Refuge in Literacy UK Patron:

Stephen Holland,
Comics Laureate 2021-2023

Stephen is the current Comics Laureate and co-owner, co-manager and sole curator of Page 45, the European-style comic shop in Nottingham which he co-created in 1994 with Mark Simpson (1968-2005) in order to promote quality and diversity in comics.

When young, Stephen was a very reluctant reader to which his mum successfully applied the then-inspired solution of comics.

Proof of the pudding: he now has a degree in English Literature and History of Art, which is certainly pretty handy when preaching and teaching comics.

Being a reluctant reader is increasingly common, particularly prevalent among boys.

Along with its hundreds of Young Readers and Young Adult graphic novels, Page 45 recommends The Phoenix Weekly so that kids look forward to reading on a regular basis.

Aged 18, Stephen’s first full-time job was the in-house artist for Ralawise Ltd, designing screen-printed t-shirts and tea towels for the likes of Little-Known-By-The-Sea and Chester Zoo.

While studying, he worked in the art book department of Dillons (later absorbed into Waterstones).

He has also been a barman, free-lance artist and journalist.

Over the last 30 years he has written over 25,000 comics and graphic novel reviews, including those on The Comics Laureate Recommended Reading List about which Neil Gaiman wrote in 2022:

“These are great! Page 45 has been the best graphic novel shop in the UK (arguably in the English-speaking world) for decades, so seeing Steve Holland evangelise as Comics Laureate is a delight.”Neil Gaiman, 2022

Stephen joined the comics industry on 20 th August 1990, working alongside Mark Simpson for a retail chain which had a concession in Nottingham’s Virgin Megastore.

For four years they figured out what was wrong with the British comicbook industry –suffocated by being complicity in thrall to American superhero corporations – then set about putting it right.

On 17 th October 1994 they opened Page 45 in Nottingham, originally championing independent British comics by the likes of Nabiel Kanan, Andi Watson, Posy Simmonds, Eddie Campbell, Bryan Talbot, Jeremy Dennis, Tom Gauld, Simone Lia and Gary Spencer Millidge, and spotlighting graphic novels full of fiercely thought-out and individualistic autobiography, history, travel, crime, comedy, science-fiction, fantasy, horror, socio-politics and contemporary, everyday fiction.

Page 45 won Nottingham’s Best Independent Business / Retailer for two successive years in 2012 and 2013, the only ever Diamond Comics Award for Best British Retailer in 2004; and in 2005 Neil Gaiman declared Page 45 “the best graphic novel shop I have ever been to”.

Stephen has taught comics as an inspirational medium in full-day five-lesson sessions at the likes of Abraham Moss Community School in North Manchester, to groups of librarians all round the country, at The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival (often) and The Prague Comics Festival in 2022.

After being asked to stay on as Comics Laureate for an extended period, Stephen is currently working on his follow-up to The Comics Laureate Recommended Reading List, which will be the massive, more data-driven Comics Laureate Recommended Graphic Novels for School Library Services.

Stephen’s favourite prose books are ‘Sapiens’ and ’21 Lessons For The 21 st Century’ both by Yuval Noah Harari.

“Essentially who we are and how we came to be. Context, as ever, is everything.”

His other all-time heroes are Rosa Parks and Congressman John Lewis for whose MARCH graphic novel trilogy he wrote three extensive and impassioned reviews.

Oh, and David Attenborough, obviously.

Stephen L. Holland a Patron of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and Refuge In Literacy UK.

Shelves of Books in Every Shelter: An Achievable Goal

Your home is your castle; it’s where you feel safest.

Physically, it is secure. You can lock the doors and draw the curtains closed. Its familiarity provides a blanket of comfort. All that you rely on to bring you pleasure sits immediately to hand: your music, TV, photographs, gadgets and books. All you have to do is reach out for a burst of amusement or much-needed distraction.

At the end of each day you return to your castle; and when things grow rough you retreat there.

