Friday, September 28, 2018

SWF 2018 - interview with Paul Gravett Part 2

Here's Part 2 of my interview with Paul Gravett who is coming for SWF in Nov. Check out his two events here:

As I typed this now, Paul is on his way to Taiwan, his first trip there after writing about Taiwanese comics for years. The work of a comics evangelist never ends.

The first part of the interview is here:

9. I visited Comics Unmasked, the big exhibition on British comics, at The British Library in 2014. How does Mangasia compare to Comics Unmasked in terms of scale and scope, etc?

Comics Unmasked was another turning point for me, and I owe so much to co-curator John Harris Dunning for knocking the door of The British Library at just the right moment to get us inside! We made a Dynamic Duo! Mangasia is bigger as we show nearly 300 originals as well as rare printed matter, paintings, fashion, videos, paintings, more complex as it spans many countries and histories, longer-lasting as it is touring worldwide for 5 years max, and we have some stunning impact pieces too, not least the inflatable sculpture by Aya Takano at over 6 metres tall and an interactive mecha robot on a giant screen! Both shows, however, show and tell things about comics that have not been done before.

10. Mangasia, your biggest show to date and travelling around the world for 5 years – pitch it to us in 10 words.

A mind-expanding voyage into Asian Comics’ diversity and dynamism.

11. Okay, I’m sold. How did that come about?

First came the opportunity, after the Comics Unmasked exhibition and book for The British Library in 2014, for me to develop a new book for Thames & Hudson. They were interested in manga, as was I. But I wanted to expand the exploration to contextualise Japanese comics in the much bigger landscape of Asian comics and they gave this the green light. Shortly after, Barbican International Enterprises approached me, again thanks to the BL show, to develop a comics exhibition as part of their range of touring exhibitions. I told them about my new book and they immediately saw its potential as their next exhibition. It’s taken since then to bring everything together in October 2017, when the book was published in English, French, Korean and Italian and the exhibition began its proposed five-year world tour in Rome at the stunning Palazzo delle Esposizioni.

12. Sounds like the Comics Unmasked exhibition at The British Library was indeed a turning point.
There were so many Asian creators to be featured in Mangasia - how did you choose? What was the criteria and curatorial framework?

Some key criteria were that the comics had to be created by Asian artists in Asia and for Asian readers - so not for the American, French or other markets, and not by Asian artists based outside of Asia. Another was that we were less interested in direct imitations of Western characters or themes - such as manga Batman. Another rule was the work must have originated as a comic, so we were less interested in comics versions of other media, for example adapting TV shows. We are also showing Asian comics in their original language, and only in English if they were originally published in English (or English was one of a number of languages the work came out in).

We were not totally strict and inflexible in applying these criteria, but they gave us some guidelines. By organising and filtering the exhibition into six quite broad themes - An Introductory ‘Mapping’, Fables & Folklore, History, The Artist’s Processes and Lives, Censorship, and Multimedia crossovers - we could seek out strong, distinctive, diverse, original, representative, high-quality examples that also fitted well thematically. Connections, comparisons, contrasts, counterpoints, contradictions, all were helpful in searching and selecting.

©Nicolas Joubard for le lieu unique

13. Obviously there was a lot of international collaboration (Hikmat Darmawan from Indonesia, Nicolas Versatppen from Thailand and Gerry Alanguilan from the Philippines, to name a few). In 2011, you wrote 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die, which featured contributors from Asia. And you have been featuring the annual best of world comics list on your website for years. When and how did this awareness of Asian comics come about? At which point did you move beyond North America and Europe? (John Lent is the other one I know who has been plugging this away..)

You too were a vital part of Team Mangasia, Ct! From the start, for the book and exhibition, I relied hugely on my networks of friends, some I have yet to meet in person, who share my passion for understanding the wealth of fascinating comics around the world. They bring an essential foundation of expertise, taste and insight. One key early influence on my desire to learn about comics from Asia and indeed all over the world was reading, entry by entry, a library copy of Maurice Horn’s World Encyclopedia of Comics. That was truly mind-expanding. So too have been my annual pilgrimages since 1984 to the Angoulême International Comics Festival, the hub of world comics. I’m lucky to read French, a comics culture like no other, with more translations of international comics than any other, as well as some German, Spanish and Italian. And I can always look at the pictures! And John Lent remains a vital inspiration to me - I was so pleased that he could be there at the exhibition’s opening in Rome - and I could introduce him for the first time to comics creators from Mongolia.

