I adore Ana Albero’s work. Looking at the worlds she creates and the people she depicts, with her unmistakably brilliant illustration style, is always time well spent in my view. Ana is a Berlin-based freelance illustrator with a dizzying client list. She is also one third of the Edition Biografiktion self-publishing collective. Despite not being a big fan of giving interviews, Ana was kind enough to find the time to talk to Pikaland about her work and her processes here. Thank you Ana!
Hi Ana, how are you? What are you up to today?
Hi! I am fine thanks! Today I am finally answering a lot of emails after my late summer vacation, cooking my secret salmon recipe, baking a blueberry cake and meeting my Spanish girlfriends in the evening so I think I am not drawing today.
Could you tell Pikaland readers a little bit about yourself and the art that you make?
I’m an illustrator, originally from Alicante, a seaside city in Spain. I studied in Paris and Berlin where I specialized in Illustration.
Since my graduation at the Berlin University of the Arts in 2008, I work globally as a freelance illustrator based In Berlin. I also spend my time binding books, self-publishing comics and walking around in Berlin staring at dogs.
Are you working on any projects or art pieces at the moment that you could tell us about?
I am working on some commissioned editorial illustrations and putting together some top secret book projects.
How long have you been making art, is it something you’ve always been interested in?
Since I can remember, I always enjoyed drawing but I never felt like studying Fine Arts. I wanted to study something creative yet practical, so I ended up studying Communication Sciences and not being very happy about it.
Luckily I got a grant to study abroad. At the Berlin University of the Arts I discovered almost by accident the Illustration class. I always loved illustration but never thought of it as a job. I felt that to study illustration was what I really was looking for so quit my studies in Spain and applied for the Berlin University of the Arts. That opportunity really changed my life.
How did you first get started really pursuing your art career?
I started being more focused about my drawing after graduating. Leaving my much-loved educational “bubble” I realized I had to become more serious and committed about illustration if I wanted to earn my living drawing. So I started working hard on my portfolio to create something visually interesting and cohesive to show.
Together with the illustrators Till Hafenbrak and Paul Paetzel you founded “Edition Biografiktion” in 2008. Could you tell us a little about Edition Biografiktion, how you came to work together, and the projects that you have created?
Besides my commercial and personal work I am a member of the comic collective Edition Biografiktion which I founded with Till Hafenbrak and Paul Paetzel. Back then we were all still students and attended illustration class together. We became good friends and naturally we decided to come together because we all shared the wish to put out our work. The first zines (Biografiktion) we published were comic stories about celebrities, adding fictional elements. We decided to start a second series called Human News whose theme varies in every issue and which is more focused on Illustration. To produce our artwork we use the printing techniques which are easily at our disposal: silkscreen, linocut and reprography.
Is it important to you to work within such an art community?
Of course! There are many advantages in working in a group. As we lack financial resources we can’t pay others to do the printing for us. All the processes of the production are also very time consuming. As a group we can work together and share the workload. Even if we do most of the production process by ourselves there are still costs for materials like paper or inks also booth costs on comic festivals can be shared. Another advantage is that working in a group gives each of us bigger recognition and exposure.
We try to motivate each other in our work, also helping each other and offering constructive criticism. The best of it is of course spending lots of time with good friends.
How do you balance your time between working on projects with Edition Biografiktion, your solo work, and ‘life’?
Unfortunately, time management is not one of my strengths. I spend most of my time drawing right now. I prefer to work on two projects at a time to be able to switch between projects and have a little “break” that way. I tend to be more productive under time pressure which leads me sometimes to overwork myself. Nevertheless, I try to keep the pens down on the weekend, it is important to disconnect from work and enjoy some free time.
Do you have any top tips for overcoming procrastination? (I’m a huge sufferer of procrastination and I’m left with endless still-to-do lists as a result).
Oh, sorry no tips… I also suffer from chronic procrastination!
What’s your work space/studio like? Do you tend to surround yourself with things/images/artefacts to keep you company or inspire/ motivate you?
I tried to work in a couple of shared studios but I ended up working mostly at my studio at home. Maybe it is because I prefer a more cozy atmosphere to work till late in the evening. I live together with my boyfriend who is also an illustrator but you never could tell that seeing our apartment. We own tons of stuff, gorgeous prints and frames to hang but for some reason our apartment is sadly under-decorated. Actually that is one of our perpetual New Year’s resolutions.
Can you disclose a bit about the creative process behind your art making? Also, what techniques of illustration do you most prefer to use; what are your tools and materials of choice, and how did you come to work with them?
I start doing some rough sketches to figure the composition out and then I keep working on that drawing using transparent paper layers until the illustration is ready. When I work on a designed topic I do a research first.
I work mostly with graphite because that allows me to create a lot of different textures. Of course, I also use a computer mostly for digital coloring purposes.
At university I was able to try a lot of mediums and techniques, but at the moment I mostly work with pencil and paper for my commissioned work. I also work on screen-prints sometimes and would love to do some etching again but those mediums are very time consuming so I rather would use them for personal projects.
Which people, projects, or artists have made the biggest impact on your personal life or shaped your artistic vision?
Other decades inspire me a lot, whether in the past or the future… I like to research how people and things used to look and love to imagine how everything could be someday in a weird future time. I enjoy looking at all sorts of illustrations and vintage fashion magazines. As a teenager I even used to think I was born in the wrong time period. I also find inspiration in common people and everyday life. My colleagues Paul and Till also influence my work a lot.
I find it interesting how and where people gain access to their own confidence, and self-belief. Particularly in terms of how they are able to produce and create with a sense of assurance, belief and certainty, or taking the leap to make art their central focus.
What is your personal relationship with confidence?
How did you personally learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make, sell, and exhibit your art, as well as working freelance for various publications? Is confidence over your work something that comes easily to you?
I am quite an introverted person, that means I don’t really enjoy talking about my work, I feel uncomfortable at presentations and I avoid giving interviews. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel confident about my illustration work. In fact, I think I have a strong vision of what I like and dislike, what I want to do and don’t. I am very critical and demanding of myself and I enjoy being professional at my work.
To get a feel for your geographical location/’scene’, are there any Berlin artists, events, galleries, projects, magazines (etc) that particularly excite you right now? Where are your favourite places to create or be in Berlin?
My favorite place to create in Berlin is my studio at home. I need a calm atmosphere to get things done so you will never see me doodling in a coffee shop, I’d actually be drinking something there. For exhibitions I’d rather visit an old school museum like the Dahlem Ethnological Museum than the latest super hyped exhibition opening in a gallery.
You have lived and worked in a few European countries over the years. How do your different surroundings/environments, and your attention to the details of them, affect your art and creativity?
I enjoy traveling as much as staying at home. When I get to go somewhere I prefer to explore my new neighborhood in order to run around visiting all the possible tourist spots. I really enjoy the illusion of living an everyday life in a complete new environment. I don’t keep travel sketchbooks, that’s not for me at all, I’d rather take some pictures instead. I would probably live every year in a different country if I could. I’ve lived in Berlin for over 10 years now. It is a great city to live in because it is huge but not stressful at all. I would say to live here is important for my work because in Berlin I can stay focused on it.
What are your top tips for others who wish to be creative but feel stuck, don’t know where to start, or feel like they aren’t ‘good enough’ to do so?
Frustration is normal feeling in a creative job like this. Also feeling uninspired or unmotivated… the best tip I can give is try not feeling anxious about that… take some days off, be lazy for a while but then start working hard again. For me it is particularly hard for instance to start working again after a long trip or a vacation away from my studio. The only solution is starting over again and not thinking too much about it.
What is it that makes you burst with energy, keeps you inspired enough to keep going, and makes you want to continue being an artist?
What makes me really want to continue being an illustrator (although it is not the easiest profession) is imagining myself working in a regular 9 to 5 job and being too tired to do something creative when I get home.
There’s many pieces of your work that are presented as comics strips, with panels of drawings. How interested are you in comics work?
Although I am drawing more often comics right now I still prefer to work in single illustrations because I enjoy taking more time for the composition and the drawing itself. A good illustration always tells a story anyway.
What would your dream art project be? And what do you hope to work on next?
Working with people I admire and creating what I feel like.
Evergreen Jim & Tulip: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is the brainchild of Ana Benaroya, and it's the latest zine to be produced by Pikabooks.
I interviewed Ana about the zine and her art, and it appeared on Pikaland in April 2012.
