Artists interview: The Strumpet

Ellen Lindner

Cover of The Strumpet by Ellen Lindner

The Strumpet is a new comic anthology from the ladies behind the Whores Of Mensa comics (which were published in the UK between 2004-2010). The Strumpet brings together a brilliant team of female comics artists from the UK and USA, to produce a transatlantic collaborative publication containing eclectic illustrative and comics styles and techniques, and unique stories around the theme of ‘Dress-Up’.

With Ellen Lindner (UK) and Jeremy Day (UK) at the helm as co-editors, The Strumpet is due to have contributions (amongst others) from Mardou (USA), Megan Kelso (USA), Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg (USA), Kripa Joshi (UK), Patrice Aggs (UK), and Tanya Meditzky (UK).

I spoke to these eight women about The Strumpet, their involvement in this first issue, women in comics, and about the Kickstarter campaign that is running to fund the publication of the first issue through a process of pre-ordering.

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Ellen, What prompted the move to relaunch Whore Of Mensa as ‘The Strumpet’, and how do the two projects differ?

Ellen: There are two main motivations behind the relaunch of the Strumpet. One is that our mission had changed – instead of publishing three artists on a regular basis, we’d decided to move towards a rotating cast, around the three original stalwarts. We thought this new approach warranted a new identity. Second, we’d had some trouble because part of our old name, Whores of Mensa, is a trademarked term. We wanted to be able to grow without worrying about that.

Where does the title ‘The Strumpet’ come from, and is it just a title, or does it dictate the theme of contributions to the comic?

Ellen: The Strumpet came from discussions we had as a group. The acting Whores of Mensa – that would be Mardou, Jeremy Day and I – wanted a name that connoted the same kind of free spirit and sass as Whores of Mensa (WoM), but that had less of a hard edge to it. We also liked the idea of having an avatar of sorts, a figure that embodied the lady-friendly ideals of our comic.

The Strumpet is a cross-Atlantic project, where do you currently call home?

Ellen: At the moment I live in London but I’m moving to New York. The Strumpet will be a wholly transatlantic entity – I’m hoping I can bring some cool Americans to the Strumpet’s banquet, while gaining a new audience for the UK cartoonists I’ve come to know and love. Hopefully it means we can promote the comic simultaneously in both places.

Patrice: England, though I continue to call myself an American

Mardou: St Louis, Missouri though I’m originally from Manchester, England. I married the American cartoonist Ted May, so hot love and comics bought me here.

Megan: Seattle, Washington.

Jeremy: Home is Oxford, in the UK, where I live with my husband, cats and haphazard garden. It’s a lovely city, especially at this time of year, when it’s filling up with new incomers, students and hopefuls. It reminds me of the first time I came here.

Tanya: London, England

Lisa: I currently live in Portland, Oregon, US.

Kripa: I was born and raised in Nepal, pursued my BFA in India (where I met my husband), then lived in New York for three years while I completed my MFA and now I have been in the UK for three years… so home has been always changing. I guess I have to call UK home right now… it is where I reside… but Nepal will always be home as long as my family is there.

Patrice Aggs

Patrice Aggs

How did you become involved in The Strumpet?

Patrice: Through the indefatigable Ellen Lindner. I’m in awe of her.

Tanya: Ellen Lindner invited me to contribute.

Megan: Ellen, who is an old friend and comrade of mine from New York invited me to participate.

Kripa: Through the great Ellen Lindner! I met her a couple of times during various events and when I saw the Whores of Mensa anthology, I mentioned that I would like to be a part of it. She is a very welcoming and generous person.

Lisa: I was tabling at the 2011 Stumptown Comics Fest here in Portland, which is where I met our Fearless Leader of Strumpets Ellen Lindner and her husband Stephen. The three of us got to talking outside the awards ceremony on the first night of the Fest, and the next day we visited one another’s tables. I got her book “Undertow” and she and Stephen picked up the third issue of my comic “I Cut My Hair.” In August Ellen wrote and asked me if I’d be interested in contributing to The Strumpet, and I quickly took her up on the offer.

Mardou and Jeremy, you were original members of the group that created Whores Of Mensa (alongside Lucy Sweet). What are your thoughts on the direction that the idea has now taken with the publication of The Strumpet?

Mardou: My original idea was to base WoM on the comic ‘Triple Dare’, who was in that? Tom Hart, James Kochalka, Jon Lewis. I like that they each had 10 pages, so many anthologies around that time contained so many artists with just one or two page strips, they were a little dizzying. Having just myself, Lucy Sweet and Jeremy Day (nee Dennis) gave us a bit more room and we sort of juxtaposed our different styles around a common theme and created something a bit different. I’m still very proud and fond of it. Ellen joining us for the second issue was a dream and as I’ve stepped back from it, to focus on having a kid and working on a graphic novel, Ellen’s surged ahead. I think she’s created something more expansive but it still has that quality which sets it apart. Chic and slightly dirty-minded. Just like Ellen.

Jeremy: If Whores of Mensa was Mardou’s brainchild, The Strumpet is Ellen’s; it’s a fantastic idea and I support it fully, but I’m not the best person to talk direction. Ellen’s in the driving seat for this one; I’m in the engine room, spinning dials.

What is your own personal history in making comics? How did you get started, and what sort of things have you created over the years?