14. And as a result of that, John visited Mongolia recently to interview artists for his new book on political cartooning in Asia. Networks and connections.
What is the most surprising find from doing this show? (could be a creator, a comic series or artwork)

Too many to list, too hard to choose just one. I’d say that it was a delight to be able to find comics artists in countries where the medium is nowhere near as developed and vast as Japan. I mentioned Mongolia, but we also found present-day creators making comics for example in Cambodia, North Korea, two in Bhutan (one retired), and one from Tibet. And it was a thrill that The Barbican could commission two new, hand-painted, wooden ‘kaavads’ from folk artists in Rajasthan, India. These are compact, portable shrines that work as visual accompaniments to live spoken storytelling and literally unfold their stories by opening door after door of comics-like panels.

15. Finally, back to the UK. What is the future of British comics?

Continuing surprises, growing diversity. Who would have thought that a graphic novel would be long-listed this year for the Man Booker Prize? Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina is American, but it marks the first graphic novel published by Granta Books and bodes well. Other non-specialist and literary publishing houses are also releasing their first graphic novel, such as Virago and Profile. Away from the graphic novel, the so-called small or independent presses, and their online equivalents, are more prolific and productive than ever. Some of the greatest work is in short-form and often self-published comics, essential spaces for innovation, self-expression, experimentation. The remarkable contributions of women continue to expand the medium, as will increasing diversity and inclusivity, hopefully from more of the UK’s Asian population and other under-represented voices too. And this will all be helped by crowd-funding, Patreon support, awards, competitions, and grants from the Arts Council of England, Creative Scotland and other bodies. Britain is not France, let alone Japan, and it’s not easy making a living by making comics your own way, but the talent and drive are here and are unstoppable.

16. What’s next for you in the promotion of comics appreciation and reading?

I’m immersed in webcomics right now, curating an exhibition for next month’s 2nd Busan Webtoon Festival in Korea about innovative Korean and international digital comics, from Scott McCloud to Augmented Reality! And I’ve completed a monograph on the brilliant Posy Simmonds, to be published next Spring to launch a new Thames & Hudson series on illustrators, in association with House of Illustration. And to coincide, I am curating two exhibitions of Posy Simmonds work, for HoI in London and PULP Festival in Paris. Also on the horizon, co-curating next year an exhibition on where comics go next…

17. What’s next for comics scholarship in general? (The Comics Studies Society just had their first conference at Champaign, Illinois)

The flourishing of conferences, journals, research, books, festivals etc. is incredibly encouraging and stimulating. I’d like to see even more connectivity and collaboration internationally (and that is one of the motivations behind Mangasia - and really behind everything I do - and you too, I think, Ct?). We can all learn so much from each other and today that’s more important than ever.

18. Can comics really be mirrors for change? (this is the talk Paul is giving on 4 Nov 2018 and it will moderated by Ian Gordon)

Totally, and Sonny Liew’s acclaim in Singapore is evidence of that. I think it’s because cartoon art in its many forms can be very persuasive and influence how we see ourselves and others, for better or for worse as well. At their best, comics can build empathy and understanding, but they can also distort, divide and demonise. The medium is powerful, in part because (in print at least) it doesn’t go away, you can’t swipe or click it away, you can return over and over to its fixed images and text. In our ephemeral Floating World of spin, that staying power is strong. Great cartoonists can make difficult, unsettling stories and experiences accessible and relatable through their comics. The world is a little bit wiser thanks to Spiegelman’s Maus, Satrapi’s Persepolis, Mattotti’s Fires and with every other work of humane, enriching comics.

19. I believe this will be your first trip to Singapore? What do you want to see (that you have heard about) or eat?

Most of all I want to get to know the assorted local comics communities, visit studios, publishers, archives and collections, discover the huge Kinokuniya and lots of surprises too!

