Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with Simone Lia about her autobiographical graphic novel Please God, Find Me A Husband!

Please God, Find Me a Husband! Simone Lia cover

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….

Please God, Find Me a Husband! Simone Lia
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.

Please God, Find Me a Husband! Simone Lia
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.

Please God, Find Me a Husband! Simone Lia
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.  

Please God, Find Me a Husband! Simone Lia
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.

Please God, Find Me a Husband! Simone Lia
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‘.

Please God, Find Me a Husband! Simone Lia
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.

Please God, Find Me a Husband! Simone Lia
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.

Please God, Find Me a Husband! Simone Lia
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.

Please God, Find Me a Husband! Simone Lia
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 GravettI’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.

Please God, Find Me a Husband! is out now, published by Jonathan Cape. Read my full listing for ELCAF here.

Categories ,autobiographical, ,Becky Barnicoat, ,Billy Kiosoglou, ,Brighten the Corners, ,comic, ,David Gentleman, ,ELCAF, ,Find Me a Husband!, ,Fluffy, ,Foyles, ,God, ,illustrator, ,INXS, ,Karrie Fransman, ,Malta, ,Mark Herald, ,Off the Shelf, ,Paul Gravett, ,Please God, ,Sheffield literary festival, ,Sicily, ,Simone Lia, ,texas, ,The Guardian

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Amelia’s Magazine | Becky Barnicoat- Come In, Everyone is Here Already! Part 2

Happy-BirthdayImage courtesy Becky Barnicoat

Valerie Pezeron: You mentioned previously that you did a project as a comic book at school. Do you think that if kids did that now, visit web adiposity they would be better received…?
Becky Barnicoat: I doubt it in the school I went to, prescription decease but maybe in a school where you had an English teacher who was creative? It would probably be more in a state school I feel. I’ve got a really good friend who is an English teacher, page she does English media and film and she loves comic books and I’m sure if a kid did that, she’d be interested and maybe she’d recommend some comic books? But my teachers, had they ever heard of a comic? No. They had no interest. We had to do this project, which was about your future career in English literature, and I wanted to be a cartoonist. And I thought I should draw this and I have to confess it was an absolute load of shit! It was so badly drawn, it was really really superficial and I’m sure if I had executed this beautifully she would have been more impressed but I did do it quite roughly.

CIMG1386All photographs courtesy of Valerie Pezeron

VP: You think so?
BB: Maybe, because it would at least have been interesting but I gave in were those stupid cartoons…I didn’t take the project very seriously but yeah, I did get a D minus and a detention for not doing it properly! (Becky laughs)

VP: That is really a shame, because I think that it is quite an original way of doing things and you were trying to approach it from another point of view. If I were an English teacher, I would applaud this because it’s about the content. Did she even look at the content? Maybe she balked at the fact that you decided to draw instead of writing?
BB: I think it was a combination of both. What I did was a story of these two people that wanted to be cartoonists and they went on journey to try and find some cartooning heroes in America and it all went very wrong for them and they failed because nobody was interested in them. And it was really silly; I don’t know why…my school was not interested, I was actually told I was not allowed to do GCSE Art because I was too interested in cartoons and that wasn’t appropriate. They made me do a still life to prove I was serious about art. I did draw a still life of a bowl of fruit…b because my sketchbooks were full of cartoons. And they said, “We just don’t think you’re taking this very seriously, this isn’t art, this is messing around.” How depressing is that!

CIMG1389

VP: Very depressing! I’d be very depressed!
BB: How horrible is that because the only thing I cared about was art and I felt really upset about it!

VP: I agree and little knocks like that actually make a comic book artist, don’t you think?
BB: Yes, I guess, maybe eventually. But I felt I had too much self-doubt that what they said, “You’re not right, you can’t do art”, I thought, “Oh god, maybe they’re right.”

VP: I know because when you are at that age, you wanted to follow in the footsteps of all those great satirists. Who were you looking at when you were a teenager? How did you even get the idea that you could say things through cartoons?
BB: Yeah, I know! I don’t know why I liked cartoons.

