Two years ago at Broken Frontier we announced our first set of ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘ – half a dozen self-published comics and zine artists whose craft was so exciting that they deserved to be given a push up to the next level of recognition – with the promise that we would follow their exploits across the course of the year in a series of reviews, interviews, features and creator commentaries.
Over the course of that year what began as simply a loosely linked series of articles quickly developed into something far more profound, eventually evolving into a mentorship programme that culminated in our first critically acclaimed Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook (available to buy online here). It also provided external opportunities – if they so wished – for the artists concerned to present at talks, sit on panels, have their work championed at festivals and take part as guests in events like the Gosh!/Broken Frontier Drink and Draw and the Comica Comiket Drawing Parade.
Since their involvement with the ‘Six to Watch’ initiatives many of our featured artists have gone on to bigger and better things. Some linked to their BF involvement, some not – but all indications of just how right we were when we told you to keep a careful eye on them!
Ellice Weaver will be published by Avery Hill next year as will Alice Urbino as part of the Comic Book Slumber Party collective. Rozi Hathaway announced recently that she has been picked up by Good Comics and Danny Noble is illustrating comedian Adrian Edmondson’s new children’s book Tilly and the Time Machine published by Puffin later this year. Adam Vian was nominated for a British Comic Award in 2015 and you can check out Rebecca Bagley’s comics work as a permanent exhibit at the Museum of London Docklands.
So the time has come for the curtain to be pulled back and the names to be revealed of the six creators we’ll be following in articles across the next year at BF. In something of a break from tradition, while they’ve all had their moments in the BF spotlight few of them have been featured all that extensively on the site in the past. Hopefully that ensures there may be some surprises along the way.
I’m delighted to introduce you all to our 2017 Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch’…
Dirty Rotten Comics is an anthology offering that has introduced me to a number of new creators over the last couple of years who have gone on to become regular fixtures in this column. Indeed, two of last year’s Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch‘ number – Jey Levang and Emily Rose Lambert – were first brought to my attention by Throwaway Press’s flagship publication. That influence continues apace this year as both Peony Gent and Olivia Sullivan of 2017’s ‘Six to Watch’ creators first came to my attention via Dirty Rotten Comics.
Gent is becoming something of a fixture in DRC with a style that is as much graphic poetry as it is sequential art. Last year I said of ‘Earth’, her exploration of bereavement in Dirty Rotten Comics‘s sixth issue, “part comics, part non-sequential graphic narrative, this is the work of an artist whose approach to comics is refreshingly individualistic and clearly not affected by limiting preconceptions of the medium, with a sense of page design that is thoughtful, deeply affecting and emotionally charged.” She followed that up with the equally delicately structured slice-of-life reflection ‘Drift’ in Dirty Rotten Comics #7 and the visual metaphor of ‘Growth’ in #9.
It’s interesting to note my comments about page design in those DRC reviews. That’s because Gent has also published those stories as minicomics with an altogether different presentational style that invites the reader to linger on individual facets of the work for a far longer period of time. Re-reading them in that format is a fascinating exercise in analysing how the reader’s interaction with page and narrative changes with an alternative storytelling structure and pacing.
Producing lyrical and starkly affecting comics with a resonant emotional connectivity, Peony Gent is a distinctive new voice with a genuinely fresh approach to the form.
Josh Hicks has popped up in a couple of esteemed anthology titles over the last year including the free street press anthology Off Life and (again!) Dirty Rotten Comics. An accessible and expressive cartooning style and a richly fertile comedic imagination marked Hicks out to me as someone to keep a watchful eye on. He’s a humorist as at home working with the painfully violent slapstick of ‘Maladroit’ in Dirty Rotten Comics #8 as he is with the darkly self-deprecating wit of ‘Body Conscious’ in Off Life #13.
But it was his loving send-up of the world of the ring in Glorious Wrestling Alliance that has had people talking this year. A multi-cast, comedy soap opera, I said of it here at Broken Frontier “no joke outstays its welcome, with the rapid changes between scenarios and featured characters ensuring the humour never has a chance to become laboured or overtly repetitive. Indeed, all the various interweaving plot threads move satisfyingly towards a neatly tied up conclusion. Glorious Wrestling Alliance is a fantastic introduction to his longer-form work.”
Hicks has a great gift for playing with the structure of the page to enhance the thematic elements of his stories and his place on this list was assured after I finally got to reading the long neglected Glorious Wrestling Alliance from my reviewing backlog pile this year!
If you’re aware of the work of the Alternative Press – that vital body whose activism in promoting self-publishing has been so important on the UK small press scene over the last several years – then the chances are you will have encountered the work of AP member Sabba Khan.
Khan describes her artistic practice as “an exploration of first world city life as a second generation Pakistani Muslim migrant” and as “exploring themes of belonging, memory and identity in hopes to bring unity and inclusion to sometimes tormented narratives.”
While I had encountered her work before in the past via various London small press and zine fairs it’s her comics over the course of the last year or so that have particularly struck a chord with their quietly meditative narratives.
