As the countdown continues toward the Lakes International Comic Art Festival next month in Bowness-on-Windermere (14th – 16th October 2022), here’s another in a series of interviews with some of the guests – a quick chat with comic creator Bex Ollerton.
Bex Ollerton creates introspective comics about mental health, neurodiversity and the general struggles of being a human being in an overwhelming world.
She is known for telling stories that convey an emotional truth and her aim is to raise awareness of anxiety, depression, abuse, PTSD and neurodiversity through her work.
When she’s not drawing or writing, she enjoys playing piano and taking care of far too many house plants.
What are you working on, comics-wise or illustration wise, right now, and when will it be published?
I’m working on lots of stuff! The comic anthology I organised, SENSORY: Life on the Spectrum, comes out this coming December in the UK which is very exciting. I’m also working on my continuing webcomic, Lavender Clouds, which continues to release twice a week on my Twitter(and other social media, when I don’t forget!).
I’m also collaborating with a friend to make a fantasy comic about catgirls, which should hopefully release next year, and I’m working on a few things in secret that I’ll be announcing when I’m a little further along in those processes!
Which comic or art project you’ve worked on are you most proud of – and where can people see it or buy it?
I’m most proud of the comic anthology I organised. SENSORY: Life on the Spectrum was literally life-changing for me and being able to provide opportunities for and amplify the voices of other autistic creators has been such an honour. It’s currently available to preorder in most places you’d expect to be able to preorder books: Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmiths etc
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Haha, I try to plan my days. I keep a bullet journal where I plan my week, but I let my days be flexible. So at the start of every week I’ll make a to-do list with all the main things I need to get done by the end of that week. And then every day I add things that crop up to my to-do list for each day. This system works for me for the most part, but staying organised is just difficult no-matter what when you’re neurodivergent and self-employed. Being a freelancer means sometimes you have too much to do and no-matter how well you plan, it can be hard to stay on top of it and not get overwhelmed!
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Geez, so many things. Getting to create what your heart wants to make is just the best thing in the world, but I think the absolute best thing is probably the community. Getting to make friends with colleagues and peers, share tips, hang out, talk comics and other stuff. It’s a really easy way to make friends with people I guess is what I’m trying to say! I think I’d be pretty lonely if I didn’t make comics.
And the worst?
Making comics is fun but it is also hard. You have to wear so many hats just to get your work out there and seen by people. Especially if you’re a solo act who self-publishes; having to be the writer, penciller, inker, colourist, manufacturer, marketer, social media manager, editor, (and more) is very very difficult and each of those skills takes a long time to learn.
With that said, there are things you can do to make life easier for yourself and the support and knowledge of peers is absolutely invaluable, not just for morale but for actual tangible help!
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Myself. Mental health problems and autistic burnout are huge issues for me, and I think they always will be. Knowing my own limits and when I need to take breaks is critically important, but sometimes the solution is to just Do The Thing even though I don’t feel up to it. It can be hard to tell if it’s a ‘take a break’ situation or a ‘push through’ situation but eventually you kind of get a feel for it.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
It depends. I think it will always be hard to get published, but traditional publishing isn’t the only way of publishing work. Kickstarter and other crowdfunding options have been huge game changers, as has social media and platforms like webtoon and tapas.
I think we’re also seeing a shift in traditional publishing where publishing houses are paying attention to the indie scene. We self-published our anthology on Kickstarter before it was picked up by a publisher.
I think a more interesting question might be, how does one go about finding an audience, and whether an existing audience is necessary for publishing; how high is the barrier for entry? If you don’t have an existing audience, do you need to have money?
I think the great thing about comics is that there’s no one way to do comics. Zine culture is huge, accessible, cheap and fun! I think anyone who wants to start making comics but wants to keep it low-stakes and doesn’t want to invest a lot of money should look into making zines.
A zine can be anything. Zines are traditionally very rough around the edges, printed on your basic 90gsm copy paper with a home inkjet printer and stapled together by hand. You can sell them or you can trade them! I love when people come to my table to trade zines with me, it’s cool and it’s also a good way to network with other artists if you’re trying to break in.
Are you at all concerned by developments in “AI generated art”? What do you think might be its most significant impact on the comics industry and creators?
I have strong feelings about AI art. I don’t feel particularly threatened as a comic creator (yet), but I worry a lot about fledgling illustrators. A lot of us started our art careers by doing illustrations and commissions of people’s D&D characters etc. But we’re already seeing potential clients opt to generate AI images of their characters rather than commissioning artists.
I would like to think that people will still save up, but given that a lot of people still choose not to support small businesses over corporations who can provide products faster and cheaper, it’s hard to imagine that most people will continue to choose to spend £100+ on a commission that could take weeks when they could generate an image in minutes.