CIMG1391

VP: Did you know Bosch or Gerald Scarfe?
BB: A little bit. My parents love art and cartoons. It’s more typical for British people to be interested in political cartoons. I used to thin I love the cartoons but I find the subject matter really boring. (Laughter) Why do cartoons have to be about politics all the time?

VP: But you were aware of the Victorian cartooning?
BB: Yeah, we had lots of Punch books and I used to look through them. And I did really enjoy some of them, but I’ve always really enjoyed the absurd more than possibly satire. I love satire but I think for what I want to do…I really enjoy Spike Milligan, but they were just little doodles. I’ve always enjoyed a drawing where you don’t need to be realist and you can still make someone feel something.

VP: What about movies, or anything that could have influenced you?
BB: Well, I guess, the beginning was probably just children books, which I absolutely loved. I ate them up.

wuss

VP: For instance?
BB: Oh, I mean I love them so much! We read so many, and the illustrations, I never forgot them! I still remember all the drawings from all the children books I read. You know, Meg and Mog, John Burningam who did the Avocado Baby, Mister Gumpy and Simp, they were really beautiful. We read Tim and Ginger by Ardizzone, we did a lot of Edward Ardizzone and Maurice Sendak. And I read all the Tintin books. My dad is a massive Tintin fan! That was good, that’s actually a proper comic strip in my life. The Tiger who came to Tea by Judith Kerr…they were just magical to me and much better than just words, which I always felt was a really controversial thing to say. But now I think you are allowed to say that! Pictures are almost borderline as respected as words, not quite, but still not quite! (Laughter) But I’d look at the pictures and you don’t need words, because it was so exciting and your imagination would go wild.

VP: So what attracted you to this world were the characters, the incongruous…?
BB: Yes, I’ve always loved those worlds where… The Tiger who came to Tea is a great example, actually. Have you read it?

VP: No, I must admit my references are more French. But I do know the Maurice Sendak, Ardezoni and the Tintin obviously.
BB: But this book The Tiger who came to Tea is about this girl and her mum waiting for the dad to come home. And then this tiger just turns up in the house and they invite him in. He has tea with them but he basically trashes the house; he drinks out of the tap and he drinks all of their water, he messes up all the kitchen but they never really question the fact that there is a tiger in there, they’re not really scared! (Laughter) You know, he’s just there and the mess he causes is like the idea of a big person coming around and it’s all very harmless! I love that and Babar: elephants and people, they just coexist, you know, that’s how it is! I love that!

Bear3Image courtesy of Becky Barnicoat

VP: London is like that, isn’t it? Our surroundings is filled with the strange, the incongruous, the elephant in the room but everybody is going about their business not seeming to notice each other. They’re all in a way little elephants! Or it’s actually the opposite: you are the elephant in the room!
BB: Yeah, I suppose so. I don’t know what it is; I think it’s pretty really simplistic. I think the world would be more fun if a dinosaur just walked down the street, right now…

VP: And just eating everybody? (Laughter)
BB: …I just love imagining that! And everyone would be like “oh, hello!”

VP: We can see all of the above have influences this new comic you have been working on?
BB: Completely. Part of my interest is people and their faces; I love drawing that. But in terms of my storytelling, I love people with…(Becky shows me a cartoon of hers). So this was a story about an old lady who has a robot and she doesn’t ever question the fact that her friend is a machine and he has to be plugged into the wall. He is slightly limited. In this story, she is watching X Factor and wanting to take part. She is telling him all about it but his plug is not in, so he hasn’t been listening in to anything she has been saying. It’s kind of sad but she doesn’t really feel sad about it, she just “oh dear” gets on with it. I love to have people interacting with unexpected characters and it’s almost normal.

VP: But that’s a bit different because that is for adults.
BB: But my upcoming children’s book will be, well sort of.

Bear2Image courtesy of Becky Barnicoat

VP: So this will be for adults?
BB: I think so, yeah, but for most adults and children. It’s going to have darkness in it because it’s about a couple that go to stay in a cabin in the woods. And then the boyfriend goes out, he has to go and get batteries or something. He gets eaten by a bear. And then the bear comes into the house. She is waiting for the boyfriend to return and she hears what she thinks is the boyfriend coming into the bedroom, but it’s the bear! You think, “he’s going to eat her”, but he picks up the guitar and he sings a song on the end of her bed. And she hears the music and smiles. You don’t know if she knows the bear and she doesn’t mind. And the bear is not probably going to hurt her; he’s just singing a song. I don’t know what that really means but I like those kind of weird, absurd scenarios.

