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Of all the relatively new players on the UK small press scene this year it’s probably Sarah Broadhurst and Julia Scheele’s One Beat Zines who were most deserving of far greater exposure in 2015. Perhaps that relative lack of recognition is indicative of their grassroots philosophy that embodies a hybrid approach of DIY zine culture with slicker anthology collections. But their stated aim of showcasing strong feminist voices and working with women creators new to the comics and zine worlds was one that should have received far more attention than it did.
I gave a brief spotlight to the new One Beat Zines anthology Identity a few weeks back remarking on the phenomenal line-up of talent in its pages. It includes a number of creators who will be very familiar to ‘Small Pressganged’ readers in the forms of EdieOP, Jess Milton, Lizz Lunney, Brigid Deacon and Sarah Burgess. With the involvement of over 30 women contributors from across the self-publishing arena – all of whom investigate what the concept of identity means to them – it represents an incredible array of diverse approaches to its thematic core.
Mixing comics, prose and interview, those explorations see examples of identity bound up in religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, culture, location, personal passion, timeframe and more. Identity pointedly embraces the zine ethos allowing its participants to express their ruminations in the medium that best suits them whether that be through visual storytelling, text, or a mixture of the two.
One of the very first pieces in the collection is Sabba Khan’s ‘The Box of Contradictions’ (see top banner image above) which recounts the circumstances surrounding her decision in her early 20s to remove her headscarf. It’s 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.
As I say practically every time I review something by Julia Scheele we don’t see nearly enough of her work in comics, and I look forward to the day we are treated to something longer-form from her. ‘Placelessness’ (above) is another superb example of her use of the true language of comics – of those narrative techniques that just couldn’t translate to another medium – as she looks back on a childhood of constant discovery but regular displacement. Scheele contemplates the part that location plays in our personal development as people, and also how depressive illness can undermine our sense of being. A pitch-perfect transition between prose sequences and pure comics, this is one of the highlights of the book.
Jess Milton is, of course, one of my ‘Six UK Small Press Creators to Watch in 2015’ and thus one of half a dozen creators ‘Small Pressganged’ regulars will know I have made a particular point of championing this year. In just three pages in her strip ‘Daphne’ (above) Milton skilfully and perceptively speaks volumes about the facades we create for ourselves, the unthinking ways that others choose to define us, and ultimately about accepting and embracing who we are. Her art often has a slightly dreamlike, entrancing quality and that’s very much on show once again but, as I’ve pointed out on a number of occasions before, Milton’s use of the structure of the page is always one of the most remarkable things about her visuals. The way she manipulates her layouts to create emotional pauses and a sense of conflict is so impressive here.
Amneet Johal’s ‘Other’ (above) investigates the subject matter of the book in terms of culture and ethnicity but from the perspective of analysing that in the projections of others. Johal subverts the traditional comic strip by placing text/lettering in individual panels and only sparingly using illustrative elements for much of her piece. It creates a somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere that echoes the themes she is expounding, and when imagery is used it’s done so with an almost dissected resonance. This is a stunning piece of graphic design and the standout entry of the entire book for me, with an articulacy that is visual as well as textual.
Additional mentions must go to Sammy Borras’s ‘Labels, Boxes and Flags’ (right) which tackles the much ignored subject of asexuality with sincerity and integrity; the clarity of Borras’s cartooning adding an extra layer of humanity to the proceedings. Sarah Burgess’s questioning of what constitutes beauty in ‘Ugly’, how we classify that, and whether it even has any relevance, adeptly uses just facial profiles to communicate its message.
EdieOP also looks at the way in which other people comprehend us but with her usual sense of dark whimsy while Lizz Lunney’s work pops up a couple of times with serious commentary hidden in her customary bizarre humour.
Broken Frontier is, of course, a comics culture site so that’s what I’ve chosen to concentrate on in this review but Identity is also home to a number of frank prose articles. These are occasionally raw and unrefined in delivery but that’s essentially what makes them so powerful and so deeply affecting. The openness and starkly candid nature of these vignettes into the lives of their authors being both reflective and enlightening.
Significantly, this is also a project with an added incentive for your support as “profits will be evenly split between The Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity that supports young LGBT 16-25 year olds who are made homeless or living in a hostile environment, and The Feminist Library in London, who are a registered charity run by volunteers since 1975 and are currently looking for a new home due to being priced out of Elephant & Castle.”
By definition – and it seems pointlessly redundant even saying it – this is a collection of intensely personal accounts and interpretations of the book’s title. This isn’t an anthology that’s asking you to sympathise with perceived vulnerability however. Rather it’s an anthology that – through the life experiences that its participants convey – invites us to think about the way we define ourselves and others, challenging us to question our preconceptions and to confront our presumptions.
A thought-provoking and empathically charged collection, Identity may just be the most important debut comic you will buy at Thought Bubble.
For more on One Beat Zines check out their site here and follow them on Twitter here. You can order Identity online here priced £10.00. You can find them in the New Dock Hall at Thought Bubble on Table 153.
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.