It’s no secret that comics retail faces great challenges right now, so the news of a new initiative looking to lend support to female and non-binary retailers in these difficult times was one we wanted to immediately draw your attention to when it was announced last month. Insider Art comprises a digital anthology and a number of side projects, with the comics collection bringing together a three-figure number of female and non-binary creators from inside comics and beyond. It includes many artists familiar to Broken Frontier readers (including some of our annual ‘Six to Watch‘ programme). You can see a full list of the names involved here.
The Insider Art anthology uses the rooms of a house as its narrative structure with each curated by a different editor. We chat today with two of those editors – Chrissy Williams and Sofie Dodgson – about what you can expect from the book, and also get the thoughts of a number of UK contributors to the project. Ailurophobics beware… there will be lots of cat references!
Before we jump in though, here’s that all-important link to buy a copy of the digital Insider Art anthology.
ANDY OLIVER: Could we begin with you both introducing yourselves and telling us about your own practice? Where would Broken Frontier readers have seen your work before?
CHRISSY WILLIAMS: I’m Chrissy. I’ve been editing comics full-time for about six years now (with some loose freelance before that). I’ve edited various comics, but primarily The Wicked + The Divine (Image), Die (Image) and SuperFreaks (Comixology). Before that I worked in the book trade for ten years, on everything from non-fiction reference guides to children’s picture books. I’m also a poet, and have collaborated with artist Tom Humberstone on various poetry comics. A couple of years ago we co-edited an anthology called Over the Line: An Introduction To Poetry Comics. (Alan Moore gave us a lovely quote for it, on the weblink there, and Broken Frontier reviewed it here – I think it’s safe to say that I’m interested in experimentation)
SOFIE DODGSON: Hello! I’m Sofie, a comic book colourist – Bitter Root (Image), Tank Girl: All Colour Classics (Titan) – making my editing debut on this anthology. My day job is art director and costume designer for theatre, events and festivals, so I was brought on to edit the crafty elements of Insider Art.
‘Garageland’ by Vita Ayala, Sally Cantirino and Gab Contreras
AO: What was the genesis of the Insider Art initiative and what are its aims?
CHRISSY: It started as a conversation between Shelly Bond and retailer Jen King, about whether they could do something to help out female and non-binary comics retailers after Covid-19 shut down all the comics distribution. Jen had successfully run a fund to help retailers after Hurricane Katrina, and so seemed like the ideal person to talk to, and Shelly’s sheer energy and drive meant she was able to mobilise a small army of editors – so we started putting together an anthology to raise funds, and it all took off from there! Shelly and the other instigating editor Mariah McCourt really set the anthology into motion, and everyone seems to have got on board with the idea that it’s useful to be feeling even slightly helpful right now.
‘How to Make Your Own Lockdown Merit Badges’ by Beth Wood
AO: The Insider Art digital anthology has a clever and playful structure that allows for a variety of genres and styles. How would you describe the collection’s premise?
SOFIE: The anthology is designed as if it was a house, with each editor in charge of a specific room which served as a starting point for the contributor’s stories. For example there are recipe comics in the Kitchen, creepy tales in the Basement, and sock puppet how-tos in the Craft Room! Every section is very unique, but united in a strange, fictional architecture that holds it all together.
CHRISSY: Having eight editors working across eight different sections means that variety is hard-wired into the project. That’s eight different sets of taste and sensibilities, and eight different people all trying to curate exciting and dynamic sections! The concept came from Shelly as “outsider art for when you’re stuck indoors”, and I think we all ran with that.
‘Miss Moti and Ink + Paper’ by Kripa Joshi
AO: The anthology is just one part of the wider initiative. What else should Broken Frontier readers be looking out for from the Insider Art project?
