managed to find me the next morning, and drive me to the emergency Breakfast Shop and all the way home.

So, plan out your trips to festivals be a lesson. Because they might just be too fantastic.

Photos by Paul O’Mahony from this place on Fissbook

 

TitanCon links Fandom, Indy Comics and The NI Economy

Last night I attended the press launch for TitanCon which “promises to be the biggest SF and Fantasy literaty, media and gaming convention in Northern Ireland”.

Initially run as a non-profit event for fans by fans, it has benefitted from part-funding by Arts Council NI. The move came wth the Council’s interest in HBO’s Game of Thrones which has given the city a strong economic and tourism boost.

titancon

 

A three day series of events, the third day, a Game of Thrones Coach Tour has already been sold out. Friday festivities overlap with Belfast’s free Culture Night and including walking tours of the city and in McHughs Bar, readings from Ian McDonald, Guest of Honour and winner of the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Novelette for The Djinn’s Wife (2006)

The event on Saturday costs £10 admission and is held at The Europa Hotel. It includes tabletop gaming and RPGs, as well as a fighting workshop, and the launch of Boyd and Bradshaw’s “Guards! Guards!”, the Discworld boardgame with the blessing of Terry Pratchett. Local authors T.A. Moore and Peadar O Guilin will also be in attendance, along with film-maker George Clarke, of Battle of The Bone.

Miltos Yerolemou and Kristian Nairn, who play Syriio and Hodor respectively on Game of Thrones will also be in attendance. In contrast to some other conventions, photos with guests are not charged for, and attendees are asked to make a donation of their own choice to Action Cancer. Will Simpson (Batman, Dredd, Hellblazer) was one of the storyboard artists on Game of Thrones. His appearance gives perspectives on local involvement and behind the scenes representation.

titancon-featured-image-580x181

Simpson, began working in comics with his contribution to the Belfast indy Ximoc in 1980, with the strip Cuchulainn the Hound. TitanCon looks to reward that with the recognition of two other independent cartoonists as guests. Paddy Brown, a fellow author of the Cuchulainn tales in the form of The Cattle Raid of Cooley, has been active in comics arts and media since 1994′s A Virtual Circle. His cartooning and comics research has been internationally recognised by the respected Lambiek encyclopedia, and closer to home, by academic Paul Gravett and industry magazine Caption. There are unconfirmed rumours one of Brown’s illustrations are to feature on the front page of the official programme. I began creating comics several years after Brown, with contributions to a number of journalistic bodies, the acclaimed Caption and Barcamp un-conferences, and winning the UnLtd Millenium Award for my work on Absence. (See my CV at the footer for a fuller picture)

There’s also a fourth link to the world of comics. TitanCon has scheduled an evening with The Wireless Mystery Theatre. The Theatre “transports the audience back to the Golden Age of radio… as they present radio plays live on stage” The group has received some critical acclaim and includes Reggie Chamberlain-King, an occassional contributor to the online comics and mixed media site, Talesofthe.com. When announced at the press conference Ian McDonald reached to the person sat next to them and whispered, “they’re very good”.

wireless-mystery-theatre

 

McDonald told the assembled reporters and representatives from the Arts Council and NI Screen to “There are a lot of fantastic science fiction roots in NI Culture: CS Lewis, James Shaw.. I ask that you support today’s local writers, be it in cinema, novels or comics.”

With the direct market and the growth of self-publishing having shattered the UK and Irish comics industry, TitanCon‘s adoption of the form at this crucial time is noteworthy.

The event is run by Brotherhood without Banners (a George RR Martin fangroup), Studio NI (Northern Ireland’s largest arts and culture group), and The Other Ones (a Belfast science fiction and fantasy society). Studio NI celebrates it’s 7th anniversary as part of the weekend’s festivities.

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.

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

Comics Pub Meets: Scotland and Wales

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

Paddy Brown Pub

(The following first saw print on Alltern8.com on given date)

Introduction

“But, as you know the pub is the natural meeting place for cartoonists” wrote Andy Richmond. It’s a sentiment I agree with: a good pub experience is romanticism, communual congregation intoxicating regardless of chemical intake. My first foray into publishing comics was at the mythological Brum PubCon in 1997. Thrown by Dek Baker, Jez Higgins and Pete Ashton among others, it featured about sixty cartoonists squashed into a tiny rock metal bar. And it did rock.

