SLCZF 2023! Ahead of his appearance at this month’s South London Comic and Zine Fair we caught up with UK small press comics national treasure Fraser Geesin to talk about his wide-ranging practice including the uncompromising autobio of The Cleaner: Man of Destiny, the scathing social commentary of Pricks, and the soul-devouring nastiness of A Pocket Chiller: “Jeff”. Put on your velvet smoking jacket, light up your pipe, and seat yourself in a comfy armchair beside a roaring fireplace, as comics’ finest conversationalist and raconteur, alongside a cavalcade of special guest stars, entertains us with pithy anecdotes and naughty name-dropping from his long and illustrious years of service in the cartoonist profession…
ANDY OLIVER: What first attracted you to the dangerous, hedonistic, rock and roll lifestyle of a UK small press cartoonist?
FRASER GEESIN: Hi Andy. Firstly I’d like to thank you for asking me to bang on about myself, thus giving me an opportunity to draft self-promoting posts on social media and create the illusion that my work is in some way deserving of attention. The work Broken Frontier does is hugely appreciated and I hope you don’t edit this praise out of the interview when you publish it.
And now, let me answer your question. Ready? Here it comes… Here’s the answer and it’s going to blow the reader’s mind… No one’s published me and I’ve never really tried. BANG! I hope you can handle the truth! Actually that’s not strictly true. When I was 17, around 1993, I had been drawing and selling comics for a few years at school then at Lewes Tertiary College where I did an anthology comic called Odd with my best-pal-forever-friend Dan White (who is now best known for Cindy and Biscuit) and another of our gang, Ben Pecover. An enterprising and enthusiastic chap called Tom Samuelson took it upon himself to flog the comic on the streets of Brighton and take a cut for himself.
From there the comic found its way to Humour Publications who were based in Hove. Humour created the Viz knock-off, Zit and had started another, more surreal sister publication called Gutted. Gutted actually had some really good stuff in it, most notably the work of Barry M. Freeman who later started calling himself Barney Farmer and created The Drunken Bakers for Viz. They published my Alan The Windswept Sheep, Dan’s Mr. Balloon and Mr. Planet and Ben’s Big Things That Move strip. We were thrilled. Our work was in newsagents up and down the country, confused relatives were urged to buy it by proud parents, a future doing comics was a genuine possibility.
Thing is, we were kids and didn’t know anything. I finally went to the office and asked when we might get paid and editor Ged Ackland told me what an invoice was and showed me how to do it. I did it and waited. The company went into receivership and that was that. Never got paid. I was very angry and upset and part of my brain decided not to try to get published ever again because I hate rejection and am a coward. 30 years later I may be coming out of that phase, let’s see. The fact that Dan now has Cindy and Biscuit coming out with Oni is a good motivator for me to try and get something out there but at the same time, I like to just do what I do with the limited time I have. I can do that in the small press world and get enough out there to not feel like that time was wasted. If anyone reading this wants to be my agent, they’re welcome to have a go!
AO: I first discovered your work through the criminally overlooked The Cleaner: Man of Destiny (above and below). Normally in interviews I ask artists about autobiographical work and the sense of vulnerability associated with it. But with The Cleaner you positively embrace self-deprecation. Was there a sense of the cathartic to the comic in bringing all those stories to the page, and does your work in stand-up give you a different perspective on baring your soul to an audience?
GEESIN: I guess The Cleaner was cathartic, yeah. A bit. I mean, I didn’t put anything in it that I wouldn’t tell anyone in any other circumstances. I guess there’s catharsis in people getting something out of the story; validation that my conclusions and outlook were acceptable. I had pretty much processed the experiences already but it was nice to nail them down. It’s an interesting question and I’d be interested to know what other autobiographers like Danny “megaforce” Noble and Sean Azzopardi (and everyone’s invited) think.
As for the stand-up, we should probably be talking past tense. I haven’t done it for a few years now as it’s incompatible with being a husband and father and earning enough money to live. It consumes too much energy and I’m not willing or able to make the sacrifices required to get to the point where it’s a financially viable pursuit (if indeed that would ever have come about). My stand-up comedy was never particularly soul-baring. It was more extrospective, poking fun at advertising, music and stand-up comedy itself. It was both good and bad for my confidence and I may one day return to it if I win the lottery and my family have no use for me. It would take a while though. Having not done it since March 2020, my brain no longer thinks in terms of performance, it bothers itself with comics and podcasts. I keep some okay recordings of my stand-up on my website though as I’m fairly proud of what I did.
