Zines, Bill Murray and the art of collaboration
Based in London, Belly Kids collaborate with a host of illustrators on short run books, prints, exhibitions and all sorts of odd accessories.
We sat down with founder Mike Coley to find out how the project began, the up’s and down’s of collaboration and how one small idea led to his big break in publishing.
I think that might be quite common in creative practices really, you do something that you’re passionate about and then you’re like ‘ok I need to actually take this seriously.
Tell us about your background?
I worked in the Cotswolds in a film distribution company that has clients like the Discovery channel and Manchester United football club. I was producing publications for release, compiling press credentials and copywriting for projects like Orang-utan baby hospital and the end season review of Manchester united 2005! Although it doesn’t sound that exciting I really enjoyed it as I was working with smaller producers and directors who loved their work – the only problem was the subject matter which wasn’t that exciting.
How did Bellykids start?
I actually played in a lot of bands and found that Zine/Art culture is often quite intertwined, especially in places like east London where you get a lot of people involved in music also making art and illustrating. I had a big love for it, I’ve always bought Zines and built up a collection of different peoples illustrations, i the end I had so much work on my walls that it was obvious to me that I had a real passion for it, so I decided that I wanted to create more.
I’ve always bought Zines and built up a collection of different illustrators; in the end I had so much work on my walls that it was obvious to me that I had a real passion for it
For me it really started as something that I wanted to do outside of my day job, I was never ‘Oh I want to start an arts publishing company’ it was just a bit of fun to take my mind off this pretty tedious job. In the beginning most of the people I worked with were already friends. For Thrill Murray I’d say a vast majority of them are people I’d met or knew in person. The others were from twitter or tumblr. like Sean Morris, an illustrator that works in Australia who I’d worked on the Kurt & the Gang sticker book with, I just sent him an e-mail to let him know I loved his work and to see if he’d be interested in submitting something for the book.
After then I just started emailing people from around the world without any inhibitions and I was surprised by how they really embraced the idea. The stuff I got back was incredible. I guess some times people can be a little scared about what someone would say if you did what I did, but I guess I kind of just thought, oh balls to it, I might as well ask and if they don’t reply then who cares!
I guess I kind of just thought, oh balls to it, I might as well ask these artists and if they don’t reply then who cares!
How did your Thrill Murray project help Bellykids?
The Thrill Murray colouring book was definitely my big break. I had a good response from illustrators and, even though I did the press in the most haphazard way, I had a fantastic response from sites like The Huffington post, The LA times, Chicago Tribune – the interest was amazing and it really helped to put our name on the map. The sales took me completely by surprise as I’d initially printed just 50 books, these had sold out in the first 4 days and I was shocked! I didn’t even know how to get things printed on such a large scale, it was a bit of learning curve.
Alongside books you sometimes do exhibitions, the last of which was called instant touch, is that right? How did you come up with that idea?
For ages I was putting together a scratch and sniff tropical smell book. I was curious to find out how you would go about making books smell, as they were really big in the 90’s. In the end I found out that all the printers that used to do them are since gone because now nobody wants smelly books!
I was working on the exhibition with Sophie Alda who is an illustrator and set designer, we had an idea that we wanted the show to be like a Jungle or really botanical. Poor Sophie had to cut the leaves up out over two days and once we were in the space we just tacked them up any which way possible. There was five of us in total (Me, Sophie Alda, James burgess, Daisy Wolff-Whitehouse and Murray Sommerville) who went in and set this Jungle up, made podiums out of MDF, stuck up vines – it was incredible…but exhausting.
I think these projects are really fun, it’s very rewarding to realise the same idea from a book into an exhibition as I find myself normally working on print based exhibitions. Instant touch was the first kind of non-print based exhibition I’d done, so it was really exciting. It made me feel like I was actually realising something, it was a little different from just framing up prints. This involved a little more work and I really enjoyed that.
I find myself working on print based exhibitions normally; Instant Touch was the first kind of non-print based exhibition I’d done, so it was really exciting.
You seem to draw inspiration from a lot of different sources; can you remember an exhibition that inspired you recently?
Puck collective did one at print space on Kingsland road called Cluster Puck, I really like the idea that they are constantly changing their members up and again Puck is just a way to facilitate the work of these amazing individuals. On A bigger scale the Institute of Sexology was really good – I like exhibitions that look at an archive of work and take a retrospective look on things. When it’s done right, re-evaluating a collection like that is quite interesting as you find yourself taking a look at it in a whole new way.
We’d seen on your site that you’re producing a book about Millhouse? How did you get that idea?
Kieran Gabriel had the idea and did a small Zine for fun, just like how I started! He had friends who were illustrators and also just asked people that he knew from online to draw millhouse from memory. It’s something that its actually quite hilarious as you have quite a clear vision in your mind compared to what you put down onto paper.
He’d seen some of Bellykids work and really liked it so approached me with a view to team up to expand the zine into a book! I’d actually seen the original Millhouse from Memory and I was really into it, we started by both approaching different artists like Jean Jullian and Ping Zhu and asking them to contribute. People find it really funny I think! We had submissions from our open call too, which is open until 15th May, last count on submissions was 220 which compared to his last book that had 50 its quite a drastic increase there, we’re estimating that submissions will reach 300 and if that happens we’ll do an exhibition to launch the book!
Is there anything else that you’re working on at the moment?
I’m working on two other projects at the moment actually! One is with Australian based illustrator Mel Stringer who is illustrating a fun new publication called Cute Yum – it’s a parade of super cute Japanese fashion females. Her influence is this Kawaii vibe, which is spread over 50 pages of a book. The other thing is a video game sticker book, which I’m working with a lot of different people called you cheated – they are both due out later this spring along with Milhouse from Memory
How do you see Belly Kids growing?
I’ve been doing a course which has given me a lot of inspiration to take it further, It’s teaching me how to add some business structure to Bellykids, which I’d never really thought about before – I think that might be quite common in creative practices really, you do something that you’re passionate about and then you’re like ‘ok I need to actually take this seriously.’ And when you do it can be the most rewarding thing ever!