Can it really be five years ago today that we launched ‘Small Pressganged’ at Broken Frontier with a stated mission to “unearth the gems of the small press” and a promise to shine a spotlight on the often neglected worlds of self-publishing and alt comics? That opening instalment began with an interview with Tom Humberstone on the latest issue of his Solipsistic Pop anthology; itself a major inspiration for this column’s very existence.
Since its debut in 2011 it’s been an absolute privilege to champion the very early work of creators of the calibre of EdieOP, Jade Sarson, Jessica Martin, Andy Poyiadgi, Mike Medaglia, Simon Moreton and Donya Todd here in ‘Small Pressganged’. These are artists who have gone on to be published by the esteemed likes of Avery Hill, Myriad, DC/Vertigo Comics, Nobrow Press, SelfMadeHero, Retrofit Comics and Blank Slate Books, and whose growing reputations have ensured their places at the very forefront of a new wave of indie UK-based talent.
In that time I’ve also had the pleasure of observing firsthand the rise of micropublishers like Avery Hill Publishing – who have evolved from barely known DIY enthusiasts to highly respected purveyors of Ignatz-winning and Eisner-nominated graphic novels – and to witness the emergence of cutting edge specialists like Breakdown Press, collectives like One Beat Zines, and proud advocates of an inclusive approach to the medium like Throwaway Press/Dirty Rotten Comics.
And, of course, I’ve also seen that explosion of interest in self-publishing in the UK and beyond that has led to so many commentators describing the last few years as a Golden Age of Small Press Comics.
It was in 2015, though, that ‘Small Pressganged’ evolved into perhaps its ultimate incarnation. That was the year we launched the first of our ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘ initiatives that sought to actively push deserving creators to the next level of recognition and eventually culminated in our very first, critically acclaimed Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook promoting the work of our first group of ‘Six to Watch’ artists.
That’s what this column has, at its heart, always been about – it was designed to recognise the astonishing wealth of unsung talent out there in the small press world and to nurture, mentor and support it on its way to reaching its full potential. I hope it’s had at least some impact in that regard.
The original BF ‘Six UK Small Press Creators to Watch’ at the Yearbook launch at London’s Gosh! Comics. From left to right – Adam Vian, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Andy Oliver, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino and Rozi Hathaway.
So, after over 500 reviews, countless interviews, and acclaimed features like our ‘State of the Small Press Nation‘ series, what better way to mark the fifth birthday of ‘Small Pressganged’ today than to celebrate some of the creators who have been covered here since 2011? This past month I sent out a call to some friends of the site to get their thoughts about one person in particular that they discovered in this column and to tell us what excited them about their work.
Everyone from the newest faces on the scene to established small press-friendly publishers elaborate on their selections in the short pieces that follow. There’s old faces, new faces, one familiar and constantly recurring name (that will come as a shock to no one!), and one or two surprises as well. Thanks to everyone who took part in this anniversary piece and a very special thank you to ‘Six to Watch’ artist Rozi Hathaway who provided the fantastic birthday art that adorns the top of this column.
Sit back and enjoy as we look at some of the very best material to grace these e-pages since 2011. If the next five years of ‘Small Pressganged’ get to feature just a fraction of the kind of talent on show below then our journey to 2021 is going to be one hell of a ride indeed…
Avery Hill Publishing’s Ricky Miller on EdieOP
One of the first creators we found at Avery Hill Publishing through Andy’s articles was EdieOP. It was the 2013 ‘Ten UK Small Press Comics You Need to Own!‘ column (which has a list of creators as relevant today as they were then) coupled with a write-up of Dangerfun (below left) that sold me on “The Mistress of Mirth”. Edie’s hilarious books contained deceptively simple art that acted as the child-sized velvet glove to the sinister iron fist of Edie’s sense of humour. The drawings both undercut the horror and somehow made it even more… horrifying. We were sold enough to get Edie to do what was our biggest project up to that point; her first graphic novel, Maleficium (below centre) and to be a key part of our anthology, Reads (below right).
Ricky Miller is the Co-Publisher of Avery Hill Publishing whose acclaimed titles have included Tim Bird’s British Comic Award-winning Grey Area and Tillie Walden’s Ignatz-winning and Eisner-nominated I Love this Part. He is also the writer of Metroland from AHP with artist Julia Scheele.
Karrie Fransman on Danny Noble
I discovered the wonderful Danny Noble’s work via ‘Small Pressganged’ a couple of years ago. She has a wonderfully irreverent, scribbly style and stories that make you feel like you’ve been invited along to laugh at the strange in-jokes that go on inside her brilliant head. Danny Noble is very much herself and we all love her for it.
