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Women in Comics: Interview with the Creators of Bayou Arcana

With the fuss over the perceived lack of women guests at the Kapow! Comic Con this May, one group of creators ended up getting a little more exposure than they were bargaining for! Bayou Arcana, an upcoming comics anthology title, had already made a surprise splash in the UK headlines when featured in The Guardian, a national newspaper. 

Described there as a "female-driven anthology", the book contains 11 stories, all written by men with the art by women. Several of the creators are heading down to Kapow! to feature on a panel, and I took the opportunity to ask the creators their thoughts on the book itself, on appearing at a large comics convention, and for the women, on their experiences within the comics industry as a whole.

Bayou Arcana is released in May and will be available through all good book shops.

Bayou Arcana: Promises by Sara DunkertonBayou Arcana: Promises, art by Sara Dunkerton

How did the project come together?

Nic Wilkinson: I guess Jimmy will post about how the whole thing came together but as for our story (Swamp Pussy and The Hanged Man) Cy and I have been making comics together since 2006 and when Jimmy told us about Bayou Arcana it immediately fired both our imaginations. The opportunity to do a dark love story with horror round the edges was too good to resist!

Dani Abram: I am not sure how it started as I was, as always, spectacularly late to the party! However, I owe my involvement on the project to twitter! After discovering Small Press Big Mouth podcast I started following Stacey and Lee! It was through my subsequent friendship with Lee that my blog got passed onto Jimmy Pearson. He emailed me with a script needing an artist written by Matthew Craig - another name I recognised from twitter! It's like one big creative studio that there twitters.

Vicky Stonebridge: Lots of hard work from James! I received an e-mail about whether I'd like to participate, before picking up on the boy girl aspect of the project I was attracted by the world that James had created, the strong characters, the ethos and enthusiasm behind the concept. I am enjoying the story I am working on because the writer has given me strong emotional content and the space to explore that.

Sara Dunkerton: For me the project started with an email back in November 2010 from Matt Gibbs. Matt and Jennie Gyllblad (Bayou Arcana illustrator for 'Irons in the Fire') knew each other before Bayou Arcana came to be, she brought him along to our degree show at the Coningsby Gallery in London where Jen and I were both exhibiting our 3rd year Illustration work, having been on the same course as each other at uni!

I didn't meet Matt that night, but he obviously remembered my name and my work, as in that fateful email he asked if I would like to collaborate with him on a short comic story for the Bayou Arcana Anthology!

Bayou Arcana was my first involvement in any kind of graphic novel publication, so having just completed my degree I needed a nice big project to sink my teeth into and I was INCREDIBLY psyched that Bayou Arcana would be it!!

Through my involvement in Bayou Arcana I have not only built firm friendships with the other creators and learnt LOADS about what is involved in making a comic, but also I've received a few commissions and requests to draw for other comics from people who have seen my development stuff for 'Promises' on my blog! I owe a LOT to Jennie, Matt, Jimmy and the whole Bayou Arcana Project for getting me at where I am today!

I just know I'm going to feel like a proud parent when this baby hits the shelves!!!

Bayou Arcana: Grinder Blues by Lynsey HutchinsonBayou Arcana: Grinder Blues, art by Lynsey Hutchinson

Corey Brotherson: I’m sure Jimmy has a great story about how it all came into place, so I wouldn’t want to take that away from him – although my involvement in Bayou Arcana came about during the 2010 British International Comic Show (BICS) in Birmingham. It was my first con, and I was amazed at meeting all these talented creators, the general friendly vibe at the Show and how much fun it was. After retiring to a hotel pub, Jimmy came up to me, introduced himself and we had a chat about Bayou Arcana. He said he loved the work Jen (Gyllblad – artist on Irons in the Fire) and I did on our developing graphic novel Butterflies and Moths, and was interested in getting us on board, in particular to do a story with a specific character from the universe.

He sent over a copy of one of his BA stories and the general BA pitch, I really liked it, especially how realised Jimmy’s vision and ideas were. Rich material that any creator would be lucky to play in. He got Jen into the project, I pitched a story and things just kinda fell into place from there.