Ana Benaroya is an illustrator, designer, typographer, and screen printer making adrenaline-fuelled, energizing, insanely bright, bold, loud and colourful work that smacks me in the face with how joyously unashamed it is. I don’t think I have enough adjectives to describe it!
Her illustrated zine, Evergreen Jim & Tulip: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough has just been published and released by Pikaland’s book imprint, Pikabooks, so we thought we’d catch up with Ana to ask more about the zine, and her other artwork.
Hi Ana, how are you? Could you tell Pikaland readers a little about yourself?
Hello! I’m doing pretty well. I am a freelance illustrator and designer working out of Jersey City. I love eating, drinking coffee, and drawing.
Could you tell us a little about Evergreen Jim & Tulip, both about the project came to be, and also the story within it?
I came up with the idea for this story while on a trip to the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Seattle, Mt. Rainier, Vancouver). It was my first time to this part of the country and I was amazed at the difference in trees and nature…and the mountains. My surroundings inspired my story…I wanted to create a romanticized version of the people who inhabited this part of the country. And of course, insert my own ridiculousness and sense of humor. I love writing love stories.
What is your history in independent or self-publishing? I’m guessing Evergreen Jim & Tulip isn’t your first zine?
I don’t have a huge history in self-publishing…though I did self-publish a newspaper with a good friend of mine called “Egg on Bread.” It was a satire on what a newspaper typically is, containing the weather, horoscopes, an advice column, etc. I also self-published a book called “Men Eating Fruit” which is a collection of paintings of nude men eating fruit, along with a short story about each of their lives. I like self-publishing because there’s no one telling you what you can and can’t do, or warning you about the marketability of something.
Do you think zines are a good way to share art, to display art, and to reach (new?) audiences or artistic communities?
Yes, I definitely think so… though the tricky part is getting the world to know that your zine exists. But there is something very magical about discovering a zine that you love… because you know it was hand-crafted and purely made. A zine represents true creative freedom and expression.
What appealed to you about working with Pikabooks?
I’ve been a big fan of the blog for a while, and how could I say no to the offer of a story of mine being published? This is my first real opportunity to have my writing and my art appear together and I’m very excited about it.
Do you think that there is a freedom, a power, and potentially fewer barriers to our creativity and opportunity due to the Do-It-Yourself and Do-It-Together nature of zines and self-publishing?
Yes, definitely. I think big publishing houses have something to learn from zines and self-publishing. Gone are the days where the public only knew what large companies decided to feed them. Now people have access to any sort of music, art, writing, or poetry that they want. And yes, that isn’t saying that everything out there is quality, but, the public isn’t stupid, and they could stand to be given a little more credit.
People more and more crave authenticity and originality. And self-publishing offers exactly that.
What’s your artistic history? How long have you been creating art? And, how did you first get started?
I have always been drawing, since I was a little girl. I was always obsessed with superheroes and collected action figures…and this is mainly what I drew. Later on I became intent on learning all the muscles and the anatomy of a human body. I would copy drawings straight out of anatomy books.
Could you share with us your progression as an artist — compared to when you first started out, how has your work changed since then?
Really the only thing that has changed is I am more open-minded now and have more experience drawing. I think the same things drive me and my subject matter hasn’t strayed too far off from what I was drawing when I was five. It’s funny, I feel like I never escape the things that I was interested in as a child.
How did you first learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and then gain the confidence to make art your career? I ask as I’m very interested in how and where people gain access to their own confidence, and self-belief — especially in terms of how they are able to produce and create what they do. Confidence is such a slippery fish. A lot of people struggle with knowing that they’re ‘good enough’ to create or make their own art, and are left unable to access their creative and artistic talents.
I pretty much always knew that I wanted to be an artist, though I had no idea how to go about doing that…or how I might be able to support myself. I always had (and still have) fears and doubts and worries…they never seem to affect me deeply enough for me to stop doing what I do. I just know that if I give up on myself as an artist, I probably would become really depressed. Drawing and painting are so entwined with my identity – I really don’t know who I would be if I didn’t have that ability to express myself through art.
And I know everyone says this, but if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. I shamelessly promote myself and put my work out there. I’d rather fail and be rejected a million times than never try at all. I never want to have regrets.
I’d like to ask about the sorts of stuff and aesthetics you like. For example, where do you work from, and what images/artefacts keep you company in your studio / place(s) of work?
(Also, I’m really intrigued; is your house or studio painted as vibrantly as your work? – That’s something I’d love to see!!)
I work from home (currently my bedroom). Ideally I’d like a separate room for my studio, but for now, this is all I can afford. I have a separate studio space that I use mainly for painting and personal work…but the funny thing is I find myself often just working at home instead. I think I just like being home.
My walls are covered in paintings and posters and drawings by other artists and myself. I like to look at art over a long period of time and see what new things I discover. If I didn’t have a roommate, I’d fill ever section of my apartment with crazy colorful things…but for now it’s all contained in my room. I also have a bookshelf filled with books…the one thing I consistently have collected over the years.
Are you a collector/coveter/admirer of other artists’ work? And, which contemporary artists and illustrators do you currently love?
I definitely am. If I could afford it, I’d collect art like a crazy person! This past year I’ve started spending some money on buying work from other people…and I really enjoy it.
I love the work of Ray Fenwick, Seripop, Jillian Tamaki, Gustavo Eandi, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Henrik Drescher, Balint Zsako… the list could go on forever. One of my all time favorite artists is Jean-Michel Basquiat.
It was only when I closely looked at your website and all the different examples of your work that I realised that without consciously knowing it was by you, I’ve seen your artwork all over the place over the past few years. That said, I once read you say that, ‘I do not fit easily into any one category, though there are similarities that appear across all my work. This might be why certain art directors choose not to work with me, they can’t predict exactly what I’m going to do. But if you can predict exactly what an artist is going to make and how they are going to interpret something… what is the point? I think you should hire someone for their mind, not their style.’ You make a very convincing point!
There seem to be many projects taking their chances on you, and I know that you self-promote yourself, so how easy is it to get in there and gain work when many people are blinded by ‘style’ and preconceptions of your work?
It is not easy, but it is not impossible. I think people either love my work, or hate it…maybe it can grow on you…but maybe not. The key is to find people who appreciate me for who I am. I pretty much plan to keep doing what I’m doing and hope it continues to interest people beside myself, haha.
Is there any neon or fluorescent paint or paper left in New Jersey? – I think it’s all in your work!! What draws you to using such vibrant, bright colours, and did it feel odd to produce black and white images for the majority of Evergreen Jim & Tulip?
Hahaha… yes, I know…what can I say I love bright colors! I guess I just feel like why be boring and bland when you can be bright and exciting? At least I feel that way in my artwork, which is much louder than I am as a real person. Maybe my loud work is a way for me to compensate for being so quiet. I’m sure someone could psychoanalyze me and provide me with some sort of explanation.
It didn’t feel too odd to draw the comics in black and white…I actually enjoy taking a break from color sometimes and just focusing on making a cool drawing. Plus, I think I was thinking more about story-telling when I made Evergreen Jim & Tulip…less about other things.
There seems to be an urgency and immediacy in your work, the images jump out and pop out and demand attention. Is this similar to how the images come to you and come to be drawn in the first place?
Yes, definitely. Usually an idea will pop into my head and then I will just make it. I make drawings pretty quickly…once I come up with a concept I just do it. I am not big on revisions I like to just keep moving forward.
What puts you in the best mood for drawing? And, what keeps you motivated?
It is unclear what puts me in the best mood for drawing. Though I am definitely a morning person and feel happiest and most productive during that time. What keeps me motivated is the fear of wasting valuable time.
What techniques of illustration do you most prefer to use, what are your favourite tools and materials to work with, and, what role does computer technology play in your art work?
I always start with a drawing… usually pencil first, but sometimes I’ll start straight with ink. I use either a pen or brush and ink. Then I will scan my linework into the computer and digitally color. For my personal work I will just paint…no computer. But it varies.
How important are narratives to your artwork, I ask this as I find that your work is very often involved in story-telling, or introducing fantastic characters.
I don’t often have long expansive narratives in mind, but I definitely do think about the personalities and “stories” of the characters I draw. I want people to wonder what kind of person is this? Why are they doing what their doing? And what are they thinking? I try to make my characters expressive and emotional.
What’s the art and/or self-publishing scene like in New Jersey? Are there any New Jersey artists, events, galleries, or projects that particularly excite you right now?
