Sunday, 20 October 2013

Peow! Studio: 3 men and a risograph

Founded in February 2012 by artists Patrick Crotty, Olle Forsslöf and Elliot Alfredius, Peow! Studio are fast becoming the go-to place for great Swedish comics and art prints. Frustrated by the lack of scope and variety in the Swedish comics scene, Crotty, Forsslöf and Alfredius purchased an old RP3700 risograph machine and set up a studio in central Stockholm, and began making the kind of comics they wanted to see: beautiful, genre-straddling, goofy, imaginative, humorous stories. After publishing a few of their own (collaborative and individual) efforts- Flood City, Swordfight, Internal Affairs, The Man with all the Answers, and catching the attention of Brandon Graham, Peow have recently begun extending their reach internationally, travelling to London to table at the East London Comics and Art Festival earlier this year, and curating comics creators such as Jane Mai and French artist Valentin Seiche. All of which is very impressive when you take into account it's been achieved within the space of 19 months. 

I'm genuinely very excited about Peow, as incredibly talented individual artists who produce great, genuinely fresh comics work, but also as publishers collaborating with interesting creators around the world. With that in mind and with things going so well, I thought I'd take the opportunity to run a profile/interview about how they got started, Swedish comics, shared aesthetics, future plans, and more. If you weren't aware of them before, consider this your reminder to bookmark their website now.

How did the conception of Peow Studio come about?

Patrick Crotty: The three of us has been dabbling with illustration and comics for a while, both Elliot and Olle met at art school and I was neighbors with Elliot and met Olle in Paris. All three of us have very similar tastes in comics, movies and video games. A lot of stuff we liked we felt was missing in other Swedish illustration, so we thought it might be good to start an illustrators collective instead of just freelancing separately. We started out by doing visuals and and animations and even a board game because we felt like it. But the whole illustration work was just... going a bit slow, and we wanted to make more comics.

After coming back from from the Stockholm International Comics Festival we were really bummed out at the quality of everything and I had this copy of Thickness and was like.. “hmm.. I want to make something like this… this risograph print book”. We looked into risograph printers and really lucked out and found a used one with two colors. We bought it right away and that’s sort of when we started to do what we really like doing:  making and publishing comics.

What were your aims when you started out, and have things changed?

PC: We’ve changed from being this confused illustrators collective into publishing comics and running a print shop almost full time. It’s nice and so much has happened in the last year. We only got our riso about a year and a half ago, but it feels like we’ve had it for ages.

When we started, we just had black and yellow. We made this book called Flood City, and from those sales plus some money I had saved up, we bought two more color drums. Then we made another two books and scraped together a bit more money and got two more colors.

One of the other reasons we started was that we wanted people to be able to make smaller print runs affordably. Personally, we were disappointed with digital print shops, and all of these sloppy black white photocopies on crappy paper, or super glossy prints. It’s not hard to make a book look better than that. Using better paper is a start. The risograph that we print all our books with is also open for public use, and people are using it. So Cool!

Patrick Crotty

This is a bit of a broad question, I know, but could you tell us a little about what the Swedish comics scene is like?

PC: Hmm. It’s small and segregated. At our “big” annual comic fair, the festival is mostly manga inspired artwork, or riot-girly type comics with a handful of political satire, and lastly, depressing self-pitying comics. There is a big focus on the words behind the comic and we’ve felt that the visual part of comics have been left behind in Swedish comics. The scene is so small though and it feels like everybody keeps to themselves. I wish we had more of a community vibe.

Olle Forsslöf: That’s also one of the reasons we started doing comics ourselves and publishing stuff that we like. To show that there are more and other ways of making comics even though you live in Sweden. Like that would even matter. There are lots of talented people for sure, it’s just the Swedish comics-scene that is kind of streamlined.

Just picking up from that question about the Swedish comic scene, and how it can sometimes feel like everyone keeps to themselves- are there any artists in Sweden you like and have tried to get on board, to establish a bit more of a sense of community and support?

OF: Obviously there is an audience for the comics that gets out there, to the public. Like the satires and depressing biographies or just the strip comicy things. But it feels kinda sad that the majority of comics in Sweden are those comics and not something else. If you compare it to France which has an amazing comics scene with great storytellers and artists that do realism, comedy, fantasy, sci-fi, horror and what not. At least they have variety, and I think that's what lacking in Sweden  We're not searching intensively for "the next great Swedish comic book artist" but we do look around at the festivals for stuff that we like (and sad too say not that much catches our fancy) and we did find Hanna K. like that. She's one of the best artists in Sweden right now I think. 

