I drew this comic as a way of getting myself back into the headspace of drawing my Katherine Mansfield graphic novel. It’s a bridging comic – first I limber up by pretending to myself that Katherine Mansfield’s hanging out with me, my inner critic manifested, and then I get back to the book.
Talking about inner critics, I read this funny NY Times article today, which was about the inner critic being the dominant voice inside the writer’s head – the writer in residence, a kind of autoimmune disease, rendering the act of writing akin to lighting matches in the rain.
Have I mentioned this book? From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics? It’s written by talented cartoonist and blogger Adrian Kinnaird, and it tells the history of NZ comics, as well as showcasing 30 NZ cartoonists, yours truly included. It’s a beautiful book and if I didn’t have my own novel to pimp I’d implore you to buy it for Christmas presents.
I seem to have a compulsion to draw bicycles, maybe because I know that I’m not very good at it and I find it hard. Actually, looking back at this Metro comic, I see that I was a bit crafty and cropped most of the bikes out. But anyway, this is a true story (of course! I wouldn’t make stuff up!) My mum did get a serious head injury from being knocked off her bike and she’s still recovering, 2 months later. This has been a bad year for our family on bikes – my dad came off his in January and ended up in a neck brace for a couple of months, and my husband came off his and buggered his shoulder. We should walk, right?
I just joined the rest of NZ and upgraded my phone from a basic nokia to a smartphone. Here’s my first smartphone comic post, all about Anadarko doing deep sea oil exploration in NZ. As you can see, it upsets me, as many things do, but I don’t usually have time to draw a comic about it.
I found this comic in my journal and I thought I would share it with you. I’ve got a couple of pieces in a forthcoming Eastbourne anthology - an excerpt from Dead People’s Music and a poem I wrote when I was in my twenties – and this is a companion piece to the poem. I really loved Eastbourne, and although it was great that my grandmother moved to Palmerston North when I was in my teens so we could be closer by, I did miss going for my little seaside holidays.
My two comics in the latest Metro ‘Best of Auckland’ issue came out – I got to be the grinch who didn’t believe in Best of lists, even though I made it onto the NZ Listener best books of 2013 list. I was buried deep in the magazine for my sins, but I was particularly pleased with my Lorde & Eleanor Catton comic. I really like Best of lists when I don’t have a book that may or may not make it on there, but when I do, best of lists give me stomach ulcers.
And in final news, I am going to be on a panel this week with a pair of wonder writers, Bianca Zander and Sue Orr. It’s on Thursday 28 November, 7.30pm, Devonport Community House, 32 Clarence Street, Devonport. Take a trip across on the ferry! It’s free, and there will be nibbles and wine.
This is a comic from Metro a few months back. Next issue I’ve got two pages of comics in it, which is very exciting. I was even commissioned to draw Lorde and Eleanor Catton – you’ll have to let me know if I got their likenesses!
I got back from talking at the Women’s Cartoon Colloquium on Friday night. It was such an intense and interesting day. I got to meet some other awesome cartoonists, including Robyn Kennealy, Hayley Heartbreak, Jem Yoshioka and Sharon Murdoch, New Zealand’s only female political cartoonist. Although I personally think that NZ has lots of political cartoonists – it’s just that not so many get paid to draw a frame for a newspaper.
Jem Yoshioka wrote up the event very eloquently, but here’s my brief take: we all agreed that there are lots of women making comics out there, it’s just that a lot have been forgotten or else they’re doing the menial jobs in the comics industry – for instance they are the colourists at Marvel and DC. The dominating paradigm for newspaper cartoons is the grotesque and the masculine, so it’s refreshing to have someone like Sharon Murdoch, whose comics are cutting and visually appealing. I blathered my way through my speech – I think my impulse to entertain overcame my impulse to sound intelligent and there were some formidable intellects tackling the subject. I talked about exploring the domestic as a political statement and observed that a lot of young female illustrators and cartoonists were producing hyper-sexualised, nude, come-and-get-it imagery of women. Here I betrayed my fusty, came-of-age-in-the-nineties attitudes. I am so confused about this. I can see the argument that it’s empowering to take imagery traditionally produced by men and claim ownership, just like the LGBT community claimed words like ‘queer’, but then I also think is it really empowering? The women still look so idealised, so coquettish, so arranged – to me they’re not expressing their sexuality, rather their desire to be desired.
Anyway, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Am I right? Am I wrong? Can both truths exist simultaneously? I was always struck by Linda Clark’s reasons for quitting radio and going into law – that she came to journalism seeing things in black and white, and then found that she could no longer see things so clearly – that both sides of arguments were compelling. I feel like that quite a lot.
