Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Comics Shelfie: Joe Decie

page from The Listening Agent

I'm pretty excited about this week's Comics Shelfie guest; when I first started getting into comics (beyond Batman), it was the work of UK artists, independent and self published that hooked me in- Dan Berry, John Allison, Warwick Johnson Cadwell, Kate Brown, Luke Pearson, Hannah Berry, Lizzy Stewart and Joe Decie. Via these artists I discovered a spectrum of comic styles and narratives and quite a few of them were also the first creators I clumsily engaged with at comic conventions; all in all, knowingly or unknowingly, through  their work and more, they've been instrumental in my comics growth. It's a testament to the quality of all those I've mentioned that their continued output is still incredibly good -if not ever better, but right now I'd briefly like to talk about one in artist in particular.

If you were to categorise Joe Decie's comics, you might put them under diary comics, or auto-bio, but the downside of labels has always been the constrictions they enforce. Decie's strips are indeed autobiographical, narrating little everyday incidents, but they have a thoughtful lyricism to them, an emotional humour, often wandering into the imagined and fantastical, an effect compounded by the beauty of his ink washed art. He's published 2 superb books so far (amongst a number of minis), The Accidental Salad, and the more recent, excellent The Listening Agent, both of which I recommend unreservedly. 

So it's a real pleasure to have him on the blog today to talk about his comics collection. Over to Joe, then:

'We moved house two years ago, so forgive me that I've yet got round to unpacking my comic books. I know comic book collections are usually pictured neatly displayed, categorised in some sort of complex fashion, and I'd love to join in too, I just haven't got round to it. And I probably never will (my record collection is a different story) 

So anyway, what have I got? a few book shelves full, mixed with the odd cookery or art book. Then a dozen or so boxes as yet unpacked, untouched in two years. Everything I've bought since then is piled up around the house, hidden places or stuffed in drawers. Let me tell you about these books then, it's a little bit of everything, excluding superhero stuff, which I know nothing about. I'm sure if I had half a chance I'd read that too. What there is, is quite a bit of the standard European translations (Sfar, Trondheim, Larcenet, Blain, Gipi, Mawil, Jason, all the Dungeon books, and then some Moebius) Loads of stuff by Bagge, Clowes, Chester Brown, Kaz, Joe Matt, Steve Weissman, Kochalka, Kim Deitch etc. I did used to buy all the Chris Ware Acme books, but would give them as gifts once read. I had no idea they were discontinued. I want them back. 

I have a few bits of Manga; Akira and the like. There's some stuff from my childhood Viz, Astreix, Calvin and Hobbies. I didn't like Tintin then though, picked them up more recently. The back bone of my collection is several large boxes full of mini comics. When the dollar was weak against the pound I bought in bulk from the Poopsheet Distro, just to see what was out there. Since I've been making them I've been happy to trade with others. Trouble is, I amassed too many and I am a hoarder. In recent years I've been systematically making care packages of them to give to people who might like em, so I send UK stuff to US artists and vice versa. It's great to be able to introduce people to work they might like. 


There's nothing unusual or rare in my collection, I passed up a chance to buy that big Kramers Ergot for only £30. What a fool. Oh I do have some Moebius rarities, but they're not mine. Also a complete collection of Eightball, again, not mine. It's all the sort of stuff you'd find in Gosh!, The Beguiling, Page 45, Floating World, Atomic Books coz those are the sort of places I buy em from. I mostly just borrow books from the library these days, Brighton library is brilliant. I don't need to own all these books, it's silly. The signed and sketched books are all treasured I suppose. So let me tell you about three specific books that were important and influential to me as an artist. Of course, theres tonnes of books, but let me single out some...

Mark's Little Book About Kinder Eggs
The first zine I was aware of. Must have been the early 90s, my stepdad, Roger Radio, was doing a lot of Mail Art (also cartooning for Viz) and there would be all kinds of zines and assembled art collections around the house and Marks Little Book About Kinder Eggs caught my eye. It's a tiny photocopied (actually maybe riso) typed on typewriter, cut and paste, DIY book about one mans adventures with Kinder Eggs. A diary documenting his purchases. You should find a copy, it's still in print. Well, after reading this my mind was blown. It was my gateway into the Fluxus and Dada art movements and was responsible for me producing my own zines and becoming heavily involved in Book and Mail Art networks. I'd never seen how easy it was to make something, to just do it.

Mc Sweeney's Quarterly Concern No 13
I was aware of alternative comics before this, I'd read Crumb and Shelton and Tank Girl/Deadline but this book was a real eye opener. It's an amazing anthology of contemporary North American comics artists, a who's who of indie.  I loved the book so much, I bought extra copies to give to friends. I probably picked it up because of the Chris Ware dust jacket, a design student friend of mine had been ripping off his art and until seeing that I was not aware what she was up to. So very naughty. Also, hidden in the folds of the jacket were two mini comics, one of which was by John Porcellino who I knew from years before when I was doing zines. The book also has lots of words in there, but I haven't read those.  It's the best sampler book you can get. Let me just cut and paste the artist list off wikipedia "Lynda Barry, Mark Beyer, Chester Brown, Jeffrey Brown, Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Michael Chabon (as Malachi B. Cohen), Daniel Clowes, David Collier, R. Crumb, Kim Deitch, Julie Doucet, Debbie Drechsler, H. C. "Bud" Fisher, Ira Glass, Glen David Gold, Milt Gross, David Heatley, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Ben Katchor, Kaz, Chip Kidd, Joe Matt, Richard McGuire, John McLenan, Mark Newgarden, Gary Panter, John Porcellino, Archer Prewitt, Ronald J. Rege Jr., Joe Sacco, Richard Sala, Tim Samuelson, Seth, Art Spiegelman, Adrian Tomine, Rodolphe Töpffer, John Updike, Chris Ware, Jim Woodring" see what I mean? 90% of the artists in that anthology were people I went on to buy the back catalogues of their work.

American Elf
There were a few diary type comics I started reading at the same time, but Kochalka spoke to me more than the others, more off the wall I guess. He had real skill for picking brilliant moments in his day and documenting them beautifully. After reading this collection I found his website and started following him there. At some point on his forum I got to talking with him about doing my own online collection and he pointed me to one of the free hosts for webcomics and that same day I became a comic artist. That's the beauty of great art, it inspires. "I can do that" a million of us all shout, but only a few can pull it off well. Last year at SPX I got to meet James and he's a lovely chap, intense, in a good way.'

Many thanks to Joe for his time and participation. You can view all the previous installments of Comics Shelfie here. Remember to stop by on the 9th of April for the next installment.