BROKEN FRONTIER AT 20! BF always tries to put a significant focus on creators and publishers who exploit the full potential of the unique storytelling devices of comics and embrace the experimental, radical possibilities of the medium. No publisher out there does that in quite the way that Breakdown Press does with their boundary-annihilating line-up of truly alternative graphic narrative. Ad part of our 20th anniversary celebrations we caught up with Breakdown co-founder Tom Oldham to put a spotlight on one of the most important comics publishers of the last few years.
Leomi Sadler’s ‘Tummy Bugs’
ANDY OLIVER: We’ve been covering your books for a number of years now but I think this is possibly the first time we’ve chatted at BF so let’s begin with the obvious question for the uninitiated. Who makes up Breakdown Press and how did you initially come together?
TOM OLDHAM: It’s me, Simon Hacking, Joe Kessler and behind the scenes Josh Palmano. We also work with a few other talented people, Mel Bugarella Lazzaro runs our press, Jim Hemmingfield works with us on manga projects and Greg Basterfield helps out with social media and mail order. We were all just friends who wanted to put out good comics, we continue to do this.
Richard Short’s ‘Haway Man, Klaus!’
AO: Breakdown Press has introduced me to the work of so many incredible, boundary-pushing creators over the years including Antoine Cossé, Connor Willumsen and Conor Stechschulte, and provided much deserved showcases for the practice of people I was already familiar with like Liam Cobb, Lando and Alexander Tucker. Can you describe the curation process for the line in terms of discovering/choosing artists, your publishing ethos, and the kind of experimental comics work you’ve championed?
OLDHAM: Our ethos is the comics have to be good. In the past we’ve said that the work should be progressive and innovative but still have a strong sense of narrative but really it’s just good comics.
Alexis Beauclair’s ‘Free Fall’
AO: Happy Books is your latest foray into bringing forgotten classics from children’s publishing to new audiences. What was the genesis of that imprint?
OLDHAM: I like good kids books and the illustration and cartooning you find in them, I thought it might be a good way to make money doing something I liked. There’s loads of amazing work that’s not currently in print so its exciting to get that out there. there’s also loads of complete wet kleenex kids books on the market and it’s nice to release some titles for kids with a bit soul and/or animus to them.
Ironhead from the Happy Books range
AO: The last couple of years have been incredibly difficult for smaller publishers for multiple reasons. What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in that time, how has your publishing model had to shift to accommodate that, and what can we expect next from Breakdown Press?
OLDHAM: Brexit. Print costs rocketed over night and kept getting worse. Shipping outside of the UK is now incredibly expensive. I’d fucking love to make Brexiteers come in and do all the additional hours they’ve hoisted on me filling in paperwork. I’d make them do it on their knees and they could pay me for the fucking privilege as well given how much more expensive it all is.
Next up for us? Shit loads of books. We’ve got about a dozen in the pipeline, most of which I can’t speak about yet, but they will please a lot of BDP heads, as well as a broader comics reading audience. Some seriously good work, best in the business.
Joe Kessler’s ‘Windowpane’
AO: We all know the more negative aspects of the comics scene and the challenges that creators face but given that we’re celebrating 20 years of Broken Frontier in this series of interviews we’re asking everyone a variation of this question. Over the last decade or so what were some of the key positive developments within comics as a scene/medium/industry that you think are worth celebrating?
OLDHAM: I think the explosion of smaller publishers was a real boon. I got to meet some good people because of it and occasionally some outstanding work snuck out.
Interview by Andy Oliver
Top BF logo by Joe Stone