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Great British Comics Now:

Part 2

It’s that time of year again! London is bubbling over with comics once more as the 2010 Comica Festival gets underway with two great free exhibitions open for the whole of November.

First, there’s That’s Novel: Lifting Comics From The Page which I have curated for the London Print Studio, 425 Harrow Road (nearest tube Westbourne Park), which is also the hub for most of the Festival’s evening and weekend events.

And secondly, a show of the seven short-listed finalists of this year’s Observer/Jonathan Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize at the Orbital Comics Gallery (nearest tube Leicester Square), namely: Anthony Blades; Stephen Collins; Scott Dessert; Anna Mill & Luke Jones; Fumio Obata; Andrew ‘Stilly’ Stilborn; and Jason Synnott. We’ll find out next Sunday, 7 November, which one of these is the winner of the £1,000 prize when their four-page story is printed in The Observer.

Before then, remember, remember, the 5th of November, because there are still free places available for this coming Friday’s Comica Symposium at Birkbeck.

And you can book tickets, at only £4 each, for the first Comica Conversations at London Print Studio (LPS) on Saturday 6 November, the first with Darryl Cunningham, author of Psychiatric Tales, and Brick of Depresso, the second with Charlie Adlard, artist on The Walking Dead (the TV version is premiering here 5 November, 10pm on FX) chatting with Alex Fitch from Panel Borders on Resonance FM. Further ahead, Ho Che Anderson, creator of King, the landmark Martin Luther King Jr. graphic biography, is making a one-night stopover in London on Monday 15 November to talk at LPS about his broad range of work on and off the page with British comic artist Paul Peart-Smith.

Another vital component of the Comica Festival is the Comiket, our annual Independent Comics Fair. After our extra summer edition at the Pump House Gallery in Battersea Park, this year we move to the Ellis Room at the Royal National Hotel, Bloomsbury (nearest tube Russell Square). It’s a rare chance for the public to meet and buy direct from a fantastic variety of self-publishers, small presses and independent publishers, with no ticket price or admission charge to pay.

And Peter Stanbury and I are adding an exciting innovation this year, the Drawing Parade, the chance to watch a stellar line-up of comics creators, many of whom started from or still participate in the small press and independent scene, drawing and signing their books live before your very eyes, their every line videoed and projected on a 42 inch plasma screen overhead. Charlie Adlard, for example, was a founder of Les Cartoonistes Dangereux, a UK collective, who used his earnings from drawing The X-Files to help finance his most truly personal expression, the powerful World War Two graphic novel White Death, with writer Robbie Morrison. New Zealand-born Roger Langridge was also part of the LCD crew. Today he may be crafting some hilarious Muppets strips and scripting one of the miniscule quota of actually fresh, engaging, unencumbered Marvel superhero comics, Thor: The Mighty Avenger, but Roger comes out of self-publishing, notably his surreal Fred the Clown, and still releases wacky works of his own. Whether in xeroxes or pixels, Paul Grist, Garen Ewing, Darryl Cunningham, Woodrow Phoenix, Ellen Lindner, Ed Pinsent and UK alternative comix veteran Hunt Emerson have made comics independently. All of them will make this first Drawing Parade an unmissable live ‘happening’, each artist ‘performing’ for twenty-five minutes between 12 and 5pm.

So for my second Great British Comics Now update (part 1 here), here are a few of my recommendations of hot new titles which will be available all under one roof next Sunday, 7 November, at the Comica Comiket. And yes, many of the artists will be happy to sign and maybe sketch for you in your copy. Come and explore all the vigorous neo-integrity and rebellious renaissance of today’s homegrown, hand-crafted, human-scale, heartfelt comics ‘Made in Britain’.



Many Happy Returns #1 & 2
by Jan Wheatley

Birthdays have a nasty habit of coming round, at least once a year, and this dread underpins Jan Wheatley’s slice-of-life drama about a teenage girl growing up in the shadow of her twin brother, who was 32 minutes younger than her. Jan Wheatley started this as a movie project but lucky for us it got stalled and she decided to turn it into a comics serial. Her opening episode is set in 1976 and brilliantly teases out the tensions and expectations as elements of an impending tragedy conspire and converge on an ordinary English street scene and the double celebration of the twins’ 8th birthdays. One of them, Natalie Turner, is our first-person, diary-style narrator. Wheatley writes and draws with confidence and care. She’s launching the second episode, set mainly in the comprehensive school on Natalie’s 14th birthday in 1982, at Comiket. Having read a pdf preview, I can assure you it’s as good as, if not better than, her first. She offers them in two sizes and prices, but I’d strongly recommend the larger A4 versions which show off her detailed, grey-washed line drawings to their best. Her website goes live any day now or email her direct at janwheatley [at] btinternet [dot] com to buy each part for £2 small or £2.50 large plus p&p. 



