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, we’re talking to graphic novelist Sayra Begum, whose work focuses on female and marginalised voices. Her style is inspired by Islamic miniatures and Surrealism.
Mongrel, Begum’s debut graphic novel, a project published by Knockabout Comics, supported by Arts Council England, started life during her time at Falmouth and was at the centre of her creative practice until its completion in February 2020.
In Mongrel, Begum has recreated her childhood memories from her Islamic, British-Bangla upbringing. She weaves in and out of memories reflecting on relationships, traditions and society until she starts mirroring the present day where she is faced with the most agonising part of her journey so far.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Sayra Begum: Most of my attention is still focused on promoting Mongrel, which was recently published. But I have started sketching ideas for a short comic which I want to work on during a residency in Prague (depending on Covid-19) in November 2020. There is also a story about my grandfather, which I’m looking at in the background. The first version was written six years ago and I’m looking at rewriting it and developing the illustrations.
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Sayra: My debut graphic novel, Mongrel was released in August 2020. It’s a project that started on my MA in 2014 and I dedicated myself to it until it’s completion in February 2020. You can read a chapter from Mongrel on my website. It’s available to buy from most online retailers: Waterstones, Amazon, Blackwells…
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Sayra: Alongside my illustration work, I have a part time job in a library and I’m currently preparing to start a PCET (Post-Compulsory Education Training) course in September. So, the days that I get to spend in the studio creating, I treasure. I don’t tend to plan my days, but it usually has the same structure. My day starts by walking my dog, then making a coffee and deciding what I need to work on that day. I try and stay focused until it’s time for lunch followed by another dog walk. Then I go back to my studio and work until dinner.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Sayra: For me the best part has been seeing the book out there, seeing it in so many different hands and all the responses I have been receiving. It really has been wonderful.
And the worst?
Sayra: There’s so much I want to work on, but not enough hours in the day. I wish I could work quicker.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Sayra: I get distracted by chores. I work from home and I like to have things a particular way so if I see something is untidy or it’s starting to get dusty it nags away at me. I find it really difficult to ignore.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Sayra: I’m one of those new comic creators so I can’t speak from personal experience when comparing then and now. I can only repeat the theories that I’ve heard. There are more platforms, more ways to get your work seen and more open-minded comic publishers. But there are also more creators, so, so many talented creators, how do you get anyone to take notice?
How has the Pandemic affected you, work wise – good or bad?
Sayra: We had to delay the release of Mongrel and then when we did release it, we decided it was best not to have a physical launch.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Sayra: There are so many creators I would like to meet. If I had to pick one creator attending the virtual LICAF 2020, it would be Lucy Sullivan, I just love her work.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Sayra: I would start with a short comic. There’s a lot to figure out; your process, style, voice, narrative etc. So I think it’s best to start small so you feel free to experiment and discover.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Sayra: I’ve been thinking about this for ages and I can’t decide. I’m reading older comics lately, Ghost World and V for Vendetta.
Sayra, thanks very much for your time and the very best of luck with Mongrel and future projects
• Mongrel by Sayra Begum is available now. Buy it here (AmazonUK Affiliate Link). Also available from all good bookshops ISBN 0861662695
• The Virtual Comics Clock Tower is online at licafclocktower.com