Illustrator and comic artist Simone Lia recently published her autobiographical graphic novel Please God, Find Me a Husband! – a candid look at life as a 30 something single woman with an unshakeable belief in God. The book is beautifully illustrated in the style that Simone’s numerous fans will be familiar with: crisp black lines filled with minimal flat colour define her characters and landscapes, accompanied by instantly recognisable handwritten type.
Please God, Find Me a Husband! is by turns touching, funny, exasperating and uplifting. I must confess that as someone who knows the author very well and remembers some of the situations that inspired the storyline it’s hard to take an objective view of the novel, but I am sure it will appeal to a wide audience. Graphic novel lovers will appreciate Simone’s beautiful illustrations and clever use of design to move the story forward, whilst many people who do not traditionally gravitate towards comics will relate to at least some elements of her situation. This is an enjoyable and entertaining read, but I’ll let her explain a bit more herself….
At what point did you decide to write an autobiographical graphic novel and why?
I had the idea in a flash whilst having a God moment in Leicester Square. I was praying and felt that God was answering my prayer in a subtle and unusual way (through the lyrics of an INXS song!) and I was inspired to go into a deeper journey with God, get to know Him more. In my minds eye I imagined a spiritual journal I suppose, being visualised in a comic format. There was an internal struggle in making visible something as deeply personal as my spiritual life, in parts of the story baring my soul. Mostly the struggle was about not wanting to make myself vulnerable in making my private thoughts public, especially as the devotion which is illustrated in the book is totally counter cultural. I decided to go ahead though because as an artist I have a deep desire to communicate with an audience and hopefully to reach and touch a reader in a very human way and also make the reader laugh! Ultimately what convinced me to make the book was a level of trust that I had in the reader, that they would be able to read the story and perhaps enjoy it without necessarily believing in everything that I believe in.
How much of your time did this book take up, and how did you juggle its creation with other work commitments?
It’s a bit tricky to say, I was really lucky to have a couple of regular jobs which meant in theory I had three days a week to work on the project. However the nature of the project was so different to anything that I’d done before because it’s very personal I did keep stopping the project because I couldn’t find the tone or I lacked the confidence to to continue with it. The book took four years from start to finish but in reality the final year was when all the work was done. I’d started the book from scratch and worked like the clappers to get it finished.
What was the decision behind your minimal use of colour?
The book was originally full colour. I showed it to Billy Kiosoglou of Brighten the Corners who designed Fluffy and he gave me some frank/harsh feedback. His idea was to go for one colour instead. So we made a compromise and I had a limited palette of about 100 colours ha ha.
Where do you think your very unique sense of humour comes from?
My parents, my mother is rather hilarious. Although our family humour is a bit dark. I was with my mother a few years ago and and we were walking down some shiny stairs in Malta and I slipped and fell. My Mother’s instinct was to break my fall but instead she punched me in the mouth which hurt a whole lot more than falling on my bottom. My lip swelled up double the size for a few days and this is is the sort of thing that we all find hilarious in my family. Pain.
You are best known as the creator of Fluffy, which most readers may not have realised contained autobiographical elements as well. Is it important to draw on real life when creating stories?
Yes most readers will not realise that I actually do have a talking bunny at home. Not really! There were a few bits that I nicked from real life in the story and some of it was life imitating art imitating life etc. The trip to Sicily on a train and a boat and a bus, I made that trip and some of the characters that I met on the way did find their way into the book. Some of the bits with the Mother, that was memories of my Grandmother and her children and there was a part with the mafia as well which was taken from real life. Some things that happen in real life are way more unbelievable then fictional stories somehow. I don’t think it’s necessary to draw on real life when creating stories but it’s that old adage isn’t ‘write what you know‘.
Reviews have been really good in general (including a glowing one on the Guardian) but there has perhaps inevitably been a few people who struggle to understand your unquestioning commitment to God. What would you say to those people?
I read a couple of those reviews but the reviews that I saw weren’t actually about the book or the story telling etc, it was more about me (deluded I think someone wrote) or wanting the book to be about me justifying/explaining my beliefs. The book wasn’t about that but it was quite interesting reading those reviews. I wasn’t writing this book to be provocative in anyway but I do understand that even by having a belief in God this can be provocative in itself. For most of my life until the age of 30 I was definitely not practicing my faith at all, I didn’t really believe in God. I do remember on the rare occasions when I met Christians who were brave enough to say that they were a Christian – the negative feelings that bubbled up inside towards them: possibly fear, anger, irritation and disbelief that anyone could believe anything so clearly stupid. So I’m not really too surprised by negative reactions towards me for my beliefs.
I know you as someone with a great sense of adventure and I think that really comes through in this book – what adventures have you had more recently – can you share any?
I’m not sure that I do have a great sense of adventure in the normal sense of the word but I do get myself into quite random situations that open up possibilities to meeting interesting people. I recently went to Texas and stayed in a trailer for a hermit like experience – this wasn’t the original intention of the trip as Texas is quite a long way to travel to stay in a trailer, the circumstances had changed but I was fully embracing and looking forward to a hermit experience in a field in a small town. Anyway I met so many people, really lovely warm hearted people who were big on hospitality so there wasn’t too much of an opportunity for hermiting.
Will there be any more autobiographical stories in the future? Any ideas in the pipeline?
Not at the moment. I’m glad that I did the last one but the process was a bit like pulling out every bit of your body and sticking it back in again. I’m drawing bunnies today and it’s very pleasant. But never say never, if there was something that seemed right for autobiographical or more journalistic I would do it.
What new stuff are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working on an illustration for the Sheffield literary festival, Off the Shelf and I’m part of the illustration day this Saturday at Foyles with David Gentleman, Karrie Fransman, Mark Herald and top comics journalist, Paul Gravett. I’ll be running a workshop in the afternoon. And I will also be at ELCAF on Sunday on a panel discussion hosted by Becky Barnicoat (The Guardian) from 2.30 til 3.30.
- Memories and Nightmares: an interview with photographer Lottie Davis
- Change of mind, change of heart
- Thereza Rowe, Hearts: interview and review
- Colouring in the Midst of Madness: An interview with Lucy Fyles
- Map My Heart: an interview with illustrator Dom and Ink