The Safari Festival 2015 was billed as “a celebration of the new wave of alternative and art comics from the UK and beyond…. and for attendees to experience the best of the UK comics’ avant-garde”. Run by the team behind the ever intriguing Breakdown Press , in partnership with Berlin-based comics collective Treasure Planet and the Latvian anthology kuš!, held in the ultra trendy Shoreditch area of East London, it did indeed feature some interesting works.
This was the second installment of this festival and featured the launch of Another Blue Planet from Breakdown, written and drawn by Jonathan Chandler.
Notable to me is that the days of the purely navel gazing autobiographical comic have gone and made way for the psychedelic, trippy, twisted visuals of the current crop of London’s small press crowd. (Maybe LSD made a comeback and somebody forgot to tell me?) The world of the small press is beginning in some parts to imitate the great 1960s gig posters of bands like The Grateful Dead, The 13th Floor Elevators and the like, and he tables, walls and T-shirts of the Safari Crowd reflect the trends in comics and illustration. they wear them proudly and without a trace of irony…
I arrived at 11am at the venue of Protein in New Inn Yard, Shoreditch at the event’s announced opening time, a smallish wharehouse venue with a bustling coffee shop/cafe next door. The venue was signposted by a series of cool and bright posters and chalk pavement writings. As I entered, many of the tables were still in the process of setting up but why be on time? That’s so 1990s (man)!!!
Thankfully, there to ease my old bloke grumpiness was the ever professional Simon Moreton. I grabbed a copy of Monument Road (his new mini comic), which tells stories of his travels throughout the UK with his signature minimalistic poetry. If you haven’t seen something by Simon, he is a creator that is well worth investigating.
He was also there representing Retrofit Comics, a small press outfit from Philadelphia in the United States whose print editions are distributed by Impossible Books in the UK, a mail order company that specialises in independent and small press comics. (Intriguingly, you can also subscribe to digital editions of Retrofit’s titles, an interesting model that DTT head old bloke John Freeman suggests would encourage some entertaining sampling of creators you might not necessarily discover otherwise). I grabbed a copy of Drawn Onward, also offered as a PDF as part of their 2015 subscription through which you’ll get 11 other comics for only $35, by Matt Madden – a romance comic set (mostly) in an underground station.
• Retrofit Comics can be found at www.retrofitcomics.com and on Twitter @retrofitcomics
I picked up a copy of the nightmarishly squidgy comic Coma Deep from Brigid Deacon under the imprint of Eyeball Comix, a humourously horrific A4-sized black and white comic that is full of heavily inked and bold pages. I was immediately taken with the accomplished pages and the depths of depravity of the images and storytelling. Eye plucking, body fluids, nipples, anthropomorphic spots and some excellent free-form swearing inhabit this one of a kind comic. Reminiscent of Charles Burns, Beanworld and Lord Horror all mixed up with modern-day sensibilities, this was a welcome surprise. Highly recommended.
As the heat of this August Saturday grew so did the crowds (why get up early?). New creators turned up and bagged quarter tables for themselves and as I did my second circuit it was great to see that new stock was appearing. I kept catching sight of one of the organisers Tom Oldham working the crowd and the media.
It was great to catch up with DTT favourite Julia Scheele who was there representing not only her own comics but those of the One Beat Zines feminist zine-making collective. A group of enthusiastic creators who publish ‘cheap-and-cheerful zines’. I grabbed a copy of Julia’s new short story comic called I wished I was Married to the Sea. Julia’s art is always a joy to read. Clean strong lines and confident storytelling that always pleases the eye and mind.
• One Beat Zines can be found at www.onebeatzines.com or if you want to get involved you can contact them at email@example.com
It was great to meet Matt Swan (no, that’s definitely Matt – he just looks a little bit like Simon Moreton) and grab a copy of Parsley Girl: Minotaur, the story of green-skinned Parsley Girl who battles a Minotaur in the snowy peaks of Tibet. This unsual tale of teenage angst (not really) is a multi-coloured bash ’em up with weird midget people, elephants who experiment on people and transforming bi-planes. All in an A4 format for only £4.00. Great stuff.
• You can find more out about Matt and this nutty world at www.matthewdanielswan.com
Shaky Kane was also at the event, selling some magnificently huge prints of his art. A mainstay of both the mainstream and the indie comix scene, his work has been catching eyes and twisting melons for decades. It was great to see how appreciated he was with lines for his work.
• You can find more about the man at www.shakykane.com
Overall, I’d have to say that the day wasn’t perfect. The event’s venue has possibly been outgrown by the attendance and there were some books on sale that could have done with a little bit more attention to detail. (I found a comic that literally had a spelling mistake on every page). But on the whole it is events like Safari Festival that are keeping the London (and beyond) small press scene vibrant and interesting. Apart from a few vendors, who find it hard to actually speak, most were friendly and passionate. If you are into imaginative and out of the ordinary comics and art then pop along next year to this event.
• Presumably, Another Blue World will soon be available from the Breakdown Press online store as well as available through comic shops stocking their titles, such as London’s Gosh! Comics. Jonathan Chandler has launched a companion blog for Another Blue World to record “some of the splinter worlds and character variations published in other places from over the years”
Many thanks for reading.
This year’s exhibitors included: Anti Ghost Studio (Babak Ganjei, Rob Flowers, Tim Stevens), Breakdown Press (Joe Kessler,Antoine Cossé, Richard Short, Zoë Taylor), Calm & Collected Studio, Comic Book Slumber Party, Comics Workbook(Will Tempest, Liam Cobb, Tom Kemp), Decadence Comics (Lando, Stathis Tsemberlidis), Donya Todd, Eleni Kalorkoti, Esther McManus, Eyeball Comix,Famicon Express (Leon Sadler, Stefan Sadler, Jon Chandler), Faye Coral Johnson,Good Press, Grace Wilson, Isaac Lenkiewicz, Jack Teagle, James Jarvis, Jazz Dad Books, Joseph P Kelly, Kus!, Landfill Editions, Laura Callaghan, Marijpol, Matt Swan, Mike Redmond, Mothership, Nous Vous, One Beat Zines, Otto Press, Sina Sparrow, Treasure Fleet (Aisha Franz, Sharmila Banerjee) and Will Sweeney
Antony Esmond is a comic reviewer and writer – his hips don’t lie.