SLCZF WEEK! After a break of four years the hugely popular South London Comic and Zine Fair (SLCZF) is back on Sunday July 10th at Stanley Arts, and this time with a new team behind-the-scenes organising the event. Originally founded by graphic novelist Gareth Brookes this year the torch has been passed and the torch has been passed to small press creators Rebecca K. Jones, Hannah Lee Miller and Pete Morey. As the opening entry of our SLCZF Week of coverage I chat with the trio about the aims of the event, comics community, and festival debut books…
ANDY OLIVER: Before we talk about the South London Comic and Zine Fair itself can you introduce the team behind it and their background in the arts and comics world?
HANNAH LEE MILLER: I’ve been fan of comics for as long as I can remember and was inspired to create my own after graduating from film school with an idea I hadn’t made. This idea became my comic Dementia Dad. Since then I have kept making, volunteering, attending workshops, going to talks and pursuing my love of comics. As a day job I work in animation production most notably spending a few years producing Peppa Pig. I am super enthusiastic about creativity and storytelling, and opening the doors to all and everyone to tell their tale. I am so excited to be working with this team to bring back SLCZF this year.
PETE MOREY: I’ve been self-publishing comics and putting them out at fairs since 2012. Actually, myself and Rebecca met doing a Masters in Illustration at Falmouth University where we both focussed on making comics, and got involved in local comic and zine fairs in Falmouth and Plymouth. Then we moved to London together and started tabling at all kinds of comic and zine fairs. My ‘day job’ is Illustrator and Graphic Scribe.
SLCZF in 2018, the last incarnation of the show
REBECCA K. JONES: The Masters and the years just after it were my first experience of being part of a supportive community of comic artists. As well as the fairs, we had the opportunity to take part in some 24-hour comics and some group zines. When we were in London (2014 onwards), we continued making work and for myself at least, it was in a bit of a bubble. We both took short courses at the Royal Drawing School with Emily Haworth-Booth, which kept us practising and eventually we started going to some of the bigger fairs to table. We also started connecting up with London-based comic artists through things like WIP, the Gosh/Broken Frontier Drink and Draw and Laydeez Do Comics.
AO: SLCZF returns this year after a 4-year break. Can you give us some history on the fair and why you chose now to take on its organisation from founder Gareth Brookes?
MILLER: When Gareth set up the 1st SLCZF at Stanley Halls in 2017, I realised I was a neighbour and threw myself into volunteering getting to work the communal table with the legendary Steve Walsh. Then I got my own table the following year.
JONES: Pete and I went to the 2017 one and discovered so much on that day. Not only the range of creators and work out there, but also the friendly and welcoming atmosphere. The following year was full of weddings for us, so we sadly missed the 2018 one.
MOREY: That atmosphere point was for me represented by a well-loved and prominently-located Communal Table.
Hannah with the late, great Steve Walsh at SLCZF 2017
MILLER: It was during the pandemic that the team really joined together. Rebecca K. Jones and Peter Morey had just moved to the area and I knew their work and said hello at some ‘WIP’ and ‘Drink and Draws’. I would go for walks with Becky and Pete and often bump into Gareth (and his partner Clare). A few pints in a beer garden and plans to resurrect SLCZF began to brew.
MOREY: I think after a few pints, Hannah asked Gareth if he’d be bringing back the Comic and Zine Fair, and being in the midst of his PhD he just didn’t have the time but would be happy if someone else took it on. I’d like to think there was a comedy nudge and a wink to us, but actually it was Hannah’s strong commitment to local community organising and volunteering that really drove the decision. When planning the 2022 one, it seemed that key to its success in 2017 and ‘18 was this grassroots sensibility and no-nonsense approach to organising from Gareth Brookes.
JONES: I think there was definitely something about the Covid pandemic which drove a wish to do something hyper local, to bring people physically together, to have something to look forward to and also, to revive another platform for people to sell and promote their work.
The Communal Table in 2018, this time run by the Broken Frontier team
MOREY: A powerful driving force for me, were the panel talks from Hannah Berry and talk from Gareth Brookes’ at Hackney Comic and Zine Fair ‘21. This hammered home the importance of the grassroots community. It seemed to me that there is an incredibly active, vibrant, vital bunch of creators out there in the whole of the UK, who have chosen comics as their medium. but basically, it is up to us all to get out there and organise more things like SLCZF, HCZF, and other ‘CZFs’, ‘CAFs’ and suchlike. Anyone can do it, although it can take a lot of work if you add all the bells and whistles. But, you can go for the basics: Just hire a space and start contacting your fellow creators!
AO: What kind of work can attendees expect to see at this year’s SLCZF? Are there any newer voices we may be less familiar with?
