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  • Helen Lederer

Danny Nobles’ comic strip of toasty testicles in Women in Love

Helen Led here: at last I've found a fellow human who loves the toasty testicle scene in Women in Love. I love how Danny has built her hilarious graphic universe of this chance sighting on TV – (I did it for A level but prefer Danny’s graphics)

Danny Noble, on the Humorous Graphic Novel Prize shortlist with Was it...Too Much For You?

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

For me it’s the idea, and then whilst grappling with the elegant idea in my head with my clumsy hands and grubby pen, the work appears in most unexpected ways.

What publications are your dream places for publishing your work?

I’d love to see my work in the New Yorker, but there’s so many incredible magazines and anthologies popping up all the time. Basically I’d love to be anywhere that didn’t want to smooth down my edges or hide my cocks.

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

That’s a how long is a piece of string question! In my new graphic memoir Shame Pudding, I have panels that took minutes to draw, and double page spreads that take days and days to work out.

In Was it...Too Much For You? the characters were so forceful in wanting their adventures told that I had to work very speedily. I drew them episodically, one strip a night after getting back from my day job.

Danny's workspace © Danny Noble

Favourite cartoonist please?

Cartooning is largely a different skill to making comics and I admire so many of them. Saul Steinberg is one of my very favourite mark makers, his way of creating depth and character with such simple lines is a miracle to me. And more recently artists like Ruby Elliot, Will McPhail and Liana Finck (longlisted for the CWIP Prize with her brilliant book Passing For Human) have such an output of extraordinary ideas I’d love to have a rambling holiday through all their brains.

The people who I love working on comics and graphic novels are too vast and varied to choose from! I get massive anxiety about choosing favourites and leaving people out! I’ve gone all sweaty!

What’s the different between cartoons and a graphic novel?

A matter of girth. Generally a cartoon is a concise comic idea told in one image with a caption or dialogue, whereas a graphic novel is many images telling some kind of story, bound up in a handy book.

When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize and was your entry specifically written for it or were you working on it already?

I first read about the CWIP prize on Twitter and thought “Wahoo!” So I was delighted when I found out this year they were including graphic novels. My entry was already made, but now I want to make a thousand more.

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

As a kid I’d fill book upon book with my stories, rants and rages, and I drew on whatever was to hand, including my bedroom wall and my little brother (sorry bout that!) But it was in about 2002 I began combining words and pictures in more of a traditional comic strip way.

I worked in kitchens for years, as a pot scrubber, a cook and a kitchen manager, 'til I quit it all to spend more time with my pencils, and ended up a Teaching Assistant.

I’ve also illustrated two children’s books for one of my comedy heroes Adrian Edmondson, sing in a band called The Meow Meows, and love swimming in ponds, rivers and oceans.

Recently adjusting to living with sleepy disease, I’ve just had Shame Pudding, my graphic memoir about my wonderfully weird Jewish grandmas launched by Street Noise Books, a brilliant, bold Brooklyn publisher and I couldn’t be more pleased about it.

Can you describe what your graphic novel’s about in two sentences – or with two panels from it, if you’d prefer?

In 1969 Mr Oliver Reed met Mr Alan Bates in the film Women In Love and when they wrestled naked in front of a roaring fire the frisson was so great they have been unable to dress themselves ever since. This is the, entirely fictitious, story of their wonderful, terrible rum-soaked adventures.

Extract from Was It Too Much... For You? © Danny Noble

What made you write your graphic novel? Where did the idea or impulse behind it come from?

I’d been making an autobiographical comic strip called Monday Morning on and off for years. I posted it online and it had a small but vocal following. In one episode I wrote about finally fixing my telly after two weeks without it, and the first thing that popped up on the screen was the Ken Russell film Women In Love.

Naked Oliver Reed began making guest appearances in my comic, until he became much more popular than me and so I gave him a strip of his own with his beloved Alan. They became so real to me it was almost a matter of sitting with my pen and waiting to see where they’d lead me next. And then when a few people said they were uncomfy at seeing naked male bodies, not realising they were in a world full of naked female ones, that was the happy cherry on top!

Extract from Was It Too Much... For You? © Danny Noble

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

I draw completely illegible thumbnails to give me an idea of pacing and dialogue. Mostly I work very episodically and instinctively, reacting to how my characters behave, so I don’t do too much plotting and planning in advance. I’m often as shocked as anyone where it all ends up.

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

It’s a strange thing in that I feel like I use two entirely different parts of my brain for each. Writing is second nature to me, sometimes I don’t even realise I’m doing it. And drawing is like solving a curious puzzle, so it slows down the whole process. I enjoy the contrast from flexing one muscle to the other.

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

Life is funny, and it would feel very untrue not to reflect that. Plus my favourite thing is laughing and making other people laugh. The humour in this book comes from Ollie and Alan’s lovely absurd, self centred characters. I was working with a class of 5 year olds, at the same time as drawing my book and they were so inherently funny and surprising and fascinating that sometimes their antics would make it into the stories, and their words would translate surprisingly well to the mouths of my tiny drunk men.

Can you tell us about your writing routine and where you write/draw?

I got in a bad habit of drawing in bed, covering my sheets with coffee and ink stains and doing horrible damage to my back. So now I try and sit at a desk, but sometimes throw a coffee over my shoulder for old times sake.

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

I can! I was consuming a lot of Linda Barry and Tara Booth recently. Since lock-down, like a lot of folk, I’ve had a massive brain fog and my eyes wouldn’t focus on a printed page. I’m surviving on a diet of Maeve Binchy audiobooks. They’re read by her cousin who has the loveliest voice.

You can’t find the right picture or words to make a sentence chime: do you (a) swear? (b) cry? or (c) eat? - if (c), what item of food?

I usually go and jump in the nearest expanse of water I can find ‘til it works itself out. But I am also a big fan of a furious swear.

Have you ever read anyone else’s bad review and felt slightly chuffed?

No, strangely as I’m an incredibly jealous creature. However I did recently read a bad review of my own new book and it was SO bad I was somehow more delighted than I was horrified.

What difference has being shortlisted for the CWIP prize made to you? What would you say to anyone thinking of entering?

I’m so in awe of the work coming out from the wonderful world of comics, and I think often people aren’t aware of the treasures to be found there, especially coming out the pens of women, so I’m so happy that CWIP is shining a light on this community and I hope we reach a wider audience!

On a more personal note, like I said before I love making people laugh more than anything, so every time I think of my funny little book, with my terrible little naked men being shortlisted for this comedy based prize, it puts a massive spring in my step. So I say thank you Helen, thank you CWIP and enter women, enter! Power to your pens!

Me again – how thrilling to learn from Danny who has done SO MUCH - pot scrubber teacher and swimmer to name a few things and most of all FUNNY.

Danny Noble is an obsessive diarist who has published several comic books of her own.

She illustrated Adrian Edmondson's first two children's books for Puffin Random House and was shortlisted for The Arts Foundation Fellowship Award.

When not writing and drawing she sings with her band The Meow Meows and her first graphic memoir, Shame Pudding, was published this May by Street Noise Books.

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