20. What is your favourite comics of all time?

On my reading table at this moment are: Slum Wolf by Tadao Tsuge, Vol 2 of Ken Reid’s Complete Power Pack Comics, Follow Me In by Katriona Chapman, Herbert Crowley: The Temple of Silence, Panorama de la BD Chinoise exhibition catalogue, The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson, Tetra by Malcolm McNeill, and Austin English’s new zine ‘But is it… Comic Aht?’. My apologies, but my curiosity is too insatiable to narrow down to one favourite. Even ‘1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die’ was not enough! Plurality in comics, in people, in life, is my favourite thing.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Interview with French Comics Writer Regis Hautiere

September has a good month for comics. We have STGCC and AFCC, and then IAF last weekend (and if you were in Jakarta, there was Popcon Asia). To end it off, the Alliance Francaise (AF) has brought in the writer of La guerre des Lulus, Regis Hautiere. To me, it’s important we get more comic writers in to share with us their craft. We have many visiting comic artists in the past for workshops and some masterclasses, but we need more writers, editors and others from the comics industry to grow the ecosystem.

To side track: this year’s SWF will see more comic writers coming in – Mariko Tamaki and Margaret Stohl. I will be writing more about them soon. And if you are interested in the industry, check this out:

But I digress.

So who is Regis?

Régis Hautière is a French comic book writer with an impressively eclectic bibliography; he has published many award-winning books. In early 2013, he teamed up with illustrator Hardoc to create the comic series, La guerre des Lulus.

It’s about this four orphans who took to the streets and the forests to survive during WWI. You can learn more about this series here: (hope you understand French)

In any case, I will be moderating a dialogue between him and Cheah Sinann (The Bicycle - published by Epigram Books in 2014 and translated to French by La Boite à Bulles in 2017) as I’ll get them to talk about writing comics set in the two world wars of the 20th Century. Many might have forgotten that 2018 marks the centennial of the end of WWI. Many books and events have been written and organized to commemorate the Great War that failed to end all wars. But history books can only tell us so much. Comic books offer new ways of looking at WWI and WWII and the ravages of war. In the case of Regis and Sinann, they have chosen to portray German and Japanese soldiers in a non-stereotypical way, which might be controversial for the older folks who still remembered the atrocities of the Japanese army in the case of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore and Malaya.

Details of the events are here:

It’s held at the AF.

Date: Saturday 29 September 2018
Time: 5.45pm
Place: la médiathèque
In English | Free entrance (but do RSVP in the link above to secure your seats)

Thanks to AF (Anne-Garance and Catherine and many others) for bringing Regis in and organizing this event. Here’s a short interview with Regis and kudos to Cheryl Heng for translating. She is also the translator for the event.

Regis is obviously interested in geopolitics and the flow of capital in our present world order. It is a pity many of his books have not been translated to English. We hope it is a situation that will change soon.

How did you become a writer?

I've always loved to write. Since the age of ten, I would tell the stories I imagined through writing. However it was only later in life, when I was in my thirties, that I embarked upon writing as a professional occupation. I initially attempted writing a novel but I realized quickly that I did not have enough self-discipline to see myself through such long-term solo projects. This is the reason why I redirected myself to work as a scenario-writer for comic strips as teaming with an illustrator spurs me and gives me the moral obligation to focus on accomplishing the storyboarding. If not, the illustrator will not be able to proceed with his illustrations. I set up my earlier projects in collaboration with a group of illustrator friends who were all amateurs like myself. The great sense of achievement we gleaned from conceiving these projects convinced me that I had found my vocation. However it took four or five years before I clinched my first professional contracts and the appearance of my first books that I began to make a living out of my art.

What other series have you written?

I've written the scenarios for approximately sixty works. Some are part of a series like "La Guerre des Lulus", "Les Spectaculaires Aquablue", "Les Trois Grognards", "Heros du Peuple" ... and others are singular works told in one or two parts like "Abelard de Briques et de Sang", "Perico", "Un Homme de Joie".

What is the premise of La guerre des Lulus?

The main inspiration behind "La Guerre des Lulus" series was my daughter. I wanted to create a story where the protagonists were children, as well as my relocation to Picardie. Picardie is a French region that was greatly affected by World War I (1914-1918). Picardie was divided into two during the entire duration of the war, one portion occupied by the German troops and the other by the French and English troops. The massive scale bombardment of the region ravaged its landscape and transformed it into military cemeteries, war memorials, old trenches and mine fields or large expanses of vacant land devoid of trees. Traversing through the Picardie region, and trying to comprehend the 'raison-d'etre' of its contemporary landscape, I felt an immense urge to talk about the war which had long-term consequences in deeply transforming its landscape.