VP: I like this take on childhood. In a way, children are more ready to enjoy or to open the door to the unreal or surreal.
BB: Yeah, I think that’s true.

VP: And they are more accepting of the extraordinary.
BB: Yeah, definitely. I like the idea of the extraordinary being fairly normal. That’s probably what runs through everything. (Valerie is looking at the sketchbooks) I’m trying to draw every morning now. I have to do a comic. I was so tired when I did these sketches!

CIMG1394

VP: I think it’s a really good effort! In the last few months, I have not worked on my comic book. I think I’ve been through writers’ block. Now, since last month, I’m forcing myself to do this again. Do you have moments like that? I mean, it’s terrible; my publisher at New Humanist is still waiting on me to show my complete graphic novel! Do you get that?
BB: Yes, definitely. I had it…hum…a longish period of my life when I wasn’t really drawing. When I was in university, I was the cartoonist for the student paper, so I was drawing every week. And then I just got to a point where I felt “I’m just not going to do this anymore”. I’m going to do journalism and I started editing my own magazine. And for that year, I was barely drawing at all. And then I went down to London and I got a job on a teenage girl magazine. I wasn’t drawing at all during the whole year I worked for that magazine. I barely drew; I think I drew card for friends. And then I started to really worry about the fact I hadn’t drawn for ages. I was getting insomnias as well, which was weird. And I started to try and draw again and I just couldn’t do a thing. I had an almighty creative block. I’s sit at the pad and draw rubbish, awful stickmen pretty much. I’d think: “this is it! Oh my god, I’ve killed it!” And it took me, well, until now, to get back to a place where I have ideas. I just forced myself.

VP: You know, I find that with me, when I have those blocks, I don’t have the dreams that I usually get when I am really creative- mad and very rich dreams. And I have to run the next morning and write it down or draw something. Do you have that?
BB: Yeah, definitely. When I am not drawing I become really dead, I think, inside. And I don’t sleep, I’ve discovered. If I don’t draw, I get insomnia.

VP: What made you want to go into journalism if you wanted so early on to be part of the visual arts?
BB: Well, when I started drawing on the student paper cartoons, I started editing the art section. I actually do enjoy editing articles. I find it really satisfying; tightening it up, cutting it down, you know, questioning things that don’t make sense. That appealed to another side of me.

CIMG1388

VP: So would you recommend it as a way to get into comic art?
BB: I don’t know. I keep thinking I should try and draw something for the paper. But then similarly to you, I feel going to them with my portfolio, I think “Oh no, they won’t like it”, so I’m a bit scared of being judged and rejected.

VP: Yeah! One of the reasons why I really had to do this interview is that we really have a similar journey. We’re very different, but in some ways we have some similarities. Especially, I wanted to know about the blog. I find interesting what you said about…when you started the blog, and then things started to happen. Did you have that in mind when you created the blog?
BB: Yeah, definitely. The idea of the blog was to make sure I was drawing every day, to have something I’d say “public”. But I mean, god knows how many people check it; maybe ten of my friends. The idea would be they’d be expecting me to do something and I couldn’t just put it off because I’d be really letting myself down in public. You know, people would know I wasn’t drawing. So if I say “I really want to be a cartoonist”, they’d go “oh, you really didn’t update your blog for three months and they’d know that it’s bollocks. That was part of it; to force myself to actually follow through with this thing I was telling everyone. And then, ok, you have to show people what your cartoons are. So I started doing that.

VP: Did you advertise the blog?
BB: I sent a group email around to my mates saying here is my new blog. And that was it!

VP: I think it’s a very nice blog, very offbeat with great sense of humour and comic timing.
BB: Oh, thank you, I’m so glad. I think what’s been really nice about it. One person won’t get what I put up, but then somebody else would say, “That’s my favourite!” It sounds so corny but even if it’s one person who likes it, it makes me feel it’s totally worth doing a cartoon if even one person enjoys it.

