This just in from Paul Brown!
He’s very persuasive, this Gherkin fella. “I’m doing a zine event in my manor ! Come along, it’ll be great Maaaan !” (He calls everyone “Man”. I guess if you have a “Manor”, you can call anyone what you like: being a Zine Ganglord helps). It helps when he then contacts you a few weeks later to ask if you’d like to display some pages from your sketchbooks as part of a display of work by “Outsider Zine Artists”. How can I refuse ? Being the feeble,weak-willed, frail-egoed berk that I am, I send him a pile of photocopies in the hope he’ll leave me alone, and not send the boys round to break my drawing hands into Jack Kirby -like Banana Fingers !
I stupidly go take the wrong Tube (well, it would’ve been the right Tube if it’d been going to Tottenham Court Road, as usual !!!), so then double back and then take the Overground to New Cross Gate. Goldsmiths, bastion of future Art & Design geniuses, is over the road, and then just round the corner is The Aversham Arms.The whole street looks like it’s the set of an episode of The Sweeney, circa 1976, or if I’m being generous, Minder,1980. The Aversham is where the “Sarf-east Lahnndan” Zinefest is taking place.From the outside, it looks like Rolf Harris went mental with a Paintbrush, during a Mondrian phase,squares of primary colour brightening an otherwise drab exterior. Inside I’m expecting to be led upstairs by “The Gherkin’s” henchman, tied to a chair, while a bright light’s shone in my face and a shadowy figure with excessive jewellery and smoking a cigar starts malevolently purring “Nah then, Nah then…” while his Bruisers buff up their leather gloves in readiness.
Thankfully though, Jimmy Saville passed away last week. Jimi Gherkin, Stalwart Zinester, and Organiser of Alternative Press Events, doesn’t have the much-missed Sir Jim’s (alleged) mobster connections, but he does have an innate ability to put together a lively, enjoyable Zine event, which always has a bit more to it than just selling zines. For once, I’m not on time, but no matter, no sooner am I through and up the stairs,Jimi’s rushing towards me like a long lost brother, ushering me up another flight of stairs to the room at the top, where I immediately begin putting my awaiting sketchbook pages to the walls.The room is already busy with a clamour of young ladies who are there to provide live poetry,storytelling and music throughout the day. Paul Petard and Eriko Hase, the other two artists, are already putting the finishing touches to their artwork displays, and the work of both are great, Paul’s pictures have a lively, zippy energy to them, a frenetic cartoony quirkiness.This perfectly compliments and contrasts Eriko’s very personal, intimate drawings ,whose use of colour impresses me. Unfortunately for them, I’m the Malaise in the Middle.Still, it’s a pretty neat encapsulation of just why Mr Gherkin’s events are so enticing;there’s a wonderfully eclectic mix .
While I’ve been upstairs, frantically tacking A3 sheets to walls, Sir Jimi has been putting my zines up on my alloted tablespace-he’s always on hand to muck in and make sure everyone’s accomodated, everyone’s getting the best out of the day they possibly can.The first floor of the pub is filled with tables packed with an array of artware and artworks, posters,badges, prints,zines,comics,books,knitted things and the obligatory, it now seems, cakes. I dunno when this trend started, but several of the Zine fraternity seem to have a diet based on home-made cakes.(But how do they stay so Dickensian thin dammit ??!!) Sadly, a visit to the Dentist this week averts me from the enticing cakey goodness ! It’s a hive of talents, and the punters are on hand to take advantage of the Art Bargains on offer, thanks to Jimi’s knack of excellent promotion, including some radio mentions. It’s always the same at these things.At first it seems a handful of people are in attendance,then, as the day progresses, you look up from your table, and there are crowds that weren’t there 5 minutes ago.The lovely thing is, even if people don’t buy your work, they’re genuinely interested in what you do;they want to know, they want to engage with what’s going on,they are seduced.To me, and many others who attend these events, the reason they work is that there’s a real community developing here, not just between the artists and Zinesters here, but their audience.There’s no cliqueyness, just a lovely inclusiveness going on. People are welcomed and felt they can be part of what’s going on. Essentially, because it’s really friendly. I’m sat next to two young artists fresh out of University who’ve produced a zine and series of wonderfully rendered prints, exquisitely drawn.(sadly, and with sincere apologies, I’ve forgotten their names, I think one of them was named Tom)We talk about University experiences, making work and zines.This is the first time they’ve done this, we look at each others work, and they also get talking to the person next to them, artist and zinemaker Vicky Samuel, who’s produced a great newsprint zine, who I’ve met previously at Sir Jimi’s Press Fairs. I’m delighted when someone buys one of their prints. I’m hoping their experience today gives them confidence and a belief to keep producing their work, that they want to come back, that there’s an enviroment available here to develop what they do, and share that experience with other artists, and an audience of people who will want to see more of what they do, and hopefully, also want to own it. But it’s not just about selling.There’s as much pleasure to be had making friends, talking with strangers, and joining in. Later, I’m joined at the other end of my table by a lovely young lady called Laura, who’s made some great record covers, and has a wonderful sense of humour and Scottish accent. It’s a good day for Lauras-earlier I talk to another Laura who does Graphic Design, and comes back to chat later having seemingly spent all day wandering upstairs and downstairs looking at everything, and buying some things.This is what it’s all about, a shared and burgeoning enthusiasm, the excitement of possibilities.