There are a ton of artists living in New Jersey…particularly Jersey City, where I live. I share a studio at the Jersey City Art School where a wide variety of classes are offered. It’s a small and close creative community here and I feel like it is way more down to earth than New York City. I enjoy living close to NYC, but not in it. It’s madness and if I don’t escape to someplace more quiet, I think I’d get depressed.
How important to you (both artistically, and personally) is a local/national/international artistic or creative community?
I think being part of a creative community is important, whether it be people you see everyday, your best friends, or people you find through the internet. I like to see what’s going on around me and find a lot of inspiration in that. But at the same time, I think the most creative work is done in solitude…and I need a lot of that.
What are your top tips for others who wish to be creative but feel stuck, don’t know where to start, or feel like they aren’t ‘good enough’ to make ‘art’?
Just keep making stuff and put it on a website. You’ll never know what will happen if you don’t try. Would you rather take an artistic journey, discover things about yourself and about the world around you and possibly face “failure” (if you consider trying, failing)… or would you rather reach the end of your life and realize you’ve never done anything you wanted to do and you’ve squandered the one life you had?
Harsh…I know. But it’s the truth! Failure sucks but it’s better than regret.
What are your thoughts on the nature and exclusivity/inclusiveness of ‘art’ — Do you believe everyone can be creative in their own life?
I do believe everyone can be creative and can benefit from having creativity and art in their life. I don’t mean everyone has to be an artist…but everyone can appreciate art and benefit from ways of thinking that aren’t so linear and black and white.
Your work has been described as being, ‘full of full lips and hair and tattoos and bulging muscles, and always lots of sexual tension […] Every mark she makes draws you into her crazy, hormonally-charged, adrenaline-fuelled world’.
I know that this is a self-created fictional world, but how representative of you is your work? Ha ha- I just realised that this makes me look like I’m asking you if you’re hormonally charged and riddled with sexual tension! That’s not quite what I meant!
Haha, I think my work IS representational of me…because I made it. But, if you’re asking if my work is like my personality…it is not. I mentioned before that I am actually a very quiet, calm, person on the outside…who has a spicy interior.
What are your plans for the rest of 2012?
To keep making art and to continue trying to figure out this thing called “life.”
Cendrine Rovini is a French artist making beautiful drawings, paintings, and mixed media work incorporating themes of delicacy and lightness, and they’re all kinds of beautiful! Melanie Maddison spoke with her about what she’s currently up to and how she came to make the work she does.
Hi Cendrine, how are you? Could you tell Pikaland readers a little about yourself and what you are working on at the moment?
Hello Pikaland people, I am fine, thank you! I am a french artist and I live in the mountains of the centre of France, in a little city named Aurillac. I use to work on paper mostly, sometimes wood and fabric, I draw and make mixed medias. I am currently working on collaborations with Irish artist Jane O’ Sullivan and swedish artist Nicole Natri, and also focusing on the next big work I want to do: a mixed media on a beautiful big format tintoretto (a very fine panel of blond wood).
How did you first get started in art, is it something that you’ve always been interested in and excelled at? How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
When I was a child, as every child, I spent many time drawing but I also used to secretly include this activity during the class at school, I was often immersed into my inner world, my imagination, and I used to be in love with art museums and books of images. As an adult I first taught Spanish language in a college, and I hated being a teacher. So I realized around the 30 years old that I only wanted to create, and I decided to make everything possible for it. It took almost five years for the identity of my work to appear; many years of self-education, of careful gaze on the things and people surrounding me and the memory of the hours spent in company of my father working (he is a sculptor). Finally a few years ago, the actual flow of images, or what someone could name my “current style” appeared by itself in a few weeks. I realized it when I saw that at a certain point, some formal cohesion was present drawing after drawing.
Why do you create? What is it about being creative that makes it something important for you to do?
I create because I have no other choice, and I am very bad at any other occupation. Creating is part of my personality and if you remove it from me, I may become a ghost. When I see an image first before doing it on paper, it may be a torture for me to be unable to transfer it on the visible area.
You have said that you like ‘to create drawings slowly disappearing from the spectator’s eyes’. Where did your interest in such soft, delicate, light imagery come from, and how has your art developed over the years to incorporate it?
I think this special taste came from my love for vintage photographs. You know, these fleeting sepia portraits, this little pigmentation on the old paper, the strange sweet light which seems to erase the shapes. And, as the things I see with my inner eyes come from the realm of the indistinct or hardly seen, when I want to render them on the paper, I try to make them light, so in many of my drawings there are pale colors or elements becoming transparent between the rest of the image.
You work a lot with graphite and coloured pencils, and also with mixed media on paper or fabric. What is it about these mediums that you enjoy? How do you create your images?
I love working on paper because its texture often inspires me by itself, this white and free space makes me able to almost literally “see” the contours of the image to be done. I first begin with graphite pencil, the oval of the face or the main shape of my figure and when this is placed on my paper, I merely distinguish the rest of the lines appearing, then the colors and details slowly emerge before my eyes and my hand only have to follow it.
Your work very often depicts women, and female life, bodies, and souls. What is it about femininity that draws you to capture its many guises within your work?
Women are the part of human beings I better know, as I am myself a woman! I know how it is in my body, the effect it has on my soul, the mystery and wonder about it. I love the way some women I meet in my imagination can be far from the modern stereotypes, I too love when they are undoubtedly feminine, with all the female traits, and also when they are rougher or threatening and I try to depict them as I saw them in my mind. For me there is not only one image of the woman, I love the multiplicity of the possible beauties or strangeness, and I enjoy trying to explore this. For me women are the multiple, the diverse, the possibility for the human world to be better connected to the Earth and its life, to respect it better and to feel the sacred materiality of the planet in a daily life. Our soul within our body carries so much complexity, that I could be inspired by it all my life, I think.
You work spontaneously without sketching or taking notes. Are the ideas already formed in your head before you sit down to draw?
Most of the time yes, the drawing is already in my mind; this is not an idea, this is an image existing in its totality. I often see them when I am near to fall into sleep, or the morning, when I am at the frontier between sleep and waking. I don’t think the images are born in my head, this place is just the place for me to collect them awaiting the moment to make them visible. I imagine they come from far, they were perhaps already in the head of someone else before I was able to catch them and draw?
You have recently been exhibiting work in the UK at the Duckett & Jeffrey’s gallery. I understand that this work is collaborative, with each piece being passed between you in France and another artist in the UK. Could you tell us a little about this, and the !process of working jointly on art pieces with another artist? Did you enjoy the process, and the outcomes?
This show ended last 31st of March at the Duckett & Jeffreys Gallery in Malton (UK), it was named The Spirit of Two and it presented a body of collaborative pieces with the English artist Chris Czainski. We worked about the inner initiatic path, when we are in front of a personal ordeal and the way we can know ourselves better and find new resources during such moments. We began the common works and sent them to each other so we can complete them; it was big format mixed medias on fabric, with dark felt, threads, beads, and graphite… I enjoyed working on this project because, even if our styles are different, we were like in the same undercurrent of imagination, everything was easy and natural between Chris’ work and mine.
What sort of aesthetic things do you like; for example where do you work from, and what images/artefacts keep you company in your studio / place(s) of work?
I love being surrounded by beautiful things, art or objects of the usual life, and I pay attention to the quality of the light, by day or by night, it may inspire me or place me in a peculiar mood for beginning my work. During the day, I enjoy my studio because my table of work is just in front of the window and I can see the garden, the river flowing and the streets of the city, at night I love the intimacy of the lonely light focusing on my paper and contrasting with the darkness of the rest of the room, I feel like I am in a bubble of warmth, isolated in there from the rest of the world with my nascent image. I need the near presence of the letters and gifts of my friends, artists, and of my art books.
How do you manage your time in order to devote as much time as you’d like to your art?
When my children are not at home with me, I can spend my time creating without any interruption, but even like that I need to go away from my work table several times a day, I take a break, I make myself some tea, I spend some time on the computer, I read or cook for the next meal. In a certain way it is part of my work too, all the little daily acts are important for me, they don’t separate me from the inner world. I feel lucky to have the possibility to only work like that.
What’s your relationship to confidence, with regards to making and sharing your art?
It is something related with one of the preview questions about why I make art. I just make it with my whole heart and sincerity so when I show and share it I hope that people can feel it and if the drawings touch them with heart and simplicity, I feel like the happiest artist in the world.