CHRISSY: Why just make a book, when you can also make a fabric and run a load of online auctions?! So, the anthology will be out in June, but we’re also working on a fabric via Spoonflower – it’s a gorgeous print featuring cats drawn by comics artists such as Becky Cloonan, Tula Lotay, Emi Lenox and loads loads more, and it’s utterly adorable. The auctions are being held on eBay by Jen King, listings posted via this Facebook group, and she’s selling off all sorts of interesting comics and collectibles in order to raise money for the Female and Non-Binary Comic Book Retailer Fund.
‘6 Magic Tricks You Can Practice at Home’ by Tegan Phillips
AO: How did each of you become involved with Insider Art? And can you tell us about all aspects of your roles in the book, both creatively and editorially?
CHRISSY: I got a mail from Shelly asking if I’d be interested in editing a section of the anthology, and it all just snowballed from there! One week later, I’d got tentative yesses in from a load of writers and artists, and even some story ideas – it all started moving really quickly! I think that speaks to the mood that we were all in then, of just wanting to do anything that felt like it would be useful. I contacted creators I thought might be willing to do something for the book, and then worked with them on their pitches and sketches, and then made sure each piece was also coloured, lettered and designed on the page. It’s been such a lovely time talking to people and sharing their enthusiasm about these lovely stories!
SOFIE: I’m working with Shelly on Bitter Root at the moment, and she asked if I was interested in colouring a few pages of the anthology. A few days later and I was designing the logo, building the website, editing my own section, drawing my first ever comic, hand lettering pages, and of course colouring… I think she must have slipped something into my tea… Editing for the first time was a really fun experience, and I definitely took advantage of the opportunity to work with a lot of people I admire.
‘How to Make Really Awesome Masks!’ by Sofie Dodgson
AO: Which sections of the anthology are you both overseeing?
CHRISSY: I got the bedroom (a delightful all-ages bedroom!). It’s a really fun section full of adventure and mystery and monsters and excitement!
SOFIE: I’m running the Craft Room section, as well as working on the general art direction of the anthology and website.
AO: Give us some insights into the curatorial process for your sections. What were you looking for in terms of creative voices and approaches to the subject matter?
CHRISSY: With my background in poetry comics, I was interested in bringing a mix of approaches and styles to the section. Shelly also made it clear that this book could be a mixture of comics and more crafty elements. For example, one spread in my section is a duvet design by amazing UK illustrator and designer Rebecca Strickson. It has a title, and it tells a story, but it’s very different to a conventional comic. That said, there are a lot of comics in my section! There are some brilliant comics by creators such as Emma Vieceli, Sarah Gordon, Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris, Susan Sainsbury, Katie West, JA Micheline and Lauren Knight. They focus on subjects as various as moon landings, magical cats and pocket dimensions. There are some lovely illustrated pieces, with work by Stephanie Hans and Kate Brown. There are also some more poetic and autobiographical pieces, such as those by artist-poet Sophie Herxheimer and author-illustrator Emily Haworth-Booth.
‘Dinner Time’ by JA Micheline, Lauren Knight and Sofie Dodgson
SOFIE: I think the Craft Room definitely gave me an opportunity to bring in some people who don’t usually work in comics, for example my section includes a stone cutter (Fiona Boyd), a scenic painter (Georgie Berryman), a poet (Sophie J Burton), a puppet maker (Ceridwen Gale Brown), an animator (Olivia Pecini), and a graphic designer (Billie Temple), as well as illustrators (Miki Lowe, Katie Gulson). I thought it was really exciting to see how people from different disciplines approached creating a ‘tutorial comic’. There are some more traditional style comics too, but they’re all focused on the joy of turning basic materials into something wonderful. My main aim for the craft room was to provide people with inspirational activities to keep themselves busy and distracted during these strange times.
AO: There’s a very satisfying blend of established stars and self-publishers, genre comics creators and indie/alt voices, involved. How important is that sense of diversity and democracy to Insider Art? Who are some of the names readers can expect to see?
