“I’ve been saying for a while that ‘someone’ needs to find an alternative model for selling comics… ‘someone’ didn’t listen, so I figured I better try!” Simon Russell on why he is launching indie comics store Comic Pop Up in Brighton this May

On Sunday May 13th in Brighton, Comic Pop Up, a new indie comics shop will be debuting in the Hanover Pub as part of Brighton Arts Festival. It’s a pop up shop, stocking some of the best indie and small press comics in the UK (including our very own The Pull List) and is the brainchild of Simon Rusell, who is looking to bring the world of indie and small press comics to a new audience. We caught up with him to find out all about it!

You’re debuting Comic Pop Up, a pop up indie comics shop in Brighton next weekend, tell us a bit about what inspired you to do this and what you’re hoping to achieve with it?

Simon Russell: Well, it’s been obvious for a few years that the expansion of the small press scene has not been matched by the growth of the market. The same £10 will circulate from one table to another at many events as exhibitors buy off each other, with precious little new money coming in from outside.

If you factor in the cost of production, booking tables, travel and accommodation for an event, it’s pretty hard to finance making comics that don’t have an instant hook.

I’ve been saying for a while that Someone needs to find an alternative model for selling comics (to compliment shops and cons) by reaching a new audience and cutting costs for creators. Someone didn’t listen to me though, so I figured I better try.

The theory is that this will sell comics to regular readers AND put small press comics under the noses of a lot of potential readers who would not come across them normally. It would be great if this pilot project works as a new way for comic artists to sell their work. Hopefully we’ll gather enough tips and ideas for other people to set a ComicPopUp in their town.

The day itself just needs to be fun for visitors who don’t currently read comics and for the people helping out. By not costing creators anything more than p&p to get titles to Brighton, there’s no financial pressure to sell (although it would be nice) and this is a sort of exposure that might have longterm rewards for individuals and the community.

With it only being for one day only, it’s like a min comic con, or perhaps more accurately a comic art fair, so was it important for you to differentiate yourself from other events in this way?

SR: I hadn’t thought about differentiating this from other comics shows really, because I was focused on the art-buying market and comics is already an unusual proposition for them…

This ComicPopUp is part of the Brighton Artists Open Houses festival (http://aoh.org.uk) which runs throughout May – that means a lot of families trekking round town looking to buy arts and crafts. A good comic priced between £3 and £15 should be a welcome relief after they’ve seen their third beach hut made from lollipop sticks on sale at £200. It would have been nice to run on all the weekends of the Open Houses as we had to pay £320 to be part of the trail whether we were opening for one day or every day, but the pub we’re using as a venue were not keen on repeat bookings for something they hadn’t tried before… If you come, buy some food and drink so they see the benefit of comics events!

You’ve got a real focus on indie and small press, what is it about indie and small press that make you feel so passionately that you’d launch a shop? Is it part of your way to give the UK and small press community a bit of a focus and an event that isn’t tacked on to a larger convention?

SR: It’s not so much a need to focus the community – small press creators gravitate towards each other naturally – as an enthusiasm for the Art Form. Comics can be part of the  larger entertainment industry and do that pretty well, but they can also be part of an artist’s practice and those are the comics I really wanted to get in front of an art-buying audience, who might only think of comics as the source material for Hollywood movies.

I’m going to be channeling my inner Page-45 and evangelising to visitors, explaining why these comics are special for them.

Why do you think indie and small press is flourishing so much at the moment?

SR: The form is timeless and yet still has a lot of room for anyone who wants to explore new ideas. When you combine that with affordable printing and digital distribution, you have a huge open space for experimental play that is unique. I think a lot of the same impetus for playing music is there in the drive to make comics… you can do it simply and alone and you can get better every time you do.

Your catalogue (which can be viewed digitally here) features a vertiable whos who of the indie scene, so how did they all come to be involved and what is in it for the creators? Were you surprised by the sheer amount of interest you had from people?

SR: Not surprised but VERY pleased.

I really only approached creators I know personally or through their work and a few that were then recommended by people who’d got involved.

I’ve knocked around the fringes of small press scene since I discovered the Fast Fiction table in the 80’s and Cartoon County pub meets here in Brighton plus my work at the Cartoon Museum and AcesWeekly.co.uk have put me in contact with a lot of different comic types. So I had a pretty long list. Touchingly, almost 90% of them were interested in joining in…

What’s in it for them?

SR: On the simplest level the artists get to offer their work to a new audience for free.

All money taken in sales will go directly to the artists and it cost them nothing to join in. That was made possible because I’ve covered the main costs of the event with the generous support of Daves Comics, The Belgian Comic Strip Center, Seasons Art Class, London’s Cartoon Museum, Humanoids Publishing, Artpothecary and Cass Art.

As a pop-up shop, there are no tables to book. We sell the comics to save creators’ traveling, but it IS in a pub so quite a lot of them are going to be showing their faces during the day (and anyone still there when we stop selling at 5pm is welcome to join us in the bar for comicy chat)

On a wider level, the catalogue will put the creators’ names and websites in the hands of a new market and the local library may be taking a donation of books for the central collection… if that works out it’s another venue for small press creators to show their work.

So why should people come along? What events will you be having on the day and what creators will be there in person?

SR: Free entry to an amazing collection of comics that you won’t find in a shop normally should be incentive enough for a lot of us, I hope. But we’ll also have local back issue dealer Lorne Brown with a selection of cheap kids comics back issues.

Zara Slattery will be working live on her current project, so visitors can see how a comic is made and enjoy a peek at the processes of one of the UK’s most talented cartoonists.

Inko Ai Takita and Chie Kutsuwada will be doing wonderful Manga portraits for visitors.

And Jaime Huxtable will be drawing giant comic panels for people to add text or images to before he compiles them into a massive jam strip.

There may be more so please check updates at http://boinggraphics.co.uk/news/sum-noos-comicpopup-brighton/

Is this part of a grand plan to do more events like this and do you think other people could follow your lead and do something similar in other parts of the country?

SR: I’m going to write a long report afterwards so any interested party can learn from our triumphs and mistakes.
Maybe someone will set up a ComicPopUp as a regular stall on a car boot sale? A pub, café or community center? An honesty box in a suitable venue? Take them to book clubs?

Just put comics in places people are going for other reasons…

For my own involvement, Daves Comics are interested in doing a repeat pop-up in their store on Small Press Day, which sounds great.

After that I don’t know where we might take this… I’d like to do something, but my own work is almost out of stock already and organising so many sources is a massive time-suck. We’ll see how the first one goes on May 13th!