Friday, 16 December 2011

Comix Reader Issue 3!

Work is progressing apace on the new issue of The Comix Reader, a collaborative newsprint comic featuring the best in underground British Comix talent! The Comix Reader is edited by Richard Cowdry and is something of a spiritual successor to his popular Bedsit Journals anthology, but on a never before seen scale! Twenty-plus comics artists from across the UK, each with a page to themselves, and a broad scope of great talent; Ellen Lindner, Jimi Gherkin, Lord Hurk, Kevin WardPeter Lally, Barnaby Richards, Julia Homersham, Alex Potts and many more! 

I find it hard to get across just how excited I am by The Comix Reader. I've only been involved in the anthology for one issue, but even in such a short space of time it's been exciting to see how it's developed. Not only does it possess an enviable rouge's gallery of the best UK comic artists, The CR also retails for a single pound, making it a great purchase for people who wouldn't usually consider themselves readers of comic books. The paper's raison d'etre has always been to reach new audiences and venues beyond the usual comic book stores, and in this sense it's a great showcase. If you want to get into comics, but havn't the faintest idea where to start, then The CR is a great stepping stone; even if you're the most virulently anti-comics curmudgeon, there's bound to be someone in it whose work you like! 

With this in mind, I feel exceptionally privileged to have been given the cover of Issue 3. I hope I do it justice. I've got the whole thing drawn, but the colours are still a little rough around the edges. Here's a little taster, to give you some idea of what to look out for in the new year: 

What's been fun about designing this cover has been taking the ideas from covers of issue one and two are trying to meld them all into something with a distinct flavour. A magazine really builds an identity for itself through what it prints on its covers, so a lot of what I've done is drawing on the idioms of the previous two issues. In each, we've got a character reading a comic (the increasingly beloved Jippy!) in an incongruous setting that puts them somewhat at odds with the rest of society. I think the incongruous humour of the comics reading itself is what's key to the paper's vibe; it echos the mission of trying to reach new audiences you wouldn't think of as "comix readers" in a variety of different settings. Other visual ideas involve a "dirty" aesthetic and gritty, urban surroundings.  

The comics store GOSH! recently moved to fabulous new premises in Berwick Street in the centre of Soho, and though the shop itself is a glittering construction of brushed steel, glass and pine wood, it's situated just opposite a delightfully seedy alleyway that offers some of Soho's more established businesses. (Interestingly, the London comics scene grew up in the streets of Soho, but was driven out by the gentrification of the Thatcherite era.) That, and the 70's to 80's Underground Comix vibe that the CR pays homage to were the driving inspiration behind this cover (with a bit of Amsterdam thrown in). It was also fun trying to draw in some references to the Georgian caricature prints of Hogarth et al. that would have been sold around this area centuries ago; a lot of the creepy johns in the foreground have features pulled from 18th C. caricatures, and the vaguely-raunchy subject matter fits with the history of this district of London. Soho has always been the place to go to buy the steamiest novels, the lewdest prints, always willing to cater for the discerning pervert. Here's to Comics' triumphant return to the "slatternly streets" of vibrant Soho!  

Part of the reason why I'm so obsessed with The CR is that I'm a total wonk for publications that try to influence the publishing scene itself. The recession has definitely made things hard for publishers, printers and purchasers alike, and digital publishing threatens to overturn what little profits are still being made. In this economic setting, it's important to have projects like The CR that explore new directions and attempt to carve their own niches.

 A lot of artists are dissatisfied with the low profits that mainstream publishing models have been turning over in recent years. A lot of people are finding things difficult, many struggling to make comics a viable career. There's a sense that some artists want it to be 1989 again; an uncomplicated time when you could draw 'em, print 'em and sell 'em, and the publishing house would take care of all the nitty-gritty financial nonsense. The reality is that there's no way back; and that if we do want to push forward and keep print relevant in the 21st Century, it's going to involve boldly striking out into uncharted territories and making it up as we go along. 

