Jenny Robins http://www.jennyrobins.com here, illustrator, comic artist and jack of all trades, I’ve been an enthusiastic if not always on time attendee of Laydeez Do Comics since April, although I was a lurking newsletter subscriber for about 3 years before that. If that’s you, I recommend going to the actual events. They’re very good. The edition on Monday was an especially poignant combination of speakers, highlighting the wealth of diversity in artistic modes that is the contemporary comic book scene with much to learn from both the new and old school. One speaker had recently released her first graphic memoir and the other had a long history of cartooning and inner industry comic craft, but both were spot on in their portrayal of both the storytelling power of comics and the love and labour the form asks of its creators, the sacrifices of time, soul and wrist action. I haven’t read any of the books in question, although I of course now want to.
If you’ve never been to Laydeez, or never arrived on time, you won’t know that they usually start with a little intro to the organisation, it’s illustrious feminist heritage and cake fuelled history under the soon returning reign of Sarah Lightman http://www.sarahlightman.com/ and Nicola Streetan http://www.streetenillustration.com , neither of whose names are spelled like I thought they would be.
Then you get a question that everyone has to answer, the theory being that you might remember what someone else said and use it as an ice breaker later when you want to talk to them. Although I’ve not yet managed to remember what anyone said for long enough to do that and usually fall back on my old favourite ice breaker, ‘hello’. Sometimes this has backfired when I’ve accidentally talked to people in the pub after a comic book event that weren’t actually at the event. But less about me, and more about Laydeez.
The current reigning matriarchal superpower that is Wallis http://walliseates.tumblr.com/ and Rachael http://rachaelball.tumblr.com/ (both of them tweet more than they tumbl, so I would recommend following them there also) asked the congregated comic lovers who they thought should play the next Dr Who, in deference to Nick’s role as writer on the 10th Doctor comics. Rachael suggested Wallis, probably because of her book fear of species death and the shadow proclamation which you should all buy http://walliseates.bigcartel.com/product/fear-of-mum-death-and-the-shadow-men I wish I had written down all of the suggestions, also that I had time to draw all of them as Doctors. But I didn’t and I don’t. I do remember Judi Dench and Idris Elba being mentioned, a lot of people were in favour of a female Doctor. Which suggests it’s about time and someone should start one of those online petitions to the BBC. Rachael nominated Wallis.
Henny Beaumont then took the floor to talk about her celebrated sky blue tome ‘Hole in the Heart, Bringing up Beth’ recently published by Myriad. It was wonderful to hear about the empowering force in her life of both Laydeez do Comics and Myriad Editions http://www.myriadeditions.com/ both of whom encouraged Beaumont to combine her writing and painting skills in the narrative form. Obviously this work is a personal one, one of a number of powerful works of memoir and graphic medicine celebrated recently at other Laydeez events and clearly a genre that is growing steadily in strength and depth. Hole in the Heart tells the story of Beaumont’s relationship with her daughter Beth, who has Down’s Syndrome. Although she has ‘lots of children’, who joke about when she is going to write a book about them, Henny seems to have hit a nerve with her focus on Beth because the response she’s had from the media and the medical profession show that this is story that needs to be told. This, dare I say it, feminine capacity for narrative testimony in comic form seems to be deeper, harder hitting than many still expect to see from the medium, and is a very powerful tool for communication. Abadzis also touched on this in his talk where he highlighted the growth of visual facilitations in corporate culture, tapping into the inherent “hard wiring” of comics grammar in the human brain. What both of the evening’s speakers show is the potential for words combined with pictures to carry emotional and intellectual messages efficiently and effectively, arguably better than any other medium.
In Hole in the Heart Beaumont painted each panel individually and formatted them together afterwards, she also kept narrative text to an absolute minimum and used speech to carry the story. This approach seems to have created an emotional immediacy that allows her observational art to feel utterly real. Throughout her talk she gesticulated beautifully with her long delicate fingers and one of her final slides showed a painting of Beth striking a dance pose with her fingers expressively flared, radiating confidence. I couldn’t help but draw a parallel (on my sketchbook page) and wonder about the relationship that this mother and daughter must have, learning from each other and growing together. I should probably read the book to find out more about that. And you probably should too. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hole-Heart-Bringing-Up-Beth/dp/1908434929
Nick Abadzis then got up to present, Rachael had an introductory spiel about how illustrious his career has been, I only managed to write down ‘all the awards and stuff’ but here’s a Wikipedia link for you https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Abadzis The offering of signed copies of Laika on Gosh’s designated occasional comics table demonstrate what he is most often known for, the Eisner award winning graphic novel about the dog that went into space that one time in the fifties. Nick admitted the fact with obvious ambivalence, mixed but powerful affection for his most famous child which it might be inappropriate for me to compare with Beaumont’s feelings for her actual children referred to in her talk, but I’m going to anyway.