CHRISSY: We all wanted to try and make our sections as far-reaching as possible, though of course that can be a challenge when essentially everyone is volunteering their time in aid of the cause. I just wanted to make the most interesting section I could, and I think, or hope, that will come across to the readers. (I’ve already mentioned some names above, sorry! I’m doing this in the wrong order!) Really I think the work speaks for itself. It’s about trying to curate a compelling reading experience as you go through each section. What’s great about seeing the whole book come together is just how different and exciting all the sections are individually.
Image from Andrea Rosales’ contribution
SOFIE: I love how diverse and democratic this anthology is! I received so many delighted messages from my contributors when they found out they were being featured in the same book as some of their comics heroes. I think turning a project this large around in such a short time created an amazing sense of community between the 150 or so people involved. Everyone is following each other and sharing each other’s art and tweets about the project – it’s a lonely time for a lot of people at the moment and this project has certainly helped me feel connected to lots of brilliant people. In terms of names, my section features lots of brilliant UK based comic artists like Karrie Fransman, Donya Todd, Kripa Joshi, Laura Hole, and Beth Wood, and then internationally – Anna Puchalski, Pidge, and Andrea Rosales.
AO: Having read your individual sections I loved the mix of comics, prose, poetry, activities and illustration. How inventive have the contributors been in their interpretations of the brief?
CHRISSY: Very inventive – I wanted to make sure people knew they could do whatever they wanted, from page counts to art style. We used spur words (different objects) to get each story going, but beyond that, it was wide open. Everyone had such different responses. There’s a great prose story by Angela Cleland that for me speaks to what we’ve all been going through right now – the feeling of being trapped indoors, and needing to turn to imagination, memory and story for relief.
SOFIE: It was important to me that the contributors to my section could approach the brief however they liked. The only rules really were that the craft activities shouldn’t require anything too unusual (so no one had to break curfews to buy a loom!), and only quite basic equipment. Hopefully there is something for everyone’s tastes and talents.
‘Make Your Own Still Life’ by Donya Todd
AO: With its multi-media ethos this is a book with a potentially very wide crossover appeal. What is the target audience you’re aiming for?
CHRISSY: It’s deliberately all-ages, and is set to appeal to the broadest demographic possible I think! It’s not just “for kids”, and there is something for everyone. There is quite a focus on cats though – I worry that we may lose some dog-lovers along the way, but the artwork is so great, I’m sure they’ll be won over!
AO: Crucially when and where can Broken Frontier readers expect to see the anthology?
SOFIE: Wednesday 10th June if all goes to plan! It’s going up on Gumroad for a suggested donation of $9.99 and hopefully softcover and hardcover versions will happen down the line. All donations support the INSIDER ART: Female & Non-Binary Comic Book Retailers Fund.
We also spoke to some of the UK contributors about their work across the different strands of Insider Art and how they became involved with the project…
My page for Insider Art is a transformation seen through a window. I’ve been drawn to drawing windows during lock-down because they’ve become a whole different thing in these times. I used different layers for the window frame, the room behind it and each transformation, so it’s a bit of a mix but mostly digitally coloured which I don’t normally do. So that was fun. I wanted to explore how looking inward doesn’t have to mean limiting yourself. My piece ‘RE-WILDING: Be the change you want to see in the world’ is about going productively crazy, venturing outside of your own normal without leaving the room.
Shelly Bond has just been incredibly nice to work with, receptive, encouraging and constructive – she seems like an amazing editor. I am honoured to be part of this project that brings together so many awesome creators and editors. We are a broad house I guess, but one built on firm foundations of kindness and courage.
Jenny Robins a Broken Frontier staffer and the creator of the upcoming graphic novel Biscuits (assorted) from Myriad Editions
I was invited to draw a very special cat to surprise a retailer!
Since Fables inspired me to create comics and Mark Buckingham is my mentor, it is a dream come true that Shelly Bond asked me to contribute and I hope that there will be more opportunities to collaborate in the future.
