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Ellen Lindner - Comics and Illustration

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More More More: Alternative Press at Angoulême [Feb. 4th, 2010|01:01 pm]
Ellen Lindner - Comics and Illustration
In my third Angoulême post, I'd like to interview two of the people behind Alternative Press, a fantastic London collective that made its first appearance at the festival this year.

When I first moved to London I had a hard time finding a 'comics scene'. There were great events, like Paul Gravett's ComICA lectures, and the MCM Expo (a huge fair oriented towards mainstream comics and manga), but during the months between bursts of activity on either front, a cartoonist's calendar could look pretty empty. Then, a few years ago, I started to notice a lot more fairs to attend, a lot more parties and performances to check out. A lot of these, I came to realize, were events organized by a collective known as Alternative Press.

Gareth, Jimi and Peter - France, 2010

This year, Alternative Press became publishers, creating the showcase anthology Publish You (in which my work appears). As a result, they got their first table at Angoulême's annual International Comics Festival, the biggest global comics fair outside of Japan. On the occasion of the Angoulême debut, I wanted to ask Peter and Jimi how they and their cadre of like-minded artists and activists (including Gareth Brookes, pictured above) had made order out of chaos and given us London cartoonists someplace new and interesting to sell our wares, meet artists from other disciplines, and - perhaps most revolutionary - enjoy the temptations of the open mic!

Peter Lally is a co-editor of Bedsit Journal, a long-running collection of work by Peter and his friend Richard Cowdry, amongst others (including Mardou, my cohort in Whores of Mensa). Peter's ribald, scratchily-drawn tales of overexcited waiters, drunk actors and lovelorn girls in the big city are very much worth seeking out.

Jimi Gherkin is an artist, musician and printmaker whose own varied interests make him a natural for the heterogenous world of Alternative Press. His neon-colored mini's offer everything from philosophizing on life and death to instructions on setting up your own silkscreen press, and are utterly unmissable.

Tell me something about your background - what were the steps you took towards becoming part of the small press scene in London?

Jimi: Well, I’ve always been a fan of comics, but really fell out quite young with the sci-fi based, kid comic fodder. I started to pick up self published stuff from Gosh! Comics ( in London) alongside Dan Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Charles Burns and stuff like that. Though I’ve always drawn, I never got involved, it wasn’t the right time. I don’t know why. In 2007, I had a stint of drawing and decided to submit it to zines and stuff, I found out about the small press, comix, zines community and was excited. A year later, in another burst of activity I put that previous work and some new stuff together and made my own comic. That was it! I didn’t know back then how hooked I would get!

Peter: I'm an outsider figure who has been on the periphery of everything I've ever been beside. A long-time friend was part of the small-press scene and suggested we do a comic together because we always made each other laugh. He knew the scene, and once we worked together we were stonger and took it further in terms of selling, quality of print, getting involved, etc. I was shocked by how bad the scene was. Now I know more about other scenes, like art, music, I realise it's common to them all. It's just human nature that art scenes are mainly bad.

You guys - both informally, and as Alternative Press - take part in and organize plenty of events in London, linking comics and zines
particularly, but also comics and music, and comics and crafts. I love the way you encourage mixing up the arts, instead of leaving each to function separately. Was this a conscious decision, to not operate within the old boundaries of 'the comics world'? Or did it just happen, because of friends and associates you have in other fields?

Jimi: I think it’s cool if everything has its own place, but as we’re all trying to get as big an audience as possible I think it does us all good to work together. Also, I think it makes for a richer creative environment and it makes the work better if people are influenced by the different scenes. It’s no good to narrow your outlook if you want to be creative.

Peter: I thought we were just going to do comix! It was Jimi's idea to mix things up, though I'm up for that. He's the real force behind the Alternative Press. I just knew from a comics point of view that there was dire need of something decent when I read on the internet of a guy - that was Jimi - asking for help in doing an event, and I went along. Jimi is a good person with a good personality, and so it was enjoyable to help him put together what he wanted - he brought in zinesters, I didn't know what they were! Jimi made the links with the HandmadeandBound guys (ed. - London art book and zine fair organizers), and all that handmade art stuff.

