Proposed UK Immigration laws and why they suck

Aaron Sewards is a well known face to many artists, musicians, gig-goers, coffee drinkers, and music promoters both in Bristol and further afield. He and his Japanes partner are expecting a baby. They are currently in Japan, wanting to get married and return home to the UK. But newly proposed immigration laws are threatening to prevent him and his family from returning to the UK to raise a family and continue the life they had in Bristol. He writes:

I want to have some kind of safe place to put the child in, and I know which place, it’s the place I live In and met Kano in and where I’ve been investing my time and energy. Its’ where all my friends live, all the people who I want to learn how to be a good parent from. It’s the house my family lived in, where the overgrown garden is takes up the whole world from the front window. I want to have a place where we measure this kid and make a line and write down the date – when I read the new home office policy documents and the fullness of how we maybe do not qualify to even ask to come to the UK dawn on me.

The proposed laws, which means test UK citizens wishing to marry non-EU citizens and live in the UK pose a huge threat to the stability of his future with his partner and soon-to-be-born child. He has written about it all here.

That his, or anybody in his situation’s, ‘value’ to the UK be determined on financial contribution alone, seems ludicrous, unjust and discriminatory. If you read his post, and feel you can do something from where you are, I encourage you to do so.

Moonshot magazine

Moonshot Issue 4

I received my contributor’s copy of Moonshot Magazine the other day. My piece in the new issue is a two page comic about being outside. The rest of the issue is a collection of poetry, art, prose and comics. It’s pretty great, all in all. I’m dead chuffed to be part of it.

This magazine is also the first thing I’ve ever contributed to that has an ISBN. Odd as it sounds, that feels like a bit of an achievement for me and I’m pretty pleased.

More anthology news coming soon.

THIS IS THE NEWS: Anthologies

Since finishing Smoo #5, I’ve been doing some anthology pieces. Here are some pictures of some pages from them.

Untitled

Untitled appearing in Moonshot Magazine #4. Two pages about spring-time walking.

Evacuee

Evacuee from Decadence #9. I try and use anthologies as an excuse to experiment a little bit with my comics. This one is 5 pages long and is science fiction, which is a departure for me.

Working

I submitted this story to Kuš! Komiksi, an international anthology out of Latvia. The editors are going through the selection process at the moment, so fingers crossed this makes the grade. If it doesn’t I’ll put this out as a minicomic. This story is 8 pages long.

TCAF report (part 3 of 3)

TCAFter

In May this year, I headed to Canada for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival with my friend and fellow comics maker, Ian Williams (AKA Thom Ferrier). We did some teaching and exhibited and sold our comics. Here is my third and final report from the weekend.

[Edit: in this post, I am speaking mostly about large, UK comic events which claim to represent both mainstream comics and the small-press scene (Thought Bubble, MCM, Kapow, Bristol Expo etc). We do have a host of more diverse, radical and progressive shows in the form of Zine Symposiums, the Alternative Press Fair etc., but this post isn’t about them. I’m going to be writing about those in a forthcoming post].

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Now I’m back in the flip-flopping British weather, back at work and the buzz and energy of the TCAF footfall has faded, I thought I’d reflect on what made TCAF so special for me and what, if anything, we can learn from it in the UK context. TCAF is not like any show I’ve done before and I think that can be put down to a few key reasons.

Firstly, the way it is organised. Small touches like a green room for exhibitors, the offer of free refreshments – often delivered to your table; the volunteers manning your table while you needed a break for lunch, or to run a session; a place to get  cash change from so you don’t have to send people away from your table; these are all small things in some ways, but incredibly BIG things in others. I make zines for a small audience, but the TCAF organisers and volunteers treated me like a pro and for that I am grateful. UK shows I’ve been to - by oversight or by constraint - haven’t had this kind of service.

Secondly, the sense of pride in the event was palpable. This was underlined by the speeches given by organisers Christopher Butcher, Peter Birkemoe and Miles Baker at the after party on Sunday night. Their caring and thoughtful thanks underlined the faith that the organisers have in the event and all of the people that make it happen. Moreover, the very fact that there were public announcements of thanks to the people involved was a great touch because it created a sense of communal value and ownership of the event. In the UK scene, more often than not the lights come on, the tables come down, and  we leave. Perhaps it’s a non-demonstrative, British thing. But thanking everyone, making it part of the celebration, was another simple, but positive touch.

