Sunday, 11 December 2011

December Laydeez do Comics

Hi there Laydeez.
I’m Jade Sarson, an illustrator and comic creator based in Milton Keynes. I recently graduated from the University of Lincoln with a first class honours degree in Illustration, and am currently one of six comic interns at the londonprintstudio (if you went to last months meeting you may have met Shamisa, one of the other interns). I am currently working on developing my first graphic novel alongside the internship, and also frequently update my webcomic Cafe Suada, both of which you can find out more about on my website: http://teahermit.co.uk/
So yup, I’ll be your guide to what happened at this month’s festive meeting.
The evening began with the usual game of introducing yourself and answering a question, this months being “What was your best/worst Christmas present?” There were a lot of interesting answers, including Sarah Lightman’s hilarious cop out of “I’m Jewish, we don’t DO Christmas”, but I think my favourite was the person who declared socks the best gift ever to give or receive. I have to agree, socks are awesome!

Then Rachel Abrams was up. Rachel told us a bit about her illustration work for Turnstone, projects for big mega corporations which have influenced the way she approaches her personal projects. She also explained who her artistic influences are, from Asterix comics to Spiegelmann, as well as cartoons by Matt Groening and projects by RSA Animate. Rachel was humble about her work for large corporations and said that they were nothing in comparison to pitching about her personal projects, which is far scarier because they are just that: they’re PERSONAL.

Her current project is very engaging… she used the phrase “I’ve got this friend who…” to sum up the premise. This new comic of hers aims to take all the tales Rachel has heard about a certain subject and tackle them in an ambivalent way. And the subject?
Female fertility.
Rachel has observed that women everywhere feel a natural unhappiness regarding their own fertility. Society pressures them to have children and lots of women are turning to modern science to solve their problems. IVF treatment and egg freezing procedures are becoming far more commonplace these days, and this is a subject that Rachel is determined to try to explain and question in her new comic project.

However, what was interesting about her talk was that she was very keen to ask the Laydeez about her target market… she was keen to identify who the comic was for, very specifically, so that she could have them in mind when creating the comic. “Is it for young women? Will boyfriends read it? Should I pitch it to drug companies?” she asked us.

The Laydeez piped up at this point. Several attendees were very adamant that this project, though on the fence about the delicate subject matter, is something personal to Rachel, and therefore SHE is the audience. She should write and draw it for herself. Personal projects are done for that exact reason. And the conclusive point made was that by isolating her feelings in this comic, Rachel will in fact draw in MORE readers. I am certainly looking forward to seeing where she takes the project from here, especially after seeing a sample panel which compared female fertility to the fearsome power of a nuclear bomb.
Next up was Sarah Lightman, one of the organisers behind Laydeez Do Comics (the other being Nicola Streeten, who also spoke at the meeting this month). Sarah started by showing us a self portrait that she drew at 15, and explained that from a young age she has been unashamed of being honest about herself, and didn’t beautify herself in any drawings, which I thought was brilliant. Confidence to draw people as-is and see the value in that is amazing, in my opinion. But anyway. Sarah moved on to tell us about her ongoing project, the “Book of Sarah”, which is a comic visually based on Jewish religious texts (her religion has always been an important part of her life). The Book of Sarah is not about religion, however, it is about Sarah’s experiences with finding herself, and expresses how she feels about finding a place in your family and your community. She went on to explain that through finding the comics community, she has found her place (something I and I’m sure many of the other listeners could empathise with). Following on from childhood, the Book of Sarah focuses on romantic interludes and the isolation caused by breakups. What I found most interesting about the book itself was that the narrative was told with a beautiful use of negative space. In the childhood chapters cut out clothing and bodies hint at who is missing or supposed to be somewhere, and in later chapters single objects are placed in a white space to force the reader to interpret the story behind each one. Sparse text is used to guide the reader's interpretations though, as it is Sarah’s story and it wouldn’t do for the reader to interpret the objects too differently to the intent. I wonder when this fantastic conceptual book will be finished. I suppose only Sarah knows. In the meantime we can read her food diary comics and The Reluctant Bride, which use the same techniques crafted just as carefully (Sarah is, after all, from a Fine Art background, and so each drawing is very precise. She loves her graphite pencils, that’s for sure!)

Sarah finished by talking a little bit about her experience with curating exhibitions such as currently touring  Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women. She feels that it is very important that the history of comics should cover women too, and not just the leading male creators, so her exhibitions aim at exposing the world to female creators’ work and influencing academia – Sarah has spoken at several universities as part of the exhibition. Hopefully the message is being heard. That is, after all, what Laydeez Do Comics is all about.

There was a little break after Sarah’s talk to eat baked goodies and chat… I met Mike Medaglia (everyone had been congratulating him on his wedding that evening, there was a lot of clapping, haha!) and we talked a lot about webcomics and the Gosh!p meets, which I must go to in the future, they sound like a lot of fun. I also managed to grab Paul Gravett for a second (he moves fast!) to mention that myself and the comics interns will be attending Strip Turnhout on the 10th, an event Paul had mentioned that evening in the announcements.

