Lucy Sullivan Talks About Her Debut BARKING
Thanks to the otherworldly knowledge, always keeping her finger on the pulse, and curating the amazing HEY AMATEUR!, Shelly Bond introduced me to the work of Lucy Sullivan. For that I'm truly grateful.
After reaching out to Lucy I discovered her first GN was being published this week so I asked her if she would be up for an interview to talk about it. Hope you guys enjoy and make sure you check out my review, I posted.
RYAN: First off can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
LUCY: I can indeed! I’m Lucy. I was born & raised in London to Irish/ New Zealand parents who ran pubs. Which lead to a good part of my early adult years were working in hospitality, particularly bartending. After a period of travelling, bar-work and following a passion for snowboarding, I studied a BA degree in Illustration & Animation at Kingston School of Art. Since graduating I have worked as an Animation Director, a Pre-Visual Illustrate & Storyboard Artist for Film & TV and taught observational drawing at Universities across London.
RYAN: When did you first decide that you wanted to work in graphic literature
LUCY: Whilst teaching at an evening class. I was feeling very unfulfilled by the work I was doing in Animation & although I enjoyed teaching I craved storytelling as a creative pursuit. One of my regular class attendees was comics writer & artist Nick Abadzis (Laika / Dr. Who / Pigs Might Fly). Nick & I would often discuss comics, he worked on many titles that I’d read and I was always interested in trying my hand at it one day, Nick suggested the time might be right. That was over 10 years ago now and shows just how long this things can take to create!
RYAN: So BARKING is actually your first graphic novel, what was the process like in bringing your project to life?
LUCY: It was a long process with many stages. Prior to going with my publisher Unbound, the comic was something I did in my spare time. Just as I decided to make it a more focused project I found out I was pregnant and couldn’t write or draw for the whole 9 months. After having my daughter my skills returned thankfully and it became something I did when she napped. It’s importance grew again when I met my editor, Lizzie Kaye, at a party that once again I’m indebted to Nick Abadzis for taking me to. Once I launched with Unbound it became a full time job. I had created 4 of the chapters by then over a period of about 6 years. Each one having several drafts and I think that gave me a grounding in pagination & time to find my art style.
Adding that to a life time of reading comics and complete focus it all just started coming together. The final stage of 6 chapters was created from bare bones in around 5 months and a very intense experience it was too. I’ve learned a lot throughout the whole process that I hope I can bring to fruition on my future works.
RYAN: The book deals with mental health, which can always be tricky subject. What inspired you to tackle this subject?
LUCY: I had a mental health crisis in my 20s, after the sudden death of my Dad. It was about 18 months after his death and the culmination of a post trauma from flying home from NZ where I’d been living, returning to complicated relationships with the living and an undiagnosed depression & anxiety. I took therapy, which lead to my return to art and in the years following saw many people suffer similar or worse events. I felt the taboo and misunderstanding they faced was exactly as I had years before and I wanted to say something about that. When Nick suggested I make a comic I was in a deep bout of depression, my partner Stephen suggested the comic could be about my depression as a Black Dog and it grew from there. I started looking into mythology, researching the mental health system and reading autobio comics and knew I had the bones of a story to develop a larger narrative from.
RYAN: How personal was this story for you?
LUCY: Very personal. I was fortunate to not be sectioned during those dark days but some of my friends were not so lucky. Seeing and hearing how they were treated and the general response from society as whole angered me greatly. It still does. My paternal grandmother was in and out of the psychiatric ward and I was raised with her being the mad old lady of our borough. As I researched around my own mental health these anecdotes kept nagging at me and I knew my story had to encompass them too. I combined our experiences into Alix, the main character, who is basically me in my 20s. I was an unsympathetic figure as my grief and depression manifested as rage so I took that part of me and put it in the UK health system to talk about how we view and treat people at their most vulnerable whilst also trying to bring the reader into what it feels to be in the grip of a mental health crisis. I’ve put the worst of my life into that book and I hope it will help people to talk more openly about what they have been through too.
RYAN: Not only did you write this book but illustrated it as well. I think it gives the book a singular artistic vision. What would you say you prefer creating more the writing, art or both?
