One of the amazing, unique and encouraging things about comics is the sense of community that is fostered across the broad range of readers and writers. It is massively refreshing to see academic readers of comics in open and equal conversation with die-hard fans, writers, artists and even ‘casual readers’. This is a form that brings people together across backgrounds. Dirty Rotten Comics is a small press anthology that seeks to be an outlet for creators of comics who are starting out and brilliant. I spoke to Kirk Campbell and Gary Clap to learn more about Dirty Rotten Comics and Throwaway Press.
HE: Tell me a little bit about you – why comics? How did you get into the publishing world?
GC: We started writing and drawing comics together back at university, with a couple of friends. We were just writing throwaway gag strips for one another, playing around with ideas and seeing who could come up with the most outrageous punchline. We did this for a few years, and over time found that we had enough material to publish. So we threw together some cheap A5 collections and toured the small press comic fairs and conventions that were around at the time. It was all fairly basic stuff but good fun nonetheless, and it was a thrill to have our comics reach a wider audience.KC: It was here that we realised the scope and audience for small press comics in general; without wanting to be too melodramatic about it all, the economic climate of the banking crisis blah blah blah meant that people were keen on, and excited by, the emerging DIY culture in British comics. For us, like so many comics creators and illustrators, this was a significant ‘in’ point after we graduated.
HE: What was the impetus behind setting up Dirty Rotten Comics? How did it come about? Why now?
GC: We’d both taken a couple of years away from comics as we worked on other projects, but we came back together in 2013 and decided to put out a new zine of some description. Initially, we were just going to put out another collection of our own work, but over time the concept morphed into the anthology format book which Dirty Rotten Comics has become. One reason why we went in that direction was because we were seeing so many great comics being made via Twitter, but there was no real platform for a wider audience to experience this work. The few anthologies which did exist at the time were fairly selective or very niche, so we saw an opportunity for a more mainstream, eclectic anthology.
KC: The second reason we opted for the anthology format is that we ourselves had been rejected from anthologies in the past, so wanted to make something which was a little more inclusive and diverse in terms of tone and content. Part of our mission statement is to ‘provide a platform for creators of all kinds regardless of their status or experience’ and whilst that might sound too general and open, an almost pointless thing to say, ironically it has proven to be quite the opposite. For many creators, they don’t feel ‘part’ of the niche social groups which arguably determine the thrust and direction of the small press scene. I think that’s where our publication comes in.
HE: In a way, you’re almost a ‘gateway drug’ – a great way to give creators the tools and the courage to keep going (or perhaps even start) with comics. Is that a fair assessment?
KC: I can’t think of a fairer assessment! All we want to do is grow the small press ‘gang’ by hooking up ‘dealers’ (artists) with ‘users’ (comics lovers). To push this analogy to the very end of its limits, we certainly consider ourselves so addictive we take users into the Breaking Bad territory of ‘cooking’ their own ‘supply’ (printing and selling their own collections).
GC: I suppose a healthier extended metaphor would be that of grassroots sport- coaching and nurturing the new generation of talent- but effectively we’re talking about the same thing… we feel our place is to support and give opportunities primarily to the first-timer who can then go on to advance their craft and output themselves. Our publishing venture Throwaway Press is then our way to bridge the gap to self-publishing for people who have featured in Dirty Rotten Comics on several occasions.
HE: Any suggestions or advice for recent graduates – or anyone else – who might be thinking of setting up a similar zine or other ‘output’?
KC: Our advice is ‘find that consistency in output as soon as you can’. Set yourself some manageable deadlines which suit your comics style. So, if you are experimenting with 4-panel gag strips, set up a Tumblr and Twitter and decide on how regularly you will update it. If you can manage a new strip once a week, set a day you will publish on and stick to that schedule. If you’re doing longer-form stuff, choose a small press convention you would like to exhibit at and work to getting a 32-page zine completed in time for that. Once you get your first batch of work out there, feedback from buyers and other zinesters will keep you coming back for more! Don’t fall at the first hurdle because you’ve over-stretched yourself. Your audience primarily wants consistency of product, not a flash-in-the-pan whim that doesn’t get past the first comic.
