A personal memoir by Borin Van Loon
It's probably not true to say that the Waveney Clarion wouldn't have existed without Mick Sparksman, but it would certainly have looked different (see also Andy Bells's recollections). Mick was responsible for the Clarion masthead in the black and white form which adorned every issue. He was also 'Design Editor' (a job title covering a wide range of functions) for all the early and mid-period issues of the paper, before handing over the reins to Mike Hammond. As a London boy (Watford, actually) Mick had never seen a wherry or a Thames barge in his life, which explains why the boom holding up the sail of the boat on the Clarion masthead (appropriate name!) is upside down. Mick corrected it early in the paper's life - which can be seen at the top of the 1973 Christmas issue cover on our Homepage - and it provoked complaints from some who preferred the 'wrong' sail. It remained 'wrong' for the rest of the Clarion's life.
I first got to know him when, as a refugee from the London of bombings and The Rent Act, I moved to Leiston, got to hear about the local counterculture and wrote a letter to the East Anglian Arts Trust. I wanted to become an artist full time and didn't have a clue where to start. Somebody called Tim Rayner wrote a helpful reply encouraging me to contribute to the Waveney Clarion and the rest is history. Well, almost.
I was asked by Mick Sparksman by letter (most things were done by letter then) to contribute two pages of comix to a publication he was preparing. I travelled up to Lowestoft with it and asked at the public library where Wollaston Road was; the guy behind the desk gave directions and just as I was turning to leave said "Sparksman?". I was very impressed. I met Mick at his house and handed over the pages, then didn't hear anything for ages.
It took a bit of time and by way of a purely coincidental later interview at Lowestoft School of Art, it was suggested that I enroll on the one year Foundation Course. When I turned up on the first day as a 'mature student' I recognised Mick in the canteen and found out that he was a Graphics lecturer. Tim Rayner taught film studies and Stuart Harris ran the Graphics dept. Stuart later played an important part in my career as he offered me a place on a two year Graphics course at Lowestoft to act as a launch pad for building a portfolio and getting freelance work. On his untimely death, I penned a memoir about him for the Clarion. (Incidentally, Don Mathew later joined Lowestoft College teaching General Studies as did Mick's wife, Ruth, teaching at the art school.)
My wife and I, along with another couple from Norwich, ran a stall at The Last Barsham Faire and it was there that Don Mathew sought me out. Don's enthusiasm encouraged me to start sending work in for the Clarion. It was quite a long time later, during what appeared to be a bit of a Renaissance of alternative comix in the UK, that Mick put together Swamp Comix 1. This large format publication featured lots of Coypu, work by myself and by Tim Rayner / Meg Amsden. It caused something of a stir on publication due to my inclusion in a comic story about punk rock of some of the uncensored exchanges between Bill Grundy and members of the Sex Pistols on tea-time telly. The adverse reaction may or may not have included the editor of the Waveney Clarion.
Working in the same studio as Mick was very enjoyable and he wasn't afraid of challenging my visual explorations. We were able to exchange views about shared interests such as music, art, comix, Rock Against Racism and politics. Don kept commissioning illustrations for the Clarion and I started to write articles for the paper, too. It was the summer of 1979 that things started to change for me. My course was over and in September I moved to Ipswich to establish my business as an illustrator. Margaret Thatcher had just got into power and a recession was just around the corner.
Mandy and I travelled up to Lowestoft once or twice to attend private views at the Art Centre, including Mick's one-man show. We purchased one of his paintings and it's still on my wall today, one of my prized possessions. I made the trek up to Lowestoft some time after 1989 (when I was celebrating my ten years as a freelance) and Mick, in exchange for an 'adult comic' compendium of Brain Damage material (to which I had contributed), gave me a couple of nice 'old books', which we were both into. The 1920s children's annual Timmy's Tales and a volume of period photographs are still in my studio.
News of Mick's death was terribly sad. He was a talented artist, designer and draghtsman and good company and we shouldn't forget his unfaltering toil over forty-three issues in drawing, designing and pasting-up the Waveney Clarion.
A portrait of Mick appears on Paul Tucker's cartoon for the Barsham Faire 1975.