What a week eh?
Hi friends, just in case you missed it all over my social medias...
(wait, what? You haven't connected with me on social media? There is a list here)
I only went and won the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition
Here is me with some judges and a past winner
(left to right Kate Evans, Martin Rowson, Corinne Pearlman, Gareth Brookes)
It's kind of a massive deal. I had a lot of emotions.
What it means is that probably/almost certainly Biscuits (assorted) will be published by Myriad when it's finished, which is super great news because they are a publisher with a great track record in high quality graphic novel production.
All of the shortlisted artists got a proper interview and chat about their work and the judges said why they chose them and they were all so good! When they announced that I was the winner I went a bit inarticulate. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?
As if that wasn't enough for a week (it was) I also did a long hot awesome day of live portraits at Amwell Street Summer Fete last week, took part in Pride and Small Press Day on Saturday including signing copies of the new Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook at Gosh Comics wot I done the cover of, and did a talk about Biscuits at Laydeez do Comics on the bill iwth the amazing Steven Appleby on Monday as well!
Here is me talking at Laydeez.
After consideration I decided to go fully scripted for the Laydeez talk, because I probably am actually better at writing and reading than I am at talking. The happy side effect of this is that I already have a digital copy of pretty much exactly what I said. So I thought I would share it here with you guys who didn't get to come to Laydeez.
Just imagine you are hearing it read to you.
So I made this picture of Nicola, Sarah, Wallis and Rachel because of how the projector at the Vauxhall venue always put pretty pictures on these head laydeez faces, so I thought It’d be fun to have them on the screen as well. But yeah, thank you Laydeez! For providing such great impetus and inspiration and a supportive community and for having me.
I also want to say what a crazy amazing honour it is to be talking in the same bill as Steven Appleby. I grew up in a Guardian reading household so you’re like, cartoon royalty to me, So big fan. But also that all being true it is also true that I am notoriously bad at names. Sorry to all of the people here who’s names I have previously got wrong or forgotten. So after Wallis offered me this slot with Steven, after the initial what that’s ridiculous she’s way more famous than me hahaha yeah let’s do that, I became gripped with a slow creeping horror that I would accidentally get your name wrong during my talk. So…
I made this handy guide for myself to remember which famous Steven is which.
I’ll give you another one for free: Nicola STREET-hair, Sarah LIGHT hair
To make this even more awkward I have made it a recurring joke for the rest of the talk. I am obviously reading from a script so you have to suspend your imagination and pretend that I am getting people's names wrong by accident (readers - you have to suspend your imagination twice over, enjoy!)
Ok, so HI. I am Jenny. I usually introduce myself as an illustrator. Like a lot of creatives I do have a lot of hats that I wear – I drew this to illustrate that. I am not actually a roman, cowboy or viking, I just wanted to draw them. Look I drew Andy’s hat for comic critic. I am also a part time teacher. I draw birds, words, live portraits, and basically anything someone wants to pay me to draw. I also do a lot of collage. I basically always want to do all of the stuff and I have to battle with that instinct to be vaguely efficient with my career.
When you’re freelancing you need a lot of hustle to network and schmooze and put yourself out there and you kind of have to say Yes to everything while yet and at the same time trying to keep your brand tight. So I did that for 8 years. And I did a lot of cool stuff, including some comics. But it was mostly quite bitty and all over the place and I knew I really wanted to do a big project but I was always thinking about where the next client was coming from so I didn’t do anything big.
SO Two years ago I made a decision to consciously step back from trying to do a million things all of the time and chasing clients to focus on creating one project. Although I still identify as an Illustrator. And I still say yes to a lot of things, some of which definitely aren’t making me any money.
This is a page from an illustrated book about the internet for art teachers that I made as my practical outcome for my PGCE in 2011. I put it here because I kind of want to theme this presentation on serendipity. Part of my part time teacher job is trying to unindoctrinate the youth from the idea that the only successful drawing is one that looks exactly like they meant it to, and my current spiel on this topic which I’ve been giving all my classes this year is the idea that every time we make art, we are collaborating with the universe. So basically, stop stressing that you don’t have total control over your work – it’s only ever half yours anyway.
