A new piece up on The Guardian, where I have a chat with superb creators Posy Simmonds, Katie Green, Isabel Greenberg, and Kate Charlesworth ahead of this weekend's Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal.
We look at why they picked the comics medium, the subversive and communicative powers of comics, and how things have changed - and remained the same - for women creators across the decades.
Long-time Guardian favourite and multiple award-winner Posy Simmonds is one such guest, a prolific artist who has been drawing comics since she was a little girl. Her collection last year, Mrs Weber's Omnibus, brought together her long-running strips for the Guardian about a well-meaning middle-class family.
"As a child," Simmonds tells me, "I liked the combination of words and pictures - in bound copies of Punch magazines and, later, in the piles of comics some American kids used to give me. There was also something subversive about comics that appealed - adults didn't approve of them."
I'm really pleased with this great interview with the lovely Mary Talbot, published in today's Independent on Sunday.
Mary, along with husband and UK comics legend Bryan Talbot, made headlines earlier this year when her debut graphic novel, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, won a prestigious Costa award. We had a long chat in the sun about that win, how she came about entering the world of comics, and her upcoming second graphic novel and brand new comics festival.
“It was a medium of expression that I was very much aware of on a daily basis,” she explains. “I mean, I’ve been watching Bryan create and been part of the process to some extent, in terms of reading his drafts and scripts, looking at pages as they form on the page, very often commenting on them. I’ve never participated before, fully, but I’ve been to some extent involved. I must have soaked up quite a bit of it!”
Making the transition into working in comics herself was perhaps, then, a natural step. “The whole thing started off as a suggestion from Bryan,” Mary explains. “Would I consider writing an autobiographical graphic novel? That was the starting point. I was uncomfortable with the idea, because I didn’t think it would have legs.”
Though she modestly thought no one would be interested in her upbringing, Bryan assured her that her story was both unique and compelling. Her father, the Joycean scholar James S Atherton, has cast a long shadow upon Mary’s life, which naturally suggested a link to James Joyce himself. Aware that the Ulysses author had a daughter, Mary began to see how her own story could be intertwined into something larger.
Kicking off the second round of Stripped events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival came the legendary and fabulous Melinda Gebbie, known for her work in the American underground comix of the ‘70s, the infamous and illegal Fresca Zizis, and of course her collaboration with Alan Moore on Lost Girls.
Melinda Gebbie is one of my heroes, and this was my first time listening to her speak in person. I was amazed that the room was only half full, perhaps due to overlapping events, but it was one of my absolute highlights of the festival. Larger than life and with one hell of a sharp sense of humour, Gebbie gave a career retrospective as well as a great big dose of enthusiasm for any women working in – or around – comics.
It’s not often that a superhero comic gives me chills, particularly when we’re talking villains, but then it’s not often you that see a superhero comic from someone like Kate Brown.
Confession: Kate Brown is one of my favourite comic creators. In my other life as a bookseller the most common comics related question I get is, “what graphic novel should I read if I’ve never read comics before?”, and my answer is always this: “Fish + Chocolate by Kate Brown”. (and Karrie Fransman’s The House that Groaned and Hannah Berry’s Adamtine – my unholy trinity now joined by Mary Talbot!)
Brown’s art and storytelling skills are phenomenal, and it doesn’t hurt that in person she is cooler than a whole bag of cucumbers.
Over at The Beat we dedicated last Friday to celebrating the wonderful world of webcomics. We each picked some of our favourites and one was featured every hour. Check out the masterlist and my selections below!
The Abominable Charles Christopher
- one of those rare comics that I recommend to absolutely everyone regardless of their age, genre preferences or comic reading habits. It’s also one of the hardest comics to describe in a way that fully conveys the beauty and genius inside, as it is essentially the tale of a Yeti or Abominable Snowman and his woodland friends... [Read the full article here!]
- a comic that I find myself trying not to visit for as long as possible, only so that I can then drink up a nice long chunk in one go before reluctantly slithering back into withdrawal. The plot is always veering off in spectacular new directions, with cliffhangers and revelations and I WANT TO KNOW MORE! [Read the full article here!]
- probably one of the main reasons I’ve been feeling meh about DC lately. Because this, THIS, is how our heroes should be done! [Read the full article here!]
- a master class in comics storytelling, courtesy of the ridiculously talented Cameron Stewart of Seaguy, Batman and The Other Side fame. It is also the only webcomic I’ve experienced genuine rage when reading, because my goddamn 16 MB/s connection wasn’t loading the next page fast enough. [Read the full article here!]
- most probably a comic everyone has heard of – Tatsuya “Tats” Ishida’s daily strip has been going strong for some thirteen years now but things have recently taken a surprising feminist turn. [Read the full article here!]
The Phoenix Requiem
- probably one of the most beautiful webcomics I’ve read. It is also now complete after 25 chapters and 800 gorgeous pages – the perfect time to sit down and start reading! [Read the full article here!]
- “Warning. This comic started out as an attempt to make pornography.” begins the opening page of the website. “It degenerated into sex comedy pretty much immediately.” Confirm that you are over 18 and we’re on our way! [Read the full article here!]
When it comes to Wonder Woman, the headlines suggest that we only seem to care about three things: what she’s wearing, what her latest TV attempt is wearing, and who she is banging. Basically, it’s all about her pants.
This week I sat down and caught up with Wonder Woman. She’s a character I’ve never quite got on with as well as I feel I should, her blankness never quite being filled despite tremendous efforts from Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, and more. Unlike Superman and Batman ,DC’s foremost female hero has no secret identity to ground her, no strong motivation to steer her path. And yet, just beyond tantalising reach is surely some of the greatest stories never told.