Patrice: My first ‘comic’ was illustrating the hybrid graphic novel by Philip Pullman, Count Karlstein. Although I’ve contributed short pieces to anthologies and periodicals, my work in comics has mainly been by stealth; whenever I’m asked to do a children’s book, I manage to slip in at least one illustration that includes a speech balloon!

Mardou: I started drawing a Tank Girl rip-off when I was 17 but didn’t get too far. A few years later, in my last year of college I discovered Dan Clowes and Peter Bagge’s comics. Dan Clowes had this line in an Eightball comic something like ‘there are beautiful, 22 year old women who would rather read than watch television’, and I loved that and I was 22 at the time, so I sent him my very first comic and he wrote back saying ‘do more comics’. So I did, just kept putting out little books. I did a series called ‘Stiro’ with my friend Fortenski, he wrote it, I drew it, then I did a solo book called ‘Manhole’ which got some Arts Council funding. And with those books I started going to comics shows where I met Lucy and Jeremy and we started ‘Whores of Mensa’. I’m now working on a graphic novel called the ‘Sky in Stereo’, which I’m serializing as a mini-comic.

Tanya: In 2002 I was laid up in bed for weeks, I had at the time been trying to work with various people on creative projects, which led nowhere, never came to fruition, etc, so I just started drawing ‘milkkitten’, to entertain myself. The comic world was completely unknown to me, so when Mark from Page 45 [British comic book store] ordered a batch from me at a festival, it encouraged me to think of it as a real ‘comic’ and to continue.

Kripa: I started making comics while I was doing my MFA in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts (in New York) as a Fulbright scholar…. so I started quite late! As a part of the course we had to study the History of Comics. I had never thought about making comics before that. I was always interested in story telling, even as a child, but had never ventured into comics. In New York I came to understand the scope of comics and graphic novels… and that it was not just about superheroes. For my thesis I created a character called Miss Moti and made two comics about her called ‘Miss Moti and Cotton Candy’ and ‘Miss Moti and the Big Apple’. I drew inspiration from Little Nemo (by Windsor McCay) and the style of Chris Ware. Since then I have done several Miss Moti comics for anthologies like Rabid Rabbit and Secret Identities (Asian American Superhero Anthology). I have also created illustrations and comics for magazines and NGOs based in South Asia.

Jeremy: Like many comics types, I started at school, passing around sarcastic one-panel cartoons drawn in my ancient history workbook during class. When I went up to Oxford in 1989, I found the Comic Book club there (founded by Jenni Scott) and spent the next few years in a dizzy whirl of study by day and comics by night. These were exciting years for the small press; desk top publishing, scanners and printers becoming consumer items and then the internet, like a finally-delivered promise. During all this time I was self-publishing, usually solo comics, but occasionally in the women’s anthologies of the time like Erica Smith’s ‘Girlfrenzy’ or Carol Bennett’s ‘Fanny and Dykes Delight’. My comics were typically short-run mini-comics. Later I moved onto the internet, publishing my first comics online in 1999.

Ellen: I got interested in making comics while in secondary school, and after a few false starts actually succeeded in making some at university. I was also lucky enough to go to school in a town with its own comics museum, which was very inspiring (if worrying – Jaime Hernandez’s original art really mystified me, the man never made any mistakes!) My comics ambitions developed further when I went to France as a student – all of a sudden I was in a place where public libraries, bookshops, any place where printed media was sold pushed comics. Cartoonists were like rock stars there, cool guys and girls making wonderful stories on paper. I won a travel grant to extend my stay, a huge privilege – I spent the time it afforded me starting to do an adaptation of Christine de Pizan’s proto-feminist classic, ‘The Book of The City of Ladies’. In terms of making comics, I didn’t ‘get’ all of the processes right away – and I certainly had no idea about how long comics take, or how to develop my skills in an efficient manner. But I stuck with it. After Uni I met a lot of really great cartoonists – I’d moved to New York by then. At every stage I got little crumbs of encouragement that I took to heart, and they gave me the courage to continue. It’s taken a while but I’m now starting to make comics I’m happy with. I’ve done everything from educational comics on the Mayan ballgame to strips for ad agencies and video game companies – not to mention my own personal projects and contributions to great collectives like The Comix Reader.

Lisa: The earliest comic I remember making was at age 9. I drew a comic about a superhero named Super Chicken who fights the evil Colonel Sanders and wins. Throughout high school I made a number of bad attempts at Robert Crumb-style autobiographical comics pieces, but I didn’t start to seriously and consistently make and publish comics until I moved out to Portland five years ago. I have loved to draw as long as I can remember, in high school I got into writing, and though I had read comics my whole life I started to read a whole lot more in college. Although I was enjoying the art classes I was taking in college, comics inspired me much more. It seemed like the ideal way for me to draw in the style I wanted, and to tell the stories I wanted to tell. Indirectly, animated cartoons and children’s books led me to comics as well—the character design and energy of the cartoons; the text/drawing combination of children’s books. I moved to Portland knowing that there were a lot of cartoonists who lived here and thinking it would be a good place to get started, but I couldn’t begin to imagine how supportive the community would be. Part of that is the self-publishing/zine culture here: there are zine sections in all the libraries and plenty of book and comics shops that carry self-published material. That gave me a clear path to getting my work out there. I started drawing comics and self-publishing them through the Independent Publishing Resource Center, a non-profit workspace that has photocopiers, supplies, a letterpress, computers…plenty of tools to help you make something. I brought them to stores like Reading Frenzy and Powells, and sold them at shows like Stumptown Comics Fest and the Portland Zine Symposium, eventually travelling to farther-away comics shows in other cities. I met a lot more cartoonists at these shows, at gallery openings, and at drawing nights, and we exchanged work with each other. Through the cartoonists and small-press folks I met I got some of my first opportunities to be published by others, and to do some readings and presentations of my work. As for my work, I got started with autobio. “I Cut My Hair” began as a daily journal comic series, but the most recent issue is one longer story about cross-continental travel. Lately I’ve been working more on some fiction stories (aka thinly veiled autobio!), many of which star this little monster character who lives in a world of little monsters, which are really just stand-ins for people. He is the central character in my story for The Strumpet. This story is also one of a few pieces I’ve done with cats as characters, despite my distaste for them in real life.

