The phrase ‘It girl’ is bandied about these days without the majority of people using it knowing how it was coined or who it originally referred to. In 1927, as she was starting her rise to becoming the biggest grossing actress in Hollywood, Clara Bow starred in a popular silent film called It and so gained her nickname of the It girl. Jessica Martin, herself an actress, has taken Bow as the biographical subject of her first self-published comic and used the phrase It Girl as its title.
Clara Bow was a New York outsider whose natural acting ability and screen presence turned her from a young tomboy into one of 1920s cinema’s biggest grossing sex symbols, yet after some 10 years in films she gave it all up for marriage, ranching and obscurity. Indeed for all her fame then she is barely remembered now while many of her contemporaries, perhaps due to their longer careers, are.
In her editorial Jessica Martin, who performs both writer and artist duties on It Girl, describes this publication as a mini-comic. While this would suggest to me a comic of physically small dimensions, given that the black and white comic is actually US sized, she is referring to the length of the story. Here she condenses Clara Bow’s life into 12 mainly flashback pages with liberal use of text boxes mixed with speech balloons in a style almost reminiscent of Commando. Probably due to the number of panels per page and restrained use of splash images, the story that it tells never seems rushed as it fictionalises various incidents in Bow’s life both around and away from the cameras.
The artwork has a sketchy line style with flat greys added which echoes the fact that we think of the stars of the silent screen almost exclusively in black and white whether from their films or from the publicity photos of the time. Despite having written for 2013’s Thought Bubble Anthology, this is Jessica’s first publication as a comic artist yet you would not guess this given the strength of both the artwork and page composition which suggests someone with much more experience. Indeed the weakest part of the publication for me is the cover which, while starkly simplistic, is a reuse of an internal panel that is reminiscent of the It film poster image and is coupled with a text font that gets lost at a distance. Yet, having said that, it doesn’t seem to be a hindrance to the comic selling out in those comic shops that are stocking it.
With the main It Girl story consisting of only 12 pages of artwork, this 24 page comic also includes the first seven pages of Elsie Harris Picture Palace, Jessica’s Myriad Editions First Graphic Novel nominated fictional tale of a Lyons Tea Shop waitress and her dreams of cinematic romance. This is planned to be a full length graphic novel and it will be interesting to see how many changes these initial pages go through between this publication and any final version.
It Girl, with its intense writing coupled with a light & sketchy art style, is a remarkably confident first comic from Jessica Martin.
It Girl is available from various British comics shops including Gosh, Orbital and Travelling Man as well as from Jessica’s on-line shop which also includes postcards and prints of her work: www.officialjessicamartin.com/shop/index.php
There are more details of all Jessica Martin’s work on her official website: www.officialjessicamartin.com/
Jessica’s debut graphic novel Elsie Harris Picture Palace has its own blog at: www.elsieharrispicturepalace.com/blog