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The Cut-Out-And-Keep Comiket Column

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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 Saturday 21st April sees the Comica Festival’s independent comics fair Comiket make a triumphant return to the Bishopsgate Institute in London. It represents a chance for fans to check out some of the very best books currently on offer from the U.K. small press and Indie comics scene, meet some of the creators involved and enjoy watching artists at work in the Comiket Drawing Parade. I wrote enthusiastically about the last Comiket in Small Pressganged last year here and heartily recommend you pop along to the latest fair and positively immerse yourself in original work that is genuinely innovative, exciting, and pushes those metaphorical barriers to their breaking points.

As for the title of this week's column, well anyone of a certain age who grew up reading British comics will remember those features that urged you to “cut-out-and-keep” them. Ah those innocent days when comics were considered throwaway ephemera and acts of casual pop cultural vandalism were actively encouraged! Consider this the Small Pressganged equivalent; a column to print out and keep hold of should any of the projects here tickle your particular fancy.

In the spirit of these things a caveat that I am, in no way, attempting to be comprehensive in this overview. Indeed, I'm hardly even scratching the surface of what will be available for your entertainment at Comiket, and half the fun of the fair will be making your own discoveries and happening upon cool new books and creators for the first time. (And those creators not mentioned below can always scroll to the bottom of the column for the details on how to ensure their work will get some coverage in a future Small Pressganged). But the following paragraphs act as an aide memoir of some of the comics, creators and publishers I've covered in this column over the last few months.

So in no specific order let’s jump straight in, beginning with some of the small press creators exhibiting at Comica who've featured in Small Pressganged since its inception last year…

Sean Azzopardi’s pensive autobiographical work I covered in an interview in February when I also reviewed his recent Eight Tablet Dream noting “his semi-regular comic tours through life’s drudgery, and its contrasting little triumphs, are always more than worth the price of entry.” Sean also has D’Accord, an anthology introducing some new international faces to our small press scene, out at the moment as well as a new Sketchbook. Shifting genres, Sean often collaborates with Douglas Noble that master of slightly obscure yet utterly chilling horror. I reviewed the pair’s teaming on Built of Blood and Bricks last November, a sinister piece of urban suspense of which I said “The audience become co-conspirators by the very act of reading, and you can almost hear the creators whispering ‘This is our little secret...’ at you as you turn each uncomfortable, guilt-ridden page...” This one is collected in the duo’s upcoming new Dark Matters collection and Douglas’s long-running Complex has also recently published the print version of its finale.

             

Sean Azzopardi's anthology D'Accord, Hardiman/Gordon/Scheele's The Peckham House for Invalids and Douglas Noble's Complex

Howard Hardiman’s The Lengths – the twisting tale of student dropout Eddie turned gay prostitute “Ford” – has been a particular Small Pressganged favourite. At the end of last year I reviewed the first four issues summing the plot as an “engaging account of very human foibles and how we can become inextricably enmeshed in our own duplicity.” By the time of the fifth issue in March I was so enthused that I remarked “Its layered narrative, with those revelatory chronological shifts back and forth, and intense, multi-faceted characterisation mark it out as one of the most unique and thought-provoking comics - small press or otherwise - out there at the moment.” Howard will also have The Peckham House for Invalids (super-heroines in 1906 Peckham!) on sale, his collaboration with Julia Scheele and Sarah Gordon, as well as Badger’s Diary, his collection of musteline illustrations and anecdotal reflections.

If there’s one creator’s work that was just made for chasing away the blues on the Monday morning tube commute then it’s Lizz Lunney and her collection of bizarre comedy characters. I gave an overview of her minicomics last November when I described them as “wonderfully, magnificently and delightfully absurd”, and I also covered her recent Depressed Cat: Nine Miserable Lives in February. Absolutely one of my favourite small press mirthmongers and with some new books just recently published I’d heartily recommend a stop by Lizz’s table.

         

Lizz Lunney's delightful minicomics and Howard Hardiman's gritty drama The Lengths

Slice-of-life storytelling is something that has a natural home in the small press scene and (Pygmy King) Robert Brown’s autobiographical Killjoy, giving an account of his first cub scout camp, was a book I said just last month had  “a remarkable knack for turning back the years for the reader and allowing them to briefly see the world with childhood eyes again.”

John Riordan and writing partner Dan Cox’s Hitsville UK is a title would have been most at home in the late, lamented ‘90s mag Deadline. I likened John’s visuals on the book  in the New Year to “an intoxicating and vibrant fusion of Shaky Kane and Brendan McCarthy.” And on a similar music-based theme I gave some time to Dan Berry’s “beautifully illustrated one-shot” After We Shot the Grizzly, based on lyrics from a song by The Handsome Family, last December. I look forward to grabbing a copy of Dan’s new comic Cat Island at Comiket.

Small press super-heroes will be ably represented by Martin Eden and his all-gay super-team Spandex, shortly to make the transition into professional publication via a Titan Books collection. The first five issues got some attention from me here and last week I put the spotlight on the latest chapter of the saga arguing “Eden’s Spandex continues to play the Big Two at their own game and show them exactly how super-hero comics should be done!”