Which contemporary artists and illustrators do you currently like?
I have a devotion for Kiki Smith and Anne Siems, I also admire Fay Ku, Sofia Arnold, my friend Jane O’ Sullivan, I love the work by Jana Brike, Balint Zsako, Aron Wiesenfeld, Fuco Ueda, Valérie Belmokhtar, Susan Jamison…
What is the art scene like in your native France? Are there any French artists, events, galleries, or projects that particularly excite you right now?
A while ago the French art scene was mostly focused on conceptual work, and it was difficult to find interesting figurative art too… In the past couple of years, I see emerging a new movement with artists like Julien Salaud, Anaïs Albar, Valérie Belmokhtar, Bertrand Secret, the musician and visual artist Kinrisu, and the presence of young art galleries like Arsenic Gallery or Da-End Gallery in Paris (and I am happy to have had my first solo show in this beautiful and inspiring place). I love to see how imagination is at the centre of this creative scenery, how intuition and sensitivity within an intriguing sense of animality are respected and celebrated.
What is your favourite thing about making art?
I find it absolutely delightful when I feel the intensity of my desire for an image, for drawing it on the medium, when for example some mornings I am in a hurry for getting up in order to begin soon my work.
This interview with some of the ladies from The Strumpet (Ellen Lindner, Jeremy Day, Mardou, Megan Kelso, Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg, Kripa Joshi, Patrice Aggs, and Tanya Meditzky) first appeared on Pikaland in October 2011. The Kickstarter campaign mentioned in the interview was successfully funded and copies of the comic are now on sale.
Cover of The Strumpet by Ellen Lindner
The Strumpet is a new comic anthology from the ladies behind the Whores Of Mensa comics (which were published in the UK between 2004-2010). The Strumpet brings together a brilliant team of female comics artists from the UK and USA, to produce a transatlantic collaborative publication containing eclectic illustrative and comics styles and techniques, and unique stories around the theme of ‘Dress-Up’.
I spoke to these eight women about The Strumpet, their involvement in this first issue, women in comics, and about the Kickstarter campaign that is running to fund the publication of the first issue through a process of pre-ordering.
Ellen, What prompted the move to relaunch Whore Of Mensa as ‘The Strumpet’, and how do the two projects differ?
Ellen: There are two main motivations behind the relaunch of the Strumpet. One is that our mission had changed – instead of publishing three artists on a regular basis, we’d decided to move towards a rotating cast, around the three original stalwarts. We thought this new approach warranted a new identity. Second, we’d had some trouble because part of our old name, Whores of Mensa, is a trademarked term. We wanted to be able to grow without worrying about that.
Where does the title ‘The Strumpet’ come from, and is it just a title, or does it dictate the theme of contributions to the comic?
Ellen: The Strumpet came from discussions we had as a group. The acting Whores of Mensa – that would be Mardou, Jeremy Day and I – wanted a name that connoted the same kind of free spirit and sass as Whores of Mensa (WoM), but that had less of a hard edge to it. We also liked the idea of having an avatar of sorts, a figure that embodied the lady-friendly ideals of our comic.
The Strumpet is a cross-Atlantic project, where do you currently call home?
Ellen: At the moment I live in London but I’m moving to New York. The Strumpet will be a wholly transatlantic entity – I’m hoping I can bring some cool Americans to the Strumpet’s banquet, while gaining a new audience for the UK cartoonists I’ve come to know and love. Hopefully it means we can promote the comic simultaneously in both places.
Patrice: England, though I continue to call myself an American
Mardou: St Louis, Missouri though I’m originally from Manchester, England. I married the American cartoonist Ted May, so hot love and comics bought me here.
Megan: Seattle, Washington.
Jeremy: Home is Oxford, in the UK, where I live with my husband, cats and haphazard garden. It’s a lovely city, especially at this time of year, when it’s filling up with new incomers, students and hopefuls. It reminds me of the first time I came here.
Tanya: London, England
Lisa: I currently live in Portland, Oregon, US.
Kripa: I was born and raised in Nepal, pursued my BFA in India (where I met my husband), then lived in New York for three years while I completed my MFA and now I have been in the UK for three years… so home has been always changing. I guess I have to call UK home right now… it is where I reside… but Nepal will always be home as long as my family is there.
How did you become involved in The Strumpet?
Patrice: Through the indefatigable Ellen Lindner. I’m in awe of her.
Tanya: Ellen Lindner invited me to contribute.
Megan: Ellen, who is an old friend and comrade of mine from New York invited me to participate.
Kripa: Through the great Ellen Lindner! I met her a couple of times during various events and when I saw the Whores of Mensa anthology, I mentioned that I would like to be a part of it. She is a very welcoming and generous person.
Lisa: I was tabling at the 2011 Stumptown Comics Fest here in Portland, which is where I met our Fearless Leader of Strumpets Ellen Lindner and her husband Stephen. The three of us got to talking outside the awards ceremony on the first night of the Fest, and the next day we visited one another’s tables. I got her book “Undertow” and she and Stephen picked up the third issue of my comic “I Cut My Hair.” In August Ellen wrote and asked me if I’d be interested in contributing to The Strumpet, and I quickly took her up on the offer.
Mardou and Jeremy, you were original members of the group that created Whores Of Mensa (alongside Lucy Sweet). What are your thoughts on the direction that the idea has now taken with the publication of The Strumpet?
Mardou: My original idea was to base WoM on the comic ‘Triple Dare’, who was in that? Tom Hart, James Kochalka, Jon Lewis. I like that they each had 10 pages, so many anthologies around that time contained so many artists with just one or two page strips, they were a little dizzying. Having just myself, Lucy Sweet and Jeremy Day (nee Dennis) gave us a bit more room and we sort of juxtaposed our different styles around a common theme and created something a bit different. I’m still very proud and fond of it. Ellen joining us for the second issue was a dream and as I’ve stepped back from it, to focus on having a kid and working on a graphic novel, Ellen’s surged ahead. I think she’s created something more expansive but it still has that quality which sets it apart. Chic and slightly dirty-minded. Just like Ellen.
Jeremy: If Whores of Mensa was Mardou’s brainchild, The Strumpet is Ellen’s; it’s a fantastic idea and I support it fully, but I’m not the best person to talk direction. Ellen’s in the driving seat for this one; I’m in the engine room, spinning dials.
What is your own personal history in making comics? How did you get started, and what sort of things have you created over the years?
Patrice: My first ‘comic’ was illustrating the hybrid graphic novel by Philip Pullman, Count Karlstein. Although I’ve contributed short pieces to anthologies and periodicals, my work in comics has mainly been by stealth; whenever I’m asked to do a children’s book, I manage to slip in at least one illustration that includes a speech balloon!
Mardou: I started drawing a Tank Girl rip-off when I was 17 but didn’t get too far. A few years later, in my last year of college I discovered Dan Clowes and Peter Bagge’s comics. Dan Clowes had this line in an Eightball comic something like ‘there are beautiful, 22 year old women who would rather read than watch television’, and I loved that and I was 22 at the time, so I sent him my very first comic and he wrote back saying ‘do more comics’. So I did, just kept putting out little books. I did a series called ‘Stiro’ with my friend Fortenski, he wrote it, I drew it, then I did a solo book called ‘Manhole’ which got some Arts Council funding. And with those books I started going to comics shows where I met Lucy and Jeremy and we started ‘Whores of Mensa’. I’m now working on a graphic novel called the ‘Sky in Stereo’, which I’m serializing as a mini-comic.
Tanya: In 2002 I was laid up in bed for weeks, I had at the time been trying to work with various people on creative projects, which led nowhere, never came to fruition, etc, so I just started drawing ‘milkkitten’, to entertain myself. The comic world was completely unknown to me, so when Mark from Page 45 [British comic book store] ordered a batch from me at a festival, it encouraged me to think of it as a real ‘comic’ and to continue.
Kripa: I started making comics while I was doing my MFA in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts (in New York) as a Fulbright scholar…. so I started quite late! As a part of the course we had to study the History of Comics. I had never thought about making comics before that. I was always interested in story telling, even as a child, but had never ventured into comics. In New York I came to understand the scope of comics and graphic novels… and that it was not just about superheroes. For my thesis I created a character called Miss Moti and made two comics about her called ‘Miss Moti and Cotton Candy’ and ‘Miss Moti and the Big Apple’. I drew inspiration from Little Nemo (by Windsor McCay) and the style of Chris Ware. Since then I have done several Miss Moti comics for anthologies like Rabid Rabbit and Secret Identities (Asian American Superhero Anthology). I have also created illustrations and comics for magazines and NGOs based in South Asia.