Photo by Ian Williams

Thirdly, the audience was engaged and interested. They didn’t mind moving from table to table and seeing so many different material expressions of comics: photocopied zines, colour comics, books, newspapers, and letterpress prints all sat alongside one another. They happily browsed and flicked and asked questions. I think this is down to the event being free to attend; comics fans mixed with the comics curious, old and young. While I understand the challenge of making an event of this scale both free, and in a public space, must be huge, I think it is incredibly important that this be done wherever possible.

This is because at home we still tend to try and sell comics to comic fans. Don’t get me wrong; I love the audience at British shows, defend utterly their right to express themselves as they will, to be who they want to be in a safe space, but they are not the only audience that a lot of us makers need to access.  So the problem is not the presence of comic fans, but the absence of people who are interested in art and stories and publications but don’t, necessarily, see themselves as comic fans. The ones that probably wouldn’t pay for a comics event, or go out of their way to find one. For my part, I need to find more ways of selling outside of the comics audience. That is my responsibility. However, I think British shows need to respond to this as well, or run the risk of losing the patronage of small-press makers who are simply overlooked or undervalued by a mainstream comics audience (more on this in a moment).

Fourthly, the quality of the work on display was incredible, and the attitude of the other makers was positive and encouraging. I understand that as a curated show, there will always be people who were accepted and others that weren’t.  As someone who believes that everyone has a voice that is worth listening to, and that said voice can be given expression through comics, regardless of technical ability, it sometimes feels a bit odd to make that suitable/unsuitable distinction - after all, everyone deserves a chance to find an audience. At the same time, however, an element of stratification helps to push, pull, inspire and move makers into a realm where they find that voice (I certainly feel that I wouldn’t have been ‘ready’ for TCAF until this year). Furthermore, the diversity of the featured guests, the number of panels and events supporting events for all kinds makers, for kids, for whomever: this kind of programming is progressive and positive. I’m not even getting into the lack of gender/genre/format etc diversity in shows like KAPOW, Bristol Comics Expo and so on. So yes: curate, but with a light touch, and programme bravely.

Fifthly, and finally, I feel TCAF reflected my attitude to the way in which I make comics and envisage their future. That attitude is this: I don’t want to join an industry, I want to be part of a community. At home, there is often an emphasis on one-way-to-get-into-making-one-type-of-comics at shows, including signings, portfolio sessions and the like with artists or publishers acting as gatekeepers for a specific genre or iterations of comics. For those of us who do not recognise that world – DIY publishers, zine makers, self-publishers who do it because they must and they can – it can be very alienating. At TCAF, however, the emphasis on independently produced work, the DIY aspect of self-publishing, or the high-quality of published work by guests (many of whom began by self-publishing) was refreshing. TCAF seemed, to me, to respect the model.

I think TCAF also emphasised this approach to comics as art over the strange and erratic practices of the ‘mainstream’ comics publishers and the dominant, but over-valued and over-emphasised, genres they peddle. This model isn’t about portfolios or the big two publishers or becoming an illustrator for a big company. It’s about sharing work, experience, ideas with other makers. Some of those makers or fans might be able to help others put more work out there, because they might be publishers, or run a distro, or know someone somewhere who does. I am not saying I don’t want or need to make money from what I am doing. This is not an anti-economic argument. But it’s about the ethics of that economic argument, the willingness to share, understand our collective similarities and differences, and to support one another. It’s about recognising and respecting the artistic imperative to create and narrate, and the multiple voices that produces.

We have some good bigger comics-specific shows in the UK. Thought Bubble really stands out as one of my favourites, and I get the impression that it shares a lot of values with TCAF. I’m excited to see it grow with the expanding market of a whole new host of British comics makers and readers, not bound to traditional preconceptions about what constitutes the tropes of the format.

In conclusion, TCAF left me feeling that I was part of a community of varied, passionate international makers, in a scene with a bright future who respected the breadth of the work being undertaken. I valued the work of the volunteers and the organisers and felt valued and respected by them in return; I recognised the role played by makers and the visiting public in making it a great event, and felt humbled by that too. I’m definitely going to apply for the next one.

You can read TCAF’s official wrap-up post here.

Bad photos of me by Ian Williams (it’s not Ian’s fault they’re bad: I do not photograph well)



TCAF report (part 2 of 3)

TCAF

In May this year, I headed to Canada for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival with my friend and fellow comics maker, Ian Williams (AKA Thom Ferrier). We did some teaching and exhibited and sold our comics. Here is part 2 (of 3) of my report on the trip.


Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Saturday morning I awoke, enthused and not besieged by my usual comic convention curse that is the hangover. This was a good thing. I’m sometimes not sensible when I’m excited and being in Toronto was exciting. I think I had a combination of jetlag and expensive beer to thank for my discretion.

We headed to the Toronto Reference Library to find our spot. The library has a large, atrium like feel to it, with mezzanine floors and a water feature. We located our table upstairs and acquainted ourselves with our table neighbours Ian Sampson and Mandy Dunn Sampson and Tom Scioli, who was also selling a bunch of Adhouse stuff. We were still setting up as the doors opened (this is normal for me) and the room filled quickly. Any fears I had about being upstairs and away from the action were unfounded: at one point it was even one-in, one-out to get in to the room, and queues were forming outside. So people came, people bought comics. This was good. Smoo #5, enjoying its official debut (and kindly promoted on the TCAF website) sold well and people seemed genuinely engaged with it, even those who chose to move on without making a purchase. I won’t lie: I even felt a bit proud. Ian accused me of accentuating my English accent to curry favour with the punters. I couldn’t possibly imagine why on Earth he might suggest that.

Managed to find some time to do the rounds, and met Zak Sally (Sammy the Mouse is incredible), Noah Van Sciver (we all know he’s great), Julie Delporte, Wormulus, Annie Koyama, Matt Moses of Hic and Hoc publications (who have recently published a great collection of comics from Lauren Barnett who had a strip in last year’s Sorry Entertainer) and a bunch of others. Hung out with the Brit contingent; Joe Decie, Joe List, Luke Pearson, Philippa Rice, Lizz Lunney, Sean Azzopardi, Clarke of Thought Bubble organising fame, and Nobrow. I also had the very friendly Jeremy Latta pop by the table in what was nothing if not a wonderful surprise. Jeremy is both a musician in his own right, and was in Touching Earth Made of Steel, a band who put out a great record a couple of years back called The Carl Wilson Lake Mystery’, which is still a firm favourite of mine. We had exchanged letters and I sent some comics a while back, but I hadn’t heard from him for a while. And there he was. It was amazing. You should check out his music.

 

Photo by Ian Williams

On Saturday afternoon, Ian and I co-chaired a panel on Comics and Mental Health, with panellists Darryl Cunningham, Lizz Lunney and John Porcellino. The conversation got going pretty quickly, and flitted between narratives of personal experience, creative frustrations, drawing methods, and humour. Meeting John P, whose work has inspired me no end, was a particular highlight for me. The panel went by too quickly, and we sadly failed to record it. However, we hope to have some form of alternative documentation and a more in-depth engagement with the topic online soon.

Sunday was similarly busy; I met Sophie Yanow, Kevin Czap, Jason Bradshaw, Leon from Secret Acres, Tom Neely, Linda from Sparkplug… the list goes on. All the people I met produce work I really like, and to meet them in person was inspiring and I only wish there was more time.

Photo by Ian Williams

At the after party, I got a bit gushy. Had a nice chat with Box Brown, Leyland Myrick, Rob Ullman and tablemates Ian and Mandy. There were some touching speeches from the organisers. I even got to hug Christopher Butcher, the incredibly friendly director of the festival. I am embarrassed by how much I gushed, but heck, TCAF does that to a man.

On Monday we moved to the suburbs to stay with Tory Woollcott and her parents. Tory, beset with flu, did her utmost to make us feel welcome in her parents’ basement, and succeeded. We spent a couple of days wandering around downtown, eating good food, drinking coffee, tea, some beer, and generally lazing around before heading home weary but happy, on Wednesday. In all, TCAF was like nothing else.

Tomorrow: things learned from TCAF.

TCAF report (part 1 of 3)

Pre-CAF

In May this year, I headed to Canada for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival with my friend and fellow comics maker, Ian Williams (AKA Thom Ferrier). We did some teaching and exhibited and sold our comics. This is the first of three posts about my trip.

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

After an extremely difficult 4am start, and a wholly insufficient four hours of sleep, I managed to marshal my faculties sufficiently to get to Bristol airport. What followed was eighteen hours of aeroplanes, Parisian airport food, Parisian airport navigation failures, Parisian airport shuttle buses and food in little trays, Canadian buses and subways, and a grateful arrival in our hotel in downtown Toronto. I had met my comics comrade, and roommate for the week , Ian Williams, at Paris CDG, and soon after arriving in Toronto, he got in touch with Suley Fattah, man behind Drawing the Line. Suley promptly appeared at the hotel to give us a driving tour of downtown: Yorkville, the frat houses, the Royal Ontario Museum, the streets. We met his wife, magician Julie Eng, and her colleague David Ben. Then it was beer, thunderstorms, rainstorms and 12 hours sleep.

