Laydeez do comics London, August 2013

A suspected murder in an Alaskan village; a house that has its history written on its walls; and a wolf with what seemed to be women’s parts. These are some of the things I saw that night.

 – o –

 Six o’clock had passed when I walked deep into the streets of London. I knew their meeting would happen in Charing Cross Road so I turned into Shaftesbury Avenue. Just before it started to get dark, I identified the building. Red neon letters. Foyles.

I had to understand the modus operandi of this group. I had to go unnoticed; I had to be an observer. I stubbed out the cigarette with my shoe and entered the place.

I walked between the rows of books. I saw Plato, Aristotle, ancient metaphysics scriptures, but also Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan – Where does the event take place? I asked a young man in the Maps section. I walked into the room he indicated.

The space was crowded. I occupied one of the empty chairs and took out my notebook. I was feeling – in my bones – ready for anything.

A woman in a blue cardigan walked to the front of the room. Nicola Streeten. Artist and writer, interested in the arts. She is one of the brains behind this meeting.

Nicola

The people remained silent. She introduced the session followed by a woman in a pearl necklace. Sarah Lightman, artist and writer. She is known also for baking and bringing to the meetings what some call ‘irresistible cakes’. Accomplice and core member of this intelligentsia.

Sarah

6:30 pm: Streeten and Lightman posed ​​an introductory question for everyone present in the room. My heart started to beat faster, knowing that this was one of their rituals. “What is the best or worst thing you’ve done in your life for money?” (Where to start? I covered my face with the notebook). One by one, people gave their answers. I remember two. The first, a Londoner female rabbi, said that at one time she was the official photographer of a football team, until one day the ball knocked her down. Another member of the audience — a book editor — said that the best thing he’s done for money is working as a Daily Mail subscriptions salesman. The worst thing he has done, he said, was ‘being good at it’.

The session began.

7:15 pm: Two women walk to the front. They are collaborators on the graphic novel Winterland. The first one, Kathleen Bryson, filmmaker, painter, and writer.

Kathleen

She told the audience the trigger of the plot of her graphic novel set in a small town in Alaska. “Jocelyn witnesses at age eight, the murder of a woman and she keeps quiet about it. As the story develops through the narrative, things start to become aggressively more surreal”. Simultaneously, Bryson showed a black and white movie clip of herself as a child in her snowy hometown. “In December, when I was born, the sun actually goes below the horizon… in day time”.

I couldn’t help but wonder, is this plot related to her own life? Is this story autobiographical? Does she know more than she’s letting on? I felt goosebumps on my neck.

“Two of my cousins died in a car accident when I was eight years old,” she said. “This event keeps influencing my work. Also, two children disappeared from the neighbour town when I was a girl. They were never found.”

Although she said that she has also been influenced by paganism, surrealism, and landscape, at that point I couldn’t get out of my head, as Woody Allen would put it, “I am not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

7:25 pm: The second woman, Jessica Cheeseman, filmmaker and artist from London.

Jessica

She showed the group her painting of the half-wolf, half-woman, wearing a wedding ring.  This image, she said, represents my work on the novel and also the domestication of the beast.

Cheeseman is interested in the possibilities of lights and shadows. She makes her drawings from the perspective of a filmmaker. “I was trying to imagine the lights of Alaska… the reflections of the light on the snow. Also, many of my memories are part of films.”

She has been influenced by psychedelic visual work, but also by medieval icons and calligrams, where the actual text creates a visual image.

“At the end, the novel and my dreams began to bleed into each other. When working for Winterland, I started dreaming of landscapes of snow.”

I was taking notes. I was trying to connect the dots.

7:35 pm: Streeten announced a break. People rose from their chairs. I could feel in the air that the session would soon be ending. I recognised this was a unique opportunity to understand the procedures of the group, so I stayed alert, unnoticed but alert.

7:50 pm: The last two women walked to the front of the room. Angela Wraight, painter and comic artist

Angela

and Nasrin Begum, social worker and short story writer.Nasrin

Collaborators in projects that include text and image.

I was so close to solving the puzzle.

Begum said that she enjoys being a social worker, but to hear such negative stories exposed by the media made her think that she could tell the other side of the story, through her writings. And Wraight began to illustrate those stories.

“Aha!” I thought. But this wasn’t the time for talking.

One day, Wraight started building small paper houses where drawings and text were represented. “You can raise the roof and find more intimate details about the narrative.”

These stories deal with obsessions, with anxieties, with the pursuit of understanding the world around us.

8:15 pm: I closed my notebook and put on my coat. I left the room. Once on the street, with the red neon letters behind, I pulled up the collar on my coat and lit a cigarette. I blew the smoke into the night air. “I need to make sense of this evidence,” I thought.

I coughed (and I must give up smoking). I turned and walked away.

—-

My name is Helen Blejerman. I am a writer and artist originally from Mexico City, now based in the UK. You can find more of my work at http://helenblejerman.com or in my blog http://elastrorey.wordpress.com

Thank you to Nicola and Sarah. Thank you to the four artists that presented that day. It was an inspiring experience to see all the interesting work and a creative one to be the blogger of the month in London.