AO: Purple Hate Balloon and Pricks are the first two interconnected comics in your series with Laurie Rowan. It’s an entrancing journey into the morbidly surreal and one I described as having a “refreshingly miserable wit” here at BF. How did the collaboration begin and what are the dynamics of that working relationship?
GEESIN: I know The Genius Laurie Rowan through doing comedy, another lapsed performer. He is an animator and director and we met up to talk about maybe doing something. I had an idea about a pet that feeds on anger and he said the pet should be like a balloon on a string. We drank coffee and got all excited and wrote some dialogue. I went away and started drawing Purple Hate Balloon. We had a few more discussions as the project progressed, talking in the characters’ voices, and finished it. A satisfying, stand-alone comic. I think I’m quite bad at covers but Laurie has a fantastic design sense so he composed the cover using his amazing VR 3D modeling technique and I digitally inked over the top of that.
I think talking in Roger and Darren’s voices was the big mistake. They wouldn’t leave my head so I had to do another story. We met up and I remembered a brilliant idea of Laurie’s that he’d never used about a pay-as-you-stay dwelling with walls that expanded and contracted according to how much the resident fed the meter. A gush of ideas fell out in a couple of pub sessions and we had a framework for a good few issues of this parody of the patriarchy called Pricks. I’m currently drawing what is now Pricks issue 3 and the way it works is: I draw a page or sequence. I send it to Laurie. He adds any thoughts. I send my thoughts about sequences I have yet to draw. He adds his thoughts. So I do most of the work but Laurie’s ideas are so fundamental to Pricks that it would be wrong to credit him as anything other than an equal collaborator. I wouldn’t want to misrepresent him though so hang on whilst I message him what I’ve just written. Hi Laurie! Is this okay?
“Fraser, hi. Is there any substitute for genius that’s even more emphatic? Otherwise I think this entirely representative and this exchange right now is very representative of the process.
I said representative twice which is why you undertake the vast majority of the writing.”
“As ever, thanks for your thoughts.”
The Godlike Magician Laurie Rowan, there.
AO Let’s talk about some of your group efforts now. What was the genesis of your IKEA-themed anthology Komisk? And do you have any thoughts on why the fertile ground of the Scandinavian ready-to-assemble DIY furniture store genre is so poorly represented in the medium?
GEESIN: It’s an absolute disgrace, isn’t it?! Why can’t more people wake up to the fact that some of the objectively best comics on the planet are coming out of the SRTADIYFS scene and have been for years. It’s so blinkered and it constantly boils both my blood and my piss, causing steam to jet out of my ears. I will not stop until Ikea get the recognition and popularity they are so tragically denied. When you buy an Ikea comic you get the best, clearest storytelling you will ever see on the printed page and it does so without words. It’s pure comics! It’s worth saying that the free gifts that come with the comics are amazing too. Our flat is full of these gifts. Have you ever tried to stack a load of books and vinyl on a Space Spinner or a flimsy Captain Britain mask?! YOU CAN’T! Compare those with the shelves that came with Ikea’s brilliant Kallax and there’s no competition. That’s why I created Komisk (below), the Ikea fanzine. I got Paul Jon Milne, Kathryn Briggs, David Allison, Gareth A Hopkins and Tom Mortimer, locked them in a Kleppstad wardrobe until they created something for it. I was surprised it worked as there was no lock on the Kleppstad and any normal person could quite easily kick the thing to pieces but this is comics people we’re talking about. Nothing but a bunch of nerds, weaklings and dweebs.
AO: Your Journey to the Surface of the Earth collections are a great example of the versatility of your approach to comics. Do you see it as a showcase for the breadth of your experimentation or a place to gather up all the odds and ends that don’t fit in anywhere else? And what can you say about the contributions of your sometime collaborator and potential BF ‘Six to Watch’ 2035 creator Ren?