James Pearson: Bayou Arcana came into being as an attempt to create the bare bones of a new comic book universe that I could use as a platform to create an ongoing title with various spin-offs attached. I wanted to invent a world and populate it with various characters and situations that I could expand upon and play around with. About two years ago I sat down and wrote an origin story (The Tale of Ol' Mercy which the tale that kicks off "Songs of Loss and Redemption" and to cut a long story short got carried away with another project and for nearly a year it languished hidden away with a million other stories in one of my desk drawers.

It was not until the Birmingham Con in 2010 that Bayou Arcana reared its head again. I managed to corner Harry Markos (of Markosia Publications) outside a hotel and in quite a drunken state bluntly asked him what sort of stories are being published and what sort of stories are selling? His reply was pretty much the initial spark for what Bayou Arcana was going to become: "Horror...Horror aimed at a women's market".

The first thing I thought of was Bayou Arcana.

Not that I had targeted this at any gender specific market. I had written it for myself. But the Southern Gothic horror flavour, social themes, romantic atmosphere just seemed to tick all the boxes. It was on the trainride back home the following day that the concept of something a bit more ambitious dawned on me... Why not create something that would be enjoyed by both men and women...But also, why not do something created by men and women together. Afterall the basics of human creativity all derive from that initial gender union. If guys and girls can make babies why not see if we can make amazing graphic novels together? I couldn't recall anybody ever having tried that very thing before so from that inception point came Bayou Arcana's USP!

The next major step along the path to where we have arrived at today came when Stacy Whittle and Lee Grice of Small Press Big Mouth fame put out a call for writers and artists on their podcast. The response was immediate and overwhelming and without those guys this project would never have lifted off of the ground. They were instrumental in the gathering of the forces so to speak. From that point the creative teams were formed and they got about the task of universe building. All-in-all a humbling experience for me to be in the presence of such talented and creative souls (both male and female!). Little did we know when we started down this road the interest and controversy that would follow us and our little project...

Bayou Arcana: Tale of Ol' Mercy by Valia Kapadai Bayou Arcana: Tale of Ol' Mercy, art by Valia Kapadai

What are your thoughts on the Bayou Arcana panel at Kapow?

Nic Wilkinson: I'm not going to be at Kapow myself, but it's great that the team will be represented there.

My feelings about Kapow and the "sausagefest" controversy: Kapow is a con celebration Superheroes (we'll come back to what "mainstream" might mean below). Currently, for whatever reason, most creators working on Superhero books are male. Most visitors coming to the con hoping to meet their favourite creators want to do just that, irrespective of gender, I'm sure or at least I hope!

As to the idea of men "giving up their seats" on panels to women there is a difference between a man offering me a seat on a bus because I can't reach the hanging straps necessary to stay upright, and one offering me a seat on a panel because I can't reach the necessary levels of success to be of interest to visitors. I am sure this idea was suggested with the best of intentions, but I feel it is not the solution. I feel it quite patronising in a "Here you go, little lady, you can have a go on the panel if you want, don't cry" kind of a way.

Perhaps a better solution would be for the people (whatever their gender) who do enjoy success with a large following could use that influence to suggest other things that they genuinely like personally (not because they tick some box of "oh, good, promoted a woman today") that their readers may like to look into because of the quality of the work. Finding out about new things can be hard when there is so much on offer in so many styles and genres.

Jennie Gyllblad: I won’t be able to make it sadly! But I will be at the Bristol Expo where we will be launcing Bayou Arcana. Super excited about that (if a little bit terrified)!

Dani Abram: My heart nearly falls out of my ass everytime I think about it or see a post online. Is that excited enough!?

Vicky Stonebridge: Kapow comes at the time of year when I am busy organising our own Comic Convention in the north of Scotland, so sadly I haven't had the chance to attend. I have been disappointed by the guest list this last two years as they are of course male dominated if not exclusively male, which is simply no longer acceptable in any modern industry. Of course there are many ways to challenge this, I tend to adopt the less subtle approaches. I wish I could attend Kapow to see for myself and be part of redressing the balance.

Sara Dunkerton: I'm excited for the guys that're going to be appearing on the panel and the massive stir that our little book has caused!! But I'm gutted to say that I won't be able to make it there in person!!

I don't know if anyone expected such publicity and interest to surround the project, I know I certainly didn't! But I'm delighted that there are loads of people out there who are talking about it and us, the creators!

