New book soon on Kilgore Comics! Pre-order now!

I’ve got a new comic book coming out called What Happened. It’s a 44 page comic about the summer of 1995, the first blushes of attraction, confusion and being 12.

Kilgore Comics are publishing it as part of their Autumn line-up and are running a Kickstarter to fund the pre-orders. I’m appearing alongside releases by Noah Van Sciver, Emi Gennis and Tom Van Deusen! It’s very exciting.

Do take a look if you’re interested. There’s a $2 shipping deal on UK orders if you order the whole line-up

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New zines // speaking at East London Comic Arts Festival

I’ve made two new zines which will be debuting at ELCAF next week.

Garden is about our garden and is part of the new Lydstep Library series. Rain is a collection of comics and stories based on prompts given to me by some of my regular readers.

Pre-order here: Garden // Rain

I’ll also be appearing on a panel at ELCAF about Championing Comics on Friday10th June at 5pm. Full info here

SMOO MEGA DEAL – 3 issues for £5

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Get the final three issues of SMOO for ONLY £5 + P&P

Between 2007 and 2015, I made a zine called SMOO. It was full of comics about my life, trying to make sense of who I was, who I might be. The series ended at issue 10 and early issues are long out of print, while 4, 5, and 6 were collected in a book called Days from Avery Hill Publishing.

Now to mark the end of SMOO you can get the final three issues all together for only £5 + P&P.

Over 100 pages of comics and stories across 3 A6 zines: bird-watching, a breakup; struggles with alcohol; sadness and anxiety, happiness; trips to the seaside, trips to the countryside; people passing, new lives, literal and metaphorical; quietness;  a recipe for fruit salad.

The zines come with a little drawing.

Buy copies here!

Minor Leagues #1 available now

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The first issue of my new zine, Minor Leagues is available now

Contains 100 pages of comics, drawings, stories and writing about how days go by, a video rental shop, walking, travelling in Mississippi, a snowball fight from 1995 and more. Thinking a lot about how things and people come and go.

It picks up where my last series SMOO left off, detailing things that happened to me, but expands it to bring in bigger questions and other thoughts, as well as lots more words. I hope this series will run and run. Four issue subscriptions are available here.

Like most of my zines, this is printed and assembled at home.

  • A5 (148x210mm)
  • 100 pages, on off-white recycled paper stock
  • faded blue card cover
  • side staple binding
  • b&w throughout

£4 + P&P – order a copy here

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Notes on 2015, thoughts for 2016

This blog post is a little slow, a little late. Sorry about that.

In 2015, I released something like 400 pages worth of comics and drawings and writing*.

Plans We Made, my first graphic novel, was published by Uncivilized Books after a successful Kickstarter in the Spring. I was staggered that so many people would be interested in taking a chance on my work. I’m really proud of the book, and it’s been getting some nice reviews.

I released three more issues of SMOO after an 18 month gap. I also started a zine subscription service, making all my zines at home, printing, folding, stapling and trimming them myself. I released three more zines of stories and drawings, and a split zine of comics by Jason Martin and by me.

I sold my work at Toronto Comic Arts Festival, Crouch End Comic Arts Festival, Safari, the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival and Thought Bubble. I also co-organised the Bristol Comic and Zine Fair.

Then, in December I drew my ongoing series, SMOO, to a close with the release of issue ten and set about thinking of new ways to make and share my comics.

Oh, and we got a cat.

It was a productive and fun year, artistically. But it has also felt like a funny year.

On the one hand, I’ve seen lots of innovative work that stretches the boundaries of what we call comics, and explores new artistic territory. It’s deeply inspiring and challenging, compelling me to dig deeper into my art and be more ambitious in what I do – which is in part why I ended SMOO, to give me a blank canvas to do just that.

On the other hand, I feel like this innovation and expansion has strained the boundaries of the comics infrastructure even further. I think the ‘market saturation’ we’ve been predicting has started to become more acute: lots of comics events, more and more creators, a relatively static volume of attendees at events, and a small number of review** and sales outlets. Money is hard to find in comics at the best of times, and fairs and shows seem to be yielding lower returns.

Audience building is still a challenge, despite the promise of the Internet the way we use social media is constantly evolving. Platforms come and go. User numbers go up. Attention is hard to come by. Moreover, how we understand what art is, how it is transmitted or experienced are all even more different than ever ***.

So while I strongly believe that the work we are making has purchase ‘out there’ in the world, it feels a bit like the comics infrastructure hasn’t got room for all of us, and we don’t know where else to go.

A few of my friends and peers have expressed similar concerns, and not just people who make weirdo art comics like me. Jamie Smart – whose work is quite different from my own – wrote a piece about this at the end of last year. In it, he describes himself as having ‘reached the edge of his bubble’;

“There’s so much chatter online already, so many other great talents, a wonderfully supportive community but again, one which is in danger of selling to itself. What if your grand idea, your character, your brand, reaches its limit and you just can’t reach any more people than you already have?”

You’ve made some things, and you don’t want to be limited only to an immediate community of makers and fans, but would like to see if those ideas could find a life outside that community.

Perhaps this is just growing pains – in continuing to grow and develop as an artist, you want to seek new ways of doing things, new modes of expression and new places to say stuff, without the constraint of ‘institutional’ boundaries. Jamie reflects that this is both a practical challenge, and a creative one. To be open to the possibility of making new things, or seeing yourself differently is daunting but essential.