There are many variations of the Illustration associated PubCon or PubMeet. Among the most well-known is Dr Sketchy’s, where cabaret meets art school and burlesque meets illustration. Founder Molly Crabapple says “As of April 2008, there are fifty Dr. Sketchy’s, in eleven countries and four continents.” (Check out the link for a helpful guide)  I would guess that’s an understating figure. Crabapple’s graphic novel, ‘Scarlett Takes Manhattan’ certainly reflects her love of burlesque and comics.

“Drink n Draw” searched through Facebook in January 2010 brings up 121 results, majorly American: Portland, Washington, San Diego, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, NYC, Boston, Orlando. Listings also include the UK & Ireland, Canada, Australia and Malaysia. I get 121 search results, that’s the short version. Of special note, is the Southern Californian meet affiliated with Eddie Freakin’ Peters and Joenis Norac. Their dedicatedhttp://drunkdrawn.blogspot.com/ not only suggests experimentation and crazed addiction levels. The blog contains evidence and a number of games to try while in the act of drawing.

This page on myspace contains links and info on a Drink n Draw book collection.

The Comics Pub meet has similarities with these three types and I’ll talk about these over this four-part series. To begin with, a look at the various ‘meets’ happening in Scotland and Wales.

Scotland
“A billion miles north of anyone”, writes Vicky Stonebridge, co-organiser of the healthy Hi-Ex Festival in Inverness. Vicky refers me to Hope Street Studios, shared office space for a collective of professionals based in Glasgow, with the possibility they might have heard of something, though I was unable to follow up fully. Jim from A1 Comics in Glasgow writes, “To be honest I haven’t heard of anything like that happening in this area, might be something that no-one mentions to us or is in association with a college or uni.”

I have more success when I come across the Scottish Cartoonists Society (SCC) and an occasional Glasgow Dr Sketchy’s.
“Burlesque performers do a short turn then pose for 5 or 10 minute drawing sessions. Beer and food available from the bar, and basic art supplies are provided. A jolly way to brush up on your life-drawing and a slightly different setting in which to enjoy a swally.”
The last meeting was Feburary from 4pm to 7pm in The Arches, Argyle Street. You can find more information at the website, http://www.rhymeswithpurple.net

Ganjaman creator Jim Stewart puts me in touch with the comics pub meet,

“..lots of folk just drawing away, and never a dull moment. Check out the comics journal discussion.” (referring to a recent TCJ article on Scottish cartoonists) “The meets are the first Wednesday of the month.you’ll see them in the events..and if there’s a mart we try to advertise it there, doing posters for it.”

Jim mentions that his self-published imprint, Numskull Comix, is 15 years old and you can also join the Ganjaman Presents Ning for recent drawings and news. “I’m about to release Ganjaman Presents 2: I’m thinking of putting it online before i go to print.”
The Glasgow meets usually run from around 7:30pm to 11pm. “Come along and talk shop, or just get pissed, or both.” More details on events all over Scotland at the Scottish Cartoonist’s Ning.

From reading forum posts, it seems as if the Glasgow Group book a room in the pub rather than just showing up and camping down. Something for future researchers?

Ferg Handley writes, “There’s no official pub meets in Edinburgh. Some of us meet up from time to time, usually if there’s an event on. But if anyone wants to set something up, I’d be willing to help organise it.”

Wales
Pete and Mark are contacts for the Swansea Comics Collective which meets Wednesdays fortnightly from around eight at The Brunswick Inn. Pete tells me the dates are posted at their blogspot, http://swanseacomicscollective.blogspot.com/ and you’re also welcome to drop them a line at swanseacomicscollective(nospam(at))gmail.com

I also came across mention of a Drink n Draw for those based in Cardiff. Information on the Facebook group.
In attending any of these as a newcomer or visitor, get confirmation the meet you intend to join is running that month. It’s worth remembering while some groups have agendas, others purposely don’t and exist as social free-forms. Newcomers approaching may experience some dirorientation. Even when well bonded in among some, trying to listen and to be heard can be a challenge. Drink safe!

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.

(IMAGE MISSING)

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

(IMAGE MISSING)

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.

(Archive)

Never Mind The X-Men, Its X-Mas!

