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Publisher of Small-Format Comics Gives Emerging Authors a Big Break

Page from 'Vacancy' by Jen Lee
Page from ‘Vacancy’ by Jen Lee (all images courtesy the artist and Nobrow)

At just 24 pages, each comic in British publisher Nobrow’s 17×23 series is designed to be an accessible gateway for readers to discover emerging authors, and for those authors to create what is often their first print publication.

“Many have been working the zine landscape, or webcomics, with success for years and so are used to the short form narrative, although some have never created more than a two pager,” Nobrow Creative Director Alex Spiro told Hyperallergic. “Ultimately, this is a stepping stone, or gateway to more conventionally published works of greater volume.

Cover of 'Vacancy' by Jen Lee
Cover of ‘Vacancy’ by Jen Lee

This month Nobrow released one of its newest 17×23 books, with Jen Lee’s Vacancy. Lee is the author and artist of the beautiful online comic Thunderpaw, where GIFs and side-scrolling animate an ongoing post-apocalyptic narrative about two abandoned dogs trying to find home in a world where humans have vanished.

“I’m pretty into animal behavior and the relationships we have with them, and the rest of nature,” Lee explained. “We’ve altered a lot of ecology and have domesticated animals for our own benefits. I love thinking about if critters would have a riot at us not existing anymore, or would some who depended on our luxuries be weeded out?”

Vacancy also delves into the minds of animals. A dog named Simon, left in the backyard after his family fled for some unseen reason, considers going into the wild. As her first print comic, it carries the moody palette and feeling of uneasy movement of her online work.

“The biggest challenge with Vacancy was that I had to get the complete story down first,” she said. “With my webcomic, since it’s ongoing and I’m the only one on it, I get to be pretty whimsical. I don’t know what’s going to be in the next update until I sit down and do my first thumbnails.”

'Fish' by Bianca Bagnarelli
‘Fish’ by Bianca Bagnarelli in the 17×23 series
'Golemchik' by William Exley
‘Golemchik’ by William Exley in the 17×23 series
'The Hunter' by Joe Sparrow
‘The Hunter’ by Joe Sparrow in the 17×23 series

Named for the 17 by 23-centimeter size of its volumes, 17×23 started in 2010, just a couple of years after Nobrow itself, which in 2013 expanded to a New York office. Guarding the press’s detail-oriented approach to high quality paper and color, the price for the 2015 books is just $5.95 for each. The series relaunched last year with Bianca Bagnarelli’s Fish, which brought the Italian author’s pensive work to an English-speaking audience in a story of a boy coming to terms with the death of his parents.

“It had been few years since we did the first batch and we wanted to revisit the experience to find and develop new talent for future Nobrow projects,” Spiro said. “Although the series has never been a money-spinner for us, it has had an excellent track record as a talent incubator, and what’s more important that helping young talent develop the chops to create their greatest work?”

The series is intended to propel authors on to bigger projects, and it has had some success, such as Luke Pearson’s 2010 Hildafolk that’s evolved into its own popular graphic novel series. To give Hyperallergic readers a taste of what to expect, Nobrow shared some preview pages of Vacancy below:

Page from 'Vacancy' by Jen Lee
Page from ‘Vacancy’ by Jen Lee
Page from 'Vacancy' by Jen Lee
Page from ‘Vacancy’ by Jen Lee
Page from 'Vacancy' by Jen Lee
Page from ‘Vacancy’ by Jen Lee
Page from 'Vacancy' by Jen Lee
Page from ‘Vacancy’ by Jen Lee
Page from 'Vacancy' by Jen Lee
Page from ‘Vacancy’ by Jen Lee
Page from 'Vacancy' by Jen Lee
Page from ‘Vacancy’ by Jen Lee

Vacancy by Jen Lee is out now from Nobrow. The complete 17×23 series is listed on their site.

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