The Comica buzz

On Sunday 7th November 2010 I went to the Comica Comiket event organised by my old friends Peter Stanbury and Paul Gravett, who used to publish my work in Escape magazine. Outside of my NYC experience a few years ago, it’s the first small press comics event I have attended for a long time. It was quite a revelation to me and a very enjoyable day all round; I was expecting to feel like the lone and forgotten man in the corner, but that wasn’t how it turned out. I even managed to sign and decorate a book for a reader I’d never met before, but who turned out to be quite familiar with my work.

Firstly, it was wonderful to see so many friends and familiar faces from my small press days, artists and publishers who had regularly attended the Westminster comic marts and numerous social occasions of the food-drink variety. Darryl Cunningham, Stephen Poulacheris, Andy Williams, Woodrow Phoenix, Hunt Emerson and Tony Bennett, Ed Hillyer, Bob Lynch, Paul Grist, Martin Skidmore, Martin Hand…Woodrow gave me a welcoming bear hug that practically crushed my ribs. Ed Hillyer told me how the place reminded him of the San Diego comics con – everyone was balding and bearded. Bob Lynch asked me to send him scans of some items in my collection which he might be missing. Martin Skidmore is relaunching FA, a fanzine with a pedigree longer than your right arm. And Darryl is doing very well of course, since there’s currently a tremendous amount of interest in his fine hardback book. He told me the other side of the story to Psychiatric Tales; it seems to represent one of his aborted attempts at following a conventional career path.

Secondly, equally wonderful for me to see the vibrant and vital UK small press scene as it obtains in 2010. Perhaps I’ve been missing out. It’s impressive to me that there is now enough talent in the UK to occupy an entire roomful of tables piled high with smart-looking and colourful publications, many of them boasting high quality production values. Paul Gravett assures me that the content within the pages is equally exciting. I did briefly meet a few creators and publishers who are new to me, mainly thanks to the evening drinks at The Lamb and meal at the nearby pizza place. One comic I bought which impressed me was an astonishing full-colour affair by John Miers. These largely wordless, intricate, and multi-layered strips of his reminded me of Boris Artzybasheff and Virgil Partch, at least in the stylisation of the figures. Apparently large-scale colour prints of some pages were exhibited by Gravett at the Print Gallery event. Later, Miers was kind enough to greet me and I learned how his strong narrative leanings were not exactly encouraged by his tutors on the fine art painting course he had attended. That resonates with me; I did go to art college, and although I didn’t have the exact same experience, I often sensed that story-telling (along with lowbrow entertainments like TV, cinema and comics) was regarded with high-minded contempt and suspicion.

Also: I did an actual drawing for 25 minutes, depicting Windy Wilberforce meeting a large owl, taking my turn at the table in a line with many other talented ink-slingers in a live event which was broadcast to the room on a big screen, thanks to Stephen Poulacheris and his camcorder. Later he used the same device to interview me for five minutes in the slowly-emptying rooms just as the more conventional comic dealers were packing up their crates of Golden Age rarities. Steve’s best question was along the lines of “Primitif or Conan the Barbarian – who will win?” I think my answer was even-handed, and fair to both characters. I was mainly there trying to sell copies of my Magic Mirror book and other old comics, and even if I didn’t make much money, the social buzz is what I will remember from the day.

What a day to leave my camera at home! Lucky Garen Ewing took a couple of pictures…

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