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A COMICA REVIEW BY:

THE GUARDIAN


Jess Holland attened Comica Comiket, the small press and self-publishers fair, on Sunday 8 November 2009. His review first appeared in The Guardian's books blog.

Pictures of health: a thriving indie comics scene on display.

Comica Comiket at the ICA was buzzing with invention and ideas.

The launch of a comics anthology that pitches itself as a British alternative to Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s was one of the highlights of Sunday’s Comica Comiket, a fair for independently published comics that took place at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts on Sunday. Five hundred copies of the biannual Solipsistic Pop, which includes art, short graphic stories, mini-comics stuck to the inside front and back covers, and a 16-page pull-out collection of “adventure stories”, went on sale for the first time as part of the annual festival, which was bigger and more crowded than ever before.

“British alternative comics are thriving,” explained Solipsistic Pop editor Tom Humberstone from behind a pretty display of issue #1, “but there’s not really a decent publishing infrastructure in place to support them. Solipsistic Pop is an attempt to create that.”

Solipsistic Pop wasn’t the only organisation represented that’s helping to champion new under-the-radar graphic work. Alex Spiro, co-founder of small press Nobrow was sitting behind a table covered with back issues of the biannual eponymous magazine, an anthology of illustrations, as well as comics Nobrow puts out in small runs. The most eye-catching of these was Tom Rowe’s Said the Computer to the Specialist, with a black-on-black cover you could only make out when it caught the light, and pages of illustrations of old 60s supercomputers and analogue recording equipment inside.

Last Hours, formerly a music magazine and now a small press itself, has been a mainstay of London’s self-publishing scene for years, and creator Edd was dispensing tips on where to find vegan food as he manned the table opposite Nobrow’s. Back copies of the mag (which covers punk and politics) sat next to two brand new anthologies: an anthology of Isy Morgenmuffel’s brilliant autobiographical comic zine Morgenmuffel, called Diary of a Miscreant, which details Isy’s adventures at protests, projects and parties; and an anthology of 17 graphic stories looking at modern policing and violence, called Excessive Force.

On the slightly more hi-fi side of things, Marc Ellerby, whose acerbic Love The Way You Love was published by the American Oni Press, and Jamie McKelvie, whose indie high-school fantasy series Suburban Glamour is put out by Image Comics and has just (top secret!) been optioned for a movie, were sharing a table and mocking each other for getting excited about signing autographs. Jamie was also hawking copies of Phonogram, the series about pop music and magic he co-created with Kieron Gillen, and wearing a Scott Pilgrim t-shirt. For a free comics hit, check out Marc Ellerby’s web comic Ellerbisms, a funny, fresh diary series that’s (usually) updated twice a week.

Of course, the whole point of indie publishing is that you don’t have to sit around waiting for someone else to vet and put out your work, and there were more self-made comics around than there’s room here to sing the praises of. A shout’s got to go out to Dave “Lando” Lander’s brilliant, dark, silent (and self-published) comic Untranslated, which involves bleak, delicately drawn warscapes and dialogue in an alien language. In Dave’s words: “It’s up to the viewer to decode what is happening rather then to be spoon-fed a moralistic story. This relates to the way the news has reported conflicts in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where we have to rely on translation and editing by new organisations. It often provides us with an oversimplified view of conflicts, rather then helping us to find a more balanced independent viewpoint.”

Another silent comic that’s a huge success is Eekeemoo, written and drawn by Will Morris-Julien and coloured by his wife Liz, which started life as a web series about a ninja eskimo, gained around 350,000 readers in places like Japan, the Philippines and Poland, and has now become a paper-and-ink comic series too, put out by Butternut. On the web, it’s drawn in long, vertical strips that you read by scrolling down, and it’s full of bold, meditative white-on-black art.

There was a lot more ace work on display - Laura Oldfield Ford’s “psychogeographical exploration of London” Savage Messaiah, and Ushio’s Japanofail deserve a mention - but you should take a look at this list of everyone who was at the Comiket and leave a comment if there’s anything particularly awesome I haven’t mentioned.

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Reviews

"5 Stars... a superb exhibition."
Time Out

"Gives the comic form the cultural representation the UK doesn't normally see."
David Greene

"...this was awesome."
FPI Blog

"I went in a casual fan, and came out an undisputed Kirbyphile."
Comic Book Resources

"...fascinating..."
Redrawn

"...a comprehensive, varied and exciting season that demonstrated the reach and diversity of the art form."
The Comics Journal

"I arrived to find a queue for the sold-out event stretching out of the building."
Paul Tierney

"...hearing literary translators talk about their work reminded me of the immense difficulty, creativity and importance of the task."
The Financial Times

"I'll definitely be going to more Comica events."
Matthew Rees

"Paul Gravett Rules!"
Peggy Burns