Karrie Fransman is a graphic novelist whose books include The House that Groaned (Square Peg) and Death of the Artist (Jonathan Cape). She is also a two-time Broken Frontier Award winner for Death of the Artist and her comic for the Red Cross and Refugee Week, Over Under Sideways Down.
Ellice Weaver on Kim Clements
Kim Clements’ playful drawings caught my heart last year after reading Broken Frontier’s review of Rabbit Thoughts. In Rabbit Thoughts Kim gives a new meaning to the term ‘street view’. I loved her strangely atmospheric scenes that twist and drip off the page. It’s beautiful and boundless in terms of page layout and structure.
In Kim’s contribution to Dirty Rotten Comics #6, her soft pencil marks set a perfect base for that strange observational story. Kim’s way of turning an ordinary scene of an awkwardly positioned billboard into a narrative is great. I often check to see what Kim is up to; I always enjoy her changing subject matters and use of media.
Ellice Weaver is a self-published comics creator whose work has appeared in anthology Off Life as well as her own publications like Collector Cabinet. She is also a 2016 Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘ artist.
Katriona Chapman on Simon Moreton
In 2012 my second ever small press book Brockley Foxtrot got reviewed on Broken Frontier. Also included in the column I saw some beautiful artwork by someone called Simon Moreton. I was drawn to it because it was pencil art, but also because it was really stunning – minimal but very expressive. I read the piece and immediately ordered a couple of Simon’s Smoo zines, and emailed him to tell him that I was just getting into comics and that he’d really inspired me. I got a lovely reply. It’s this kind of thing that makes Broken Frontier’s ‘Small Pressganged’ so important – it’s a place for small press publications (and things that are outside of the mainstream) to find a wider audience and for connections to form within the small press community.
Good Comics’ Paddy Johnston on Jey Levang
I discovered Jey Levang’s work when they were included as one of Broken Frontier’s 2016 ‘Six to Watch‘ earlier this year, and was really blown away by it. They’re really good at drawing weird things, but retaining a very real and human aspect to it. I also really love their inking – the lines are so expressive. Their style reminds me a bit of Jamie Hewlett, but I think they’re more subtle and nuanced, and I’m really excited to see how their career develops.
Paddy Johnston is a self-published comics artist (Long Divisions) and also one third of the Good Comics team, publishers of the upcoming Thought Bubble-debuting Every Life I Ever Lived and Tales of the Nonniverse!.
Wallis Eates on Oliver East
The very first BF article I read was about Oliver East’s latest comic, The Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn where Andy suggested one order it, which I promptly did. There was a delay in its arrival, and Oliver East kindly sent me another one as we both presumed it had gone missing in the post. It turned out one of my neighbours was a thief. Still, it was a treat when I finally got my copy, complete with picture on the envelope. I really enjoyed how the comic made me feel like I’d gone for a stolen walk. It bristled with textures as the panels guided me through a variety of spaces, looking close up at things, and sometimes far away. I hope the thief liked it too.
David Robertson on Jack Teagle
Jack Teagle’s comics explode with images that are imaginative and exciting. They struck me when I saw his book Diamond Defenders reviewed at Broken Frontier. Latterly, I’ve been able to see comparisons to the likes of the cartoon Adventure Time, but back when I first saw his comics, the strongest correlation I saw was to Jack Kirby. A particular favourite of mine was the large folded-up A3 sheet Demon Bolt. It reminded me of the fantastic fold-out posters that used to come with British comics back when I was a nipper. If you see Jack at a con, buy a comic (they’re great!) and have a chat with him (he’s a nice fella!).
David Robertson is the artist behind the anthology David Robertson’s Dump as well as such self-published comics as Zero Sum Bubblegum and Berserkotron. He is also a contributor to the anthology Treehouse Comics.
Avery Hill Publishing’s David White on Simon Moreton
I don’t want to descend too deeply into hyperbole on such an auspicious occasion, but here goes – there’s a good chance that without ‘Small Pressganged’, Avery Hill wouldn’t exist.
We were still very much in the throes of self-publishing ‘zines when I came across Andy Oliver’s ‘Small Pressganged’ review of SMOO Comics #5 by Simon Moreton in August 2012. I was drawn in by the wonderfully evocative cover, but I doubt I’d have immediately clicked through to Simon’s online shop to buy it without Andy’s deeply insightful review. And I wasn’t disappointed – the honesty and beauty of Simon’s work blew me away.
In fact, it did more than that – it opened my eyes to the incredible talent that was out there in the UK, creating astounding work of immense quality that I just hadn’t been aware of up until that point. It inspired me to look further, and to try and become part of a world which suddenly began to reveal itself it all its glory.
