As we approach 2017 it seems only fitting to look back on the UK self-publishing world in 2016 through a ‘Small Pressganged’ lens. This was the year that this column celebrated its fifth anniversary, when Broken Frontier published its first Small Press Yearbook featuring the work of our original ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch’ and a twelve-month period that gave us an opportunity to take the ‘Small Pressganged’ philosophy of championing deserving new talents out to a wider audience like never before.
Below we present a month-by-month look at some of the highlights of that year from a Broken Frontier perspective including Small Press Day, the Yearbook launch at Gosh! Comics and all the exciting developments for our ‘Six to Watch’ creators in 2016…
2016 could not have got off to a more exciting start for Small Pressganged! It began at London’s Gosh! Comics with a special Broken Frontier edition of the monthly Laydeez do Comics meet-ups which included two exclusive announcements for attendees before they were published on the site later that week. Speaking on the evening were Rozi Hathaway and Danny Noble – two of our 2015 Broken Frontier ‘Six UK Small Press Creators to Watch‘ – who gave presentations about their work and their journeys into comics to date.
I also spoke that night (above) about Broken Frontier’s history, philosophy and our ‘Six to Watch’ mentorship programmes and revealed both the upcoming publication of our very first Small Press Yearbook (spotlighting the work of our first ‘Six to Watch’ artists) and the names of our 2016 ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘ (dropping the UK bit this year) – Rebecca Bagley, Kim Clements, Brigid Deacon, Emily Rose Lambert, Jey Levang and Ellice Weaver.
In February we revealed the cracking cover of the Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook by the inimitable Danny Noble (also a 2015 Broken Frontier Award nominee in the Breakout Talent category). Danny described her design decisions for the image in an interview here at BF later in the year saying “I wanted to do something simple and striking. Something that represented the six of us and also Broken Frontier’s proactive championing of small press. I had a few ideas but this one popped in my head straight away and refused to budge, and luckily that’s the one that you chose. I know, especially recently, there’s been a lot of imagery of pens and pencils as weapons but this is more of a colossal pencil making a mark. Leaving the flag of BF triumphantly flapping about on the moon.”
It was also the month that the Gosh! Comics and Broken Frontier Drink and Draw returned after a Christmas/New Year break as our monthly collaborations with our friends at Gosh! resumed. Guests over the course of the year would include a number of ‘Small Pressganged’-featured creators from the self-publishing scene including Brigid Deacon, Danny Noble, Alice Urbino, Amber Hsu, Cristian Ortiz, Rozi Hathaway, Gareth Brookes, Hurk, Joe Decie, Lizzy Stewart, Anja Uhren, Jade Sarson, Emix Regulus, Lando, Stathis Tsemberlidis and John Riordan.
Tillie Walden’s I Love this Part got an overdue review here in February and would win her one of two Ignatz Awards later in the year; her Promising New Talent Ignatz triumph going hand in complementary hand with her Broken Frontier Breakout Talent Award. I Love this Part was also nominated for an Eisner. While Walden is undoubtedly a singular talent – one of the most exciting new voices I’ve encountered in indie comics in the last decade – it’s important not to forget the phenomenal rise of her publisher Avery Hill over the last few years from DIY enthusiasts to internationally recognised boutique publisher. If 2016 was anyone’s year in UK small press comics it was theirs.
The publicity for the first Small Press Day in the UK and Ireland began in earnest in March with the official poster designed by David ‘Ziggy’ Greene. Little did anyone involved with the event in those early months know just how Small Press Day would grow and grow before the big day…
This was also the month that Gary Clap and Kirk Campbell of Dirty Rotten Comics fame announced an expansion to their comics-related operations with the formation of micropublishing outfit Throwaway Press. It was the beginning of a resurgence of smaller publishing concerns in the UK small press scene over the course of the year with Good Comics and Bog-Eyed Books also joining the esteemed likes of Avery Hill Publishing, Breakdown Press, One Beat Zines and Dead Canary Comics.
April was, without a doubt, the biggest month in ‘Small Pressganged’ history with the publication of our very first Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook and launch at London’s Gosh! Comics alongside our Kickstarted Broken Frontier Anthology hardcover. A multi-creator launch saw so many artists in attendance that we couldn’t fit them all on the poster! Those not listed below who were also signing on the night included Yearbook artists Gareth Brookes, Kim Clements, Jessica Martin, Mike Medaglia, EdieOP, Owen D. Pomery and Alex Potts.
