With the Lakes International Comic Art Festival just two weeks away, downthetubes catches up with freelance illustrator, comics creator and author Paula Knight.
Based in Bristol, Paula’s first graphic memoir, The Facts of Life, was published by Myriad Editions in the UK and Penn State University Press in North America in March 2017. An extract was shortlisted in Myriad’s First Graphic Novel Competition in 2012, by judges including Ian Rankin, Bryan Talbot and Hannah Berry. It’s about the pressures on women and girls to become mothers, and what happens when life doesn’t quite go to plan and some pages from the book are set in the Lake District.
Paula has also self-published comics, including Spooky Womb and X-Utero, images from which have been licensed for use in academic journals/ books and used as teaching material for undergraduates in Genetic Counselling. She has illustrated numerous books for children and written three picture books as author.
Downthetubes: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Paula Knight: My first graphic memoir, The Facts of Life. I worked on it intermittently over ten years (and full-time for two and a half years). At times I thought it would never see the light of day due to health problems, so I’m proud of myself for finishing it. It’s available in bookshops, and I’ll be at Myriad’s table at LICAF where you can get a signed-and-scribbled copy.
downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Paula: It depends on how much work I have and whether or not there is an imminent deadline. I prefer to stick to conventional working hours as far as possible for the sake of my health. I like to listen to Radio 4, music, podcasts and talking books while I work, and ideally I would go out for a daily walk, preferably before starting work.
A hearty singalong helps me get through afternoon slumps (The Unthanks; Low; Gillian Welch; Kirsty MacColl, to name but a few.) While I was working on my graphic novel, I would work until 8pm most evenings, but that was a strict cut-off time. I have ME/ Fibromyalgia so I must be mindful of pacing myself – no all-nighters, or 24 hour comics for me.
downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Paula: That satisfying sensation of dip pen nib and ink sliding across a crisp white slice of Bristol board; and finishing such a long labour-intensive project provided a level of job satisfaction I’d never before experienced.
downthetubes: And the worst?
Paula: Pen injuries (inadvertent self-tattooing); and ink spills. I love this medium and have lots of ideas, but, as Hannah Berry has recently pointed out, I’m also concerned that the financial issues (comparatively low advances) around long-term book projects will be prohibitive in future if I’m unable to secure adequate extra financial support. The labour intensive nature of the medium might also no longer suit my health issues. This is very frustrating, so I’m searching for more efficacious ways of making it work, practically.
downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Paula: Good weather. I’m an outdoors person and struggle to be indoors working when the sun is out. This doesn’t sit comfortably with my rules for working normal hours. Also – new ideas that demand attention when there are still three years left on the current one…
downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Paula: It’s probably harder overall, simply because all areas of book publishing are struggling against the popularity of other media these days. Plus, the proliferation of creative undergraduate degrees means more competition, and huge student debt means working long hours while paying extortionate rents, with little time to develop creative projects.
You need time to develop ideas, and the net to allow this for YP leaving college has tightened due to these economic pressures. When I left college, we had Enterprise Allowance, for example, which gave those claiming benefits an extra £10/week if they were starting a business – it was breathing space to give it a go, and it was overall easier back then to stay on benefits while trying to pursue a creative career.
Politically, our country’s respect for the Arts has plummeted over the last twenty years, when it should be our greatest pride. This is reflected in subjects encouraged in secondary education, cuts to Arts funding, closure of libraries etc. I can foresee a time when only people from privileged backgrounds will be able to pursue Arts careers, and potential talent will be wasted. However, ‘young’ is often equated with innovative, exciting, cool, modern and new in the Arts. How often do you see the words ‘young talent’ compared to ‘old talent’? That stands youthful talent in good stead, at least.
Prince’s Youth Business Trust helped me when I was starting out – that’s still going, so I recommend it to anyone who needs financial help to get started. I still have the same drawing board and light box that they bought me!
downthetubes: Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you expecting?
Paula: The Lake District is among my favourite places on earth. I grew up in Darlington, so I’ve been many times, including on an outward bounds course to Howtown with school: Jumping off a pier into Ullswater in October was a formative Lake District experience I won’t forget in a hurry; nor is finding a dead sheep upstream after drinking from said stream for three days on expedition up Patterdale. It did wonders for our teenage skin, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself overall.
In fact, if you read my book, you will learn that I found out about the real facts of life in the Lake District – thanks to that Windermere bookshop for divesting me of my pocket money in exchange for learning a very surprising thing or two.
downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Paula: Tove Jansson: If there is an afterlife, I’d like to sit down with a picnic somewhere like the Finnish Archipelago and watch her draw (then have a paddle). I’ve read most of her prose books for adults, so we’d talk writing process.
I’d ask her how she succeeded in being a creative polymath who could write succinctly-observed inspiring prose and draw Moomins. I write and draw for both children and adults, so I could probably learn a thing or five from her.
downthetubes: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Paula: By enticing us from our hermitic hide-outs to meet our most important collaborators – our readers; and bringing people together in an enthusiastic atmosphere conducive to opportunity, mutual support and collaboration.
downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Paula: Graphic Medicine has recently produced its very first free comics newspaper – I might have some left if you ask me at LICAF. I love the cover, by Mita Mahato, and it includes a comic by Sarah Leavitt about chronic pain, which struck a chord with me.
downthetubes: Paula, thank you very much for your time. See you at the Festival!
Book Your Festival Tickets Now!
• Book your tickets for this year’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival here. This year’s events programme includes live draws, masterclasses, interactive talks and a chance to get up close to the best comic creators in the world!
PAULA KNIGHT ONLINE
- Web: www.paulaknight.co.uk
- Blog: www.paulaknight.wordpress.com
- Twitter: @Paula_JKnight
The Facts of Life: playlist to the graphic novel
Find out more about Paula’s music choices here on here blog