Jeremy: Like many comics types, I started at school, passing around sarcastic one-panel cartoons drawn in my ancient history workbook during class. When I went up to Oxford in 1989, I found the Comic Book club there (founded by Jenni Scott) and spent the next few years in a dizzy whirl of study by day and comics by night. These were exciting years for the small press; desk top publishing, scanners and printers becoming consumer items and then the internet, like a finally-delivered promise. During all this time I was self-publishing, usually solo comics, but occasionally in the women’s anthologies of the time like Erica Smith’s ‘Girlfrenzy’ or Carol Bennett’s ‘Fanny and Dykes Delight’. My comics were typically short-run mini-comics. Later I moved onto the internet, publishing my first comics online in 1999.
Ellen: I got interested in making comics while in secondary school, and after a few false starts actually succeeded in making some at university. I was also lucky enough to go to school in a town with its own comics museum, which was very inspiring (if worrying – Jaime Hernandez’s original art really mystified me, the man never made any mistakes!) My comics ambitions developed further when I went to France as a student – all of a sudden I was in a place where public libraries, bookshops, any place where printed media was sold pushed comics. Cartoonists were like rock stars there, cool guys and girls making wonderful stories on paper. I won a travel grant to extend my stay, a huge privilege – I spent the time it afforded me starting to do an adaptation of Christine de Pizan’s proto-feminist classic, ‘The Book of The City of Ladies’. In terms of making comics, I didn’t ‘get’ all of the processes right away – and I certainly had no idea about how long comics take, or how to develop my skills in an efficient manner. But I stuck with it. After Uni I met a lot of really great cartoonists – I’d moved to New York by then. At every stage I got little crumbs of encouragement that I took to heart, and they gave me the courage to continue. It’s taken a while but I’m now starting to make comics I’m happy with. I’ve done everything from educational comics on the Mayan ballgame to strips for ad agencies and video game companies – not to mention my own personal projects and contributions to great collectives like The Comix Reader.
Lisa: The earliest comic I remember making was at age 9. I drew a comic about a superhero named Super Chicken who fights the evil Colonel Sanders and wins. Throughout high school I made a number of bad attempts at Robert Crumb-style autobiographical comics pieces, but I didn’t start to seriously and consistently make and publish comics until I moved out to Portland five years ago. I have loved to draw as long as I can remember, in high school I got into writing, and though I had read comics my whole life I started to read a whole lot more in college. Although I was enjoying the art classes I was taking in college, comics inspired me much more. It seemed like the ideal way for me to draw in the style I wanted, and to tell the stories I wanted to tell. Indirectly, animated cartoons and children’s books led me to comics as well—the character design and energy of the cartoons; the text/drawing combination of children’s books. I moved to Portland knowing that there were a lot of cartoonists who lived here and thinking it would be a good place to get started, but I couldn’t begin to imagine how supportive the community would be. Part of that is the self-publishing/zine culture here: there are zine sections in all the libraries and plenty of book and comics shops that carry self-published material. That gave me a clear path to getting my work out there. I started drawing comics and self-publishing them through the Independent Publishing Resource Center, a non-profit workspace that has photocopiers, supplies, a letterpress, computers…plenty of tools to help you make something. I brought them to stores like Reading Frenzy and Powells, and sold them at shows like Stumptown Comics Fest and the Portland Zine Symposium, eventually travelling to farther-away comics shows in other cities. I met a lot more cartoonists at these shows, at gallery openings, and at drawing nights, and we exchanged work with each other. Through the cartoonists and small-press folks I met I got some of my first opportunities to be published by others, and to do some readings and presentations of my work. As for my work, I got started with autobio. “I Cut My Hair” began as a daily journal comic series, but the most recent issue is one longer story about cross-continental travel. Lately I’ve been working more on some fiction stories (aka thinly veiled autobio!), many of which star this little monster character who lives in a world of little monsters, which are really just stand-ins for people. He is the central character in my story for The Strumpet. This story is also one of a few pieces I’ve done with cats as characters, despite my distaste for them in real life.
What techniques and materials do you typically work with when creating your comics?
Lisa: I’m pretty old school when it comes to my comics tools. I usually start with character studies, thumbnailing, and sketching in my hard-bound sketchbook with any old pencil. I draw my final pages on Vellum Bristol board with an HB or 2B pencil, and most recently have been inking with Rapidograph pens. Sometimes I use a wash with watered-down black Higgins Eternal Ink. I do a bit of clean-up in Photoshop to erase smudges and sharpen the blacks, but I’ve been known to use Pro-White to correct mistakes as well.
Patrice: The same ones I use when creating anything, a mixture. I once made a one-page comic entirely by etching on copper, doing all the lettering in reverse.
Megan: I have tried almost everything over the years, but my favourite inking tool which I’ve been using for the past 5 years or so is a G-nib dip pen. G nibs are Japanese nibs – kind of big and stiff – that a lot of manga artists use.
Mardou: Notebooks and pencils for writing, Bristol board, pencils and micron pens to draw with. I usually draw a rough version of my comic and then light-box it onto paper. This story was pretty loose and fast though. I used some old fashioned Zip-a-tone on this story. Old, vintage Zip-a-Tone that had lost its gumminess. Never again….
Jeremy: While I love my computer and my graphics tablet, especially for the screaming brights I favour for colour work, my first love is drawing – in dip pen, rollerball, technical pencil or crayon on lovely paper. I’m still working through a pile of fancy paper I scored from a paper chemist friend. It’s a joy to draw on.
Tanya: Pencils, tracing paper, pens, ink, now a lightbox, which has changed everything…! I spend most time on the story and then doodle possible characters…
Ellen: I use pencils to start (H-3H), and I make a lot of rough drawings inspired by my script. From there I start drawing on big sheets of Bristol board with hard pencils, tightening and refining and lettering. I use a mechanical pencil to finalise the pencil drawings, and then start inking with a combination of small brushes, technical pens and Deleter dip-pens. Then I scan it all into Photoshop and use a Wacom pen tablet to make changes. I add colour and texture, and the comic is ready to go! I’d love to start working digitally but I confess to being a bit flummoxed!
Kripa: Initially I used to hand draw the outlines and then scan them into the computer to colour… however, these days I work from start to finish on the computer using Photoshop and my Wacom Tablet.
You have a great back (and current) history in your own published and/or self-published comics. What drew you to being involved in a collective project like this rather than solely focussing on your own solo work?
Mardou: Drunken bonding, initially! I do enjoy collaborating but it’s hard now. I have a two-year-old daughter, not much time to draw and a large solo project that’s eclipsing every thing else. But it was awesome to make it into the maiden voyage of ‘the Strumpet’!
Lisa: I really like Ellen’s work and I enjoyed the most recent issue of Whores of Mensa, so I considered it an honour to be asked if I’d like to be a part of The Strumpet. It also seemed like a great opportunity to get my work seen by others who had maybe not read my comics before.
Megan: Ellen is an old friend, and she has supported me and contributed to my projects in the past, so it felt natural to contribute to hers. When I was working on Artichoke Tales [Megan’s graphic novel, published 2010], especially in the final stages, I said no to a lot of invitations to be in anthologies because I needed to focus on finishing that book. But right now, I’m in a period of transition with my work – I have not yet begun on my next big thing, so I’m trying to say yes to as many small projects as I can.
Is working and collaborating on others projects something that you enjoy?
Tanya: I love it, it’s great to be given a title / theme and have to make something to fit. Having an ‘alien’ prompt takes you out of your comfort zone / rota of ideas a bit. I’ve written a bunch of stories and given them to other people to illustrate, for a similar reason, with really surprising and great results. As the illustrators are more detached from the words I feel the work they produce can sometimes give a fresher perspective on ideas which may have been stewing… It makes the whole process more unpredictable and fun, I find.
Patrice: When one gets indecisive or stuck while doing solo work there’s nothing more rejuvenating than collaborating on a fresh project with other people. It’s like a shot in the arm.
