One of the things I love about comic conventions is the opportunity to meet small press creators. Not because I don’t like the mainstream stuff – if it’s well written, I’ll love it to tiny pieces – but because the creative rules are different with the small press. You’ve got your idea, your skills and your resources, that’s it. There is no-one across the ring from you other than you, or, to put it in slightly nerdier terms you can hack the head off Darth Vader but it’ll turn out he was you all along…
Joking aside, it’s tough, working the small press. It’s all too easy to get burnt out or disheartened, going for opportunity after opportunity and selling your work as hard as you can only to realise the person you’re running the sales pitch to doesn’t have any money or is just killing time. Or is not that interested. It’s an experience I’ve had myself, more than once, working stalls for friends and I know exactly how much it burns when it stops being fun and becomes the thing you do because you don’t know how to do anything else. The second hardest thing you can do creatively is work for yourself. The hardest thing you can do creatively is pick yourself up after you’ve burnt out.
Aaron “Smurf” Murphy did that, as he recounts with clear-eyed honesty on the final page of Fecal Depot #3. A collection of his assorted strips and one-shots he drew for himself and various other creators, Aaron named it Fecal Depot as a play on Masamune Shirow’s Intron Depot series of art books. Shirow named them that way because he wanted the books to serve as an introductory depot to his work. Aaaon named his books that way because they’re somewhere for him to put his “crappy one-shot jokes” as he puts it.
That level of self-deprecating humour is common amongst a lot of the UK small press creators I’ve met and it’s never, ever warranted. These are fiercely talented people with a fine eye for design, movement and character and a wicked sense of humour and Aaron is a prime example of that. There’s nothing crappy about any of this work, and the differing styles of art alone in FD #3 justify its £2.50 price tag.
Each strip is smart, wry and very funny. My favourites, by a mile, are “Amazing Adventure In Lettering And Typography” which is a story told entirely through speech bubbles and sound effects, and “The Leeds Thought Bubble Festival”. This is a straight-up piece of comics journalism recounting Aaron’s adventures at the Thought Bubble festival in 2011 and it’s actually brilliant. Firstly because it captures that sense of contained energy and creativity that the Con has, and secondly because of a fantastic central gag involving Alfred, Batman’s butler. It’s an oddly touching piece too, as Aaron deals not only with the con but why it made all the artists attending it feel so good. Write ups of Thought Bubble are always worth reading but if you want to see how it feels to be at a con like that? Read this piece.
Aaron’s next big project, “The Yorkshire Cowboy”, looks to be his best work so far. Set in 1910, it’s the story of Joseph Considine, a former target shooter with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West tour. Considine left the tour to try and find gold in Yorkshire and, having failed, turned to drink. Now, an odd combination of town drunk and hero to the local children, Considine lives in Holmfirth, where Last Of The Summer Wine was filmed. When a group of men ride into town he finds himself approached by Reggie Diggs, their leader. Reggie is planning a train robbery, thinks Considine is a hardened gunfighter and wants his expertise on the job in return for a cut. Now, Considine must choose between being trapped in Yorkshire, or leaving with the blood of innocent men on his hands…
Aaron’s produced a poster comic as a preview of the series and it looks great; the green hills and stone walls of Yorkshire neatly contrasting with Considine’s laconic cowboy mannerisms. He’s hoping to put the book out starting next year and I can’t wait, as it looks to be a winning combination of crime, tragedy, comedy and some great art work.
Aaron Murphy and the other small press creators working the con circuit, are some of the nicest, most interesting people in the industry. Fiercely creative and fiercely independent, they’re building the future of comics, one issue at a time. Based on what I’ve seen of Aaron’s stuff, comics is in very safe hands.
Aaron’s work is available online through www.aaronsmurfmurphy.deviantart.com .