Tanya Meditzky

Tanya Meditzky

What techniques and materials do you typically work with when creating your comics?

Lisa: I’m pretty old school when it comes to my comics tools. I usually start with character studies, thumbnailing, and sketching in my hard-bound sketchbook with any old pencil. I draw my final pages on Vellum Bristol board with an HB or 2B pencil, and most recently have been inking with Rapidograph pens. Sometimes I use a wash with watered-down black Higgins Eternal Ink. I do a bit of clean-up in Photoshop to erase smudges and sharpen the blacks, but I’ve been known to use Pro-White to correct mistakes as well.

Patrice: The same ones I use when creating anything, a mixture. I once made a one-page comic entirely by etching on copper, doing all the lettering in reverse.

Megan: I have tried almost everything over the years, but my favourite inking tool which I’ve been using for the past 5 years or so is a G-nib dip pen. G nibs are Japanese nibs – kind of big and stiff – that a lot of manga artists use.

Mardou: Notebooks and pencils for writing, Bristol board, pencils and micron pens to draw with. I usually draw a rough version of my comic and then light-box it onto paper. This story was pretty loose and fast though. I used some old fashioned Zip-a-tone on this story. Old, vintage Zip-a-Tone that had lost its gumminess. Never again….

Jeremy: While I love my computer and my graphics tablet, especially for the screaming brights I favour for colour work, my first love is drawing – in dip pen, rollerball, technical pencil or crayon on lovely paper. I’m still working through a pile of fancy paper I scored from a paper chemist friend. It’s a joy to draw on.

Tanya: Pencils, tracing paper, pens, ink, now a lightbox, which has changed everything…! I spend most time on the story and then doodle possible characters…

Ellen: I use pencils to start (H-3H), and I make a lot of rough drawings inspired by my script. From there I start drawing on big sheets of Bristol board with hard pencils, tightening and refining and lettering. I use a mechanical pencil to finalise the pencil drawings, and then start inking with a combination of small brushes, technical pens and Deleter dip-pens. Then I scan it all into Photoshop and use a Wacom pen tablet to make changes. I add colour and texture, and the comic is ready to go! I’d love to start working digitally but I confess to being a bit flummoxed!

Kripa: Initially I used to hand draw the outlines and then scan them into the computer to colour… however, these days I work from start to finish on the computer using Photoshop and my Wacom Tablet.

You have a great back (and current) history in your own published and/or self-published comics. What drew you to being involved in a collective project like this rather than solely focussing on your own solo work?

Mardou: Drunken bonding, initially! I do enjoy collaborating but it’s hard now. I have a two-year-old daughter, not much time to draw and a large solo project that’s eclipsing every thing else. But it was awesome to make it into the maiden voyage of ‘the Strumpet’!

Lisa: I really like Ellen’s work and I enjoyed the most recent issue of Whores of Mensa, so I considered it an honour to be asked if I’d like to be a part of The Strumpet. It also seemed like a great opportunity to get my work seen by others who had maybe not read my comics before.

Megan: Ellen is an old friend, and she has supported me and contributed to my projects in the past, so it felt natural to contribute to hers. When I was working on Artichoke Tales [Megan’s graphic novel, published 2010], especially in the final stages, I said no to a lot of invitations to be in anthologies because I needed to focus on finishing that book. But right now, I’m in a period of transition with my work – I have not yet begun on my next big thing, so I’m trying to say yes to as many small projects as I can.

Lisa Eisenberg

Lisa Eisenberg

Is working and collaborating on others projects something that you enjoy?

Tanya: I love it, it’s great to be given a title / theme and have to make something to fit. Having an ‘alien’ prompt takes you out of your comfort zone / rota of ideas a bit. I’ve written a bunch of stories and given them to other people to illustrate, for a similar reason, with really surprising and great results. As the illustrators are more detached from the words I feel the work they produce can sometimes give a fresher perspective on ideas which may have been stewing… It makes the whole process more unpredictable and fun, I find.

Patrice: When one gets indecisive or stuck while doing solo work there’s nothing more rejuvenating than collaborating on a fresh project with other people. It’s like a shot in the arm.

Jeremy: Working with others, working to a theme, working within a certain character or constraint is something I’ve always enjoyed, however I must confess to having been a poor contributor in the past, often promising much and delivering little, or collapsing in the face of a theme which roughly translates to “the editor must like it”. The difference, I think, with Whores of Mensa (and now The Strumpet) is that it never felt wholly owned (or influenced) by just one individual, more like a collaborative effort, different voices, styles and attitudes working together to create something that was more than just one note, one narrative.

