Laydeez Do Comics & Me
On Monday this week I had the distinct pleasure of presenting at Laydeez Do Comics, a regular series of talks by cartoonists, predominantly but not exclusively aimed at celebrating women in comics. It’s kind of like a mini TEDx event, but with homemade cake and brilliant cartoonists. It had branches in London, Brighton, Leeds, Glasgow, Dublin, Chicago and San Francisco, among other cities, all run by local cartoonists and comics scholars. I’ve seen some of my favourite cartoonists presenting there before, such as Alison Bechdel and Isabel Greenberg, so I was really honoured to be asked to present by Nicola Streeten, author of the graphic memoir Billy, Me and You and a fellow Sussex PhD researcher.
The reason Laydeez is really great is because it fosters community; as well as bringing in cartoonists you may have heard of, it also provides a platform for emerging artists and people you haven’t heard of, like me. There is also an audience participation element - every event begins with a question from the organisers, which everyone in the audience has to answer, so everyone is involved somehow. This event’s question was “what was the best advice you ever got or heard?” which provided a fantastic range of answers, from the irreverent to the deeply thoughtful, to the vulgar. My initial answer was a paraphrasing of Ivan Brunetti in his book Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, in which he says you only need three things to make a comic: paper, pencil and life. I later ruined the image this established of me as a wise man by quoting my mother’s advice to me on my first day as an undergraduate: “drink through a straw, you get pissed quicker.”
My rambling talk was sandwiched between two wonderful women, Kate Evans and Matilda Tristram. Kate was there when I arrived early, finding myself in the surprisingly large and swanky event room on the highest floor of the new Foyles store on Charing Cross Road, and her enthusiasm was infectious. It helped me to feel a little less nervous about presenting my piecemeal comics work, mostly online irreverence, childish scribbles and zines nobody knows about, alongside accomplished people who have books out - in Kate’s case, several books including an amazingly detailed and wonderfully illustrated one on climate change and a cartoon guide to pregnancy, among others.
Kate’s talk was a lot about Bump, her guide to pregnancy, but also about a forthcoming graphic biography of Rosa Luxemburg, which I am pretty sad won’t be out until 2016, but the previews she showed were astounding - thoroughly researched and elegantly executed, with just enough artistic licence used to really bring Rosa’s story alive.
I followed Kate, talking through my own relationship with comics and a bit of personal history, as a background to how I came to write and draw my new series, Long Divisions, the first issue of which will be out very soon - it’s with the printers as I write this. I talked about how I was never good at visual art at school, and was never taught that drawing and cartooning were things to be persued, despite being interested in graphic novels and comics from a young age and having a cool dad who gave me a load of graphic novels when I was the right age to be really inspired by them. An audience member quizzed me further about this and I had to do a bit of soul-searching. The truth, as I admitted to him, is that music and writing prose came naturally to me, while visual art didn’t, so I simply pursued the things that were easy to me instead of the things that were hard. I think this is an interesting thing to consider - if something doesn’t come naturally to you, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it or shouldn’t pursue it if you believe in it and really want to do it. You can do it! In retrospect that was the message of my talk - I’m not a naturally talented cartoonist like some, and have taught myself art and brought in creativity from other studied and experienced areas and art forms, but I’ve still got there. Or some of the way there at least! If you’re interested, you can take a look at the slides from my talk, and below are a couple of photos taken by my good friend and wonderful illustrator Sarah Ogilvie, who attended along with my bestie Rob Sherman, who you may know from The Black Crown Project, or this twine game for Shelter which reduced me to a sobbing wreck. He’s now a writer in residence at The British Library. Both Rob and Sarah (among many others) were instrumental in me having the confidence to begin drawing in the year 2009-10 when we lived in Exeter and studied our MAs, so it was great to have them in the audience.
Matlida closed the evening with a moving, funny and arresting talk about her recently published graphic memoir Probably Nothing, which documents her diagnosis of colon cancer four months into pregnancy. I was relieved to hear she’s now had the all clear and that her son was born healthy despite her having had to undergo chemotherapy during pregnancy. Her comics made good use of caption-style conventions and were coloured with bright, arresting watercolours, which I really have a soft spot for in comics. Her talk was a window into how her art allowed her to face such adversity with grace and grit, and was pretty inspiring. I didn’t get to talk to her in person as I had to dash - shame!
So, in sum, I was allowed to ramble about my comics in front of a bunch of lovely people. If you were there, thanks a lot! And if you weren’t, check the Laydeez schedule and come to the next one that’s closest to you. I promise you’ll have fun. As long as you like cake.
Also, Laydeez co-founder Sarah Lightman, who I met for the first time on Monday, has an amazing book and exhibition on Jewish Women’s Comics, which you should check out too.
See you on the other side of the release of Long Divisions #1!