MOREY: You’ll likely encounter a nice big range of comics and zine practices, telling all kinds of stories and in different styles or traditions. There’ll be the beautiful books and exceedingly good comics of small publishers – including local lads from Avery Hill – to the DIY zine voices of Colossive Press, Rachael House and HATE zine. There’ll be visual poetry (Peony Gent), comedy (King Louie’s Lab), adventure (Will Humberstone), gentle stories and work with something urgent and important to say about (and to) the world (eg, Jacob V Joyce). Some work will be inspired by European Comics (David Jesus Vignolli) and others by classic British Comics. Not forgetting a representative of British Manga in Mayamada, who will also be giving a workshop on Yonkoma Comics. And: high quality and very funny kids comics from Bog-Eyed Books. Plus local Croydon art collective TURF projects and DSFL Print Collective.
AO: In terms of curation what were your objectives when selecting exhibitors for this year’s event?
MILLER: It was difficult to narrow down who we would like to table as we are huge comic fans and have many friends who create. We decided we would do our best to promote locals first as our neighbourhood needs the support and encouragement. Then we broadened the scope to South Londoners we wanted to represent, as that’s the name of the fair. We tried to include as many names as possible with small press and collective tables from anywhere so that many of the names we are fans of would be there too.
JONES: We decided to not work on an application basis, but try to specifically work with people from the local area. Although we knew a good few local creators, we knew more would likely become apparent as we announced the fair, so we made sure to leave a portion of spaces available to allow ourselves to be surprised, and to give newer or marginalised voices the opportunity to table.
AO: You’re all active members of the comics scene in London. How has that sense of comics community personally benefitted and inspired you over the years?
MILLER: It’s hard to describe how fun it is to be friends with people who share your passion for comics, for one we lend each other books. There is a lot of encouragement and enthusiasm for each others’ creativity, my walls are covered with artwork by friends and my book shelves are bursting with comics by pals. I am just constantly inspired by them all.
JONES: My natural tendency is to be a bit of a hermit, (even pre-Covid), so having a community is really important for feeling creatively refreshed, to exchange ideas and recommendations. The comics community reminds me that drawing and creating is genuinely fun. With drink and draw for example, there’s no doubt or personal baggage attached to it and it’s a safe space to experiment and delight in each other’s responses to a theme. The community is also a constant reminder that there are other like-minded and supportive people who are making work, that there is an audience.
MOREY: Rebecca already mentioned a supportive scene that we found ourselves in when we first moved (back) to London. The in-person WIP meet-ups were vital for checking in with others making comics – then organised by our friend Jack Brougham and later developed by Joe Stone into the multi-faceted creator support network we now know and love. On top of that was the Gosh Broken Frontier Drink and Draw, which was another great and friendly check-in with other comics folk for us, which grew in personal significance with the pandemic. The fortnightly Zoom and Twitter DnDs just had a friendlier vibe than the standard set of life-sapping Zoom calls we were doing in our work lives and we grew closer to everybody taking part. I’ve been making a long-form comic over the last four years called Endswell, which I’ve been putting out in episodes, and these communities have helped me keep going with that too.
SLCZF 2017 proved a huge hit!
AO: Apart from the exhibitor hall itself what other programming can visitors enjoy at SLCZF?
MILLER: We have two fantastic workshops, the kids one with Helen Jones is already sold out but we have an afternoon workshop on Yonkoma comics with the brilliant Mayamada. We also have four wonderful talks with of course Gareth Brookes, Colossive Press, David Jesus Vignolli and a conversation with LDComics
MOREY: We are also holding a sketchnoting exercise, which I’m calling “scribes assemble”, to encourage people to sketchnote and exercise their visual language during the talks. There will also be a big collective live drawing wall, which is being organised by Josh Knowles of Megaphone comics.
JONES: We will also have an all-ages zine library for some quiet space for families and newer comics readers to spend time. Finally, in the bar we will have a “grown up” zine library.
MOREY: (The “grown-up” library is not just necessarily a euphemism for porn, but is anything that didn’t make the ‘all ages’ cut).
AO: And, finally, are there any debut comics that you’re particularly looking forward to at the fair this weekend?
MILLER: I’m looking forward to being surprised, it’s half the fun.
MOREY: Off the top of my head, I’m looking forward to catching up on all the Colossive Cartographies that I’ve not yet read (currently I’m up to series 6) and the hotly tipped Penge Sculpture Trail from Cosmo Chancer; Groblin by King Louie’s Lab (I’m loving their Instagram comic Hell’s Guest right now); Issue 7 of EKO Magazine (something I’ve not read but would love to dip into – all about amplifying refugee voices); and the results of two Kickstarters which I’m hoping might be available – Nick Bryan’s Death of a Necromancer and Avery Hill’s Spring ’22 crop. Also two new Bog-Eyed Books releases – Walkies by Dave Ziggy Greene and Sister Clawdetta by Tor Freeman.
JONES: I’m also looking forward to checking out EKO Magazine and Nick Bryan’s Death of a Necromancer. I’d like to pick up one of Nancy Cariah’s Hair zines which she will be selling while looking after the communal table too.
For more on SLCZF check out their Twitter and Instagram, and the Stanley Arts site here.
Interview by Andy Oliver