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

At this time of year, black-belts and red puffer jackets are in. However, before you congeal cotton buds for that handcrafted beard, why not consider the loving homemade gifts already for sale? Comics activists including Andrew Geczy and Matt Reynolds here at Alltern8 and others, have already compiled some lists of easy to pick up comics. The independent press offers items offers items cheaper and often so personalised that the recipient knows they’re one of a kind. And how better to have the gift delivered than right from the cartoonist’s own hand?

For the admirer of Pretty Things…

sallyannehickman 2009

Shopping at fairs, I prioritise picking up the work of Sally-Anne Hickman. Yes, always great value for money. They’re instantly recognisable, emanating sound mellow vibe covers made from wallpaper and glittery stick-ons. Lovely little things, with energetic and youthful scribblings of the author’s comic-book diary, full of character and conversation. In one of my favourites, “Have you got all your cds & things?” we get an honest, fearless and involving tale of a friendship at departure point. These are pocket-size, affordable and lovely graphic novels, all of them. You can email Sally-Anne at sallyshinystars (at)hotmail(dot)com or contact her on Facebook, a link for which can be found alongside some samples at her blog. You should be able to pick up her books for £4 or less.

druane 2010

“One Word for Everything” is a tastefully decorated collection of strips by Deirdre Ruane that should appeal to the fantasist, spiritualist and party-goer in your life, or anyone who enjoys surprises really. Deirdre describes her work better than I possibly could,

“polar bear temps. black holes in language. strange hovering artifacts. racing snails. festival dawns. selfish genes. the kitsch of the future. a caveman who dreams of aeroplanes. everyday time travel. why sex is like ice skating. why spaceships make me cry.”

Celestial festival, friendship and feel-good, melancholic and hilarious; multi-style, patterns and swirls of grace collecting strips from her fast-shifting “Wasted Epiphanies”. More details on the book at the Shop page were Deirdre will accept Paypal.  The collection costs £4.50
Other than the few sample jpegs obtained for this review, I don’t own any wares made by Richy K. Chandler. How could I recommend them for this special time of the year? Behold!

richy k chandler 2010

I have seen these up close and they’re every bit of pretty. The packaging is professionally crafted and the comics, just as much. Made of Presents! For further details and samples, check out Richy’s Myspace page. The “Cosmically Enlightened Gift Set” costs just £5 and the “Mini-Comic Box Set” is sterling value at £10, plus £2 postage and packing for each. Top tip for a tasteful gift, which is    probably too good for High Street shops everywhere.

For the Lover of Comedy….

Ralph Kidson is probably the funniest man in comics. He delivers post-modern pondering, one-dimensional veneer built to hide a variety performance showcase, bare visuals carrying superb pacing, concise character expression and obscenities, lots of obscenities. Ralph is a consummate social commentator, a snorting punk, a fantastic lover and I can count the comics of his comics I’ve been disappointed with on two fingers.

This is the perfect gift for a friend who likes edgy and relevant comedians. So why not let wish them a Sweary Christmas? *ahem*
Ralph’s tactile “Giant Clam” pocket books are a well spent £2-£3 incl. postage and packing from the Forbidden Planet shop. (123)

A few looks at quality mini-comics that won’t break the bank:

For the Artist….

Bloc by Oli Smith and Oliver Lambden

Back in June, I called Oli Smith and Oliver Lambden’s ‘Bloc’ “one of the best UK comics this year” and it still resonates. Doctor Who scribe and general independent comics revolutionary Smith says of it,

“A postmodern fairytale, BLOC is the story of a stone man washed up on the beach of a mysterious island covered in giant floating blocks…”

Indeed. In the abstract narrative within, Smith deals with themes of physics, psychics, play, philosophy and environment. Not bad for a visual instruction only script. Artist Oliver Lambden excels, whipping out strokes of Kirby, Simonson and Moebius in a work that evokes epic qualities of artistic structure. Not only do both creators significantly up their own games, but re-write comics language, stripping away its facade and celebrating it at once. The book is a tidy baige-coloured volume, classy and worked. Affordable stocking filler, definitely ideal for an artist friend. 48 pages, cost approx. £4 from Oliver Lambden.