Which is kind of what we mean when we talk about serendipity. Although I’m probably using it completely wrong.
I find it really comforting and motivating as a concept because, being that person who always has lots of ideas and distractions I can be mentally mulling over a piece of work for a long time, maybe years, and not getting around to doing it. But on the one day that I do sit down to do it, it crystallises magically into form. And that form will be different from what it would have been like if I’d done it on another day, maybe only a little bit, maybe completely.
It makes me think of a butterfly – it has all of the life and the fluttering – that’s the idea - until it’s captured by a Victorian gentleman with a moustache and a net and pinned down in a box frame. It is beautiful in both forms – but you can put it on your wall and look at it and show it to people once you’ve actually pinned it down. Obviously this metaphor doesn’t stand up to the current ecological situation. I don’t actually condone catching butterflies.
But first, here are some of the comics that I did before Biscuits. Each of these came about fairly serendipitously as well. So FIRST I went to the Solipsistic Pop 2 launch, no wait, FIRST FIRST I went to my friend Barny’s pre wedding party in Southampton and he told me to go to the Solipsistic Pop 2 launch because his brother was going. So I went to that and I met Tom Hiddleston, I mean Tom Humberstone, and I showed him my zines, and he let me be in Solipsistic Pop 4. This is from Solipsistic Pop 4. Then I did literally no comics for a few years because I was doing a million other things.
Then spontaneously the week before my wedding, my then fiancé now hugsband bought me an early Christmas present of ticket the Guardian Graphic Novel Masterclass, not the one in 2014 that Steven did – the one in 2013 that had Audrey Niffeneger and Pat Mills. Lucy went to that one too! I hung around afterwards and met Paul Gravett and he told me to come to Comica Social Club. So I did and I met John Lennon, I mean John Anderson. And I showed him my Zines, and also this comic based on collage that I had not finished in time for the Observer prize deadline, and he let me finish it and he published it in Meanwhile… no. 2.
There are equally serendipitous stories behind these that I don’t have time for, but the moral of the story is if you want to do comics, hang around after events, go to the pub, show people your zines.
So a little bit longer than 2 years ago… Probably my second ever visit to Laydeez do Comics – March 2016 at HOI and the speakers were One Beat Zines and Corinne Pearlman of Myriad fame! And afterwards I went to the pub and I talked to Julia Stiles, I mean Julia Scheele who is obviously awesome and I showed her my zines and then I ended up doing a zines bundle for One Beat Zines. But we thought to make it more special I should do a new something new to go with it. And they’re all about the feminism. So I was like, I’ll do a feminist poster. But I’m not a very coherent feminist, I get frustrated by a lot of messages that I feel like are over simplified. So I never want to talk about it without underlining the importance of intersectionality and individual experience, so that’s why I drew these guys coming out of cookie cutters.
So that’s reason number 1 why this project wouldn’t exist without Laydeez, reason number 2 being having the Laydeez prize deadline make me actually write the beginning.
I really enjoyed drawing them and I realised I could do an infinite number of them. Well not quite infinite, but maybe like, 3.5 billion of them?
And I decided to do this as my project in the summer of 2016 and I thought I would just make a book of them – like the promotional zine that I have now made – I basically mashed the idea up with an idea that I already had, which was a postit that had been on my desk for a long time before this which was a scribbly drawing of a person with the words 7 billion people who… which was a plan that I had to just do a series of drawings of people with statements, so I mashed those two together and I posted these guys on instagram, but I was paranoid about offending people so I wrote this spiel:
I’ve now done almost 60 of them.
But it wasn’t that long into doing them that I got more ambitious about that book idea and I realised this was maybe a chance for me to actually test my comics chops as well.
SO initially I thought I literally wanted to do one page per lady. And this is the first one I did. I am really really pleased with how these coat hangers came out. So satisfying. I love drawing things that are little details but have really complicated angles, if anyone saw my hourly comic day comic and how excited I got about drawing the clothes horse – yeah I don’t know why.
Then I went off the idea of single page stories because it wasn’t impressive enough, and this is the second story that I did. And I was evolving a plan for doing really short snapshotty stories so that I could be SIMULTANEOUSLY working on my epic graphic work and also submitting bits of it to anthologies, so for example Lucy’s story here was in Dirty Rotten Comics.
