Propaganda enters the strange world of shared apartments with Tales From the Flat
This is Propaganda, I’m Richard Bruton and this is what I’ve been reading lately:
Tales From The Flat 1
Laurence Powell writes and Oliver Lambden draws
I miss the regular looks at some small press stuff that I used to do back when I worked in Nostalgia & Comics. Sure, most of the black and white A5 things we used to get in the post or dropped into the shop were absolute dross; badly written, badly drawn, badly coloured, badly cut out pages, badly stapled. You name it – they managed to do it badly. But occasionally, just occasionally something came through that made all the wading through that shite worth it.
Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you Tales From The Flat: exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about. A small press comic with nice production values, great design, both staples in the right place and above all – a bloody good story with some really funky artwork.
It’s a basic 4 lads sharing a flat and having lots of fun and funky adventures sort of tale. This is the moving-in issue and although chock-full of talking heads it’s still a fast moving great little read. There’s snappy banter, funny gags and an all too familiar sense of desperation at moving into your first shared place; the desire to personalise your walls with the same posters as every other shared flat, the crap furniture, the stereotyped search for a flatmate routine. It’s all here. And a quick lesson in how not to do a job interview:
“What sort of role do you see yourself playing in the shop?”
“C’mon guys, this is an interview, not an audition. I’m sure any idiot can work a till and keep a few shelves stocked up. But if you want me to play a role I’ll be the loveable rogue who gets things done with minimal effort….”
“….we’ll call you.”
(interior page from Tales From the Flat #1 by Laurence Powell and Oliver Lambden, (C) Modern Monstrosity)
On top of this we’ve got a bit of comic shop background thrown in. One of the characters owns a newly opened comic shop and is suffering the same problems as anyone who’s every worked the tills knows all too well… the friend who hangs around and dispenses their advice to the customers. We’ve all seen it done and invariably it’s always done badly, just like this…..
“After you insulted that customer, I doubt he’ll ever come back to the shop again.”
“But that’s my sales pitch! Ridicule their tastes so they don’t know what they want…. then, when their defenses are down, sell ’em the comics they really should be reading!”
Sadly, it’s an all too familiar refrain from comic shop staff all around the world. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these perfectly written little comic shop vignettes in subsequent issues.
So, all in all Tales From The Flat is pretty much a perfect example of how to successfully put out a small press comic. It’s fun, fresh, well written, full of great artwork with enough good little touches to make you come back for more. I can certainly see a lot of Jim Mahfood in the artwork – not in a terrible way, but he’s obviously an artistic influence. Some Alex Robinson in there as well I think, both in art and story (totally agree and that’s a big compliment to the guys – Joe).
And the staples are in the right place. (Did I mention that before? I’m not obsessed about it, just that you tend to remember every single staple embedded between finger and nail from a dodgy small press comic.)
Tales From The Flat should be available at your local comics shop. But it probably won’t be, because your local comic shop is a horrible, pokey little place that thinks the comic medium starts with Batman and ends with the X-Men and covers everything in between as long as they have a superpower, a gaudy costume and a crap origin story. FPI’s Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham does keep it however and you can also order it from the British Small Press section on the FPI webstore (a new collected edition has just been added recently), as well as from the Modern Monstrosity site and the blog, which also has plenty of other goodies and more information on Laurence and Oliver’s regular gigs.
I picked up Tales From The Flat at the recent Birmingham Comics Show and unfortunately didn’t really have time to chat to the boys about what looked like a really nice comic. But I did manage to e-mail them some questions later on…
Richard: How long have you been doing this stuff, and what’s your background in comics?
Modern Monstrosity: Laurence got into comics through 2000AD, whereas Oliver grew-up on a healthy diet of Marvel. We kind of introduced each other to different things. In an un-gay way.
