Our 4th theme: Read


Charlene’s initial draft of the home page


The initial idea of selling art books and zines emerged about 2 years ago, stemming from my passion for printed matters and reading. Having launched three themes focusing solely on products, it seems like a change of direction to sell books, magazines and zines. Yet I think this change is necessary for the company to evolve. Since our launch 5 years ago, I felt that we have become more of a shop than a platform. My wish is that the new theme and changes to the website will enhance the user experience and encourage users to learn more about the artists/illustrators/designers behind the publications or products.

In recent years, independent publishing seems to be making a comeback. We are seeing a new range of indie aesthetic-driven lifestyle/art/design/craft/food magazines like Kinfolk, Cereal, Delayed Gratification, Dirty furniture, Oh comely, Hole & Corner, Intern, Flaneur, Toilet paper... the list goes on. The same trend is happening in Asia, indie magazines like ‘Science of secondary‘ by Atelier Hoko from Singapore, Design Anthology from Hong Kong, White Fungus from Taiwan and IDEA from Japan are all getting distributed outside of Asia. Many of these magazines showcase bold/conceptual photography, playful illustrations, interesting writings on niche topics and crucially, the standard of printing and paper is much higher than the ones we normally see on the shelves of newsagents. If you think Monocle is expensive, well, it isn’t anymore. Yet these pricey indie magazines are gaining followers because of their quality and unconventional subject matter. One of my favourite magazine is Uppercase from Canada and it is retailed at £14 here, which I think is really expensive for a magazine! I also like Print isn’t dead (£10) from UK, the annual FUKT from Germany and the biannual Weapons of Reasons (free/£6) from the UK.


Hong Kong zines

Various zines created by Hong Kong and Taiwanese illustrators at Open Quote in Hong Kong


Aside from magazines, I also noticed a thriving fanzine/zine market during my travels to Asia in recent years. Artists, illustrators, designers, photographers and independent press studios have turned to self-publishing, and their work can be found in independent book shops, galleries and local zine markets. Earlier this year, I spent some time in Hong Kong, Taipei and Berlin seeking out small independent book/zine shops for research and inspiration. It was an utterly rewarding experience because everyone I contacted was very supportive and encouraging. Since the zine market is not highly profitable, most zine-makers are passion-driven, thus it is a close-knit community. In Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to meet with independent booksellers from Book B and Open Quote, and other local illustrators/artists like Kylie Chan, Gabrielle Tam aka Onion Peterman, Wong Sze Chit, Luna Ng, Kevin Leung from Brainrental. I felt particularly positive after meeting with artists/illustrators, and I wanted to use our platform to promote them as well as other up and coming illustrators/artists/zine-makers in the region.

Back in London, I visited the East London Comic Arts Festival (you can read my blog entry here) and I came across London/Hong Kong-based illustrator Charlene Man. Charlene‘s colourful and playful zines caught my eye, and although I didn’t talk to her, I did get her contact for future reference. Eventually I emailed her and asked her if she was interested in collaborating with us to create an one-off illustration for our new home page. She told me about her upcoming exhibitions in Japan and Hong Kong, but she said she was interested and could work on this before her trip to Asia. We arranged to meet in Shoreditch, had some vegetarian lunch followed by coffee afterwards. We brainstormed and then chatted about work, family and travel. The meeting was casual and spontaneous, and I really enjoyed spending the day with her.

Initially we weren’t sure whether the interactive idea would work or not, and I had to consult the IT guys to see if it was feasible. We thought we would give it a go, and if all things fail, we would make some adjustments to the work. Luckily, everything went smoothly and we were all pleased with the result. Spending the last eight months researching and building a collection was rather bumpy, but I am glad that we finally were able to launch the new theme/collection before Christmas.

I sincerely hope that we can continue to introduce more artists and illustrators from Asia and showcase their wonderful zines and books here in the future.


East London Comics & Arts Festival 2016

round chapel

The Grade II listed Round Chapel, Hackney


Organised by London-based Nobrow Press, the fifth annual East London Comics Art Festival (ELCAF) took place over three days at the Round Chapel and MKII gallery in Hackney.

The festival is designed to showcase some of the most exciting works in comics and illustrations, and it features independent publishers and illustrators from UK and internationally. It also include talks, masterclasses, and workshops for adults and children. Together with Pick me up Graphics Arts Festival at Somerset House (which has become too commercial) and the London Art Book Fair at the Whitechapel Gallery, this show has become the leading festivals of its kind in the UK.


East London Comic Arts Festival

East London Comic Arts Festival

East London Comic Arts Festival  East London Comic Arts Festival

Bottom row: The lovely mid-century inspired illustrated books and cards at Design for Today’s stall


It was my first visit to the festival, and I was delighted to see a variety of illustrated books, zines and prints available at affordable prices. It also enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk to the illustrators and publishers about their works. At the show, I discovered many impressive works by the London-based Design For Today, Otto Press, Peow Studio, Day Job, and I like the comic zines by British illustrator John Cei Douglas.

Exhibitors from outside of the UK were equally captivating. I met and chatted to Singaporean illustrator Michal Ng and the Madrid-based Ruohong Wu about her books that are influenced by her architecture background.


Katsumi Komagata talk  Katsumi Komagata design

les trois ourses

Katsumi Komagata  Katsumi Komagata petit arbre

Katsumi Komagata

Top left: Nobrow founding partner Sam Arthur with Japanese graphic designer Katsumi Komagata at the Artist Talk by The Japan Foundation; Top right: Komagata’s design for children’s hospital ward in Japan; last 3 rows: Komagata’s books at Les Trois Ourses’ stall


Though the highlight of the festival for me was Les Trois Ourses – the French publisher that features graphical books by award-winning Japanese graphic designer Katsumi Komagata.

A few days before the festival, I attended The Japan Foundation‘s Artist Talk by Katsumi Komagata at Foyles. The talk was organised in conjunction with the festival, and Nobrow’s founding partner Sam Arthur was also present to join the conversation.

This was Komagata‘s first trip to the UK, and so it was a fantastic opportunity to hear the designer talk about the inspirations behind his works. Renowned in France, Komagata was less well-known in Japan until he started to design for hospitals children’s wards in Japan. He founded graphic design studio and later publishing press One Stroke in 1983, and started designing books for children after the birth of his daughter. In 1994, he started collaborating with Les Trois Ourses, and has published picture books for children with disabilities. Komagata‘s books have often been compared to the books designed by the great Italian designer/artist Bruno Munari, and Komagata acknowledged that Munari’s designs did inspire some of his works.

Unfortunately, I did not attend Komagata‘s workshop at the festival, but I did manage to chat to Alexis from Les Trois Ourses about Komagata‘s wonderful books like Petit Arbres and Aller-Retour – which I bought at the festival.


round chapel

East London Comic Arts Festival  East London Comic Arts Festival

Top & bottom left: The historical interior of the Round Chapel; Bottom right: comics and zines bought from the festival


I never expected to feel fulfilled after spending all the cash in my wallet, but I was! I think the festival was an inspiring event, and I especially liked the fact that it featured many non-mainstream illustrators and publishers that are hard to find in the city’s generic bookshops. Now I just need to save up for next year’s festival!


Strand Buildings in Clapton

Strand Buildings in Clapton  Strand Buildings in Clapton

Strand Buildings in Clapton

The Art deco Strand Buildings in Clapton


IMG_5723-min  IMG_5724-min

IMG_5727-min  IMG_5725-min

The super cool Cine Real super 8 and 16mm film shop and club at 35 Lower Clapton Road