“When I was making my early work zines were probably more important to me than comics, and exposure to the politics, aesthetics and DIY ethos of zine-making had a huge effect on how I go about making work. There’s a danger of new artists thinking that small press is just practicing for being “properly” published. It isn’t.
It’s an opportunity to be as contentious, inflammatory, disgusting, weird, ugly, stupid, serious, avant-garde, lo-fi etc., etc., as you like, and I worry that new comics artists are playing it a bit safe at a time when we should all be thinking a bit about what our role as artists might be in broader society.” – Gareth Brookes, creator of The Black Project and A Thousand Coloured Castles from his recent ‘Myriad Week’ interview at Broken Frontier here.
That’s a lengthy quote to kick off this week’s ‘A View from the Frontier’ but it’s one that came to mind a lot at the weekend when (and while so many of my contemporaries were Canada-bound for TCAF) I was walking the halls of this year’s DIY Cultures Fair in East London.
For those who have never attended, DIY Cultures is a UK event that has a voice quite unlike any other I visit on the annual small press circuit. With its mix of speakers, panel discussions, exhibitions and activities, it explores the crossover between the worlds of social activism, self-publishing, zine-making and comics, with the grassroots approach to all three being a vital focus of its programming.
Sequential art is obviously just one aspect of its identity but, from the perspective of a comics culture site, it’s the one I’m going to hone in on here. Whenever I get to DIY Cultures it acts as a timely pointer to the role that comics can have in effecting change, in raising awareness and in challenging established thinking. As, of course, do any of the mediums of communication from which the fair takes its name.
It also underlines, though, just what a democratic form comics is. To quote from an interview with another of our favourite creators here at BF, graphic novelist Karrie Fransman (Death of the Artist) “unlike cinema, photography or fine art, comics are still being defined. And it’s a medium which is open for any of us to define it. There are very few barriers to entry when it comes to comics.”
Is that ever better exemplified than in the hand-stapled, photocopied, often ephemeral world of comics zines, and the philosophy of making work for for its own self-defining sake?
One of the things I’ve always loved about our coverage at BF is that it doesn’t matter if it’s a hand-folded autobio comic with a print run of 25 or an IP-led serial comic with a print run in six figures – every form of delivery is celebrated here. That’s something that has been epitomised in our annual Broken Frontier Awards over the last couple of years – Simon Moreton’s zine Minor Leagues up against corporate behemoth All-Star Batman last year for ‘Best Ongoing Series’ for example or Kim Clements’s Rabbit Thoughts competing with a Grant Morrison-led DC super-hero book for ‘Best One-Shot’ in 2015.
So, while the sense of awe and wonder that is TCAF will have to wait for another year for the denizens of Broken Frontier Towers, Sunday’s DIY Cultures was a welcome reminder that events that are smaller and more modest in scope are no less vital in emphasising the potency, accessibility and communicative power of comics.
Rest assured we’ll never leave the grassroots side of comics behind us at Broken Frontier because, in so many ways, it’s exactly what defines us.
– Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier Editor-in-Chief, May 15th, 2017
Photo above left is of Broken Frontier Award-nominated artist Wallis Eates at DIY Cultures Fair with her new Fleeting Faces zines. Read a full review of them at Broken Frontier here.
For regular updates on all things small press and Broken Frontier follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.