Jeremy: Working with others, working to a theme, working within a certain character or constraint is something I’ve always enjoyed, however I must confess to having been a poor contributor in the past, often promising much and delivering little, or collapsing in the face of a theme which roughly translates to “the editor must like it”. The difference, I think, with Whores of Mensa (and now The Strumpet) is that it never felt wholly owned (or influenced) by just one individual, more like a collaborative effort, different voices, styles and attitudes working together to create something that was more than just one note, one narrative.
Lisa: I do love collaborating—in fact, I would love to be the illustrator for someone’s comic script one day. I also loved that the artists were given lots of freedom to do whatever we wanted as long as it had to do with the theme of “dressing up.” Open-ended parameters like that are really inspiring to me when coming up with story ideas.
Kripa: I have always being a part of anthologies and collective projects. I think it is nice when a lot of people are working on a single theme or idea. Making comics can be a lonely pursuit… so it is good to be able to connect with other people. Plus, collective projects are also a challenge… the theme or topic might not have been something I would have thought of myself… so it forces me to think outside the box.
Ellen: When I first got to the UK I found Whores of Mensa, the precursor to The Strumpet, at Gosh! [a London-based comics store] It was funny, sexy, and charmingly doolally. I sent Mardou a fan letter and she was kind enough to reply with an invitation to get involved. This was one of the things that saved my sanity during a very lonely time – becoming a part of the WoM crew gave me a very real sense of community. Doing stories with them has always been a lot of fun, and often a needed relief from longer projects like my graphic novel, Undertow. Recently I’ve taken more of a leadership role, as Mardou has taken time off from editorship to have a baby and focus on a graphic memoir. As one of the Head Strumpets, I’m very pleased that I’m able to play a greater role in making this happen. I love doing comics but I also love seeing what other people are doing – seeing a comic grow from an idea to a final piece of art is a very cool process.
Without giving away too much, what sort of work are you contributing to The Strumpet?
Patrice: A short gag piece that nevertheless is trying to explore the subtleties of storytelling.
Mardou: It’s an 8-page love letter to the Comics Conventions of the British Isles. And to the boys that frequent them.
Jeremy: I have been much involved in writing comics about sisters this year, and Project Paper Doll (my strip for The Strumpet) co-stars my younger sister Ellē, with cameos from sisters Vic and George, my two more youngest sisters. It’s a story of when we were teenagers, growing up and much enamoured of dressing up; I suppose you could say it’s a tale of high 80s fashion and disrespectful paganism.
Megan: It is a one-page comic that’s kind of about how young people view old people.
Lisa: A story that is super-goofy and over-the-top cartoon-y. It features a little (human-like) monster who goes on an adventure with his three cats. At first I was going to do a semi-autobiographical story of teen angst and self-discovery, but then I decided to go the opposite route into silliness territory. I used to draw lots of animals wearing costumes dressed up as other animals, usually to make one of my good friends laugh. This was my main inspiration.
Tanya: It’s a story about nostalgia, and the future. A daft idea which considers what people ‘in the future’ might look back on as being important. Also how our ideas of the future are so constrained by our lives at the moment – we plan ‘for the future’ and generally imagine things will carry on much the same; but with an exponentially-increasing population, and finite supply of resources, some things might change drastically… It’s also about dressing up as food.
Ellen: I hope that my story is a funny anecdote (about a wardrobe malfunction at my wedding!) that turns out to be a bit deeper. It’s a story about getting to know my husband’s family, which has been a very enriching journey. This story is a celebration of that.
Kripa: My comic is called ‘Miss Moti and a Modern Fairytale’ and features my protagonist, Miss Moti. It is a bit different from other Miss Moti comics because it contains a written narrative, unlike the others, which are mostly wordless. I have tried to create a parody between the images and the words.
In self-publishing your comics, how do you find the balance between pursuing your artistic goals and coping with actual cash-flow? Where does Kickstarter come in to this, in the instance of The Strumpet?
Ellen: Cash flow in independent comics is a hard-won thing. Most of the infrastructure set up for selling them is expensive – whether it’s the pricey convention table or the hefty commission taken by the shop where you sell on consignment. The internet helps but it’s hard to get visibility outside your core fanbase. Kickstarter helps raise money ‘up front’ but can also help for visibility. It’s a system for taking pre-orders that has nothing to do with how often we publish or what format we publish in – factors that have kept us from using the main comics distribution networks.
The Strumpet has been billed as a ‘cultural exchange’ between artists from the USA and the UK; ‘uniting two comics scenes long overdue for a love-in.’ What is your experience of small press/self-publishing scenes/cultures, and those who support them? What links does your individual illustration and comics work hold to such independent/DIY culture and alternative press communities?
Lisa: Well, I think my answer about how I got started in comics speaks to this quite a bit. As a cartoonist I owe so much to the minicomic/zine/alternative and small press scene, specifically as it exists in Portland. These communities have given me direction, they have provided me a place to have my work seen, and have been a great way for me to meet other cartoonists. Not to mention the fact that when I’m at a zine show or a small press-focused comics show, I get so inspired by the work on display and the output of other artists.
Mardou: Starting ‘Whores of Mensa’ back in 2004, was largely about creating a community, as far as I was concerned. I was living in Devon (UK), didn’t know any other cartoonists, period. Through my mini-comics and doing a tiny zine-fest in Exeter, I met the founders of Ladyfest Bristol. It was an amazing, cultural experience for me and I found my friends and collaborators through that event. Ellen found us through doing the WoM comic, she wrote us a fan letter and we invited her in. I’ve since moved to America but mini-comics were the cipher! Mini-comics have changed my world, really! It blows my mind when I think about it! Just doing these scrappy little books for the past ten years. Who knew?!
Patrice: I confess I’ve not much experience of small press and have never self-published. I’m very interested in pushing the boundaries within established publishers, and haranguing them to become more experimental. But the only way to get them to wake up is to get more and more independent projects out there.
Kripa: I have self-published my two Miss Moti books and have been selling them in various comic conventions in the USA and UK. Having studied in New York, it was much easier for me to get into the comic scene there. When I had to move to the UK, I was quite isolated since I didn’t know anyone. I used to believe that London was not as vibrant as New York. However, having got to know more comic creators and enthusiasts, I have realised that that is not the case. The self-publishing community is pretty supportive and welcoming of newcomers. Besides my own self-publications, I have also been a part of small-press anthologies. I have contributed to several issues of Rabid Rabbit, an anthology started by the alumni of School of Visual Arts. I am also very happy to be a part of Strumpet, especially since it is transatlantic, kind of like my life since the past six years!
Megan: When I started doing comics, it was in the context of a zine community I was part of in the early nineties – people I knew in college, and then a whole network of people I met through self publishing my own work. In that community there was an ethic of contributing work to other people’s publications. I have been pretty self-focussed in the last 10 years and have grown to miss the participatory aspect of doing comics and self-publishing. It’s good to see people like Ellen carrying on the work of small press and self-publishing, and it feels nice to be a small part of it.
Ellen: I’ve been lucky enough to have spent three years in the New York comics scene back when just being enthusiastic about comics was enough to enable you to meet masters in the field, and to be welcomed by them as a friend. I was always a cartoonist first and an illustrator second, and those people showed me how they made that work. I also feel fortunate that, over time, I’ve made so many amazing friends on the UK comics scene. For me, the fact that I’m involved in a comic project like The Strumpet that could potentially draw these people together (no pun intended!) is a dream come true.
Jeremy: I think that one of the best things about the small press and self-publishing scene is that by its very nature there is not one dominant culture, but rather a rich and vibrant environment of smaller circles and friend-groups, each independently evolving and changing, sometimes co-operating, sometimes competing, but always brilliantly varied. One of the things I’m looking forward to about The Strumpet is the opportunity to investigate new groups, circles and individuals, as it has been my experience that the more you look, the more you find; and I am quite convinced that I will never run out of new brilliant women comics creators to discover.
Tanya: There’s an amazingly supportive and friendly comics community in London. A bunch of hugely talented and lovely people, many of whom are very open to collaboration. There are a lot of anthologies around, a lot of meetings, so people are very keen to group together, share ideas, and collectively make things happen. I guess we’re all sort of in it, but also on the edge, dipping in and getting involved with bigger things and then buckling down and making your own work.
Ellen was recently quoted, responding to an interview question about the supposed “male comics industry”. She replied: ‘In my experience comics is as ‘male-dominated’ as you want it to be. Unlike in film, where female directors are genuinely held back by the film industry’s lack of willingness to fund their projects, alternative comics – which is the ‘comics industry’ I’m in – is largely a DIY affair. If you can’t find a publisher, you self-publish. The Man can’t keep you from drawing – only you can. I worry that because the general notion about comics is that it’s a ‘male-dominated’ industry it blinkers people to the good work actual women are doing in the actual comics industry all the time.’ To what degree is what Ellen says true to your experience?
