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Monday, September 24, 2012

Sisters, doing it for themselves #2: the comics, and more!

Great piss-up, but, well, y’know?
Cover art:
Gill Hatcher
So, the crew at Team Girl Comic managed to stage a launch event for their 5th issue which exceeded all expectations, their own above all. But you can’t judge a comics collective by its ability to organise a night out in the pub, especially here in Glasgow, where successive generations of teenagers have known that a simple bottle of Buckie is the secret to a good night on the bevvy. No, ultimately TGC must stand or fall by the quality of their comics. With 5 issues containing 94 strips and cartoons by 21 contributors across a total of 160 pages there’s more than enough of TGC available definitively to make that judgement.

Across those many pages
Cover art:
Gill Hatcher
Reviewing a pile of indie comics as I am, there’s one thing I have to get out of the way immediately: if action-adventure comics featuring carefully-crafted plotlines and stylish- not to mention sexy, full-colour art; if that’s what you want from your comics, then TGC might not be for you. Why? Because TGC is a classic indie collective. That is to say: it features contributors of all levels of talent and skill offering a monochrome mixture of slices of life, gags and social commentary in a variety of idioms ranging from cute animal cartoons through naturalistic comicbook to montage. The overall result is a pleasing mixed bag of many highs and some lows, few of which are likely individually to set the world on fire, but which definitely combine into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Some of those ‘parts’
Cover art:
Mhairi Hislop
& Gill Hatcher
I’m sure this is often said by reviewers of anthologies, but it’s no idle truism here: it was difficult to choose just a handful of pages from 160 to highlight a few of those 94 strips to give my readers an idea of what the women of TGC are doing. I plumped, in the end, for the solution which simplified my editorial task: I decided to put the spotlight on work by the 6 women I met nearly 2 months ago. I must be honest here: this means that some very impressive work is being left unacknowledged, but that would’ve happened however I made my choice, so there you go.


Team Girl Comic #5, front cover
Colleen Campbell’s work features in TGC#2-5, as well as in full colour on the cover of TGC’s landmark 5th issue. This is a strong piece of work, with good proportion and linework, a pleasing in-your-face attitude, and a few good jokes to boot.
Cover art: Colleen Campbell
Collen’s cover enjoys another appeal: it doesn’t really look all that much like an anthology cover as such, so the character herself jumps out all the more strongly, commanding your attention, demanding her own stories. That’s high-impact cover art and no mistake!

‘Twi Won’t You Shut Up?’
This is the first page of the second of 2 2-page strips by Jessica Hatcher featuring this Twilight-obsessed school girl. The strips are simple gags the theme of which- the one-track mind of the obsessive, should be taken as an object warning to geeks everywhere(!).
Jessica Hatcher’s
‘Twi Won’t You Shut Up?’, #1
I like Jessica's artwork. Sure, her linework is nothing to write home about but it's clean and it gets the job done. Jessica's construction of each panel is intelligent because it varies the framing slightly each time to give a bit of dynamism to what is otherwise a very static cartoon. Also, you can see significant improvement between the first and second cartoons in the issue. This is a sure sign of some talent.

‘It's Not You It's Me’
This deceptively simple 1-page cartoon by Claire Yvette could easily be taken as an exemplar of all that is good about indie comics in general and TGC in particular.
Claire Yvette’s
‘It's Not You It's Me’, #5
There may only be 2 actual drawings in this 6-panel strip, but they are both excellent at conveying the emotion of the scene. And I really like the punchline. I had to read the strip several times over several weeks before I finally got it. D'oh!

‘Lanarkshire: 9-11...’
Gill Hatcher is the founder of TGC and one of its creative mainstays, with her work appearing in every issue so far. This 3-page strip is a great example of the 'slice of life' stories which appear in the comic.
Gill Hatcher’s
‘Lanarkshire: 9-11...’, #5
Gill is able to squeeze quite a lot of story into a few small pages, and this page shows her artistic strengths to full advantage: a pretty strong sense of anatomy and proportion, and skillful use of framing and perspective to boot. I also find Gill characters quite evocative, being cast back in my mind to my own schooldays as I'm reading her strips.

