Comic creator Gareth Brookes reports on the Alternative Press Festival, which took place in London earlier this month…
The Alternative Press Festival took place between the 29th of July and the 2nd of August. The idea was to try to draw together different branches of small press to see what we could learn from other scenes, and experiment with different ways of organising events and getting work out to the public.
The first event was the ‘Publish You’ Anthology Book Launch at Housmans Radical Booksellers. We had put together this book to showcase the best of small press comics, zines, illustration, art books, poetry and radical literature. We wanted it to be a really professionally put together and nicely designed book that would attract people that didn’t know about small press and make them aware of the quality and scope of the scene.
On the night there was a discussion on the subject of ‘Creativity for its own sake’, which focused on the benefits of DIY culture to the individual and to society in general, and another on ‘Developing an Audience’ which addressed how we can break down preconceptions and get the public more interested in small press.
So far the book is now available in these London bookshops: Foyles, Gosh, Orbital Comics, Housmans and the Bookartbookshop. You can also order it from my website: www.appallingnonsense.co.uk.
The ‘are you zine friendly?’ brought together creators from the world of zine culture. Anyone who wanted to could bring their work down to the Foundry and sell it on communal tables.
The response to this exceeded our highest expectations, within an hour the space was full and we had to improvise various methods of displaying and distributing work. Despite this, the atmosphere was very friendly as people met up, made contacts and swapped work. All the music on the night was made by small press creators and we had a zine wall in the form of a hanging book made of canvas, which people contributed to liberally.
In the long term the aim of ‘are you zine friendly?’ is to try to effect a return to the methods of zine distribution that happened in the 80’s and early 90’s where you couldn’t go to a gig without being approached by zine makers selling their ware’s out of carrier bags. Times have changes since then but we hope that by identifying ‘zine friendly venues’ that are open to hosting small press events, we will make it easier for people to distribute their zines.
The next night was ‘A Spoken Night Out’ at the Griffin. This focused on the spoken word, there were readings by poets both unknown and established (John Citizen, John ‘Jazzman’ Clarke, Fran Isherwood and Burgess the Rhymer), some zine readings and a bit of stand up comedy. Of all the events this was perhaps the one most outside the experience of most of the comics and zine makers that attended the other events, yet in terms of the aims of the Festival it was one of the most effective.
From the poets I spoke to I got the sense that the evening opened them up to the idea of making a zine or comic to compliment their readings, and the comic and zine makers discovered an immediate way of getting a response to their writing which made them think about their writing more. The event certainly established a connection between the two scenes. Expect more in the future.
Saturday was the day of the Collaborama!. The Miller Pub in London Bridge was transformed into a comics and zines workshop. There were stalls where small press creators sold their work, but the focus of the event was the Leeds based Footprinter Co-op who brought down a Risograph machine to print the Collaborama publication.
This 80-page zine was written, drawn, printed, collated and stapled between 11am and 5pm. 300 copies were made which we then began to distribute among the public. We wanted to get some of the best talents in small press in the same room with the means to produce a publication and then step back and see what happened.
The result was a great little zine, in which works by people who had turned up to the event not really knowing much about small press, sit alongside pieces by veteran creators such as Paul Rainey and Tom Humberston.
While this was going on the upstairs, space was used for screen-printing and comic making workshops and there was music from the Anti-Folk collective. In the evening, Resonance FM’s Radio Orchestra performed a piece which was interpreted live on overhead projectors by two teams of small press creators, including Mark Oliver, Dave Landers, Steve Tillotson, Jimi Gherkin, Sina Shamsavari, Paul Ashley Brown, Kate McMorrine and Zarina Liew.
Sunday saw us back at St Aloysius Social Club for the second Alternative Press Fair, although it was a less experimental affair than some of the previous events, we still wanted it to reflect those aims we had established for the festival as a whole, so we made sure all branches of small press were represented and had a table which was open to anyone who came along with a publication on the day.
The Fair was well attended with a very nice atmosphere, and offered a chance to really get to know some of the people who had come to the other events. There was a real feeling that we had raised public awareness in small press (the festival had been publicised in the London Paper, the Guardian, Artrocker Magazine and on Resonance FM) but also had increased the awareness of creators to those artists working in other areas of small press. We also hope that we showed that its possible to get a bunch of people together to do some events that break out of the usual small press convention format, and that more artists will be encouraged to do interesting events that contribute to the self publishing scene.
Since then we have all been very tired but we have at least one event pencilled in before the end of the year, so keep an eye on www.alternativepress.org.uk!
• The Alternative Press Festival was organised by Jimi Gherkin, Peter Lally, Gareth Brookes, Saban Kazim Ceri May and Chris Bateson, but many people helped out and deserve a thank you so thank you everyone!
• ‘Publish You’ is now available in Foyles, Gosh, Orbital, Housmans and the Bookartbookshop as well as Gareth’s website (www.appallingnonsense.co.uk)