With visuals from a variety of the projects he has worked on over the years, Abadzis dispensed and hinted at a lot of pearls of wisdom gleaned from his long career in the comic book industry. Although very much an artist himself, he often works now with other artists, and showed some great examples of various roughs, pencils, collaborations and process work. Where Beaumont harnessed raw emotion in the relatively unplanned painting of her standalone panels, Nick Abadzis is a master of the planned page, by turns utilising and brazenly breaking the rules of comics syntax, always aware of the flow of the reader’s eye over the words and pictures within and without panels. Like Beaumont he does prefer to minimise narrative text in favour of storytelling through characterisation and dialogue, although one example of where he did the opposite of this was the early pages of his series for The Times, The Trial of the Sober Dog, where he was asked to pander to his publisher’s perception of its readership and keep it safe and Posy Simmondsesque. This relationship with publishers and clients is of course a key thread in a professional creative’s story and Nick touched on the negotiations and endless edits that can happen in comics publishing, something which Henny’s publisher Myriad is known for their kindness and nurturing approach to. He made it clear too, that despite all the awards and the Wikipedia page and stuff, he’s not always making the money he perhaps should be from comic work, especially considering the additional labour intensiveness brought on by such painstaking development.
But that shouldn’t put off aspiring comic book creators, as both of these authors clearly demonstrated. On the one hand because a labour of love is a worthwhile thing, and you have to really love comics to have the sticking power to complete a graphic novel or anything of significant sequence, and on the other because as both demonstrated in different ways, comic communication is our springboard into other fields and opportunities. Henny has been invited to talk and teach on the back of her book, and Nick continues to broach new frontiers in visual facilitating as well as collaborating with teams of creators on diverse projects.
It’s all very inspiring guys. It’s a great time to be into comics.
After that we went to the pub where I considered doing some drawing but didn’t. Wallis said I should use this space to promote myself though, so here is a panel from my current comic project that I’m really pleased with. It’s some coat hangers. You can see more of my comic stuff if you go to http://www.jennyrobins.com and click on comics. Also search for me on the social medias.
Eliza Fricker + Dana Walrath
On the hottest day of 2016 so far, we gathered in the relative cool, comic-adorned crypt of the Cartoon Museum.
The Awkward Introductory Question: Who would you get sweaty with?
Unsurprisingly, there were some cartoon characters that popped up from the audience – seemed appropriate.
Soon enough, we settled down to Eliza Fricker’s show-and-tell about her graphic novel, Just Getting Old.
Eliza Fricker – Just Getting Old
One half of design duo Baines & Fricker, Eliza wasn’t new to illustration but this particular project came from a deeply personal place. She began by telling us the story of her mother’s illness, which I quickly assumed to be early-onset dementia.
But over the course of the talk, we were made aware that this was something even doctors failed to diagnose correctly. Eliza’s clarity, raw honesty and strength shone through the entire talk, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who was riveted – and close to tears at times – throughout.
Her story made me really think about how mental illnesses, and illnesses of all kinds, affect the lives of the families and carers of those suffering. It also made me consider what makes us, US.
At one point in the story, Eliza breaks down in a medical appointment, exclaiming “She’s not my mother anymore!” She also made me consider the loneliness someone experiences who is going to visit a loved one in hospital, and the impact of this on every aspect of their life.
I don’t want to ruin the plot, but I will say that Eliza’s story is a must-read for anyone, not just those directly experiencing the pain of caring for someone with an illness.
Dana Walrath – Aliceheimers
Up next was Dana Walrath, who came with another story about the impact of mental conditions on not just the afflicted, but everyone around them. Dana Walrath is a medical anthropologist who taught at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, as well as an accomplished artist and writer.
Aliceheimers is her second book and has received great acclaim. She continues to speak worldwide about the role of comics in healing including talks at TEDx Battenkill and TEDx Yerevan.
Aliceheimer’s is about the period in Dana’s life when her mother came to stay with her and her family, having been kicked out of her apartment and in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Dana’s relationship with her mother wasn’t the best to begin with, and one would assume this period would have put even more of a strain on their relationship.
Instead, Dana told us through her wonderful whimsical pictures of Alice – as well as some utterly beautiful musical interludes (including an ‘Alzheimer’s theme song!) – how much the experience transformed their relationship. Like Dana described it, this is not a ‘zombie story’, like the typical account of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Her aim, which I believe she excelled at achieving, is to remove the stigma built up around the disease. It’s de-humanising, and unhelpful. Instead she helps us see how reframing these experiences, we can find growth, forgiveness, positive change, rebuild relationships and work through difficulties.
