“We started Off Life back in 2012 as a way to not only help break new or undiscovered talent, but almost to break the indie side of comics to a wider audience.” Those were the words of Off Life editor Daniel Humphry when I interviewed him earlier this year describing the ethos of the street press anthology that launched back in 2012.
With its dual model of free distribution in print and online, Off Life continues to serve that vital purpose in bringing comics to a non-traditional readership. Not just in terms of the diversity of the featured artists within its pages but also through its bite-sized and digestible articles and interviews.
In that regard Off Life #13 – the first issue for a while as the team recuperated after publishing their Yellow hardcover last year – includes an interview with graphic novelist Chester Brown, alongside commentary on the growth of festivals from Nobrow’s Sam Arthur and a piece on motivation and process by comics creator and lecturer Dan Berry.
Given its growing influence and profile over the last few years one can only imagine the herculean task involved in going through the Off Life submissions and curating each issue; the reward of showcasing newer and established artists no doubt tempered by the difficult decisions involved. Such is the rude health of the contemporary self-publishing scene, though, and the absolute wealth of talent operating within its environs.
Issue #13 opens with a strip from Matthew Dooley – the rising star of Throwaway Press – that gives us a wistful look back at a rather grotesque and unlikely imaginary childhood friend in ‘Cheesemore’ above (also included in his Meanderings collection). Dooley is proving a master at creating bizarre flights of fancy that nevertheless have an appealing note of understatement to them. There’s so much potential in this particular strip that it really deserves to be fleshed out into something longer-form.
Aleesha Nandhra is a new name to me but her slice-of-lifer ‘Grief’ (above) has an immediate impact with the transition of its melting panel-to-panel imagery proving instantly resonant in communicating its narrator’s feelings of loss. It’s two pages that are both deeply personal and yet, through the ever obscured features of its central character, strangely impersonal as well. A contradiction that actually serves to emphasise the familiarity and everyperson nature of the events it depicts.
Fabien Roché’s ‘The Robots Conspiracy’ (above) appears initially to be a humorous take on sci-fi standards but it quickly becomes apparent that Roché’s four-pager is actually a far more nuanced commentary on personal identity. Also giving us a younger eye on the world is Till Lukat who echoes his recent Dirty Rotten Comics contribution with ‘Guts and Glory’ (below) an account of childhood recklessness that we can all no doubt relate to on some level. Meanwhile Josh Hicks traces his failing body’s deterioration with a self-deprecating, hypochondriac wink to the reader in ‘Body Conscious’ (see top banner image), utilising humorous cutaways and cartooning clarity that turns self-pity into something oddly rather endearing.
Any critical evaluation of Off Life, of course, needs to take into account that a large part of its target audience are not necessarily the people that are likely to be reading comic reviews in the first place. It’s a sampler of what sequential art can be, a proclamation to an uninitiated audience that there’s so much more to the medium than they may be aware of, and a showcase for the potential of comics beyond the narrow definition of the alleged mainstream. In that respect Off Life #13 succeeds in displaying the true breadth of the form with a carefully selected line-up of work designed to underline to newcomers just how diverse comics can be in subject matter and approach.
If this “Golden Age” of small press comics is to have a tangible, lasting legacy then it needs champions to take that work out to wider audiences. The Off Life team continue to play a vital, unique and relevant role in spreading that message.
Off Life editor Daniel Humphry is part of the ‘Championing Comics’ panel chaired by Broken Frontier’s Andy Oliver at ELCAF on Friday June 10th. Details here.
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.