The Inking Woman is an essential and long overdue recognition of the role, influence and importance of the women creators who have been instrumental in the evolution and forward momentum of this art form in the UK.
A groundbreaking picture-led celebration of the work of over 100 named British artists revealing a wealth of women’s wit and insight spanning 250 years.
Based on The Inking Woman exhibition, held at the Cartoon Museum 2017
Edited by ublished by Myriad Editions
interview Ravi Thornton for The Inking Woman:
1. Why (and when) did you initially produce [comics] work?
Raven Squad was the first comic that I fully realised. I wrote it for myself and for the beauty of illustrator Perry Van Zandt’s hand: an extraordinary talent.
For me it was a sleek and satisfying culmination of personal reclamation, alongside my never-ending exploration of narrative device.
There was the text itself (the delight of dark fantasy): but also the scripting (constructing a one-to-three-to-five-to-seven panel structure); the playing of the classic black, white and red palette (recognisably graphic, dystopian, the colours of prejudice); and the delicate layering of the two-tone recount (white on black, and black on white).
As a first foray, the piece is by no means perfect; but it was liberating and empowering to create.
2. What was your situation when you created the piece? (How were you making a living?
2010 was the year I finally began to feel resilient again: after a prolonged period of trauma and grief, followed by two years of conscious self-recovery.
I’d been freelancing as a writer, writing mentor, proofreader, copywriter, editor, technical writer and report writer for well over a decade: outwardly surviving through the mechanical structure of words whilst inwardly caving under the weight of PTSD.
By the time 2010 arrived I’d travelled the world; been to hell and heaven and back; and made peace with a great many facets of myself.
Fiction writing had been my companion throughout – both the devil and the angel on my shoulders. Now I had savings; I’d become a home owner, providing me with my first true experience of foundation; and I understood writing in a way that I never had before.
I felt legitimate. I was 37 years old.
3. What were your living circumstances?
At the time I wrote Raven Squad I was enjoying living alone, training and rehabiliting my dog, curating a string of sexual encounters. All on my own terms as I practiced what I’d learned in my recovery: the redeployment of aggression as assertion, and that pain wasn’t a requisite of creativity.
4. Do you have any formal training and/or do you hold a higher education degree?
Before the first of the several traumatic incidents that have shaped my life since, I trained in marine science. I was a highly qualified diver and interested in offshore-island management. To this day my favourite sound is that of being underwater. Afterwards I trained in fine art photography and multimedia, a natural progression of my longstanding interest in illustrated prose; which later became an interest in narrative architectures, environments and psychologies; and subsequently in how these might tangibly apply to social and economic problems.
5. Why did you originally begin cartooning or making comics or graphic novels?
I’ve written fiction for as long as I can remember. I used to draw a lot too. My younger brother was the same, and we often drew and wrote together, likely creating comics before we even understood the concept. As we grew older we often talked about collaborating on a graphic novel, but he died before this could come to pass.
Having realised, through Raven Squad, the versatility of the comics medium, it was natural to want to explore this further. Now, whenever I’m scripting anything, for whatever medium, the techniques of comics writing form a part of that process.
6. Were you motivated politically in any way at any stage in your cartooning?
I began to seriously consider the responsibility of narrative in society in 2008. I was working with a number of texts at the time, but it wasn’t until Raven Squad that this consideration found comics form: in part inspired by the anti-terrorism language being used in a police campaign across Manchester at the time.
I found it strange: the idea that I should start watching to see what my neighbours were putting into their bins, or that I should be wary of new mothers pushing their prams lest the contents be explosive. The campaign’s aim may have been to unite, but it felt divisive.
Since then my professsional development has become very much motivated by the wider socio-economic environment that we now exist in: particularly by how fast-moving and unsettling that environment is becoming for large numbers of people; and how the constancies of narrative can be used to help mitigate their distress.
7. Do you still cartoon and if not why did you stop?
I write many different kinds of scripts professionally for many different applications; including comics scripts for outcomes other than printed or digital comics. This is because the narrative devices employed in comics writing are very powerful, and can be used strategically in a number of ways.
Writing a comic for the sake of writing a comic, however, does bring something unique out of me. It’s difficult to put my finger on. A inherent permission, perhaps? Such as right now. I’m currently writing a graphic novel purely for the pleasure of it. It’s my first comedy.
8. Do you have any stories that are examples of gender disparity from your time cartooning?
My experience in this regard has largely been the same for comics as for most other traditionally male-dominated industries: which is that, generally speaking, whereas men have a wealth of more experienced male counterparts to turn to for mentorship in their field, women and transgender people do not.
Whilst peer support and solidarity for gender diversity in comics is very strong at grassroots level, this isn’t the same as professional development opportunity. The lack of female and transgender comics creators in mentorship roles translates to a lack of professional development opportunity, and encourages a more isolated sense of independent pursuit. As well as this then perpetuating the problem in the industry, it’s also self-limiting to the individual as collaboration is so utterly crucial to learning. I’ve found typically that men are far more ready to collaborate with me in my work than women or transgender people are, despite the fact that I actively seek gender diverse collaborators.
Perhaps then there is a need for commissioners and influencers to be more encouraging, incentivising even, of co-creation collaborations between women and/or transgender creators? With transparency around the underlying aim of cultivating a professional development infrastructure.