The Yearbook went on to garner rave reviews and support from a number of respected online sources including Camila Barboza at Orbital Comics, Stephen L. Holland at Page 45, the Forbidden Planet International Blog, The Quietus, Down the Tubes, Pipedream Comics and Geek Syndicate. We’re very grateful to them all for helping us to get the message out there about the fantastically talented new creators within its pages. You can read a full report on the night here.
You can still order a copy of the Yearbook online here priced just £6.00 for 83 pages of comics.
The original BF 6 to Watch (and friend) at the Gosh! launch… Adam Vian, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Andy Oliver, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino and Rozi Hathaway
2016 Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ artists Kim Clements and Rebecca Bagley at the Yearbook launch
Yearbook promotion began in earnest in May with our first tabling event at the Comica Comiket at the House of Illustration. BF ‘Six to Watch’ artist Rozi Hathaway was signing at the Broken Frontier table and also took part in the event’s traditional Drawing Parade (below).
It was the beginning of several months worth of tabling at events as a Broken Frontier collective pushing not just the Yearbook but offering table space for all ‘Six to Watch’ creators to sell their comics as part of our ongoing commitment to championing their work.
May also saw 2016 ‘Six to Watch’ creators Kim Clements and Brigid Deacon exhibiting at the ever diverse DIY Cultures fair with its always thought-provoking, crossover programming.
This year’s ELCAF saw Broken Frontier involved in the programme of events when I chaired the panel on ‘Championing Comics’ with Off Life editor Daniel Humphry, Julia Scheele of One Beat Zines and Simon Moreton (Smoo Comics, Minor Leagues and former Bristol Comic and Zine Fair organiser).
While ELCAF’s remit is obviously wider than just the small press scene it was exciting to see so many first time or less well known self-publishing exhibitors there. There’s a full write-up on ELCAF 2016 here at BF but suffice to say I described it in that round-up as one of the most distinctive and important festivals on the UK calendar.
June also saw the third edition of Sean Azzopardi’s CECAF (Crouch End Cartoon Art Festival) at the Earl Haig Hall in North London proactively taking comics out to the local community. Broken Frontier was in attendance with gratefully received support from ‘Six to Watch’ artist Emma Raby who helped to promote the Yearbook on the BF table. CECAF remains one of the friendliest shows on the circuit and is always an absolute pleasure to be a part of.
It started as a throwaway thought on Twitter and turned into a small movement. Small Press Day hit the UK and Ireland on July 9th and months of careful planning came to fruition in a spectacularly successful day of events. Shops, organisations and comics communities up and down the country and beyond worked tirelessly in the months beforehand to set up signings, fairs and talks. You can read a full report at Broken Frontier here.
The Broken Frontier signing at Orbital Comics on Small Press Day. Left to right – Emma Raby, Andy Oliver, Jey Levang and Rozi Hathaway
As part of the co-organising committee with the brains behind Small Press Day Save Our Souls editor David Ziggy Greene and the Alternative Press’s Amneet Johal I made a point of visiting all five London participants, taking in Raygun East, Housmans Radical Bookshop, Forbidden Planet, Orbital Comics and Gosh! Comics on the day.
Broken Frontier were also privileged to be invited to be a part of Orbital’s signings where two generations of our ‘Six to Watch’ creators came together to sign the Yearbook and their own projects. And where a certain Warren Ellis picked up work by Rozi Hathaway and Jey Levang…
David Gedge and Terry De Castro of The Wedding Present were signing the band’s autobio comic Tales of the Wedding Present at Dave’s Comics in Brighton on Small Press Day and gave this bonus performance of ‘My Favourite Dress’!
Of the success of the day co-organiser Amneet Johal summed up one of its most rewarding aspects: “I think it was seeing the sheer excitement and enthusiasm for the small press from across the country over Twitter. I’m in awe that there were 25 events across the country on the same day championing the same thing… it was really beautiful!”
Plans are in place for 2017’s Small Press Day and we can only hope it reaches as many new readers next year as it did this. In the words of David Ziggy Greene: “It was rewarding seeing and hearing about people buying small press they probably would never have thought about before. Most rewarding, though, was hearing how excited some creators were to be doing their first events, and also having such a great response and enthusiasm from so many shops and venues.”
July also saw the publication of Jade Sarson’s For the Love of God, Marie! from Myriad Editions. Jade has been featured here in ‘Small Pressganged’ since 2012 and her First Graphic Novel Competition-winning book deserves all the plaudits it’s received this year.
