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solid writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 3
total score 8
not available _ not available _ Streetcomix 3
Streetcomix #1
Streetcomix #2 Streetcomix #3
Streetcomix 4 _ Streetcomix 5 _ Streetcomix 6
Streetcomix #4
Streetcomix #5 Streetcomix #6

1976-1978 / Arts Lab Press
By 1976, the aging, inadequate printing press at the Birmingham Arts Laboratory had churned out a fair number of comic books, including Large Cow Comix, Free Comix, Outer Space Comix, Dogman and Other Stories, The Adventures of Mr. Spoonbiscuit, Zomix Comix and Pholk Comix. And with Hunt Emerson at the helm, they weren't about to slow down.
Emerson had arrived at Arts Lab in 1974 to work in the music department, but soon moved on to run the printing press and dark room. The press was there to produce posters and programs for the music and theater departments, but Emerson soon used it to print his own comic books. From there it was only a small leap to publish other comics as well. Arts Lab Press had to fly under the radar at Birmingham Arts Lab (which had been founded to support avant-garde music, film and live performance) to publish comic books, but they'd gotten good enough at that to become the most prolific publisher of original alternative comics since H. Bunch.
_ _Hunt Emerson Poster
Birmingham Arts Lab

(click for larger image)
Heralding this peak of productivity, Emerson and Arts Lab Press hosted the first-ever British convention dedicated to alternative comics (KAK: Konvention of Alternative Komix) in 1976, the same year they launched Streetcomix. Most of the attendees at KAK were cartoonists, so the discussions leaned toward issues concerning distribution and financing. The most energetic exchanges were sparked by charges of sexism in British comics, led by the most well-known female cartoonist in attendance, Suzy Varty (backed by feminist cartoonist friends). There's no question that this controversy, which only grew more fierce at the KAK convention the following year, led to Arts Lab Press publishing the groundbreaking all-women's comic Heroine in 1978.

The feminist backlash also made an impact on Streetcomix, which is discussed in the individual book reviews, but the fact that it did is a bit ironic because Streetcomix was not a title that habitually plundered sexist underground stereotypes. While not entirely consistent through its run, Streetcomix generally avoided the vulgar humor favored by earlier British undergrounds and tackled more experimental concepts and innovative work. Indeed, Streetcomix would become the biggest and most ambitious periodical ever produced by Arts Lab Press.

Published under their Ar:Zak imprint and edited by Emerson, Streetcomix began rather small, with the first issue actually being a giveaway with a non-comics magazine called Street Poems. The second issue was released by itself (and with a cover price), but it still featured only a two-color cover. The first two issues both had print runs of 2,000 copies and became rather scarce in later years. Needless to say, I'd love to get them both so I could add them to Comixjoint.

But the last four issues of Streetcomix will have to do. The title launched after the groundbreaking British undergrounds Cyclops, Nasty Tales, It's All Lies and Cozmic Comics had bitten the dust, but during its three-year run it coincided with Brainstorm Comix, Ally Sloper, Graphixus and Near Myths (among many others, of course).

I can't speak for the first two issues, but by the third Streetcomix was in high gear, presenting some strong comics and demonstrating that underground and alternative comic publishing in the United Kingdom had come a long way since Cyclops. Streetcomix featured more than 35 comic creators (just in the last four issues), many of them among the greats in the industry, including Bryan Talbot, Kevin O'Neil, Suzy Varty, Steve Bell, Mike Matthews, Chris Welch and of course Emerson himself. Like every anthology, there was some mediocre crap as well, and some comics that were too impenetrable for me to wrap my simple head around.

The indicias for the third and fourth issues of Streetcomix declare that "AR:ZAK is Paul Fisher, Martin Reading and Hunt Emerson." Paul Fisher was a writer who used to help Emerson with editorial work and Martin Reading was the Arts Lab's first head press operator; an essential expertise for a small publisher. Emerson gave Pete Ashton a great interview about the Arts Lab for the Flatpack Film Festival site in 2013, where you can read much more about it all.

Streetcomix also features a regular column about comics and other meanderings by someone named Mr. Hepf. I have no idea who Mr. Hepf really is (if I had to guess, it would be Paul Fisher), but over the course of the series he provides some valuable information, though it's usually done in a far more abstruse manner than Mal Burns' "Graphic Eye" or Clay Geerdes' "Comix World" columns in Graphixus.

Streetcomix lasted six issues before the bean counters at Birmingham Arts Lab cracked down on Arts Lab Press and told them to quit making comic books. Stupid bastards. Today the Birmingham Arts Lab is probably best remembered as the place where Emerson, O'Neill and Varty started their careers. (Granted, the Arts Lab was very influential and did have many other success stories, but it's arguable that none were bigger than Emerson.) Emerson left the Arts Lab in 1979 after the crack down and never looked back, launching a long and legendary freelance career. The Birmingham Arts Laboratory folded in 1982.

And Streetcomix folded in 1978. It was a fine anthology series and doubtlessly influenced many British alternative comics that followed in its wake, especially Knockabout Comics, which was one of the most popular titles Hunt Emerson began contributing to after Streetcomix was prematurely murdered.

There are multiple references in print and on the Web to the Streetcomix title as a two-word title: Street Comix. Personally, I'd actually prefer the Street Comix misnomer, but in every single reference within the comic book series itself (from indicia to editorial), it is always referenced as the single word Streetcomix. And so it shall hold on this site.