Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Small Press in the UK: Our Favourite Comics from the Alternative Press Festival 2010

In North America, or anywhere else with a significant comic culture, self-published comics often represent an artist's creative urge to distribute work outside of the often-oppressive commercial system. Whilst the same principle may be true for cartoonists in the United Kingdom, the unfortunate case is that, generally-speaking, self-publishing is the only route by which they'll see their comics in print.

Put to shame by our sequential art-loving neighbours to the east (France & Belgium, respectively; although Japan certainly does too), the UK comics industry has gradually degraded until the reader's choices are pretty much non-existent. With only Rebellion (publishers of 2000 AD), DC Thompson Co (publishers of severely bastardised forms of The Beano and The Dandy) and a tiny handful of independent set-ups operating today, the comics industry in Great Britain is anything but.

Put bluntly: If you don't like Judge Dredd or Dennis the Menace (not the same lovable rogue as in Hank Ketcham's classic news-strip, mind), you're up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Thankfully, due to the work of several dedicated individuals and groups, things may be beginning to change for the better. Collectives like Alternative Press and anthologies like Tom Humberstone's Solipsistic Pop are making efforts to draw together the brightest talent from a new generation of creators and providing them with a small press platform to present their work to the world.

Eager to jump on the bandwagon, Avoid the Future recently attended the Alternative Press Festival and Brighton Zinefest 2010 in the hopes of finding some small-press gems to take home. Below you'll find some of our favourites from the events. We hope that you'll support the creators by purchasing some of their work via their various websites.

Static Revolver No.1, The Fancy Butcher (2010)

Visually calling out to us from across the crowded APF venue like a sea-siren, we were pleasantly surprised to find that, rather than mercilessly drowning us, Static Revolver was as awesome as it seemed from a distance. A collaboration between London-based artists Kevin Ward and Lord Hurk, this issue serves to showcase their vastly different styles and debuts serials from both.

The first story, "All Smiles", by Ward, is (as described on the comic's Etsy page) "a comic noir about a dentist uncovering the mysteries of Enchanted Island under sugar prohibition" and features delightful off-kilter linework and grey-scale watercolor-style shading.

The second, "Black Ink Lagoon", is a "late-night b-movie caper about aliens and disappearing tea", which says it all, really. Lord Hurk is an immensely talented guy, and his hyper-stylised, idiosyncratic two-tone art makes me think of a much more rigid, graffiti-inspired Peter Bagge. Yes, I did just say Peter Bagge; I like the visuals that much.

Both stories are genuinely funny, to boot. Just go and buy Static Revolver now, for God's sake.

Green Issue 2, Daniel Locke (2005)

My one regret from the APF was not buying more of Daniel Locke's comics. Weighing in at just 8 A5 pages, Green Issue 2 packs a punch far above its weight class by using the potential of the comic  form to its fullest.

Focusing on a single frozen moment in time, an unseen narrator details the future of four characters surrounding a cafe: a waitress, two customers and a child passing outside. Locke combines dialogue, narration and artwork extremely effectively here, producing one of those rare pieces that remind me exactly why comic books are such an unique and essential story-telling medium in the first place.

Jimi Gherkin's Electric Baby Zine, Jimi Gherkin

One of the driving forces behind the Alternative Press collective, Jimi Gherkin has created a zine that is part-comic, part DIY publishing rallying cry and part optimistic manifesto for getting the most out of life. As you can see by the cover, he's also created a zine that is visible from space.

What makes this extra special though, is the wonderfully illustrated five page "how-to" guide on screen-printing at home. Bumping into Mr. Gherkin at both APF and Zinefest, we can attest that he is passionately vocal about self-publishing and one hell of a nice guy, too.

J. Homersham's Pint of Titter, J. Homersham (2009)

Comprised of good-old-fashioned single panel gags, Pint of Titter ranges all the way from harmless whimsy to black comedy. Whether visual, based on wordplay (or both), we can attest that the jokes are definitely always funny throughout. 

If I tell you that my personal favourite skit featured potato peelers dressed as Victorian policemen hunting down a fugitive Potato, you should get a good idea of what makes this one so awesome. 

Half Baked, Karoline Rerrie (2008)

Sure, that cute little doughnut on the front cover might look adorable, but you can be sure that she's really the femme fatale of the confectionery world. Luring an unsuspecting cupcake into her web of passion, it becomes very clear why doughnuts have holes in the middle: ultimately, they're heartless.

Bedsit Journal Comics Issue 3, Richard Cowdry, Peter Lally, Bird, Hannah Glickstein (2008)

Without a doubt, Bedsit Journal belongs on a proper shelf, in a proper comic shop, keeping all the other comics company; it's just that well made. Packed with delightful, well-crafted content living up to its glossy A4-sized parameters, it's no wonder that this small press wonder has been stocked by many reputable comics shops across the globe.

The quality is so high that it's difficult to pick a favourite strip, but highlights include Richard Cowdry's "There's a Tear in My Beer" (a narrative set to ten Hank Williams Sr. song titles) and his collaboration with Peter Lally entitled "Action Man with Eagle Eyes" (in which they demonstrate the remarkable range of emotions that the popular toy's eyes can convey). All Bird's "Carl Garbanzo" strips are great too.

More than any other comic on the list, this one gives me the most hope in a future for the UK comics scene. The comic's official blog can be found here, along with stockists and mail-order info.

What I Drew Volume One, Joe Decie (2008)

Originally appearing on the internet, What I Drew is a compilation of cartoon insights from Brighton-based creator Joe Decie. Diarist in content with a healthily detachment from reality, these strips are a world away from the plethora of obnoxious journal comics that have littered the world wide web since time immemorial.

Decie himself describes his work as "pictures in boxes that are true and made up". As well as his website (linked above), his comics can also be found, rather impressively, at Top Shelf's webcomic section alongside such talents as Jeffrey Brown, Jeff Lemire, Dash Shaw and Noah Van Sciver. Crikey.

As an interesting note: At Brighton Zinefest, Decie hand-wrote a different message in the speech bubble on the front of each comic. We liked the personal touch.

Blitz!, Paul Layzell (2010)

Last, but by no means least, is this wonderful little booklet containing 7 stylised studies of American Football. Layzell seems to have an affection towards the sport, and the art appears to pay homage to the classic "wholesome" publicity materials associated with the gridiron. 

Even more spectacularly, the booklet folds out into an A3 poster featuring one of the players. Unfortunately, I can never quite remember how to re-fold it. Starting with Layzell's Brighton Zinefest table-mate Tuesday Bassen, everyone I've opened this around since buying it has had to assist me in re-compacting the pigskin pictorial. I'm malcoordinated, I think.

Team ATF at Brighton Zinefest. (Photo lifted from their Facebook page)

In the future we will be reviewing a couple of the above pieces in greater detail as well as Alternative Press' Publish You anthology. As a final note, we'd like to apologise to anyone whose comics/ zines we didn't get a chance to see/ couldn't afford; we are always interested in reading/ reviewing self-published content, so please feel free to drop us a line!

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