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  • Helen Lederer

The power of the auto bio comic… and going for it…

Helen Lederer here - so inspiring to see how Rachael’s human condition in storytelling and drawings – pings! Am so much in awe, I’m having to have a coffee to process my connection ….

Rachael Smith on the 2020 Graphic Novel Prize shortlist with Stand In Your Power

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

I suppose what came first for my graphic novel was a break up! But I had published a similar graphic novel called Wired Up Wrong a year before this one so in many ways I was just carrying on that idea of putting my problems down on paper. I think generally, for me, the ideas come from drawing so maybe ideas happen all at once from both things.

What publications are your dream places for publishing your work?

Avery Hill Publishing have published two of my graphic novels (The Rabbit' and Artificial Flowers) and they are great folks to work with. I'd love to have something out with First Second or Top Shelf one day...but we'll see!

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

Golly, it depends on how big/complicated the picture is! A simple panel can take me 15 minutes whereas a splash page (a panel that takes up the whole of one page) can take a couple of days.

Favourite cartoonist please?

Kate Beaton! Look her up – she is amazing, and one of the reasons I was inspired to take this career path.

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

I mean, I would say that 'cartoons' to me means animated tv shows that you would watch on Saturday mornings! If you'd have asked me what the difference is between a comic and a graphic novel – I would say that a graphic novel is a long comic, usually long enough to warrant a spine rather than staples to hold it together, but that's just me!

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

Ooh I actually can't remember! It might have been the amazing Hannah Berry posting about it on social media! My entry was already done and dusted by the time the call for submissions came around, I was very happy that it fitted the criteria.

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

Well I started making comics in 2012, and my first graphic novel House Party came out in 2014. I've always loved drawing and telling stories, and comics seem to be the perfect marriage of those two things.

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

Stand in Your Power is a collection of auto bio comic strips that I made after going through a breakup. The comics deal with loneliness, figuring out who you are, moving on, dating, friendship, depression, love, and many other super-relatable things.

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

After the success of Wired Up Wrong I wanted to do a follow up. The breakup gave me a whole bunch of new emotions to talk about in terms of how it affected my mental health.

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

I start with sketches, then writing down ideas, I write the whole thing, including dialogue before I start on the pages, then I thumbnail (like tiny storyboards), then pencil, ink, and colour!

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

Yes, very much!

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

I think the humour in my books comes quite naturally. I've always used comedy as a coping mechanism so in my auto-bio books (like Stand in Your Power) it's at its most natural.

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

See below.

Rachael's workspace © Rachael Smith

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

Yeah I think it's really important to read whilst writing (I mean, not literally the same time but you know what I mean!). It's good to contextualise your work with books covering similar topics. I don't just read comics, I read a lot of novels and watch a lot of films too. Although I've found reading really hard in the lockdown so that's all gone out the window! My favourite comic creator is Kate Beaton, and my favourite novelist is Donna Tartt.

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

It's made me very happy and excited! I would say go for it!

Me again – Love your natural stroke of the pen - the wit shines out

Rachael Smith is a comic artist and writer. She’s created many critically acclaimed graphic novels including Wired Up Wrong, Stand in Your Power, Artificial Flowers, and The Rabbit, which was nominated for Best Book in the 2015 British Comic Awards, following her nomination for Emerging Talent.

Rachael’s worked on Titan's Doctor Who Comic series and is currently working on Isabella & Blodwen as well as making her #QuarantineComix series inspired by the lockdown. 

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