Like a lot of things, you don't get these people come round that often, so when you get one come along, you have to look after them. Personally, I don't give a fuck, I just want good stuff going on. If I knew a good clown I'd invite him to come along. Also, I want to encourage people in their lives, and a great way is by expressing themselves. I may not want to read or look at what they've done, but I'm glad for them that they've managed to do this, becuase I believe it will improve the quality of their life.

What made you think the time was right to publish an anthology of the artists you work with?

Jimi: I don’t think we thought too much about the time being right, but we’d put on a couple of events and wanted to do something else to promote the scene. If we could get a book into the book shops, get out to a bigger audience, people who might not come to events might read it, get into the scene, and may be inspired to do something themselves. That’s one of our main aims – to promote creativity through the small press.

Peter: Jimi wanted to do it to promote the scene, and to promote the artists in it, to people both inside and outside of the scene. I just groaned and said "not another anthology" but the others (Saban and Gareth) agreed with him. But I do think the final book, lovingly designed by Saban Kazim, is achieving its aims.

Tell us something about the team behind the assembly of Publish You.

Jimi: Peter Lally, Gareth Brookes, Saban Kazim, and myself edited the material, we had over 400 pages worth of work, for an 80 page book! Ceri May and Chris Bateson edited poetry with us. That was a long tough process… Leading up to that, I had just put the word out, received the submissions, without really knowing what we were letting ourselves in for… The group really formed during the process of the book being made. Saban Kazim, is a really talented graphic designer, who took on the mammoth task alone of designing and putting the book together in about two weeks! What a great job he did!

When will Publish You be available in the US? How can US readers
get a copy of their own?

Jimi: Well, they can get a copy from us… check out the website. Otherwise, we’re looking for distribution…
Peter: Good point - Ellen, you're on the money, what do you reckon the smart move is?

(Ed. - I've pointed the boys in the direction of Etsy - stay tuned!)

How has your visit to Angoulême changed the way you see comics? Organizing events?

Peter: Angoulême has everyone inspired to do comix, and I don't mean that in the in the cliche way you hear overused all the time by middle class pricks and similar frauds. I mean genuinely inspired. It reminded me of Glastonbury Festival, where you just get lost in it all. Being part of the Alternative Press really opened things up, talking to people like Stripburger, the Russian guys, Phillipe who runs the alternative space, having Robert Crumb leaf through my comic and put it in his bag - that was cool. Then you have the beautiful hosts we stayed with, the free-wheeling American girl who kept turning up, the scenery, those surging, everchanging rivers, those steep city walls, meeting people at night in the bars - it was great.

My own comic sold 4 issues, so I accept that France is not a market for it. I had already come to accept that all the art I will ever create will lose me money and be appreciated by, at most, a handful of people. But I am lucky to be able to attempt work, think of all those for who physically couldn't even try, or have no access to materials due to poverty. It's not the worst to be unpopular or unwanted.

Hear, hear! So, what's on the horizon for Alternative Press? What projects do you
have in mind for 2010?

Jimi: Alternative Press’ first birthday! In the form of an Alternative Press fair in February. Workshops, taking comics and zines to the schools and museums, libraries… getting the idea to children that they can be creative on their own without the constraints of the mainstream media, arts, or literary worlds… Maybe festivals… more comix, zines. We’re just trying to spread the word and expose the scene to as many people as possible…

By the way, the next Alternative Press event is in London on February 13th, at the St. Aloysius Social Club off Eversholt Street. For more info on this and Publish You, visit the Alternative Press website.

[User Picture]From: tozocomic
2010-02-04 09:43 pm (UTC)
Good stuff, fellow interviewer!
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[User Picture]From: ellenlindner
2010-02-05 07:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks a lot, Dave!
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-02-05 06:44 am (UTC)
what's peter got against the middle classes?

oliver east
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[User Picture]From: ellenlindner
2010-02-06 05:11 pm (UTC)
Ha ha, that's an interesting question! Being an American I'm even less equipped to understand how the English identify themselves, class-wise - I can barely figure out where I fall (though I'm pretty sure it's smack-dab in middle-class land.) Next time you see him I wouldn't hesitate to bring this up with the man himself.
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