The Birmingham Zine Fest – a great start to a (hopefully) annual event.

Published On September 14, 2010 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Conventions and events

(Birmingham Zine Festival poster by James Nash, more of whom in a while)

Last weekend was the Birmingham Zine Festival and by all accounts (including mine) it was rather a stunning success. The idea was to bring together a host of  self publishing and handmade zines, comics and book makers and hopefully get a lot of people to come and see what they had to offer. It definitely worked, and the main Saturday Zine Fair was pretty much packed from opening at 12 to closing at 6.

Prior to the Zine Fair, there was a special Friday Film Night; consisting of documentaries and talks. I missed it, not getting down to Birmingham until Saturday, but Pete Ashton has been good enough to put videos of the two main talks up online. Pete’s mostly a blogger and social media consultant now, but back in the late 80s and early 90s he was heavily into zines and comics, setting up the Bugpowder distribution service (which later became the website). His 30 minutes talk “The Emergence of the British Small Comics scene in the early 1980s” is up at his site, a well put together run through of the zine comics of the early 80s. Likewise Rob Horrocks’ talk on the music zines of his youth is online.

(Venue for Saturday’s Zine Fair – upstairs at the Victoria)

The actual main day of the Festival started at 12, at The Victoria pub. Talking to Lizz Lunney (just one of a team of organisers – all of whom had worked wonderfully well to get the festival off the ground) later in the day I found out she’d been concerned that the function room upstairs at The Victoria would be too big, that no-one would turn up, that the whole day would be a flop.

Thankfully, her fears were completely unfounded. I turned up around half 1 and the room was packed with people. So much so that I said hello to a few folks and realised there was no way I could navigate round the room with a few bags and a camera. My plan to grab some food and come back when it got quieter after 3 was good, but wonderfully thwarted since the room was still full and pretty much remained so until everyone started packing up at 6.

In fact, the room was the only problem with the whole event, and that was no fault of the organisers, who’d picked a good, fair sized venue; the upstairs function room at the Victoria. It was simply a bit too small, artists and their tables were too cramped, it was too hot and quite difficult to move around without knocking someone. But that was all because of  the sheer numbers of eager people who came along. The event could easily have filled somewhere nearly twice the size.

The crowd was completely different from the usual comic event crowd, far younger and far more mixed. It was wonderful to see so many different people so enthused about what they were doing.

The Festival was sponsored by The Brothers McLeod whose animations ran throughout the day on a screen behind a stage which later saw some rather good acoustic performances by Simon Fox, Winston Echo and Bom and his Magic Drumstick. There were a range of workshops running throughout Saturday from T shirt printing to telling you how you could run your very own zine event.

(Comics and Zines all over the place – top photo the communal Zine/Comic table, bottom photo the Good Grief table featuring work from all over the world.)

The works on display ranged across the whole spectrum of self-published works, from small, handmade, photocopies to fully fledge, professionally printed collections. The quality varied considerably of course, but that’s not really the point. The whole zine festival was about celebrating the zine and hand-made culture, and Birmingham Zine Festival certainly did that.

There were plenty of familiar faces there from comics we’ve featured on the FPI blog over the last couple of years: Lizz Lunney, Howard Hardiman, Peter Lally, Jimi Gherkin, Phillippa Rice, Jason Wilson, Matthew Craig, Sean Azzopardi, the We Are Words + Pictures Collective, Dave Lander, and no doubt more who I didn’t get round to saying hello to (so if I’ve missed you off apologies).

(Phillippa Rice of My Cardboard Life fame with her new pop up comic celebrating the wonder of vestibules.)

(Jason Wilson shows off his most recent excusion into criminal matters; Day Of The Deal. Next to him is Steve Tanner, writer and publisher of TimeBomb Comics. Steve’s a fixture on the convention circuit who’s books I’ve not really investigated thus far. However, after seeing some of the work due out soon I’m expecting to rectify that in the not so distant future.)

(One of the organisers and a wonderful comic talent in her own right Lizz Lunney, plus Howard Hardiman, whose Badger is still a firm favourite round these parts – his new series The Lengths may not be quite so cute and certainly not so family friendly. And apologies to both – this was fairly late in the day and it was awfully hot so neither are shown in their full gorgeousness!)

