Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, we bring you a series of interviews with guests at the event. This “Festival Focus” for 2018 is Sayra Begum, a Cornwall-based illustrator.
She studied Illustration at Plymouth College of Art and then completed a master’s degree in Illustration at Falmouth University; with a focus on female and marginalised voices.
She is currently working on her debut graphic novel: Mongrel, which will be published by Knockabout Comics. It tells the story of a girl growing up as a British Muslim caught between two cultures, challenging and tearing away the differences to reveal the common humanity.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Sayra Begum: I’m working on my first graphic novel, Mongrel, which will be published by Knockabout Comics. We’re aiming for publication in October 2019.
Mongrel recalls my memories of growing up in an Islamic household. As a child my alter ego, Shona, embraces the teachings and her parents culture, but things become difficult in her teenage years. She starts going down a different path and makes unfavourable decisions, which causes conflict in her family home.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Sayra: I don’t have much of a structure to my day. It’s broken up when I need to take my Goldie for a walk or grab something to eat. Apart from that I am quite happy to forget there’s a world beyond my studio room. I usually make myself go to bed by 1 am if I’m still penciling then.
What's the best thing about being a comics creator?
Sayra: For me, it’s the act of drawing. I love it. When I’m not drawing, it’s in the back of my mind. The longer I’m kept away from the drawing board, the louder the need becomes to get back to it.
I’m yet to go through the experience of seeing my first graphic novel in the bookstores, to have the book in its printed glory sitting on the shelf ... I may daydream about this every now and then. I imagine that the release day is going to be a pretty magical day.
And the worst?
Sayra: I guess it can be pretty isolating, especially if I have the house to myself. Before I know it, it’s been three days and I haven’t spoken to anyone. I find having a social part time job, working at Tate gallery two days a week, provides a good balance.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Sayra: I’m pretty focused, but then the sun shines and I have to go to the beach since I live in Cornwall and it won’t last long.
Money is an obstacle. You end up giving up penciling hours to bring in a little bit of an income.
Do you think it's easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
I don’t have much of an informed opinion on the past because I’m new to the scene. I can say it’s not been an easy journey for me. It’s my first graphic novel, so I don’t have much of a publishing history. How do you prove there is an audience out there for your work and it will sell?
I know a lot of new creators do online and independent publishing. I didn’t want to do this because I felt it would make my work venerable to copyright. I’m very conscious about how much I release out there which is why my social media is very quiet. I submitted my book to Tony Bennett at Knockabout Comics through the usual submission process and I was very lucky he noticed it.
Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven't, what are you expecting?
Sayra: I visited the Lake District for the first time this summer. I spent a week there with my partner and we traveled around in our camper van.
It’s a beautiful, relaxing place.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Sayra: I would love to meet as many guests as I can at the Festival. It’s such a great opportunity to meet other creators.
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Sayra: I think it will be great to meet like-minded people, to share our experiences as creators and readers.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Sayra: I feel that I can’t really answer this question until I have Mongrel published. I’m still learning and everything is still a work in progress for me.
So from my little knowledge I would say, read as many graphic novels as you can, critically. Study the visual and literary devices, this will inform your own creations.
It’s difficult to keep motivated, writing and penciling takes so many hours. For me it’s at least a day, from dust till dawn, to pencil a page. And sometimes, I just don’t get along with a page, so it can turn into three days before I know it. It helps me to have deadlines set to keep me going, to have that pressure to push me.
What's your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Sayra: Jane, the Fox and Me by Isabelle Arsenault.
Sayra, thank you very much for your time and we look forward to seeing you in Kendal.
• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival will be back in Kendal 12th – 14th October 2018. Tickets for the Festival are on sale now from: www.comicartfestival.com