Image 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.
All 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!
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.
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.
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!
Image 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.
Image 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!
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.
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.
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