Ottilie Hainsworth: Illustrator and graphic novelist. Author of “Talking to Gina” (2017, Myriad Editions)
Emma Burleigh: Writer Illustrator and graphic novelist. Winner of the Laydeez do Comics Prize 2018.
I was really happy to finally make it to a Laydeez Do Comics event. Both speakers did great talks and showed work which I found really different and inspiring.
Ottilie gave an introduction to her personal practice, followed by a look at her recent publication ‘Talking To Gina’. For me Ottilie’s style felt very organic, both in the sense of developing naturally from her personality, and also being homegrown and feeling very ‘unplugged’. The drawings I saw used dip pen or fountain pen, with handwriting and some colour pencils and watercolour worked in. They had the quality of a quick sketch when you’re trying to get a point across to somebody, but at the same time had a real emotional depth.
Ottilie uses a graphic novel type format to create diaries which record and explore the worries and ups and downs of her life, for example lying awake thinking something over and over. They felt very lively but also gentle, with a real warmth. Her latest book looks at her buying a rescue dog and how she came to be very close to it, and how it sadly died unexpectedly. I was able to look through a hardcopy at the end and it was very touching, the narrative addressed directly to the dog, in the manner of a conversation. I felt like reading it would have been heartbreaking, her way of working left no barriers between you and the subject matter.
Emma Burleigh’s work was also concerned with her inner world and concerns, and her personal relationships. The book she focussed on during the talk was her work-in-progress graphic novel, which is based around her search for and re-union with her birth mother, who gave her up for adoption at a young age. Her style featured more multi-layered watercolour images, with the ink spreading and bleeding, Emma said she enjoys the ‘the mercurial, ephemeral and nebulous’ qualities of the medium. She felt that its shifting nature was great for exploring traumatic images. During the Q & A the point was raised that Art Spiegleman had used comic strip style boxes in his Maus narrative to keep the powerful and disturbing themes at a distance, while she chose let her pain and anxieties out onto the page uncontained.
Emma uses direct representations together with more abstract symbolism and surreal imagery, in some cases creatures which draw on myths and legends. These historical references are developed further in the text, for example looking at the facts behind story of Pandora’s box (which was originally a jar). Emma counts artists Emil Nolde and Charlotte Solomon and illustrator Edmond Dulac as influences.
In Emma’s case the Pandora’s Box had a very personal resonance. She’d discovered a box in her house with items relating to her adoption, little details about her original identity and that of her mother. Returning to this theme during the Q&A, Emma said she felt that the finished graphic novel may turn out to be another kind of Pandora’s box, this time for her birth mother.
Both these speakers gave me a great insight into the way that the graphic novel can be used to help come to terms with and perhaps help others with difficult life experiences, and the potential that different ways of working have to capture our thoughts and feelings. I would recommend checking out their work to learn more.
Review by Tom Pearce
Laydeez do Comics awards, Emma Burleigh, the first Female-Identifying Prize for Unpublished Graphic Novels in Progress at an all-inclusive day festival in recognition and celebration of the UK-based talent of women in the comic industry.
Held at the Free Word Centre in East London, the inspiring day showcased all works submitted in the form of zines. It saw a panel discussion with the shortlisted artists, provided support through review sessions with six notable female cartoonists, and announced the winner; Emma Burleigh, author of ‘My Other Mother, My Other Self’.
Supported by the Arts Council England and through Crowdfunder, the first women’s prize for comics awarded £2,000 for the winner’s prize and £200 to each of the shortlisted artists; Akhila Krishnan, Cathy Brett, Emily Haworth-Booth, Sarah Ushurhe and Rebecca Jones.
Shocked and pleasantly surprised with her prize, Burleigh expressed that the experience of the Laydeez comics in-progress prize feels like ‘a dream come true’, and ‘a way of connecting, bringing people together and creating a supportive community’.
Emma Burleigh plans to open new LDC branch in Bristol
Alongside co-founders Sarah Lightman and Nicola Streeten, Burleigh announced that her next steps are to finish working on her compelling graphic novel and expand LDC to a new branch in Bristol. After working on her story for some years, and keeping an eye on the female-led forum, she felt like LDC was the best fit for her work:
“This is where I want to belong in terms of community and support. It’s just an amazing opportunity to be able to get support and motivation. Even if I hadn’t of been longlisted, it would have still been a good experience because it motivated me to polish up some pages.”
‘My Other Mother, My Other Self’ is an autobiography of Burleigh’s journey in meeting her birth mother and experiencing the challenges that came with opening her own ‘Pandora’s box’.
“There are quite a lot of different myths and stories that came to mind, but I think the Pandora one felt most rich. One of the things is that my birth mother herself said to me at a certain point, ‘well you have opened Pandora’s box now, and you could hurt a lot of people’,” says Burleigh, explaining the creative process behind her work.
“I think another metaphor in the book, on so many levels, is finding my voice, being able to tell my side of the story and being able to articulate that visually and in writing and being able to communicate that. As we are speaking, I can feel a sense of letting go in my throat.”
Laydeez do Comics and feminism
Since 2009, LDC- the first female-led graphic novel forum in the UK- has provided platforms globally for emerging and established comic artists to test new works and ideas. The Laydeez renowned sense of welcoming community was alive at the festival as attendees conversed and socialised over wine and cakes layered with printed feminist quotes.