I hope it’s obvious by now, but both these inspiring laydeez have created books that will undoubtedly change how you see mental illness and serve as beams of hope for anyone who is has a loved one with an illness.
Background on Cat Rose:
My background is in design and a up-and-down-and-up illustration business, and now I’m on a mission to help fellow creatives, mostly introverts like myself, who struggle with the ‘icky’ feeling that comes with self-promotion.
I’m currently researching the links between personality types and how we can use our self-knowledge to make the most of our creative style and strengths.
You can get an idea about the stuff I talk about at: http://thecreativeintrovert.com/ or say hi @creativeintro on Twitter!
Edie Owczarek-Palfreyman, a.k.a. Edie O.P. (a much more Google-friendly name, she explained) talked about her ‘sunny side of sinister’ approach to story-making. When she is running low on creative inspiration, she goes on bus rides, long walks, or watches films, usually of the horror genre.
This is John Whitaker, curator at Wakefield Musuem. He was here to introduce us to The Extraordinary Life of Charles Waterton, a retelling of the bizarre life of a very strange man from Wakefield. John himself was the writer of this comic, and champions the use of comics and graphic novel formats in museums. We can expect to see more historical comics commissioned by museums in days to come, and not a jot too soon.
His biography was broken down into three parts, with one artist commissioned for each stage of Waterton’s life. John Welding is up next, but he did the first “cheeky Charles” stage. Staz Johnson pencilled the next action-packed stage, and finally nature illustrator Richard Bell made the jump to comics making art for the end of Waterman’s life. All artists are in the Wakefield area.
John Welding lives and illustrates from a coal yard in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, according to his blog. There are lots of drawings for you to see there.
This was written and sketched by Hannah McCann.
NEXT MEETING: Monday 25 April 2016
Our guest artists shall be:
‘Beryl the Peril’- Controversial feminist strip of the 70’s and 80’s
Artist/Cartoonist/ film maker
Both artists are currently exhibiting at the House of Illustration’s Comix Creatrix exhibition
You will also be able to gain half price admission to the ComixCreatrix exhibition on the night
Places are free, but space is limited.
Please RSVP the HOI to book a place:
For more work by this month’s guest blogger, Sean Azzopardi, go to https://sean-azzopardi.com/
1st Guest speaker was Lucie Ebrey, aka Muggyebes.
She hated visiting her Grandmas as a kid, because there was nothing to do there! No toys, no books…but she would go to the library to see what graphic novels they had. She sort of liked superhero comics, but they didn’t quite scratch an itch she had for something more…it was at the library where she found Maus.
It was totally different than anything she’d come across before, and she realised comics can be more than action filled bam pow snap kinda strips.
She also came across the work of James Kochalka, who had kept a daily comic diary up for 14 years!
She was so impressed she decided to give it a go herself, and so began her own comic diary.
(fun fact: She called it Muggyebes, a nickname from her childhood, and draws herself as a dog because she’s always felt like she didn’t fit in, and so she chose to visualise that, though in hindsight she feels like she probably should have gone for a rabbit).
She’s currently working on a joint-project called “Werewolf Social Club”, about an epidemic where only women were turning into Werewolves. What would they do? Where would they go? This is a lady to watch! : )
2nd Guest Speaker was Alex McCarthy, who has just published her first comic “1 in 100”, about a young girl with Autism dealing with everyday life with her sister. She’s currently studying Illustration at University.
There are hardly any comics out there with girls with Autism, and she was inspired by the visualisation of the anxieties in Katie Green’s Lighter than my Shadow. She decided to go create her own comic.
1 in 100 is part of her animation from university, and did an accompanying video with it.
3rd Guest Speaker was Verity Hall who talked to us about her recently published comic “Mystery Circus”.
She graduated in 2014. Her main aim in her comics is representation, and Sophie Campbell‘s comics are a huge inspiration in that respect.
“There’s always a risk writing a character like Mal, a trans WOC because I am neither, and I do worry about writing it well but I’m very aware I’m coming from an unfamiliar background. So far I’ve not written anything I would consider offensive but you never know how people might read something. I would happily listen to what someone has to day and try and improve, but in the end it depends on what they’ve taken issue too I suppose.”
She decided to take the leap last year and attended MCM Expo with her work. It was thwarted by her printer running out of ink, but she went along anyway and met the co-ordinator of Laydeez do Comics Birmingham.
She’s looking forward to doing more comic collaborations with her friends from Uni.