In 2021 publishers SelfMadeHero instituted the Graphic Anthology Programme aimed at encouraging greater ethnic diversity within the UK comics producing community. The creators of the most promising submissions were extensively mentored by professional artists over a twelve week period to create the strips presented in Catalyst. Their work is supplemented by strips from four mentors Asia Alfasi, Catherine Anyango Grünwald, Sonia Leong and Woodrow Phoenix.

It’s the work of three of them that stands out when flicking through. It would be surprising if anything else were the case. Leong coasts slightly with a story of inspiration via a school visit, but it’s beautifully drawn in a manga style, and a reminder that creators never know who they might inspire on such occasions is no bad thing. Phoenix contributes a wistful recognition of the African-American woman who sewed the suits worn by the first astronauts to walk on the moon, and Alfasi has a slight manga influence, a good eye for expressions and detail, and tells an original story imaginatively and delicately. The idea of a writer writing about the art of telling stories is often an easy option, but by giving it a cultural anchor Alfasi pulls away from cliché. Surprisingly, Grünwald doesn’t stick out from those being mentored, opting for an ambitiously experimental piece of storytelling that fails to convey her ideas.

The new creators fall on a scale between those who just need a little more practice and those it’s difficult to see succeeding as both writers and artists. Dominique Duong could spend more time on backgrounds, but the storytelling, figures and style are there, and the same applies to Shunjing Ji. Calico N.M. shines when concentrating on the designs, while Jason Chuang is not doing much wrong, but could vary the viewpoints a little more. The sample spread combines the extremes, showing art from Alfasi and Pris Lemons.

That’s a frequent problem, as contributors struggle with clarity in the writing, the quality of which dips well below the best art. Duong seems to have cracked it with her story of a supernatural being, but the ending is random and without explanation, but Ji’s tale is well thought out, and brought to a natural conclusion. While the creative voice is paramount, it’s puzzling that so many people being mentored haven’t mastered some basics of visual storytelling.

Still, it’s a starting point for most, and the better contributors should be able to refine their voices.