GEESIN: I’ve always loved one-person anthologies like Daniel Clowes’ Eightball, Evan Dorkin’s Dork and Michael Kupperman’s Tales Designed To Thrizzle. More recently I loved Anna Readman’s Peach Fuzz, she’s amazing. It’s also what I started out doing when I was 12 or 13 (although I was not as accomplished, obviously). It’s nice to feel like you’ve had a number of different experiences from a comic and you can easily consume portions on the toilet for instance. Also, from the creator’s perspective, different styles work best for different ideas and switching between styles and ideas can mitigate boredom. The one-person anthology is also a great format if you have an idea that only requires less than 16 pages, which I feel is the minimum one can reasonably get away with without doing something novel with the format of one’s pamphlet.
Out of the two issues of Journey to the Surface of the Earth, there’s only one strip that was filler, the Edney Bear strip in issue 1. That one really had been hanging around for years without a home. So in answer to your question… Both I guess? And in answer to your other question, my collaborations with my son, Ren have been an absolute Joy. Deriving sketches from his early scribbles for some of my Scroodles cartoons was fun but really it’s creating stories with him through play where the real fun lies. Ren was two years old when we wrote Cow and Horse (Journey to the Surface of the Earth #2). Imagination operating with little or no knowledge of story structure, morality or any of the grooves we learn to expect and follow, applied to plastic farm animals creates story angles and non-sequiturs that are hilarious. As for Ren’s future in comics, I hope he grows up to do what he enjoys and that he enjoys something AI-proof like plumbing. What does he think though?
“Ren, you know when we write stories like Cow and Horse and The Really Lonely Snowman together, what do you think of it?”
“Would you like to do more stories with me?”
“What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“Be a writer.”
“Really? Are you just saying that because that’s what we’re talking about? The other day you said that when you grow up you want to be a chocolate bar.”
AO: More recently you’ve been involved with the Douglas Noble-curated A Pocket Chiller series of horror one-shots both in a solo capacity and in partnership with Dan Cox on the very positively reviewed “Jeff”. Again, how did that collaboration work in terms of ensuring the distinctive storytelling perspective was communicated to the audience?
GEESIN: Before I answer the question, let’s all give His Bleak Majesty Douglas Noble a low bow for his gentle encouragement of creators with the A Pocket Chiller series. There’s many reasons why what he does is brilliant, one of which is the feeling of community it engenders in people doing something which is quite an intrinsically isolating activity. When I was approached by The Mind Of Dan Cox with the script for “Jeff”, I was very excited because it was a great idea. The great thing about that collaboration was that it wasn’t really a script, it was just a scene by scene breakdown. Once I was up for it, he added the dialogue which was sometimes changed or added to as I messaged each page through to him. His descriptions of characters and settings gave the exact right amount of information to allow me to be creative enough within the framework to be happy doing it. I’d love to do something with The Mind Of Dan Cox again but time and money and blah. It was a very happy and satisfying collaboration for me, but what about him? The Mind Of Dan Cox, do you have anything to add?
The Mind Of Dan Cox:
“Jeff was one of those ideas that kick around your brain and you occasionally take out and try and do something with, fail and put back because you can’t make it work.
Douglas suggested I pitch something to Pocket Chillers. I’m never sure if Douglas is joking or not, but I really liked what he was doing with the line so after a few months thinking of inferior new ideas I thought I’d go with the strong one I already had. I didn’t do a treatment I just wrote it up as a page by page breakdown to prove that it could work in the space and lead him through the story.
When he suggested Fraser for artist my first thought genuinely was ‘Gosh, do you think we can get him?’
But that suggestion was key. I knew the story would work then. He’s great at domesticity and people, and I think a bit of a closet romantic, but he also has that pitch black sense of humour and darkness.
I didn’t write up a script, Fraser doesn’t need me telling him how to frame shots. I just wrote a dialogue splurge and Frase went page by page doing what he thought best. We had constant back and forth, tweaked dialogue, discussed character. We had a few chats about the end where I’d done that writer thing of being all hand wavey and Fraser as artist was yeah, about the actual mechanics of representing this? But it was a great collaboration, I really enjoyed working with him on it.
Part of the reason Jeff never happened before is that it is a genuinely horrible idea, it taps into deep fear and revulsion for me.
Even while Fraser was drawing it I was unsure if I wanted my name on it!
Though perversely one of my proudest moments is a stranger coming up to me at Thought Bubble and saying it had given him nightmares ‘…really disturbing…’.