Categories ,Babar, ,Becky Barnicoat, ,blog, ,books, ,comic art, ,comic books, ,comica, ,comics, ,comicstrips, ,Edward Ardizzone, ,Fantagraphics, ,fanzine, ,Gerald Scarfe, ,graphic novels, ,Hieronimus Bosch, ,humour, ,ica, ,John Burningham, ,journalism, ,leeds university, ,Maurice Sendak, ,Meg and Mog, ,New Humanist, ,Paul Gravett, ,sequential artist, ,The Guardian, ,Valerie Pezeron, ,Valoche Designs, ,viz, ,Wimbledon college of art

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Amelia’s Magazine | Becky Barnicoat- Come In, Everyone is Here Already!

Bear

© Becky Barnicoat

Becky Barnicoat works as the commissioning editor on the Guardian Weekend magazine, purchase pharmacy but is also a cartoonist and currently works on a new comic about a musical bear – you can see a couple of sketches from it on her blog.

She’s always drawn, buy information pills and when she was at school I did a whole English project (the title was ‘My future career’) in comic book form. She got a D- and a detention for it. One could say that was kind of the theme of things – most authority figures think cartoons are for babies. “I wish I could have shown them Maus so they could see how wrong they were, ambulance but I didn’t know it existed back then” Becky says.

Everyone is here zine© Becky Barnicoat

She started the blog Come in, Everyone is here already a couple of years ago and since then has started drawing for various people – including Le Cool magazine, Harry Hill and Five Dials. She was on the panel at the Salem Brownstone event at Comica this year, and last year drew the ‘Bowie and Bowie’ comic strip for Comica PoCom – which was on the wall in the ICA.

She is an enterprising gal as she also sporadically self-publishes a zine called Everyone Is Here Already.

Valerie Pezeron: What is the inspiration behind your work? Did you use visual references doing your faces?

CIMG1395Photograph Becky Barnicoat© Valerie Pezeron

Becky Barnicoat: Actually, that particular page all came from my head. It’s probably what I have always done from when I was a kid sitting in lessons, just drawing faces and caricatures of my teachers, that was quite a big thing. One of them was quite a nice woman, but she had an odd-looking face and I drew an awful caricature of her. She found my notebook and she looked really hurt, that was awful!

CIMG1392Photograph Becky Barnicoat© Valerie Pezeron

VP: Was it the lady who sent you to detention?
BB: She wasn’t one of the bad teachers but one of the good ones. It’s just that she looked a little bit like a guinea pig. But I won’t say anymore because she might read this! So this what I have always done; I just did “Faces” from my head, I find it really fun. I love the possibility of how ugly something could be but I don’t find that disgusting: I love weird faces so much and sometimes I see people on the street and their faces are just bizarre. The odder the shape the better it is.

VP: I agree with you there are so many different characters out there, especially where you live, in Stoke Newington.
BB: Oh yes! I cycle to work and I see many faces I want to draw! The other day I was cycling through Newington green and I saw this woman crossing the road and she had so much of something on her face that her skin was almost reddy-orange. And I was thinking “My, she’s put a bit too much foundation on, it looks extraordinary” and I thought maybe the poor woman has some terrible skin condition. And she would be a wonderful drawing but not in a way that would be mocking her. I love it when people look unusual.

Profile© Becky Barnicoat

VP: So would it be fair to say it is people that draw you to being creative? It’s not about the blandness of objects…

BB: That’s probably true; I’m not very good with objects. Landscapes? Not so much. It’s never been my thing, which is actually now a problem. I can get my pen going on a person or an animal but I have to put them somewhere and perspective is tricky.

VP: Don’t downplay your abilities!BB: (Laughter) So this is one side of what I am interested in. These were people who were on the Internet, and I drew them in on style…

VP: Glad you bring that up. I have noticed you don’t have one particular style.

BB: No, Definitely not!

VP: Is it on purpose or did you try to develop one or you don’t care that much?