Lisa: I do love collaborating—in fact, I would love to be the illustrator for someone’s comic script one day. I also loved that the artists were given lots of freedom to do whatever we wanted as long as it had to do with the theme of “dressing up.” Open-ended parameters like that are really inspiring to me when coming up with story ideas.

Kripa: I have always being a part of anthologies and collective projects. I think it is nice when a lot of people are working on a single theme or idea. Making comics can be a lonely pursuit… so it is good to be able to connect with other people. Plus, collective projects are also a challenge… the theme or topic might not have been something I would have thought of myself… so it forces me to think outside the box.

Ellen: When I first got to the UK I found Whores of Mensa, the precursor to The Strumpet, at Gosh! [a London-based comics store] It was funny, sexy, and charmingly doolally. I sent Mardou a fan letter and she was kind enough to reply with an invitation to get involved. This was one of the things that saved my sanity during a very lonely time – becoming a part of the WoM crew gave me a very real sense of community. Doing stories with them has always been a lot of fun, and often a needed relief from longer projects like my graphic novel, Undertow. Recently I’ve taken more of a leadership role, as Mardou has taken time off from editorship to have a baby and focus on a graphic memoir. As one of the Head Strumpets, I’m very pleased that I’m able to play a greater role in making this happen. I love doing comics but I also love seeing what other people are doing – seeing a comic grow from an idea to a final piece of art is a very cool process.

Kripa Joshi

Kripa Joshi

Without giving away too much, what sort of work are you contributing to The Strumpet?

Patrice: A short gag piece that nevertheless is trying to explore the subtleties of storytelling.

Mardou: It’s an 8-page love letter to the Comics Conventions of the British Isles. And to the boys that frequent them.

Jeremy: I have been much involved in writing comics about sisters this year, and Project Paper Doll (my strip for The Strumpet) co-stars my younger sister Ellē, with cameos from sisters Vic and George, my two more youngest sisters. It’s a story of when we were teenagers, growing up and much enamoured of dressing up; I suppose you could say it’s a tale of high 80s fashion and disrespectful paganism.

Megan: It is a one-page comic that’s kind of about how young people view old people.

Lisa: A story that is super-goofy and over-the-top cartoon-y. It features a little (human-like) monster who goes on an adventure with his three cats. At first I was going to do a semi-autobiographical story of teen angst and self-discovery, but then I decided to go the opposite route into silliness territory. I used to draw lots of animals wearing costumes dressed up as other animals, usually to make one of my good friends laugh. This was my main inspiration.

Tanya: It’s a story about nostalgia, and the future. A daft idea which considers what people ‘in the future’ might look back on as being important. Also how our ideas of the future are so constrained by our lives at the moment – we plan ‘for the future’ and generally imagine things will carry on much the same; but with an exponentially-increasing population, and finite supply of resources, some things might change drastically… It’s also about dressing up as food.

Ellen: I hope that my story is a funny anecdote (about a wardrobe malfunction at my wedding!) that turns out to be a bit deeper. It’s a story about getting to know my husband’s family, which has been a very enriching journey. This story is a celebration of that.

Kripa: My comic is called ‘Miss Moti and a Modern Fairytale’ and features my protagonist, Miss Moti. It is a bit different from other Miss Moti comics because it contains a written narrative, unlike the others, which are mostly wordless. I have tried to create a parody between the images and the words.

In self-publishing your comics, how do you find the balance between pursuing your artistic goals and coping with actual cash-flow?
Where does Kickstarter come in to this, in the instance of The Strumpet?

Ellen: Cash flow in independent comics is a hard-won thing. Most of the infrastructure set up for selling them is expensive – whether it’s the pricey convention table or the hefty commission taken by the shop where you sell on consignment. The internet helps but it’s hard to get visibility outside your core fanbase. Kickstarter helps raise money ‘up front’ but can also help for visibility. It’s a system for taking pre-orders that has nothing to do with how often we publish or what format we publish in – factors that have kept us from using the main comics distribution networks.

Megan Kelso

Megan Kelso

The Strumpet has been billed as a ‘cultural exchange’ between artists from the USA and the UK; ‘uniting two comics scenes long overdue for a love-in.’
What is your experience of small press/self-publishing scenes/cultures, and those who support them? What links does your individual illustration and comics work hold to such independent/DIY culture and alternative press communities?

Lisa: Well, I think my answer about how I got started in comics speaks to this quite a bit. As a cartoonist I owe so much to the minicomic/zine/alternative and small press scene, specifically as it exists in Portland. These communities have given me direction, they have provided me a place to have my work seen, and have been a great way for me to meet other cartoonists. Not to mention the fact that when I’m at a zine show or a small press-focused comics show, I get so inspired by the work on display and the output of other artists.

Mardou: Starting ‘Whores of Mensa’ back in 2004, was largely about creating a community, as far as I was concerned. I was living in Devon (UK), didn’t know any other cartoonists, period. Through my mini-comics and doing a tiny zine-fest in Exeter, I met the founders of Ladyfest Bristol. It was an amazing, cultural experience for me and I found my friends and collaborators through that event. Ellen found us through doing the WoM comic, she wrote us a fan letter and we invited her in. I’ve since moved to America but mini-comics were the cipher! Mini-comics have changed my world, really! It blows my mind when I think about it! Just doing these scrappy little books for the past ten years. Who knew?!

