Having made their ELCAF debut last year, South London-based Henry Miller and his son Stanley – the organisers and charming hosts of last year’s supremely convivial Catford Comic and Zine Fair – are returning to the Round Chapel to launch two new mini-comics.
In the comic, Henry creates a graphic treatment of the eponymous Fall song, while also taking the reader round some MESque sharp corners and reflecting on the part Smith and his music have played in his life over a number of decades.
Stan’s charming Darren is the more straightforward tale of an underground creature’s trip in search of one of his favourite treats. Like Darren’s object of desire, this is a very enjoyable snack and highlights the exciting potential of a developing talent who hasn’t even left school yet.
Ahead of ELCAF, Henry and Stanley took time out to chat with us over a elderflower spritzer and some chilli nuts in the historic lobby bar of the Penge Oriental Hotel.
BROKEN FRONTIER: What was it about Mark E. Smith and The Fall that exerted a grip on you?
HENRY: Like many others I discovered The Fall via John Peel. That drawling Mancunian accent, often incoherent. Weird instructional mutterings, Old Testament shamanic pronouncements and a genuine Northern working-class sensibility. He had a great ear for a turn of phrase. It’s a form of poetry really.
And then there is the sound. A grinding wall of stuff. They’re also very funny. They never took themselves too seriously. Smith seemed to celebrate the accidental and improvisatory. Strutting around twiddling knobs. Quite threatening. When I first heard them I was frightened. Scared out of my wits. But with Peel’s boundless enthusiasm I gradually became obsessed.
I was shocked at how upset I was when he died. It really knocked me back. Quite surprising, really. I was in a kind of daze of for a few days. I found myself crying on a bus on the way to the dentist’s. I don’t think that would have been Smith’s cup of tea though, “God help us if there’s a war”.
BF: Were you consciously trying to create what a Fall song might look like as a comic? If so, how did you go about translating that musical idiom?
HENRY: Yes, I was. I tried to recreate the sensation of a Fall song in comic form; twisted, feral and unfathomable. A challenging read. Switching perspectives and rhythms. As with a Fall track, a second reading sheds more light.
A few months before Mark passed away, Steve Walsh, late of Gosh! Comics (and one of the world’s nicest men), had put an open call out for art based on The Fall to be collated on his website, Prole Art Threat. This really appealed. I’d encourage others to give it a go.
I chose a song from the latest album, New Facts Emerge, called Groundsboy. The song’s lyrics are barely understandable. You get a sense of something wistful and accusatory.
Then Smith passed away and I wanted to make further tribute to the music and the way The Fall’s music has echoed throughout my life.
HENRY: The Fall have so many great songs and I wanted to pick one that was less well known. I’d always been a fan of 1995’s Cerebal Caustic and The Aphid had always intrigued me.
BF: I was struck at the end by the note that you don’t know what the song is about, and you don’t want to know. Is that sense of mystery/lack of resolution something you respond to more generally?
HENRY: When a new Fall album was released, part of the joy was trying to work out what was going on. Did he just say ‘Cheese State’? Overanalysis of a song, however, can be a tedious thing.
Stewart Lee put it well with his observation that “Smith’s visceral animal growling could descend into any section of a song at will, and defied the analysis of the English Literature graduates and beard-kneading academics running Fall lyric websites.”
My favourite writers are Becket and Pinter. Shedloads of mystery and zero resolution there.
BF: How long have you been doing comics? Who were your inspirations/influences?
HENRY: My Gran used to buy me Commando comic from the newsagent. ‘The Heroes of San Marco’, that sort of thing. Interesting stuff. I was never really into superheroes.
I’ve been making comics since 2006. I studied Theatre Design at Wimbledon School of Art before becoming an actor. After too long not drawing I was looking for a way to make art and came upon the small press scene.
The Godfather of British comics as far as I’m concerned is Gareth Brookes. His work is outstanding. It was his Can I Borrow your Toilet? that first prompted me to make something.
BF: What else are you and Stan going to have for sale at ELCAF?
HENRY: Jim Bowen was another legend who sadly passed away recently, so we’ve made a load of badges based on that Sunday tea-time favourite, Bullseye. We also have some MES badges. We’ll also have our back catalogue – stuff like Corbyn, Records and Tea and Typical Worm.
BF: Is there likely to be another Catford Comic and Zine Fair this year?
HENRY: I hope so. I was really pleased with it last year. We crammed about 30 comic creators into a tiny room above the best pub in South-East London, the Blythe Hill Tavern, and played dub reggae. What’s not to like? And it snowed!
It had a great vibe to it and everyone had a good time. I’m looking to expand by using the mechanic’s garage next door as well as above the pub this year. Got to ask the mechanic first.
BF: What are you working on next?
HENRY: I’m very slow/lazy. I’m letting things gestate. I’ve been meaning to make a comic about John Craven for about eight years.
BF: Hey, Stan. What artistic inspirations have you been exposed to (particularly but not just comics)?
STAN: Comics-wise I have been inspired by my dad mostly, but people outside my family include Anders Nilsen, for his style and extreme detail, and Lizz Lunney, for demonstrating that really simple drawings can be really funny. I like Joe Decie for his funny autobiography comics and, more recently, Jesse Moynihan. I’m reading his comic Forming at the moment – it’s a cross between mythology and sci-fi. He works on my number-one animation inspiration, Adventure Time.
I also like Over The Garden Wall, Pingu and Wallace and Gromit. Apparently it took Nick Park (creator of Wallace and Gromit) six years to make A Grand Day Out and he did it in his garage! I find that really cool.
BF: You do animation as well as comics. How did you get into that?
STAN: I started animating like I imagine most people do – I made short, kind of stupid stop-motions of Star Wars figures and Plasticine faces. I really like this old Italian show called Mio Mao; that was another inspiration and probably one of the first animations I ever saw.
BF: Do you approach comics and animation any differently? (And does either give you more satisfaction?)
STAN: I’m only a very amateur animator – I just use a stop-motion app and some Plasticine – but it’s really fun, especially when it works.
I think it’s more satisfying getting a comic back from the printer, because it takes a lot longer to make a comic than an animation for me. Most of the time I just make it up as I go along when I’m animating, whereas I plan a comic for months in advance. Also my favourite page to do on a comic is the back cover: you can literally draw whatever you want on that.
BF: Do you and your dad collaborate on work (or sit in opposite corners, jealously guarding what you’re doing)?
STAN: We worked together on some submissions for Dirty Rotten Comics, but other than that we haven’t made any comics together. My dad always helps me with making comics though, mostly with the writing aspect.
BF: What are you working on next?
STAN: I have a year until my GCSEs, so I’m getting slower at making comics because I have to do loads of revision all the time. I do have one I’m working on – I’m hoping to watercolour the whole thing.