After that quick break it was time for the third speaker of the evening to step up: Marcia Mihotich. Marcia is obsessed with grids! Hahaha. I think you had to be there, but suffice to say, Marcia really does like grids. She is a graphic designer and illustrator, and has designed for architects, animations, magazines, book covers and book illustrations (I believe she has either completed or is in the process of illustrating a book called “How to Stay Sane”), and also draws her own comics. Marcia showed us lots of great examples of her design work, and explained how she is very accustomed to using simple but effective techniques and framing. She uses grids to compose her comic page layouts, and uses techniques such as image layering for colour application and ‘the changing speechbubble’ to tell some very clever narratives. (To explain the changing speechbubble: Only the content of the speechbubble changes, the contents of each panel do not.)
Marcia then told us about how the birth of her son affected her life. “I spent so much time in the park” she remarked dryly. She used this to her advantage, however, creating beautiful graphic artwork of the park from many different perspectives, in different seasons and colours, using a layering technique to separate each aspect. She also made use of the time that her son was playing in the park to observe other people – the mums and their children. Whilst doing a lot of observational sketching she overheard plenty of hilarious life stories, and has made use of them in her comics. She explained a concept known as toxic chatter, which I found particularly fascinating: toxic chatter occurs when you are speaking about something mundane to someone and are putting on a polite fa├žade – inside your head, you say mean, frustrated, irritated things until they go away, and this is what’s known as toxic chatter. I loved being able to finally call it something. I’m afraid this blogger is an avid toxic chatterer! Can’t help these things I suppose.
Aaaanyway. It was very entertaining to listen to Marcia, she is a naturally dark humoured, witty storyteller. She finished her talk with a sneak peak at her in-progress “SPY” comic, which everyone at Laydeez agreed made beautiful use of huge, black shadows and large areas of black inking, for dramatic effect. Cannot wait to see more of this comic, I hope she keeps it going alongside her design work! “I do it when I can, when I can find the time” she said. Well let’s hope she does.



Finally it was time for the other founder of Laydeez to step forward, Nicola Streeten! Nicola has been all over the media recently promoting her new graphic novel, Billy, Me & You, which she talked a lot about in the last speech of the evening. Nicola started drawing again after her son Billy died, starting from the bottom (illustrating greeting cards) and working her way up through the years to illustrating clever map advertisements for local businesses. She eventually moved to Lincolnshire, began printing a zine called Liquorice with help from her young daughter (which is still going) and signed up for a Masters course at the University of Lincoln. (Somehow Nicola navigated the labyrinthine illustration department there and found my degree show, which is how we met a few months back. Small world!)
Nicola then focused a lot on the development of Billy, Me & You over the course of several years, and gave us a privileged look at her notes and sketches she made while developing the story and illustrations. It was also during this time that she met Sarah Lightman. As both Nicola and Sarah have ties to the fine art community – they realised that they knew plenty of people from that community, and decided they wanted to meet more people from the comics community – and that, readers of this here blog, is how Laydeez Do Comics first began!
Nicola followed on from this very chronological talk with lots of design work for B,M&Y. She explained how her literature review (a stage in the creation of a new project where you pretty much look for every other work that is similar to yours, and is often an offputting stage for new creators!) was a great aid to her artistic development. She used techniques inspired by a lot of comics she had read, such as the emotional rendering of Barefoot Gen, in B,M&Y to great effect. Nicola also explained that the passage of time was an important aspect of the graphic novel, and she used photography sparingly to emphasise this. Toxic chatter rears its head again this evening, oddly enough, as Nicola then goes on to analyse the misinterpretations of her own comic. The moments of awkward socialising depicted in the graphic novel, Nicola explains, are interpreted differently by different readers. For example, a panel where a friend moves Billy’s t-shirt out of the way and then metaphorically stabs Nicola and her husband, has also been interpreted as Nicola metaphorically stabbing the friend, which Nicola found odd, and the Laydeez attendees certainly found interesting.

To conclude the evening, Nicola mentioned some helpful information for other comics creators, which I took careful note of.

She mentioned Myriad Editions, publisher of Billy, Me & You, and how though they call themselves a small publisher, but it is not about size. It is important when you secure a publisher for your work that they have the right contacts for promoting your book, as Myriad have for Nicola. She has already been reviewed by several noted comics shops and newspapers, and was featured on Channel 4 news too. Lots of great press for the launch of the book, then, and something to bare in mind when looking for a publisher for your own project in the future.

And lastly, Nicola mentioned the key things to do when creating your own graphic novel (I was paying a lot of attention at this point, as it is rare that creators will flat out tell you what works and what doesn’t, so this was very good of Nicola for the Laydeez. I’ll elaborate a little on the points she made).

When creating your own graphic novel:
DO A LITERATURE REVIEW
Its important to look at what’s already out there, and identify where your work will fit into the market
READ WHAT YOU DON’T LIKE
Yup, it sounds silly but really. It’s important. The more informed you are, the better your comics will be. Once you've identified your genre within the field, try to work out why there are some works that you don't find quite so great. 
WRITE PROCESS NOTES
Nicola showed us messy scrawlings which laid out her story, and I myself take up pages and pages to scribble out my narratives. It’s good practise to separate your narrative into the sections or chapters, and then work on the design from there.
DON’T WORK ON YOUR GRAPHIC NOVEL IN ISOLATION
Sure, at the end of the day lots of us prefer shutting ourselves away to get final work done, but when you’re developing your comics it is important to get feedback! How can you know it’s any good if you are the only one judging your work? And to reinforce my point earlier, getting out and away from your usual workspace will inform and educate you, and the more informed you are, the more interesting and fun your comics will be to read.

And that’s pretty much it! How educational.
I had a great time at this month's meeting, and learnt a lot. I hope you enjoyed reading about it all! Good luck to Nicola and Sarah with the next Laydeez Do Comics meeting, which will be on Monday 16 Jan - the first one in 2012! And thanks again to Nicola for giving me the role of guest blogger this month, it was fun.

~Jade Sarson

1 comment:

  1. Jade - What a great blog post - loved the drawings! I really enjoyed my first outing with the Laydeez and will be back for more - I just hope I was not too Outspoken!?! :-)

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