We are part of this magazine called UTOPI (utopia) that publish fantasy and sci-fi stuff. We only get to do one page per person and issue and its unpaid (until they get to 2000 subscribers). Sometimes there are some really nice looking comics in that and you get kinda happy. Like, it does exist! So we'll see what the future might bring us in form of Swedish comics. But we like looking beyond Sweden- why narrow it down to that you know?

How has the experience of Peow been since you set up? Did you have any expectations that have been met or are unrealised? Any challenges that came up, or any pleasant surprises?

OF: We didn't know in the beginning that we'd be publishing comics a year from then when we started, it all sort of happened, or fell upon us almost. I guess once we'd bought the riso and made our first book we started to see a bit further down the road. The main challenge then was how to get hold of color drums for the printer, how can we afford it and how will we make money on this? We did some efforts to get out to people that we existed and what we offered. But the word spread a lot by it self and print jobs started to roll in on its own and we soon could afford buying more drums and make more books and so on. Another challenge was to figure out how the printer worked. We didn't know anything when we bought it and once had to call a repairman who came over, pushed some buttons in a secret menu and then sent us a 200€ bill. We were like: we need to do this ourselves. So many hours spent on forums and searching for answers and a lot of trial and error, but now we kinda calls ourselves riso-experts, haha. Since we're the only ones doing this in Stockholm (maybe Sweden) I think it's okay.

Olle Forsloff

Olle Forsloff

One of the problems facing many small press comics publishers and distributors in the UK and US is postage costs. Is that something you're affected by to any extent in Sweden? I imagine you get quite a few international orders.

PC: For the most part, we don’t worry too much. We make our books and the postage costs whatever it has to cost because it’s out of our hands and we can’t decide what shipping costs. It sucks, but the mail is still an amazing system that works and getting mail is the best. I cry a little every time we have to send a big shipment off to the states because it’s so expensive. Recently I’ve figured out a cheaper way to send packages through using pre-paid parcels, but for regular orders we send stuff out in our own printed envelopes.

OF: Well, there is kind of a problem, with different currencies being stronger and weaker. What would be a normal and acceptable price for a limited signed and numbered comic in Sweden is a much too high price to pay in the U.S. And then add shipping which is quite expensive. So we have to find a pricing in-between and see it in a different kind of perspective. For me it’s an amazing feeling to know that people from all over the world wants to read something I created. Of course we need the money to be able to continue doing this, but still… it is too good to let a stupid thing like money ruin it.

Am I correct in thinking you guys have your own risograph printer, does that mean you print  put together everything you publish together? Can you describe that process a little for us?

OF: Yeah as Patrick said we bought a risograph RP 3700 for about a year ago. But that is the only machine we have. Our first book was printed and put together by us at a kitchen table. Folding and stapling and cutting. And actually that is pretty much how we still do it. Though we have a few places we can go to if we need to cut pages straight and making the books look proper, you know. We usually get some friends together and have a book-folding party, drinking wine and folding and stapling. It’s a bit more fun than just folding. We can do this as long as we do small print runs. The Jane Mai book we did, Pond Smelt, was the largest edition we’ve done so far and that was 450 copies. But we actually sent that to a professional bookbinding company.

Elliot Alfredius: Publishing in this small scale with our own machine is really cool though. It’s great to be able to get an idea for a book and just run with it. Our latest book, that was only 100 copies, went from concept to finished book in a week and a half.

You're working with some great artists- Jane Mai, Valentin Seiche, Hannah K, how do you go about approaching creators you would like to publish?

PC: I don’t feel that we’ve worked with enough people to say that we have a specific way to approach them. For example, Hanna K is our friend and we live in the same city and we’ve all like the same stuff and have similar influences. I’ve been internet acquaintances with Jane Mai a long time and always wanted to publish a book of hers because I think she’s the best. Most of the time we go about emailing people though, (thanks internet!!).

OF: Yeah it’s basically been through internet. We’re trying really hard to get something published by Hanna K, like a longer sci-fi comic. She is actually interning at our place right now so that she gets a little bit of funding to sit and draw comics.

Pond Smelt by Jane Mai
The New Frontier by Hannah K

Is there something in particular you look for in creators and work you want to publish?