Actress and artist Jessica Martin’s graphic memoir Life Drawing: A Life Under Lights was published last year by Unbound Books
My story is a fairly light-hearted ‘cli fi’ take on life in lockdown set in the garage, with a bit of time-travel, zoom-hacking intervention!
When Shelly got in touch, I jumped at the chance to get involved, not only because it’s for a very important cause, but because so many incredible artists are involved. It’s a real honour to be featured in a project alongside some of my heroes.
Cat Sims was a 2018 Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ artist and the creator of the comic XENOS
My contribution to this amazing project is a 6-page comic called ‘The Museum of Mean Moira’. It stars Emily, a precocious youngster who, after being bullied by her big sister Moira, decides to use the abandoned garage space to house a museum of embarrassing ‘artifacts’ pilfered from her sister’s life.
I’ve wanted to work with Shelly for years now, so when she got in touch about whether I’d like to be a part of the Insider Art project I was nodding gleefully at the screen before I’d even finished reading the email! It’s been a great experience having her as my editor on this. It’s also obviously so so wonderful that all our efforts will be going into helping female and non-binary comic retailers in this horrendously difficult time.
Rachael Smith’s comics include The Rabbit from Avery Hill Publishing, the self-published Stand in Your Power and her recent online Quarantine Comix.
I’m contributing the the craft room of the house (a house with a craft room sounds like my dream home!). I’ve been playing with paper theatres with my daughter in lockdown so decided to make a paper cut-out page on how to make your own ‘lockdown theatre’. Then I finished mine and performed a little tragic play in it. Very therapeutic.
I’ll get involved with anything Shelly Bond and Sofie Dodgson suggest. Bank robberies and all. In this instance, thankfully, it was a project I believed in- helping female and non-binary retailers who’ve been effected by Covid. We’re already seeing the impact of the virus on women’s rights with women taking on disproportionate amounts of childcare, cleaning and care of relatives meaning that their work suffers. It feels good to be able to do something helpful when we all feel so helpless locked up in our homes.
Karrie Fransman is the award-winning creator behind Death of the Artist from Jonathan Cape.
My contribution is for the kitchen, and so my comic is based on mine and my partner David’s pickling endeavours during lockdown, including a couple of tried and tested pickled recipes. I’ve used pencil for this one, for a change! So that’s been fun to have a play with a different medium.
The world is throwing up a lot of worries and fears at the moment, in many different ways. One of my concerns is, of course, all the amazing independent comics retailers, and how they’ll survive these weird times, and in turn, what that means for the comics community. We’ve all so many stories we need to tell, and we need independent retailers more than ever.
Jayde Perkin was a 2018 Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ creator whose graphic memoir I’m Not Ready was one of 2019’s most critically acclaimed UK releases
I did the Awesome and Possum recipes which include “Birmese chicken curry”, “Bahn-mi” and “egg pasta” for the recipe section.
The pages I contributed were originally from my zine, Food According to Awesome and Possum which is out of print for years. So it’s a great chance to re-introduce it to larger readers for a good cause!
Takayo Akiyama is the artist behind the self-published Awesome & Possum comics
My story, ‘Idle Hands’, is a short comic taking a quick look at the pitfalls of shadow puppetry.
I hope the project raises loads of money for those who need it, and I also hope it introduces people to a whole swathe of female and non-binary creators whose work they may not have encountered before.
Sarah Gordon is a UK small press stalwart whose work has appeared in anthologies like the legendary Solipsistic Pop and Soaring Penguin’s Meanwhile…
Myself and my daughter Frankie donated a Carpon paper ‘CAT’ drawing each that will be part of an auction and hopefully a fabric pattern.
As I couldn’t contribute a story due to lockdown constraints I put forward a number of creators and I’m delighted to see they are all a part of what will be an exciting, uplifting project and hopefully bring more eyes to their work.
Lucy Sullivan’s powerful graphic novel Barking was released by Unbound Books this year