‘Moving On’
This strip marks Jef Sinclair's first appearance in TGC: a mere 7 panels, but Jef manages to pack quite a lot into that limited space, including a poignant ending to her well-observed little story.
Jef Sinclair’s ‘Moving On’, #5
Jef's art is again workmanlike but none the worse for that: her decision to go with frameless panels is clever and works well. And I particularly like the first panel, in which Jef makes a feature of her limitations- in this case her inability to handle perspective. A nice debut from Jef then.

‘The true story of Arabella Stuart, contender to the throne’
Penny Sharp's cartoons have been appearing in TGC since #2. Her work has already shown tremendous variety, to which this strip just adds. 'The true story of Arabella Stuart' is a historical romance featuring a little-known noblewoman from the Elizabethan era who came to a tragic end for the crime of marrying the man she loved without the King's permission. At first sight Penny's artwork in this strip isn't as strong as that in her other strips- which show a good grasp of anatomy and a strong eye for fine detail, but this naive style deceives the eye.
Penny Sharp’s
‘The true story of Arabella Stuart,
contender to the throne’, #5
These aren’t drawings at all; they’re taken from photographs of a footstool Penny embroidered, an ingenious way of adding a multimedia twist to a craft project. The end result is a charming curiosity which shows the range of material to be found in the pages of TGC.

OK, OK, but why the ‘all-girl’ schtick?
Cover art:
Evy Craig
Readers will by now have the idea that I like Team Girl Comic, both because I admire the women for just doing it and because I think they’re producing a quality indie anthology comic. It’s not perfect that’s for sure: there are a few too many strips for my liking in which the lettering is sufficiently poorly rendered to make it difficult to read- and there's not that many of them I must admit. Still, straining to read a comic's words irks me. I think that this is as much a technical issue as anything else; that the creators will quickly learn how the printing process transforms their finished artwork into a published page, and adjust their work accordingly. That really is my only serious complaint about TGC.

All that said, I cannot but imagine that some of my readers are asking themselves the — not insignificant — question: does the all-girl collective make a real contribution to what is to be found in the pages of TGC, or is it just a gimmick? My answer is no, it’s no gimmick; the “all-female” in Team Girl Comic is essential to the comic in many ways, and is certainly the secret of its success.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this begins with the format of TGC itself. What I’m talking about here is that it’s an A5 comic printed on thick paper between card covers. I’d had my copies lying around for several weeks before it struck me that this format is simultaneously portable and durable, just the thing for carrying in, well, in handbags. I don’t know if this was a conscious decision on the part of anyone at TGC, but, inadvertent or not, anthologies and portability are a match made in heaven because dipping-in in spare moments is a major feature of the appeal of anthologies of any kind.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you say dear readers, but what about the content? Well, I think the few samples I’ve here reviewed show a range of subjects and treatments which speak of a definite female sensibility, whether that be expressed in the simple choice of subject- eg. Claire Yvette and Jef Sinclair’s strips, or in the treatment of a chosen subject- eg. Gill Hatcher’s strip. It could certainly be argued that strips like this might well appear in a general anthology, but I would suggest that material of this ilk would struggle to find its place if it had to compete against the differing ethoi which men would be bringing to the editorial process in that situation. That’s not to say that the TGC is necessarily superior to different ethoi. Rather it’s just to note that the TGC ethos is what it is, and that it simply couldn’t flourish the way it does if the all-female collective didn’t serve to nurture it the way it does.
Doon Mackichan, Sally Phillips &
Fiona Allen of Smack the Pony
And this ethos: what is it exactly? I think the comics speak for themselves, but if I was to sum it up, I’d say that Team Girl Comic is the Smack the Pony of indie comics: quirky, irreverent, witty, biting, wryly amusing, and delightfully subversive of expectations inherited from too many years of male domination of their medium. Buy it and see if you don’t agree with me!

