Who do you profile first then?
Do you put the best foot forward, or do you help your mates out? Anyone who’s in a position to do so and claims not to help their friends out is being dishonest. Luckily, due to less than adequate social skills, no patience for bad comics, and a crippling stammer, I have few actual friends who make comics. So the choice is already out of my hands. It also helps that one of the few is also the best in his field.
I first met Steven Tillotson of Banal Pig Comics back in 2006, at my first comic expo as a creator. At my only previous expo, I had queued up for four hours, as an eager 12-year-old, to get my hands on a NM copy of New Mutants 87 (first appearance of Cable [‘nuff said-Ed.]). This time out, I was waiting to thrust Trains Are…Mint 1 into the hands of anyone who’d catch. I did many swaps that first day and came back with a copy of Banal Pig Comics 1; a collection of seemingly dark and crude strips. A lot like infamous British humour comic, Viz. Steve isn’t too sure about the crude bit though:
“Yes kind of like Viz, although perhaps a bit more arty. I read The Beano and Buster when I was growing up so it has those influences. There’s a lot of anthropomorphic animals and quite often horrible things happen. I think ‘dark humour’ is fair enough, but I don’t think it’s that crude, maybe one or two bits.”
I’m sticking with the crude description for now, as there’s a minor character called “Twatface,” but I must learn a better way to describe certain things than just dark. It’s a lazy description.
Tillotson makes black and white miniss featuring characters like Banal Pig, Ambivalent Elephant, Feeder and Wife (my favourite), Incompetent Shark and Retard Dad. Aside from this he did the thoughtful, well-paced Ethel Sparrowhawk with writer Jemima Von Schindelberg (surely a made up name).
They’re funny as hell and you need them in your life. In the two years since coming across (fnar fnar) Banal Pig, I’ve not seen many people who can top Tillotson at the funny—o n the self-publishing scene anyway. Apart from a Web comic called To Tumble & Fall which is just the perfect three-panel strip of some bloke in a suit falling over. Every time. It’s just brilliant, but that’s for another column. Have I missed anything? Who’re Steve’s humorous brothers in arms?
“There’s not a lot of piss-yourself funny in the small press. Of course I have to mention my old bum chum Gareth Brookes who collaborates with me but also makes his own comics—the Man Man series and others. Always good for a giggle. There’s quite a lot of gentle humour in the small press, and weird stuff but not much blatant humour. It’s subjective but I think it is pretty hard to pull off, much easier to do some angsty rubbish or something. One of the first small press things I bought was Paul Rainey’s Book Of Lists, which really tickled me, specifically the list of farts (featuring the “hot egg,” amongst others). If a comic can make me snort out a chuckle, I’ll buy it. Otherwise, one of my favourite small press comics is Green by Daniel Locke, which is quite poetic and understated and really nicely drawn.”
Steve, originally from Leeds, lives in Bristol, home of the popular Bristol Comics Expo and the now sadly departed Bristol branch of the plucky comic shop franchise, Travelling Man. I’d love to have gone down to interview him in person (e-mail interviews being a bit stilted at best) but Britain’s extortionate rail fares conspired against me.
Is there a tangible scene in Bristol?
Yes kind of. There’s an informal group of us who used to meet up at Travelling Man and do dome stuff, like jamming and that sort of thing. That’s kind of fizzled out a bit but we still meet up at the pub. I didn’t really get involved in the anthologies and that sort of thing because I’m too busy doing my own stuff. The most notable amongst my Bristol contemporaries is Jess Bradly, who makes Guide Dog Detective, which is like CSI but with cute animals. It’s a real shame that Travelling Man has shut, as I used to sell a lot of comics there. How does that compare with Manchester? Am I allowed to ask you questions?
[Caught slightly off guard] Yeah man. There’s a small group gathering around manchestercomixcollective.ning.com, where there’s a handful of good artists and two or three very good ones (Jim Medway and Stuart Kolakovic being the pick of the bunch), but too be honest I’m not that social, so we could have hundreds of them and I wouldn’t know any of them. That’s not me being an arse; just the stammer gets in the way of meeting new people. I’m much more approachable online; although I’m warming to the idea of collaborating with someone at some point. But enough about me how does your working relationship with Gareth work?
We’re on exactly the same wave length, and so I turn to him if I need any story ideas or poems for the comics. With the poems I give him a story outline, and he comes up with these amazing verses. The first one was in Banal Pig 1 and the idea was to have a Rupert the Bear pastiche with a verse and illustrations. I think it’s good to mix the format up a bit. The next one for Banal Pig 4 is going to be based on the Old Testament. Gareth’s bought a bible especially [for that purpose].
You’re going to the Web And mini-comix thing in London this weekend. Where does it sit with the other cons? Do you make many sales? What’s the standard of the other stuff on sale and am I missing out on not being there?
It’s pretty interesting and I would advise any small press creator to visit, as it is a good reflection of what state the UK small press is in. There is some terrible stuff and some really good stuff, but everyone’s tastes are different and even if someone’s making crap comics, at least they are making something and expressing themselves and that’s what it’s all about. We’ve done one year previously, but we sold really well, probably the equivalent sold in one day of what we did in two days at the previous Bristol and Birmingham shows. It’s our target audience I suppose, and the people we spoke to were really excited about small press, much easier to sell to than some horrendous comic nerd stereotypes only there for X-Men back issues.
[Forgetting I’ve already asked him for some recommendations, I ask him again. Got to work on this interview technique I tells you.]
I’ve recommended a few already haven’t I? Beaver (there’s that word again) and Steve is pretty good and Lizz Lunney’s work isalways worth a look. I’m sure there’s others I’ve forgotten. Can you think of any?
Yes I can, lots, but I don’t want to blow it all in one column thank you very much. And there the interview ends for a day or two until, writing this, I remember I’d forgotten some of Steve’s best-received work.
I haven’t got time for Web comics. Not in a bad way, like I think they’re all shit, but I just can’t afford the time to commit. Along with drawing, keeping the house tidy and obsessively checking the Internet to see if anyone loves me, I can’t commit to anything else. But along with his print comics, Steve started the Banal Pig Funnies strip, which he did every day for the first month of start up and which has now become an irregular endeavor. Never having been a fan of the perceived wisdom that our American cousins don’t understand our ironic humour, it was of no surprise to me when they were a hit on the mainly-US Comics Journal message board, a notoriously difficult audience.
“The Web funnies was basically me having a go at a daily Web comic to see how hard it was and I posted a new, full-colour three panel strip every month. The ideas were fairly easy but the execution was taking up all my spare time so I stopped, although I’d happily do one a day if someone paid me. I’m currently working on Banal Pig 4 to get it finished in time for the Bristol expo in May and then after that I’m probably doing another Ethel Sparrowhawk. It’s good to mix things up a bit.”
And so there we leave it, as I could crap on with Steve for ages. For now I’m still trying to go a weekend without Gin so I can get my Banal Pig original art framed. Till then, you could do worse than familiarise yourself with Steve’s world, buy a comic or two and lets spread the funny.
Till next time.