I’m about to do something cruel and unusual. Over the coming weeks I’ll be revealing some of the embarrassing juvenilia of a few of the UK’s favourite alternative comics creators. The point of doing so is not entirely to enjoy the spectacle of their cringing, but more to celebrate the development of them as artists and of UK alternative comics in general. Hopefully this series will also do a small part to encourage the young and scared, by demonstrating that even the best comics talent began their journey with clumsy uncertainty.
I’m going to begin with those who I know probably won’t mind, and cautiously move through to those who probably will.
Episode 1 – Steve Tillotson
Steve Tillotson has been around since 2005 producing titles such a Banal Pig and Manly Boys and appearing in Off Life and The Comix Reader . At the end of last year he came second in the prestigious Jonathan Cape Observer Graphic Short Story Prize, and is currently hard at work on his
graphic novel ‘Untitled Apes Epic Adventure’.
But go back in time to 2002 and things were very different. The Coral were riding high in the charts, EU members had just converted to the Euro and Star Wars Episode 2 was causing widespread disappointment in cinemas. And Steve and I were both fresh faced students at London’s RCA hoping to grow up to be real artists, like Damien Hirst or Banksy.
And indeed this is how things may have transpired, had not one of the tutors, aggrieved by the lack of use of the Photo Litho facilities suggested that we all make a comic as a bit of fun.
The reaction to this suggestion is typical of the rather arrogant attitude of fine artists to this low and populist form of entertainment. Although some to their credit tackled the task properly and, as a result, produced reasonably good comics, most, (myself included) saw it as ‘easy’, a right laugh and a welcome break from straining our intellect with the lofty preoccupations of high art.
Considering that it came out of one of the most prestigious arts institutions in the world and had among its contributors Royal Academicians, ‘Comic’ as it was imaginatively entitled was a jaw dropping failure. Frankly it wouldn’t stand up to any small press comics anthology made today, and most of it’s contributors, for all their success in the Fine Art sphere had no idea about comics at all, and in some cases clearly didn’t know what one was. For its first (and last) issue the theme of ‘Comic’ was War though you would hardly know it from reading its contents.
But to connoisseurs of UK comics, ‘Comic’ is interesting in one respect; it contains the first appearance of Banal Pig. Here he is in his scratchily rendered first adventure, changing channels and waiting for a bus.
On another page, Steve makes some attempt to engage with the theme and produces a character of lesser longevity; Sublime Dog, a dog that turns up at the world’s great disasters looking sublime.
And for what it’s worth here’s my sad effort, it’s the first page of a story about suburban bullying. Notice the complete disregard for page structure and the Lichenstein-esque appropriation of other peoples work, which of course I was using as part of a post modern recontextualising and not because, having spent six years at art school, I was crap at drawing.
So there we have it, the first blast from the past. Join me next time for a look through the pages of Yorkshire’s legendary and sadly missed Reet! magazine.