(interviewing for a flatmate in TFTF #1, a ritual anyone who has lived in a shared apartment will be familiar with and a scene which I suspect owes a slight tip of the hat to Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave; (C) Modern Monstrosity)
At first TFTF was something we made for ourselves and our mates, nobody else would understand it. We did seven issues of what we call “series one”, which was photocopied at Laurence’s college and sold to our friends for a pound. Just a bit of fun. For some reason, one day, one of us decided we should be doing it for real, going to conventions and getting it into shops, so we literally stopped what we were doing (still have the unpublished pages of issues eight and nine) and started from scratch with a new issue one, this time trying to make an actual story that could be read by anyone, a kind of an “Ultimate TFTF”. The first five issues of TFTF are literally a retelling of the original five issues. But good.
Richard: Is it purely a part-time labour of love thing?
Modern Monstrosity: Yup, Laurence DJ’s and works in a warehouse and Oliver’s a classroom assistant. There’s never loads of money in smallpress, so you’ve gotta love it.
Richard: What started you off in comics? Heroes/influences?
Modern Monstrosity: When we first started it, we were teenagers, Laurence was lapping up Kevin Smith and Hal Hartley while Oliver was into Jim Mahfood, Andi Watson, Steve Ditko, Jamie Hewlitt and Philip Bond. It was later that we happened upon Spaced, to which we’re very similar. We’re what Spaced would be on a 5000 billion pound budget. But that’s silly so it’s got to be a comic.
The art in the first five issues of “series one” was pretty much lifted straight from Mahfood books. So it’s kind of evolved on from there, but is still quite prominent. His Grrl Scouts series as a whole inspired us to just start making comics. It’s a great book, a big homage to Ninja Turtles.
Richard: You allude to Oliver running a comic shop in the mini documentary at the back of the comic, but is this real Oliver or comic Oliver?
Modern Monstrosity: The Oliver in the documentary is real Oliver. And when he grows up, he wants to be just like comic Oliver and own his own comic shop.
Richard: I know from Joe at FPI blog that there’s a collection of sorts coming out, which either indicates you like throwing money away or that there’s a dedicated market for your work – have you managed to get the book into many shops and what sort of response have you been getting?
Modern Monstrosity: We decided to do the collected thingy after two 100-issue print runs of #2 sold out and we’ve pretty much sold out of issue three now as well. We’ve got plenty of issue ones left because we printed about one thousand of the little buggers and there’s still loads left. So the collected edition has the first three issues in there. It’s also better for dealing with shops, giving them one volume instead of a load of different comics. The way things are going, we’ll probably print the second collected edition early next year once we’ve run out of issue’s #4 – 6.
(cover to Tales From the Flat Collected Edition Volume 1 – a total steal at the price and a bargain you should take advantage of, (C) Modern Monstrosity)
So the collected edition is being printed out of necessity rather than demand. Also, TFTF is made to be read in bigger volumes, it’s a slow-burner. Response on the whole has been good, we do especially well at Orbital Comics in London and a few record shops we go through as well. We very much believe in finding audiences outside of the usual comic book audience. It’s no good counting on just conventions and comic shops. We run a monthly club night where we sell our comics and launch new ones as well as recently starting up a stall at Camden market with fellow small pressers to get our books into the hands of “normal” people.
Richard: And finally, how about the future? Are we looking at more Tales comics or have you got anything else planned?
Modern Monstrosity: Defiantly more TFTF. It’s a 100 issue epic. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Alongside TFTF we’re always trying to work on other stuff. Been doing work for Volume Magazine, putting together our comic strip, Curtis and Terrorist and Oliver’s working with Monkeys Might Puke creator, Dan Lester on a new comic as well.
(Modern Monstrosity’s new Curtis and Terrorist – check out their site for more)
Also, starting with TFTF#7, we’ll be running TFTF backup stories after the main tale which will be written and drawn by some of the UK small press’ finest. (and I’m sure the boys won’t mind a quick plug for Jake Harold who does the colouring on TFTF’s cover – Jake has his first solo comic Tards out now – Joe)
Hope that answers all your questions, thanks very much for the interest!
Hope you enjoy the rest of the issues as well.
All the bestest,
Oliver and Laurence.