In celebration of five years since I published the first SMOO Comic, I’ve been doing a potted history of how things came to be. This is part 2.
Ch ch ch changes.
- Start 2011 wanting to do something different with my comics. Start work on the Escapologist as an experiment in drawing differently.
- Parents prepare to move away from Marlow. Reflecting on teenage years becomes focus of SMOO #4
- Finish Escapologist #1
- Release Bear Pit #1
- Have stupid idea about doing a newsprint anthology and convince Nick it’s a great idea/strong-arm into being co-editor
- Attend London Small Press and Comic Expo. Have fun despite poor turn-out.
- Start work on SMOO #4
- crowd-fund and publish ‘The Sorry Entertainer’ newspaper anthology with Nick
- Appear on a panel at Bristol Expo, talking about comics and mental health. Meet Ian Williams and Katie Green who I’m happy to count as friends today. Start an important process of confronting, thinking about, drawing and dealing with mental health issues through comics. Destined to become an important part of my non-comics life. (BCE report part 1, part 2, part 3)
- Establish Better, Drawn, a place for people to share their experiences of long term mental and physical illness in the form of comics
- September, host our first Bristol Comic and Zine Fair organised by Bear Pit. Draw another comic for the Daily Cross-hatch.
- Scrap 40 pages of writing and illustration about Marlow for SMOO#4. Pick up a pencil and start scribbling instead.
- Another pivotal moment: #30DaysComics. Join Derik Badman’s retinue of people drawing a comic a day for 30 days. Discover Warren Craghead, Allan Haverholm, Derik’s work in more depth, become better acquainted with Oliver East’s work. Pick up a pencil and start to turn my back on pens for a while. Reinvent my process. Let go. Learn to love drawing.
- Go to Thought Bubble, release an early version of SMOO #4 and the Escapologist #2
- Come home and try and take some time to think about all the changes my practice is going through. Become committed to comics but frustrated and somehow disillusioned with the UK scene.
- Apply for TCAF 2012.
- Finish the year with a new approach to comics, a doctorate in Geography, but a bit sour on UK comics shows.
- January: get accepted into TCAF
- set to work on SMOO #5. Draw 40 pages in three months. Pencils, inks. Short stories, long stories. Explore a very difficult year of my life. Put that year to rest and move on. Create the first comic of which I’m unreservedly proud. Learn about drawing, learn about pencils.
- Publish a full version of SMOO #4
- Start my first proper job after finishing the PhD in 2010.
- Leave first proper job after a month for another job that lasts for longer.
- Go to TCAF in May and launch SMOO #5. Another pivotal moment. Feel accepted by comics makers and readers. Feel like I’m finding a voice. Meet loads of people. Teach medical illustration students about Graphic Medicine with Ian, co-host a panel on comics and mental health at the convention. Meet John P, Box Brown, L. Nichols and other lovely people. (TCAF reports pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3)
- Box Brown asks me to do a Retrofit book once he knows what the next roster of artists will be.
- Move house, settle into new routines, new spaces, new work, new drawings
- Do lots of anthology work – Moonshot, Bear Pit, Decadence, Not My Small Diary etc to help me explore my style. Not always great work from me, I don’t think, but important. My piece for Kus was something I was pleased with.
- Start drawing SMOO #6
- Second Bristol Comic and Zine Fair
- Start Frank Santoro’s comics course but drop out – it’s a thing of greatness, but I couldn’t commit the time and the energy and the focus it deserved.
- November. Start #30DaysComics, but can’t keep up
- Don’t go to Thought Bubble as I’m on holiday in New York. Launch SMOO #6 at Desert Island in Brooklyn. Feel like things are happening, in a quiet, modest way.
- Secure distro from a bunch of US distributors: Spit and a Half, Pioneers Press, Secret Acres
- Kick up a fuss in four parts about the British Comics Awards
- Finish the year more dedicated to comics than ever. Have a job where I feel I’m able to identify myself as both cartoonist and academic. Confident about my new voice in drawing, if unsure that I’m doing it right. Then again, what is doing it right?? Do it wrong and have fun!
Onwards and upwards
- Commit to at least 4 more issues of SMOO by launching a subscription service.
- start the year drawing my Retrofit book, ‘Grand Getures’. 44 pages, drawn in thick pencil
- Mental health wobbles. Subconsciously seeps into Grand Gestures.
- Trying to maintain drawing/life balance.
- Go on holiday. Draw a zine about it, a successor to Lisbon all these years later. Try to get better. Working on being well.
- Get a table at SPX with Warren Craghead.
- Positive reviews for comics. Drawing developing. Working on SMOO #7. Determined to keep drawing and making comics.
So there we go: a potted history of my comics making ‘career’ so far. I’ll be reflecting later in the month on what, if anything, I’ve learned. For now, though, looking back it seems like an erratic history - breaks and pauses, and rushes, and exploring and dead-ends and moments of personal breakthrough. Like lots of people I learned how to make comics by doing: trial and error, photocopier jams, moments of pride, moments of utter self doubt, drawing well, drawing badly, and always, always, being surprised how far I’ve come every time I look back.
I think that working hard, and following your work where it takes you, is the only way to progress, I think. I learned about a year ago to make the comics I wanted to make - not the comics I thought I should be making. That meant inventing my own process, my own rules, my own methods. It doesn’t have to be a radical thing - just do what you want to do and be happy with that. You won’t be great at it (gosh knows I’m not), but what you will be is happy to be exploring that path on your own terms (which by-and-large I think I am).
I’ve got a very long way to go, but I’m enjoying the journey much more.
Next time: what happens when comics go out of print?