I’m grateful to be part of a community of peers that is by and large supportive, self-critical and artistically ambitious, and I think that this is a huge asset for the art form as a whole. I guess I’m just a bit worried about its ability to support its growth, without collapsing under its own weight.

I’m going to be carrying on making things. I’m going part time in my day job later in the year to commit more time to art.

I’ve also stepped down as co-organiser of the Bristol Comic and Zine Fair, too – it’s been fun, lots of hard work, and I’ve learned a great deal, but after five years it’s time to move on and explore other ways to help build capacity in our community ****.

I’m hoping with this extra time to commit more fully to making art I believe in, and experimenting with different ways to share it.

The cat also keeps playing with my pencils while I’m using them, so that’s something to think about.

*Here’s a full list of what I released in 2015:

  • SMOO #10 (self-published zine, available here)
  • Plans We Made (Book: Uncivilized Books, USA order here, UK order here)
  • Bright Nights (self-published split zine with Jason Martin, UK edition available here)
  • Decorating (self-published zine, available here)
  • Monument Road (self-published zine, redrawn second edition w/ new epilogue, available here)
  • A Day Out (self-published zine, illustrated prose, available here)
  • SMOO #9 (self-published zine, available here)
  • SMOO #8 (self-published zine, available here)

** Those reviewers we have are by and large dedicated, passionate individuals, who work hard to support makers and readers, offer critique and reflection, as well as a marketing channel for many of us. They usually do this for free. I am grateful they exist, and I think to take them for granted would be a very bad thing, as would assuming that we are entitled to their attention; we aren’t.

*** There’s a host of issues that intersect here that are bigger picture things; how to value arts and culture, fair pay in the face of universally precarious labour, balancing expectation and reality of work in the creative sector, the extent to which we can create or exploit opportunities, and, very importantly, under-representation and discrimination that cuts across all these scales.

**** There are instances of capacity and community building happening  (zine groups, fairs, residencies, comics schools etc), and I’d like to look and write more about these in the future. But I think, as a counterpoint to my worries, these are a valuable starting point. It might be worth noting that my concern with only the immediately visible infrastructures might precisely the problem we have in trying to imagine ourselves outside of comics. Can’t see the wood for the trees.

 

 

 

 

Five great comics I read this year

Here are five comics I read this year which I really enjoyed. They are listed in no particular order. They are all great. I also have no idea whether they all came out this year or not, or if they’re still in print, but I hope that you’ll try and seek them out regardless.

Garrettsville by Jenn Lisa 

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This short comic came out last year (I think) as part of the Dog City anthology series. It’s a humble and touching comic about how small towns shape, accept and reject us. I keep coming back to it. There’s something in the balance the drawing strikes that is reassuring and captivating – gently walking a line between sketch and abstraction and cartooning. It’s really good, and I’m excited to see Jenn do more work.

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Available here

A Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn by Oliver East 

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I finally picked up the last issues of Oliver’s walking comics series at TCAF. The ten comics document Oliver’s walk from Arnside to Carlisle, a 140 mile walk he made in 10 stages, loosely following the train line. As the issues progress, the work morphs into a visceral, impressionistic, visual account of person and environment. Words, shapes, elements. Floods. Livestock. People. Exertion. Wind. It’s pretty staggering.

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Fütchi Perf by Kevin Czap

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This is an intriguing, almost sensual comic (the shapes! the colours! the print! the paper stock!) about possible futures. Are they good possible futures? Is that the question we need to ask? It’s otherworldly and vivd and relatable and confounding too. Asks more questions as it answers. Amazing.

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Available here

Baseline Boulevard by Emi Gennis

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This is story is a beautifully paced account of grief, told across landscapes and pencil drawings. Built around driving a particular distance, while slipping in and out of memories and flashbacks, it’s a great example of how time in comics ebbs and flows at different rates. It’s moving and deeply personal.

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I’m not sure if you can still buy it in print but you can read it online here

When The Last Story is Told by Allan Haverholm 

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A lovely hardback book of 60 pages of abstract, expressionistic, comics grids. Each one is textured, collaged, painted, and composed in a variety of ways. The eyes struggle not to find form and shape and narrative in the pieces, while also coming to understand them only as what they are. But what are they? It’s a remarkable book, if you let it in. So worth it.

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Available here

Final issue of SMOO available now

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SMOO #10, my new 44 page zine of comics and stories, is available now.

It’s the story of a year, but also the story of a lot of other things (or one big thing, perhaps): reflections on moving, birds, waterfalls at Easter and blossom, Toronto, and swimming in creeks and growing things in gardens.

#10 is also the last ever issue of SMOO.

I’ve been making the zine since 2007, and I’ve learned nearly everything I know about making comics and zines and telling stories from doing it. It’s given me lots of opportunities and I’ve met lots of amazing people from making it. It’s how I’ve made sense of my life and of who I am, too.

SMOO came with its own set of rules, however unconsciously written, that have helped shape and guide the comic over the years. But now it’s time to set those aside and try something new.

So there you go. More zines, more comics. Just no more SMOO.

GET A COPY OF SMOO #10 HERE