As for new stuff picked up there, I have to admit I perused a lot of the zines but in all honesty they didn’t hold a lot of interest for me – lovingly put together and very attractive though many of them were.

As for comics, there were many I’d already seen, many I’d already reviewed here on the FPI blog. And I’d be lying if everything I picked up filled me with delight – but that’s the whole point really, this sort of event is all about firing people up, proving to them that they could be doing this and whether I liked their work or not, I appreciate the work and passion that had been poured into every single little zine, every photocopied A5 booklet.

But my main criteria for a successful show is if I come away with at least one new comics artist whose work I think I’ll be talking about for a long time to come. And here at the zine festival there were three of them

(John Allison with just a few of his great ScaryGo Round collections and more)

Admittedly, the first is a bit of a cheat, since I’d known of John Allison‘s work for quite a while through his Scary Go Round and Bad Machinery webcomics. They’re lovely, fun things that he’s developed into a pretty successful cottage industry selling the collections over at  his website. I’d meant to read them many, many times, since even a quick perusal shows me he’s a real talent. But it’s something I’d just never gotten around to, something I had to rather embarrassedly admit to John when I was chatting to him. However, I promise you’ll see more about him soon. In the meantime head over to his webcomics, and go and buy his books, they really are quite wonderful.

The second I stupidly failed to get photos of; Joe List. A young artist with some great comics work and hopefully you’ll be seeing a lot more of his work here on the FPI blog in future.

(Top: James Nash. Bottom: James Nash’s gorgeously original comics)

And third and finally; James Nash, the artist behind the Zine Festival’s poster that started this report off. James’ work was obscured by punters when I wandered round the first time and it’s thanks to a lovely pint of Guinness in the company of Matthew Craig that I had my first exposure to his work. Matthew’s already coined the phrase “skyscraper format” to describe his beautifully scratchy black and white diary comics on folded A3 stock, presented tall, very tall. It’s something I’d seen in children’s books but this is the first instance in comics. Fortunately the quality matches the originality in formatting. More on his work very soon.

Overall Birmingham Zine Festival was a huge success. Next year (and I really, really hope and to be honest expect there to be a next year) I’m confident they’ll have a bigger room but will still work incredibly hard to make it just as personal and intimate as this years Festival proved to be.

The whole thing is best summed up by two anecdotes: Matthew Craig was telling me, in the bar downstair of a girl he’d been chatting to, young and just out of college. She’s gone upstairs and seen this collection of like minded souls, all putting their heart and souls into doing what they wanted to do. And the only way she could describe what she’d seen was “inspiring”. And that’s exactly what this sort of event is all about – filling people with the inspiration to get out there and do this for themselves. Who knows, maybe next year she’ll be back with something of her own?

The second anecdote is quite wonderful; I was chatting to Lizz Lunney and this young girl, maybe 14, came up to her to tell her how she’d read her Unicorns and Werewolves comic and absolutely loved it. “Did she have any more?” asks the girl, to which Lizz starts pointing out some of the other works on her table. The girl picks up one, and quick as a flash gets out a few of her own zines and asks if Lizz does swaps. Lizz did, and the girl left beaming. Wonderful moment.

The Zine Festival aimed to put on a great show, get lots of people really excited about zines, comics, small press, self publishing, DIY printing – call it what you want – the idea was to get people excited about not just what was already out there, but to get them fired up to start making their own. On that level, and practically every other one, it was a great success. So, Birmingham Zine Festival organisers – same time next year?

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

3 Responses to The Birmingham Zine Fest – a great start to a (hopefully) annual event.


    (isn’t he that one guy?)

    The lady I spoke to was part of the Whirlygig Collective, and if I’d let her get more than a word in edgeways, I might have learned a bit more about them. Link-o:

    Louise Crowhurst’s book Little Foxes was the one thing I regret not buying at the Fair. I actually walked all the way back into town to find a cashpoint so I could buy it, but by the time I’d gotten back to The Victoria, I realised that I might like to eat something that day. I got a nice matchbook-sized microcomic in the same vein, though, and hopefully, I’ll see them again at BICS.


  2. Lizz says:

    I don’t normally do swaps but she asked so nicely and I’d sold out of the comic she wanted so thought it was deserved! :o)

    Thanks for this positive review of the day! It is great to know people had fun and also to hear ideas for improvement next year! If anyone else has feedback do get in touch with us-