If you don’t know the work of Happy Otter then you should. His pocket sized work is heartbreakingly funny and gently surreal. We interviewed him ahead of his appearance at this years fair.
CCZF Hi Ryan. Can we begin by saying that we here at CCZF Towers, that’s Stan and I, are big fans and love what you do and are super delighted to have you visit us in Catford. Your funny, gentle, obsessive, home-made pocket size zines make us laugh out loud and bring us much pleasure. Is Catford a long way from where you live?
RF Thank you for saying that – you are very sweet. I live in Leeds in West Yorkshire so it’ll be a Megabus down to Catford for me.
CCZF Am I right in thinking that you work for the NHS? What’s that like?
RF I’m an NHS librarian and I don’t know if my current job is much too different from any of the non-NHS libraries I’ve worked in. Although all NHS staff get 20% off at Nandos and Lovehoney so I am saving a small fortune.
CCZF Ok, zines. How do you say zine and what are they?
RF I pronounce it zeen.
CCZF As in spleen?
RF Correct. I don’t know if I have a concise answer to what a zine is, but I have a clear idea of what a zine isn’t. Despite what you see on the tables at zine fairs in London, leather bound polaroids of unmade beds, or a box of black and white photographs of girls with nosebleeds, each costing £16, aren’t zines.
CCZF How did you gravitate to making zines? What do they allow you to do that other forms would not?
RF I spent some time doing comedy on the London open-mic scene and hated it. I loved the writing part of it but not the performing. Alongside this I was also submitting articles for publications and was constantly getting rejected. So I decided to carry on the writing but only if it was on my terms. That’s how I gravitated to zines. I could write about whatever I wanted and no one could tell me not to.
CCZF Roger that. Why Happy Otter?
RF My late teens were spent taking myself far too seriously and listening to a lot of Big Black. It’s an obscure reference from their second album,‘Songs about fucking’.
I want to change my name but I’ve been using it for too long now, so if people ask I just say it’s something to do with Harry Potter.
CCZF There are two bands in which we can see your work. We happen to know that you are a big fan of the wonky guitar jangling of the Pastels. There are definitely shared sensibilities between your work and their softy spoken, achingly beautiful yet refreshingly unambitious DIY ethos. What do think about that and what are your favourite Pastels numbers?
RF The Pastels are a band I adore and this comparison makes me feel all warm, thank you. I feel they are so unapologetically themselves and make scruffy, beautiful, beautiful pop songs. My favourites are: ‘Sit on it mother’, ‘I picked a flower’, ‘Slow summits’, ‘Comin’ through’, and anything from ‘Mobile Safari’ is absolute golden.
CCZF The second band your work brings to mind is Halfman Halfbiscuit who the Pastels shared listing with on the NME C86 tape in 1986. Witty lyrics, popular culture references, clever word play, intelligent takes on everyday life and sense of the surreal. National Shite day’s – “There’s A man with a mullet going mad with a mallet in Millets” for example.
RF I’m not too familiar with these. When I was younger my Scottish dad called my brother half-boy half-mattress because he wouldn’t get up before midday. Maybe he got the idea from the band.
CCZF What do you mean, never heard of them?
RF In fact, I think I know who you mean. They sound like what The Fall could have been if Mark E Smith was fed vegetables and cuddled more as a child.
CCZF You’ve hit the nail on the head there. By the way, do you have a favourite condiment?
RF Don’t really like sauces. Never have. Nothing wrong with a dry chip.
CCZF That topic of discussion was once the subject of a terrible row I had with my wife on the eve of our wedding. It resulted in me chasing her through Hanley bus station and dramatically throwing away a perfectly good bag of chips to prove my love to her. I am reminded of it whenever I reach for the vinegar.
CCZF Indeed. I think I made the right call. Is there anyone tabling at CCZF this year whose work you’re fond of?
RF Tim Bird’s drawings are stunning.
CCZF They are wonderful. Tim has incredibly small feet apparently.
RF Yes. I have heard tale of his foot size.
RF All of Jade King’s zines are divine and I’m hella excited to browse them in person.
CCZF Jade’s work is top notch. Could you list your top 3 favourite soups please?
RF 1st is Heinz’s Cream of Tomato. When I’m feeling poorly I dunk a cheese toastie in this and the outside world goes away for a little while.
2nd is Baxters’ Cock-a-Leekie, which came highly recommended in the pop group Soup Review’s zine of soup reviews. I fully endorse this zine for leftfield soup choices (as well as their heavenly debut album for wonderful songs about flying ants and public jugglers).
3rd is The New Covent Garden Soup Co’s Maris Piper Potato & Leek. A nice girthy soup.
CCZF Listening to anything interesting at the moment? We’re enjoying the new Richard Dawson album. You heard it?
RF I am currently listening to the latest Martha album.
RF I saw them live last week and was embarrassed because I didn’t know all the words to their newer stuff. I’m going back and learning them so next time I’ll be ready. I haven’t given the latest Richard Dawson album a proper listen yet. His stuff is so dense and heart-breaking and bleak and funny that I feel I need to be in the right head space before plunging in.
CCZF What can we expect from your table at CCZF?
RF Zines priced so low in order to undercut all the other stall holders.
CCZF Tipping Point. Please tell me you’ve seen it. Thoughts? Ben Shephard a good host? Nice enough fellow. Likes a suit.
RF I haven’t watched too much of Tipping Point but my Scottish mum loves it. She’s adamant she’s got a gift and knows exactly where the disk will fall. I’m not sure I believe her because I remember our family holiday to Southend in 2001. Mum, being the baller that she is, went on the 10p machines not the 2p. She lost £8 in five minutes.
CCZF That’s just reckless.
RF People don’t forget Cathy. But, in response to your other question: Ben Shephard is fine. He’s part of the lineage of banal male presenters in suits that include Matt Baker and Dermot O’Leary. Safe pair of hands
You can meet Happy Otter and buy his wonderful work at this years Catford Comic and Zine Fair. Sunday 8th December at the Blythe Hill Tavern.
You can follow Happy Otter on Instagram at Happy Otter Zeens