Where are the Funnies?

indie comix portrait

For some reason, comics have very mixed fortunes as an artistic medium in the English-speaking world.

Across the globe, stories told in words and pictures are common currency. Cartoonists and writer/artist partnerships produce documentary strips, historical novels, biographies, virtually any type of story as well as the funny animal books and adventure stories that most associate with the form.

Even in a cultural climate dominated by big-budget movie versions of superhero characters from 50 to 70 years ago, it seems like the comics stay on the shelves excluding the devotions of engrained fans.

Not that there hasn’t been some improvement: the rebranding and repackaging of material into ‘graphic novel’ form, the growth in the bookstore market and library orders have all helped comics acquire more prestige but, like poetry, there’s still an undeserved sense of the culturally marginal about them.

Unbeknownst to many but probably suspected by some, given the high volume of inventive graffiti in pub toilets, Dublin – and Ireland in general – is populated by a great many skilled cartoonists, many labouring in other fields and indulging their passion for graphic storytelling in their own time.

NewsFour spoke with Paddy Lynch of boutique small publisher Cardboard Press. Although a relatively young imprint, Paddy has been writing, drawing, lettering and publishing his own comics for over a decade now and has recently undertaken a mission to get the work of others out in the public eye.

We wondered why there seemed to be such a scattered audience for comics in Ireland, not necessarily a simple question to answer: “I guess it’s to do with Ireland having such a small population. Comics are quite a niche interest. In the States for instance, it’s so big, and nearly every major city has a convention, so if you’re an enthusiast, you’ll happen across more interesting stuff.”

That may well be a factor. Last summer, Cardboard Press launched a subscription deal where subscribers received four hand-picked comics and some bonus goodies, as a showcase of native talent and style. These were Maeve Clancy’s memoir of travelling to Greece ,A Hibernian in Hellas; Ken Mahon’s manga-infused sci-fi short Stormchasers; Pictorial histories of Leider by fine artist and cartoonist Gus Hughes; and Paddy’s own Stone Hewn Sky, an elliptical sci-fi tale with a dream-like structure. Also included in the package was an exclusive badge and a new ‘zine by Paddy called Baldoyle.

Paddy explained that the response to the subscription model was very positive overall. “Not huge but these aren’t big names per se. We got a lot of shares on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr and the idea was to shine a bit of light on these artists. We’re playing a bit of a long game with this. This first package was a trial run. It’s about finding the right artists for another batch.”

For readers who are accustomed to traditional kids’ comics or the action-jammed tapestries of the Marvel or DC universes, there may be a bit of a mental reset needed for these books but in truth, it’s a well-balanced selection. Maeve Clancy’s travelogue and Ken Mahon’s sci-fi will be pleasantly accessible and get the reader in the mood for the more mysterious fare of Pictorial Histories and Stone Hewn Sky. Fans of shows like The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror will slip into them like a warm bath.

Paddy expands on this as it comes up in conversation. “One of the things I love in comics is re-read value. The first pass is picking up on plot points, and the second or third, if it appeals to you, then you’re looking at what happens between the images and the words.”

Check out cardboardpress.com for more background and Irish Comics News for a door on the national comics scene.

By Rúairí Conneely