Elizabeth Querstret is one of a long line of UK small pressers who you heard about first here on Broken Frontier! A prolific zine-maker, her self-published comics have largely centred on autobiographical work like her witty look at her employment history in Enter My Working World.
Elizabeth has been seen in anthologies like Dirty Rotten Comics and A Bit of Undigested Potato. She also has the distinction of being published by both Avery Hill Publishing and Good Comics for Walks with LuLu and New York (A Holiday to Remember) respectively. Prior to her appearance at this weekend’s Hackney Comic + Zine Fair I caught up with Elizabeth to chat about her distinctively honest approach to her practice, her love of the animal kingdom and what we can expect to see from her in the near future…
ANDY OLIVER: One of the key aims of an event like Hackney Comic + Zine Fair is to get your work out to new audiences. So from that perspective how would you describe your style of comics to someone unfamiliar with them?
ELIZABETH QUERSTRET: I realise this is probably true for all artists; my style of comics is me! I’d say my work is very honest and reflects a part of who I am within a moment. When people look at all of my work together, they often are surprised that it all comes from me, as it can be quite varied in style. A lot of my work is autobiographical and a lot of my work looks at animals and nature. I also spend a lot of time drawing whatever is in my head. I’d say overall, my work tends to be optimistic, even when tackling tricky subjects.
AO: Your autobio practice often has a connective immediacy to it, capturing the essence of a moment rather than recreating it. Can you talk us through your artistic process and the mediums you work in?
QUERSTRET: Cor, that’s a pretty profound observation and I think a fair one. My partner, Matt, always says I make things way more long-winded then they need to be when I am talking to him. (I know he loves it really!) But it is interesting that in my work there is immediacy to it. I guess when I am sharing something about myself on paper, I think about what it is that I actually want to share. Poor Matt gets all the unnecessary detail on a day-to-day basis – maybe it’s the director’s uncut version! However in my autobio comic work, I want people to know what it is I am going on about in a way that creates a sense of the reader experiencing what I did in that moment. I want the reader to be present and experience what I did, like I did, how I did.
I suppose instead of getting caught up in the web of events, I will often focus on the feelings of an experience and what can be learnt and observed from that. When you strip away all the complex ins and outs of a situation, what you’re left with is the crux of what is actually going on – the feelings. When you reach that place; you are truly seeing something for what it is. I am a big fan of honesty – that does not mean being cruel. I think when we are honest to ourselves and honest with others, we can be happier and more respectful beings. (This is not always easy to do, but I do always feel it’s worth doing).
So!… I think there is a connection between the approach to my content and the approach to my style. I have appreciation for work that has been heavily laboured and it can be powerful in its storytelling, but this style would not be reflective of who I am in an autobiographical sense. It’s interesting that a lot of people, who know me well, have commented that they think the work is an honest reflection of who I am. The style is true to me. I don’t want to get caught up in storytelling nitty gritty stuff that distracts and I also don’t want to get caught up in nitty gritty drawing details. Some may call it lazy! But I’d say it enables me to be true to the moment.
Trying to capture a moment is more achievable when you let go of unnecessary pressures in trying to achieve a certain outcome. I often work with a biro and will regularly draw on scraps of paper in spontaneous moments. I am a big fan of finding acceptance in ourselves, that as people we do not need to be perfect and this also applies to my work. I am ok that my work is not perfect – I like it that way! Beauty can lie within the imperfections. Making comics is definitely a therapeutic and personal explorative experience. So for me, it is more about the process and content, rather than the end product being highly polished.
AO: Too Serious to Sleep is your debut publication at HCZF. What’s its premise?
QUERSTRET: Too Serious to Sleep [reviewed here last week at BF] is a zine bursting full of illustrated thoughts and ideas that have stemmed from my mind. Some pages are philosophical or therapeutic ponderings. Some are reflective of concerns around the world and humanity. Some pages celebrate nature and animals. And some pages are just simply surreal and I couldn’t even begin to explain what place they came from. It is a zine that collaborates the makings of mind.
Walks with LuLu reflected on the joy of dog-walking from Avery Hill
AO: From cats in space to philosophical reflections on dog-walking through to celebrating pigeons, can you tell us about why the animal kingdom is so heavily represented in your work, both in zine form and in other projects?
QUERSTRET: I’ve not always been too sure. In Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox, he is asked why he has lied, Mr Fox replies; “Because I’m a wild animal”. We need to listen to who we are and be ok with who we are. Who I am, is a person very connected to animals and find my art is a way of expressing this. I draw what my mind thinks of and needs. I am satisfying the workings of my mind. More recently I have begun to reflect on my connection to animals. I think animals are not tainted with all the things that are wrong with humans. Animals are free spirits. They are calming, meditative and pure. And they remind us that there is good in the world. The animal kingdom can also be brutal, fragile and sometimes very selfish, but it is still beautiful.
From Elizabeth’s humorous Zoological Zine
AO: Who are some of the creators you’re looking forward to checking out at HCZF on September 8th?
QUERSTRET: I am really looking forward to HCZF as there will be so many creators I love there. New work that I definitely want to get my hands on is the new comic Threadbare from Gareth Brookes. I am very curious to go and see what Gareth A. Hopkins is up to, as I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting work coming out of his social media. I recently won a zine from Rob Marland (for correctly guessing his library book fine) and really love what he is doing; so would quite like to pick up some more of his work. I have an ever dying love for Danny Noble and what she creates, so will be nice to see if I can find something new there.
Elizabeth’s travelogue zine New York (A Holiday to Remember) from Good Comics
AO: And finally what else can we look forward to from Elizabeth Querstret in 2019? Are there any projects in progress that you can tell us about?
QUERSTRET: I’m not sure if you have seen on social media, but I naturally got sucked into #Doggust – drawing a different dog each day in August. This could be the beginning of a zine in making, but will see what ideas brew from that.
I’ve also decided to sort my act out and run a Cat zine-making class. I ran this last year at The British Library and it went really well. I had so much fun doing the course that I thought it makes total sense to bring back the cat making fun. It will be 6 hours of me and cat drawing! What’s not to like!? It is on Saturday 30th November in Deptford, 10:30 – 4:30 (if people would like to book a space they can contact me on social media or e-mail)
Elizabeth’s autobio comics work can be read on her site
I also had a project that I had worked on well over a year ago. It was all about my back pain. It got side lined for various reasons. As time has passed, my thoughts on it have shifted and I was thinking it might be interesting to pick it up again.
From September I will be starting a Masters in Therapeutic Counselling, so may struggle to find as much time to make and do, but as a result can see my work taking a therapeutic approach. I guess watch this space.
Interview by Andy Oliver
Elizabeth Querstret will be exhibiting at Hackney Comic + Zine Fair on Sunday September 8th at Table 19.