We love comics, and we love the artists behind them! So for this month’s Giselle Clarkson comic, we have something a little different for you: an illustrated interview! Sarah Laing – author/artist/designer extraordinaire – has a new book out with Victoria University Press, Let Me Be Frank. This brilliant book collects a vast range of comics that Sarah has created over the years, chronicling life in all its ups and downs. Giselle interviewed Sarah in cartoon form, and it’s a thing of beauty.
Full transcript below article, for sight-impaired readers.
Giselle Clarkson interviews Sarah Laing
This transcript indicates who the image is by in square brackets, followed by the speech bubbles attached, left to right, down the screen.
[image of Sarah Laing and Giselle at desk with ‘Sapling Network’ on it]: Jazzy intro music
[Image Giselle]: Hi!!! Today i am joined by supremo maestro of comics, Sarah Laing! Sarah is a novelist, illustrator and author of the excellent comic memoir Mansfield and Me. Her collection of diary comics Let Me Be Frank just came out. *just quietly, this ain’t for the kids.
[Image Giselle] Welcome, Sarah!!! First of all, Let Me Be Frank covers 10 years of your work, a lot of which has previously been published on your blog. Were you tempted to go back and edit or redraw stuff?
[Image Sarah]: Oh, Yes! I was tempted to redraw everything! I have a cringe impulse when I look at my old drawings. The only thing is, often when I redraw, I draw the life out of everything. My drawings may be more technically proficient, but they also become more rigid.
[Image Sarah] Besides, I had coffee with Dylan Horrocks and told him my plans to write new comics & redraw all the old ones, and he said…
([mage Sarah of Dylan Horrocks]: No! Don’t do that, just write an introduction & publish them as is. (so it’s all Dylan’s fault.) [Dylan pictured with Gelato Shake]
[Image Giselle]: Oh, hey Dylan! Great but also terrifying advice. It’s so true though. I often find there’s something lost even between roughs and final art. But the urge to polish is sooo strong. (Now I want a gelato shake too)
[Image Giselle]: So how do you choose where to draw the line between what you share and what you keep private? Do you make comics that nobody else ever sees? [Giselle is drinking a gelato shake]
[Giselle thought bubble]: I wish I wasn’t so embarrassed about literally everything.
[Image Sarah]: Some comics I drew and then chose not to post – like ‘Manaakitanga’. It seemed too sensitive at the time. I have loads of failed comics – ones that I either disclose too much or that I either disclose too much or that refuse to resolve themselves. There is stuff that I haven’t written about – things that need processing, reshaping, and possibly funneling into fiction. There are also comics that I feel acutely embarrassed about – like ‘Sex Education’ – that I’ve forced myself to publish… for the greater good?
[Image Giselle]: Yes!!! Its the stuff that I’m way to much of a wuss to write or talk about that I’m most grateful for in your comics, and I think that would be true for a lot of people.
[Image Giselle [depicted swiping a copy of Let Me Be Frank back and forth]]: Do you feel like there are any differences in how people will receive your comics online versus in a book? Do you reckon it changes the context, or the audience’s expectations?
[Image Sarah]: Now that is a big question. I guess putting my comics in a book makes them more of an artefact, less ‘content’ for a ravenous internet. It also encapsulates them within a certain time period – a time when my children were young & when I was still married to Jonathan. I am hoping my children will be able to look at this book when they are older. I also made a lot of selections & arranged comics in a particular order – thematically rather than chronologically.
[Image Giselle]: You make comics about lots of your formative childhood/teenage experiences. You mention Momo by Michael Ende as a favourite… What other books shaped you as a kid? [illustration is of a book girl created of books]
[Image Sarah]: We didn’t have TV when I was kid, so books were everything. I loved Ruth Manning Sanders’ Book of Fairytales from around the World. I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder. Like you, I loved Judith Kerr. I fell down the Narnia wormhole. I was a huge Paul Gallico fan – I particularly loved Jennie about a boy who becomes a cat. I can still remember the careful instructions as to how to kill a rat. Oh! Goodnight, Mister Tom – I could go on…
[Image Giselle [depicted holding a rat in her mouth]]: You never know what skills might come in handy. Speaking of which, in your comics you mention working on a kids’ graphic novel set in a future climate scenario, is that something you’re still keen on or nah?
[Image Sarah]: Yes, I still think of Nico & the post-climate change world I made for him! I do hope to return to that book, especially now that Let me be Frank is published. I’ve got few plot problems to solve – plot is not my strong point – I’m far more interested in character. Maybe that’s what I’ve got to do – make his character more complex so that simple challenges are suddenly more thorny & difficult! Also kids’ books are hard to write.
[Giselle illustrated balancing on a tightrope between ‘genius idea’ and ‘majorly sucky idea’]: Heck yes they are! After years of freelancing you’ve recently started working as an in-house graphic designer. Has this had an impact on the personal work you create? I’ve often wondered if I’d take more creative risks with my work if it wasn’t my day job.
[Image Sarah]: I don’t make work unless people ask me to! I have no time! Luckily people still ask me to do things – I am working on an ongoing series about women doctors; I wrote a comic for next year’s poetry annual and right now I’m completing a mural for Verb festival, to appear on Te Auaha’s windows. But maybe I’ll make something subversive for Zinefest.
[Image Giselle]: Jeepers creepers! That’s 2 full time jobs!! Forget a zine, be subversive by watching some telly or something. Having said that, I’m going to take advantage of this situation and ask you to please draw me the best animal.
[Image Sarah]: The best animal? Don’t you know how indecisive I am? I’ve always liked lions [picture of a lion]
[Image Giselle]: Sorry not sorry. Yesss!!! Lions rule!! Do another one. Do another one!
[Image Sarah]: I get excited when I see a skink [picture of a skink]
Or a cat! [picture of a tortoiseshell cat]
[Image Giselle]: Skinks!!! Cats!!! Heck yes!
[Giselle with hands up] More.
[Image Sarah] and mice! So cute! Especially when they nibble things in their hands. [picture of a mouse]
Giraffes are pretty cool! [picture of a giraffe]
[Image Giselle]: I am drunk with power. Do one more.
[Image Sarah]: my friend Jo has the cutest goats. [picture of a brown and white goat] Can I say that all animals are the best animal?
[Giselle]: You can because it’s true! Thank you.
Giselle Clarkson is a freelance illustrator and comic creator from Wellington. Her work has appeared in a bunch of School Journals as well as Gecko Press’ ANNUAL. She illustrated the 2018 picture book Secret World of Butterflies by Courtney Sina Meredith (Allen & Unwin NZ) and the 2019 children's novel Hazel and the Snails by Nan Blanchard (Annual Ink/Massey University Press). Her most recent illustrations are in The Tiny Woman's Coat by Joy Cowley (Gecko Press). Buy now. Giselle's secret talent is rescuing moths from the shower without accidentally drowning them. Visit her website: www.giselledraws.com.