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:
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.