Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Summit I Red: The Intercostal: 683


I've been lucky enough to see a preview of The Intercostal 683 by UK artist Gareth A Hopkins (see interview in Question Marks Won) and I can honestly say it's a breathtaking comic...

The Intercorstal 683
Gareth A Hopkins

You can look at the drawings of Gareth A Hopkins and think of the Italian Futurists – their fractured imagery and the irresistible sensations of movement and speed do indeed share a distant kinship with Gareth’s work... but, I prefer to think of him as Guinness!

You can read Gareth’s comics quickly and decide you know what he’s doing – you ‘get’ his point and it’s time to move on to the next luminous alcopop. But slow down. Take a moment to appreciate the complexity of what is in front of you and the dedication it took to bring it to you. Enjoy the layers and the flavours, and ponder the heritage they speak of.

I think it was Hannah Berry, author of Adamantine, who said that in comics every element matters – it’s all been put there by design (because, of course, previously there was nothing) and The Intercorstal is testament to how true that is. A noodly-doodly look belies the serious intent behind what is on the page and a liveliness to the linework means the intensity and detail never becomes ponderous.

But what IS it?

The Intercorstal is a five-strip, 32-page, black and white anthology comic. It’s also an exploration of the language and structure of comics through abstraction. It’s a welcoming experiment in alienation. It’s one artist’s playful idea made glorious reality through hard work and harder thought in pursuit of a singular vision. It’s a love letter to British weekly comics... written in purple crayon... by James Joyce.

So many silent, monotone, abstract pages should surely blur into one grey soup as you go through the book, but somehow Gareth has delivered page after vibrant page of dramatic tension and clearly demarked strips. If you can pace yourself reading silent pages, you will know when you’ve reached a clifhanger ending, and when you start the next story.

The astonishing confidence with which The Intercorstal deconstructs sequential narratives and reconstructs them puts the inflated claims from celebrated writers of Industrial Comics to be playing with deconstruction into perspective. THIS is deconstruction – painstakingly taking something apart and forensically examining it to see how it was put together, to understand what it was made from. Gareth is reverse-engineering previous examples of the form to make a new thing that looks nothing like its progenitor while unmistakably sharing the same DNA.

The result is a comic of story, rhythm and mood, that jettisons plot, character and text. 


Varied lines and solid shapes; gutters between panels; repeated motifs and very deliberate page layouts all combine to make a coherent, thoroughly readable object.

If reading 683 once will be a unique experience, reading it twice will be TWO unique experiences – the absence of literal figures or concrete meaning in the forms means the reader’s physical and mental circumstances change the perception of what they are seeing on the page. What we bring to this comic influences what we see in it and having read it once changes how we read it subsequently. Even reading on screen or in print will elicit different responses, so if you’re backing the current Kickstarter campaign, go for both for real value for money.

When I interviewed Gareth for the first issue of my Question Marks newspaper, he described himself as ‘an abstract artist whose medium is comics, rather than a comic artist creating abstract works and the distinction is telling. 

When I read silent comics my mind will often compensate for the missing sounds by inserting a percussive beat at each panel border... bum-tit; bum-tit... the edges dominate while the content and the page as a whole become more armature than structure. In 683 there is a flow between panels and pages, a togetherness to the package that pulls the reader into each part rather than pushing them out.

The drawings are eerily beautiful in their own right – if you like the work of Sergio Toppi, Mick MacMahon, Mark Badger or SMS/Smuzz there should be some resonance felt here. Many pages or panels could be displayed as standalone images on a wall (without the usual contextual dissonance inherent in sharing a detail from the whole).


Speaking with Gareth, it’s clear how deeply he has thought about what he is doing here and how comfortable he is with making a ‘difficult’ experience for the audience when that’s demanded by the rules he has set himself for this project. But he is wrong about it being difficult – against all odds these pages are warm and human.

Without putting him on the same level, it's fair to say that in the way Blake or Braque explored classical themes through a combination of intellect and passion, so Gareth is exploring comics. It builds something whole and new from pre-existing material, retelling a old potboiler of story in an idiosyncratic manner to mine it for greater meaning on personal and universal scales.

Check it out and take your time to appreciate it all...


Places I Bin: The Drawing Circus – a second visit

Brighton Fringe Festival
In 2015 I was surprised that it had been 10 years since my last life drawing session.
This time it was 'just' 12 months – at this rate i'll be doing it daily soon!

So instead of last year's charcoal challenge, this time I drew in ink with a stump of bamboo and a wash brush pen thing... less forgiving of slips and mistakes and SO much more fun.

The show was similar to last year (see earlier post) with the same or similar songs sung and poses posed, and it was at least as much fun.

My one caveat is the poses were so short (between 2 minutes and 5 minutes then one slightly longer group tableau) which meant my rusty figurework didn't get much of a workout. It takes a while to get your eye in and see the anatomy properly with a nude – drape the model in diaphanous material, ruffs and jewellery and it just becomes a drawing problem too far for non-regulars lie me...