That's not to say that we shouldn't consider the past at all; quite the opposite. Despite rising print costs, newsprint remains cheap and highly profitable. The digital revolution has brought down set-up costs, bringing it tantalisingly within the grasp of private groups and individuals. Perhaps most excitingly, it allows print runs on a scale seldom seen these days in the comics world; The Comix Reader is running in batches of 10,000 per issue. In the last decade, Graphic Novels have spearheaded a drive towards material quality in an attempt to gain respectability and permanence as an art form, and this ethos has had a huge impact on the production values (and retail prices) of small press comics. But in following these trends, are we forgetting comic's roots as a mass-produced, ephemeral art? We don't have to abandon the principals of good design, but we can do the actual printing on more of a shoestring. As it stands, there's a gap in the market for large, low-cost, mass-produced, full-colour comics, and no shortage of audience. In short, if we can't make it 1989 again, perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from 1889. 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Please Be Moral!

One of my best hauls from Leeds was a fantastic minicomic from the equally fantastic Sarah McIntyre, a comic based on her trip to China. Sarah herself did very well at Leeds; her book Verne and Lettuce won the Leeds Graphic Novel prize! Congrats, Sarah! I enjoyed  Please Be Moral: Do Not Spit so much that I wrote Sarah a short review which she posted on her blog! For more info on Sarah's work and some neat bookbinding tips about how she put the minicomic together, check out her blog!  

Recently I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Sarah McIntyre's China Travel Diaries at the Thought Bubble comic convention in Leeds.

I'm not entirely sure what I expected, but it blew me away from the very start. Drawn whilst on the road, Sarah dutifully documents the travelling adventures and mishaps that are an essential part of any holiday, but also focuses on the broader themes of "family". After meeting with her parents in Beijing, Sarah and her husband embark on a once-in-a-lifetime trip that takes them from the peacefulness of Buddhist monasteries to the bustle of the Shanghai Promenade. Along the way, we get to know her tour group and they become something of a family themselves!

I found the actual story itself incredibly moving. It was as complicated and nuanced as China itself, and managed to give a very touching account of everyday life in the People's Republic. More than anything, it was the kind of story that I love, one that swings back and forth between jaunty comedy and more sombre topics, that manages to pull at the heartstrings with well-observed dialogue and warm relationships between the characters!

"Please be Moral: Do Not Spit" is also attractively hand-bound in a traditional Chinese style with a really fun cover design. Sarah McIntyre breathes new life into a tired TV cliche, transporting us on an "emotional journey" with an emotion and vigour that is refreshingly genuine. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to tear up slightly at the ending!

Overall, a brilliant minicomic, and it's one of my favorite things I got from Leeds!

dotComics update!

This week, Mike Medaglia and myself have been starting to push our anthology dotComics a bit more! I think this is the first time I've posted on my blog about the comic, which is awful seeing as I helped edit the whole thing. 

For those of you not already in the know, dotComics is the first anthology dedicated to bringing webcomics to the printed page. Attempting to reach a new audience, and offer an alternative to endless internet trawling, dotComics selects extracts from some of the most exceptional webcomics, and brings them into lush, full-colour print! We also feature interviews with creators as well as insightful critique and scholarly essays on some of the biggest questions about the digital revolution. 

Gorgeous coloring by the wonderful Mr. John Riordan

dotComics is now on sale a two of London's loveliest Comic book retailers, Gosh! Comics of Berwick Street, Soho, and Orbital Comics of Great Newport Street. If you happen to live in Leeds, you can pop into OK Comics to get your fix! Online sales are still a way off, but more comics retailers are constantly being added, so check back here regularly to find your closest seller. Alternatively, why not friend dotComics on Facebook, or follow our Twitter feed?  

That's all for now! I'll be back with exciting updates about progress on Issue 2 later in the week! Until then, 

Elliot x