Laydeez do comics London, June 2013

June 17, 2013

The June meeting featured two renowned artists, Bobby Baker and David Small.  Baker is the author of Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me (2010); Small, the author of Stitches: a memoir (2009).

51rDDfX6nxLSmall’s presentation began with an eleven-minute trailer that he called a “short film for an almost wordless book.” The film focused on several episodes from the memoir, beginning with the child David drawing– “I was six”—and ending with his adolescent self—“I was fifteen”–on the verge of entering therapy with a shrink fashioned in the body of an Alice in Wonderland rabbit. This is not the end of the memoir; and for those who have not read the entire memoir, don’t think you’ve gotten the story in the trailer. Book trailers are always a tease and Small’s is no exception.

The memoir turns on a surgery to remove a cancerous growth on the neck performed on the adolescent boy that cut his vocal cords and left him without speech. Nonetheless, Small specified that his was not “a cancer survivor story,” but rather a “book about silence”–even if he ultimately regained his ability to speak. And indeed many pages of the memoir are filled with drawings that tell that story in haunting clarity without a single speech or thought bubble.

Small described the challenge of producing a memoir many decades after the traumatic event that had shaped his life. He wanted, he said, to revisit the past in order to heal the six-year old self still inside him from the perspective of an adult who had benefited from psychotherapy. “I wanted to empathize with myself,” Small said; and as an illustrator, reconstructing the family system that had caused such severe suffering in graphic form seemed a natural way to recreate his childhood world. By reimagining family members in their setting, sometimes using photographs taken on return trips home to verify the scene of the crime, Small succeeds in coming to terms with a painful and shareable history.

bobbybarkerBobby Baker introduced herself by saying that despite the spelling of her name she was a woman. Tall, striking and blond, completely recognizable from her cartooned face (her first self-portrait) on the cover of Diary Drawings, BB (as the introduction refers to her) is currently the Artistic Director of Daily Life Ltd. (, a newly funded project.

The drawings, in glowing water color (Small’s images are in black and white),

were composed on a daily basis during psychiatric treatments that began in 1996 when BB was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The drawings are both real and surreal, literal and metaphoric—the self-portrait on the cover shows a woman with two mouths—and they trace not only BB’s long struggle to heal herself, but also the conditions that prevail more generally in therapeutic settings for the treatment of mental illness (she cited 43 admissions of her own to psychiatric centers—a staggering number). A selection of the 711 drawings was exhibited at the Wellcome Center in 2009, and a smaller number (some captioned, some not) are reproduced in the book. The published volume also includes brief summaries of 16 “stages” that provide an explanatory narrative of the events represented.

BB emphasized the link between the twists and turns of her particular experience and the common experience of other patients. Drawing number 86, she said, was a turning point in her trajectory. In this drawing, which captured a stay at a center called “The Haven,” BB has arranged a layering of selves in a kind of calendar of suffering—a series of days in which images of a woman stretched out flat, supine or prone, screaming or expelling flows of blue and red fluid, are stacked one above the other. When her therapist saw this image, BB said, he asked whether he could show it to colleagues because it seemed to summarize the kind of mental suffering shared by others in her situation.

The book closes with drawing number 711, dated 25 August, and titled “The Daily Stream of Consciousness.”  This image is framed by the announcement “Beyond the Stages”—September 2008-. Here BB has drawn a joyful self-portrait, this time with one mouth, a colorful and playful proliferation of tiny figures depicting ordinary activities constellating head and shoulders. This final drawing, BB said at the end of her talk, expresses her “love of everyday life.”

Although many people still think of Bobby Baker as the fabulous performance artist she has been, and the (often hilariously) creative activist on behalf of various causes (my favorite being a group of women dressed as green peas whose slogan was “Give Peas a Chance”), the diary reveals a sophisticated graphic artist (BB said she decided to become an artist at age 9 and studied at St. Martins). Beyond its originality—or perhaps through it–the work represents—I’m tempted to say gives voice to—the complexity of mental illness and the human capacity for recovery that can emerge from years of anguish.

Taken together, David Small and Bobby Baker created an evening of memorable intensity. We found ourselves gripped by the journeys recorded in these very different modes of graphic autobiography.

Nancy K. Miller

Laydeez do Comics London, May 2013

rachaelballFirst up – Rachael Ball
Illustrator, comic book artist and blogger. Rachael Ball began her webcomic ‘The Inflatable Woman’ after treatment following a diagnosis of breast cancer.
At her Laydeez do comics presentation, she described how her zoo keeper, Dr Doolittle-like heroine ‘Iris Pink-Percy’ came about.
The story is “loosely based” on the author’s own experience, Iris too has received a diagnosis of breast cancer. Through Rachael’s surrealistic pencil drawings we see how Iris deals with this day to day (on first hearing the bad news, for example, she turns the volume control down on the world around her), the people she meets, the nightmares she has and her talks with the sympathetic penguins who come and serenade her beneath her window.
Currently Iris is about to begin her cancer treatment and her alterego ‘balletgirl42’, an internationally successful prima ballerina, has begun an online romance with ‘sailorbuoy39’.
Rachael uploads a new episode each month.
Follow ‘The Inflatable Woman’ and see more of Rachael’s work here:
Canan Marasligil
French speaking, Amsterdam based, translator and editor Canan (pronounced Janan) Marasligil is a multi-linguist of Turkish extraction and passionate reader of comics. She introduced us to comics and graphic novels from Turkey and the international comics festivals she’s helped to arrange. She believes that comics are a strong medium for freedom of expression.
As she grew up in Belgium, she said she saw the world “euro centrically”. This changed when she travelled to Algeria  and discovered some of the “other great stories happening out there”. This also fired her interest in comics when she fell in love with the work of an Algerian comics artist and translated her comic from French to English.
Canan spoke about the comics workshops she ran in schools as part of Islington Word Festival and how effective the medium was for helping young people to tell stories. She also showed us the comic she has written called ‘Muted’ which was illustrated through an online collaboration with an artist in Poland.
She is currently translator in residence at Free Word Centre in London and links to her work can be found here:
Isobel Williams
The final speaker this evening was Isobel Williams who presented a work in progress called ‘Pearls and Pills’. This is an autobiographical work which describes her experience with suicidal depression. “By the time I was 10 I knew I was depressed. I just didn’t know what depression was. It’s just something you can inherit”.
Growing up in the early 60’s she interweaves the news stories of the day such as the Cuban missile crisis (“Most people stock-piled tea and food. Mummy stock-piled sleeping pills”), Christine Keeler and the Profumo affair into her own family relationships and her inner thoughts of suicide by overdose.
She spoke of her early experiences with doctors and the drugs that made her hallucinate, a second suicide attempt at University (which resulted in her being unable to open a copy of Fahrenheit 451 for decades afterwards) and her decision in adulthood to get treatment.
Her life drawings can be seen here:
She’ll be presenting ‘Pearls and Pills’ to Graphic Medicine this July.
I’m Jessica Cheeseman. I make films (animations, documentaries, experimental), illustrate and paint.  Currently I’m cinematographer on a horror feature.

Making the leap to comics and graphic novels felt right and easy, I guess because they’re both sequential art. Last year I finished illustrating a collaborative graphic novel called Winterland. This year I’m planning a new one, probably drawing on paper instead of exclusively digitally.

Most of my work is available here:

It’s been great being this months guest blogger and I hope this short introduction to these three speakers will inspire you to check out their respective websites and substantial bodies of work.
I’ve always had a fantastic time at Laydeez do Comics and this month was no exception.