Below are a small number of the less embarrassing pictures I made.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

My Stuff: Question Marks Won
a broadsheet newspaper exploring comics
12 BIG pages / £4.00 buy it here
Comments on the fist issue of Question Marks'

As an occasional print object, Question Marks is not set up for dialogue which is ironic as that is the purpose of sharing these comics and fascinating artists' thoughts with an audience, however compact and bijou that audience might be. There is no room inside for a letters column or proper discussion with readers, so we're trying an online version.

Please share any thoughts on ?sWON you like here, and reply to any other writers too. Opinions will not be policed, we're all big enough to behave properly, I'm (not so) sure, but trolling and meanness will get you deleted. Well, not YOU, but your posts...

So, one letter so far from Andrew Cocktoe in who's retrospective Past Live (buy it here) the inside back piece Internal Affairs first appeared:

Thanx for the contributor’s copy of Question Marks. From the consumer-friendly, possibly deconstructionist front cover to the enticing Nearlymade snip on the back it's an attractive proposition, if somewhat unwieldy (in the bath).

The substance of the paper seems to nicely underwrite your stated intention: to probe and  'take a serious look at other aspects of comic making - the philosophies  and thoughts behind...' in finely tuned and well thought out questions and answers. You might add to this an exposition and exploration of process that you are clearly fascinated and enthused by in your dialogues with the two creators showcased in this first issue. 

The strips featured are obviously in thrall with, and homage to, traditions: comics, and classical; graphic and literary. Tastily depicted, they  benefit from the magnification in print exposure over your newsprint pages. 'Internal Affairs' seemed to be about exploring other people’s anuses, rather than its own; hopefully.

And this kind of talk brings me to a slightly  more problematic area of the  project. The editorialising,  as somewhat rhetorical provocation while inviting debate, skirts and reflects an on-going, if often unacknowledged, challenge to comics criticism. 

For those of us who have spent much of our lives attempting to conflate the highbrow and the lowbrow there is something quease-inducing about projecting the language of the media studies academy on to our beloved art form of the Comic. Here, for example, we find terms  like 'Industrial comics',  'industrial comics artists'.  If these are  meant in the kind of descriptive, value-neutral light as 'Industrial Music' (yes, I know, you’re talking about the publishing industry..), they nonetheless come across as being used pejoratively. Would we not be better served by a differentiation such as 'narrative-based comics, and creators', particularly in the context of your interest in other artists 'playing and experimenting to bring us something new within the form'.  Gareth Hopkins refers to himself as an 'abstract artist whose medium is comics, rather than a comic artist creating abstract works'. I wonder what this means.

When fine art sensibilities are introduced into the realm of comics, I  question whether we are in danger of reintroducing that highbrow/lowbrow dichotomy into the very medium that has historically suffered at the hands and frontal lobes of such cultural value systems.

An equally large question for a number of periodicals both in hard print and online: should we be using literary critical or sociological languages or fine art criticism in the way in which we look at and examine comics, in order for them to be served and seen in a serious and culturally acceptable light? (presuming that is even our hope) 

What language would best serve the still relatively nascent (despite 300+ issues of the Comics Journal and a number of English language academic journals and courses) field of comics criticism? The projection of Leavisite literary criticism? Or the wholesale transposition of Ernst Gombrich's 'tradition with innovation' art crit principles onto Mark Cousins' 'Story of Film' (not at all dissimilar to the defining idea of T.S.Eliot’s 'Tradition and the individual talent' essay)? Or something like Paul Morley's history and traditions of pop music described in the shape of a city? ...

Your publication is astutely named. 

Perhaps I’m just being reductive and nostalgic when I recline in my metaphorical summer house armchair and view comics as a punky, mongrel medium running parallel to the so-called 'art world' as well as other media ('art comics' is another distinction I’ve seen elsewhere to describe work outside of the usual 'genres'. It's a term that seems, if nothing else, tautological ). 

Your first strip and Gareth Hopkins' subject matter rely heavily on unpicking the contours of the wider comic world. I think I also saw this suggested somewhere else not so long ago, but what of the notion of responding to others' comics in the comic form itself? Abstract comics art; abstract criticism?  What are those comics which pull others' works from whole cloth and project their own texts onto, again for example, doing? Commenting on, if not criticising in the normally understood sense of the term? Lichtenstein as numero uno comic critic? Art Spiegelman seemed to be getting at this in a number of his early experimenting-with-form comics pieces.

Question Marks, indeed. 

I think Andrew has misread my intentions a little, but in an interesting way. I will comment below... please join in.


Saturday, 26 March 2016

My Stuff: Easter Egg
a recipe in comic form
Last Easter Original Boy (then 5) suggested a food experiment...
It took us 11 months to try it out because, frankly I'm no fan of chocolate and it sounded a bit dubious... but dang me if it's not a trash treat!