I got in touch with Simon to express my admiration for his work and to try and get hold of as many issues of SMOO Comics as I could, visited Broken Frontier religiously to see what gems ‘Small Pressganged’ was unearthing, and through events at Gosh! and Comica, started meeting some of the creators whose comics I’d been stockpiling next to my bed.
Fast forward a couple of years, and Avery Hill published Days, a collection of Simon’s work which includes SMOO Comics #5 – a real coup for us, that came about through a friendship with Simon which started with that first gushing email, and which really kickstarted our growth as a publisher. And to bring the story up to date, I received Minor Leagues #2, the latest issue of Simon’s current self-published series, in the post yesterday – I read it this afternoon, and it’s brilliant. I’m going to email Simon to tell him that once I’ve written this.
Oh, and one final postscript – I searched back into the Broken Frontier archive to double-check my memory of Andy’s review, and realised that Kat Chapman’s excellent Brockley Foxtrot was the other comic included in that ‘Small Pressganged’ column from August 2012 – Kat joined us at Avery Hill last year, and not only continues to be one of my favourite creators (everyone catch up on Katzine now!), but has also helped us step on again to have our most successful year to date. An extra ‘Small Pressganged’ connection for you there!
So happy birthday ‘Small Pressganged’, from all at Avery Hill – we’ll raise a glass to you at Thought Bubble, which seems only right and proper.
David White is the Co-Publisher of Avery Hill Publishing whose acclaimed titles have included Tim Bird’s British Comic Award-winning Grey Area and Tillie Walden’s Ignatz-winning and Eisner-nominated I Love this Part.
Rozi Hathaway on Danny Noble
There’s been a whole handful of people I’ve discovered through ‘Small Pressganged’ articles; creators that have entertained, provoked and moved me, as well as acting as an inspiration in my own work. All of the other ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘ over 2015-2016 have been an inspiration in themselves, but one that sticks out in particular is Danny Noble. Everyone loves Danny’s work, and rightly so, but there’s something a little more I take away from her comics which is something I’m not used to: pure, easy enjoyment.
As a comic writer and artist I find reading other people’s work makes me think about my own work and how I approach the Great White Page (like a shark, but less teeth), but Danny’s work is so completely different to anything I do I just get pure entertainment and joy out of her escapades across the page – that fearless regaling of drunken endeavours that makes me feel like a total bore in comparison, but warms my soul all the same.
Rozi Hathaway is the creator of comics like The Red Road and Njálla and the editor of the anthology Sneaky Business. She is also a 2015 Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch’ artist.
Sabba Khan on the Kadak Collective
Andy and the Broken Frontier team are my first port of call for upcoming work, both for small press zines and larger published works. They are meticulous and fine-sieve like in their performance – delivering the most provocative, engaging and beautiful reviews and discoveries the world has to offer.
I have a lot to thank the team for, but one particular discovery pops to mind; earlier this year I had visited ELCAF. The day was rainy, and the venue stuffed to the brim of like-minded folk… I was overwhelmed. Unfortunately I didn’t linger much. It is only through Andy’s ‘Highlights of ELCAF‘ post that I discovered that in fact I had missed the most wonderful, refreshing and engaging work of the Kadak Collective!
Some of the Kadak Collective members – Kaveri Gopalakrishnan, Akhila Krishnan and Aindri Chakraborty
I was thoroughly disappointed to have missed out! But through the joys of the internet and twitter I have been able to keep tabs on what this group of artists are doing, sharing and talking about! In the end, nothing has been missed! Thank you Andy and the team for making sure that great work such as that of the Kadak Collective doesn’t go unnoticed!
The Kadak Collective are a group of South Asian women creators specialising in zines and comics. You can find out more about their work here.
Danny Noble on Ellice Weaver
I was so glad to see Ellice Weaver was included in the new wave of Broken Frontier’s ‘Six To Watch’. I’m usually all about the story but it was Ellice’s beautiful artwork that first grabbed me. So colourful and luxurious, the opposite of my scratchy lines. It was like Breughel was painting comics. And when I looked closer the stories were there too. Very lovely and quite peculiar. Go and have a look!
Danny Noble is the cartoonist behind Was it… Too Much for You? and Ollie & Alan’s Big Move and a frequent contributor to anthologies like Dirty Rotten Comics and Dead Singers Society. She was nominated for the 2015 Broken Frontier Breakout Talent Award, was one of Broken Frontier’s 2015 ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch’ artists and a contributor/cover artist for the first Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook. Her next major project is as the illustrator of Adrian Edmondson’s children’s book Tilly and the Time Machine.
Ravi Thornton on Rozi Hathaway
I’d like to think Rozi Hathaway was as much my discovery as Small Pressganged’s, as we worked together on the HOAX project before Rozi joined the SP canon. I knew her potential then, but it was through the support and within the space of the SP community that I really saw her confidence bloom.
