Sunday, 20 September 2009

publish and be damned

package of my three most recent comics:
'cowards/carnivores', 'maggie' and 'pigeon'

it's a week till 'publish and be damned':

Publish and Be Damned Fair 2009

Oxford House, Derbyshire Street, Bethnal Green, E2 6HG

27 September 3pm-8pm

Publish and Be Damned are pleased to announce the 6th annual self-publishing fair which will take place at Oxford House in Bethnal Green on Sunday 27 September from 3pm-8pm. Surveying a wide range of independent local, national and international publishers of magazines, fanzines, journals, diaries and periodicals, Publish and Be Damned celebrates publishing as a creative and critical space for presenting artists' work. As with previous years, the fair celebrates experimental approaches to making and distributing the work of artists, writers and musicians outside of the commercial mainstream. In addition we will have room dedicated to performances and talks throughout the afternoon.

This year's fair also marks some new initiatives for Publish and Be Damned. Our recent participation in Subvision in Hamburg as well as the London fair are opportunities for us to collect content for the new publication 'The Damned' which will be distributed to all PABD members. The membership scheme, which has also been implemented this year, enables the creation of a forum or network between members that encourages the exchange of publications and participation in PABD's events throughout the year. The funds received from the membership fees has also allowed us to hire a larger space than in previous years, enabling us to invite more participants as well as help fund the attendance of more international publishers.

Publish and Be Damned is taking place in conjunction with the Whitechapel Artists Bookfair, which will be held from Fri 25 - Sun 27

i'll be selling my comics there. come along.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


capital d with utrecht dragon
medieval manuscripts never appealed to me that much; they're hard to read, often religious in content, the artwork is repetitive and you're usually not allowed to touch them.
of course i could appreciate them for their craftsmanship, but i always found them less than aesthetically pleasing. to be more precise i always thought they were pretty ugly in the same way i always found olives unpalatable. and, however stupid, there is a certain comfort in dismissing things.
whether my taste has changed or whether i just didn't recognize their genius before, just as i've come round to olives, i have come round to medieval manuscripts. not in the least because of a recent trip to my hometown of utrecht, the netherlands. my sister, hilde, and i decided to take my gran out for the day and so we ended up at the 'museum catharijneconvent', a museum that chronicles the history of christianity in the netherlands and which had an exhibition on medieval manuscripts on.
priest elevating chalice and host to hand of god,
opening page of utrecht sacramentary
the exhibition made me a lot more aware of the craft and passion and playfulness invested in these documents.

the gem encrusted cover of one of the books at the beginning of the exhibition, a codex, reads in latin 'adorned with sparkling gems, i am a gift from bishop ansfridus to martin'. intentional or not there is a sense of humour and beauty in this big solemn book talking to its reader.
'the zwolle bible', a monumental sized bible ordered by the deacon of st mary's chapter in 1464, took 12 years to copy. and that was excluding the time it took to create the 1,700 parchment folios it was written on.
books had a life. because they were so time and labour intensive a book was too valuable to just replace if pages became worn. instead of replacing an entire book individual pages might be replaced with 'new' pages, which may themselves have come from another book which was past its prime. mistakes in a text were either scraped off, corrected in the margin or crossed out. larger pieces of wrongly copied text were removed from a manuscript by cutting out the page it was written on. occasionally however a page of incorrectly copied text was just left.
mistakes in the parchment, made of the skins of sheep, goats and calves, which often turned into oval holes after stretching, would be left in, circled with red pen if the scribe thought they could throw the reader. tears could be sewn and any damaged sheets of parchment or discarded manuscripts would be reused as covers, flyleaves and envelopes.

books would also fall prey to graffiti and vandalism. the aforementioned 'zwolle bible' is a good example; not only did hundreds of people write their names on it, 52 of its 125 initals, adorned with human and animal figures, and entire pages were cut out. only 5 of the historiated initials that went missing have reappeared.

some scribes would underline individual words and explain their meaning in the margin, pieces of text may also be underlined to aid legibility. scribes were also graphic designers and could have their own distinct style, some of them would even double as editor and corrector. several monks might collaborate using each others editing, correction and lay out skills. space would be left for coloured letters and initials, which would be added in at the end. illuminators specialized in the drawing and painting of initials, marginal decorations and miniatures.

cities where manuscripts were manufactured had their own symbols that would be used in the decoration of texts. for utrecht this was a little dragon (draakje) as in the capital letter d above and the r below.
capital r with utrecht dragon
the british library recently acquired the macclesfield alphabet book, which aided scribes in medieval britain, the guardian put up some of its contents here.

the creative cunning of the monks who spent their time manufacturing these books is fascinating and inspiring. and the liveliness of all these manuscripts reminds me of comics. it feels like the time, the passionate patience, the inventive way of working round or with mistakes, the eye for detail are all as much part of transcribing and illuminating a manuscript as they are part of writing and drawing a comic.