On a larger scale, I worry about concept artists. I can’t really see studios in the future continuing to pay a team of junior artists for development when they could hire one person to do AI development and then hire a senior artist to make it truly unique.
I think people are right (for now) in that high level positions are unthreatened by AI, but I worry a lot about junior artists and less experienced illustrators whose opportunity pool is shrinking and whose clientele is already opting for the cheaper option.
We’ve already reached a point where AI art is in some instances indistinguishable from human art (see the recent example of AI art winning an illustration contest against human artists) and I think that as the technology advances, the problem of whether human art is truly distinguishable will only get worse.
As a comic artist, I feel like my field is mostly safe from the threat of automation, since comic-making requires so many more skills than the ability to draw (or generate) a panel. Composition, visual storytelling, lettering, page flow, tension, timing, panelling… these are all factors that cannot (currently) be made well with AI, as we saw with the first AI comic that was posted online recently, but I think we should still be careful.
We’ve seen time and time again that people will accept a flashy but soulless product over meaningful art. That’s just how it is within our capitalist society, and even if people in general aren’t on board with AI art and what it represents, the truth is that most of our mainstream media is created by conglomerates and/or monopolies who will choose worse, efficient art over expensive art that takes time to create every single time.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
ADHD Alien! She’s cool and I want to hang out with her!!!
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Be nice, show up, make friends. Even if you’re a solo act, comics are a collaborative medium, and we’re also a small industry. People talk. Be nice and hit your deadlines or be prepared for it to bite you later on.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
My favourite comic of all time is possibly The Man Who Came Down the Attic Stairs by Celine Orelse (formerly Celine Loup).
This is an adult comic with some graphic imagery but it’s exactly what I hope to find in a domestic horror story. I read it during a time in my life where I really needed it and it’s stayed with me forever.
What are you most looking forward to about coming to the Lakes this October?
I came to LICAF for the first time ever last year and I loved the vibe of the whole festival. At that point, I’d only really been to anime cons and large comic cons that focused on superheroes etc (you know the vibe.)
LICAF felt immediately like home. I saw so many comics people there who I’ve followed for ages and I made new friends there as well! I just can’t get enough of being physically in the same space as other indie comics creators and fans. There’s just nothing like that buzz of energy you get there.
Bex, thank you very much for your time, and we look forward to seeing you at the Festival!
BEX OLLERTON ONLINE
• Sensory: Life on the Spectrum: An Autistic Comics Anthology will be published by Andrews McMeel Publishing on 18th October 2022
A colourful and eclectic comics anthology exploring a wide range of autistic experiences – from diagnosis journeys to finding community -created by over 40 autistic creators.
From artist and curator Bex Ollerton comes an anthology featuring comics from thirty autistic creators about their experiences of living in a world that doesn’t always understand or accept them. Sensory: Life on the Spectrum contains illustrated explorations of everything from life pre-diagnosis to tips on how to explain autism to someone who doesn’t have it, to suggestions for how to soothe yourself when you’re feeling overstimulated. With unique, vibrant comic-style illustrations and the emotional depth and vulnerability of memoir, this book depicts these varied experiences with the kind of insight that only those who have lived them can have.
THE LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL 2022
• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival will run from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th October 2022 – and is online at: www.comicartfestival.com | Lakes International Comic Art Festival Podcast: www.comicartpodcast.uk | Twitter: @comicartfestpod | Facebook: @ComicArtPodcast | Instagram: @ComicArtPodcast
Announced guests for 2022 are, in alphabetical order, include: Charlie Adlard, Dimitris Anastasiou, Mehdi Annassi, Lucie Arnoux, Bianca Bagnarelli, Alison Bechdel, Matthew Dooley, Ulla Donner, Oliver East, Karrie Fransman, Dave Gibbons, Paul Gravett, Kalle Hakkola, Jaime Hernandez, Eva Hilhorst, Bryan Hitch, Stephen L. Holland, Rian Hughes, Marc Jackson, Leomacs, Marine des Mazery, Vojtěch Mašek, Joe McGarry, Luke McGarry, Steve McGarry, Mick McMahon, Bill Morrison, Bex Ollerton, Dean Ormston, Jacob Phillips, Sean Phillips, Mike Perkins, Tim Pilcher, Ram V, Mollie Ray, Tom Richmond, Martin Rowson, Greg Rucka, Andrea Settimo, Katie Skelly, Posy Simmonds, Václav Šlajch, Fiona Stephenson, Maria Surducan, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot, Petteri Tikkanen, Jörg Tittel, Twin Cartoons, Judit Vanistandel, Asya Voitenko, and Andi Watson
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All art © respective publishers and creators