On a muggy and sunny Thursday we headed to the University district, where I was to give a talk in the Geography department. The talk was based on a paper I am working on, which is drawn from my PhD. A small but receptive audience fed-back some good suggestions, and my jetlagged and somewhat hazy performance was seemingly forgiven. After the talk, Ian and I headed down St George and saw hipsters and students and posts thick with staples from years of flyering. We drank beer before heading into Kensington Market. Kensington Market is most similar in my experience, perhaps, to Camden in London, a sort of chaotic area, marked by similar shops and similar spaces and similar people, but with its own logic of restaurants, bars, clothes shops, vintage shops, junk markets and vegetable shops. Here, we once again met Suley and British magician Will Houston. We ate burritos and talked about the history of magic and sleights of hand, before taking another ride around a thunderstorm smeared city in Suley’s car.

Photo by Ian Williams

Photo by Ian Williams.

On Friday we headed out to University of Toronto Mississauga, a newly revived, shiny campus out in the green suburbs and big houses. We skipped through the rush-hour traffic as our gracious host Shelley Wall showed us various blocks of town on our way out to the campus. The purpose of the visit was for Ian and I to run a workshop on comics and narrative in stories about health and illness. We spoke about our own work and experiences, got the students and staff to participate in making some jam comics, and led them on a Lynda Barry-inspired guided visualisation exercise. The resulting comics were ace (you can read more about this workshop on Ian’s blog). The faculty were incredibly warm and enthusiastic, as were the students. Feeling buoyed we were taken to lunch, where we learned of MCA’s passing and a friendly, if persistent, waitress found repetitious ways to hear me speak and demonstrate my accent.

Photo by Ian Williams

That night we headed to the Pilot Tavern, where I put a whole host of faces to names of Twitter friends, including (but likely not limited to) Box Brown, Chuck Forsman, Melisa Mendes and Doug and Emma of British publishers Self-Made Hero. Bed at a sensible hour, hazy but happy.

Tomorrow: TCAF itself.

THIS IS THE NEWS: March/April

Oh how the month of March has rattled its way away from me over here; unseasonably sunny, and startlingly productive (well, it startled me). Here are some highlights:


Smoo #5: new issue available for pre-order now.


Hot on the heels of January’s release of Smoo #4, the next issue of my autobiographical zine is done and dusted.  Smoo #5 was completed in record time - 40 pages in three months - in preparation for my imminent trip to Toronto. The comic is all ready to go to the printers as soon as I’ve got enough pre-orders to help the process along. The zine contains 8 stories covering seaside landscapes, stone-throwing youths, going fishing, swimming in ponds and excerpts from an 18th Century Medical Journal. You can read about it in on the Forbidden Planet International blog, or you can get it here.

Meet Oliver Harris


Now that ‘The Sorry Entertainer’ newspaper comics anthology that Nick and I put out last May is out of print, you can finally read my story on-line. ‘This is Oliver Harris’ is a detached glimpse of one child’s imaginative escape from other people. In no way autobiographical. Here are some panels (click through to read the whole thing).


Stay in touch with Smoo News


In a staggering step of sepia nostalgia, I’ve decided to party like it’s 1996 and started a mailing list. Sign-up to be kept up-to-date with the latest news, advance deals on new comics and special offers/discounts for my online shop. In the blink and you’ll miss it world of Twitter and Tumblr, it’ll be a way to keep connected to what is going on over here from the comfort of your nicely appointed email client inbox. Click here to sign up.


Remember Things in Panels ? No? Well it’s back.


Things in Panels is the collective name that Nick and I use to put out publications and the name we use when we table together at conventions. While Nick is floating around Australia for a while, I’ve updated the website with some of our latest news. We have plans for more publications later this year, so do keep an eye out. If you’re a Tumblr user, do consider following us.


Flogging comics across the world:


Two up-coming events of note. First, I’ll be at flying solo at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 5th and 6th 2012. Then, in November, Things in Panels will once again be appearing at Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds. Nick will be back for this one.

That’s it for now. More news to follow in the coming weeks..