Let us know if you try it out. I may have the next celebrity chef in my house... 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

My Stuff: Nearlymades
a smattering of found stories and kipple narratives
My new book of Pareidolia - NOW AVAILABLE
92 pages / Limited First Edition of 200 / £9.00 +£1 p&p 
buy it here or email to ask about review copies or wholesale prices

“Nearlymades is a fascinating recycling of found (and doctored) images. Bridging the gap between graphic novels and artists’ books, this rare and excellent example of abstract comics is intriguing, beguiling and witty, and will change the way you look at the streets around you.” - Alex Fitch, Panel Borders

Lying on your back, finding faces in the clouds. Walking home under yellow street lights and mistaking a bush for a lurking figure. Seeing Jesus in your toast.
You’d be a rare human, indeed, if you had never glimpsed a nearlymade! 

This hefty new book asks my (imaginary) audience to take a sideways squint at beauty in the detritus of the world. A mash-up of abstract shapes and peculiar objects to tease out ... something ... from a lifetime's immersion in art and fiction.

Some of the found comics and stories in Nearlymades will seem familiar – like half-remembered tales of martians, myths and monsters. And deja vu is always waiting in the shadows, but nothing in the book began with graphics aforethought.

Chance sequences and stories noticed on my travels have been collated and are presented here for a slower consideration.. On close inspection, what looks like a script may turn out to be a title or some verbal ruse to slow the eye and tickle the imagination.

The underlying conceit of Nearlymades is found images and words, twisted by my mistakes and obsessions while leaving room for a reader's own imagination. There are allusions and personal jokes that nobody will notice, but I hope there are connections and ideas that only you will see. Until you share them... which is kind of the point of the project!

Nobody was likely to publish this work, based on the description above, so I've gone ahead and made a 200-copy first print (with thanks to the efficient and helpful Rich at It's not completely a comic or an artist's book or a photography collection, so where to promote it is not obvious. Please do buy a copy if you think you'd like it, but also pass this on and let me know if you have any ideas of where I might talk about it - at the time of writing, 75 copies are sold or spoken for, but that's still a good number to try to get out there.

And, of course, if there are any publishers interested in a 'mass' market edition - drop me a line.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Places I Bin: The Drawing Circus

Brighton Fringe Festival
Is it REALLY that long (10 years!) since I last went to life drawing?
And even longer since the last time I drew in charcoal??

Drawing real people in real life is not the same as studying a pose and drawing in ink is NOTHING like using charcoal – so off I went to the Spiegeltent: Bosco Theatre for an evening of sketching circus folk.

Turns out they are 'just' people in costumes but because there is a story and they hold poses rather than tumble around, it's just what I needed to (start to) clear off some of that rust. A good looking troupe and a story and some cracking live music to help get the blood pumping while drawing. I loved it and will try to get to their events whenever I can from now on (regular sessions are on Thursday nights which sadly clashes with other commitments so it will be just the odd shows I guess).

Below are a small number of the less embarrassing pictures I made.

  TOLD you I was rusty!!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Places I Bin: Graphic Brighton: Drawing in the Margins

Sallis Benney Theatre, University of Brighton, 58-67 Grand Parade BN2 0JY
01/05/15 and 02/05/15
Two days of academic talks on the subject of the marginalised voice in comics.
Good talks, good chats outside the talks and some good beers after the talks!

Friday night's Gay Manga panel (Emma Vieceli, Inko, Chie Kutsuwada and Ilya, moderated by Alex Fitch) was interesting in itself, but especially notable for how often the panelists had to return to discussing the definitions of different manga categories. Even 'gay manga' is too broad with numerous variations on the theme.

Quick Strips, which followed, was largely a forum for Myriad Publishing authors to talk through their recent projects, but a few of the speakers did step outside of 'precis mode' - particularly Hannah Eaton, Danny Noble and Fraser Geesin.

The comics dynamo that is Karrie Fansman was interviewed by Time Pilcher to set the tone on Saturday.

Muna Al Jawad, Corinne Pearlman and Julian Hanshaw shared a stage for 'Can't we talk about something more pleasant? Older people and comics'. Corrinne gave us an overview of representations of the elderly in comic form; Julian talked through the thinking behind his upcoming Tim Ginger book, which imagines himself as a septuagenarian; Muna described her method of using cartoons in workshops and had us pair off to draw 'a memory of an old person', which images were then discussed to tease out unspoken and unexpected attitudes to ageing. 

Ilya (above, looking more puzzled than sincere which was the sketch I was intending to make) and Nye Wright hosted 'Street Dwellers': a lively panel asking if the homeless have a voice in comics. Impassioned contributions from the audience – particularly Kate Evans on who owns an individual's story – made this one panel that stuck in the memory. I thought the two leads handled it with grace and compassion, even when challenged on the ethics of depicting real people without their permission or knowledge...

Bumps, Births and early Motherhood in comics and graphic novels (phew!) was very rewarding. I've enjoyed Francesca Cassavetti's personal memoir comics for a few years now and her fellow panelists Henny Beaumont and Kate Evans had me noting down there titles to seek out later.

A much stronger second year for Graphic Brighton. Running parallel streams of talks is frustrating when interests overlap, but demonstrates how much ground there is to cover. Most panels seemed to be recorded, possibly video'd, so hopefully they will be made available online soon through Graphic Brighton or the Panelborders podcast.

Bring on Year 3 – tentatively themed War (& Peace, following comments at the closing session, we hope)