Friday, December 29, 2006
We called them Stripzines
Today, "small press comics" are a prominent and healthy part of the comics industry. Numerous small press creators have tables at comics conventions (enough to fill a hall at the recent Birmingham Comics Show) and the comics are available to buy online from websites such as www.smallzone.co.uk and enginecomics.co.uk. They even have their own conventions, such as Caption.
Back in the 1970's we called them "stripzines", but the concept was the same: amateur, non-profit comics produced by people who (usually) were not yet ready for professional work but who wanted to test their creative muscles and receive feedback. Our efforts were often crude, but through feedback and advice from our readers (some of whom were comics pros) we we able to slowly improve.
I first discovered comics fanzines and stripzines in 1976, and produced my first effort, After Image in late 1978 (cover dated Jan 1979) at the age of 19. The front cover and one of its strips is reproduced here. (Click on images for full size pages.)
As anyone can see, my early attempts at comics were bloody awful. The front cover, (where I was actually trying to draw "realistically" as opposed to "cartoony") shows a poor grasp of anatomy and lighting. The strip, Myron Knuckleshort is flawed in every panel, the script is shamefully naivé, and the artwork inconsistent and sloppy. (Although the, quite literal, toilet humour predates the arrival of Viz by a year.)
Despite the many flaws of After Image, response was mostly favourable. But I knew they were just being kind; saying what they thought I wanted to hear, not what I needed to hear.
I paid more attention to the critics. The ones who made valid comments about my poor inking, or undisciplined lettering, or the numerous other artistic sins I was committing to paper. Back then, I didn't even know which direction to go in "art wise"; humour or adventure. I settled on humour, and started to develop that. It was a slow process and I didn't sell my first professional cartoon until 1983, five years after the strip above was drawn. And even then I was still learning. Still am, come to that, as are all of us. Complacency only breeds stagnation.
This "artwork" is an embarrassment to look back on now, but it was created in a happy environment; my first steps into comics, and my first venture into the comics community. The enthusiasm we had back then is still evident within the small press of today. Looking at what's on offer now (from the aforementioned websites) standards of the small press have definitely improved on the whole. Thirty years ago most of us wanted to use our stripzines as a springboard into mainstream comics. Today, the small press is a distinguished and respected part of comics in its own right.
I'll be showcasing some old stripzine and fanzine covers here in a future blog but for now have a read of Myron Knuckleshort and The Case of the Exploding Toilets and feel my shame. ;-)