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Friday, November 08, 2019

Comic Cuts - 8 November 2019

David Roach, John Freeman, Jenni Scott and Julia Round talk comics
I don't get out to many conventions these days. If I had the money, I'd go to more, but for the past twenty or so years, I've saved whatever I could while I was working in order to write books that I want to write. I had a good few years in the nineties (editing and managing three magazines at one point, plus freelance work) which has financed quite a few years of not earning much. The noughties have been feast or famine, stockpiling as much as I could during the good years to finance Bear Alley Books. It might not be everyone's idea of a career, but it has allowed me to write about comics and lost authors without having to worry about the size of the audience.

With the UK Comic Art Convention coming to a close in the late Nineties, there were no dedicated national comic conventions for some time. Then others began to pop up, until now there are at least a dozen conventions, some large (Lakes, Think Bubble, the MCM Comic Con) and many more local and smaller scale events. John Freeman's Down the Tubes lists dozens of conventions.

Hiding out in the wilds of north Essex, I do sometimes feel a bit isolated from  the hubbub of comics research happening at various universities around the country (Dundee, Manchester, Brighton, to name just three), but a lot of the research is turning up on the internet first through the Comics UK Forum, and then websites like Misty and A Resource on Jinty. John Freeman's Down the Tubes has been running since 1999, Lew Stringer's Blimey was established in December 2006 and my own Bear Alley beat it into the world by a few months, my first post appearing on 15 August 2006.

That first post explained the origin of the name – Bear Alley – and that I had spent 25 years trying to reconstruct some of the records that had once been held there. Thirteen years and some 5,000 posts on, we are still making discoveries. I wrote a post about some I and others were involved in back in 2015 which makes the point about how frustrating it can be just missing an opportunity to talk to someone about their work, or the work of a family member. When researching Boy's World I missed talking to its first editor's brother by three weeks. But the research continues and recently a new name, previously unknown, came to light. Although nothing is yet known about girls' artist Don Walker, it may now be possible to credit some of his work, strips like 'Backstage Betty' and 'Chained to her Racket' in Judy, and dozens of other strips in Debbie, Mandy, and Bunty.

This was, in part, what we were talking about last Saturday (well, I was... whether that came across I don't know). Comics Jam was a small gathering of forty or so people who have for the most part been involved in writing about comics, whether from an academic point of view or an obsessively fannish one (guess where I fall on the scale), preserving their memory and preserving them physically.

The symposium was held at the Cartoon Museum in Wells Street (off Oxford Street), London, which I had never visited since it moved. It now has an excellent gallery space to display more material, and I was told that there are plans to expand the amount of comic strip art to bring it up to around 50% of the artwork on display

Steve Marchant, Fanny Lefevre and other staffers worked tirelessly to keep the small but friendly crowd fed and watered. Along with Peter Hansen, who had the thankless task of herding the participants into the correct cat boxes and getting them to London, this little team deserve everyone's thanks for making the day pass so smoothly. I believe Chris Murray, who also had his own small team from the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies (University of Dundee) that included Megan Sinclair, Zu Dominiak and Anya Morozova, was also part of the organizers who did all the heavy lifting along with the Comics Research Hub (University of the Arts, London) – if I've missed anyone, my apologies.

After an introduction from Steve Marchant and an astonishing video trip around Peter Hansen's collection, panel one was chaired by Phillip Vaughan, and included Julia Round, Chris Murray, Jenni Scott, John Freeman and David Roach. The format was far chattier than I had expected (who knew academics would ignore the strict timetable laid out which included time for questions at the end 😀) and soon drifted into areas that I'd hoped to cover myself in the second round-table.

Typically, I had overprepared and had written an opening statement, introductions, and questions for various panel members. I should have known that panels can turn into a free-for-all and the topics were so broad (The Story of British Comics, Celebrating and Preserving British Comics) that they would allow a lot of topic-drift and could go anywhere. I think this actually turned out to be a good thing, and after a brief attempt to get it off to a (slightly) structured start to get us going, I tried to keep up the momentum of the first panel with the second.

With both panels overrunning, the schedule tightened towards the end of  the afternoon as Phillip Vaughan spoke to Dave Gibbons, Julia Round quizzed Posy Simmons and Peter Hansen managed a question or three aimed at Jonathan Ross, who came to the conversation live from Belfast via Skype as he had had a last minute change of plans.

The good news: the panels were recorded by Alex Fitch for Resonance FM and will be available at some point through the Panel Borders podcast. There's also a chance that Phillip Vaughan recorded some material for the Comics Scene podcast... I'm guessing that the best place for any news in that direction will be the Facebook page.

I'll leave you with some photos taken at the event. Was anything achieved? I think so... the very act of opening a dialogue between people of the same mind is always a good first step. There are ideas and notions floating about that might become reality in the not-too-distant future. Discovering what exists is, again, a vital first step to making it available to a wider audience, whether it is what's in these old comics and storypapers that could be reprinted or what artwork has survived and how and where it can be displayed.

This is a topic we will come back to, I'm sure.

Peter Hansen and Chris Murray introduce the event
Guy Lawley signs the register...
Alex Fitch scratches his head...
David Roach on the phone, Richard Sheaf looks on...
Hannah Berry, Rob Power and Jenni Scott
Phillip Vaughan interviews Dave Gibbons
Julia Round interviews Posy Simmons
Jonathan Ross: Live from Belfast via Skype

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