Patrice: I confess I’ve not much experience of small press and have never self-published. I’m very interested in pushing the boundaries within established publishers, and haranguing them to become more experimental. But the only way to get them to wake up is to get more and more independent projects out there.

Kripa: I have self-published my two Miss Moti books and have been selling them in various comic conventions in the USA and UK. Having studied in New York, it was much easier for me to get into the comic scene there. When I had to move to the UK, I was quite isolated since I didn’t know anyone. I used to believe that London was not as vibrant as New York. However, having got to know more comic creators and enthusiasts, I have realised that that is not the case. The self-publishing community is pretty supportive and welcoming of newcomers. Besides my own self-publications, I have also been a part of small-press anthologies. I have contributed to several issues of Rabid Rabbit, an anthology started by the alumni of School of Visual Arts. I am also very happy to be a part of Strumpet, especially since it is transatlantic, kind of like my life since the past six years!

Megan: When I started doing comics, it was in the context of a zine community I was part of in the early nineties – people I knew in college, and then a whole network of people I met through self publishing my own work. In that community there was an ethic of contributing work to other people’s publications. I have been pretty self-focussed in the last 10 years and have grown to miss the participatory aspect of doing comics and self-publishing. It’s good to see people like Ellen carrying on the work of small press and self-publishing, and it feels nice to be a small part of it.

Ellen: I’ve been lucky enough to have spent three years in the New York comics scene back when just being enthusiastic about comics was enough to enable you to meet masters in the field, and to be welcomed by them as a friend. I was always a cartoonist first and an illustrator second, and those people showed me how they made that work. I also feel fortunate that, over time, I’ve made so many amazing friends on the UK comics scene. For me, the fact that I’m involved in a comic project like The Strumpet that could potentially draw these people together (no pun intended!) is a dream come true.

Jeremy: I think that one of the best things about the small press and self-publishing scene is that by its very nature there is not one dominant culture, but rather a rich and vibrant environment of smaller circles and friend-groups, each independently evolving and changing, sometimes co-operating, sometimes competing, but always brilliantly varied. One of the things I’m looking forward to about The Strumpet is the opportunity to investigate new groups, circles and individuals, as it has been my experience that the more you look, the more you find; and I am quite convinced that I will never run out of new brilliant women comics creators to discover.

Tanya: There’s an amazingly supportive and friendly comics community in London. A bunch of hugely talented and lovely people, many of whom are very open to collaboration. There are a lot of anthologies around, a lot of meetings, so people are very keen to group together, share ideas, and collectively make things happen. I guess we’re all sort of in it, but also on the edge, dipping in and getting involved with bigger things and then buckling down and making your own work.

Jeremy Day

Jeremy Day

Ellen was recently quoted, responding to an interview question about the supposed “male comics industry”. She replied: ‘In my experience comics is as ‘male-dominated’ as you want it to be. Unlike in film, where female directors are genuinely held back by the film industry’s lack of willingness to fund their projects, alternative comics – which is the ‘comics industry’ I’m in – is largely a DIY affair. If you can’t find a publisher, you self-publish. The Man can’t keep you from drawing – only you can. I worry that because the general notion about comics is that it’s a ‘male-dominated’ industry it blinkers people to the good work actual women are doing in the actual comics industry all the time.’ To what degree is what Ellen says true to your experience?

Lisa: I do agree with Ellen. I’ve never felt a barrier to publishing because of my gender. Of course mainstream comics is a different story, and I’ve seen situations where female cartoonists maybe don’t get as much credit as male ones, but so far in the alternative comics community I’ve felt pretty well supported as a female.

Jeremy: In my experience, your own projects are as male-dominated as you want them to be (and several of my main collaborators, and indeed comic book characters have been men, over the years), but if you go totting up names and contributors there was — probably still is — a male bias, even in the most alternative areas of the comics world. In the late 90s there was also a big fashion for publishing offensive sexist drivel under the banner of “airing opinions” or “raising debate” which lead to a lot of talented women leaving the comics scene partially or wholly. I’m glad to say that there have been some improvements since then, however the unedited world of the small/alternative press is prone to this style of idiocy, and it may yet resurge.

Kripa: I think the notion that the comic industry is male dominated is probably due to a few genres… like the superhero comics. In graphic novels, I think it is a much more open playing field. In the past few years, there have been more and more comics published that have been created by women, like Kari by Amruta Patil, India’s first female writer-graphic novelist.

Do you think that there is a freedom, a power, and potentially fewer barriers to our creativity and opportunity due to the Do-It-Yourself and Do-It-Together nature of the self-publishing industry?

Tanya: Yes I agree. It’s easy to come up with excuses for one’s own self-censorship, or lack of output, but there are so many outlets and possibilities with comics, it’s just a matter of doing it; you can write and draw whatever interests you, and someone, somewhere will be into it.

Megan: Well, there is definitely freedom in self-publishing. I think doing it yourself is a perfect way to start out with an artistic career, and its important to keep it as an ongoing component of how you work, because that absolute freedom is how you find and hold on to your artistic voice. Commercial jobs, where you are trying to fulfill someone else’s vision can make it harder to recognize your own voice when you turn back to your own work. That said, we all need to eat and want to make some money from our work, so like all things in life, it’s a balancing act between art and commerce.

