Monday, 14 April 2014

Lucie Ebrey: dogs wear plaid

I've talked before about how pleasing it is to be in the midst of this golden era of comics in the UK, and one of the ways that's presenting itself is the number of up and coming illustrators and artists who are pursuing the medium. What makes me particularly excited about that are the different avenues being explored, seeing artists choose a genre, style, or tradition and do their own thing with it. Continuing comics' long tradition of auto-bio and diary comics is Lucie Ebrey, currently a second year illustration student at Falmouth University. Ebrey began posting her 4-panel diary comics in December 2012, partly as a reaction to one of her comic heroes, James Kochalka, retiring his own diary strip, American Elf, and has been steadily gaining a following ever since. Going through over a year's worth of strips to pick out a few with which to illustrate this piece, the progress and evolution of her work is both astonishing and clear to see. Ebrey's depics herself in the strip as a blue dog, often in a signature hat and plaid shirt, and the easy affability of her personality and portrayal of everyday events has no doubt been pivotal to its growing popularity.

I've seen you reference your childhood comics reading of Spider-man in your diary comics- so I'm assuming you had comics around you when you were a kid? How did you get into comics- did you buy them regularly? What sort of things did you read? 

I picked up my first Beano comic when I was around 7 years old and from then on I was completely hooked. Actually, looking back, I think the only reason I even did pick it up in the first place was because it came with a free lollipop, so now I'm worrying that the only reason I'm into comics were pure greed! Every Wednesday after school became "Beano Day" and it was something I'd get really excited about! Family friends knew about my obsession and gave me old annuals and comics they had lying around so it was something that was encouraged and only got me more into comics in general. My dad would also sometimes show me pages of Viz if it wasn't too adult. As I got older I gradually lost interest in funny strips like that and started reading superhero comics, particularly Spider-Man. But by the time I'd reached secondary school I was bored of that too. It was only when I was 13 and picked up the first volume of "Maus" in my local library that I realised that the medium was a lot broader than I even knew. That book really scared me at the time, but man oh man was I ever intrigued about how far you could push comics afterwards.  

Would you say that was directly influential in you taking illustration at uni? I know that you're really clear about comics being what you want to do- are you finding the course helpful towards that end?

Comics are certainly what got me interested in drawing in the first place, though obviously studying art over the years meant dabbling in things that weren't really my forte. Still that stuff is how you cut your teeth and I'm really glad I have that backlog of knowledge to work from. I'm really enjoying my course, and though I'm only half-way through my stay at uni, I've picked up a whole hodge-podge of tricks. Comics are my preferred way to work and my tutors are very encouraging, but I love trying my hand at more traditional forms of illustration such as book covers, editorials or illustrating children's books. I don't want to type-cast myself so early on I suppose, and getting out my comfort zone is never a bad thing!

What led you to decide to do diary comics? I imagine it's difficult to produce them, especially being a student when so much of your time is needed elsewhere?

I've always been the kind of person who find the rhythms of life really interesting, and the idea of being able to look back with accuracy and know what you were thinking or doing at any point of your life is super compelling to me, maybe even a little bit comforting. The unmistakable personal touch that you get with auto bio comics and the uniqueness of each artists style and approach feeds in perfectly with that. Craig Thompson's "Blankets" and of course "American Elf" were really what got me motivated enough to try it for myself though. I actually made several unsuccessful stabs at diary strips before I settled on my current system - I was a little over my head at the time I think and I remember it feeling like an impossible feat. But yeah, sometimes finding the balance between keeping up on the diary comics and university works is really tricky, especially during deadline crunch times. In fact I already had 10 months of comics to scan in and colour when a classmate suggested I put them online, and it's taken me a year to finally catch up! I try to stay on top of them in any downtime I have cleared for myself, but if all else fails I'll just have huge binge sessions when my schedule is clearer and make a day of it, maybe pop a good movie or TV series on in the background. It can get pretty stressful, but it's really rewarding and satisfying and I love the discipline it sort of instills. It also gives me an excuse to draw during lectures, haha.

What is that you get out of comics, as a reader, and as a creator? What do they give/offer you?

The biggest draw to me is the blend of both words and images - I feel as though comics are the best marriage of the two. And as someone who's a sucker for character development and world building as well as visuals it's just sorta perfect. That and the stories and characters comic creators cook up have the most variety of any story driven media I've seen. It's such an exciting thing to be a part of too since people in this community are so experimental, wildly different and encouraging towards the new. You don't see that so much in, say, movies. It makes me feel like the future of comics can only get more interesting, and gives me hope that there's definitely room for this new generation of creators.

