After Life is no exception. A quiet, melancholic short story that perfectly captures the weird ubiquitousness of loss. There's always comfort in seeing these feelings that everyone knows, or will know, on the page (or said out loud).
I've uploaded a nice big version of After Life to accompany this post. Once Beth gets her finger out and puts it on her own site, I'll point my links there. You can also read The Observer's piece on the competition which features short interviews with the winners and links to their entries.
Because I know Beth, I can ask her stupid questions. Here follows a short interview.
Interview With Beth Dawson
Hello. Well done.
Thanks David! I am chuffed.
Do you hate Alexis Deacon for beating you?
Hahaha, cheers. I don't hate anyone! Hate is so ugly and never good for you or useful.
No I feel pretty good about being beaten by a guy with such a good reputation in the field. Until I got told I had won I wasn't even sure if my story was any good so I didn't have any massive expectations. It's cool to think that if Alexis hadn't bothered entering I coulda been joint first. I wouldn't mind splitting a grand with someone. But no.. I love Alexis' work, I spent some time today getting to know what he does and has done and I think he has a really interesting way of thinking and tells a good story. His drawings are really beautiful too. Hey we both studied at the University of Brighton too (ten years apart) which makes me collectively proud of the both of us despite the fact I've never met him.
As far as I know, you've never drawn comics before After Life, is that right?
I've not drawn any comics I'd be happy to show people before this one, nope. I have been thinking about this one for a long time though.. About 3 years or more since I wrote it and started to draw ideas for it.
I think though that once you reach a certain level of crafting skills and creative thinking you can transfer some skills and figure things out a lot more quickly. I also made a lot of animations when I was studying and the story boarding process for this is quite similar. I've had a few people say they can imagine my comic animated which is great to hear because I really wanted there to be a bit of "imaginative space" for the reader to bring the story to life.
Have you considered animating it?
Considered yes. Having done a bit of animation though I know how much work it would be. Maybe if someone wanted to take it on I’d be happy to work with them. I’ve also considered putting it online as a bit of an interactive comic but it may be some time before I get a chance to do anything like that. I think it could look really beautiful animated though and I’d like to see how it worked with music.
Do you read comics?
I do like to read comics.. I fell in love with the medium after being given a copy of Black Hole by Charles Burns "Black Hole on Wikipedia"). Such a satisfying reading experience, I remember being so in awe of how that book was constructed and how it affected me. I love that with a book you can take your time to read and study certain parts and you can pick them up and put them down. Though it's often a linear reading experience you're not bound by the time constraints and keeping up with the story like you might be with a film and there's an economy to the imagery and a special way of looking that you can get from a graphic story. It's a great medium. I especially like the meatier books that tackle big subjects. My comic strip is really about capturing a very physical experience and feeling, it's very personal and I think the format makes it a comfortable space to explore that kind of subject matter in your own time.
I could reel off a bunch of comic artists that I love but they are pretty much the same list as what I've read other people referencing (Ware, Spiegelman, Satrapi) I was aware that the few I picked for my Observer interview might've been a bit obvious too but I think that Raymond Briggs story was really formative and Audrey Niffenegger.. Well I just love that she has done both graphic stories and novels too. I also love Graham Rawle's stories and how he doesn't draw but works with ephemera. I find it really interesting how with his work the materials he uses really flavour the language of his books so much.
I think you should recommend some other people who do comics too.. Just a friendly plug for the community.
OK, 3 quickies: 1, Friends of the blog, Carolyn Alexander and Coll Hamilton put out a brilliant collaborative comic called Amber and Chelsea (pt.2 out at Thought Bubble next week). 2, I recently found that The Hand of Gold by Jordan Crane was online - it's a brilliant wee short story that I've loved for years. 3, If you give it time, Achewood by Chris Onstad is the funniest comic ever written.
Can you talk a little about the process of drawing the comic? Does it exist as an original or as separate parts?