Now imagine, if you can, that you can’t.

I’m struggling to imagine the enormity of it all: the vicious brutality and betrayal of domestic violence, the constant, constant, constant, unremitting fear of being battered, the whittling away of your mental world through calculated control, isolation and manipulation. And if you have children, then oh...! I am in awe of any individual who summons the deep well of courage it must take to run: to grab what you can and ditch your home, its sanctuary, its history, its comforts and its pleasures forever. As I say, I’m struggling to imagine.

But I can empathise with the children.

At the age of seven, I was dispatched, alone and bewildered, to a boarding school for over four isolated fifths of each year in the middle of nowhere. It was a strange school full of strange customs with strange bedrooms patrolled by a very strange headmaster. (We have entered the world of euphemisms here.) We were made to wear strange clothes, eat strange food, and forbidden from bringing anything from home bar what we could cram into a small wooden box. I brought mostly books.

And boy, did I make use of those books!

Utterly absorbed, they’re where I retreated when things got tough - and I still do – because books are thoroughly transporting. If it’s as bleak as hell where you are, then the best place to go is somewhere else: somewhere wondrous and thrilling or funny and friendly. Suddenly, you’re not in Kansas anymore...

Safety first, so thank god for domestic violence refuges throughout the UK!

There are shockingly few, almost all them full, all of the time, and struggling for basic funds. But there they are. Massive respect to everyone involved – both paid staff and volunteers.

We can, however, do something to improve the quality of those lives spent in refuge, and in my experience it is precisely when the world immediately around you is so alien, when the obstacles of everyday life are so severe and the practicalities so pressing, that you need the wonder of books to transport you elsewhere – especially if you’re a child.

Reading for pleasure is an absolute treasure, for it nourishes the imagination whilst cultivating literacy. Literacy is empowering, for it improves the ability to articulate. It is a big boost for self-confidence.

So throughout the UK, at the end of the day, I’d love to see refuges bursting with books: beautiful books, full of eloquence, ideas, wonder, imagination and wit for families to share, relish and swap stories about, and for children to lose themselves in!

I passionately believe that each British refuge would benefit from a permanent library of beautiful books in its communal area and – partly because there are so woefully few of them – this strikes me as a perfectly achievable goal.

It would, I’m aware, require an enormous spirit of generosity on the part of individuals, publishers and retailers, but it is emphatically achievable and would take very little organisation if retailers, publishers and individuals were provided with the practical information to donate.

Would you like to donate?

To research the practicalities while starting the proverbial ball rolling, I donated a hefty box of the very best graphic novels on our shelves for the youngest of children up to the age of 16 – mine went to Women’s Aid in Boston, Lincolnshire – and this is what I, a novice, discovered.

Most shelters do have a physical administrative address – separate from the shelters – for you to send or deliver donations to.

Most shelters do have room and would love you to donate to their communal area, but please do check by emailing first. Emailing is far more practical than phoning because you can provide a list and even attach a photo of the books which you want to donate. I found a photo worked wonders!

To find an administrative email, you can search the internet using “women’s refuges near me [or wherever]”, click on an organisation’s website then its Contact page, or go to:

Alternatively, you can email for contact info but the results above will be more comprehensive and current. Refuge in Literacy will happily handle your physical donations but donating directly cuts down on all costs whilst giving you the additional option to build a lasting relationship with your charity of choice.

Can we come together for a more coordinated campaign? I’m sure that we can if more and larger publishers and retailers become involved. If you’d like to become involved please email However, the larger the project, the slower and more leaden it can become, possibly to the point of inertia.

We can never afford to wait so, as an independent retailer and pragmatist, I always believe that it’s best to crack on and do what you can yourself. Bang! You’ve just made a practical difference.

If you feel the same, then I hope that this helps.

- Stephen

Stephen L Holland
Creator / Curator of Page 45
Comics Laureate 2021-2023
Patron of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival
Patron of Refuge In Literacy UK