It’s immensely satisfying to now have Rozi’s very own book Njálla on our shelves at home, standing proudly next to the HOAX graphic novel that she contributed to back in 2014. Her watercolour and line art style are both beautiful and distinctive, and deeply pleasurable to behold.
Ravi Thornton is the writer of The Tale of Brin & Bent and Minno Marylebone published by Jonathan Cape and the driving force behind the collaborative graphic memoir HOAX Psychosis Blues and its cross-media incarnations. You can find out more about the HOAX project here.
Keara Stewart on Lizz Lunney
There is a long list of creators that I’ve discovered through Broken Frontier’s ‘Small Pressganged’. Most of them are creators of autobio/graphic medicine comics. However, one of the earliest reviews I read back in 2011 included the work of Lizz Lunney. We’re talking Romantic Bison and Depressed Cat… I mean just the titles of these are enough to bring a smile to your face and I have been addicted to her comics ever since.
I guess an Andy Oliver revolution might not be so bad as he stated in his review that “come the revolution…I will also ensure that Lizz Lunney’s minicomics are available free to all on prescription.” Until then, I think I’ll ask for a subscription to Lizz Lunney’s fan club for Christmas. As the man in the hat said, “wonderfully, magnificently and delightfully absurd, there’s a childlike glee about Lunney’s work that is incredibly, and unavoidably, infectious.”
Happy Birthday ‘Small Pressganged’!
Keara Stewart is the editor of the “dreams and nightmares! anthology A Bit of Undigested Potato and a contributor to anthologies like Tempo Lush Tales of the Tanoox and Dirty Rotten Comics. She was also a Co-Coordinator of Laydeez do Comics.
Sean Azzopardi on Wallis Eates
Thanks to Andy’s column I was introduced to the work of Wallis Eates. Fear of Mum-Death and the Shadow Men is an excellent collection of her Mumoirs work, very atmospheric, personal and engaging. I look forward to reading more of Wallis’s work.
Throwaway Press/Dirty Rotten Comics’ Gary Clap on Danny Noble
I first discovered Danny Noble through ‘Small Pressganged’. I was initially drawn in by the spontaneity of her art, which complements her sense of humour perfectly. Danny is an observant storyteller, and her work says a lot without needing to bludgeon the reader over the head with exposition. Kirk and I were delighted when Danny sent us an original piece for Dirty Rotten Comics (sample page below left), back when we were starting out!
Corinne Pearlman of Myriad Editions
Happy birthday, Small Pressganged! Andy knows EVERYONE! Whenever I think I’ve ‘discovered’ a creator, or a creator has come to my attention via the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition, sure as fire Andy Oliver will say he gave a shout out to them first – and in fact ‘Small Pressganged’ might well have inspired their entering our competition or submitting their work to Myriad. (And if by chance ‘Small Pressganged’ didn’t inspire the contact, then Laydeez do Comics or Paul Gravett will lay claim to that privilege, so I can’t win.)
Andy is such a brilliant talent spotter and generous promoter of opportunities, that he spreads the word more effectively than most multi-million companies. He incubates, reviews and looks after up-and-coming creators like a hen with its chicks. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Andy is a national treasure. But I’d just like to say I knew Danny Noble LONG before you did, Andy! OK? And you didn’t know Will Volley, right? (But then I met them both through Cartoon County… ) Three cheers for ‘Small Pressganged’!
Corinne Pearlman is the Cretive Director of Myriad Editions – publishers of work like Gareth Brookes’s The Black Project and Jade Sarson’s For the Love of God, Marie! – and the driving force behind the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition.
Tom Oldham of Breakdown Press
Small Pressganged is an incredibly useful and inspiring resource, both for people involved in the art of making comics and for people who just enjoy reading them.
Tom Oldham is the Co-Publisher of the groundbreaking publisher Breakdown Press who will be debuting Anna Haifisch’s The Artist, Liam Cobb’s The Fever Closing and the third issue of Connor Willumsen’s Treasure Island at Thought Bubble this weekend.
I have Broken Frontier’s ‘Small Pressganged’ column to thank for introducing me to a heap of amazing creators. Before making my first comic this was one of my go-to places to see what was happening in the community. I became inspired by the works of Owen Pomery, Mike Medaglia, Wallis Eates, Katriona Chapman, John Riordan, S J Harris, Gareth Brookes, Richy K Chandler, Amber Hsu and everything published by the brilliant Avery Hill. I’m now lucky enough to be friends with this bunch – this beyond anything else is what I value about being part of the UK comics scene – and for that I’m infinitely grateful to Small Pressganged and Broken Frontier’s supreme editor-in-chief Andy Oliver. Happy Birthday!
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.