Just weeks before Breakdown steps into the limelight to host Safari Festival, we sit down with its founders to ask how they started one of the UK’s most exciting new comic publishers.
The UK is coming into a golden age of comics. It only takes one look at the stalls around ELCAF or the small press shelves at Gosh! to see the sheer wealth of artistic talent that is gathering en-masse, penning the sort of comics usually reserved for North America or mainland Europe.
And that’s awesome because if a medium is to grow, it needs a swell of artists in the right place at the right time. Equally important, however, is having the publishers who’ll dare to print them.
We meet a lot of indie comic publishers here at OFF LIFE, and we’ve yet to meet a single one that isn’t doing it for the right reasons. But something about Breakdown and the team’s absolute focus on publishing unrecognised work really struck home. So we sat down with co-founder Simon Hacking to learn more…
Could you introduce Breakdown and the Breakdown team to people?
Breakdown Press is a London-based comics publishing company. So far, we’ve put out eight short comics, all of which were printed using a Risograph. Very soon we’ll be releasing our first two longer books, Gardens of Glass by Lando and Mutiny Bay by Antoine Cossé, which will be printed using more traditional means (specifically, offset lithography). We describe what we do as “contemporary comics publishing”, but in time we intend to broaden the range of books we produce to include art books, children’s books and more.
Tom and I had always been frustrated that the North American independent comics scene produced work that was much more interesting to us than the equivalent comics being made in the UK (with a few exceptions like Landfill Editions, Famicon Express and Decadence Comics). We had several friends, including Joe Kessler, Richard Short and Antoine Cossé, who were making amazing comics but weren’t getting the attention we thought they deserved. We started Breakdown in order to have the opportunity to begin producing the kind of comics we wanted to see coming out of the UK ourselves.
The idea of what constitutes an independent publisher is pretty blurred. What is it – or is it not – to you?
Frankly, “independent” seems like a fairly arbitrary descriptor. Taken literally, it applies to so many comics publishers that it’s not useful for distinguishing between them, and figuratively it’s more or less synonymous with “small press”, which seems equally arbitrary in a time when publishers like Koyama Press have their books distributed globally. Having said that, there’s certainly a spirit of artistic freedom and experimentation amongst so-called independent publishers that makes it a label we’re quite happy to have applied to us.
How have people reacted to the arrival of Breakdown as a new comics publisher?
We’ve had a widely positive reaction, which has been very gratifying. We only publish books we’re really passionate about and we put a great deal of effort into their production, which really does seem to have paid off.
Joe Kessler and I were lucky enough to be at the final Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival in 2012 (the festival has since become the equally excellent Comic Arts Brooklyn), where we had great success launching Windowpane, which was named book of the festival by several critics. That initial success, and the success of Joe’s subsequent Windowpane exhibition at London’s 18 Hewett Street Gallery, really helped put us on the map by getting our books into not only the hands of alternative comics readers, but also those of critics and cartoonists we admire on both sides of the Atlantic.
What do you want to achieve at Breakdown? What will make the project a success for you?
If we’re able to continue to publish the kinds of books we’d get excited about buying and reading ourselves, we’ll have achieved our goal with Breakdown. Making money is obviously a central part of achieving that, as the more successful our books are, the more books we’re able to publish, but really it’s the excitement of working on books that we love that’s our metric of success.
You have some very distinct artists on your roster. Do you think the artists you put out there will define you as a publisher?
We certainly hope so, yes. As I said before, we make a point of working with cartoonists whose work we’re really passionate about, so for their skill to reflect back on Breakdown really means a lot to us.
I think that, as is almost always the case, a small amount of great work and a large amount of poor work is produced by publishers at both ends of the spectrum. I also don’t think this idea that the little guys are at war with the big guys really reflects the reality of publishing. Big or small, I get the impression that most of us are just excited to be working in the art form we love.
So what’s next for Breakdown?
On August 30th we’re very excited to be hosting Safari, a festival celebrating the new wave of alternative and art comics, at Protein’s new gallery space in Shoreditch. The festival will be free to attend and we’ve got some fantastic guests and exhibitors representing the best of UK comics as we see it. As part of Safari, we’ll be launching Gardens of Glass by Lando and Mutiny Bay by Antoine Cossé. They really are two of the most beautiful books we’ve published, so we can’t wait to finally get them into people’s hands.
There’ll be a launch for the books at Gosh! on the evening of Friday 29th that’ll also serve as a Safari pre-party (the books will each have Gosh!-exclusive bookplates too), then we’ve teamed up with Negative Space, a great London-based record label, for the after-party on the Saturday night with bands and DJs at the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston. Our intention is very much for Safari to become an annual event, expanding to include a more significant focus on art and incorporating talks and music more prominently in the future, so we hope to see loads of people down there on the 30th!