               

Robert Brown's slice-of-life Killjoy, Martin Eden's fabulous all-gay super-hero team Spandex and Riordan & Cox's funky Hitsville UK

And amongst the many other small press attendees will be a number who will be featuring in Small Pressganged imminently, I must give mentions to the gorgeous sci-fi stylings of Nich Angell, the beautifully designed minicomics of Kristyna Baczynski, the autobio cartoon capery of Francesca Cassavetti and impressive newspaper-style anthology The Comix Reader. Also exhibiting this year is Brighton-based Anaseed Man, creator behind webcomic GART, whose anarchic goblin-centric hi-jinks I promise to investigate further in the near future.

Moving over to the professional exhibitors, Blank Slate Books will have their new release Peepholes by Laurie J. Proud and the long-awaited collection of Nick Abadzis’s Hugo Tate on sale in public for the first time. Their Chalk Marks series, giving new creators an entry point into professionally published work, got the Small Pressganged treatment in two parts here and here this year. You can also read my thoughts on their recently published My Skateboard Life here (“an all too recognisable evocation of the foibles of callow youth”) and the “brilliantly bizarre and brazenly individualistic” Hector Umbra here, both of which got the Broken Frontier seal of approval.

Without publisher Cinebook the English-speaking world would be bereft of a plethora of fabulous multi-genre Franco-Belgian comics albums. From the classic thriller series XIII, pseudo-historicals like Darwin’s Diaries, classic Old West actioners like Western through to hardcore sci-fi in the shape of Orbital and Valerian and Laureline there genuinely is something for everyone in the Cinebook back catalogue.

         

Blank Slate's long-awaited Hugo Tate collection, Cinebook's translation of the classic thriller XIII and Jonathan Cape's stylishly surreal The Vicar Woman

Jonathan Cape scored great critical acclaim with the Talbots’ Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes but I’d also like to draw readers’ attention to the recent The Vicar Woman from Emma Rendel  which I described as “The Vicar of Dibley meets The Wicker Man” here and Please God, Find Me a Husband! by Simone Lia which I summarised just last week as “an uplifting and appealing example of the slice-of-life genre of comics told with a sparkle and humility all of its own” here. Another publisher who skilfully proves there are no boundaries in terms of what comics can cover.

One of my favourite British publishers of recent times are Myriad Editions who continue to defy expectations with a series of graphic novels that, I know from personal experience with my own chums, have that all-elusive crossover appeal to a non-traditional comics audience. Their upcoming Science Tales, Darryl Cunningham’s exercise in scientific rationalism, is an intelligent and thought-provoking read and I cannot recommend Nicola Streeten’s Billy, Me & You (reviewed here) and Nye Wright’s Things To Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park (reviewed here) highly enough. Two very different approaches to memoirs about dealing with loss that are unforgettable in both delivery and their lasting resonance with the reader.

Nobrow Press’s beautifully tactile books are always a delight to the eye. You owe it to yourselves to check out two of my recent faves: Luke Pearson’s “enchanting, captivating and utterly delightful” fairy tale Hilda and the Midnight Giant (reviewed here) and Louis Roskosch’s slacker comedy The Adventures of Leeroy and Popo (reviewed here) featuring two protagonists who have “an endearing charm that makes being in their company a richly entertaining experience.” And don’t forget SelfMadeHero whose literary adaptions, translated European material and biographical OGNs offer a richly diverse reading experience.

          

Nobrow's slacker fun Leeroy and Popo, Myriad's unmissable and poignant Things to Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park and the latest Lovecraft Anthology from SelfMadeHero

Comiket is expanding this year into the areas outside the Bishopsgate Institute’s Great Hall, so there’s even more opportunity to discover that new hidden gem or come across international publishers you may not have encountered before, like Denmark’s Aben Maler. Artists scheduled to appear at the Drawing Parade at the moment include The New Deadwardians' I.N.J. Culbard, Goliath’s Tom Gauld, Vampire Academy’s Emma Vieceli, The Phoenix’s James Turner, Skeleton Key’s Andi Watson, Fluffy’s Simone Lia and Philippa Rice, the creator of my very favourite webcomic My Cardboard Life. With a Comica After Party in the evening that includes the SelfMadeHero Lovecraft Cabaret, this weekend’s Comiket promises to be the most entertaining yet. Further details can be found at the Comica Festival site.

I hope this week's column has given readers a flavour of the type of wonderful and diverse material you'll be able to sample this coming weekend. The latest fair has a number of new faces exhibiting and there's so much scope at an event like Comiket for acquainting yourself with the output of new creators/publishers for the first time and, as I've said before, rediscovering that sense of passion and excitement that drew us all into comics in the first place. At a point in time when pretty much the only thing being celebrated by mainstream comics is an abstinence from innovation and a poverty of imagination please don’t deny yourselves the opportunity to enjoy an event that champions everything comics can be, and promotes work that has so much more to say beyond “Feed me, I’m a corporate machine and I’m hungry.”

###

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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