I WILL definitely be at Bayou Arcana's launch at Bristol Expo however. I've no excuse not to be, it's right on my doorstep! Haha! And if we get a panel there I shall be more than willing to get up there and natter along with the rest of them (after the appropriate amount of sweets and sugar...)

Bayou Arcana cover art by Jennie Gyllblad Bayou Arcana cover art by Jennie Gyllblad

Corey Brotherson: Sadly, I probably won’t be attending this year (family commitments!) but it’s brilliant to have a panel there with the team getting to chat about BA. A dream come true, in fact – even if I’m not there, I’m so happy to be part of that on the periphery. In regards to the whole Kapow male-centric thing, phew, it’s been a bit of a storm – although I’d have to say that over half of the creators I’ve worked with since I started writing comics (back in 2005/6) have been female. From mind-blowingly good artists (such as Jen, who I’ve somehow managed to convince to partner me on over 5 projects) to multi-talented deities who can do anything from edit and draw to lettering and organizing complex anthologies (step up, one Nic Wilkinson), I’ve been very lucky. There’s ample talent out there, both male and female, I think the problem is more that our 'mainstream' genres – the stuff that most people pay attention to, for good or ill – aren’t diverse enough and our distribution net not wide enough to highlight that. It’s something I think slowly changing, especially in Europe. Kapow, as suggested by its name, is very superhero dominated so it probably would struggle to reflect that, but I’d argue great creators such as Gail Simone and Sara Pichelli have done plenty of excellent work in the superhero genre, so…

James Pearson: I am so looking forwards to the Kapow Convention. Mark Millar has always been one of my favourite comic creators and dare I say a bit of a hero so it is a big honour to be given the opportunity to talk about Bayou Arcana and the role of women in the comics industry at the event. The debate sparked about gender bias in the industry is an important one and I think Kapow will make for a great stage for a long overdue discussion on the subject. The fact that Bayou Arcana has played its part in highlighting the issue is something that was not intended but certainly a byproduct that I and I am sure the other creators are quite proud of.

Women can write and draw comics? Well duh...Hell yeah they can write and draw comics!!! Bayou Arcana is proof of that!

Bayou Arcana: The 'Skeeter by Jenny ClementsBayou Arcana: The 'Skeeter, art by Jenny Clements

How do you feel being a woman creator in a fairly male dominated industry?

Nic Wilkinson: I haven't ever personally experienced any kind of discrimination based on gender in the comics industry. I work in the independent/creator owned side of things and it could be that the atmosphere within that community is very different to other areas of the field. I have had an extremely positive experience with everyone I have met in comics.

Certainly when I was Creative Director of an indie comics publisher I found submissions were about 50/50 from men and women, although there did tend to be more male writers and more female artists.

I find (as recently explored by Kat Rocha in her article "The F Word") that prefixing a description of what I do as "Female-Artist" seems like a qualification. I am an artist, my gender has as little to do with my work as any other arbitrary physical characteristic I have. No one wants to call me a "blonde creator" or a "short creator" or a "creator in her 30s", for example.

I find the question of whether there SHOULD be "more women" in comics a kind of meaningless idea.

Jennie Gyllblad: This is something I’ve actually been asked a lot and it’s something that is frequently discussed among the creators in the comics industry. What I can tell you is just my personal experience, both from going to conventions as a regular punter and having my own table as a comics creator.

I have not experienced any discrimination or unfair treatment at all because of my gender. In fact, I find the comics industry to be an amazingly accepting and brilliant scene to be involved in. 99% of people I’ve met have been decent people. So whenever I hear these stories about women being objectified and unfairly treated, I wonder where it happens because I’m not seeing it and neither are my fellow female creator-friends.

I have a theory though! Ever since I started working in comics (which is fairly recently), I’ve been on the indie side of things, mixing with people who for the most part are sole creators of their own work, going at it alone and brimming with passion. You –have- to be passionate to survive on the indie side in my view. It is so tough to earn any kind of living from it. So everyone –loves- what they do.

However, I have never worked for the big companies or done superhero comics. I’ve never done what you’d consider the 'mainstream' side of comics (ie Marvel and DC). Maybe it’s over there that we see this huge divide between male and female creators? I couldn’t tell you because I haven’t been there.

