UK small press in the 70s + 80s

     the trouble with 70s + 80s small press publications especially in the UK is that they frequently did not compare well with the mainstream media alongside which they appeared 1 the trouble with 70s + 80s small press publications especially in the UK is that they frequently did not compare well with the mainstream media alongside which they appeared

they attracted a readership nevertheless primarily because they provided a critique of + an alternative to mainstream comics.  basically this readership had no option but to buy these magazines regardless of how badly executed they were because they were the only publications available that had anything to say about comics

the small press from this period seems to have achieved those primary functions half the time by publishing the work of new artists + writers, + the other half of the time by keeping out of print material alive by discussing it somehow (an interview with an artist, a retrospective article) or even just reprinting it

either way, in an ephemeral medium they showed comic readers options apart from whatever was currently being published, + they stood or fell on how successfully their contributors managed that

the contributors themselves on the other hand were by + large looking for professional work in the industry (this was less true in the mid -> late 80s).  egs of people who started here + ended up earning a living producing comics include dave gibbons, kevin o’neill etc

hindsight is now using the body of work UK small press has left us with pretty much solely as evidence of the prehistory of artists + writers who have since become famous, + the mainstream appears to be absorbing into itself material which ran parallel to it, + may originally have been critical of or otherwise noticeably different to it

perhaps all this UK small press material needs to be evaluated by comparing it with what was in the newsagents the year it was published, rather than with whatever some of its contributors went on to do in the future.  such an evaluation might discover a sort of (patchy, disorganised, spare time) avant garde movement running through it

people like grant morrison + alan moore do not look like they have ever wanted to be absorbed by the comics industry – they clearly set out to alter it, or at least add another dimension to it.  note the phrase ‘avant garde’ sounded wrong in the paragraph above but appears more apt in this one

     there is a further function performed by self publishing magazines peripheral to the comics industry: recording things comic readers thought at the time.  what was current affairs then is history now, trivial statements by people about their opinions show us what was considered worth putting into print by what nowadays (since the internet) would be recognised as a community

an example follows:

the letter above (from fantasy advertiser 47, jan 1973) is part of a discourse about how to price back issues in the early 70s which eventually led to alan austin publishing the first UK comic book price guide

this is what I’ve been leading up to:

I first met alan about 20 years ago, only ever saw him roughly ten times a year at comic shows, wondered why he hadn’t been about recently (2017) + discovered he had died

a random sampling of things we talked about when he was alive includes

  • him being annoyed by a documentary where 70s TV shows aimed at a blue collar audience were being slagged off by people with degrees who weren’t there + didn’t understand the context
  • me mentioning my dad had a snore which could wake the dead + him telling me his dad could have belched for the olympics
  • him describing a batman cover on a magazine he published himself in the 70s that kevin o’neill drew.  (I think that was during a conversation about what might have happened to the original art for the comicon 78 programme)
  • me trying to talk about some high quality comic book story which ought to be better known, + him coming back with the fact that although a lot of the golden age superhero scripts were not all that good the submariner’s origin from number 1 of marvel comics was a genuinely great story.  I was trying to work out if I had read that (I remember seeing namor punching a deep sea diver + squashing his brass helmet) + it turned out alan used to own a copy.  ‘how many copies of that are there known to exist’‘about 25’ + he carried on with what he was saying

very few people leave comments on this site – alan did what everyone else does: read something + spoke to me about it in person next time we met.  if he had left a short piece of writing here it would have been valuable for a lot of reasons.  as he didn’t, I’ve hunted out the letter above + uploaded it myself, + also the list of comics for sale reproduced below in case it interests anyone to see what eg fantastic four 48 used to sell for in 1971

addendum may 2018

#      on the subject of using the small press to find people appearing in it who went on to become more widely known

there are a couple of threads in the two issues of fantasy advertiser mentioned above which eventually come together in early 2000ads

there is a rumour going around on the letters page in # 47 about a new version of dan dare ‘… jim baikie is working on a new dan dare strip …’ + ‘… have you heard anything along the corridors of power at IPC as to when the new eagle is due out …’

+ in # 38 steve moore states during a review of graphic fantasy 2 that he is sick of EC horror comics: ‘some day someone will realise that EC comics have been gone for 15 years and it is about time somebody tried something new’

assuming it’s the same steve moore, he went on to write the first two dan dare stories in 2000ad starting in feb 1977 where he tried something new himself + came up with amongst other things the biogs + the skash

(c) IPC 1977

monsters which could hardly be less like EC’s style of scare + still look like unique designs 40 years on

#      there is a site hosting downloadable pdfs of UK small press publications

I still suspect there is a uniquely british comic book art movement in amongst all that somewhere, but having just sampled a few mags at random it looks like if it’s there you would have to really dig to find it


This entry was posted in assigning values to comic books, small press comics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s