HE: What does the future hold for Dirty Rotten Comics… and perhaps comics in general?
GC: In terms of Dirty Rotten Comics, we’re gearing up for the launch of issue ten in the spring. It’s going to be a special anniversary collection, and we have some big names lined up for the book. As for the future of comics in general, I think going digital is where the future is at. People consume everything nowadays via their phone screens, and I don’t think it’ll be any different with comics. This doesn’t mean, of course, that print is dead, only that it would be foolish to ignore a growing market in favour of one that’s fairly limited in terms of reach. The great thing with digital content is that it can be accessed anywhere in the world, immediately, without any upfront costs on the part of the creator. It also enables those who may not have the means of getting their books printed to nonetheless get their work out to a new audience. Certainly, it’s something we’re going to embrace with DRC in the future.
KC: We have also recently set up our publishing house Throwaway Press. Over the next few years, we hope to grow the number of creators we can get that first collection published for. It’s a logical and almost necessary evolution from Dirty Rotten Comics. Creators whose output is snowballing because they are getting the opportunities afforded to them from the inclusive and accessible nature of the small press scene, who among other things are repeat contributors of our anthology, do have the consistent and high-quality work to be able to bring out their own collections. If they choose Throwaway Press to help them do that, then we’re more than happy to oblige!
HE: More broadly, what is it about comics as a form that you like? What functions do you see it playing in society?
GC: It’s my belief that a well-realised comic strip or cartoon can convey ideas more effectively than any other kind of media. A simple cartoon can say more in an instant than the lengthiest article or book; it’s no coincidence that political cartoons continue to endure in newspapers, for instance.
HE: I completely agree!
As far as how comics function in society, the low barrier to entry means that comics are well placed to reflect the daily experiences of people at any given time. They offer us the freedom to share ideas and stories in a form that’s uncensored and easily disseminated.
KC: The beautiful thing about the internet age is that anyone with a mobile phone and a sketchpad can share their comics on a global scale, so we can share our stories across continents and reach audiences that were unfathomable even twenty years ago. The ‘global village’ we live in now is a very powerful social tool if used correctly and comics are a very effective way of people (marginalised or not) to get their voices heard.
HE: The language issue plays into that too – comics can cross language boundaries much easier than other forms. And they can also include what we might call ‘low level readers’ – and children, of course.
KC: Fully agreed! Comics, like ‘total theatre’ in the performance world, really does combine all of the great things of the print medium in one place. The trend now is to call this ‘visual literacy’ and we certainly buy into the idea that there are very few barriers to anyone accessing and enjoying comics/graphic novels/sequential art… other than the snobs who don’t consider comics as literature. But they’re idiots and need to broaden their horizons.
HE: Any big favourites? Any that you don’t like?
GC: I always enjoyed the tradition of satire in comics, starting with Mad magazine in the 1950s and continuing into the underground comics movement of the 60s and 70s. The artists working during that period – Kurtzman, Crumb, Shelton, etc. – went wild with the medium, and had a lot of fun taking on the conventions of the day. They really made the most of the art form, and were alternately vilified and praised for work that was unafraid to push boundaries.
Conversely, my biggest concern today is that a lot of creators and publishers seem hamstrung by sensitivities surrounding what can and can’t be said, and end up falling back on safe, bland stories which don’t say very much at all. Evidently I’m not speaking for everyone – there is a lot of fabulous work being made today – but I do think we could take a leaf from the book of those who paved the way before us. Celebrating boldness and bravery is very much part of the DRC ethos.
KC: In terms of those artists whom we have connected with and built relationships with through Dirty Rotten Comics, there are many personal favourites. However, for consistency of quality, sharpness of mind and brilliance of execution, I feel the following creators could arguably be defined as auteurs: Simon Moreton, Gareth Brookes, Danny Noble, Matthew Dooley.
HE: Thank you so much for speaking to me. How can we get in touch with you?
Check out our website at dirtyrottencomics.co.uk for the latest news on what we’re up to. We’re also very active on Twitter (@dirtyrottencomx), and you can purchase our books over at throwawaypress.com.