2018 is 100 years of the end of the Great War. What are your thoughts? Are we on the verge of another world war? (USA-North Korea)

Well... I hope not. And I don't think so. It is unlikely. The actions of Trump and Kim Jong-Un bring to mind two monkeys, each trying to outdo the other in proving who is the alpha-male, targeting at swaying their respective public opinion in their favour. It is in neither one's favour to spark off a war. For Kim, it would merely subject his country to massive bombardment that it is incapable of reciprocating. For Trump, it would simply trigger a major diplomatic crisis with China which has become the principal economic partner and financial backing to the US. The economies between US and China are so intricately interdependent that such a diplomatic crisis will rapidly deteriorate and lead to a financial crisis. Which is most certainly something Trump would want to avoid. Let's not forget that before becoming president, he was a businessman.

Or will the next war be trade wars (USA-China) or cyber warfare (Russia)?

This is highly probable. In fact these two wars are already taking place but they surpass the Nationalistic framework/ agenda. The capital of large multi-national companies (MNCs) is derived from multi-national investors whose interests overlap. Their profitable gains are rarely driven by Nationalistic reasons. The companies will not hesitate to uproot themselves, social seating, factories and capital to a foreign country if this proves more cost-effective. They have become so wealthy and powerful that they are in position to dictate and influence the conduct of the directors welding great power.

What's next? Will there be a sequel to La guerre des Lulus? What is the final fate of Lucien, Lucas, Luigi and Ludwig?

There will be two "Sequels".

The first is neither a prequel nor sequel, it is just a recount of how the 'Lulus' lived when they were in Germany between the Spring of 1916 and Summer of 1917. This will be told in two parts. The first part is already out in France.

The second is in chronological order following part 5. The story starts on 11 November 1918 and it allows us to find out what become of the post-war 'Lulus' and how they succeeded in reuniting. It will be written in five parts, each, being told through the eyes of each 'Lulu'. The First is told by Lucien followed by Luigi, then Luce, Lucas and finally Ludwig.

I notice most other characters are 'L' too. Luce and the villain, Leandre. Is that intentional?

Yes, it was deliberate. For 'Luce" the name starts with a 'LU" to hint at her integration with the "LULU" gang. The 'L' of Leandre was to lead one to think he could have joined the "LULU" gang but the second alphabet 'E' in his name to imply 'EXclude", hints that he is a traitor and will betray our LULU friends here.

What are some of the influences for your story? I am reminded of Au revoir les enfants and also the French comic series, Seuls (Alone).

There are many conscious and sub-conscious sources of inspirations. "Au Revoir les Enfants" and the series "Seuls" play a part of it. We can also cite " Lord of the Flies", "Peter Pan", "La Guerre des Boutons", "Les Disparus de Saint-Agil", the television series "Here Come the Double Deckers" or "Walking Dead".

What are you looking forward to in Singapore?

I look forward to discovering a part of the world that I am not at all familiar with. Travelling for me is a great source of inspiration as it allows me to better understand the world and it enriches my imagination. I often return home with new ideas, desires and of course, sometimes new stories.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

IAF 2018 - Interview with Rukmunal Hakim

I first met Rukmunal Hakim some years ago (circa 2012) at STGCC when he was boothing together with Ario Anindito. They were a pretty savvy pair because they actually attended STGCC as audience the year prior to get a sense of the convention and the market (what sells and what don't) before deciding to purchase a booth the following year. Their prints were spot on and were hot sellers. They figured out what would appeal to the STGCC crowd.

So it was good to see Hakim again at IAF when it first started 2 years ago because it was more of a natural 'home' for him.

I got the chance to chat with Hakim before the craziness start at IAF again this weekend. Do check out his booth with buddy Elfandiary and also the talk show I'm doing with them on Sunday, 23 Sept at La Salle (Room F202) from 2pm to 3 pm. It's called Illustrating in Indonesia and it should be fun. Dee Dee Rakham is helping out with the translation on that day. Tickets available here:

Can you tell us more about yourself and your work?

