Paul Ashley Brown is a familiar name on the UK small press circuit. He’s the crumpled love child of George Grosz and the Smiths and his drawings of poetic miserableness are a joy to behold. Ahead of Paul’s appearance at this years fair we caught up with this wonderfully self deprecating bloke.
CCZF Hey Paul, What are you doing right now?
PAB Drawing Bonbon Fabrika , my new zine.
And as usual, wondering Why ???
CCZF How Long have you been drawing and making comics and stuff?
PAB I’ve been drawing comics since I was a kid, which is always the best time to be drawing them. The first zine I published was a funny animal comic called Vigilante Vulture with my friend Darron Northall. He wrote it, I drew it –badly! We did 4 issues back in 1983-86, and sold it via Paul Gravett’s Fast Fiction table at the Westminster Comic Marts, and various small zine fairs in Bath with old friend and Bristol Comic Book Maverick and Outcast Terry Hooper. I tried to get into doing comics professionally but gave up a particularly bad experience with publishers, and a general lack of interest in my work. Probably because I was rubbish, though I managed to get a couple of things published by Smut comics and Fantagraphics, the latter only due to the generosity of spirit of Terry Hooper. I got back into zines after doing an Illustration degree at UWE Bristol, when I started doing my zine Browner-Knowle in 2008.
PAB Oddly, I suddenly found there was a new environment of people doing zines, and found myself back in the trenches, as it were, thanks to the likes of Dimitri “Jimmy Gherkin” Pieri, Peter Lally, that whole Alternative Press and Comics Reader gang, and a few others who shall remain nameless, as I don’t want to tarnish their reputations by association. That whole period between 2008-12 was just incredibly inspiring and enjoyable, and I was, as is always the case, even now, so lucky to meet so many truly lovely and talented people. It’s probably why after all this time, I’m still doing these things. The small press environment is such a lovely jewel in an otherwise grubby landscape. It deserves far more plaudits and recognition and support than it gets quite frankly. But then maybe that’s why it works – it hasn’t been entirely co-opted by more mainstream concerns.
CCZF I’d love to see a copy of Vigilante Vulture. Sounds awesome. Our first ever small press fair was with Dimitri Pieri at the Amersham Arms in New Cross. He had lots of hair I remember and a haywain shirt. Is Catford a long way from you?
PAB I don’t know. I live in Bristol, so not really.
CCZF That’s quite far Paul. I estimate about 125 miles to Catford from Bristol.
PAB Getting here last year seemed like it was a long way.
CCZF Yeah, it’s a 250 mile round trip. Much appreciated.
PAB I was very fortunate to meet the very lovely Wallis Eates on a bus stop. Wallis wasn’t so fortunate, as she had to endure me the whole journey, then find herself squeezed against a wall next to me upstairs. She’s probably been recovering ever since ! I really hope she’s okay now.
CCZF Pleased to report that young Lady Wallis is back again this year. I’ve been enjoying her life drawing exercises she’s been putting up on Instagram. She seems to bare no ill effects from her proximity to your good self.
CCZF Indeed. You certainly like a coloured pencil. What is it about them that suits what you’re after, if you know what I mean?
PAB Coloured pencils? Um, any pencils really. I’m only really comfortable drawing in pencil. I like the immediacy and directness of pencil; there’s a purity to it, and so much subtlety, weight,and nuance in the line. It’s also a bit Luddite really, in an age of drawing tablets and the like. I find inking stuff just kills all the variance. If it’s good enough for the likes of Saul Steinberg, Lorenzo Mattotti and Raymond Briggs, it’ll do me. There was always this unbearable obsession with certain stylistic orthodoxy about how you had to draw comics, which has broken down a lot now, thankfully, so any approach goes really. Like subject matter, artists approach to execution has become more diverse, and I do think that’s good, that’s important. I will be sticking with pencils and paper though -they’re beautiful civilised objects.
CCZF We really like your Lost Business Men Drawings. Can you say something about what they’re about?
PAB The Lost Businessmen. The idea came out of a simple drawing of a businessman, sat looking blankly into the distance – that was the first drawing. I had been thinking about the economic crash and the banking scandals, and banks being bailed out. There was a lot of anger quite rightly at the economic situation, and none of these people being punished for what essentially was huge corporate larceny and fraud and incredibly immoral practice and greed, on the backs of ordinary people’s lives being ruined. Initially, the idea of them being “lost” was more about thinking in terms of their moral compass or soul, that they were really corrupted by the systems they operated in. But then I simply started to think of them also as just lost people, individuals who had lost some sense of their humanity through wearing the uniform of late capitalism, and what that entailed. Even within that idea of an environment, maybe still some room for a degree of compassion on a simple, human level. That they too could be victims of the system.
PAB I’m not sure that the execution of the drawings matched the process of the thinking; I’m usually overtly critical of anything I do to the point of almost immediate indifference once completed. Or I’ll simply think that idea has run it’s course, or something else has begun to take shape off the back of it-you’re suddenly going somewhere else entirely. That’s probably partly why they’ve never been a collection or a zine. I did think of making a zine, but as usual thought; “who on Earth could possibly find this interesting ?”