BB: Good question as I think about it a lot. I definitely don’t try not to have one style. I just can’t imagine myself committing to just one style; I’d really miss too much the other style.

VP: So do you apply one style to one specific subject?

BB: Yeah, I suppose that is it, but it’s not that conscious. It just happens. I think of an idea and it’s immediately obvious to me what style should be for that.

VP: I see, very interestingly, you use all kinds of medium, inks, pen and washes, watercolour…

BB: It’s not premeditated when I use, and I love to use pen and ink. And I use this medium mostly.

monster© Becky Barnicoat

VP: Tell us about the fanzine. When did you start it?

BB: That was a project a comic book artist friend of mine called Tom and I started. Just like me, he has a full-time job. We both want to be comic book artists and we decided we should do a comic book. A friend of mine who used to work in a bookshop called Persephone proposed we do a comic book evening; it will be in two months, you both work on the comic book and then we can sell it in the shop with drinks and music and we invite people along. They were ALL of our friends, there weren’t any strangers there at all!

VP: How many people?

BB: It was quite full actually…all of my family, friends of friends! I had about 50 copies of my magazine and they all sold! But another project came up at the same time and I had to really rush it!

VP: So this is issue 1 and issue 2 is planned for later? When did you do this one?

BB: That was earlier this year, sort of June / July.

VP: How often would you see yourself doing this fanzine?

BB: I’d like to do them much more often than I do but with my full time job, it’s not really that straightforward. Wake up every morning at 6.30 am, draw for an hour and then go work full-time at the office. I’d like to do it much more often. What Tom and me are going to do in the next couple of weeks is a 12-hour comic and whatever comes out of that will probably be issue 2. It will be much messier, scruffier and perhaps not make much sense!

Invite© Becky Barnicoat

VP: So I’m really interested to know about your journey? Did you go to university and study journalism?

BB: I didn’t, no, not for journalism. I went to an all-girls school in Barnes and then to Wimbledon Art College for foundation. It’s not that exciting, I was shocked at how crap it is. Everyone said “this is one of the best art schools” but it was awful! I stayed and I just about scraped a pass. Some of the people who I thought were the best there got fails because they just didn’t care. They were vicious about your actual work: “This is fine”, looking at someone’s beautiful drawings “but where is your reflective notebook and diary…sorry but that is part of your course requirements. If you don’t have those then we can’t pass you. Some of the students were part of that course in the 1st place because they are dyslexics, they didn’t want to write, and that’s why they are artists! It’s just insane. Wimbledon wanted everyone to be totally institutionalised, do their 9 to 5… The people whose work was the least inspiring but came in every day got the best grades. They were the stars of the year- the work was not great but they got lads of it!

VP: Woody Allen said a big part of success is showing up. It’s one of my favorite quotes and I think about it often.

BB: It’s so true! There were these brilliant dysfunctional characters with amazing imaginations and absolutely raw talent…you should allow them to thrive and allowing people work in the way that they naturally do because that is going to produce the best work. I hated doing the foundation. I really liked the idea of going to art school and part of me regrets it now; I don’t regret the choice I made because I had a brilliant time going to Leeds reading English Literature. Before that, I had a lot of pressure from everybody; I went to an all-girls private school all through my secondary school and all they were interested in was academia. They didn’t care about you wanting to be an artist; they just thought that was pathetic, they hated me. I’d say I want to be a cartoonist when I am older, and they’d go “Come again?” I always wanted to be a cartoonist since I was about 5. And then I ended up doing English, what was I thinking!

VP: I think it actually ties in, as it’s very close. I call what I do visual journalism or… cartoonist?

BB: Oh, but you’re not allowed to say cartoonist! We are visual communicators or sequential artists.

Camera© Becky Barnicoat

VP: So you knew that young! I remember doing my 1st graphic novel at 7.

BB: But in France, they have a much stronger culture of comics.

VP: That is true if you come from the right background. My family did not have a clue and I had to come here to explore all that was possible…

BB: I feel exactly the same. I did not even know people did comic books until I was maybe in my 2nd and 3rd year at university. I was in Cornwall on a holiday with my family and I was getting the train back to London. We went into Waterstones as I wanted to buy a book for the train. I noticed this really colorful cartoon and I picked up this book and it was Daniel Clowes20th Century Eight Ball”. I thought grown-ups didn’t do cartoons, I had nor idea! Some of his pictures are so grotesque and disgusting; then I realised some of them were just about people chatting over coffee and having existential conversations.

