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Thursday, 6 March 2014

Golden Age Of The British Small Press

This 2008 posting from the old Word Press CBO should have been saved here but I can't find it so let's do another reposting shall we?
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Well,you will have to excuse me and the fact that this is going to be a lengthy text/illo item.  The article was written a year ago for someone but never used.  As I looked through my boxes of Small Press items I realised that there were some publications I missed out -unintentionally.
In reality,the article I wrote would make a hefty little book!
The joys back then were getting the latests from Hawarden,Cheshire -from Rich Holden’s Caged Comics -A5 and mini comics.  They were a riot of fun.
The same can be said of the great Merv Grist and his Gristavision comics.  I still have the classic cassette tape he sold at the time -”The Slugs That Ate Manhattan” -WHERE are you,Merv?!
And Cosmic Comics produced by Steve Lines between running his band Stormclouds [I still have the cassette tapes from back then and they are still a great listen];Blake The Egg was the oddest lines character -and Steve’s music zine,The Marden Beat,was a source of much interest if you were into Indie music at the time.
Fran Ashcroft.  What can one possibly say about Fran Ashcroft -or creation Spoonsy?!
So,to all of those I’ve missed out:my apologies.  You made the 1980s great!
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Above:brother Mike,publisher of Zine Ager,to the rear Doc N,scribe of Vigilante Vulture,
the superb John Erasmus and some bearded maniac;Tom “lovely” Elmes. Westminster,c.1987
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above:a rare newspaper photo c.1988 from the Bath mart:Jerry Holliday of KYO Comics,brother Mike,Sally & David Johnson and Dave’s dad.
And now -the article!
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British Small Press –The Golden Age
Terry Hooper-Scharf
 
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It can truly be said that the 1980s to early 1990s was the Golden Age of the Small Press,or Zines as they were known.
The term “Zine” was derived from “magazine”,basically because the fan press was mainly text and illoes only at one time –and later we saw “strip zines” added to these. But Zines was an all-encompassing term.
One of our [UK] first,if not the first fanzine was Heroes Unlimited in 1967.  This was a gestetner copied publication and the major contributing illustrator was none other than Paul Neary –a memorable Justice Society of America cover amongst his contributions.   Fantasy Domain in 1973 was a kind of “what comics are out now” and reviews along with “for sale” ads.   Blitzine was Phil Elliott and Paul Chester’s gestetner [look it up on the internet,kids!] magazine from 1975.  Paul E. Schofield came along in 1979 with the A5 [Digest] sized New Aeon.
 
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It has to be remembered that the gestetner printer was,for many years,the only way of producing your fan magazine.  Basically you typed cutting into the stencil sheet which eventually went onto the roller of the hand cranked copier.  Any typoes had to be corrected using such stuff as nail polish!  My own school magazine from 1972 was produced by using the gestetner –don’t try looking for copies because the magazine was banned while being printed.  Starkers –The Magazine That Tells The Naked Truth would,I am sure,have lived on in infamy!
 
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In the mid-1970s I well recall that fantastic new machine the photocopier.  You could walk into a printers or stationary shop and they would copy off your pages!  Copies became cheaper and so more and more would-be publishers decided to leap into the future!
 
Our mainUK news,reviews and articles publication would have been BEM and then Fantasy Advertiser,published by Martin Lock [the Harrier Comics publisher] and later Martin Skidmore. And for those looking for style and distinction there was Paul Gravett’s Escape magazine –now an online site.   
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Strip-wise,we had the superb Super Adventure Stories published by Michael Gibas –which gave us classics such as Johnny Kurzman’s “Red Dragon”,whose saga was great fun and pre-dated both my own and Grant Morrison’s [Zenith]Red Dragon.  
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 But it was in the 1983-84 period that things really went crazy.  We had great zines from Shane Oakley [ofAlbion fame] and Andrew Yoxall in the form of Hardware –which featured the very early work of Matt [D’Israeli] Brooker,Art Wetherell and the “where is he now??” Iskander Islam;and I must mention the inimitable John Erasmus. But there were other contributors –including the Oakster and Yoxies  own mad-cap work.
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Dan Rickwood and Adam Thomas brought us the insane and often near legally prosecutable Bum Comic!  The often ‘saner’ contributions came from Matt Brooker and Ben Dilworth.  There was even an experimental Landscape format one off REQUIEM with a Dilworth dash of water colour added for colour.
 
Mark E. Ford produced,before being told to stop by DC,Eat The Magic Batzine which was a fan mag with covers and illoes by…Ben Dilworth!  Steve Lines produced his spooky,pop art orientated Fantastic Stories and Creepy Crawlies –again,Ben contributed and so did I with a Christmas tale featuring my sorcerers Kotar,Sabuta and Lady Silvana along with the “Keeper Of Tales”,The Creeper himself!
 
Of course,Ben produced his own publications under the Penguinflight banner.  A Letter From Siberia was A3 [larger than US B3] in size and in the middle was stapled the Digest sized Picasso’s Café.  This publication was produced using colour washes,ink washes and even colour pens.
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Later,Ben and I designed acetate covers for my Preview Comic wherein we used stencilled images and car spray paint!  Ben was probably one of the group of ground-breaking creators responsible for the “Golden Age” of British Small Press and when he moved toJapan things were never the same.
But we also had Help Shark! And titles such as “Love Given Lightly” and “Splendid”,
both by Steven Martin.  Cally Stapleton produced wonderful art using linoleum cutting and Myra Hancock was…well,fab!
 
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Cover designs and even art style techniques were experimented with and there was a huge interest in British zines from the US,Europe and beyond.  Ed Pinsent ran Fast Fiction but in 1985 I joined up with Jerry Holliday,Paul Brown and Darron Northall [on copying] to create the news,reviews,previews and interviews mag Zine Zone,which also became a mail order and mart service.
 
