Ben Hutchings is a comic artist and creator of 'You Stink & I Don't' and more recently 'Comic of Smallness'. He talks to us about his work and the Melbourne zine scene.
Tell us a little about yourself and how your zine 'You Stink & I Don't' came about.
I've been into drawing and reading comics since I was ten and discovered British comics like Beano and Buster. In high school I began photocopying my own comics at school with no idea anybody else did the same thing. They very quickly became ruder and angry over the years (as I did), but they kept a cute, absurd tone which I like more than material that is serious and dark. Finally, I made issue #1 in '93, which featured strips about childhood friends, misogyny (represented as a parody of Archie), a long adventure about a body-builder named Mr. Sexxo (all written in rhyme) and an 'offensive' comic about Jesus doing all kinds of rude things with his bum. This is still the tone of the comic - mean but funny stabs at beliefs and attitudes and lots of rhyming and wordplay. I always spent heaps on professional printing with colour covers. The inside is all cut and paste though, and drawn with pens though. There have been 9 issues and I got a bit of a following from it.
The city of Melbourne is fast gaining recognition for being a hub of zine activity. What is the zine scene like for someone living there?
It's great. I can't compare it to much but overseas visitors seem impressed with the art scene of Melbourne, including all the markets and that sort of thing. It surprises me too. There are zine workshops and zine fairs and arts markets all over the place. I think every citizen here has made a zine at some point. The centre of it all is Sticky, a zine shop run from a cramped little store in the subway. There are piles of zines and flyers covering every surface, with stacks of em falling off the shelves. In the middle there's always a table with a handful of misfits cutting stuff out of magazines and pasting it together. The underground comic scene in Melbourne is huge too. While Australia has no 2000AD or Marvel, we do have plenty of self-publishers and Melbournites chug out their own mini-comics like nobody's business. And it's a relief for me to be here. Doing comics for so many years from Canberra was a really isolating experience! Now I draw knowing that people will see it, and appreciate it.
You are also involved in producing other craft-type zines. Can you tell us a little something about your current projects?
I've been printing comics for so long, I forgot the fun of crafting small runs of your own comic. I've been recently making "Comic of Smallness", which is a 32 page, 2 inch tall comic. I make my own little display stands for them out of cardboard. I print 12 copies at a time on 8 A4 sheets then chop em up and bind them with a single staple. Such an effort, but so satisfying making little bundles of em. The three issues are all about a cat named Barry who just sort of wanders about being silly. It's pretty much the cutest comic ever made I reckon.
Please recommend a zine for us to read and why.
I mostly read mini-comics, and a great one is Lumpen by Pat Grant, an excellent cartoonist who loves setting stories in Melbourne suburbia as well as Australian coastal towns. It always comes out in different formats, for example one issue was a large, fold-out poster. Another one that tickles my fancy is Phatsville, a comic anthology from Queensland. It's great because Queenslanders are such dags, and the comic reflects this with its shameless obsession with sex and drug jokes. Then you go up and visit them and all they do is take drugs and talk about sex. If you'd like to see what Sydney cartoonists do, then the anthology Blackguard is definitely worth a look!