• Helen Lederer

40 hours to draw a chapter… OMG

Helen Led here: Thank you Emily McGovern for sharing the reality of creativity. Your way with detail is glorious. No more Where’s Wally? for me… You have spoilt me. I LOVE Bloodlust and Bonnets.

Emily McGovern, on the 2020 Humorous Graphic Novel shortlist with Bloodlust & Bonnets

What comes first - the graphic image or the funny idea for story?

Usually the idea for the joke comes first, although when I write a slapstick scene, of which there are a lot in Bloodlust & Bonnets, it’s kind of both at the same time.


How long does it take to draw one picture and how many do you need for a novel?

Interesting question! By calculation: for Bloodlust & Bonnets it took on average 40 hours to draw a chapter. That’s about 4.9 hours to draw a double page, which on average contains 16 individual panels. So on that basis it takes 15.009 minutes to draw one panel. The novel is about 200 (single) pages long, which is 1600 panels total. And that’s without counting actually writing the book, and also I didn’t even do the colour! That was done by acclaimed illustrator and holy terror Rebekah Rarely.

It’s a lot of work, but I look at it this way – graphic novels are kind of similar to films, in that they are a visual medium that take months, if not years to create and are consumed by their audience in a matter of hours. A film is a collaborative project, which takes some heat off the screenwriter or director – but you also need a budget, equipment, a crew, a cast, costumes, props, locations, sets, editing, and flawless scheduling so that all these things can come together. For a graphic novelist, all those jobs belong to you, but on the other hand – all you need is an idea, something to draw on, and time to draw (a lot of it).


Favourite cartoonist please?

Obviously there are lots, but I’ll pick one people might not know – I’m completely in awe of the mysterious and legendary Tumblr cartoonist known as “Flocci” who made the Selfie Bee comics.


What’s the different between cartoons and a graphic novel? (in a small sentence if you will)

A cartoon is like a short comedy sketch, and a graphic novel is, well, a novel, but with pictures.

Another answer, from the genre’s beloved and terrifying Old Testament-style patriarch Alan Moore, is that “graphic novel” is a term marketing teams invented in the 80s to sell comic books to adults. For which I thank them!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing graphic novels?

I started making short cartoons for Tumblr and Instagram – including my fan fiction series My Life As A Background Slytherin – in 2016. Bloodlust & Bonnets is my first graphic novel, which took about a year to write and draw in 2018-19. Before that, I went to university to study Russian, and then I was unemployed for a while, then I worked 9-5 in an office, which is where I started working on the short cartoons in my spare time.

Can you describe what your graphic novel’s about with two panels from it?

The essence of Bloodlust & Bonnets © Emily McGovern

Where do you start when writing a graphic novel? Is it with an outline, writing the story, or storyboarding that?

I come up with a story outline, then I write a dialogue script, then sketch storyboards, before fitting both together into the final artwork. That’s a very streamlined version of the process though – in reality it’s a complete mess, a lot of back and forth and false starts and binning terrible half-completed drafts.

In fact – I’m currently documenting the work in progress of my new graphic novel on my Patreon, if anyone wants to witness the mess in real time!

Do you enjoy the flexibility which using a combination of words and images gives you when writing a graphic novel?

Yes, I would struggle to write prose fiction. When I think about writing a paragraph describing a character doing something, I think, “Well I could just draw it”.

Did you set out to write a funny book? Where does the humour come from in your graphic novel? What type is it?

Yes, the book was a vehicle for as many jokes and daft scenarios I could think of. At one stage in the process I thought the tone was going to be something more like scathing satire, but in the end I settled on pure silliness. One of the characters is a giant psychic bird who believes he is the reincarnated soul of Napoleon Bonaparte so I really don’t know why I thought the satire angle would work.

Emily's lockdown office in her parents' garden © Emily McGovern

Can you tell us about your writing routine and where you write/draw? (please send a photo of writing/drawing space, if possible)

When there’s not a pandemic on, I like to leave the house and write in a big park or in a nice boujie café. At the moment I’m living with my parents, so I’m lucky enough to have a garden with a table to work at while the weather is fine.

Can you read (funny) graphic novels when you’re writing your own? Who do you enjoy reading?

One of the funniest graphic novels I’ve ever read is Lisa Hanawalt’s My Dirty Dumb Eyes, which is more like a book of her illustrated essays and thoughts.

Have you ever read anyone else’s bad review and felt slightly chuffed? (Lying is permissible in this answer.)

Yes, but I’ve also read rave reviews of things I didn’t enjoy, and felt slightly cheated. What am I not seeing, Mad Men??


Me again – Love your stuff Emily and if you’re wondering where to you find more drawings try Pencilvania… (I had to, I just had to… forgive.)

Emily was born in the UK but grew up in Brussels. After graduating, she began a Foundation Art Diploma and made hand-drawn animations and paintings of witches.


She spent a year in Russia running a weekly art “gathering”. By 2016 she was building a comic driven social media platform based around the regular posting of her My Life As a Background Slytherin comic. 


Bloodlust and Bonnets is her first graphic novel.

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