Launched in June, the Insider Art digital anthology aims to provide financial help for female and non-binary retailers as a response to the repercussions of the pandemic. With a playfully apposite title it’s crammed full of comics, prose, illustration and crafts (oh, and more than the odd cat, as seen in the banner art above by Margaux Saltel!) to get readers through lockdown and beyond. Each section is overseen by a different editor or editorial team, with the anthology’s thematic structure taking on the form of the individual rooms of an “art house”. You can find out more about its aims and objectives in our interview with Sofie Dodgson and Chrissy Williams, two of the editorial team here at BF.
At nearly 270 pages of material with over 100 female and non-binary creators involved, and for a suggested price of just $10.00, it’s also an Incredible bargain. Broken Frontier readers will find plenty of favourite artists in its pages but the fun of a collection like this is also in making new discoveries to follow up on. And, from small press favourites through to established US serial comics names, Insider Art certainly covers the breadth of the medium in terms of its many communities, aspects, forms of delivery and styles.
The first thing that needs underlining is that Insider Art embodies comics community at its finest. Considering the timeframe and the logistics involved it’s a remarkable achievement. But it’s also a joyous celebration of graphic narrative in a multiplicity of forms. Given the number of contributors involved any coverage can only give the barest sampling of the work on offer but much of the appeal of Insider Art is in rooting through its eclectic treasure chest of graphic gems for oneself. But let’s take the quickest of trips through the various rooms of the Insider Art house anyway and sample just some of what it has to offer…
When I interviewed ‘Bedroom’ chapter editor Chrissy Williams back in June she described this part of the book as “a really fun section full of adventure and mystery and monsters and excitement!” Here childhood imagination comes alive as in the parallel narratives of Emma Vieceli’s ‘The Flag’ (below left), and childhood sleepovers are revisited as in Sophie Herxheimer’s diary-style two-pager. The highlight here is Sarah Gordon’s story of past-bedtime childhood creativity (below right) which has a suitably Gordon-ian twist from an artist who can always be counted on to insert the creepily otherworldly into the everyday.
In the ‘Basement’ (edited by Elizabeth Brei and Megan Brown) there are discoveries to be made, RPGs to be played and long stored memories to be revisited. Kim Dwinell’s three-pager (sample below) is particularly resonant with its photo album-inspired slice-of-lifer exploring ideas of family, belonging, fate and identity with a hauntingly beautiful subtlety.
The ‘Bathroom’ is edited by Nicole Boose and takes us to those small moments in the day where it can become an area of refuge and relaxation. The strip that grabs immediate attention here is Liana Kangas’s ‘Rituals’ (colours by Gab Contreras and lettering by Erica Schultz, below) which uses our between-the-panels comprehension skills in on-the-hour single image visitations to one household’s bathroom to create a smaller narrative within a wider unseen one and asks us to think and speculate as much about what we don’t see as what we do.
Editor Kris Simon’s ‘The Kitchen’ chapter is replete with recipes and thoughts on mindfulness. Unsurprisingly, given her long association with Broken Frontier as both a ‘Six to Watch’ creator and BF Award winner, it’s Jayde Perkin’s entry with its mix of recipes and fragmentary, almost visual poetry that’s a highlight here. Mariah McCourt curates the ‘Attic’ which is also a repository for hidden artefacts from the past and a place where young imaginations can run riot. That latter callback to childhood is beautifully captured a number of times including Corinna Bechko and Tintin Patoja’s ‘Attic Magic’ and Myriam Bloom’s ‘Imagination’ (below).
Sofie Dodgson oversees the ‘Craft Room’ which is full of activity ideas. Despite this being arguably (depending on your definitions of course) the least comics-centric space it’s the one I’ve returned to the most often after reading. Home theatre (Karrie Fransman), mask-making (Sofie Dodgson), folk art (Anna Puchalski), zine-making (Laura Hole) and sock puppets (Ceridwen Gale Brown) are just some of the instructional crafts on show here and it’s difficult to come away from this section without thinking how it could so easily be expanded into a book of its own.
Coming close to the end of this domestic tour, Shelly Bond is the editor of the ‘Garage’ section which has a distinctly garage band vibe to it. There’s also a memorable Rachael Smith strip about a young girl who creates a museum in her garage dedicated to her sister’s meanness. It’s Smith doing what she does best, drawing us in with a story of human frailties with characters who nonetheless we empathise with and immediately invest in. Broken Frontier 2018 ‘Six to Watch’ artist Cat Sims also contributes ‘Premonition’ (below) where a vision of a possible post-pandemic future is delivered to a young girl through a strange entity within her garage. It’s a morality tale that is more obviously narrative-based than much of Sims’s previous output but without losing the social conscience that sits at the heart of her practice.
Our final stop is the ‘Living Room’ overseen by Jen King where mindfulness and more activity-based pages are the order. There’s an uplifting piece on meditation here that reminds us of the very real pandemic anxieties that inspired the book. Written by Terry de Castro with accessible cartooning by Eugenia Koumaki and brought to vibrant life by the ever expressive colours of Kelly Fitzpatrick (below) it deals with very real worries with sensitivity and thoughtfulness.
Again, this is a huge compilation of material and in a space like this I can only cherry pick some of the work that resonated, for whatever reason, for me. Each reader will come to this book from their own perspective, gravitating towards stories or features that they feel most connected to. Ultimately, though, it’s an incredible body of work for relatively little outlay and the chance to help support our wider comics community at a time when that has never been more important. There’s an entire level on which Insider Art could be considered one of the key releases of 2020. Congratulations to everyone involved who gave up their time to make this vitally important book happen. Make sure to order your digital copy here!
This week’s Gosh! Comics and Broken Frontier Drink and Draw on Thursday will be a a special Insider Art edition. Keep checking BF and social media for more details.