Several years ago, a rather sad but sweet girl started appearing to me in flashes. I'd be on the Van Ness bus going to work, or simply walking along downtown. And there she'd be, quite silent but with loads to say. Back then she had on a long black coat and chunky boots. Just about everything changed about her over the years: her name, her age, her outfits. Everything that is, except her hair. I knew "my girl" would have big, frizzy, exasperating, self-esteem-destroying hair!
This year, Lily was born, in the form of a rather neurotic but loveable comic book character.
Published February 2014, 'Beautiful: A girl's trip through the looking glass' is a 134-page graphic novel about a young teen girl who's the victim of a bully. It seems Lily's never quite good enough for this bully: not pretty enough, not cool enough, not the right mix of skinny and shapely... you name it. So why not just ignore this unwanted visitor, or maybe deliver a swift kick to the shins?
Well, the real problem is, the bully's inside her own head.
So the book is about how Lily deals with all those messages 'out there' as well as 'in here', and how she ends up going on a bit of an existential journey to get to the bottom of things.
Some frequently asked questions
How did you come up with the idea for Beautiful?
The character, Lily, started coming to me some years ago, along with fragments of scenes, and inner dialogue – things she was saying about herself and the world. I didn't have a story yet. That would take time, a lot of input (that I learned to take or leave), and many revisions.
What inspired you to write about this topic?
They say if you write about the personal, you will end up writing about the universal. I imagine there are very few people left on the planet who've not been inundated by messages about how they should measure up, whether that's your looks, intelligence, muscles... or even how to be a nice person. It all comes down to: how can I find my self-worth in attributes? How can I appear to the world in a way that's much better than how I feel inside? And all that adds up to some pretty painful thinking. Once I realized I was dragging around these constant messages in my own head, it was time to investigate. What is all this stuff? And are these thoughts who I really am? I didn't do it entirely on my own. I had a lot of help and inspiration along the way. The story of that journey came out in the form of this book.
How did you create the artwork?
The original sketches were done in pen and ink, until I gradually figured out a more streamlined process, one that made things easier to edit and change.
Figuring out how to build the book was a learning process that took about a year altogether!
The final drawings were done in pencil and ink wash, using water brushes filled with various Indian ink tones. I then scanned the images into Photoshop to enhance contrast, clean up, and do final inking – and so I could move them around to create each page layout. The final print-ready book was put together in InDesign.
And no, that is not my handwriting, it's a font!
Are you working on any more books?
Yes! For a few years I've had a sci-fi graphic novel in the works. It's a trilogy about a teen girl who's been raised, like a minority of other humans, on another planet. She's a sensitive kid surrounded by a purely rational species who think humans are complete wusses. The book starts with her escaping from her rather repressive boarding school. The first volume will be coming out in the winter of 2014.