As well as writing for Nerdspan, one of the other things I do is produce a radio show for Soho Radio, called ‘Free Seed On Soho’. A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to have graphic novel artists Rachael Ball and Wallis Eates come into the show, who are the London co-ordinators of Laydeez Do Comics.
Laydeez Do Comics is an initiative started by artists Nicola Streeten and Sarah Lightman, who have created a forum for the discussion of graphic novels and comic art, where fans, artists, and publishers (of all genders) can come together in a welcoming and open environment; what makes this even more unique is that it is led by women, which is a welcome addition to the storytelling community where men still dominate, giving a platform to the wealth of talent demonstrated by women artists and writers. The events also typically include TED style talks from guest speakers, such as Sarah Graley (Rick and Morty: Lil’ Poopy Superstar, Kim Reaper), Asia Alfasi (Libyan-British manga-influenced comic writer and artist), Laura Howell (The Beano), Francesca Cassavetti (The Strumpet, Ink + Paper, Solipsistic Pop), and Johannes Klenell (Publisher – Galago), amongst many others.
While Laydeez Do Comics originally started in London, there are now also branches in Glasgow, Bristol, Leeds, Dublin, San Francisco and Chicago, as well as pop up events in other cities around the world, such as New York and Toronto. Each city has its own coordinators, and we spoke to Rachel and Wallis, who run the London branch, about how they connected with the scene, and how they started as artists.
Having worked previously for Deadline (which had Tank Girl as one of its regular strips), Rachael has had a long history within the comic community, and following a period away from the industry was inspired to return after being diagnosed with Breast Cancer. During this time away, she took stock and decided she needed to write a graphic novel about her experience with Breast Cancer, but chose to document this story in a more surrealist way, rather than a straight narrative, creating ‘The Inflatable Woman’. While creating the book, she blogged the process for 17 months, which led to it being picked up by publisher Bloomsbury, and shortlisted by The Guardian newspaper as one of the best graphic novels that year. With the success of ‘The Inflatable Woman’, Rachael is now blogging the creation of her new graphic novel, ‘Wolf Man’ on the last day of each month on her website, which is supported by the UK Arts Council, and will be published by Self Made Hero.
Wallis Eates has also always been a dedicated storyteller, and has worked in many different art mediums, but grew up reading comics and graphic novels. After art college and various projects outside of comics, she started working on a project that was very much autobiographical, later discovering that many others were working in a similar vein, in an ‘autobio’ scene. This scene led to her introduction to the Laydeez Do Comics community, whose remit includes encouraging autobiographical material and exploration of the “drama of the everyday”.
‘Mumoirs’ is Wallis’ current project, which explores her upbringing in a single parent environment, and focuses on the relationship between her and her Mum, against a backdrop of the social changes and politics of the 80s.
She has also been working on a creative residency with the charity ‘Headway’, which helps the survivors of brain injuries; using art, they work with the survivors to try and find themselves after their injury. The patients work will soon be incorporated into a book, as part of a project entitled ‘Like An Orange’.
Both Wallis and Rachael have found the medium a great way of telling their own personal stories, in an immediate and immersive way, that isn’t that common within the mainstream, and Laydeez Do Comics is a really positive step in supporting this community.
The autobiographical scene allows many writers to explore various harsh experiences that quite commonly are either formative, or large catalysts of change. Both Rachael and Wallis have been able to use humour and surrealism within their art to discuss the issues they have faced and their internal dialogue, which otherwise may not have been easy, or palatable for an audience in another medium.
As a safe space for discussion of comics and graphic art for all genders, Laydeez Do Comics is creating more opportunities for artists and storytellers to express themselves and further their work in a supportive environment. This can only be a good thing.
If you’re in London in between 26th April – 23rd July 2017, you can see more of Rachael and Wallis’ work at an exhibition entitled: ‘The Inking Woman – British Women cartoonists and Comic Artists’ at London’s Cartoon Museum. (Click HERE for details)