The latest anthology from the WIP Comics group – a supportive monthly London “work-in-progress” meet-up for aspiring creators to share practice and foster comics community – debuts at the Hackney Comic + Zine Fair this coming weekend. Last year’s first publication from the members was titled Work and saw its contributors tackle the world of the workplace in short stories from a variety of perspectives; some recognisable, some allegorical, and some enticingly strange.
This year’s follow-up edition is titled Progress (as WIP Comics organiser Joe Stone said in our recent interview at BF “it’s a much better theme than ‘In’”) and it’s a huge bumper edition of around 90 pages. With that number of stories we could only ever hone in on a smaller number of creators here, and individual readers will find their own favourites that resonate with them for whatever personal reasons, but for the purposes of this review I want to spotlight entries that made particularly interesting use of the language and mechanics of the form. So let’s jump in and see what the WIP crew have in store for us this time round…
The first offering to tackle that theme of ‘progress’ is ‘Time Under Tension’ by Lara Callaghan (excerpt below), a cyclical account of personal development in the gym that plays with both the sequential aspect of the form and its relationship with time in a way that breaks the conventions of the medium (her central character falling through panels for example) while simultaneously embracing them through a very rigid and acute panel-to-panel pacing. It’s pleasing to see Callaghan continuing to think about the unique properties of comics in her visual storytelling and those wanting to investigate her work further can read our review of her first solo comic Reapers here at Broken Frontier.
Bruno Stead allows us to follow the travels of an urban fox through the streets of London in ‘The Streets of Earls Court’ (below). Here Stead abandons traditional panelling and accompanying narration (beyond the names of locations), encouraging us to see the fox’s experiences on a purely instinctual level.
Chloe Starling’s ‘Trouble with Studies’ (below) examines a tired student’s day on campus and is notable for its excellent use of lettering effects to bring us into the moment, from a colourful alarm clock screech abruptly awakening her protagonist from her monochrome slumber to her lecturer’s speech balloons becoming a jumbled mess of contents as she loses concentration.
Joe Stone’s ‘A Condensed History of Human Invention’ again makes effective use of comics’ unique connection with the passage of time as it moves through the history of human development towards a typically bleakly funny Stone-style punchline. Similarly, there’s a neat sense of the years disappearing in Zach Cobb’s ‘Lack of Progress’ (below) charting the gradual decline of an unopened shopping mall, made all the more poignant by ever more disappointed dialogue as optimism peters out to resignation over an extended period. Another story that adopts the purest form of comics is Aled Lies’ ‘Draenog Marw’ which, through its action-packed, silent storytelling heightens the dramatic tension as a roadkill-resenting hedgehog looks for revenge on the motoring world.
I was particularly taken by Alexandre Szolnoky’s ‘Dear Contributor’ (below) that plays with a sophisticated incongruity between the contents of a rejection letter and the accompanying imagery. That relationship is paradoxically both non-sequiturial and yet strangely relevant; more so as the short progresses. It’s one of the true highlights of the collection with a dark yet cutting despondency at its core.
Mereida Fajardo’s ‘Simply Sitting’ (below) is also a brilliantly fluid use of the page in which relaxing meditation slowly transforms into oppressive anxiety. There’s so much going on in these four pages as Fajardo toys with sequencing, visual metaphor and lettering tricks to bring her story to life.
Some of the work here, of course, is rawer and some of it is very polished, and that’s kind of the whole point. It’s as much a record of the contributors’ ongoing creative journeys and development as it is a commercial product for consumption which is, of course, the joy of the enterprise. If your intention at Hackney Comic + Zine Fair is to discover work from emerging talents on the UK scene and your budget is limited then Progress should be at the very top of your buying list. An impressive community effort from an initiative that deserves all of our support.
(Here’s the full creator list for Progress: Lara Callaghan, Bruno Stead, Chloe Starling, Nick Bryan, Sonya Kinsey, DC Hopkins, Hannah Lee Miller, Elisabeth Flett, Philip Clevberger, Joe Stone, James Riding, Rebecca K. Jones, Alex Demetris, Aled Lies, Matt Barrell, Alexandre Szolnoky, Jose Juan Barba, Jacob Payne, Niki Bañados, Rosa Fruzza, Zach Cobb, Christopher Hazeldine, Peter Morey, Clare Jennings, Ed Steele, Chris George, Sam Whitehall, Havva Bird, Mereida Fajado and Jon Schwochert.)
Review by Andy Oliver
WIP Comics will be exhibiting at Hackney Comic + Zine Fair on Sunday September 8th at Table 20.