The guest creators
Team Girl Comic didn’t hog all the glory to themselves that night back in July: 2 of the tables in the Scotia at COMICS NIGHT with Team Girl Comic were set aside for guest creators.
Gordon McLean & Colin Bell
No More Heroes
Cover art:
Caio Oliveira
With art by Brazilian Caio Oliveira, Gordon McLean's No More Heroes is the story of how Joe schmoe Sid Millar gets drawn into street hero Black Fury’s efforts to track down the psychopathic killer Jack Slaughter. To say much more than that about the plot would be to veer into spoiler territory so what can I add? Well, McLean’s script is fast-moving and punchy, with a nice line in genre in-jokes. I like the way that, although the story is plainly set in the USA, Millar and his pals are characters who would be right at home in Glasgow, or any other modern city for that matter. This helps reader identification. And Oliveira’s artwork is very nice: bold linework with dynamic compositions and strong characterisation with a rich range of expression. It’s the sort of artwork which works perfectly in B&W, leaving me wondering if colouring would actually bring anything to it. A really good comic in short, which has already been recognised with an award.

Jonbot vs Martha
Cover art:
Neil Slorance
The creation of Colin Bell-writer, and Neil Slorance- artist, Jonbot vs Martha is the tragic-comic heartwarming story of Jonbot, once a man in the midst of a divorce, now a robot in the midst of divorce; which turns out to be plus ca change, with added swearing and laser-death! Jonbot vs Martha is living proof that a great concept, tight writing and good layout are far more than half the battle when it comes to creating a successful comic strip because those are what give this strip its side-splitting laugh-out-loud bite and ultimately make a feature of Neil Slorance’s disarmingly simple cartooning. Jonbot vs Martha is a twice-weekly webcomic (the comic I picked up that night at the Scotia was a reprint of the early online run which the boys put together after being nominated for several Scottish Indie Comics Book Alliance awards earlier this year). Read this comic and enjoy pure comedy gold!
Helen Wright & Jenny Speirs
The Wires
Cover art:
Jenny Speirs
And so we come, dear readers, to that “demonstration which will later prove to be strangely apt…” I mentioned in #1: Helen Wright and Jenny Speirs’ The Wires. This 16-page B&W production has DIY written all over it- you can almost smell the photocopy shop where I imagine it was printed out. That “strange aptness” to which I referred is the premise which Wright and Speirs take — the way that social media have become the warp and weft of the fabric of our consciousness — to deliver their sharp little exercise in body horror. I liked The Wires and will be looking out for the next comic from these promising creators.

The scene
The attraction of comics, drink and girls saw TGC and their fans joined by a healthy turnout from the thriving local scene. I caught up with some familiar faces from the Scottish Cartoonists’ Society. And I was introduced to John Farman and David Braysher- 2 of the 3 founders of Black Hearted Press, a Glasgow-based independent comic publisher established in 2010. An publishing house as well as everything else? Thriving? The Glasgow indie scene is a positive hotbed, which is very exciting for local comics fans with alternative tastes. You haven’t heard the last of this I can assure you dear readers!
Suzi McIntosh, conceptual artist
An event which took over half the bar attracted attention from regular punters too, one of whom just happened to be a conceptual artist- Suzi McIntosh, who’d dropped in after a gallery visit elsewhere in town. Comics and conceptual art? It’s not as if it hasn’t been done before.
Torpedo LOS, Roy Lichtenstein
Accidental as was Suzi’s encounter with the comics night, it just goes to show that high profile events like this have real potential to attract creatives working in other media, something which could surely only work to the benefit of all.

Acknowledgements
Thanks as ever to everyone whose company gave me such a great night out; to John and David of Black Hearted Press for the small gesture of faith they showed in an unknown blogger; but most of all to Team Girl Comic, who laid on a great event which really showed me- and many others, how much Glasgow comics geeks are worth. ;)

Update25/09/12
Gill Hatcher and Penny Sharp have alerted me to a couple of factual errors: “the covers of TGC#5 feature the only work by Coleen Campbell to appear in the comic so far”; and “many of the drawings in this strip are copied from an embroidered footstool, so Penny's style was fixed for her by her choice of subject”- both wrong. Oops. The ensuing corrections have entailed minor rewrites, naturally enough.

Related@RD/KA!
- Sisters, doing it for themselves #1: "Drink! Girls!"
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