Friday, 17 December 2010

FOUR EYES WAXES ON THE ZINE SCENE...


During last Saturday’s Zine Fair at Brighton’s Cowley Club, Lorna Stephenson (who I don’t think I’d met before) asked if I’d answer some e-mailed questions for a college project of hers. I replied, and asked if I could repost my answers here...

”Your name/ artist name/ no name depending on how you'd like to be referred to.”

Gavin Burrows. Sometimes 4 Eyes. Or even The Artist Formerly Known As Gav, when I was taking the piss out of Prince.

”The name of your zine/comic. ”

Mostly, I write a comic called ’The Plot Thickens’, though I also worked on a collaborative comic called ’Rocket Science’ and had something else produced under the title ’All Flee!’ I also write a blog about comics, films, music, politics and anything else that comes into my head - at lucidfrenzy.blogspot.com. (Are blogs related to zines? Maybe that will be one of the later questions.) My comics "presence" (as I believe the PR men call it) is pretty pitiful, really, but some stuff is up at www.buzzcomic.com.

”How would you describe your work?”

Satirical stuff, usually a twist on popular culture or subculture of some kind. I love that point where satire and absurdism overlap. I often compare my humour to ’The Simpsons’, as a reference point most people have heard of. But unlike ’The Simpsons’ I don't use the same characters every time. I would probably save a whole lot of time and effort if I did.

”How long have you been involved in producing zines/comics, how often do you produce one?”

This is the point where I sound old! First started writing to (mostly) comics fanzines over 25 years ago. Then a little later I produced my first comic, an anthology of various people's stuff. I gave it the appendage "the dyslexia of post-literacy." I can't remember why, now. I did it because I'd seen other people doing it and figured, why not me?

Can I sneakily avoid answering the second part of the question? I haven't actually produced a new comic for about two years!!!, though I have kept the blog updated during that time. Blame time pressures, day jobs etc! Also the upsurge in the number of zine events have in a weird way impeded my productivity! The weekends are the time I have to create new stuff, and lately so many of them have been taken up by attending some event or other. It'll probably flip to the other extreme - I'll finally produce the next issue and there won't be anywhere to flog it any more!

Actually I don't think it’s a problem if your comic or zine is infrequent so long as it's not a continued story, or you haven't been telling all and sundry it's going to have a strict monthly schedule. It's a bit like going to the gym, people start out saying they'll go twice a week, find they can't keep it up and stop altogether. You're better off figuring out the level that's best for you.

”What's your favourite zine that's not your own and why?”

I do read zines but more often comics. Paul Rainey's magnum opus ’There's No Time Like The Present’ has just concluded, that was good. I’m looking forward to reading it all through, when I get the chance.

”What do you think zines can do that mainstream press can't?”

Two things. First is accessibility, you can do a zine whereas you can't do mainstream press. And you can do your zine on whatever interests you. Mostly people don't make zines on what Katie Price is up to, because that subject's adequately covered by the mass media. (Perhaps even over-adequately.)

Second is the zine scene, the combined effect of all those zines, but I see that's a question asked later on.

We live in an age of mass-production where all the stuff that's supposed to express our individuality is actually just crap bought off the shelf. Like clothing... That shirt that's "so you'", there's tens of thousands of others exactly like it. So having something hand-made like a zine, that a small group or maybe one person made because they wanted to, that makes for a refreshing contrast, a little token that suggests at a different world. I like it when people decorate and personalise their zines. The guy at the stall next to me today had a comic with an empty speech balloon on the cover. When someone bought one, he'd fill in the balloon with something specially for them.

”Why do you produce your zine?”

I honestly can't not do it. It's simultaneously a grand folly and a bad habit, like a cross between the roof of the Sistine Chapel and biting your fingernails.

”Would you say there is a zine subculture, and if so, what's it like?”

There's a whole bunch of zine cultures (the comics scene, the punk zine scene, the travelogue zine, the special interest zine and more). What works best is when they intersect, and unintended consequences ensue.