Bayou Arcana: Six Bullets by Patricia Echavarri-RiegoBayou Arcana: Six Bullets, art by Patricia Echavarri-Riego

Dani Abram: I have honestly not had to deal with any discrimination in my (admittedly short but growing) career in comics or my career in animation! I have been really lucky for opportunities to have come to me and not vice versa. I am happily ploughing through projects in both industries and I hope to all hell it's not because I'm a guurl that I am in the first place! I just don't believe people get judged on sex anymore. When I first read the guest list of the Kapow con last year and this year it never crossed my mind to think 'Hey! Whur'da wimmin to!?' I just thought 'cool!' Then watching the backlash of the so called 'sausage-fest' con line up, I started asking myself if I was part of the problem!? I guess people might think I am. I adore female creators such as Faith Erin Hicks, Emma Vieceli and Julia Wertz, but that's because their comics are aaaaesome! I'd still love them if they were Fazer E Hicks, Emmet Vieceli and Julian Wertz!

Vicky Stonebridge: Frustrated! I wish it wasn't a big deal, it really should not be. I would like to work on the basis of my individual skills, rather that on the basis of what gender I happen to be, but the world is still stacked against us, so we have to fight all that harder to get anywhere. The comics industry can be a really friendly welcoming one, but many times over the years I have found myself pushed out of a conversation by men literally ignoring me, or standing in front of me, every event men will introduce themselves to my male companions and completely blank me,I have seen it done a lot to other women too, so I'm concluding it is a gender thing rather than just me! I also find that in discussions and debates, things can quickly turn nasty when a women expresses an opinion, and of course the patronising 'stop embarrassing yourself dear', ' calm down love'. Being longer in the tooth I can get away with playing an angry matriarch role, and am spared some of the most creepy sexism that the younger lassies will get. I am also a female firefighter so have spent my working life being in minority and dealing with bullying chauvinist nonsense. The fire service still only has 3% female firefighters ironically but these days it feels like less of a fight than that of the comic world!

I feel things may be coming to a head with the current debates on gender, the next up and coming generation of female creators will hopefully find the path a much easier one!

Sara Dunkerton: This one is tricky, I mean my involvement in Bayou Arcana was my big break into the Small Press/Indie scene! So the people I've gotten to know through this project are incredibly accepting of female creators. Everyone I know is very supportive and the things I've heard about other female creators and their achievements are incredibly encouraging!

Though being rather new as a creator I'm looking through unexperienced eyes. However I can say from experience as just a female punter in a crowd that is Superhero/Mainstream orientated that it can be a bit different. I have found that when I talk about comics to guys they are surprised to hear that there are actually girls out there that are into all that stuff, and not just Manga or Indie but Marvel and DC too! I've occasionally outstripped the cockiest male DC buff with my geek prowess, which was fun, and most of the time the guys may seem surprised to see the littlest geeky girl in front of them but they accept it!

Though there have been times when I've felt I've been talked down to, patronised or completely over looked in comic book stores and such, in those cases I tend to speak up "YES I'm a girl, YES I like Batman! And YES I am aware that Dick Grayson was the original Robin, who then outgrew the role and assumed the name Nightwing, which is kryptonian in origin!! And Martian Manhunter, aka J'onn J'onzz, likes Oeros!"

Bayou Arcana: Six Bullets by Patricia Echavarri-RiegoBayou Arcana: Six Bullets, art by Patricia Echavarri-Riego


Would you want to do superhero/"mainstream" comics or not?
Nic Wilkinson: Personally not, but that is just an aesthetic preference. I don't read many Superhero books myself, but then I don't watch romantic comedies either!

Having said that I think it may be time to look a bit more closely at the idea of "mainstream comics", which is a phrase everyone takes as read to mean "Marvel and DC Superheroes". But are these things "the mainstream" anymore in a real sense?

I recently received Habibi by Craig Thompson for Valentine's day. It is a beautiful looking book, hardcovers, inlaid gold calligraphy, lovely feeling paper, very unusual story - is it published by a "Big 2" comics publisher? Is it even publisherd by a indie comics publisher? No, it's not! It's published by Faber and Faber! How much more "mainstream" can you get? I don't have figures but I'd be willing to bet it outsells so called "mainstream" comics due to the reach of its distribution model alone.