Who are some of your favourite comic creators/books?

Aw geez, it's hard to single out specific people, especially since I've gradually been adding to my list of idols since I really began to jump into the community, but there are a few that stand out. Obviously James Kochalka has had a huge influence on my approach to comics just in how he encouraged me to stop procrastinating and do it. I have all the volumes of "American Elf" in my room at university and they're constantly being taken out and poured over. Craig Thompson also has a special place in my heart since "Blankets" continues to blow me away and then man's brush work is gorgeous. Then there's the "Hilda" series by Luke Pearson which are probably the best comics for a young audience out there at the moment. Rounding off the list are people like Jeff Smith, Jack Teagle, Noelle Stevenson, Juanjo Guarnido, Donya Todd, Tom Siddell, Kiyohiko Azuma, David B., Marc Ellerby, Lucy Haslam, Bryan Lee O' Malley, anything put out by Nobrow Press...honestly I could gush for hours.

Do you keep an eye on the comics 'scene' here in the UK, as it were- go to cons, events, gatherings, etc? I guess I also wonder how it feels to be part of what many consider the 'golden age' of UK comics, in that older creators have seen the growth of interest and events and prominence, but younger people like yourself, are experiencing the cusp of that, to a degree?

I've actually only gotten the chance to go to one comic event since my student budget is a little restrictive and my university schedule is really busy, and that was "Thought Bubble" back in 2012 but it was absolutely fantastic and I am planning on returning this year, but not to exhibit. I find myself following the scene without even realising I'm doing it nowadays, especially since I'm always checking twitter and blogs during drawing down-times, which I guess is a good habit to have. There's absolutely a sense that the UK comics scene is starting to get a whole heap of wind in it's sails and it's something I am super grateful to be around for, especially considering my age. It's terrific that there's suddenly more attention directed towards this little island and the artists on it, and whenever I see previously lesser known British artists given opportunities over-seas I get really chuffed. It's an exciting time to be drawing things in little boxes that's for sure.

Do you take much notice of the culture surrounding the medium- issues affecting it, changes taking place- do you see those as affecting you ever, or something that you keep abreast of, to be aware?

I will inevitably hear about the scandals that go on if only because my friends and I will debate them across the studio when we're meant to be working. In terms of the changes taking place I guess I'm very on the pulse about the surge of female comic artists that have appeared in recent years, and it's something I like to get involved with since I feel as though my comics are very feminist but in a low brow way. I'm always careful not to include anything in my strips that might outwardly offend anyone too, but not to the point of completely removing my own views from what I create. It's just something you have to sensible about in a public arena.

How helpful has it been to have an online presence- in terms of people being aware of you and your work, or to you in terms of having an audience?

It's without a doubt been the most useful thing I've ever done with my art, and just getting out there is something I love doing. It's been a delight getting feed-back from people and it's pushed me to be more ambitious and prove my mettle when working from critiques. I've gone from having no presence online to having a decent-sized audience in just a year. It's been phenomenal and opened doors for me I never thought could be opened.

Where would you like to head ideally with comics?

I suppose for the moment I'd love to get my comics out there as much as possible at conventions and online, and maybe undergo the slow process of trying to have the chance to publish a comic professionally, be it my diary strips or a new story. I'd love to start showing my more ambitious comics, since whilst my comic diaries are what I suppose I'm most well-known for, they're also drawn quickly in my short-hand sort of style. I guess like most young people I'm eager to prove myself and show my skill at drawing. Comics are something I hope I can grow old doing, and something I'll fight tooth and nail to pursue. 

Do you have any projects in the pipeline- uni projects included?

Oh boy, at the moment I'm happily overwhelmed with new projects to sink my teeth into! I'm working on a children's book for university about a monkey who runs a noodle restaurant which is super fun to work on. On top of that I'm helping organise the second issue of a comics anthology I spear-headed called "Zanzibarland" which is made up of comics by my classmates. I have a double page comic in there and I'm in the cover artist for this issue. It's looking really good and should be finished in the next month or so, so I hope people keep an eye on it! I'm also going to be included in the latest "Comic Book Slumber Party" book and working alongside such great artists is a real buzz. I just hope things continue to be so hectic!

Currently watching: Archer
Sound: The Aquabats
Closest thing to hand right now (not your computer!): Volume 3 of "Spera"
Could not live without: Coffee
Raising an eyebrow at: My university timetable
Something beginning with 'g': Gefilte fish

You can find Ebrey's Tumblr here, and her Twitter here