University graduate graphic designer and illustrator Stephanie Seed is taking the artistry of cartoonising oneself for social media a few steps beyond average with her comic series ‘The Average’ that accounts her everyday life with humour, irony and sometimes self-mockery.
“I produce one comic per day, Monday to Friday, inspired by something that has happened to me and my friends or something I’ve witnessed, my memories, a state of mind, or something my cats do,” she says. “It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek humour about average life and how I can ‘average it’, but what I strive for is making the stories presented relatable to a wide audience. I regularly post a new story to my Facebook page and website, but I am planning to collect the best one in an e-book for indie publishing later this year.”
Drawn and coloured with assertive pencil strokes in a simple but carefully devised, immediate and clever faux-childish style complemented by thickset capital lettering speech bubbles, the comics rely on visual minimalism to convey the message, with characters, expressions and settings just sketched or altogether non-existent if not necessary to the plot. If detail becomes intrinsic to the story, as it is well sampled by ‘The Real Groundhog Day’, the frame zooms out on busy settings drawn as realistically as possible without compromising consistency with previous frames.
The main character is fashioned after the cartoonist, wearing her yellow hair sometimes down and sometimes piled up high (unusual feature for cartoon characters who tend to weather any adventure without enduring a bad hair day!), and sporting a small wardrobe of brightly coloured items (again, unusual for cartoon characters). She appears in most stories, often alone or with supporting characters, like hairdressers, family members, etc., except for the recurring presence of her male sideshow, a chestnut haired and bearded young man who seems to have to compete for her affections with cats, freshly laundered sheets and mocha coffee makers.
With a master degree in animation, Steph can marry her talent for drawing and her passion for telling stories in the versatile genre of the graphic novel, with which she’s already experimented and is musing with a future project of a children’s book.
Written some five years ago and described by the author as ‘a work of my past’, ‘Machination’ is a complex sci-fi family drama that includes time travel, romance, humour and emotional conflict. It is a 150-page long novel, with detailed description of characters and settings, intense dialogue and scene changes, and translated in comic-book script format. All frames were individually hand drawn and digitally coloured. The genesis of a graphic novel is complex, whether illustrations and script are by two artists or one, like in Stephanie’s case. So far, she has filled both roles, but she wouldn’t mind be the illustrator to someone else’s novel or comic book, because she enjoys working in a team.
A new comic book is in the pipeline, too: “I am still in the planning stages but I have already sketched some of the characters and settings, with the view of developing a 50-60 page fantasy comic for children, under the working title of ‘Adventure Kingdom’. But it is still hush-hush, so watch this space.
In response to misconception that graphic novels are considered minor literature for lesser dedicated readers or for pastime consumption only, Stephanie explains how they actually span all genres, styles and topics, reminding the sceptics how Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel ‘Maus’ won the Pulitzer Prize 25 years ago, and others won other prestigious prizes such as the Bram Stoker Award. Furthermore, The Nib website features powerful, political and personal comics that deal with all sorts of issues from racism to sexism and beyond.
“Every genre can be expressed in graphic novel form” she says, although the most popular remain fantasy, sci-fi and crime because the drawings allow to visualise spectacular and fantastic settings, alien creatures or amazing superheroes. “However, graphic novels imprint a certain pace to the narrative in the direction a sequence of frames leads the eye, or in the way the action is packed in one scene or fragmented in more than one frame to zoom in on detail. The construction of the page or pages already expresses an emotion at first sight, layered with those transmitted by text and drawing, whose style and coloration are instrumental to visually set the mood.”
If someone has a story to tell and is also talented at drawing, then they may find themselves faced with a choice of writing a traditional novel, forsaking the picture input, or a graphic one exploiting both their writing and painting skills, as the same story can effectively be told through either format; often, bookshops cater for classic novels transposed into graphic ones, not just for younger audiences but also for those who’ve read the book, liked it and are musing about re-reading it in a new light.
When you set off to create a graphic novel, you see it grow as you draw: only a small part of it is clearly pictured in your mind, and as you progress, you may become surprisingly pleased with the outcome or unhappy with it, but either way, the project is your own monster, rather than your own baby, Stephanie jokes. “There always is the fear that the outcome won’t match the expectations of your mind’s eye – and that will be more immediately and disappointingly obvious than in a written novel – but that’s a risk any graphic designer is willing to take in order to progress with their style.”
Any art form that can be produced or consumed is good for an artist, and the cartoonist is no exception, advised to enjoy visual and performing arts in order to be stirred by the most current trends for their penmanship, or towards the creation of settings and human poses as seen in theatre and dance. Stephanie says: “To correctly draw poses and expressions, I have snapped photos or short videos of myself and my friends, if I cannot manage to reproduce them from in front of the mirror.”
Coming from a theatrical family (her mother Margaret and sister Harriet have been pantomime and Royal Navy Drama Festival staples on the Rock for years, her brother Tim is a seasoned actor fresh of the Gibraltar Drama Festival 2017 top actor award), Stephanie dabbles in theatre whenever she can, although nowadays, it is more about being a spectator, with the sneaky chance of drawing inspiration for an Average cartoon from an awkwardly strict usher. She also takes part in the ‘Gibraltar Gamers’ online sessions with graphics and plots she often draws inspiration from.
She believes there is indeed market for graphic novels in Gibraltar, and a generous handful of artists are actively involved in drawing comics, and, of course, even more are the readers as the first ever Gibraltar Comicon demonstrated, bringing together that community.
words | Elena Scialtiel