Kripa: I do think that self-publishing gives people the opportunity to publish and showcase their work which otherwise might have lived only in the creators minds. If you can’t find a publisher, or are not confident enough to do so, then DIY comics gives you the possibility to share your work with the world and get feedback. One of the best experience of self-publishing has been getting in touch with the people who buy my comic. I think in self-publishing there are fewer barriers, not just to our creativity, but also with our customers.

Patrice: Do-it-yourself is far duller than do-it-together. We need to champion each other. Drag the male-dominated blinkered attitude into the dustbin.

Mardou: Yeah, there’s a freedom but I also find self-publishing a massive pain in the arse and would rather someone else do all the printer/distro stuff for me. It’s a lot of work, I don’t enjoy it.

Lisa Eisenberg

Lisa Eisenberg

At a recent panel discussion entitled ‘Women In Comics’ that I was at, the female creators and academics presenting mentioned that they would be pleased if, in the future, there was no longer a need for an exclusive ‘women in comics’ panel to exist, due to it becoming more and more commonplace and less of an anomaly to find successful female creators, audiences, and writers within the comics field – thus providing less requirement for a separate gendered discussion of comics. I guess such a comment could also be levelled at the “need” for an anthology such as The Strumpet to be created; an anthology which only collects together the work of women. Whilst this liberal attitude is understandable to a degree, I believe it is still important for women’s comics work to be celebrated, critically explored, and highlighted for what it is, as I think it’s important to emphasize the unique and often challenging work that women are making (and often making together) and to actually see how women are acting as cultural producers in the present and actualising their autonomy in ways that are meaningful to them. Plus, it highlights a belief in women, and the fact that women’s stories are worth telling, and worth hearing. Also, as we know, there are ever increasing numbers of amazing women comics makers out there who are further challenging and diversifying the historical framework of comics not only by what they are creating, but also through how their creations are introducing and encouraging an excited and exciting band of female creators across the world to produce comics and art themselves, perhaps by helping to demystifying the process of comics production to other women and girls. For myself I know that it’s often different when you can see a woman, or a group of women doing something amazing, it helps to shape and situate my own sense of what I too could achieve.

What is your personal motivation for being part of The Strumpet, a comics anthology containing only the work of women? And what are your thoughts on the “need” for such collections of women’s work to continue to be produced in 2011?

Jeremy: Having suffered through many a Women in Comics panel myself, I understand the reservations. It is definitely the case that women creators, writers, artists, critics and fans are now more prominent in the world of comics than ever. I want a world where the presence of a woman in a comic shop, convention market hall or prominent mainstream comic is such a commonplace that it doesn’t even merit a mention, but I feel we have a way to go. Women are still a minority in many parts of the industry and wholly excluded from others; there is still prejudice, overt and covert. But perhaps we are now at a point in time where we can move from “Women in Comics”, which always diverts the argument into well-trodden arguments about the sexist representation of women in comics, to the more inclusive and active “Women and Comics”. When I was new to the comics scene, most anthologies were de facto almost all/all-male anthologies. Many still are. Anthologies are crucial in nurturing and building the talents of comics artists, in building comics community and in raising the profile of new creators. While there are now more seats open for women, they are still underrepresented, particularly among comics writers. A women’s anthology, particularly one with a remit to seek out new creators and mix up different comics scenes, has a valuable role to play. Or, to put it another way: it’s not time to give up now, not when we’re finally getting somewhere. Different groups of people have different stories to tell, and different stories that they need to tell. The times over the years when I have been in women’s anthologies (and this is also true of gay anthologies) have allowed me the freedom to let out the stories that I have often felt pressured to repress as inappropriate for the public sphere, as too small, too trivial, and not of public interest; as well as the freedom to subvert or divert those ideas of appropriate female narrative and proper feminine behaviour which still have a strong effect in a mixed environment.

Ellen: Believe me, I’ve asked myself this question a million times. I grew up identifying very strongly as a feminist, so that’s a big part of it. I believe that women need to be acknowledged for their gifts and given a voice in society, and I think it’s worth asking – is this happening in comics? To answer this question for myself, I did a tally of books published by three major indie publishers in the UK. The results were pretty rubbish, in terms of women’s representation in their catalogues. Such a poor percentage of the work they were publishing is by women. Obviously, this is a complicated issue. But just to be on the safe side, printing work by women will always be a priority for me. Plus, knowing that your editor is a woman (or a team of women) changes the dynamic, regardless of what gender the contributors are. If the Strumpet can offer a sympathetic place for women to publish their stories, I think that’s a contribution.

Megan: When I was younger, I had kind of a chip on my shoulder about the whole “Women in Comics” thing – as a panel topic at conventions, or a question in interviews, or an organizing principle for comics anthologies. I wanted to be evaluated as an artist, not as a woman artist. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve kind of relaxed my vigilance about this. I have always considered myself a feminist and always will, and as such, I am genuinely interested in questions of gender and power, and so to not participate in the panels or questions that come up about those issues just seems obtuse to me. Also, while the numbers of female cartoonists are growing, comics itself, or rather the art/alternative comics world that we are speaking of, is still quite small and marginalized from a cultural standpoint. So we are still talking about a small group of women doing this work – and there are clear commonalities to a lot of their work. It seems perfectly natural to me that they would want to work together, or that their work would be considered somewhat collectively. And while I’m on the topic of collectivity, it just seems like a lot of women derive a sense of strength and satisfaction and inspiration from working together, so why not celebrate that?