Well the process was quite lengthy. I started out with just the words, highlighting bits of text I thought were the best to turn into key panels and making notes about the certain scenes and locations I wanted to include. I then started to draw the panels that I could imagine most clearly. I think the initial image I drew was the couple in bed together. When I first made my notes I’d considered having dual narrators, so I drew the scenes from both the girl and boy’s perspective but visually this narrative was a bit muddled so I chose to draw it instead from just the girl’s perspective with the shift at the end. It took me a bit of time to warm into how to go about constructing the scenes and initially I think I was trying to draw too much detail.
The first issue I had was figuring out a way to convey a sense of sadness throughout the whole comic, it would have been incredibly repetitive to draw just the girl’s glum face over and over, so I had to find more ways of expressing her feelings or a sense of her vulnerability. I knew I didn’t want to draw her crying so I began to focus on her hands and once I’d got into this I found it a lot easier. I drew a lot of the panels directly onto either layout paper or brown paper and there were lots of goes of figuring out how much of the story I should put on each page and how I should divide it up. Each page was then drawn on white using a very fine felt tip type marker, scanned in and cleaned up. I then laser printed it in just black and orange onto brown kraft paper and coloured the white layer by hand with a posca pen. So there is an original of sorts; a print with a hand coloured white layer and this is what’s going to be on display in the exhibition along with the winner, other runner up and the 5 shortlisted entries at Central St Martins.
The things you make, from illustrations to jewellery to sculptures often feel like they're little pieces of bigger stories. Looking back, can you spot any themes or interesting overlaps between the projects you've worked on?
Yeah absolutely I think I've been gnawing at the same bone for years really.. It all skirts around similar ideas and I think that was why I wanted to do the comic because I consider myself an illustrator but most of my output is object based. The way I put my comic together is the same way I think about my sculpture or jewellery.. It's all about capturing something or communicating quite oblique or nuanced ideas. Whichever way I work or the medium I use ...it all boils down to the same thing, they are all just props or triggers for the notions and feelings many of us have swimming around our heads. Childhood, memory, nostalgia blah blah etc blah.
Yeah my work is definitely nodding to a kind of hyper textual or meta fictive type experience. Going back to the idea of the objects I create being quite "prop-like" what I'm interested in making are pieces of work that give just enough of a sense of a story or character or moment to the audience for them to take it in a direction that works best and allows them to feel more like it's their story not mine. With a book there's a start and a finish too , a definite articulated experience between the first page and the last but with an object.. Well it's interactive and can be explored from many angles within different times and contexts. So really now I know I can do comics, it's a natural progression to see how the two worlds might collide. I’ve been considering the idea of making comics that relate to the object work I do since I was last studying. I’d like to give some of the pieces I make a backstory and context - like personal myths or folklore.
There’s a little bit of this in the story I made for the competition with the drawings of the marble. I’m keen to continue with this.. I think some people might consider this 'merchandising' but perhaps that's just the term we've come to consider these things under. In reality, the notion of a souvenir or a real object that is linked to a pertinent experience or story is actually quite a deeply entrenched and emotive part of how we exist and how we navigate our lives and material culture.. It could just be tat or it could be a jumping off point for many other stories and shared experiences, I guess that's up to the viewer.
Tell a story in 10 emoji or less
👫 💀 💔 👖 😩 😫 🌊 🐱 ✨ 👌 👎
That's 11 ..I'm giving myself a 10% word allowance .. That's After Life right there in emoji. If I'd have known it was that simple I would have downloaded them to my keyboard sooner and saved myself a lot of effort.
Comics wise, I’m working on a story with my sister which is again about relationships but focussed on emotional manipulation and the darker side of a loving relationship. I’d like to do a funny comic in-between though (I've got a few sketched ideas for a bit of a coming of age anthology).. Something just to lighten things up a bit. I’m a pretty goofy and chipper person in real life.
Cool. Thanks for answering my questions.
Thanks! Um, bye.