Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October, this year running as the virtual LICAF LIVE, we bring you a series of interviews with both guests and participants in the Comics Clock Tower (This year, also virtual).
Today’s chat is with artist, author and animator Lucy Sullivan, who, since graduating with a BA (Hons) in Illustration/Animation from Kingston University, has co-directed and animated music videos, created pre-visuals and storyboards for film and TV and taught Observational Drawing at a number of Universities.
In 2016, Lucy followed a lifelong ambition and moved into comics. Her works include 1in4 Zines, part of the Welcome Library Zines catalogue, commissions for Black Hammer from Dark Horse Comics and she was the invited artist on a collaboration with writer Ram V for the Thought Bubble Anthology.
Lucy is passionate about breaking stigma around mental health and is an ambassador for the research based charity MQ. Her debut graphic novel, BARKING, was published by Unbound earlier this year, supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and by the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Lucy Sullivan: I’ve just completed the artwork on IND-XED, a Lo-Fi Sci-Fi written by Fraser Campbell and lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. The Kickstarter is hopefully off and running late September, so check out our social media feeds for details on how to grab a copy. It ’s a cracking one shot story from Fraser and thoroughly enjoyable to draw.
After that, I have a bunch of smaller artwork commissions lined up and very exciting they all are too – but still on the quiet for now. The pandemic has put my next graphic novel, The Bad Old Days, on hold but hopefully I can ﬁnish the year with the prequel to it, called Shelter. They ’re both set in the same universe of late 1960s/ early 70s’ London, around a pub that’s full of market traders, small-time criminals, antiques dealers and the women using whatever they can to survive. It’ll be a Noir/Supernatural suspense based around elements of my childhood and I ’m itching to get it going!
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Lucy: My debut graphic novel BARKING was published in March of this year. It was a huge endeavour not just in writing and drawing it but also in crowdfunding the book with Unbound. I ’m incredibly proud of the support and response it has received including a generous backing from LICAF and Arts Council England. BARKING is a very personal tale about grief and depression with phantasmagorical elements and so far is hitting every note I hoped for with readers. There are copies of the Hardback edition available in my online shop, with a choice of signed or sketched and shipping worldwide.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Lucy: It depends entirely on what I ’m working on and whether or not my daughter is at home. If school starts up again, then my usual format is to do the planning/writing (if I ’m in that stage) in the morning and drawing in the afternoon. There is nothing more satisfying that singing away to some music whilst drawing comics.
But the pandemic has lead to some adapting in terms of working freelance and being a parent. It ’s been a very ﬂuid situation and generally I ’m balancing work with any quiet moments I get. This means lots of evening Zoom session for interviews, collaboration chats and even mentoring which I’ve been doing with Laydeez Do Comics. I ﬁnd it hard to draw in the evenings these days, but it’s needs must at the moment.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Lucy: It’s impossible to be bored with your work. The sheer scope of the medium means there ’s always another genre or material to try out. I ’m fortunate to be both writing and drawing comics so I ’m very satisﬁed creatively and yet feel I have only just started scratching the surface of what comics can create.
And the worst?
Lucy: As always it ’s the money. The effort to pay ratio is pretty appalling. It ’s no-one fault and there are certainly worse industries (animation, for one) but still, we all put in a huge amount of effort and barely scrape a living. It would be great if that could change just enough to allow more potential creators into the world and widen the voices in comics. Hannah Berry‘s recent survey on the industry was a real wake up call to this problem. I hope we see some change in the very near future.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Lucy: The usual culprits! Home-life, Twitter, the neighbours. Working from home has it’s challenges as many people are now experiencing but since becoming a parent I have gotten a lot better at doing as much as possible when I get the time to work. I’m getting better at prioritising and making the work/life balance more even. It ’s been a tough juggling act of late, I’m sure everyone has felt that too.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Lucy: I think it can be easier if you go Self-Published or digital – and why not? There’s lots of ways to get your work out there cheaply, from zine making to web comics and if you get on Twitter, ﬁnd your comics people and start posting you could be very pleasantly surprised by who might be reading your work.
There are some wonderful online communities out there and lots of platforms for up-coming creators from anthologies to work-progress prizes. The UK independent scene is particularly exciting at the moment, with fresh voices exploding onto the scene all the time. It ’s full of lots very supportive creators with many willing to help lift up new voices. All you have to do is make some comics and get involved.
How has the Pandemic affected you, work wise – good or bad?
Lucy: It’s been mixed bag, really. Launching BARKING at the start of lock down was gutting. I had a launch party planned at Gosh! Comics in London and having spent three years working on the project full time, it was devastating to not celebrate it. The online launch went pretty well considering and the feedback has been amazing.
As I mentioned, I’ve had to put my own projects on hold and only take on smaller commissions as I juggled home- schooling and freelancing. I had IND-XED to draw throughout so lots to focus on plus the mentoring schemes and smaller projects, like Colossive Cartographies for Colossive Press, I’ve never been busier.
It’ss really gutting to also be missing the Cons this year, I really miss seeing my comics friends and meeting new ones. LICAF and Thought Bubble however have come up with some really exciting online alternatives and hopefully we can all catch up properly next year.
What do you think might be its most significant impact on the comics industry in general, long term?
Lucy: I think the greatest impact here will be on the Fairs and Cons. Although the larger scale events can devise alternatives, the Small Press Zine and Comics Fairs are a real life blood of the independent UK scene as well as being truly wonderful days out. It ’s how lots of people get started in comics and a great way to meet your peers as well as reviewers.
I hope there will be a happy medium found soon. It would be devastating to lose these events and would no doubt prevent many people experiencing their ﬁrst taste of buying or selling comics.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Lucy: Eleanor Davis. I am hugely enamoured with her work. The beauty of her artwork is perfectly matched by her gift for story telling and genuine pathos.
Davis manages to maintain her political and moral beliefs whilst being a very proliﬁc, successful creator. I would love to sit down and chat about all things comics with her one day. I’ve had her latest book, The Hard Tomorrow, at the top of my reading pile throughout lockdown and still not been able to ﬁnd time to read it. I know it will be one of my favourite books already.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Lucy: Don ’t sit on that idea, get started. Probably don’t follow my example and start with a graphic novel, though! Start smaller, make some strips or zines. Short form story telling is a true art and one I hope to better master. It’s a great proving ground to test your storytelling.
Read proliﬁcally. You can gain so much insight into making comics just from reading them. And ﬁnally, advice given to me when I started out from the very talented Paul Peart-Smtih, “Be economical with your artwork”. It’s easy to spend days, even weeks on a panel or page but always keep in mind how little time your readers will look at it. Can you say just enough to make your point and it still work?
Save your intricate drawing for that splash page or big reveal and focus on whether your story is reading at the pace you hoped for.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Lucy: So many, but I have just received my copy of One Story by Gipi, published by Fantagraphics Books. The artwork as ever looks extraordinary.
I’ve been greatly inﬂuenced by Gipi ’s artwork, storytelling and ability to set so much atmosphere within his pages. This one set around two intertwined tales in Italy looks like it will be masterpiece. I bought my copy from the excellent Page 45 and I ’m sure you can get one form them too!
Lucy, thanks very much for your time and the very best of luck with your many projects!
• Sign up here for How to Draw from Observation Workshop. Please note, workshops are free but registration is required and suitable for 15+ | Full details of the LICAF Creative Workshops Programme for the 2020 Festival is here
• The Virtual Comics Clock Tower is online at licafclocktower.com