Patrice: To be rather pragmatic about it all, yes, it’s a pity one has to shove women into a separate box, but hey, if it gets the work noticed, that’s fine. And if we have to play the ‘gender card’ in 2011, it’s worth it if it helps a new generation of women to ease their way into a world where the separate boxes won’t be needed anymore.

Kripa: The Strumpet is the first women’s only anthology that I have been a part of. I don’t think it was important for me that it was an only female comic… and I would have been okay had it been mixed gender as well. However, I do think it is great to have such an anthology. I think it has created a really nice, supportive community… somehow being in The Strumpet has felt different from being in other anthologies. An all women anthology may also be less daunting and encourage more women to create comics. Plus, such an anthology might make it possible to tackle themes that are more relevant for women. So I hope it will continue for a long time yet!

Mardou: As much as I balk from being pigeon-holed as a ‘woman artist’ I think there still is a place for women’s-only anthologies such as ours. The majority of women, and we’re talking Western women here, have enjoyed freedom of artistic expression for such a short time historically, not to mention, sexual reproductive rights and suffrage. Less than a century. My work itself is not political but I’m most definitely a feminist and working with other women artists is something I greatly value. And let’s face it, the general reading population is largely unaware of comics, let alone some of the brilliant women making them. So yeah, I think making an all-women comics anthology is totally valid.

Tanya: To me, my motivation isn’t in the women’s only aspect of the Strumpet, it’s more about the people involved, and Ellen is the motivating factor for me. I understand the need to promote women in comics but I’m not sure that women-only projects are the way to do it… Not sure. It’s a tricky one, I’ll mull this over… I think that women might be constraining themselves, and it could be that their own emphasis on ‘being a woman’ might restrict them, or put people off, who would otherwise be perfectly willing to accept them. If that makes sense? It depends how they identify themselves – as a person, as a woman, as someone with a story to tell. If all that’s special about you is – you’re a woman – well, there are lots of other women around… Give me more! In terms of inspiring other women, I do feel that women producing interesting work, challenging themselves, having autonomy and following their own ideas is really important, and it does really help me to see strong women doing things that they want to do, seemingly fearlessly.

Jeremy: My personal motivation is also my need; my need to explore and discover new creators, to create an open space where quiet voices can be heard, and to work with other women to create something new and beautiful.

Megan: I don’t think it is a “need” –I think it is a desire. I think a group of women working together to produce something like the Strumpet is a feminist stance, especially with a theme that resonates for the female creators themselves. I have been asked to contribute to anthologies with stereotypical “boy” themes where I have really struggled with what to draw or say. With dress-up, it came pouring out of me. I don’t know, I think its OK that boys and girls are different, as long as we understand that it’s a spectrum, and that it must include trans and queer understandings of boy/girl too. And as for the larger comics reading audience, that includes men and women, straight and gay, they are just looking for good comics I think, and whether it is an all female production or not is probably less relevant to them than is it good work?

Lisa: I don’t think it’s as much a question about striving to get to a point where we don’t “need” women’s comics panels/collections/spaces etc. but about the “need” changing. I don’t want there to be a need for these things because female cartoonists aren’t getting the credit and opportunities that they deserve and thus the work of female cartoonists is less commonplace. I do, however, think that even as female cartoonists are less of an “anomaly” there will always be a need for a collection like The Strumpet as a celebration of female voices. As a female cartoonist that’s something I’m interested in seeing. I’m proud to be a woman in comics and I like seeing what my female colleagues are producing. Also, I think that, like racism, sexism is something that will never be totally eradicated—the way we fight it is through constant re-examination and challenging ourselves as a society or, in this case, as a global comics community. Even if things are better for women in comics than they were, say, 30 years ago, we need to keep checking in with each other— i.e. things may be “better” in certain ways but what’s the situation now for female cartoonists? What needs to be worked on? What needs to be addressed?

Ellen, How important to you, as the editor of The Strumpet is the idea of collaborative/collective projects; the idea of a (womens?) comics ‘community’; and, being able to work with and meet such peers through projects like this?

Ellen: Very important. Art is a social endeavour – anyone who thinks they can get ahead only by slaving away in their garret is, except in very rare cases, kidding themselves. Comics projects by and for women will keep more women engaged in comics. I’m so happy that the Strumpet can be a place where women can get together and swap stories.

Mardou

Mardou

I am very interested in how and where women gain access to their own confidence, and self-belief — especially in terms of how they are able to produce and create what they do. Confidence is such a slippery fish. A lot of people struggle with knowing that they’re ‘good enough’ to create or make their own comics, and are left unable to access their creative and artistic talents. What is your personal relationship with confidence and its effects to your ability to create?

Kripa: Funnily enough, the creation of Miss Moti was due to my struggles with self-confidence, especially when it came to the issue of being over-weight. I wanted to create a character that would do extraordinary things in spite of being ordinary. I still suffer from lack of confidence, much to the frustration of my family, who strongly believe in me and Miss Moti. I think it is essential to have a good supportive network, made up of family, friend and fellow professionals. The irony is, sometimes the very fact that people like your work can be intimidating, because you are afraid of not living up to the expectation! I have generally found that inhibitions restrict me from taking initiatives, but if a project or a challenge is offered to me, then I rise to meet it.

