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Community Spirit: The Comix Reader and Team Girl Comic

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Small Pressganged is Broken Frontier’s weekly column designed to shine a spotlight on the often overlooked world of small press and self-published comics. Every week we provide a mix of review round-ups of the best of current small press comics and spot interviews with some of the movers and shakers of the scene.

This week’s column hones in on two top British anthologies in the shape of the fourth issue of The Comix Reader and the fifth of Team Girl Comic. Two publications that embody their own unique takes on a palpable sense of small press community. As ever, prices quoted are the originals for point of origin. Please check out each individual store for details on international orders and postage and packaging costs.

The Comix Reader #4
Anthology – Various creators

One of my great burdens of guilt since we began ‘Small Pressganged’ at Broken Frontier last November is that I haven’t, as yet, fitted in a review for the phenomenon that is The Comix Reader. All the more unforgivable when you consider that I used it as an example in the post-Comica Comiket column last year to illustrate the ways in which the lines between what we define as mainstream and small press were fundamentally shifting and blurring. The point I was making at that juncture was that The Comix Reader, ostensibly a small press book, was publishing 9,000 copies of each issue which was nearly twice as many as the final issues in 2010 of that one-time Image sales juggernaut of the 1990s WildCats.

Before I digress into no doubt an interesting but irrelevant sidebar discussion, it’s pleasing to hear with its fourth issue out that the print run for The Comix Reader remains just as ambitious and potentially far-reaching. Printed in an A3 broadsheet newsprint format it presents 22 strips, each by a different creator, in a mostly one-page format and representing a vast array of styles and approaches. With a distinctively underground, altcomics sensibility it’s a true collective enterprise; the collaborators involved grouping together to cover production costs and taking a part in distributing the completed comic.

And it’s that diversity of contributors – that smorgasbord of multi-genre offerings – that makes The Comix Reader such a fascinating and eclectic project. From slice-of-lifers to philosophical musings, to political satire and absurdist humour, it may sound horrifically clichéd but there really should be something (or indeed several somethings) to appeal to every reader within these oversized pages.

So where to start in issue #4’s teemingly talented table of contents? Well this time around, in the realms of the surreally mirthful, I was rather taken by Ralph Kidson and Martin Meeks’s ‘Overly Critical Cactus’ which does indeed feature a cynical anthropomorphic example of desert flora in a Viz-style strip, skilfully juxtaposing the bizarre and the banal in one sitting. Lord Hurk’s crass but laugh-out-loud ‘Double Feature’ was also of note but the best value of all of issue #4’s darkly comedic offerings was Gareth Brookes and Julia Homersham’s ‘Brit Bores Abroad’. Not so much a comic strip as a collection of illustrated “anecdotes” lampooning a certain breed of British grotesques. The story’s black humour is so effective because, far from being as outlandishly contrived as they initially appear, the bizarre subjects of its satirical ribaldry are actually frighteningly and resonantly recognisable.

Changing pace slightly, Mike Medaglia makes excellent use of that A3 page as a fuller canvas and brings striking and tangible life to the ages-old epistemological conundrum of how we define reality from dreams. I also found a certain charm to the children’s storybook approach of Alex Potts’s delightful ‘No Chance of Escape’ about Philip, a boy who was frightened of everything while Elliot Baggott’s ‘A Condensed History of Warfare’ delivers its point in a concise and elegant fashion.

On that ever welcome slice-of-life front, the clarity of Bernadette Bentley’s nine-panel ‘A Short Story About Shame’ about dismissive attitudes to a group of care home residents is heartbreakingly effective in its delivery. At the other end of the spectrum Noelle Barby’s witty account of a Smiths fan desperate to lose her virginity before leaving high school should, of course, be read with earplugs in and ‘How Soon is Now’ playing at full volume as accompaniment.

