We're currently neck-deep in Comica season at the moment, and I went down to the ICA over the weekend to check out two of the impressive programme's events.
Dark We Were and Golden-Eyed was a panel conversation event with guests including artists Brian Bolland and Bryan Talbot, comics retailers Phil Clarke and Derek 'Bram' Stokes, and Forbidden Planet and Titan Books co-founder Mike Lake. The topic at hand was 'The Birth of American Comics Fandom in Britain' in the 1960s and 1970s, and the discussion was lively and heartwarming.
While Lake, the chair of the event, had come along armed with slides of various photographs and scans, the discussion frequently collapsed into the sharing of half-remembered anecdotes, such as Clarke getting his stream of comics from a connection at a local US Air Force base, Lake attending the first British Comics Convention in Birmingham (which cost Clarke £111 to put on) the week before travelling down to London to see The Doors and Jefferson Airplane, or Stokes opening his shop - Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed - on Berwick Street, paying £36 a week rent, and reimbursing young surveyor Dave Gibbons in comics for sorting out a new staircase for the building.
It was fascinating and welcoming, and a great insight into the personal side of being a comics fan in the time before Diamond Distribution, and before there were comic shops both large and small at which fans and enthusiasts could congregate, where issues would be transported as ballast on freight ships, and young comic lovers could only communicate and hone their craft through mail order lists and self-published zines.
Skip forward 40 years in comics culture - or a day later in Comica's 2009 calendar - and we have the Comiket, a comics market that features some of the best small press, self-published, independent creators currently active. I went to this event last year, and it was my first London-based comics excursion, but this year it had moved down into the ICA theatre, with seemingly even more exhibitors in attendance; if last year was 'packed to bursting' with talent and punters, this year was vacuum-sealed for maximum creativity-per-square-inch.
I like to think I'm getting more well-versed with the small press 'scene', and now recognise a fair deal of people at this sort of event - such as Howard Hardiman, Marc Ellerby, Jamie McKelvie, and the We Are Words + Pictures collective. However, I was surprised, and deeply impressed, by a number of stalls that had seemingly sprung out of nowhere (with regards to my awareness, anyway) - from the beautifully grotesque expressionism of My Eye Is On Fire, to the colourful artwork of Nobrow, or the slightly glum wonkiness of Nicolas Saloquin. Also a surprise were two stalls from art colleges, namely the Atlantic Press and Ink Soup! spreads, which were displaying the developing talents of students at University College Falmouth and the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design respectively.
Lots of beautiful stuff, but I had committed my budget to one purchase: the sumptuous Solipsistic Pop, an anthology of some sterling work from plenty of characters on the small press scene (it is edited by Tom Humberstone, and features work from Philip Spence, Julia Scheele, Hardiman, and Matthew Sheret, among many others). It's a very well put together artifact, with a pull-out section, and two extra mini comics for good measure. I'll hopefully write more about it at a later point, but for the moment I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Check out their site for details and extracts.
Another nice touch of the Comiket event was an elongated collaborative piece of artwork, placed on the ICA's corridor wall, with exhibitors invited to take a line from a famous British graphic novel (reportedly Watchmen, according to Sarah McIntyre, whose photos of the piece are excellent), and create designs of their own. It was quite staggering, really, seeing the diversity of talent - otherwise represented in the stuffy claustrophobia of the stalls - splashed out on the wall for all to see. Lovely!
Comica runs until November 26th, for more details visit the festival's site here.