Later, the aforementioned Miss Samuel and I are coerced by the ever-persuasive Mr Gherkin (he’s so bloody enthusiastic it’s terrifying !!!) into volunteering to do some impromptu drawing on acetate sheets on an overhead projector upstairs while Storyteller Miss Emma Jones reads us a wonderfully witty, clever and ridiculously silly story of Cub Reporters, missing cats and strange Caribbean men in vests who know too much(and smoke too much !) Vicky and I frantically scribble pictures to accompany Emma’s words in a whoosh of acetate sheets and felt tip pens.While Emma’s words drift on air, Vicky and my scribbles magically appear on screen, though we can’t see them as the light from the projector has blinded us. When it’s finished, we stand up to blindly stagger out, and are met with a large wave of applause-the room is full of people who’ve been quietly sat cross-legged and attentive, like infants in last lesson story from teacher. There are even people stood on the stairs outside who’ve been watching. It’s lovely, and though my drawing was absolutely rubbish, the effort is still appreciated, though to be frank, I reckon it’s the story they’re cheering for.It’s a first for Vicky too, and she handled it wonderfully well, specially having to carry a klutz like me who can’t draw cats(or anything else today, for that matter !) throughout.
While I’ve been failing to draw anything coherently upstairs, the recently arrived Messrs Peter Lally and Gareth Brookes, Alt-Press Alumni both, and Gherkin’s Hand -picked Luietenants, have been very kindly manning my table, ensuring sales are kept to a minimum.I blame the effect not so much on the economic recession, but more Mr Lally’s intruiging new hairstyle.Apparently he has his own stylist now-sales of Donald Hamilton zines must be good. I’ve sold two issues of Donald’s adventures today, so I can at least get the sides of my ever-out -of control Quiff shaved. Either that or lend Peter the money to go back to his, erm, “stylist”, to finish the job !(sorry Peter, only joking, obviously, thank you to you and Gareth for being brilliant as usual).
Not long after, it’s time to pack up. It’s been such a good day, I don’t really want to go, but the joys of National Express coach trips await (that’s another story entirely !!!). There’s still time to talk and joke with Peter and Vicky, be rude to a very pleasant young man interested in my Zines (so sorry, didn’t mean to ! ) and be enticed into eating the last creamy cupcake doing the rounds by a lovely young lady who still has all her own perfect teeth (How ???). I say goodbye to Sir Jimi with a big shared hug-he’s really fixed it for everyone to have a great day today, and he’s beaming with joy, it’s obviously meant a lot to him, on his own turf. What’s more, and as always, he’ll give the credit to the days success to everyone else who turned up, zinesters and punters alike.For him, it’s about creating a community, a space, a place for people to come and share in being creative, and what’s great is he’s succeeding. Ask anyone who’s taken part, and I think they’ll agree. If they don’t, well….. Jimi’ll Fix it !
Paul “Can’t Draw Cats” Ashley Brown