Hilarious Consequences
by Babak Ganjei
Record Records Records
£7.99.

This does live up to its title. A discovery for me, this one, a really funny, self-deprecating set of 34 sketchy sketches, six panels per page, 3x2, about the stresses and everyday anxieties of Babak Ganjei. He is a broke, balding, hyperchondriac husband and father who wants to be responsible but is still signing on and holding out for the dream of making it with his music and record label, and perhaps with his comics too. Ganjei worries that he will let his little boy down as ‘an idiot parent’, so he’s prepared to make some sacrifices, like working late shifts in a disspiriting bar. Don’t be fooled by the ‘simple’ loose cartooning here, Ganjei knows how to pace his tales and deliver gags and touches of pathos too. These episodes gradually build up to a gig that goes absurdly awry and yet it ends with some modest measure of happiness. Inevitable comparisons will be made with Jeffrey Brown’s autobio confessionals, but Ganjei is doing this his way, even ending with a wry epilogue about the Brown connection. The interludes with the ‘glitter slugs’ add a ‘Lynchian’ quirk as well. The book 104-page paperback comes with a CD ‘original motion picture’ soundtrack by various acts including Ganjei’s band Wet Paint. To get a taster, watch this short animated advert.



Spandex #2
by Martin Eden
£3

Martin Eden has done the superhero-team schtick well already, notably in The O Men, but with Spandex he’s proving that there is still fun to be had with this hoary genre by bursting appropriately into 36 A5 pages in bright rainbow colours and coming out literally with a multi-national, polysexual line-up of heroes and heroines, based of course in Brighton. There’s Prowler who can absorb the powers of any gay person and has a long prehensile tail; or the beefy black Butch with her unbreakable skin. Eden has a charming and effective open-line style and a knack of drawing those character-revealing details like a tell-tale ear-ring, nose-piercing, fuzzy crewcut, body hair or skimpy, clinging costumes. Don’t be put off, this is not the world’s first gay superhero comic (The Sun doesn’t always get its news stories right), but it is a winning comedy super-soap juggling a likeable, unpredictable ensemble whose sexualities probably span across the whole spectrum. And when was the last time you read a comic overrun by pink ninjas? 



Hemlock 1
by Josceline Fenton
Mild Tarantula
£6 + postage

Part Swedish, Josceline Fenton stirs in a seasoning of mysterious Nordic atmosphere and folklore into her ‘fairy tale set in the forests of 19th century Scandinavia’. She introduces us to her young leading witch chomping and devouring her bird familiar Suul in the snowy woods before climbing back into her mobile home, a giant four-storey snail by the name of Richmond. Her need for a fresh familiar entangles the fates of a frog and a young man with suitably strange results. Compared to her earlier projects, Hemlock shows Fenton in full control, reining in dialogues and panels to unfold her story with assurance and economy. Manga techniques are clearly rich ingredients in her brew here, and not just through those larger eyes, pointed chins and minute noses, but also through her use of some really clever cropping and compositions, as well as those wide blank horizontal panels to indicate transitions in time and setting. I also like her ornate invented script for the snail’s speech. It’s a neat, entertaining self-contained first story welcoming you into her magical world and leaving you with a satisfying ending, while keeping open the lurking menace of the witch’s husband, who seems to survive in an anklet which can tighten its grip on her foot. If you can’t wait to find out what happens next, every Friday she posts new pages on her site.



