Have we really reached the fourth intake of our annual ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘ initiative here at Broken Frontier? It seems no time at all since we published that first round-up piece back in early 2015 when we spotlighted half a dozen small press comics and zine artists – six people whose very different practice was so inspiring that we felt they deserved to reach the next level of recognition – with the intention that we would follow their stories across the course of the year in a series of reviews, interviews, features and creator commentaries.
In the ensuing years that ‘Six to Watch’ coverage has evolved into something of a mentorship programme as we’ve offered participating artists profile-raising opportunities outside of being featured on the site such as presenting at BF-themed talks, sitting on BF-chaired panels at events (including major festivals like ELCAF), a space on Broken Frontier-sponsored tables at fairs and conventions, guest-artist spots at the Gosh!/Broken Frontier Drink and Draw and providing support and advice off-site whenever needed. And let’s not forget the two Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbooks (2017 edition below with a gorgeous Ellice Weaver cover) we’ve published to date to bring the various ‘Six to Watch’ crews to a wider audience.
It’s always a pleasure to see these amazing creators going on to greater things, whether that be inside comics or in other artistic pursuits. This year saw our 2016 ‘Six to Watch’ artists Ellice Weaver and Jey Levang published, respectively, by Avery Hill Publishing and BOOM! Studios, and 2017’s Peony Gent published by Image. There were also acclaimed comics from ‘Six to Watch’-ers Josh Hicks, Olivia Sullivan and Rozi Hathaway from Good Comics. Sabba Khan’s comics were featured in the ‘The Beauty of Being British Asian’ exhibition in London while Danny Noble and Rozi Hathaway featured in the ‘The Inking Woman’ exhibition at the Cartoon Museum.
Outside of the world of sequential art this year also saw Danny Noble and Rebecca Bagley doing great things in children’s illustration, Adam Vian announced as a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit for his games work with brother Tom, and Jess Milton illustrating the upcoming book The Girl Who Gave Zero F**ks from Unbound. It goes without saying that they’re a hugely talented bunch!
So it’s time once again for the curtain to be pulled back and the names to be revealed of the six UK-based creators we’ll be following in articles across 2018 at BF. Some of these artists have been working in self-publishing for a couple of years and will be familiar to small press aficionados. Some of them are very new names on the scene. But whether they’re already established or they’re just starting starting out what these illustrators all have in common is their markedly distinctive visual styles and narrative approaches, and that they deserve far wider readerships.
It’s a pleasure, then, to introduce you to the hugely talented creators who make up this year’s Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch’. Expect to see a lot more of this sextet over the next twelve months!
Andy Barron has been a fixture on the UK small press scene for a few years now but without ever quite having the breakout moment his stunningly imaginative narratives are due. Barron’s work revolves around the bizarre world of OM – a realm with its own David Lindsay-esque alienness, strange evolutionary cycles, odd rituals and distinctive rules of reality.
Barron’s OM comics are distinguished by his predominant use of silent storytelling, animated cartooning and a particularly captivating use of colour that makes the sometimes quite brutal events in his strips all the more vivid. Over the last year he’s experimented with a riso chapter in the saga and even a full wood-cut diorama edition that was on display at last year’s ELCAF.
The great joy of comics as a form is that sometimes it feels like we have only begun to scratch the surface of their potential. That same potential is embodied in the work of Andy Barron – a creator with a genuinely distinctive voice who follows his own unique vision and one who is unafraid to interrogate the possibilities of the medium both on and off the page.
I first discovered Emily Gilbert’s publications in 2016 at one of the many events Broken Frontier tabled at in that year and was immediately struck by the intuitive and powerful use of colour in her zines and comics to evoke mood, to underline theme and also to create a sense of environment. It’s remarkable in its carefully crafted use, with her adoption of an often limited colour palette somehow making her imagery all the more vibrant and immersive.
Her work often straddles pure sequential art and graphic narrative and Gilbert points to “escapism and solitude” as being recurring motifs. The natural world is also a central pillar to her practice, especially within the pages of her more zine-style offerings like the two editions of Botanical and Manta.
