If Lewes, the East Sussex town in which I live and work, has a thriving small press comics scene – or any small press comics scene at all for that matter – I must admit it's rather passed me by in the six years since I moved down here from London. That's not to say such a thing doesn't exist; I just haven't seen any evidence of it on sale in any of Lewes' shops. Or should I say almost any evidence; because there is this:
The Battle of Lewes: Showdown at the Windmill, a sixteen-page minicomic written, drawn and published by Peter Cole and coloured by his nonagenarian mother Annabel (Peter is colour blind)... although I'm not sure one man and his mum really constitutes a scene as such. But anyway, initially serialized in local newspaper the Sussex Express, The Battle of Lewes was put together by Peter and his mater as part of the celebrations for the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes, which took place on 14 May, 1264 – the battle that is, not the celebrations, which have been taking place all this year – and led to the establishment of Britain's first representative parliament. Quite an important event in our island's history, then, as I only learned for the first time when I was reading a flyer for the Medieval Mayhem Festival which took place at the site of the Battle of Lewes, Landport Bottom, at the start of May.
Narrated in flashback by John Bevis, the man who during the battle captured King Henry III's brother Richard – the Earl of Cornwall, German King and "King of the Romans" – the comic is packed with incident and detail in regard to how events unfolded, from troop movements prior to the conflict to the taunts thrown at Richard as he took shelter in the eponymous windmill ("Are you a king or a miller?") to the gory aftermath of the battle. It's a remarkable and seemingly remarkably accurate document; a little wordy in places – one or two of the word balloons have to be seen to be believed – but necessarily so given the limited space, and Peter's charmingly outsider-ish artwork is very much in keeping with the small press comics sensibility – unintentionally, I suspect; according to this Sussex Express article he was inspired by the Eagle, not the small press scene.
Peter's amateur approach to comics storytelling – not a criticism, by the way; for me his non-professional style is why his comic works – also, I think, betrays his inexperience with the medium. Because splendid though The Battle of Lewes is, Peter's true vocation isn't as a comics creator but as a creator of plastic figurines. Under the company name Replicants and working out of a Lewes shop basement Peter makes unpainted limited edition historical and military figures, with lines devoted to the American Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Wild West and more besides. There's a gallery of some of the figures painted by collectors at the Replicants site, and there's an interview with Peter at Lewes Arts, in which he explains a bit more about what he does.
As for The Battle of Lewes comic, I got my copy from Lewes Tourist Information a month or two back, and apparently copies were also available in the Lewes Castle Museum shop and a few other Lewes emporiums, but I'm afraid I haven't done a recce to see if there are any left. Anyone who knows if it can still be had, leave a comment.
Since I'm on the subject of Lewes, I think I'll showcase a signed book bought in a Lewes bookshop next.
Previous Notes from the Small Press:
Notes from the Small Press 1: Fast Fiction Presents the Elephant of Surprise
Notes from the Small Press 2: Monitor's Human Reward by Chris Reynolds
Notes from the Small Press 3: Small Pets
Notes from the Small Press 4: Anais in Paris by Mardou
Notes from the Small Press 5: The Curiously Parochial Comics of John Bagnall
Notes from the Small Press 6: Ed Pinsent's Illegal Batman and Jeffrey Brown's Wolverine: Dying Time
Notes from the Small Press 7: The Comix Reader #1
Notes from the Small Press 8: A Help! Shark Comics Gallery
Notes from the Small Press 9: Some Gristavision Comics by Merv Grist
Notes from the Small Press 10: Some Sav Sadness Comics by Bob Lynch
Notes from the Small Press 11: a Review of Illegal Batman in the Moon
Notes from the Small Press 12: The Sky in Stereo by Mardou
Notes from the Small Press 13: First by Tom Gauld and Simone Lia
Notes from the Small Press 14: Planet 4, a Monitor Story by Chris Reynolds
Notes from the Small Press 15: Spandex #7 by Martin Eden
Notes from the Small Press 16: Sky in Stereo #2 by Mardou