Lisa: I do agree with Ellen. I’ve never felt a barrier to publishing because of my gender. Of course mainstream comics is a different story, and I’ve seen situations where female cartoonists maybe don’t get as much credit as male ones, but so far in the alternative comics community I’ve felt pretty well supported as a female.
Jeremy: In my experience, your own projects are as male-dominated as you want them to be (and several of my main collaborators, and indeed comic book characters have been men, over the years), but if you go totting up names and contributors there was — probably still is — a male bias, even in the most alternative areas of the comics world. In the late 90s there was also a big fashion for publishing offensive sexist drivel under the banner of “airing opinions” or “raising debate” which lead to a lot of talented women leaving the comics scene partially or wholly. I’m glad to say that there have been some improvements since then, however the unedited world of the small/alternative press is prone to this style of idiocy, and it may yet resurge.
Kripa: I think the notion that the comic industry is male dominated is probably due to a few genres… like the superhero comics. In graphic novels, I think it is a much more open playing field. In the past few years, there have been more and more comics published that have been created by women, like Kari by Amruta Patil, India’s first female writer-graphic novelist.
Do you think that there is a freedom, a power, and potentially fewer barriers to our creativity and opportunity due to the Do-It-Yourself and Do-It-Together nature of the self-publishing industry?
Tanya: Yes I agree. It’s easy to come up with excuses for one’s own self-censorship, or lack of output, but there are so many outlets and possibilities with comics, it’s just a matter of doing it; you can write and draw whatever interests you, and someone, somewhere will be into it.
Megan: Well, there is definitely freedom in self-publishing. I think doing it yourself is a perfect way to start out with an artistic career, and its important to keep it as an ongoing component of how you work, because that absolute freedom is how you find and hold on to your artistic voice. Commercial jobs, where you are trying to fulfill someone else’s vision can make it harder to recognize your own voice when you turn back to your own work. That said, we all need to eat and want to make some money from our work, so like all things in life, it’s a balancing act between art and commerce.
Kripa: I do think that self-publishing gives people the opportunity to publish and showcase their work which otherwise might have lived only in the creators minds. If you can’t find a publisher, or are not confident enough to do so, then DIY comics gives you the possibility to share your work with the world and get feedback. One of the best experience of self-publishing has been getting in touch with the people who buy my comic. I think in self-publishing there are fewer barriers, not just to our creativity, but also with our customers.
Patrice: Do-it-yourself is far duller than do-it-together. We need to champion each other. Drag the male-dominated blinkered attitude into the dustbin.
Mardou: Yeah, there’s a freedom but I also find self-publishing a massive pain in the arse and would rather someone else do all the printer/distro stuff for me. It’s a lot of work, I don’t enjoy it.
At a recent panel discussion entitled ‘Women In Comics’ that I was at, the female creators and academics presenting mentioned that they would be pleased if, in the future, there was no longer a need for an exclusive ‘women in comics’ panel to exist, due to it becoming more and more commonplace and less of an anomaly to find successful female creators, audiences, and writers within the comics field – thus providing less requirement for a separate gendered discussion of comics. I guess such a comment could also be levelled at the “need” for an anthology such as The Strumpet to be created; an anthology which only collects together the work of women. Whilst this liberal attitude is understandable to a degree, I believe it is still important for women’s comics work to be celebrated, critically explored, and highlighted for what it is, as I think it’s important to emphasize the unique and often challenging work that women are making (and often making together) and to actually see how women are acting as cultural producers in the present and actualising their autonomy in ways that are meaningful to them. Plus, it highlights a belief in women, and the fact that women’s stories are worth telling, and worth hearing. Also, as we know, there are ever increasing numbers of amazing women comics makers out there who are further challenging and diversifying the historical framework of comics not only by what they are creating, but also through how their creations are introducing and encouraging an excited and exciting band of female creators across the world to produce comics and art themselves, perhaps by helping to demystifying the process of comics production to other women and girls. For myself I know that it’s often different when you can see a woman, or a group of women doing something amazing, it helps to shape and situate my own sense of what I too could achieve.
What is your personal motivation for being part of The Strumpet, a comics anthology containing only the work of women? And what are your thoughts on the “need” for such collections of women’s work to continue to be produced in 2011?
Jeremy: Having suffered through many a Women in Comics panel myself, I understand the reservations. It is definitely the case that women creators, writers, artists, critics and fans are now more prominent in the world of comics than ever. I want a world where the presence of a woman in a comic shop, convention market hall or prominent mainstream comic is such a commonplace that it doesn’t even merit a mention, but I feel we have a way to go. Women are still a minority in many parts of the industry and wholly excluded from others; there is still prejudice, overt and covert. But perhaps we are now at a point in time where we can move from “Women in Comics”, which always diverts the argument into well-trodden arguments about the sexist representation of women in comics, to the more inclusive and active “Women and Comics”. When I was new to the comics scene, most anthologies were de facto almost all/all-male anthologies. Many still are. Anthologies are crucial in nurturing and building the talents of comics artists, in building comics community and in raising the profile of new creators. While there are now more seats open for women, they are still underrepresented, particularly among comics writers. A women’s anthology, particularly one with a remit to seek out new creators and mix up different comics scenes, has a valuable role to play. Or, to put it another way: it’s not time to give up now, not when we’re finally getting somewhere. Different groups of people have different stories to tell, and different stories that they need to tell. The times over the years when I have been in women’s anthologies (and this is also true of gay anthologies) have allowed me the freedom to let out the stories that I have often felt pressured to repress as inappropriate for the public sphere, as too small, too trivial, and not of public interest; as well as the freedom to subvert or divert those ideas of appropriate female narrative and proper feminine behaviour which still have a strong effect in a mixed environment.
Ellen: Believe me, I’ve asked myself this question a million times. I grew up identifying very strongly as a feminist, so that’s a big part of it. I believe that women need to be acknowledged for their gifts and given a voice in society, and I think it’s worth asking – is this happening in comics? To answer this question for myself, I did a tally of books published by three major indie publishers in the UK. The results were pretty rubbish, in terms of women’s representation in their catalogues. Such a poor percentage of the work they were publishing is by women. Obviously, this is a complicated issue. But just to be on the safe side, printing work by women will always be a priority for me. Plus, knowing that your editor is a woman (or a team of women) changes the dynamic, regardless of what gender the contributors are. If the Strumpet can offer a sympathetic place for women to publish their stories, I think that’s a contribution.
Megan: When I was younger, I had kind of a chip on my shoulder about the whole “Women in Comics” thing – as a panel topic at conventions, or a question in interviews, or an organizing principle for comics anthologies. I wanted to be evaluated as an artist, not as a woman artist. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve kind of relaxed my vigilance about this. I have always considered myself a feminist and always will, and as such, I am genuinely interested in questions of gender and power, and so to not participate in the panels or questions that come up about those issues just seems obtuse to me. Also, while the numbers of female cartoonists are growing, comics itself, or rather the art/alternative comics world that we are speaking of, is still quite small and marginalized from a cultural standpoint. So we are still talking about a small group of women doing this work – and there are clear commonalities to a lot of their work. It seems perfectly natural to me that they would want to work together, or that their work would be considered somewhat collectively. And while I’m on the topic of collectivity, it just seems like a lot of women derive a sense of strength and satisfaction and inspiration from working together, so why not celebrate that?
Patrice: To be rather pragmatic about it all, yes, it’s a pity one has to shove women into a separate box, but hey, if it gets the work noticed, that’s fine. And if we have to play the ‘gender card’ in 2011, it’s worth it if it helps a new generation of women to ease their way into a world where the separate boxes won’t be needed anymore.
Kripa: The Strumpet is the first women’s only anthology that I have been a part of. I don’t think it was important for me that it was an only female comic… and I would have been okay had it been mixed gender as well. However, I do think it is great to have such an anthology. I think it has created a really nice, supportive community… somehow being in The Strumpet has felt different from being in other anthologies. An all women anthology may also be less daunting and encourage more women to create comics. Plus, such an anthology might make it possible to tackle themes that are more relevant for women. So I hope it will continue for a long time yet!