My name is Rukmunal Hakim. I live and work in Bintaro, South Tangerang. Not far from Jakarta. Besides being an illustrator, I am also a Visual Consultant and Creative Director for 3 Indonesian musicians. I host my own podcast channel, “Podluck Podcast”, which talks (mostly) about illustration in Indonesia. I am also the founder and Creative Director for Gesut!, a collective that moves in the realm of silkscreen prints.

My work talks about a lot of personal experience, and how it intersects with many things around me.

How did you get started?

I started drawing, learning from scratch, self-taught, at practically a late age of 25 years old. And I entered the professional world 3 years later. I’m 34 years old this year, so it’s almost 10 years since I started…

What sort of art training did you receive?

My school is the internet and my colleagues. I learned most of my skills from both.

How is your work different from others in Indonesia and the rest of the world?

It will be difficult for me to explain what is the difference in my work when compared to other artists.
I think, the difference will be seen from the background where we live, our education, family, the references to the music we listen to, the movies we watch, and so on. As a self-taught illustrator, I have a different visual language from those who have an art education. And in the end, the theme brought out will vary, even though most human problems – well, most of them - are almost the same. But the story will always be different.

Is there a Bandung scene? How is it different from Jakarta and Jogjakarta?

If we talk about the 3 major cities in Indonesia in the realm of art, namely, Jakarta, Bandung and Jogja, all three have different atmospheres. Bandung is known as a creative city, which deals directly with industry practice. Whereas Jakarta is an industry, a place where all money is located, and Jogja is a place where we can live as artists in full, and freely.

What is the power and role of illustrations in society?

Illustration is one of the disciplines of fine arts that has good adaptability with other disciplines. This is what gives illustration the special advantage and an important role. Many important and crucial things, such as aircraft safety guidelines, medical books, etc., can be better understood when there are illustrations in them. And this is only a small example where illustration has a role in society.

What do you hope to achieve with your art?

I hope more people can enjoy my work.

How many times have you attended IAF and what do you think of it?

This year is my third IAF (the second time with Elfandiary). My first event in Singapore was STGCC with Ario Anindito, and for me, IAF is more relevant to my profession. And so far the experience with IAF is very fun!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

IAF 2018 - Interview with Li Chitak

IAF is back for the third year at La Salle this weekend. We managed to invite one of my favourite HK comic artist, Li Chitak.

So who the hell is Li Chitak? You know that 1996 Jet Li action movie, Black Mask? That's based on a Li Chitak comic.

The comic is well cooler than the movie. Unfortunately, it is long out of print.

2 years ago, Chitak was honoured by Angouleme Comic Festival with a solo exhibition of his own.

Here's a short interview with Chitak before his visit. He answered my questions in Chinese which I have reproduced here and I included my loose English translation which cannot do justice to the nuances in his replies. Read them out loud in Cantonese!

You are sometimes known as the godfather of indie / alternative comics in HK. What do you think of this title?


這是別人給我的稱號,是令人較有體面及較容易去接受indie/alternative這種東西, 相對以往「另類」是怪物,而現在則正面些、高級一點。畢竟現今社會最愛名銜這玩意。

[HK is a small place. I was merely doing things that most people won't do. I happened to be at the right place and right time. I started during the golden age of HK comics in the 1980s.

This label is given to me by others. It's just to make it easier for people to accept what is this thing called indie / alternative comics. To me, it simply reflects society's love for labels.]

But is there still a HK comic industry / scene?


[I'm not too sure of that myself. But as long as there are artists drawing, no matter how few, that is good enough.]

What is the mainstream in HK comics now? Still kung fu comics?


[HK comics are still HK comics. Kung fu, gangster...but it's really hard to differentiate what's mainstream and what's not. The market is so small now...]

What is the future for indie / alternative comics in HK?


[I don't know. As long as there are interesting works, that's not too bad.]

How did you start drawing comics?


[I drew some comics books and went round knocking on doors of comics pubishers. That's how i got started.]

What was your first comic book?


[My first comic book was Wisely.]

Did you ever have a 'real' job?


[Not really. I worked for a few months as an artist in a comics company - does that count?]

What are your memories of reading comics when you were young?


[When I was younger, reading comics gave me a sense of mission and energy!
I read everything - from Tony Wong to Ryoichi Ikegami and Ma Wing Shing. But the greatest influence came from Katsuhiro Otomo and Moebius. Now, Moebius! That's the gold standard of what comics can be!]