Helen

Links

(In order of appearance)

Laydeez do comics http://laydeezdocomics.com

Foyles bookshop http://www.foyles.co.uk

Nicola Streeten http://www.streetenillustration.com

Sarah Lightman http://www.sarahlightman.com

Kathleen Bryson http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathleen_Bryson

Jessica Cheeseman http://jessicacheeseman.wordpress.com

Angela Wraight http://www.angelawraight.co.uk

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Laydeez do comics, London, February 2013

I am artist Jacqueline Nicholls and I was the guest blogger at the February London meeting of Laydeez do comics. You can see more of my work on my website http://www.jacquelinenicholls.com/

Laydeez began that night with their awkward question which was which woman would you nominate for the Woman’s Hour power list of top 100 influential women. All sorts were suggested. Not surprising given the crowd, a lot of writers, artists and comics creators. but also fictional characters: Lucy from Peanuts, Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom. Historical figures: Cleopatra, Florence Nightingale, and woman who lived before the 20th century who had to live without the vote, modern medicine etc. And my personal favourite was “my mum. which makes sense if you met my dad.” With everyone sharing the awkwardness of public speaking, and with appetites whetted by hearing snippets of stories of inspirational women, it was time to hear the presentations…

Lora Fountain
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Lora grew up in America and currently lives in Paris. She presented us with highlights of her career, how it developed from creating her own comics, part of the underground comics scene, in 1960’s US to the work she is doing today as a publishing agent.

In the 1950’s Lora read comics in magazines. She did a masters in Public Health and was introduced through a friend to underground comics, “Fabulous Furry Friends Bros” and met Gilbert Shelton. She moved to San Francisco in the 1960’s a “magnet for loonies.”

She was involved with “Facts of Life Funnies” that included in it’s first volume Gilbert Shelton, Robert Crumb, Shey Flenniken (founder of Wimmen’s Comix) and others. It sold out and artists were paid $50 a page. Lora was also involved with the development of the influential Wimmen’s Comix, contributors included Aline Komsky-Crumb, Lee Mars, Diane Nooman, Trina Robbins and Carol Tyler. Wimmen’s Comix ran for about 30 issues.

In 1984 Lora moved to Paris, where she still lives and works. Lora described the different status that comics have today in France, compared with the atmosphere of something fringe and underground of former times. The French minister for culture opened the comics festival, and it is an accepted and respected art-form in Paris. She works as an agent for comics creators, and is also involved in securing translation rights to comics. This she sees as an important aspect for the global reach of comics, and stressed that a bad translation can kill a good book. Lora compared her work as an agent to a matchmaker, trying to place the right book with the right publisher.

Francesca Mancuso www.dreamsaddict.com
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Francesca grew up in Italy where she read and was influenced by a lot of Manga comics. She describes herself as easily distracted and  ‘The World’s Greatest Slacker’ (although given my timing of sending this in I think she has quite a bit of competition for that).

As part of The Sketchbook Project, an international project that gathers sketchbooks from artists, Francesca created The Little Sketchbook of Fears. A guide to 48 different phobias as illustrated by a charming, and very expressive, pot plant called Little Flo. The fears range from fear of being single, to fear of mushrooms, fear of the future, ‘ephebiphobia’ fear of teenagers, and inconvenient for a pot plant – fear of flowers.

Francesca is currently working on a comic called ‘Orange Juice’ – loosely about her experiences being in social situations here in the UK where the pub and drinking culture play an important part in social bonding, and herself not drinking alcohol. She wrote this auto-biographical work more or less in one sitting, describing being part of a fun ad agency in London that also made her sad, with unfriendly colleagues. As a non-drinker, trying to fit in with office life and the way they socialised, the fact that they only made friendly physical contact was when they were drunk, led to feelings of alienation and loneliness. The comic has a friendly office spider that pops up every so often, and there is a sweet drawing of it with a reassuring message “don’t worry.”

Steve Marchant
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Steve is a comics creator. He moved to London in 1986 ran the Cartoon Centre and has been a youth worker for 18 years. He also facilitates a comic making process for people to express themselves and communicate their reality. This is aimed at people who are marginalised, whose voices and stories are not always told from their own perspective. Steve also writes comics to educate and inform young people about various social issues. eg educating school children about state pensions and getting older. Told as a ghost story, why grandad can’t pay for things with a back to the future distopian Bladerunner future. His ‘Teenage Kicks’ for Lewisham Council was a project to provide information about issues such as drugs and pregnancy for teenagers, in a way that would be looked at rather than going in the bin. Despite being popular with the target audience this series was discontinued due to the council cutting the funding. His aim when working with teenagers is to encourage kids’ love of comics and to “graphically portray what is in their heart and mind.” Working with children, teaching basic skills and then reworking their drawings to produce something that demonstrates the children’s potential. Other projects include ‘Living’ a workshop in Wapping partnered with the charity Shelter that tells the stories of homelessness using real case studies. ‘Baby Love’ – a project for Watham Forest, working with teenage mums, describing the reality of life with a baby that was distributed to youth centres.

Steve’s more commercial work includes creating a character for the management books “Guru in a bottle” that he describes as best-selling but tedious. It seems the work that makes money is not as interesting or as vital as the work that engages with the marginalised, addresses social issues and relies on precarious public funding and charities.

Steve  runs Cartoon Classroom an online resource for cartoon/comics education,