I find my comics sell better at zine events than comics ones, because they tend to attract a more open-minded crowd - and not just people who want to complete their collection of Image titles and have no interest in anything else. That's been happening more lately, partly just down to individuals. Paul Stapleton, who organised things today, is a comic artist and musician. Edd Baldry, one of the organisers of the London Zine Symposium, produces comic strips, but also used to do a punk fanzine, and gets involved in political activity. 

Sometimes, though, it works the opposite way. It can become very egocentric, like everyone just wants to defend their bit of turf. Someone will come up with some ill-considered piece of invective, like "every punk band formed after 1990 is a mindless copycat of the original, and true punks should boycott their gigs." Then someone else will come along and say "no, it's the old punk bands who were around before 1995 who all sold out and thereby stopped the revolution happening, they should all be boycotted." And the inevitable pointless slagging match ensues between two meaningless extremes. You know the old Fugazi song? "Everyone's talking about their home town scenes/ And hurting people's feelings in their magazines/ And you want to know what it all means?/ It's NOTHING!"

Everyone has the right to their opinion. But anyone who thinks that only their opinion counts is simply a jerk.

”What process do you go through to produce your zine?”

I just do it really! With the comics I normally write quite a full script, with all the dialogue and everything broken down into panels. Though I've done it different ways... so many people had asked me if I wrote the script after the art was drawn, that one time I purposefully did it that way!

I like that collaborative aspect. The artwork comes back and, even if the artist's mostly kept to the script, it's never really the way I imagined it. They've normally added some dimension to it that I'd never thought of.

Lately though, I've had a shortage of artists to work with. Everyone's just so busy! I'm trying to get round that by drawing more stuff myself. The main disadvantage to this is that I can't actually draw. But then why let something like that stop you?

”Would you mind expanding on how there has been a growth in the number of zine events recently: Since when has their been this increase in popularity been happening (due to the internet, even?)? What impact has the internet had on the scene?”

Let's take those two in one. When people look into a scene from outside, there's a natural tendency to try and see the imprint of the outside culture upon it, preferably some big cultural shift like the internet. After all, what's going on inside is a closed book to them! But the ebbs and flows of scenes are largely due to inner, totally micro reasons. The simple explanation is it's been like a spate of parties. Someone throws a party, someone else goes, has fun and figures they should throw their own party. The thing snowballs from there.

There probably has been a shift in the wider culture, though, with niche marketing, broadcasting being replaced by narrowcasting and all the rest of it. Perhaps that's how comics and zines became cool instead of nerdy. It used to be that, for example, you never saw women in comic shops. But there was a high number of women behind the stalls at the Cowley Zine Fair, maybe not half of the stallholders but getting on for it. (You may have kept more of an eye on this than me.)

There's no doubt the internet has given things a fillip. I used to print off a paper zine of my thoughts and musings, then carry piles of them to social events. It was unwieldy, expensive and like casting seeds - you only had so many and some would doubtless fall on stony ground. Migrating to a blog site cut out most of those obstacles overnight. (In fact it became too easy and I concentrated on that at the expense of the comics, but never mind that!)

However, with comics there's something appealing about a physical object - the comic itself is an art object, like a painting or sculpture. The package is part of the experience. With music it doesn't matter much if you listen to it on a CD or stream an MP3. With a comic it feels right to hold it in your hands.  I'm not against on-line comics but think they should make use of the uniqueness of the medium they're in, not just host a load of pages originally designed for print.

”Would you describe the self-pub zine and comic scene as being well known about or still very underground?”

Dunno. It's like asking a fish what the pond looks like from outside. I only know it from the inside.

”What would you say to someone who is thinking of starting their own?”

Now is probably the easiest time to do it! Low-run printing and copying is achievable like never before, there's the net through which to meet people, shops and distros. There's on-line and book guides, but the best way to start is to just start. Don't wait for genius to strike. You'll figure out what you want to do and how it works for you as you go along.

The one big downside, however, is the corporatisation of the high street. Brighton was once stacked with independent bookshops, now (with one remaining exception) there's just book supermarkets. But then again it's that desultory, clone-town backdrop against which your zine will glimmer like a glimmering thing...

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