Passionate about reflecting a diversity of people, LDC is conscious that a gender-specific prize is not the solution, but feel it is necessary for the graphic novel industry’s progression towards equality by promoting women’s work in a male-dominated field. Sarah Lightman explains:
“It can be paralysing thinking that there is no-one interested in your work, but there is always an audience. The graphic novel world can grow and expand as much as we want it to, one way we can ensure this happens is to demand that the gatekeepers are truly diverse.
“Those who decide what gets published, what or who gets funded, and who gets prizes and opportunities to speak at Comic-Cons, conferences, and literary festival, must reflect the widest spectrum of society.”
A female-led forum accessible to all
The event attracted a range of ages, backgrounds and cultures. Joe Stone, a guest at the Laydeez festival, commented on how it was nice to see a diverse selection of people, particularly in age, and how it has encouraged him to progress his comic work further. “It makes me want to go back and draw better comics by comparison,” he says, “it’s motivating.”
In an impassioned speech, Lightman said: “Artists, your works that we have displayed in zines in the Laydeez Lounge, have challenged what people here today think comics are capable of. Through your drawings and what your work is about, you are all trailblazers. You are all making a path for others to follow which they will then turn into their comics journeys.”
Although the inaugural prize has passed, Laydeez do Comics continue to revolutionise the graphic novel industry, and we can expect to see similar milestones in the future. No matter your gender, whether you’re at the beginning or end of your comic career or are merely interested in seeing what all the fuss is about; you can attend their monthly meet-ups and keep updated here and signing up to their newsletter.
Hi! I’m Pam Kaur Gibbons, a comic enthusiast and a teacher of English to international students based in London. I tweet @kaurgibbons
LDC at The Cartoon Museum was exciting as ever:
- The Question: Something interesting/funny about your name OR you’re favourite plant
- The audience was packed with floral names: Fleur, Poppy, Lily to name a few.
- Comic artist
- Focuses on the formula of life experience + creativity = what?
- Loves drawing mugs of tea: “keep going for hours”
- “Why write autobio comics?” Comics lend themselves to autobiographical work in that they can leave a legacy for posterity. Also, important for working in the Here and Now and wanting to change something in the current society
- Aware of the stigma around mental health and wondered how is this illustrated?
‘The Butterfly Stage’ Graphic Novel
- Trying to be truthful in the images being used
- Really important to tell it through a true story
- Took a while to feel comfortable to tell the story
- ‘Worrying’ represented in a cyclical way
- Often the images associated with psychosis are horrendous and sensationalised and did not depict her personal experience
- Use of images as a symbolisation of psychosis but wanted to be careful that they would not cause a trigger
- Use of the flower: “something alive is happening in my mind”
- Being truthful and not a cliché
- It focuses on transformation
Education Director at Positive Negatives
- Director: Dr Benjamin Dix, Senior Fellow at SOAS
- Founded in 2012
- Ethno-graphic research non-profit
- Make comic animations about real-life stories
- Due to human rights’ implications and security issues, turn photos into graphic illustrations
- Capture people’s stories whilst protecting their identity
- Focus of comics are humanitarian issues, social issues, race, natural disasters and more
- Use comics to transform policy makers’ research or statistics to be more accessible
- Comics humanise the statistics and bring to life the issues
- Get the wider general audience to critically engage with the issues
- Work with a wide range of artists from around the world to be culturally appropriate to the story being portrayed
- Use mixed medium such as real photos mixed with illustration to further the impact of the story being represented
- Go out to meet refugees / individuals / activists all over the world
- Work with same-sex interpreters
- Work with same-sex artists
- Take lots of photos from field work as most researchers are not artists
- Take contextual information for the artists, if they are unable to come out for field-work
- Write the script
- Take that back to the respondent and get them to check for accuracy
- Do the same for the storyboard
- Take the draft storyboard to the respondent, to ensure visual accuracy
- At the end of the process give the respondent a hard copy of the work
- Talk about the process to the respondent, and ask them “What it’s like seeing your story in front of you?” and “Has there been any effect on the community?”
- Established in 2016
- Focus on the UK education national curriculum
- Over 60 published lesson plans that are available free
- Teachers can filter by: age, topic, length of lesson
- Up to 10 contextual links within each lesson plan, such as maps, research, infographics, and videos, to bring the issue to life.
There was a special pop-up LDC in NYC in March, hosted by Karen Green, in her fabulous flat.
It was a wonderful night featuring local talented and inspiring comic artists and comics scholars:
as well as a remarkable lemon and courgette/zucchini cake by Ellen! Deelicious!
Thank you to everyone for coming and a big thank you to Yael Michaeli ( who, as you can see is a rising star at 11 years old!) for these wonderful blog drawings of the night.
Let’s do it again soon NYC!!!
This month the Laydeez of London, Leeds and Birmingham joined forces with Ladies Night Anthology, the Comic Book Slumber Party, and FEMSKT and took Angouleme by storm. You can read a full account of their adventures on the Broken Frontier website on the link below. Contributions by Wallis Eates, Megan Byrd and Hannah K Chapman.