I'm beginning to wonder if "mainstream comics" means anything in real terms - in fact as more major publishing houses begin to bring out the kind of experimental, arty comics that explore the medium, getting them in the hands of all types of book readers, the Superhero books are becoming just another genre, and maybe not even the most popular one, within a much wider world. Logicomix was a "bestseller" in real terms, going up on the best seller lists against all other types of books, not just other graphic novels. But apparently that is not "mainstream"!

Jennie Gyllblad: Superhero comics have never interested me (except Watchmen). I didn’t grow up with them, and I never got into them when I seriously invested my time in comics as a career choice. I could go on forever as to why that is the case, but to keep it short: I like characters. And I want to associate with characters. I like the human side of a story, the relationships, the emotional twists and turns of life mixed in with amazing adventures and real tests for the characters. I want there to be a sense of mortality in there. With superheroes, I always got the feeling that it didn’t matter what happened. Even if they died, they could just hit a reset button and they would be alive again. So why should I emotionally invest in that?

A superhero comic will never make me care to the same level that I did when I first read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

Also, don’t get me started on the costumes.

Dani Abram: It's not really my bag! I do comics for the fun of it around my day job - which I'm so lucky to say is a CG Animator. I love animation and I always knew I would be an animator from a young 'un. I enjoy the process, the vastness, the community and the kinship of small press too much!

Vicky Stonebridge: I have nothing against 'mainstream' comics, it depends what they are! as far as Superheroes, Not me personally, but I know women who do write or draw them. Obviously as a feminist I find the superhero gender stereotypes pretty grotesque, the objectifying poses, the costumes, the passivity. But also it is the aspect of the all powerful individual, beyond human, that alienates me. I am more interested in being human, and the amazing things that humans do collectively, the empowerment that we get in dealing with situations rather that waiting for some beefed up dude to rescue us.

I was raised a 2000 AD girl so prefer my heroes to be grungy anti-heroes (and heroines !) with a political twist rather than state sanctioned squeaky clean all american heroes.

Bayou Arcana: Six Bullets by Patricia Echavarri-RiegoBayou Arcana: Six Bullets, art by Patricia Echavarri-Riego

Sara Dunkerton: Ummmm..... Yeah, I'd give it a go! :D

I mean I first found comics through Batman and made DC my home, so I'm not at all opposed to the mainstream superhero stuff! My longterm favourite comic illustrators are Michael Turner and Jim Lee, I found a love and appreciation for comic illustration through their work!

I've long since branched out into the Indie and Creator Owned stuff, I have found that side has the most passion and excitement (and more often the better stories...) and I hope to be a long term part of that!

However if Marvel or DC came a-calling and asked me to illustrate a one off story I wouldn't be able to pass that up!! :D

Corey Brotherson: My first comics, at around 4 years old, were Spider-Man, Transformers and Superman/Batman. So I can only answer "yes, I’d love to" to that question. I grew up on superhero comics. Do I buy or read as many now, nearly 30 years later? No. My tastes have changed where much of my reading shelf consists of Vertigo, Image and other creator owned books. Hell, among my recent favourites have been the likes of Parker, Fables, The Unwritten and Chew. That said, I love Mark Waid's Irredeemable, which is a twisted inversion of the superhero genre but fascinating, smart and entertaining with it. I adore what Brian Bendis and Sara Pichelli are doing with the new Ultimate Spider-Man. Ed Brubaker brought a remarkably fresh voice to Captain America. And so on.

None of my own projects are in the superhero genre, but if given the chance (which I have been given a couple times in the past, but that’s another story), I’d probably jump at it all the same.


Bayou Arcana writers: Jimmy Pearson, Darren Ellis, Corey Brotherson, Steve Tanner, Alexi Conman, Matt Gibbs, Matthew Craig, Cy Dethan.
Bayou Arcana artists: Valia Kapadai, Davina Unwin, Jennie Gyllblad, Alex Thompson, Vicky Stonebridge, Sara Dunkerton, Dani Abram, Lynsey Hutchinson, Nic Wilkinson, Patricia Echavarri-Riego,  Jenny Clements.

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