VP: It’s very close to what you do, isn’t it? It’s definitely inspired you?

BB: Oh yeah, oh god, completely! I picked up this thing and it was a revelation! I recall thinking I can’t believe this thing is real; I can’t wait to read it. I was laughing so much while reading it on my way back on the train. Then I read this comic strip called “Art School Confidential”. You have to read it if you did not have a good time at art college. It’s so fun, it’s just the best, it’s perfect, and it’s exactly my experience of Art College! And then I realised other people were like me, they wanted to be a cartoonist and everyone at art school told them they were fools. You have to read it, it’s very good, it’s a collection of a lot his fanzines. It’s a satirical expose of his time at art school with a lot of people who are very pretentious. It seems amazing now that I didn’t know that he existed. I always associated comics with either superheroes, for boys or the dirty and sexy stuff like Vizz. Part of me wishes I could really love Vizz but I am put off every time I read it. “Yeah, right, woman with massive boobs naked in some joke…” it’s really basic toilet humour!

VP: We need more women graphic novelists!

BB: I agree. From those books, I discovered a whole world of cartoonists in America. It’s massive over there!

Cook© Becky Barnicoat

VP: What do you think of the UK comic book industry?

BB: I don’t think it even exists. There is not even a publisher that has an interest in it, really. Jonathan Cape do a few but they mainly bring American ones over. They just publish so very few British people. I don’t feel there is anyone really looking for it. So everyone over here is getting obsessed with Daniel Clowes, Charles Burnes and Chris Ware. They’re just about discovering people that, if you don’t know who they are, you must be living in Britain.

VP: Have you had a look at what’s going on in Europe?

BB: I did take a look. I went over to Portugal, in Lisbon to write a feature on the arts scene there for the Guardian. I met up with a load of comic book artists and illustrators such as Andre LemosJoao-Maio Pinto, Filipe Abranches.  It was fantastic! They had that wonderful European attitude: “We grew up with comic books, it’s part of our culture”. I said I only discovered “Strip Burger” when I was 21. They said “Strip Burger, we knew about that when we were only 2!”

CIMG1387Becky’s office at home © Becky Barnicoat

VP: That’s true with French people too. When you went to Comica festival, did you feel that something was about to take off? I know Paul Gravett feels very religiously that it is happening!

BB: Ah, Paul! Paul is incredible and without him, it would be…he is basically the comic book scene now. It all kind of stems from him, it is fantastic to have him there like this uncle who advises all those artists who didn’t’ think they could do this. He is the catalyst. Since I have discovered that, I’ve realised there is this world of people who want to do this, who love it, who know about all these artists. And they’re really frustrated in this country because it’s not really understood. People are quite illiterate, I think, regarding comics. But I have met loads of people now through Comica and other things. I just discovered this guy called Dash Shaw; his first book is about a thousand pages, called “Bottomless Belly Button”, Fantagraphics. He did this living in a tiny bedroom; he said he was so poor. I asked him how he made it as a comic book artist, how he paid his rent. He said, “ When I left college, I went and rented a tiny, tiny room for $200 a month and I worked part-time as a life model and I drew every second of every day. And he said it took him years, he must have drawn over a thousand pages of comics until anything happened. And he presented a manuscript to a big editor at a comics’ fair; they took him on and published it immediately. It’s a fairytale.

VP: Well, it is. You have to have some kind of break otherwise…

BB: Otherwise you are plugging away in the bedroom!

Tune-in next week for Part 2 of the interview!

Categories ,Becky Barnicoat, ,blog, ,books, ,comic art, ,comic books, ,comica, ,comics, ,comicstrips, ,Fantagraphics, ,fanzine, ,graphic novels, ,humour, ,ica, ,journalism, ,leeds university, ,Paul Gravett, ,sequential artist, ,The Guardian, ,viz, ,Wimbledon college of art

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