And I think that disquiet is largely down to Fraser and how he communicates as an artist.”
Thanks, The Mind Of Dan Cox for that generous addition to this interview. That’s loads of words I didn’t have to think about. This interview is shaping up to be nice and long, giving Andy good value. Are you okay with how it’s going so far, Andy?
AO: Yes, I certainly am, me old mucker. I think this is going to be on a par with our 2015 interview with the aforementioned Danny Noble in terms of the irreverence factor. (Always irreverate sensibly, kids). So… can you tell us a little about your process and the mediums you work in?
GEESIN: Procreate on an iPad has revolutionised my work. I hate to sound like an advert for Apple so if there are other, cheaper tablets that do the same job, someone please tell me. I’m not a gifted cartoonist with a distinctive style like The Inspirational Danny Noble, “Dangerous” Dan White or Mark “Superstar” Stafford to name but a few talented friends and draw attention to them. Although I think I have a recognisable line, a proper cartoonist’s style eludes me. My style is me trying to draw things how they look and falling short. With a tablet I fall less short, thanks to being able to zoom in, erase and redraw forever and finding or taking reference pictures in seconds.
I currently have three day jobs so finding time to make comics is a problem. Everything I did up to and including Journey to the Surface of the Earth #1 was done on paper. Pencils then fine liners and brush for inking. Usually working at A4 so I could carry the pages around and work on them without the need for a dedicated space. But even with pairing things down to that extent, there was always the laborious scanning and cleaning up in photoshop which is pretty much creative time down the toilet. Having all that in my bag so I can pull it out and work on something whilst my son is jumping on a bouncy castle at a birthday party or whatever, maximises productivity. I’m actually writing this part of my response right now at a christening. Not during the ceremony or anything, just whilst waiting for things to kick off, I’m not an arsehole. Working on a tablet has made my art better and quicker so there’s more of it.
AO: As your alter-ego Gary Lactus you’ve been the co-host of the Silence podcast for many years now alongside The Beast Must Die, as well as being part of The Mindless Ones. How would you describe your irreverent approach to comics podcasting? And have we seen the last of Gary Lactus’s helmet at in-person comics events?
GEESIN: How would I describe SILENCE!? Irreverent is the word. We show no respect for anyone or anything because we’re really dangerous and cool and if you’ve done a comic, you better watch out because Gary Lactus and the Beast Must Die are gonna ride their loud bikes all over it whilst doing wheelies because, like all the truest of true fans of anything, we hate the thing we’re supposed to love so much. These legends that you just can’t handle are taking no prisoners and if they do, the prison is underfunded and the food is really very poor. One word: WATCH OUT! Yeah. That’s exactly how I’d describe SILENCE! if I was an absolute tool and it was a completely different podcast.
We started SILENCE! when The Beast Must Die moved away from Brighton to London and it was a fun way to make time for talking whist simultaneously creating content for mindlessones.com. Pretty much all the rest of the content has dropped off except for what we do now, although I live in hope of the dormant Mindless doing stuff again. So SILENCE! is two people who read and make comics talking. Inevitably a lot of the chat is about comics but it digresses far and frequently. The thing we love doing the most right now is our Starlight Adventures series for the Patreon in which we play through a series of adventure game books from 1985 aimed at a young female audience. It’s like going back in time and living in an issue of Jackie or something. The realities of work and family mean output has slowed and I think it’s something we both feel guilty about but there’s nothing we can do other than do it and enjoy it when we can. Is that fair, The Beast Must Die?
The Beast Must Die:
“Yes, like all the best people, we turn our guilt into content. We were born to make content. Before the internet we could only make content in our bedrooms, with the doors locked. Now we can spread our content like jam on the toast of humanity. So we do. We used to do it more, now we do it less. But don’t let that infrequency deceive you. We are ALWAYS creating content. Right now. Content. Tomorrow? Content. The day after? That’s right. Content. Some people are saying we’re the biggest producers of content at the moment. Is that true? Yes. Yes it is. Does that answer your question? What was the question?”
Thanks, The Beast Must Die. Everyone will be content with that answer.
