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  • Helen Lederer

Excitement reigns! The DOYEN of Cartoon, graphic and humour – POSY SIMMONDS

Helen Led here – I have been a fan of Posy Simmonds for all of my long life, so this is the TOTAL cream on the crumble of my humorous graphic lift off – Lucky us.

Posy Simmonds, on the 2020 Humorous Graphic Novel Prize shortlist with Cassandra Darke 

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

There’s no formula…sometimes it’s through imagining a character; sometimes it’s a situation.

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

It depends what’s going on in the picture. A full page one, with a crowd, architecture and lots of details could take several days; a simple frame - a character (say) with a speech balloon - can be done in 20 minutes. I reckon to draw about 1000 pictures in a novel.

Favourite cartoonist please?

Saul Steinberg

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

Cartoons are short - a single frame, with or without caption/speech balloon, or a strip of several frames. Graphic novels are longer narratives, usually, but not always, in book form.

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 worked on the book a few years ago.

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

I’ve worked as a newspaper cartoonist since 1969. True Love, a cartoon story, came out in 1981 - the term graphic novel wasn’t really used then. Two graphic novels appeared in The Guardian as serials, before they were in book form. The first one, Gemma Bovery, was published in 1999. Tamara Drewe came out in 2007 and Cassandra Darke in 2018.

Cassandra Darke by Posy Simmonds sits crossing her arms on a bench
Cassandra Darke © Posy Simmonds

Can you describe what your graphic novel’s about in two sentences?

It’s about a mean, rich old woman, a convicted fraudster and lover of fast food, who gets caught up in the murder of a young woman. The story is lightly based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

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

Walking about London, seeing the contrast between the glitzy and grim areas of the city...

Where do you start when writing a graphic novel?

I work in a sketchbook, making experimental drawings of the characters, their surroundings and their costumes, trying out their voices with bits of dialogue. Then I start writing an outline of the story.

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


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

I don’t set out to write a funny book. The humour comes from the characters, how they interact…I depend on irony quite a lot. Cassandra Darke has rude text messages.

Posy Simmonds' drawing of her workspace
Posy's workspace © Posy Simmonds

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

I try and draw every day, at a drawing board. I’ve been used to working to newspaper deadlines. Ideas seem to come quicker when I’m under a bit of pressure.

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

Daniel Clowes, Florence Cestac, Raymond Briggs, Kate Charlesworth, Chris Ware, Jean Harambat, Alison Bechdel to name just a few, in no particular order.

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?

(c) cut a bit off the cheese

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

Cheered me up in lockdown. Have a go.

Me again – Oh I am so with Posy on the cheese thing…and if Posy likes a dod of fromage… then so should we.

Posy Simmonds is the author of many books for adults and children, including Gemma Bovery, Lulu and the Flying Babies and Fred, the film of which was nominated for an Oscar.

She has won international awards for her work, including the Grand Prix 2009 de la Critique Bande Dessiné for Tamara Drewe. Both Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe have been made into successful feature films.

She lives in London.

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