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Zine Zone and the “Zine Zone Zoot Suit Crew” actually started out-selling Fast Fiction and promoting creators such as Rich Holden and his Caged zines and Fran Ashcroft’s Fenlock,Paul Grist’s Dancing Elephant Press and other new creators that were emerging kept the scene fresh.  I used to have “open house” in the apartment I was living in and anyone involved in the Small Press passing through or near Bristol popped in –the door bell ringing at anytime [including 3am in the morning thanks to my legendary insomnia!].  I could get 30-60 packages of publications or art samples a week
 
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Bristol tended to be the place to be and 1984 had seen school kid Jerry Holliday and pal Joe Leigh produce Knock Yaself Out Comix –this developed into one of the best mixed-bag publications around and spawned some spin-offs such as Jerry and Joe’s Doxi The Dog [something Jerry is still working on over 20 years later].  How the magazine ever got published between the drinking bouts seems incredible!
The legendary anthropomorphic series Vigilante Vulture was written by Darron Northall and drawn by Paul Brown –based in the urban war zone known as Kowle West!  Even today,after so many years,it’s still a good read!  Interestingly,at one of the UK Comic Art Conventions,Shane Oakley and Andrew Yoxall were overjoyed to meet Brown and Northall –apparently,VV had been Oakley’s favourite “pick-me-up” read during his college years!  Sadly,the plans of Seattle based MU Press to publish the series in the US came to nothing. 
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Tom Elmes,last heard of heading for France,produced the often gorey Post War Funnies,Post War Casualties and even the wickedly named [nothing to do with the contents] shocker titled Incest!  The Worm sticks in my mind.  However,the most cringable was without doubt “The Man Who At Himself To Death” –and he did! These days Tom is back in the UK and working on some award winning animation projects.
Another creator who liked to shock to see the reaction was Stephen Harrison and he drew the Andrew Yoxall written “The Little Git With The Chainsaw” –inspired by the Daily Mirror newspaper strip Andy Capp and the film ”The Evil Dead”!!!
It seemed that everyone knew everyone else in the Small Press back then,if they didn’t then either Ben Dilworth or myself quickly introduced them.
 
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By the early 1990s most of the creators were either working in other media or had gone on to professional comics.  Zine Zone had become Zine Zone International covering the Small Press from around the world.  The UK Small Press,however,was deteriorating fast. 
Probably the most successful,or best publicised,Small Press comic of recent years has been the O-Men,seemingly inspired by the great Silver Age comic series’ such as Doom Patrol –for those who missed out,the early issues have been compiled in “trade book” style.
Magic Malcolm is a US sized comic of superb quality which,from issue 10 onward will only be appearing in graphic novel style books.  Blink Twice Publications are Robin Etherington [creator and writer] and Lawrence Etherington [co-creator and artist].  This is a superb series that looks like a combination of Little Nemo,Alice In Wonderland and much more –but even that doesn’t do it justice.  You can check out more at www.studioblinktwice.com and learn not just about Magic Malcolm but also Tusk and Moon!
Dutch born,Bristol resident,Willie Hewes,has even featured in the local press with her stylish Amaranth comic;the story of a young woman living in Bristol who discovers she is a demon trapped in a human body and gets whisked off to meet the Lord of Hell.  A book that has achieved a cult following.  Learn more at Willie’s site  www.amaranthcomic.tk
My personal favourite,not just because it has Goth chicks,but because of some superb black and white artwork is Marcus Jones’ ZELTA.  Not for the faint hearted,this is definitely an adults only comic under Jones’ Screaming Demon Comics banner.  The story is about unhappy tattooist,Alex,who meets the girl of his dreams [or is that nightmares?],Zelta.  However,Alex starts getting strange dreams and visions….is Zelta really the Devil’s daughter??  Check out www.zeltacomic.co.uk
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The big problem is that,with easier access to photocopiers and,of course,computers and printers,creativity has given  way to the more boring and mundane.  More and more Small Press items appear with “biographical” on the cover and high prices for just a few pages.  At one time,I can recall there being so many zines of quality that it was hard to select which to buy!  Talking to others who have been buying Small Press since the 1980s,I’ve heard the same thing “99.9% of what’s out there is crap” and “There is nothing out there these days”.
Well,there are a few,as I’ve noted,but where has all that creativity gone?  Staff at one comic shop that stocks Small Press items came up with the comment “we keep getting sent all this rubbish”!
When I had the chance to promote Small Pressers in the UK on the internet and via printed publications I put the word around –to publishers and even a service selling the publications.  It was now I learned just how much had changed.
 
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The service promised to forward the information to publishers via its newsletter.  It never did.  Publishers who did respond [and that was unbelievably few] said that,yes,they would like their zines reviewed and publicised…..and I could buy those review copies direct!  Buy review copies?!! 
Unbelievably,the opportunity to let,potentially,thousands more comic buyers know about their publications was not good enough.  The attitude was “why should I give away a copy of my comic  –you want to review it then buy a copy” 
And the mail order zine service I’ve had no explanation from.  Theirs was the “purchase from” address I was going to give. 
In all my years reviewing Small Press publications,from Zine Zone to Comic World,Comic Collector and Comics FX,I have never come across such negativity and lack of support to publicise zines.  It may be controversial but I think it safe to say that over-priced,uncreative publications are the norm in the UK these days with few exceptions.  A pity considering the
UK once led the way.
I am still interested in the Small Press!  It would be interesting to know what is being published in the US,Canada and elsewhere so,if you are out there and publishing,email me or send me a copy of what you’re publishing.  But don’t give up –if you want to produce your own zine:do it!
Email:hoopercomicsuk@yahoo.com
Terry Hooper-Scharf
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