Did you ever expect to achieve what you have achieved so far? eg having an exhibition at Angouleme.


[I once thought that alternative comics can be commercially successful just like mainstream comics. Ah, the optimism of youth..
Once I started in this industry, it was made clear to me: you have to have your own unique vision. It's all about hard work.]

If you can travel back in time, what would you tell your younger self?


["It's really tough - are you sure? It's really fucking hard, ok!?"]

Do you own the rights to all your comics?


[In the past, the HK comics industry was not so 'civilized'. The original pages and rights were kept by the publishers. Some of my works have been 'taken' away from me. Afterwards, I was more careful to insist I retain the copyright. I guess I have about 70-80% to the rights of my works.]

Name one comic of yours that changed your career?


Tong Men Shao Nian

Would you say Lai Tat Tat Weng and Chihoi are your 'descendants'?


[I wouldn't dare to say that.
Creativity is a strange creature. And influences can come from anywhere, anytime. It's a process.]

Who are the next generation of indie comic artists in HK?

自己看漫畫不多,近年真正畫的人也不多。我覺得 overloaddance(超載舞步)OK!起碼有畫漫畫的心,說故事的心。

[I don't read many comics these days. But I think overloaddance is ok!
At least it has a heart for the drawings and storytelling.]

Thursday, September 13, 2018

SWF 2018 - Interview with Paul Gravett Part 1

Interview with Paul Gravett, the Man at the Crossroads Part 1

Just who is Paul Gravett? And why is he one of the highlights of this year’s Singapore Writers Festival and why should comics people here care?

Here’s the skinny:

Paul Gravett is a writer, historian, critic and curator specialising in international comics. He has authored books on manga, graphic novels, British comics and comics art. He is the editor of The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics and 1001: Comics You Must Read Before You Die. His exhibitions include retrospectives of Tove Jansson, Posy Simmonds and Jack Kirby.

To say Paul is a mover and shaker in the international comics world is an understatement. Other than John Lent and a few others, Paul is at the forefront of world comics, and not just about works from North America, Europe or Japan.

He co-curated this great show on British comics called Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK at the British Library in 2014 and last year, he worked with the Barbican Centre to launch a world tour of his latest exhibition, Mangasia, the biggest show on Asian comics with original pages and rare comics.

I always wanted to bring Paul in for SWF. While we have lots of workshops on drawing (and lesser on writing and editing), comics criticism is sorely lacking in our current comics eco-system. Good and robust comics criticism can get us to think deeper about this visual medium that engages us and then to write about them.

Paul will be featured in two SWF events – a talk on Comics as Mirrors for Change (a ticketed event) and he will also be on the panel about Comics Events as Connectors, about organizing and curating comics festivals, conferences and exhibitions (a festival pass event).


Comics As Mirror for Change
Date: 4 Nov, Sun
Time: 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Venue: Asian Civilisations Museum, Ngee Ann Auditorium

Comics Events As Connectors
Date: 4 Nov, Sun
Time: 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Venue: Asian Civilisations Museum, Ngee Ann Auditorium

Here’s Paul talking about the passion.

1. What are your first memories of comics? (could be a comic strip) What was your first purchase?

Watching Thunderbirds, Tintin and then Batman on TV introduced me to their comics versions. Thunderbirds came inside TV21, a weekly British comics published 100 years in the future which we had delivered to our house. Tintin I first found in the library. The first American comic book I bought was a World’s Finest 80-page giant from Romford market. I also grew up reading ‘The Trigan Empire’ in the weekly Look & Learn. And Peanuts in the Daily Mail newspaper, from which I made scrapbooks of the clipped strips.

2. Yes, Look and Learn is very well remembered in these parts of the world. Lat had fond memories of them too.
What was comics fandom like in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s?

My entrée was discovering the comics shop Dark They Were And Golden Eyed in London’s Soho, through an advert or plug in Fantastic, I think, a British weekly which reprinted Thor, X-Men and Iron Man. My Mum took me and my brother there specially on my birthday. I bought my first fanzine, Alan Austin’s Comics Unlimited and made discoveries and friends by correspondence. I also had a few pals at school who collected US comic books, so we went to a London Comic Mart for the first time in the early 1970s which became a ritual and pilgrimage!