Tomorrow (Friday 15 November) I’m going to be in Wellington, talking in a colloquium on women and cartoons. I’m writing my speech now, about my experience as a cartoonist-for-hire, and being one of the few women in a male-dominated field. This is a slide from my talk-to-be, musing on how back in design school typography was more highly valued than illustration, a department dominated by women.
I’ve been trying to figure out why there are so few female cartoonists in New Zealand – or if that is even a valid statement. On further investigation I’ve discovered that there are quite a few women drawing comics out there, only they aren’t considered slick enough to be included in glossy anthologies or histories, or else they’ve distributed their comics through a handful of photocopied zines, or they don’t take themselves seriously enough to do the hustle required to be noticed by mainstream media. Perhaps they don’t want to be noticed by mainstream media – one of the pleasures of comics and zine culture is that it is underground.
I have a few theories about why women’s comics aren’t valued as highly – many male cartoonists have grown up on a diet of superhero comics with its streak of misogyny, which is off-putting to a female reader. That’s the kind of art they aspire to and value, but women don’t – they’ve been looking elsewhere for inspiration. If they’re anything like me, they’ve been admiring cartoonists like Alison Bechdel, Julie Doucet and Lynda Barry, Marjane Satrapi and Gabrielle Bell. Sure, I read and loved Tintin as a child, but even then it bugged me that it was such a man’s world, and Bianca Castifiore was hardly a character I could relate to with her glass-breaking voice and titanic bosom. Perhaps as women haven’t seen many female role models out there, they’ve turned to illustration as a mode of expression. But illustration isn’t considered to be art, and nor is craft or many other art forms traditionally in the female domain. I have been accused a number of times of ‘drawing like a girl’ and I wonder if that’s the issue – I’m just not speaking the right visual language.
Another one of my theories is that women’s issues aren’t considered universally appealing. What’s interesting to everybody is what’s in the news – war, politics, environmental destruction, violent crime. Or city things – going out drinking and eating, going to shows and gigs and places. The domestic sphere is demarcated for women. It belongs in the ‘Women’s Interest’ section of the magazine shop. Men don’t have to engage in that kind of thing if they don’t want to, even though the dramas you find on the news play out on a small scale in the family and the community. I always find it confounding that women will read books by both men and women, but men are more likely to read books by other men. It feels a little bit like New Zealand’s relationship to the US or the UK – we know a lot about them because we are saturated with their culture, but they don’t know as much about us. They don’t need to – we’re just a place people move to if all else fails.
But listen – I’m beginning to generalise and get myself into trouble. Of course there are lots of men who engage in the domestic sphere and who want to read comics about experiences in motherhood. There’s a great new comic book by Toby Morris called ‘Don’t puke on your dad.’ And it’s probably socially irresponsible of me to concentrate on small-scale domestic dramas when I could be writing about politics and trying to enact change. The personal may be the political but the political is what gets you noticed.
So where are you, all you women cartoonists? Stand up and be counted! Leave your tumblr link in the comments! And if you have any thoughts on this topic, any theories you can add, please let me know – my speech isn’t finished yet.
This is an illustration that I’ve done for a children’s book, but it struck me that it was very appropriate to my life. I am trying to wear too many hats! I am trying to be a writer, a cartoonist, a freelance graphic artist, a teacher, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a gardener, a, a, a — it’s all too much. I keep on trying to figure out how I can take some of these hats off and simplify my life. I don’t feel like I spend enough time on anything. Everything’s rushed, compromised, pushed out by other demands.
But perhaps this is what life is like. Creative time is to be snatched at. Tolstoy wrote at the edge of the family dining table. So did Patricia Grace. Raymond Carver wrote in his car to avoid interruptions. Katherine Mansfield’s journals are full of laments at how little time she is getting to write, how disrupted she is by illness. Perhaps we don’t need great stretches of time – perhaps we only need moments of clarity. I do lots of my thinking when I’m not at my desk – when I’m biking, walking to school, stirring the porridge.
I imagine what I could produce if only I had time. I question why I’m even trying to produce anything in the first place – who cares? I’m never going to be great. Is it my ego that’s motivating me? Or am I just a compulsive communicator? If only I didn’t feel the need to write and draw – then perhaps I could get a job that would satisfy me. I wouldn’t need to do a hundred things to make ends meet.
Anyway, I’m procrastinating – I have something due today. And on Monday. I’d better get back to it. I want to write a comic for my Mansfield project – I just discovered that the painting that hung my grandmother’s wall, the one of my
uncle Jim holding his teddy bear cousin Sandra as a baby, was painted by Edith Bendall, Katherine’s one-time lover. I haven’t seen the painting for 12 years but I can see it perfectly in my mind. It’s a portal. It’s a gift.