As is par for the course when tackling such a wealth of offerings, I can only touch on a small number of strips/creators who particularly tickled my fancy here so the (by now) standard and obligatory ‘Small Pressganged’ apology when dealing with anthologies must now be invoked. But from the descriptions of those I have mentioned you get a taste of just how diverse and varied the contents of The Comix Reader are. You really never know what you’re going to find next as you turn each page and that’s a huge part of the paper’s appeal.

The Comix Reader remains an excellent showcase for the work of a whole host of SP creators and, once again amongst the copious number of excellent UK anthologies currently being published, also the perfect entry point for those wishing to investigate the British small press scene further. At an incredibly affordable price of just one shiny pound coin it means that even if you only enjoy half the strips on offer here you still come out a winner.  Only the cheapest of churls could surely argue otherwise.  

The Comix Reader #4 is out now priced £1.00 from all good U.K. small press stockists including London’s Gosh! Comics. For more on the paper check out the official site here.

Team Girl Comic #5
Anthology - Various creators

Time to revisit another series I’ve covered recently, this time back in May when I looked at a couple of projects that were actively seeking support through crowdfunding campaigns. At the time the all-female collective behind Team Girl Comic were looking for backing for their bumper fifth issue, so it was pleasing to hear that not only did they reach that target but that the Kickstarter campaign was so successful that they have been able to put earlier issues back in to print.

As with The Comix Reader the genre coverage sweeps the board and stories in this anthology range from the topical to the experimental. One of the great joys of small press comics for me is that they afford a venue for seemingly non-commercial, often brutally honest, and unashamedly personal autobiographical tales. With that in mind, it will come as little surprise when I say that it’s three slice-of-life offerings in Team Girl Comic #5 that particularly caught my imagination.

The first is ‘Lanarkshire: 9-11’, TGC editor Gill Hatcher’s account of how the attacks on the World Trade Center were perceived from the distance of a Scottish high school, and the ripple effect on the community there. Second up is Nondo’s ‘Bad Day at the Office’, a four-pager that looks at a phenomenon becoming all too familiar for many of us in the U.K. in these worrying economic times – that of the company “re-structuring” –  and the attendant stress, worry and, for some, despair that surrounds such exercises. It’s an impressively candid and sincere piece that leaves pause for thoughtful reflection. And, finally, Stephanie NicAllan’s 'Cinema Trip' which, in just a concise half page, gives an upliftingly positive and forward-thinking minicomic on living with schizophrenia.

Elsewhere in this issue there are plenty of other shifts in tone and style. Rebecca Riley’s ‘Tragicorn Waits for the Bus’ had a definite vibe of the delightfully absurd world of Lizz Lunney and I rather liked the concept behind Penny Sharp’s ‘Arabella Stuart, Contender to the Throne’ which reproduced a historical comic strip stitched into a footstool! And Elena Vitagliano’s briefest of brief encounters ‘Underground Glimpse’ was a quite beautiful story of passing strangers and lives fleetingly touching.

As I said in my previous review of TGC, some strips are inevitably more polished than others but the whole Team Girl Comic experience has such a committed feel of community to it that it encompasses everything I most value in the small press – that democracy and the sense that anyone with something they want to say can make comics that say it. A simple philosophy graciously and admirably realised by the TGC crew.

Team Girl Comic #5 is available from the official online store here priced £3.50.

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Andy Oliver is Broken Frontier’s Managing Editor and a contributor to Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die.

If you are a small press comics creator, or self-publisher, and would like your work to be reviewed in a future edition of Small Pressganged then e-mail Andy at andyoliver@brokenfrontier.com for further details. You can also follow Andy on Twitter here.

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Comments

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Aug 17, 2012 at 6:55am

    Ah they don't sell The Comix Reader online, pity.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 17, 2012 at 11:15am

    I'm on leave for the next couple of weeks Bart but as soon as I'm back in London I'll pop into Gosh, pick up whatever issues they have and send them over to you.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Aug 17, 2012 at 2:57pm

    That's a very generous offer Andy! Thanks! And enjoy the holiday!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 17, 2012 at 3:20pm

    No worries. You've sent me stuff in the past so only fair!

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