We always give up extensive time to previewing Breakdown Press’s Safari Festival in August and this year was no exception. Two weeks of reviews, interviews and features preceded the cutting edge comics festival this year in recognition of its championing of some of the most innovative and exciting new talents around. You can revisit all our Safari coverage in one place here.
With headliners Simon Hanselmann, Joan Cornellà, Laura Callaghan, Anna Haifisch and Fantagraphics in attendance and BF favourites Brigid Deacon, Simon Moreton, Babak Ganjei, Donya Todd, Lizzy Stewart and so many others there on the day Safari was every bit the celebration of the new wave of indie comics that it promised to be. A triumphant achievement from the Breakdown team!
Another full month on the ‘Small Pressganged’ calendar with the Bristol Comic and Zine Fair seeing the return of 2016 ‘Six to Watch’ creator Rebecca Bagley to the festival circuit and Rozi Hathaway also tabling. BCZF was organised by a re-jigged team this year but proved to be every bit as inspirational and eclectic as in previous years.
October also saw exciting and much deserved news from Danny Noble – one of the most recognisable faces on ‘Small Pressganged’ over the last two years as one of our championed ‘Six to Watch’ creators – as we learnt that she would be illustrating comedian and actor Adrian Edmondson’s 2017 children’s book Tilly and the Time Machine to be published by Puffin.
Later in the month at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival I had the privilege of being on Stephen L. Holland of the hugely respected Nottingham comics shop Page 45‘s ‘You Ask, We Tell! Helping Creators Pitch to Publishers, the Press and Comic Shops’ panel alongside Avery Hill Publishing’s Ricky Miller, self-publisher (and fellow AHP team member), Katriona Chapman (Katzine). Aspiring creators were able to gain valuable feedback on making that first step into comics creating.
We were also proud to add our support to Dirty Rotten Comics‘ Tom Mortimer’s week of small press events at Winchester School of Art in October which included exhibitions, talks and stalls which included contributions from Gareth Brookes, Brigid Deacon, Dirty Rotten Comics, Wallis Eates, Danny Noble, Samuel C. Williams, Rachael Ball, Olivia Sullivan, Henry and Stanley Miller, and more.
In November we reached the five year anniversary of ‘Small Pressganged’ at Broken Frontier! To commemorate that milestone I had asked creators, publishers and commentators to mark the occasion by celebrating the work of someone they had discovered through the column. You can read that piece here as a number of small press movers and shakers including Dave White and Ricky Miller of Avery Hill, Ellice Weaver, Katriona Chapman, Andy Poyiadgi, Wallis Eates, Danny Noble, Ravi Thornton and Myriad’s Corinne Pearlman amongst many others give their thoughts. The stunning birthday art for the piece below is by Rozi Hathaway who also announced this month that she would be published by Good Comics in 2017.
Although it had debuted a few months beforehand at the Museum of London Docklands, December was the month when we spoke with 2016 BF ‘Six to Watch’ artist Rebecca Bagley about her Dear Mrs. Ryan – her six-page comic that now makes up part of the museum’s permanent collection and was created to complement the display of a rare George Cross medal awarded to Richard V. Moore. A fantastic achievement that takes comics to a potential whole new audience. You can read the interview with Rebecca here.
Later in the month Avery Hill Publishing announced that 2016 Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ creator Ellice Weaver’s Something City would published by them in 2017. Another excellent piece of news from one of our championed creators! The book is described as “an exploration of modern day living through representations of the lives of different groups of people in an imagined place. Segregated communities of young people, elders, fanatics, techies and the religious live side by side, interweaving and cohabiting in a city they build around themselves.” You can read about AHP’s 2017 line-up here.
This year’s Broken Frontier Awards were also announced this month with hardly unexpected multiple nominations for Tillie Walden and Avery Hill Publishing, recognition for Breakdown Press in the Best Publisher category and Anna Haifisch’s The Artist as Best One-Shot, and Rozi Hathaway in the Breakout Talent section. Simon Moreton’s Minor Leagues was placed up against the likes of All-Star Batman in the Best New Series nominations and Wallis Eates’s powerful autobio Fear of Mum-Death and the Shadow Men (below) was a pick on the Best One-Shot list.
And, finally, we sent out our first ‘Small Pressganged’-themed Christmas cards in 2016 with distinctive designs by ‘Six to Watch’ artist Kim Clements…
Quite a year, eh? So what next? Well in January you can look forward to our annual ‘Ten UK Small Press Comics You Need to Own!‘ column, meet the 2017 Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch’ and we’ll start the countdown to our 2017 Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook. We’ve big plans for the next twelve months but in the meantime thanks for all your support in 2016!
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.