I bloody love comics.
I mean it, I bloody love comics. From Marvel to Moore, Peter Parker to Persepolis, no medium has influenced my life more than those flimsy sheets of coloured paper, held together with staples. Luckily, Nottingham has an excellent comic scene. This often underrepresented artform makes up a huge part of Nottingham’s culture, with many shops in the city centre dedicated to celebrating it.
Since the eighties, comics have been a place for outsider voices to make themselves heard in the mainstream. Writers from all backgrounds, lifestyles, races and sexualities have found a venue not usually available to them through more traditional publishing methods. Art Spiegelman’s Maus tells the harrowing tale of his father’s internment during the Holocaust, using the visual language of Aesop’s fables, and the aforementioned Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi brings the story of the Iranian revolution to otherwise ignorant Western audiences.
This is possibly why so many writers and artists in Nottingham have veered towards comics and graphic novels as a medium. This mag has gone on record many times about Nottingham’s status as a city of rebels, outsiders, oddballs and alternatives. It makes sense then that so many of us would turn to a form that fully captures the same revolutionary tendencies they hold dearly.
That, as well as the fact that our home-grown graphic novelists are absolutely banging, is why we’re now going on a rambly tour of some of the comic books and graphic novels that have caught our attention as we’ve wandered the bookshops of Nottingham. Talking possums and punk, zombie poets and meandering mammoths, if there’s one thing you can say about Nottingham’s graphic novel scene, it’s that nowt is off-limits.
Let’s start by having a look at some of the best and brightest names in Nottingham’s graphic scene…
Best bits: Sometimes I’m a Possum (But Only When I’m Sad), Seven Stones, Soggy Dog
We’ll start off properly indie with Mansfield-grown writer and artist, Jenny Mure. From majorly creative stock – Mure’s sibling Bethan is also an up-and-coming name in Nottingham’s comic book dynasty – Mure’s zine-style comics cover a range of content and topics. Her semi-autobiographical piece Sometimes I’m a Possum and its follow-up, So I’m Still a Possum, touch upon the daily struggles of a person suffering from anxiety, depression and intrusive thoughts. We follow our main character, the eponymous possum, as they wrestle with their most jagged edges in an often literal way, seeming to physically struggle with creeping dread and existential panic. Described by Mure as a way of “dealing with the shit”, these zines have moments of humour and clarity. She points out that a waterproof pen – that allows her to draw without smudging the ink with tears – is a “cruel metaphor for something”, as is a collection of panels, where our long-suffering possum responds to an outsider’s assertion to “not feel so down” with a frustrated yell. Her other stories range from the mundane to the fantastical, with Seven Stones and the short piece Tiger Boy reading almost like fairy tales. It’s not often a writer can write about the brewing of a Pot Noodle with the same amount of epicness and depth as a grueling battle with demons, physical or otherwise.
Best bits: Suzanne’s Story, Thinking Room, The New Wipers Times
Let’s go from micro to macro. Carol Adlam is an award-winning author-illustrator with a tonne of graphic fiction and non-fiction under her belt including, but not limited to, a modern reinterpretation of the Sherwood Forester’s WWI trench magazine, The Wipers Times. Her latest work, Thinking Room, is equal parts archeology exhibition and romp through graphic storytelling, and currently decorates the walls of the Lakeside Arts Gallery. The story of Thinking Room, gloriously illustrated on huge canvases that line the gallery, focuses on a surreal series of events that begin with a little girl discovering an ancient key, and ends with a pesky mammoth being circled by helicopters atop the university’s Portland building, while a colossal kraken makes mischief in the nearby lake. Each panel is packed full of details reminding us of the nearby University of Nottingham Museum’s long-standing history, from Viking symbols to statuettes of snake-headed demigods. I’m counting this as a piece of graphic storytelling not only because it has the panel shape and structure of a traditional comic book, but because Adlam has also released a book to accompany the exhibit that has more in common with what we think of as a comic book. Adlam’s other work is deeply historical and often whimsical, telling the under-reported stories of those swept up in huge, world-spanning events with a grace and gentleness. The devil’s in the detail and Adlam’s work is no exception, with each piece hinting at a vast, breathing universe that stretches out past the panel borders.
Best bits: Rumlad, As You Were, Dawn of the Unread
There’s a long-standing tradition in graphic storytelling of the graphic memoir. Steve Larder’s Rumlad zine series follows this tradition closely, telling the story of the artist’s day-to-day life, illustrated with delicate, black-line artwork. Larder’s life is a little cooler than most, though; my personal favourite issue of Rumlad follows Steve as he joins punk bands, Moloch and Savage Realm, on their 2016 tour. Larder’s style goes from highly detailed and exhaustive, to playful and cartoonish, in the space of a page, and the subject matter he covers has the kind of fun, lively weirdness normally encountered at 2am once the music’s stopped. To give an example of what the average issue of Rumlad reads like, there is a section in Rumlad #10 where the bands visit the Falkirk Kelpie sculptures, which are rendered with beautiful, layered depth. This section is then immediately intercepted by a brief interlude where a member of Savage Realm gives a step-by-step guide on how to make a vegan cheese sauce. Bouncy and fun artwork with a real sense of motion and life, Larder’s work is a guaranteed interesting read with some of the most impressive art I have seen in a small-scale zine.
Of course, that ain't all. There are plenty more excellent examples of graphic storytelling that have sprouted from our fair city, not to mention a whole range of institutions and booksellers that specialise in the world of comics. Special mention goes to Nottingham Does Comics, a bi-monthly meet-up for comic book creators and enthusiasts with featured appearances from some of the medium’s biggest names. It’s also worth mentioning indie comic publishers Magoria Studios, founded by Will Starling and Adam Willis, whose work features some of the sleekest sci-fi out there right now. And of course, it’d be unfair to omit the graphic masterpiece Dawn of the Unread, the brainchild of LeftLion alumni, James Walker; part teaching aid, part grumpy ramble through Nottingham’s literary and cultural history, Dawn... is an anthology of some of the weirdest corners of Nottingham’s past. Also, it has zombies, and who doesn’t love them?