Mardou: I still struggle with it. I’m married to an artist I hugely admire, who’s way better at drawing than me and has 10 more years or so of comics-making experience than I do. And he still suffers from confidence crises! So I don’t think you ever get there. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that stops an arrogant or formulaic note from creeping into your work? I dunno. Ultimately, comparing yourself to others is not helpful and you just have to keep doing what you’re doing and hopefully you’re on the right track.

Lisa: Oh boy, this is one I’m always struggling with! I am constantly working to boost my own confidence as a cartoonist (and I must say that I know there are ways this is tied to being a female in this society, modesty being valued, etc.). After I’ve finished a comic it’s very hard for me to look at it for a long time…all I can see are the flaws. I often worry that my work looks amateurish, that I’ll never meet my goals as a cartoonist, that I’m just not “good enough.” But when I struggle with thoughts like these I battle them with good old rational thinking! (Which is, actually, quite helpful). For example, my friend and studio-mate Sarah Oleksyk once told me that no matter what, no one can make the kind of comics I make the way I can, the way you can, the way any one cartoonist can. I remind myself that if I want to improve the only way to do that is just to keep working so I have to not allow myself to get discouraged. Also lately I’ve been reminding myself that the more I learn, the more I will recognize how much I need to learn. Increased scrutiny is just a part of getting better at my craft.

Ellen: I have a vexed relationship with the issue of confidence. As an adult I’ve never lacked the confidence to do my work, but there’s something about getting it out in the world that can be really unnerving – I get mini-flashbacks to being bullied at school, and I worry that I’m still a scared teenager inside. I think this will always be a failing of mine, but oddly, when it comes to the Strumpet, I’m willing to take risks in terms of promotion that I won’t take with my own work. Knowing that I have a bunch of artists depending on me and my co-editor, Jeremy, gives me power to do things I wouldn’t normally do – things which I then realise aren’t so scary. Again, no one’s perfect, and everyone has their own approach – but I’ve learned lessons with The Strumpet that have given me the confidence to push myself harder in my own work.

Jeremy: My misery, insecurity, crippling self-doubt is a crucial driver of my art. The difficult stories to tell are the valuable ones to explore. Telling them lets the anxiety express and create something powerful and beautiful out of the darkness and pain. That said, I have been through long periods of being unable to work, or of working only at the most minimal levels.

Patrice: Confidence (by this I mean of course the lack of it) is a problem for young people. I’m 59 years old. If I don’t know what I’m up to by now it’s too late.

Tanya: Confidence is difficult for a lot of people. And it affects so much. Working with others really helps, as encouragement can be like a lifeline. But really, you have to just get on and do the things you want to do and not worry too much what anyone else thinks. Everyone has a unique voice, and only you can express this. Or it won’t be expressed. It’s just pragmatic.
Creativity is boundless, there are probably infinite ways of expressing ideas, some are valued more highly than others, some are more commercial. They may not all have the same impact but it is perfectly reasonable for each to exist, surely?

Megan: I struggle, as everybody does with my inner critic. But I think my desire to create and show off what I’ve created eventually trumps the inner critic. I am very grateful that I came of age during a time when the first battles for women to find and express their voices had already been fought. It is up to us to carry on that struggle and refine our voices and fight for a broadening of that freedom for other women who don’t have it yet.

Jeremy, Ellen, as founding member of the original Whores Of Mensa anthologies, would you recommend to others taking on projects, or creating an anthology that unites so many creative friends and folk together like this? And, what would your advice be to those wanting to take on a similar project, or any comics project for that matter?

Jeremy: Plan, set deadlines, keep in touch and never lose sight of your own stories.

Ellen: Give your artists time. Foster a relationship with them. Answer some basic questions before you begin – why should anyone work for you? And what can you do for your artists? Be honest with yourself about how long a process is involved – comics stories need time to develop. And don’t be afraid to DIY – I’ve made some horrible mistakes as an artist and as an editor, and I’ve learned a lot from them. My mom says, ‘Progress not perfection’. This maxim goes double when you’re talking about a group project. You can’t be perfect, but do your best.

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You can visit their Kickstarter page to pre-order a copy of the comic!

Strumpet Issue 1 will début at this year’s Thought Bubble Festival, 19-20 November in Leeds, UK. There will also be a launch night for the comic on 24th of November at the Miller pub in London Bridge.

To keep up with the team, visit The Strumpet blog for updates!

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Ellen Lindner – www.littlewhitebird.com
Jeremy Day – jeremyday.org.uk
Kripa Joshi – www.missmoti.com
Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg – www.lisarosalieeisenberg.com
Mardou – www.mardouville.com
Megan Kelso – www.girlhero.com
Patrice Aggs – www.patriceaggs.com
Tanya Meditzky – www.milkkitten.com

Other artists involved with The Strumpet include Lucy Sweet, and Emily Ryan Lerner.

OTHER LINKS:

Lisa works at Tranquility Base (a studio of 7 cartoonists, writers, and illustrators) who blog at tranquilitybase.tumblr.com.

Ellen is involved with Comica Festival, a London-wide comics festival stretching over the month of November, curated by Paul Gravett.

  fine art, photography


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