Carrying off a narrative with the most stringent verbal economy is a great skill and one that’s very evident in her comic Another Life. I’m always drawn to the work of creators who use the form to make me feel their stories rather than read them. Emily Gilbert has that talent and we’ll be showcasing it in more depth here at BF very soon.
The area of graphic medicine is a burgeoning one, full of worthy comics that readers cannot fail to connect with on a fundamentally human level. After all, graphic narratives have a particular power in depicting shared experience and speaking to us with an essentially empathetic voice. But every so often a comic in this strand of sequential art comes along that brings us so fully into events on the page that it’s obvious there’s an added something extra special in that synthesis of words and pictures.
Such were my feelings about Jayde Perkin’s study of bereavement and grief in the pages of Time May Change Me – Perkin’s account of coming to terms with the loss of her mother that interweaves the motifs of the music of David Bowie through its pages – when I reviewed it here at Broken Frontier for our ELCAF Week last year. I also listed the book as one of my 2017 ‘Ten UK Small Press You Need to Own!‘ here at BF last week.
I said then that “Perkin’s highly stylised art embodies a most expressive humanity and her use of visual metaphor adds an extra layer to its pages” and called it “a heartfelt and candidly honest piece of work.” Jayde’s work has continued to evolve and grow in confidence over the last few months and I’m not afraid to say I firmly believe she’s one of the most exciting prospects I’ve covered here over the last couple of years.
Those creators whose practice and oeuvre defy easy definition and categorisation are always an inspiring bunch to us here at Broken Frontier. Matthew Pettit is one such artist whose work I first spotted via Jazz Dad Comics in his Kevin Truman minicomic and has since gone on to publish a number of notable small press comics via his Friends in the Dungeon imprint.
To date he’s produced two issues of Wax, his own anthology of comics shorts including a first issue that dealt with such diverse subject matter as “a friendly bee man; a man dealing with losing his memory; building a canoe; and a relationship after the apocalypse.” The second issue debuted at Safari Festival last year and, with its presentational aesthetic of “minier-comics” bound into the pages of a minicomic, had a playfully tactile vibe.
Last year I reviewed his eerie and haunting The Fields Beyond Episode 1 following the amnesiac Tom’s nightmarish search for his missing girlfriend within the dreamlike environs of the Electric Gentleman’s Club. I described it then as “an unnervingly cyclical tale from a creator with an unyielding eye for the idiosyncratic and the uncanny.” Matthew also recently spoke to us here at BF about some of his favourite comics covers!
The mythologically-influenced and dream-like atmosphere of Shanti Rai’s KO – the poignant story of the title character’s quest to save her family from the supernatural forces that threaten to tear them apart from each other – so impressed me when I reviewed it here last year at Broken Frontier that I immediately pencilled her in for potential inclusion in this year’s ‘Six to Watch’ list. (A special tip of my hat to SelfMadeHero artist JAKe here for bringing Shanti’s comics to my attention.)
Rai’s work is notable for an accessible visual style, effective use of colour and an eye-catching sense of graphic design. But it’s her understanding of that all-important language of comics that most drew me to her art – from her exploitation of page structure to enhance and underline narrative theme to her manipulation of panel-to-panel storytelling to play with pacing and the passage of time in her work.
Atmospheric and carefully constructed comics with a beguiling visual clarity. I look forward to sharing much more of Shanti’s practice with you in the next few months!
Another effective newbie to the column inches of ‘Small Pressganged’ here at Broken Frontier, Cat Sims is nonetheless an artist whose work I’ve been keeping tabs on since she was recommended to me by more than one source last year as someone we should be promoting here on the site.
From the synthesis of psychogeography, incisive social commentary and genre influences in her comic Black Matter (above) to a very individual approach to graphic medicine in Graves, through to her celebration of social housing in the zine Space (below) that’s proven to be very sage advice indeed. Every image enhances the thematic whole, every panel overflows with detail; this is work that can effortlessly shift between realism and surrealism, the urban and the macabre.
Sims’ work is layered and visually elaborate with a voice and motivation to it that is refreshing in its sense of direction and purpose. You’ll get to discover it for yourselves in much more detail with us as we continue to explore her practice throughout 2018.
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