Magic Mirror
by Ed Pinsent
Eibon Vale Press
£22.75 hardcover / £12.99 paperback

From his start on the legendary Fast Fiction table of the early Eighties, Ed Pinsent always drew on an eclectic and enriching array of inspirations for his self-published comics. His was an uncompromisingly personal and idiosyncratic voice, often deeply rooted in the English heritage of fantasy, religious and folk arts and yet still vigorously experimental and forward-looking. So much so that much of his work could be challengingly allusive and illusive, closer to poems or dream-writings and ahead of its era and audience. Now in 2010 the time is ripe for today’s readers to look at his wide variety of comics more closely. No less than 44 of his small press comics have been carefully scanned from original art for this gatherum organised into: Humourous Tales; Fables; Astorial Anecdotes; Five Family Tales; Poems; and Dark Tales making up Book One; and concluding in Book Two with seven selected adventures of his most well-known protagonist, Windy Wilberforce. Most of these stories have been out of print for years and their original print runs were sometimes tiny. At the back of the book, introducing the ‘notes by the artist’, Pinsent comments, ‘For a long time I have tended to resist explanations and solutions to my stories, but I do realise that their meaning is often far from clear, and some readers remain baffled. In the notes below I will try and illuminate some of my original intentions and also explain what’s happening in those stories that are the most confusing and elliptical.’ Pinsent’s return to print is an essential purchase for his Wilberforce tour-de-force, The Saga of the Scroll, as you can see some extracts at the publishers’ site here. This 354-page A4-sized tome, spanning 1983 to 1998 and including two unpublished stories, is a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the rare British visionaries to unlock the lyricism and surrealism of the comics form. 



There’s No Time Like The Present #1-13
by Paul Rainey
£2.50 to £3 each

The concepts about life in the future within this 13-part serialised graphic novel really stick in your head and prey on your mind. As it’s title suggest, there really is nothing like this precise actual moment, right here and now, as you are reading these very words. And yet we all live with part of our thoughts and feelings bound up in memories of the past, and another part anticipating, expecting what tomorrow can bring, in both cases often ignoring the rewards of a real awareness of the present. As Eckhart Tolle called it, ‘The Power of Now’.  Rainey’s sustained, atypical speculative fiction shows how scientific advances like the Ultranet, time travel and pausable pregancies can change ordinary people’s lives and natures and yet only so far. And do we really want to be able to buy the next ten years’ episodes of Emmerdale right now? His final issue brings in the ‘Ubiquiverse’, as Darryl Cunningham commented, a form of the recurring meme, via 2001, Lost or Prometha, of existences outside time where past, present and future co-exist, a sort of after-life, present-life and pre-life rolled into one. A lot like comics themselves, in fact. Started in September 2004 and only recently completed, There’s No Time Like The Present stands quietly, unassumingly, as one of the most intriguing and affecting long-form British graphic novels in recent years.



Depresso
by Brick
Knockabout Comics
£12.99

Depression ought to be a depressing subject for comics. Instead, in the hands of self-confessed ‘Depresso’ Brick, addressing us through his alter ego Tom Freeman (how can a man be truly free of this world’s madness?), the uncomfortable subject of depression is transformed into a far-from-gloomy record of one man’s struggle through and triumph over addictive anti-depressant drugs, their zombiefying side-effects and debilitating withdrawal symptoms, the vagaries of alternative therapies, the NHS bureaucracy and all the stuff inside his own head, the baggage of his upbringing. Brick’s cartooning is free-wheeling and feverishly creative throughout more than 250 finely honed pages. Even if in places, some of those Photoshop special effects reduce effectiveness, when his comics really communicate, he nails down the effects of depression and the efforts needed to face up to it on his own terms with remarkable honesty and directness. No wonder extracts from this graphic memoir are being used by mental health trainees and patients. As Brick’s local organisation Making Waves commented about Depresso:

The Nottingham based mental health service users group, Making Waves, have taken pages from Depresso and ‘animated’ sequences to a sound track for use in the Recovery training of student nurses from Nottingham and Sheffield Hallam Universities. Feedback forms reveal that students find the extracts ‘enlightening’, ‘very moving’, ‘a great way to get across difficult ideas’ or just plain ‘entertaining’. The clips help us broaden the discussion of what Recovery might mean for somebody moving out of crisis, and have frequently stimulated students to challenge the narrow parameters promoted by the NHS. Hopefully they will take this into their professional practice. There are plans to commit Depresso sequences to films that trainers can download for free from our website.

Brick has posted some scenes from the book online on his website and you can come and meet Brick in a Comica Conversation with Darryl Cunningham this Saturday 6 November at London Print Studio. Who knows, might comics - making them and reading them - be the best medicine?

Posted: November 2, 2010

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Great British Comics Now
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Josceline Fenton
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