LUCY: It’s the combination that thrills me the most. I’m more drawn to the art side naturally as it’s something I’ve pursued professionally but I have always written stories and poems as a hobby. Tackling a graphic novel was a wonderful reminder of how much I enjoy writing. I’m still figuring out the process of drawing and writing together. Whilst making BARKING I flitted between the two depending on each chapter and what I wanted to say. In my next long form idea I will need to focus on the plotting more so I hope the two will start to become equal, although I doubt I will ever be as frustrated by writing as I can be on those nightmare days when you just can’t draw!
RYAN: This book was brought to life through crowdfunding, what was that experience like seeing so much support? Would you do it again?
LUCY: Crowdfunding with Unbound was a unique and extremely worthwhile experience. I’m not going to lie, it was hard won. The targets are really high, mine was £13K and took two years to reach 100%. That was with an Arts Council England Grant of around 30% & a very generous contribution from the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival. It probably would have taken another year without that money. However the support I received from family, friends, readers and the comics community worldwide has been incredibly uplifting. I’m extremely proud of my supporters list and still flabbergasted by some of the names in there. I would definitely crowdfund again and have two Kickstarters coming up but not with Unbound. I’m hoping to combine crowdfunding, arts grants and traditional publishing routes to keep creating the sort of work I’d like to produce. Although I think we’re all going to have to be flexible in how we work from now on.
RYAN: Your art style is also very unique? What mediums do you use when illustrating?
LUCY: Thanks to my degree and continued art practice I use a variety of traditional materials that I combine with digital media. BARKING was drawn with mediums that I felt best represented the experience. I drew most of it with either a biro or carbon typewriter paper onto animation paper. This gave me the immediate, unkempt aesthetic I was aiming for. For life drawing or portraiture I often use oil bars, a stick formed oil paint, that I make what I can only describe as ‘sophisticated finger painting’ with. I took a course in oil painting where you study the light & tone aspects of colour, painting with large brushes or palette knives, I would very much like to pursue that more. I think I’m drawn to more unruly mediums for both colour and line work. I draw quite small particularly with the biro but like that it still gives me that unexpected aspect as it bleeds and smudges. I’m a naturally messy artist so I’ve made it a part of my aesthetic!
Working in animation has given me a decent knowledge of Photoshop that has been really useful in laying out my sequential work plus getting to grips with InDesign. I also added extra inks to BARKING digitally using it with Kyles Brushes. Lately I’ve started exploring using Procreate with an Apple Pencil on the iPad. I think digital mediums can be very effective when combined with traditional media and probably where I’m happiest as an artist.
RYAN: What do you find most rewarding about writing/illustrating?
LUCY: I think it’s that complete control over what you want to say and being able to decide which discipline will be most effective to portray the narrative. I’ve been reading a lot of comic scripts lately in preparation for my next project and find many writers either add too much detail in the dialogue that could be better portrayed by the image or far too much action in a panel for an artists to draw. Doing both the writing & art allows for more exploration of the layouts and pagination, although it does make you a bit of a megalomaniac, you never set yourself ridiculous things to draw when you know you have to be the one to draw it. I’m conscious of getting to deep into my own worlds though so I do like to test my work on some early readers. Another perspective is vital when you are the sole creator.
RYAN: With this project done, where will we see your work next?
LUCY: Next up is as the artist on IND-XED with writer Fraser Campbell ( @FraserC69 on Twitter ). It’s a lo-fi sci-fi one shot and much delayed in production. I’m absolutely itching to draw it and we’ll be Kickstarting the comic as soon as it’s ready. I have a couple of smaller artwork gigs lined up and then I’m going to produce a short prequel comic called Shelter that I’ll be Kickstarting in the build up to my next graphic novel/ series idea. That is called The Bad Old Days, a Thriller/Noir with a supernatural element that’s set in an alternate 60s-70s London. It’s based on some of the characters I grew up with and will follow an immigrant women as she navigates a unwelcoming city, scandalous gossip, murder and a coercive marriage. I’m hoping to find a creator-owned publisher to work with on that but will see where the Kickstarter takes me first. It’s going to be a busy year so if anyone would like to be kept up to date please find me on my social media channels and follow to find out more.