Also there is a brand new never seen before page of the project in the BF Yearbook that came out on Saturday. You should all get that.
So that was going well.
I’m now going to have a short interlude where I attempt to explain my worldview and how it effects the kind of art I want to make.
This is mainly about having a conscious awareness of the insane complexity of the world and the immense scope of individual human ignorance. This represents the world. It is not to scale.
It’s super sexy and satisfying when we can pull on a thread and see some of the things it connects to and feel like we understand something about the world. But we should be careful about mistaking this small piece of insight for making any kind of dent in the massive massive sea of our individual ignorance.
In order to have a glimmer of perspective you have to take your metaphorical stickman head
And shove it right into the messy middle of all the complexity, what you can see from in there is not insightful at all. You can just see lots of flashes of moments of beauty, and horror, and pathos, and banality, like snatches of conversation when you pass someone in the street. Snapshots that hint at context but ultimately remain opaque. This sense of disconnected observation is an aesthetic that I just really enjoy. It’s a bit pretentious.
But I realised this feeling is what is in a lot of my favourite art. It’s the combination of the big complicated world feeling and the snapshotty interconnectedness although, most of these brilliant things also have stories that are heart tuggy and in depth character development.
So I really wanted to evoke this sort of glimpses into strangers lives thing in the book, all about how everyone is just walking around being incongruous and courageous and having stories you can’t guess at. When I first moved to London 10 years ago I used to fantasise about being able to pause time and draw people and places and making a massive book of observations of the city. That urge has come and gone, but when I realised I could sort of shoe horn it in to Biscuits it made me really happy because I just find people really beautiful when they’re not posing.
Little beautiful moments are happening around us all of the time, like on my way back from Small Press Day on Saturday I sat next to a woman on the bus and she was eating a fresh tray of tiramisu, when I complimented her on her train snack she offered to share it with me. Sadly I have complex and irritating dietary requirements, but aren’t people wonderful?
But like I said these glimpses of wonderfullness aren’t enough on their own, partly because we have to acknowledge that people are also frequently terrible, but also because you don’t get that satisfying moment of insight, of connection, of closure that are what make stories addictive.
So I realised that really what I wanted to do as well was have some actual character arcs and development. So I knew to do this I needed to plan.
So this is the plan. Love actually is there because it’s what I most commonly refer to when I want to shorthand the idea of having overlapping characters whose stories are a mix of one liners and actual stories. This project is theoretically infinite, but luckily I don’t have in depth ideas for all 59 cookie cutter ladies. I limited myself to 4 who’s stories will be fully developed over 20-30 pages, about 7 who will have stories of between 2 and 10 pages, and then as many one offs as I think of can be scattered through the book to manipulate the readers mood – because I’m also determined to really consider the emotional journey of the reader, which is why I made this graph . You may be able to see the 4 key human moods up, down, conflict and bittersweet. I dunno it makes sense to me. Martin Freeman asked my at the Myriad thing if it was in the shape of a dog, you can see it is not in the shape of a dog. Sorry, Martin Rowson, not Martin Freeman. Not in Love Actually.... does wear a vest though..... Communist Manifesto! (that's funny because he is writing a comic version of the communist manifesto)
Which brings me on to…
So this is a thing. Biscuits is probably going to be an actual book. Which is really exciting. Because I actually won the actual Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition this week. Which is crazy. Also this is a total psych because I have put stuff on this page.
This is Jess. I wanted to put her in at the end because she was at the end of the 30 pages I submitted to Myriad and I think ending on a comedy note was a thing that really helped the judges to like me. So it says "Jess found an old birthday card down the back of the sofa" This is her story:
I really enjoyed drawing this cheese plant.
BUT I am going to tell you something else about this story. The original Biscuit cookie cutter picture of Jess says Jess found an old birthday card down the back of the sofa, it brought back zero memories. And that was how it was in my Myriad entry until last minute proof reader extraordinaire my amazing sister Hazel pointed out to me that I was ruining my own joke by
pre-empting the punchline.
So without that wonderful serendipitous feedback I might not have won.
Or as I tell my students. It’s all a collaboration with the universe.