Mardou: As much as I balk from being pigeon-holed as a ‘woman artist’ I think there still is a place for women’s-only anthologies such as ours. The majority of women, and we’re talking Western women here, have enjoyed freedom of artistic expression for such a short time historically, not to mention, sexual reproductive rights and suffrage. Less than a century. My work itself is not political but I’m most definitely a feminist and working with other women artists is something I greatly value. And let’s face it, the general reading population is largely unaware of comics, let alone some of the brilliant women making them. So yeah, I think making an all-women comics anthology is totally valid.
Tanya: To me, my motivation isn’t in the women’s only aspect of the Strumpet, it’s more about the people involved, and Ellen is the motivating factor for me. I understand the need to promote women in comics but I’m not sure that women-only projects are the way to do it… Not sure. It’s a tricky one, I’ll mull this over… I think that women might be constraining themselves, and it could be that their own emphasis on ‘being a woman’ might restrict them, or put people off, who would otherwise be perfectly willing to accept them. If that makes sense? It depends how they identify themselves – as a person, as a woman, as someone with a story to tell. If all that’s special about you is – you’re a woman – well, there are lots of other women around… Give me more! In terms of inspiring other women, I do feel that women producing interesting work, challenging themselves, having autonomy and following their own ideas is really important, and it does really help me to see strong women doing things that they want to do, seemingly fearlessly.
Jeremy: My personal motivation is also my need; my need to explore and discover new creators, to create an open space where quiet voices can be heard, and to work with other women to create something new and beautiful.
Megan: I don’t think it is a “need” –I think it is a desire. I think a group of women working together to produce something like the Strumpet is a feminist stance, especially with a theme that resonates for the female creators themselves. I have been asked to contribute to anthologies with stereotypical “boy” themes where I have really struggled with what to draw or say. With dress-up, it came pouring out of me. I don’t know, I think its OK that boys and girls are different, as long as we understand that it’s a spectrum, and that it must include trans and queer understandings of boy/girl too. And as for the larger comics reading audience, that includes men and women, straight and gay, they are just looking for good comics I think, and whether it is an all female production or not is probably less relevant to them than is it good work?
Lisa: I don’t think it’s as much a question about striving to get to a point where we don’t “need” women’s comics panels/collections/spaces etc. but about the “need” changing. I don’t want there to be a need for these things because female cartoonists aren’t getting the credit and opportunities that they deserve and thus the work of female cartoonists is less commonplace. I do, however, think that even as female cartoonists are less of an “anomaly” there will always be a need for a collection like The Strumpet as a celebration of female voices. As a female cartoonist that’s something I’m interested in seeing. I’m proud to be a woman in comics and I like seeing what my female colleagues are producing. Also, I think that, like racism, sexism is something that will never be totally eradicated—the way we fight it is through constant re-examination and challenging ourselves as a society or, in this case, as a global comics community. Even if things are better for women in comics than they were, say, 30 years ago, we need to keep checking in with each other— i.e. things may be “better” in certain ways but what’s the situation now for female cartoonists? What needs to be worked on? What needs to be addressed?
Ellen, How important to you, as the editor of The Strumpet is the idea of collaborative/collective projects; the idea of a (womens?) comics ‘community’; and, being able to work with and meet such peers through projects like this?
Ellen: Very important. Art is a social endeavour – anyone who thinks they can get ahead only by slaving away in their garret is, except in very rare cases, kidding themselves. Comics projects by and for women will keep more women engaged in comics. I’m so happy that the Strumpet can be a place where women can get together and swap stories.
I am very interested in how and where women gain access to their own confidence, and self-belief — especially in terms of how they are able to produce and create what they do. Confidence is such a slippery fish. A lot of people struggle with knowing that they’re ‘good enough’ to create or make their own comics, and are left unable to access their creative and artistic talents. What is your personal relationship with confidence and its effects to your ability to create?
Kripa: Funnily enough, the creation of Miss Moti was due to my struggles with self-confidence, especially when it came to the issue of being over-weight. I wanted to create a character that would do extraordinary things in spite of being ordinary. I still suffer from lack of confidence, much to the frustration of my family, who strongly believe in me and Miss Moti. I think it is essential to have a good supportive network, made up of family, friend and fellow professionals. The irony is, sometimes the very fact that people like your work can be intimidating, because you are afraid of not living up to the expectation! I have generally found that inhibitions restrict me from taking initiatives, but if a project or a challenge is offered to me, then I rise to meet it.
Mardou: I still struggle with it. I’m married to an artist I hugely admire, who’s way better at drawing than me and has 10 more years or so of comics-making experience than I do. And he still suffers from confidence crises! So I don’t think you ever get there. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that stops an arrogant or formulaic note from creeping into your work? I dunno. Ultimately, comparing yourself to others is not helpful and you just have to keep doing what you’re doing and hopefully you’re on the right track.
Lisa: Oh boy, this is one I’m always struggling with! I am constantly working to boost my own confidence as a cartoonist (and I must say that I know there are ways this is tied to being a female in this society, modesty being valued, etc.). After I’ve finished a comic it’s very hard for me to look at it for a long time…all I can see are the flaws. I often worry that my work looks amateurish, that I’ll never meet my goals as a cartoonist, that I’m just not “good enough.” But when I struggle with thoughts like these I battle them with good old rational thinking! (Which is, actually, quite helpful). For example, my friend and studio-mate Sarah Oleksyk once told me that no matter what, no one can make the kind of comics I make the way I can, the way you can, the way any one cartoonist can. I remind myself that if I want to improve the only way to do that is just to keep working so I have to not allow myself to get discouraged. Also lately I’ve been reminding myself that the more I learn, the more I will recognize how much I need to learn. Increased scrutiny is just a part of getting better at my craft.
Ellen: I have a vexed relationship with the issue of confidence. As an adult I’ve never lacked the confidence to do my work, but there’s something about getting it out in the world that can be really unnerving – I get mini-flashbacks to being bullied at school, and I worry that I’m still a scared teenager inside. I think this will always be a failing of mine, but oddly, when it comes to the Strumpet, I’m willing to take risks in terms of promotion that I won’t take with my own work. Knowing that I have a bunch of artists depending on me and my co-editor, Jeremy, gives me power to do things I wouldn’t normally do – things which I then realise aren’t so scary. Again, no one’s perfect, and everyone has their own approach – but I’ve learned lessons with The Strumpet that have given me the confidence to push myself harder in my own work.
Jeremy: My misery, insecurity, crippling self-doubt is a crucial driver of my art. The difficult stories to tell are the valuable ones to explore. Telling them lets the anxiety express and create something powerful and beautiful out of the darkness and pain. That said, I have been through long periods of being unable to work, or of working only at the most minimal levels.
Patrice: Confidence (by this I mean of course the lack of it) is a problem for young people. I’m 59 years old. If I don’t know what I’m up to by now it’s too late.
Tanya: Confidence is difficult for a lot of people. And it affects so much. Working with others really helps, as encouragement can be like a lifeline. But really, you have to just get on and do the things you want to do and not worry too much what anyone else thinks. Everyone has a unique voice, and only you can express this. Or it won’t be expressed. It’s just pragmatic. Creativity is boundless, there are probably infinite ways of expressing ideas, some are valued more highly than others, some are more commercial. They may not all have the same impact but it is perfectly reasonable for each to exist, surely?
Megan: I struggle, as everybody does with my inner critic. But I think my desire to create and show off what I’ve created eventually trumps the inner critic. I am very grateful that I came of age during a time when the first battles for women to find and express their voices had already been fought. It is up to us to carry on that struggle and refine our voices and fight for a broadening of that freedom for other women who don’t have it yet.
Jeremy, Ellen, as founding member of the original Whores Of Mensa anthologies, would you recommend to others taking on projects, or creating an anthology that unites so many creative friends and folk together like this? And, what would your advice be to those wanting to take on a similar project, or any comics project for that matter?
Jeremy: Plan, set deadlines, keep in touch and never lose sight of your own stories.
Ellen: Give your artists time. Foster a relationship with them. Answer some basic questions before you begin – why should anyone work for you? And what can you do for your artists? Be honest with yourself about how long a process is involved – comics stories need time to develop. And don’t be afraid to DIY – I’ve made some horrible mistakes as an artist and as an editor, and I’ve learned a lot from them. My mom says, ‘Progress not perfection’. This maxim goes double when you’re talking about a group project. You can’t be perfect, but do your best.