LB: Hello Sally and thank you so much for contributing to ADVENTurous this year. I have a feeling your contribution will be great fun - Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your work - I know you are a big fan of comics..
ST: I'm a freelance illustrator and comic creator, based in Derbyshire. Having moved around a lot, I'm very lucky to have ended up in such a gorgeous county full of so much tangible history everywhere, which itself is a big inspiration (my most recent minicomic, Now and Then, is set in Derbyshire and about our relation to history as a lived experience). As well as a lot of amazing comic artists, animators, illustrators, writers, etc, that kind of inspiration, in my everyday environment, is very important to me, and I think part of what makes each artist's work their own.
LB; I have to confess my ignorance here… I have been briefed that some of your art is in the manga style - and I know that manga is a Japanese form of comic strip but
I don’t know any more than that or whether what you do is specifically and exclusively manga or a mix of that and more generic comic strip art?
ST: Well, I wouldn't refer to myself as a manga artist. I'm one of many comic creators working today who was a teenager when manga was becoming more widely available in English, and was deeply influenced by the range of storytelling. I think for a lot of us that was when it clicked that comics could be about anything.
While the word 'manga' has developed a lot of connotations in English usage, and a lot of people see it as one particular style (to the extent that many artists influenced by it in their formative comic-making years now try to distance themselves from the label!), it's simply another word for comics - as is bande dessinée, or graphic novel. I would argue that there is no 'generic comic strip art'...there are certainly cases where art follows a house style, or artists have perhaps been a bit narrow in what they take their inspiration from, but generally, an overview of the comics being produced today will show a dazzling variety of style and expression. And the manga I started reading as a teenager is part of that – that exchange of ideas, where creators nowadays can take influence from lots of different approaches to drawing and storytelling.
LB: What drew you to the style?
ST:One area where manga has been a big influence on comics internationally is in its pacing. They're often very decompressed – their pacing isn't action-action-action, but often very rhythmic, and their page layouts vary so you get sparse pages that slow you down (as a reader) to let you soak in a more emotional or thoughtful moment. Some titles are also very unafraid of slowness, focusing on moments of experience – in essence more akin to poetry than prose in terms of idea, and narrative (or lack of one) - and these sorts of stories are a huge influence on me.
LB: That’s so interesting – I just hadn’t realized the genre was so multi-layered – or quite how clever it was in manipulating the reader’s pace an engagement. You have clearly loved reading comics for a long time. What do you enjoy about making them?
ST: In terms of making, comics are the best fit for me because I get to do a huge variety of creative tasks – comics are writing, character design, drawing, layout/compositional design, colour work, graphic design, or some combination of those elements if working with others! I love the open, expressive mode of storytelling that's possible, the interplay of textual and visual elements, the control the reader has in the way they read, as well as plain old love for beautiful artwork.
Some of my favourites (among many!) are Yokohama Shopping Trip by Ashinano Hitoshi, Grey Horses by Hope Larson, Carnet de Voyage by Craig Thompson, Sexy Voice and Robo by Iou Kuroda, and Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli.
(Can I add that if I've inspired anyone to go check some comics out, Leeds has both OK Comics (http://www.okcomics.co.uk/) and Travelling Man
( http://www.travellingman.com/ ) who I'm very sure would give you some fantastic recommendations if you go and tell them what sort of books and movies you most enjoy!)
LB: You have a fantastic website and are clearly busy! What kind of commissions do you get?
ST: It's quite a variety (which is nice!). Some recent examples were a short comic for staff training materials for a health organisation, an illustrated children's activity trail for a museum, a short story for a monthly anthology comic title, and a couple of magazine illustrations. I'm just starting a job doing some illustrations for an all-ages book, which I'm looking forward to. Hopefully, the next year will bring more book-length projects that I can get my teeth into.
LB: What does Advent mean to you?
S: I grew up in an informal church, so Advent traditions aren't something I'm very familiar with, I'm just learning about them really. I do really like the concept of a series or progression, like going through this season – the series of things to contemplate and, particularly, taking time to do so, I think can have an effect that's greater than the sum of its parts. A bit more slowness and contemplation is I think something really worth trying for over Christmas.
LB: Can you tell us anything about how you have interpreted the theme of Advent for the exhibition?
ST: I've chosen the 'Star' theme for my one-page short comic, which is about the idea of 'following a star' versus the demands of daily life, drawn in a playful way.