As for the helmet, I think we’re doing SILENCE! To Astonish with Al Kennedy of the House To Astonish podcast again this year at Thought Bubble. I really hate that helmet. I can’t hear any of the panel’s responses properly and it’s a massive pain in the arse to transport up to Harrogate every year. Prompted by your question, I have launched a Twitter poll about this and the results will be in within 24 hours of me typing this.
Just noticed the typo there and it’s annoying me. Twitter needs an edit button. In fact, all social media should be editable by everyone. What do you think would happen? I reckon it would devolve into utter, invective-riddled vandalism with really good spelling and grammar. Ah, the results are in.
Oh dear. Yes, the helmet will be back… Unless there’s terrible accident. If there are any arsonists reading this, get in touch.
AO: Given your time as part of the UK small press scene how would you say it’s evolved over the last decade?
GEESIN: Off the top of my head, here are some things I have noticed:
- There’s more colour in the comics.
- There’s a much better gender balance.
- There’s less genre stuff.
- Like everything, it all seems more polarised.
- The gap between small press and mainstream publishers seems to have narrowed in every way.
- I don’t know how true any of this is from inside my particular bubble, I have never felt like I have anything approaching an overview of this stuff.
AO: And the inevitable final question. What’s coming next from the singular worldview of Fraser Geesin?
GEESIN: I’ll be at the South London Comic and Zine Fair on the 16th of July, Small Press Day at Gosh! on August 5th and Thought Bubble in November. Whenever I do one of these things I like to have at least a little something new. These events provide an invaluable target, particularly Thought Bubble. I have a number of projects I’m excited about and not enough time to do them all. I shall list them here in order of priority, from the highest to the somewhat less urgent.
- I fell into portraiture a couple of years ago after drawing a friend’s dog as an exercise. These bring in money and I like doing them.
- Pricks. Still very enthused about the story. I wish I had the money to spend the time to get this done. Apart from The Cleaner I have never been so committed to completing something with enough pages to feel like a good, solid read.
- Tales From 500 Songs #2. Andrew “Wonderbeard” Hickey’s phenomenal podcast, A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs keeps suggesting moments that inspire fun drawings and Andrew “Wonderbeard” is still up for me doing it with him. Need to get this done by November.
- Journey to the Surface of the Earth. Rather than just make another anthology, I would like to turn this into an ongoing project where I collect stories from as diverse a selection of people as I can manage. It would be nice to work against the polarisation of society by including stories from people who you’d consider right-wing, escaping my lefty bubble and re-establishing the idea that people you disagree with are still human. Each side of the culture wars have a tendency to dehumanise the enemy and it would be nice to do something that isn’t caught up in this annoying misdirection that keeps us all busy being furious whilst powerful arseholes are getting away with shit they should be held properly accountable for. All sounds very highfalutin’ doesn’t it? I don’t for a second think this project will be a catalyst for social change but it would be nice for me to create something entertaining that consciously tries not to feed this awful engine. Once I have collected a load of stories I’ll start selecting ones that tickle and move the most and turn them into comic strips or podcasts, depending on which feels best for each story. Or maybe I won’t get round to it. This will all take a lot of time so let’s hope I win the lottery or get successful at something well paid soon.
- Tree People of the National Trust. I’ve been taking photos of trees that suggest faces when we visit National Trust places. I want to draw these faces and maybe write some accompanying text, depending on what the faces suggest. A bit like His Bleak Majesty Douglas Noble’s Horrible Folk or Got Your Nose. Could be fun.
- A book of scroodles. I make or find a scribble, I look at it and see what the lines suggest and follow the lines that talk to me into an image, often with text. It’s a good way of dragging things up from the subconscious. Apparently my subconscious sees a tedious amount of contorted, dancing figures and ducks. This project needs lots of doing and loads of editing. Thankfully it’s fun.
- Packaging bricks as Build Your Own House Starter Kits and selling them for a tenner.
- A Pocket Chiller.
- A SILENCE! photo comic.
- Get fit.
AO: Thanks for your time Fraser. Also I now have to write ‘Geesin’ multiple times because the article’s so sumptuously stuffed with comicky splendour that we need to satisfy the seo too. Geesin, Geesin, Geesin, Geesin, Geesin, Geesin, Geesin, Geesin, Geesin, Geesin… ah that’s done it.
Now, let’s retire for cigars and port…
Interview by Andy Oliver
SLCZF is held at Stanley Arts on July 16th. More details here.