PAB I’m aware a lot of what I do has very little appeal really. Also because more often than not, I find my work rarely garners that much, if any, attention, usually because I’m not that good at self-promotion, and I’m not a “Graphic Novelist”, and making zines is a very small-scale and intimate thing to me, or I’m often reluctant to get overtly involved in being part of a social circle really. You can only really see clearly when you’re at a distance from the crowd, and a certain detachment allows you space to do what you want, on your terms, irrespective of what anyone thinks. Which is always valuable.
CCZF Well we certainly find your work endlessly interesting Paul. Cornering niche markets with work that has little appeal is our slogan. How did you come up with the name Browner – Knowle? And who exactly is he?
PAB Um, Browner – Knowle is a bit of a rubbish title really, but it was the only one that I could think of at the time that made sense. I should’ve called it Worthy Robot Kitten, it would’ve possibly sold more, and been loved by the masses. Thankfully, that never happened. It’s me really. Browner is what my close friends call me; it’s a nickname. It always feels odd when people call me by my actual name. Knowle refers to where I grew up and lived in Bristol, Knowle West. So the title ended up being a perfect encapsulation of an identity really. Very Seventies Working-Class Hopelessness. Which is probably another reason it rarely sells. The Past is a Foreign Place!
CCZF Do you listen to music while you work? As you may be aware we are a bit obsessive about the The Fall. Whenever we see your work we’re reminded of their track Disney’s dream debased. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opt_pu3NVrI
PAB Do I listen to music when working ? Yes, always. I have stacks of CD’s I always play, and it’s always the usual heroes .Sometimes I’ll play stuff I think is fitting to what I’m trying to draw, or I’m looking for a mood or emotion that fits. Sometimes I’ll simply need to hear a certain voice when drawing. I’m sure that’s the case for an awful lot of artists. It’s winter soon, so i’m sure the likes of Nico, Nick Drake, Will Oldham, Leonard Cohen, P J Harvey and Vashti Bunyan will be on repeat play. As to my workreminding you of the Fall, well, I’m very flattered. I’ve always liked those Working Class irrititants that changed everything for the likes of useless idiots like me; John Lydon, Mark E.Smith, Morrissey ; finding poetry in the worst of times. I suppose it’s Ed Sheeran and Adele now. Gawd Elp us !!!
CCZF What are you listening to at the moment?
PAB What am I listening to now? Oh, the usual rubbish really. so, today’s been The Smiths first album, Cate LeBon , Laurie Anderson, Aldous Harding, Suburban Lawns, Crass. Though not necessarily in that order.
CCZF We’ve been enjoying Laurie Anderson’s new Tibetan book of the dead based Album. Nameste. In order of preference what are your top 3 favourite soups?
PAB Favourite Soups ? Um, I don’t eat soups that often. Only in winter really. Probably Oxtail or Tomato Soup. I don’t think I could stretch to three favourite soups really. The hardest question so far !!!!
CCZF Doesn’t eat soup! Who is this maniac? But Aaah, Oxtail, the finest of all the soups.
What can we expect from your table at CCZF?
PAB The usual melancholic, miserable nonsense really. Whoever’s on either side of me should clean up, sales-wise. It takes a certain person to like what I do. I hope they’re allowed out on good behaviour, and the medication has worn off, is all I’ll say. I’m hoping I’ll have Bonbon Fabrika finished in time for it to be glanced at quickly while tutting, then left alone in favour of whatever Graphic Novel some twat from the Grauniad has told you is worthy of your money and attention instead. I’ll probably spend most of my time talking utter drivel while qualifying the reason why art is more important than anything in the world. It’s what usually happens. Take Dionne Warwick’s advice : “Walk on By…!”
CCZF Where do you stand on the daytime quiz show Tipping point? Work of genius or complete waste of time?
PAB I used to love those 2p arcade machines when I was a kid. The very height of useless monetary ambition when a loitering oik. I think it’s a good gauge of the current state of the nation isn’t it ? Pointless nostalgia for a lost Albion of futile, worthless dreams and middling spineless success. Or is that Strictly Come Dancing ???
CCZF If you where only aloud one condiment, what condiment would that be and why?
PAB To be honest, I rarely think of Condiments.
CCZF Paul…please name a condiment.
PAB Can HP Sauce be an answer?
CCZF Yes Paul it can. Thank you.
PAB As to the reasons why, to quote Sir David Of Bowie ; “Who Knows? Not Me !”
CCZF Ok, We’ll let you off.
PAB Thank you for asking Henry and Stan. Apologies if this is too long – I told you before what would happen !!!!
You can meet Paul and buy all of his outstanding work at the Catford Comic and Zine Fair on 8th December at the Blythe Hill Tavern.
Visit Paul’s website here