Launched in 2009 by artists Dr Nicola Streeten and Dr Sarah Lightman, Laydeez Do Comics is the UK’s first women-led comics forum, championing the works of female-identifying cartoonists, comics artists and graphic novelists. LDC’s monthly events, which take place across the UK and beyond, are open to all and feature illustrated presentations from comics artists, filmmakers, writers, researchers, curators and more.
In 2018, responding to the pronounced gender imbalance in British comics artists, Laydeez do Comics launched a successful crowdfunding campaign for the first ‘Laydeez Award’, the UK’s first women’s prize for graphic novels.
Nicola and Sarah have both completed doctorates in graphic narratives and are themselves comics creators. Nicola is the author of Billy, Me & You (Myriad 2011), an acclaimed graphic memoir chronicling her bereavement following the death of Billy, her two-year old son. She is also the co-editor of The Inkling Woman (Myriad 2018), a groundbreaking celebration of 250 years of female comics artists and cartoonists in Britain. Sarah is currently working on The Book of Sarah , a visual autobiography which is due to be published by Myriad in 2019. She’s also the editor of the Eisner-winning Graphic Details: Jewish Women’s Confessional Comics in Essays and Interviews (McFarland 2014).
Nicola and Sarah kindly agreed to chat to Emma Parker, a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds, to discuss their work as creators, academic researchers and Laydeez Do Comics.
How has your collaborative work with Laydeez Do Comics influenced your own practice as comics artists?
Nicola Streeten: It has been the most important influence for both my practice as a comics artist and my research as an academic. As a practitioner, it enabled me to align my work, in terms of both content and style.
LDC very quickly allowed us to learn what women in Britain are working on. Because the landscape was rather sparse in 2009 for comics social activities in London, and because the comics community in Britain is so small, we quite quickly became known. This enabled us to have a “passport” to approaching high-profile women, inviting them to be guests at our events. Within academia we have both had the additional help of postgraduate status. The combination of these two positions has opened doors for us both, and we hope it will do the same for people who attend LDC events.
Sarah Lightman: Every time I attend a Laydeez do Comics event I feel inspired and delighted by the speakers and their work. I am so proud of the space Nicola and I, and the other Laydeez, have created.
“Laydeez do Comics has helped me, as an individual, feel part of a wider comics movement, it’s been a supportive background chorus for my own creative work”
My artistic style for The Book of Sarah is very different from many of the works that are presented at Laydeez. However, it is the autobiographical aspect that I share with many of the artists of LDC. We are all searching to tell a personal truth and to record our vulnerable journeys. Through this process we often critique society and transform ourselves. The bravery in the artworks shared in LDC is a reminder to me to be brave as well, and never to forget that exposing individual wounds, moments and revelations, often has the most universal impact.
Has the need for a supportive community of female comics creators increased, or lessened, in the nine years since you launched LDC?
NS: It is difficult to answer. The landscape is unrecognizable compared to 10 years ago. We like to think that we were part of early initiatives that spurred people to set up their own groups and/or collectives, both in the UK and globally. The supportive community for female creators has definitely expanded with many more opportunities. For example, Broken Frontier, Andy Oliver’s blog supports small press creators and ensures platforms for many women creators. Myriad Editions has always had a good gender balance, and their bi-annual first graphic novel award has seen a healthy representation in their shortlists of women and people of colour.
However, what is important about LDC (and other meet up groups) is the inclusion of physical meet ups. There is a lot of online activity, and it is important to balance this with social and fairly informal opportunities to talk to people face to face.
There is an ever-increasing appetite amongst readers for graphic memoirs: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home are international bestsellers. How important is the autobiographical within your own comics?
NS: We begin with what moves us, taken from our life experience and ask questions from that.
“The autobiographical is the starting point in everything I do, and I think this is true for most people, including academics in a range of disciplines.”
Thus, the cartoons I began with for my PhD research were the ones I remembered from my early twenties as somehow quietly formative in the way I understood the world as a woman.
Both of you have doctorates exploring graphic narratives: what’s the relationship between your work as academic researchers, and your work as creators?
NS: My position through LDC was the reason I embarked confidently on a PhD. By looking specifically at British women’s cartoons and comics, I had access to the women whose works I wanted to consider. The research became about conversations with friends.
Through a double articulation as creator and academic, I had a direct way to reach other women artists. By using feminist theory and history as a methodological tool, I was also able to identify similarities in the organizational details and decisions around how LDC operates to strategies employed in both first and second wave feminism. This has continued to inform the way we think and analyse future plans for development.
SL: My PhD was entitled “Dressing Eve and Other Reparative Acts” addressing feminist re-appropriations of biblical texts and iconography in women’s comics. My own experiences as a woman and an artist are reflected in the comics I examine in my thesis, and I identified strongly with the challenges the protagonists face as daughters, partners and mothers. The title derives from a four page comic, “The Star Sapphire”, by Sharon Rudahl, where the artist borrows the pose of Eve in Masaccio’s “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden” (1424–1428) from the Brancacci Chapel inside the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence. In “The Star Sapphire”, Sharon is drawn stepping out of the synagogue, the patriarchal biblical sphere that defined and undermined her, into a contemporary and autonomous world. That has been my own journey over the last few years. I also loved researching and writing my PhD. I felt the process transformed me, and my thinking. I not only engaged with feminist literary criticism, and feminist art history, but more specifically with Jewish and Christian feminist theology, allowing me to position The Book of Sarah alongside a literary and creative lineage.
The relationship between my academic research and creative work is evolving. It was a challenge to write about my graphic novel in my fourth chapter, as I was still drawing and needed to retain an academic voice within a very personal project. But using my own artwork in my thesis enacted feminist theories which champion the personal within academic research. Carolyn Heilbrun writes in Writing a Woman’s Life that “I could not speak of the problem of women today without speaking of my own life” (1979:22). By bringing my creative autobiographical output into an academic PhD I broke new ground for both myself and my University department. My next project will develop these interests, as I currently hold an Honorary Research Fellowship at Birkbeck, University of London (2018-19), researching Jewish women and comics about Motherhood, Miscarriages and IVF. My output this time will be a personal visual essay in the form of a painted graphic novel and I want to develop this style of working in a post-doctorate.
You’ve both recently launched the exciting ‘Laydeez Award’, championing new talent among female comics artists. Which publications from comics artists and graphic novelists should we be looking out for in 2019?
SL: There are so many UK names to look out for, including Rachael Ball, Wallis Eates, The Surreal McCoy, Richy K. Chandler, Lucy Sullivan and others. These are just a start but I suggest people attend an LDC talk, and also follow our blog to keep discovering new talent!
For more information about Laydeez do Comics please visit: https://laydeezdocomics.wordpress.com/