EA: I guess a certain playfulness, maybe? Creativity and inventiveness and a sense of fun. So far, most of the people we’ve worked with have made pretty “nice” stuff, so now we might try to publish something edgy and dark. But I have no idea what that might be.

OF: Not really, or just that we need to like it. We only publish stuff by people that we really dig. Then it doesn’t really matter who’ve made it. Though we haven’t really published that much yet so it remains to be seen. We’ve had a few questions from people who sent us their work and asked if we’re interested in publishing them, but that’s not really how we work at the moment. Though, it’s always fun to see and kind of flattering to be asked.

Which artists or creators work are you excited by at the moment?

PC: I am totally digging EVERYTHING that this french gang is putting out right now. Violaine Briat, Valentin Seiche, Guillaume Singelin and Thomas Rouzière a few more . They have this really nice compilation book called Chaud Nem Jump (a play on ShonenJjump which means… spring roll? jump). Also I am excited about what Youth in Decline is doing. I think Ryan Sands is a big inspiration to what we want to be doing, and also Ryan Cecil Smith’s SF#3 from Koyama press. As a publisher it’s nice to have other publishers that I’m excited about and how they function as a business. From what I’ve heard and the email correspondences I really like what Anne Koyama is doing for comics. She’s totally great.

OF: Simon Hanselmann makes great comics, especially one called truth zone. I’m also a huge fan of Michael Deforge and Patrick Kyle’s stuff, and Mickey Zachilli. They’re all great and so fun that they’re doing stuff together. One artist I’ve discovered recently is Loïc Locatelli Kournwsky, though I only knew him until now by his Tumblr name which is Renart. I’m also a fan of the french guys Patrick mentioned. That's just a few.

Elliott Alfredius

Elliot Alfredius

Is it difficult balancing producing your own work as well as publishing others?

OF: To publish other peoples work is so much fun, I think. And you don't really do any work yourself except when it comes to the printing and putting together of the book, which of course is a lot of work, but the creative stuff is made by someone else. It's almost easier to justify publishing an artist that you really love and believe in than to publish your own work, which, or at least I, almost always have self doubt in. I guess partly because of that we are our own publishers and it almost feels like cheating, like, am I entitled to do this? Then again, of course I am, that's the entire reason why we started doing this. So yeah, there is an inner conflict going on, but not really. 

It sometimes feel hard finding the time to work on your own stuff, but mostly not because of other peoples books. More like I need to answer this email, and then we're gonna have a workshop this weekend, we need to make a plan, etc. Again - we've just started out and haven't published that many books yet so I can't say too much about it all now anyhow!

Do you think it helps you as a publishing unit that you share a certain artistic aesthetic (at times it come across in similarities in your work)?

OF: Yes, I think it does help that we have similar tastes in comics and aesthetics. Easier to get along in what we want to achieve. It's also really neat working with two great artists that you always can ask for advice and knowing you're getting pro-tips every time. 

Are there any upcoming projects you're particularly looking forward to?

OF: We’ll soon be printing Time Capsule #2 and that’ll be good to get out there. Personally I’m looking forward to start working on Náva#2 (it’s been too long). We’ll also be responsible for importing comics to an artsy bookstore in Stockholm called “Konstig”. They don’t have a comics section yet so we get to decide what they should sell. It’ll be fun!

EA: We’re trying to push Hanna K to write and finish her ridiculously epic sci-fi saga, that we’ve previously published a sketchbook from. It’ll probably take a while, but it will no doubt be utterly amazing when it’s done.

What plans do you have in the future for Peow Studio?

PC: Short term, we have Time Capsule # 2 coming out really soon, and we are going to be publishing something more from Hanna K. Also, we’re going to be part of a dinosaur group show in Amsterdam next week. Very soon we’re going to have fluro pink and orange for our riso. The best colors! Future plans are: make so many more books, try offset printing, video game work, and having more time for our own stuff.

OF: Yeah, releasing more books, hopefully get more people interested in us and what we do so we can make larger editions. Also get more time to work on our own stuff (sometimes there’s always something else that needs to be done first). I’m really looking forward to get started on Náva#2, I’ve read the script and it really gets going now. It would be nice to get our studio to bring us enough income so I could quit my extra job. Maybe within a year hopefully.

PC: I want to quit my extra job too.

OF: Oh, and also we’re applying to go to TCAF in may 2014 so that’ll be fun! And by then we’ll probably have several new books!

You can find the Peow website here and the shop here.

Many thanks to (names are linked to Tumblr blogs, which I would urge you to follow):

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