It was the year 2006. The Basque separatist group Eta announced a ceasefire, The Notorious Big featuring Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge and Avery Storm were riding high in the charts, and Big Momma’s house 2 was opening in cinemas to widespread critical acclaim.
And somewhere in Dewsbury, a young artist calling himself Shug, was feverishly photocopying issue 24 of Reet Magazine. This issue marked the two-year anniversary of the monthly free 8-page antho, but Shugs determination showed no symptoms of waning, sweat dripped from his muscular head as he fed more paper into the steaming copier.
Seven years later Reet magazine seems like a dispatch from a lost golden age. The very idea that you could have a completely self-funded free monthly anthology that lasted five years seems frighteningly heroic, and not the sort of thing anyone would do in the cutthroat climate of 2013.
Each issue of Reet seems to be 50 – 80% the work of Shug, over the issues its possible to watch his work develop in various directions, from the excellent ‘Jenny’s Weird Friend’ and ‘Barbs’ to his chortlesome editorial interventions and pub based autobiographical anecdotes.
Indeed ‘The Pub’ that ubiquitous presence in the minds of every Britisher forms the central context for everything that happens in Reet. Almost every story seems to take place in, around, going to or coming back from ‘The Pub’ and to involve characters met there, escaped from there or whom you wouldn’t want to go there with. Even the amount of time it takes to read Reet, seems to snugly coincide with the minimum amount of time needed to sup a surreptitious pint without the missus finding out.
Shug plugs the gaps between his pages with an array of comic talent which seems to have all been found on MySpace. Many of the best don’t seem to be around any more and don’t show up on Google searches, but there are others that are still with us like, Al Maceachern whose lovely illustrations provide a gentle counterpoint to Shug’s abrasive northern wit.
Also present is the wonderful Joe Decie whose unique take on the world will be recognizable to his many fans in this example from issue 36.
Like all good things however Reet Magazine had to come to an end, and 2009 saw the inevitable betrayal of Reet’s egalitarian distribution model, with Shug travelling south to prosperous London and cynically sticking 20p stickers over the bit on the cover that said free. Shocking.
But when the history of comics in Dewsbury comes to be written, the word Reet will be embossed upon the hearts of men, in letters of gold. It had the anarchic qualities of early Viz, tempered with a dry wit and sharp eye, most importantly it was an early outlet for the juvenilia of artist that are still doing comics today, and perhaps it’s legacy remains to be felt.
Revisiting these early issues of Reet Magazine really should make Shug squirm – squirm with pride!