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

A day out: new zine available now

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A Day Out is my new zine, about a trip we took from Budleigh to Exmouth to Exeter. Reflects on old haunts, and being attuned to where you are. Not much happens, but perhaps a lot happens, too.

  • A6 (105x148mm)
  • 32 pages of prose and drawings
  • 14 full page illustrations
  • White card cover
  • B&W throughout

You can order it here

Also, I’ve recently purchased a printer and a guillotine, so I can do all my printing in house. It’s exciting. Currently a whole bunch of these zines are sitting under weights, waiting to be trimmed.

Finally, I’ve got two more releases planned for this month (International Zine Month!), but I’ll talk more about them as and when they get finished.

Against getting it right: autobiographical comics

A little while ago, Sophia Foster-Dimino started a conversation on Twitter by asking, “People who hate autobio comics: why do you hate autobio comics?”  In the conversation that followed (aggregated and annotated by Sophia here), a number of people shared their thoughts; about how they felt about reading and making autobio comics; about the stage readers or artists are at in their life when they first encounter them or try and make them; how the genre acts as an entry point for many artists, who end up making other forms of art afterwards; how the genre can lead to artistic and personal stigmatisation; the dominance of the white male gaze; how different voices can be silenced by choosing to work in the genre, and how others are empowered to speak via it; and how difficult it is to do ‘well’.

Here are a few tweets that stuck out for me:

“i think a lot of hate for autobio is directed at women and young creators who make autobio tbh…”
“…like, when a guy does it, it’s deep and introspective and blah blah blah, but when a woman makes an autobio comic it’s shallow”

“too many tedious misunderstood sensitive self-absorbed privileged males seem to be making them.”

“I don’t hate autobio comics but I hate a certain voice in autobio comics…mainly consensus, shallow and incurious ideas of mundanity as realism”

“I think the complexity of doing them well is betrayed by the ease of finding the subject matter”

“art is kind of self indulgent? But who cares? Someone is communicating something. Let them do it.”

I think these tweets spoke to four themes that I felt were important for me to think about:

  • My voice
  • What I say with it
  • How I say it
  • What I like to hear in other peoples’ voices

OR

  • My ability to speak – who empowers and disempowers whom to make stuff
  • The responsibility of my voice – how I might share my story but not silence others while I’m doing it
  • My attempts to speak – how I learn to develop my voice and make the art I want to, or at least get on the journey of making that art
  • My taste – what I like to see in other people’s work, as a consequence of the above, and lots of other stuff besides, and why

As someone making zines and comics that are almost without exception autobiographical in nature, I worry about this stuff a lot. For instance, here are some things I’ve been wondering:

I deeply believe we should feel empowered to make sense of the world we live in, and who we are in it, through creative pursuits; but do we automatically deserve an audience just because we’re choosing to do that?Do we have a right to be heard just because we decided to speak?

Does my speaking (as a white, straight cis male) stop other people from speaking, or being heard? Certainly, as the Twitter conversation attests, many makers have direct experience of criticism of their work based on their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, background, status and so on. Do I unwittingly take part in this? If I do, isn’t the way I talk IN my comics that does it, or the way I talk ABOUT my comics? Or is it both?

Should I be saying anything? Do I even have anything to say?

What about my style? How do you find your own voice in a medium so defined by the tightrope it walks between the profound and the redundant? If it doesn’t connect with people, are we more compelled to become critical of its failure to connect with us than other genres because of its intimate contents?

Does a lack of connection with my audience imply a failure of artist, or a failure of form?

Am I any good?
Am I doing it right?

Continue reading “Against getting it right: autobiographical comics”