At the end of 2015 she was a contributor to Broken Frontier Award-nominated anthology Identity from One Beat Zines. The communicative power of her story ‘The Box of Contradictions’ was one of the standout entries and I noted then that it was “an autobio comics six-pager that utilises moments of quieter symbolism with some compelling visual metaphor as Khan gives the reader an insight into the conflicting pull of two cultures on her sense of self. The final page, in particular, is unforgettable in its portrayal of a reconciliation and acceptance of the two.”
Last year she also contributed the pensive strip ‘Determination’ to the Interfaith Ramadan site giving her reflections on Ramadan 2016 and, in collaboration with fellow Alternative Press leading light and my Small Press Day Co-organiser colleague Amneet Johal, she also contributed the graphic narrative ‘Vagina Dialogues’ to the recent One Beat Zines anthology Performance.
Her ability to foster an immediate relationship with her readership in a relatively short page count is quite remarkable and I’m looking forward to seeing much more of her work in 2017.
Olivia Sullivan – who also works under the name Zen Bucko – is another creator I first came across in the pages of that wonderful platform for aspiring small pressers Dirty Rotten Comics. Her short strips therein were undoubtedly rawer in presentation but there was a distinctive voice to them that ensured I made a mental note of Sullivan’s name(s).
By the time she self-published her newspaper-style format comic The Nose: Uncovered and Annotated (below right) – a supplemental adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story – it was obvious that her constant experimentation with format and layouts in her work (already seen in her linocut zine Exponential Growth) was indicative of an emerging talent.
But it was her autobiographical comic I Drank Holy Water – named as one of my 2016 ‘Ten UK Small Press Comics You Need to Own!‘ at Broken Frontier this week – that ensured her place on this list this week. Olivia’s account of her childhood rebellion against her religious upbringing is uncompromising in tone and candour. I said of it in that piece that “while its subject matter may have been oft explored it’s Sullivan’s distinctive approach that impresses with its shifts from anecdotal dark humour to stream-of-consciousness imagery, all given extra resonance by her affecting use of language.”
Olivia Sullivan has also been picked up by new micropublishing venture Good Comics who will be publishing more of her work later this year!
Anja Uhren has featured on Broken Frontier this year in more than one capacity. This week I included her comic What is ‘Home’? as another one of my selected ‘Ten UK Small Press Comics You Need to Own!‘ (below) from this year’s ‘Small Pressganged’ reviews back catalogue. Earlier in the year, though, she was also featured in one of our Small Press Day round-ups when creator Rozi Hathaway recommended her comic Irgendwo im Nirgendwo (Somewhere in Nowhere) and fans of the Gosh! Comics/Broken Frontier Drink and Draw may remember she was one of our guest artists in October alongside Lizzy Stewart and Rachael Stott at our busiest D&D to date!
Uhren’s gorgeously stylised illustrations have a dark picturebook quality to them and, indeed, much of her self-published work has revolved around folkloric themes or the fantastical. Her take on some classic children’s tales in Fairies & Stories, for example, or the very modern fantasy of Irgendwo im Nirgendwo (below).
There’s a versatility to her coverage, though, as seen in one of the most distinctive takes on slice-of-life work I have seen in a long time in What is ‘Home’? – her exploration of the titular concept through the definitions of fifty different speakers. I said of it here at BF “in terms of composition, powerful use of colour to accentuate mood, changing layouts and the constant shift between symbolism and realism, What is ‘Home’? proves to be a remarkably potent exploration of its subject matter. This is also a very tactile read with those extra flourishes – like a fold-out element nearer the centre of the comic and the hand binding – adding an extra appeal that is evident on all of the artist’s work that I have seen to date.”
Simply put, Anja Uhren creates worlds that you cannot help but lose yourself within.
With its self-stated mission to bring back the darker edge to fairy tales, Kate-mia White’s ongoing passion project A Dark Forest has certainly embraced the creepier origins of those fictional moral object lessons. Four issues have been published to date with their popularity on Kickstarter self-evident from their target-smashing fundraising totals.
Set in the 19th century, A Dark Forest introduced us to 17-year-old Elizabeth Kathrine Moss and her younger sister Grace. The pair live with their puritanical father in the town of Whitewood, surrounded by an ominously eerie forest. When strange events begin to occur around the family, Elizabeth finds herself having to defend them from the suspicions of the local villagers while pondering the mystery surrounding her sister…
I reviewed the first issue of A Dark Forest at Broken Frontier here and said “each panel of A Dark Forest is crammed with detail to the extent that every single image feels like a world unto itself. It’s an elaborate approach that also creates a sensation of overwhelming claustrophobia, poignantly reflecting the plight of lonely Elizabeth who is effectively detached from the rest of existence in the bubble of her own reality.”
White’s spellbindingly intricate art has an atmospheric and gothic quality. This unsettling dark fantasy has a weirdly disquieting aura to it from a graphic craftsperson building up a steady following of admiring readers
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