3. Why are you so passionate about comics?

Bonkers, isn’t it? I love their illimitable variety and reiterations. I like what my brain and imagination have to do to make them work, it’s active, puzzle-like, map-like. And I like the fact that they don’t move, don’t have sound and music, they shouldn’t work at all, but they do. I have wearied of moving image, ie TV and film, because they direct, manipulate and insist on you. Comics are a unique performance, different for every reader, and every reading.

4. How did you get into comics reviewing, writing, curating and organizing? Basically being the man at the crossroads…

Through befriending fellow enthusiasts and makers, and sharing our enthusiasms. Reviewing came first for fanzines, then some articles for them too. Then organising with school friends Phil Elliott and Ian Wieczorek the Fast Fiction mail order distribution service and sales table for self-published comics and zines at the Westminster Central Hall Comic Marts as a place to meet. Out of this and meeting my partner Peter Stanbury came co-publishing and co-editing Escape (19 issues, 1983-89). And out of this came my first curatorial role in 1990 when Britain was guest country at the Angoulême Festival (which Peter and I visited starting in 1984). It’s kept developing organically from there. There was never any strategic plan or career path. I have to keep pinching myself, I know I’ve been hugely lucky.

5. Tell us that story of why Eddie Campbell called you that.

I first came across that nickname when I first read the serialisation of Alec-How To Be An Artist. As you know, he gave several people nicknames instead of naming people directly. So Bill Sienkiewicz became ‘Billy the Sink’, David Lloyd was ‘Mr Status Quo’ I think? So it was a surprise and compliment to discover my ‘secret identity’. Thanks to Eddie, I may also be one of the few people to be ‘outed’ by a comic, not that it was ever much of a secret!

6. Did you ever have a ‘real’ job? (ie a salaried job and not related to comics)

Oh yes, I worked for an insurance brokers in the City in London for a year or more, and during this time started up Fast Fiction - to meet and connect people, and bring the burgeoning UK small press scene together, if only once every month or two for a Saturday mart and drinks after.

7. What was the turning point for you? – that most significant comics event, exhibition you organised, comics review or book you wrote that changed things for you? That makes you say this is it. I am getting somewhere…

In 1981, shortly after my grandfather died, I got called in to help out with a new comics magazine, ‘psssst!’. I owe it all to Mal Burns, who produced the UK comics magazine Graphixus and wrote vital columns in UK fanzines giving addresses to order self-published comics, UK and international. We’d met several time at marts and he’d seen how the Fast Fiction table was becoming a focus and dynamo for aspiring creators. I went for an interview and got the job of heading a team to promote ‘psssst!’ on a double-decker bus which was to tour the UK, with a young assistant Nick and a driver Mick. It was a crazy job, a gamble, but I’ll never forget coming home on the train and thinking that my grandfather was looking out for me and giving me this chance. My parents knew how much comics meant to me, they never discouraged it, and I handed in my notice to the brokers. This was the first of many turning points, but I knew there was no turning back. I know that all I have done in comics, all I am still to do, is why I am here.

8. You wrote Manga: 60 years of Japanese comics which was published in 2004. I believe you have yet to visit Japan then? Was it difficult to write that book having only to depend on English sources and translated manga works? When did you first visit Japan and did it change your idea and expectations of manga?

I was interviewed in 2004 by the BBC and they asked, ‘How often do you go to Japan?’ and I replied, ‘Not often enough’! I did have Japanese friends, in London and Japan, to confer and correspond with. The book was a way for me to try to understand manga in a broader, fuller way. I also read and researched a lot about Japan and exposed myself as much as possible. Of course Angoulême and other comics festivals were vital for meeting people involved in manga. Japan was the guest country in 1991, the year after Britain for example. Through friends I also got to co-curate a crazy exhibition for the Magma Gallery in London in 2003, consisting mainly of 1,000s of manga books. The owner, Marc Valli, introduced me to publisher Laurence King and it took off from there. I finally visited Japan last March in 2017 for two intensive, astounding weeks, meeting so many people and arranging material for the Mangasia exhibition. I felt so happy there, above all in a country where comics are (almost) everywhere and (almost) everyone likes them. It’s like Hicksville come true, and not as a remote New Zealand town but a whole nation!

to be continued...