John Robbins 2009

Iconic models and their environment also feature in John Robbins ‘Inside Outsiders’, another of the finer comics I’ve read this year. Heres his ad blurb,

“Psychosexual subtext pervades this League Of Extraordinary Toy Story as action figures undertake the perilous search for a fellow room-dweller who has fled an emotionally complicated relationship with a promiscuous Bratz doll.”

Robbins’ piece is shorter and wordier than Bloc, but equally a thriller. Its written with comedic mischief, multiple definitions, paradox, and clever pace to the proceedings. Visually, its been crafted loyally with full-figure as portrait style, lacing fantasy within reality and functionality. This excellent example for good comics is a bargain at only 1.75 Euros/$2.50 US/£1.50 UK, postage included. Adults only. Available to buy at Blackshapes Shop.

The small press has also turned out a few graphic novels of note. Some of these are available in comic shops, but before that, some which aren’t.

For the Trad Comics Action Story Fan..

Winston Bulldog

The United Kingdom has had its fair share of larger-than-life comics icons: Dennis the Menace, Roy of the Rovers, Judge Dredd and Captain Winston Bulldog. Over the mid-nineties and this decade, writer Jason Cobley worked with upwards of thirty artists to deliver tales espousing the stiff-upper-lip of Blighty: eccentric, corny, brave and dashing. Alongside his action narrative, illustrators present a highly structured British metropolis, detailed with anthropomorphic and sci-fi scenes as well as stylised minimalist solid designs that are difficult to put down. Some of the strips don’t lend themselves quite so well to the reproduction, but this package is a valuable cultural historical artefact of a generation and an essential reference point in British comics. Simple action dynamics, occasional insightful humanity and some damn fine fun. With a perfect bound full colour cover the complete 208 pages can be purchased for the bargain of £7.99 here.
For the Lover of Myth and Legend….

Ness 2009

“Ness” is the opening work to Paddy Brown’s “Ulster Cycle” comic, were figures and environment gain dimension through directional pen scores and academic research shifts seamlessly into unafraid working narrative. Daughter of the king of Ulster, Ness goes on the run to track down a murderous outlaw, with a looming war between Ireland’s kingdoms for backdrop. The mythology is complimented by Paddy’s occasional lighthearted anachronisms in the script, but the meticulous adherence to source material makes this a fun educational tool as well as a great old yarn. The A5 graphic novel, collects “the full 72-page story in black and white, plus full colour cover, pronunciation guide and seven pages of notes.” and is well worth the £4.99 (incl. postage for the UK and Ireland) payable through Paypal.
Finally, two works which you should be able to pick up pretty much everywhere:

Last Sane Cowboy

Sand and skulls and the disparate wildness of literate West. Daniel Merlin Goodbrey examines contemporary anomalies through the prism of Western genre and computer-aided minimalist projection is that of a modern-day conjurer in this collection of “Tales from an Unfolded Earth”. These tales are sociology: ‘showing’ often only one or two characters, a sense of their connections with an entire society is ominous and eminent. The meta-narratives character studies’ come with personal histories, labour relations and linguistics among flowing sequences and HD coherence. Merlin Goodbrey is best known for his pioneering work on hypercomics, its to his credit that here he accomplishes providence of something with a similar highly personal feel. “The Last Sane Cowboy and Other Stories” is a cult classic and £7 or $13 well spent.  Its published by AiT/Planet Lar and you can find it on Amazon and other places.

Phonogram TSC

Phonogram has re-fuelled my interest in comics, my love towards music and is not only one of the greatest comics being made today but also the simplest.  David Kohl is a phonomancer; he uses music to make magic and because he’s a prick sometimes that goes bad. The other main character of this book is Brit-pop, a revivalist movement linked with Kohl’s essence and rewritten, along with natural reality. In writer Kieron Gillen theres all the aspects of a fantastic music journalist, teacher, poet and creative commercial visionary with tolerable arrogance, taking his cue from Moore’s definition of magic. Artist Jamie McKelvie takes his from Grant Morrisson with designer biography sigils, smart, savvy, smug and infuriating characters. Both lads are to be awarded for bringing real, relevant, clever concepts and scenarios to the audience.  Phonogram Volume 1: Rue Britannia is published by Image and you can pick the collection up for under $10.

Enough from me, Go, load up your sleigh!

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.