Interview: Comic Book Slumber Party’s Hannah K Chapman
Comic Book Slumber Party art by Donya Todd
Comic fans in the South West are in for a treat tomorrow as the first Comic Book Slumber Party takes place in Bath. A little comics fest with a difference, organiser Hannah K Chapman refers to it as “comics by girls, for everyone”. I first met Hannah when she was volunteering at Toronto Comic Arts Festival last year, and I came to realise that she’s been a shadowy organisational figure in the periphery of comics for a while. In addition to also being the original organiser of Chicago’s Graham Crackers Comics’ Ladies Nights, she’s currently editing an anthology for the shop – industrious indeed.
For a variety of reasons, women in comics continues to be a hot-button issue, so it was fun to ask Hannah about her thoughts on the issue including why she set up CBSP , her history as a comics reader, her upcoming anthology and more.
Although it’s always hard to quantify, I don’t think anyone can really dispute that there are more female comics creators and readers now in comics than ever before. Why do you feel there’s a need for a show promoting the work of female creators?
This is such a tricky question and the weird thing is that for the most part I don’t think that women only events are the best idea. I talk a lot with friends about how we’re in danger of just creating a new gender imbalance. When I decided to go ahead with CBSP I really wanted to make it open to everyone and anyone, while the GCC’s Ladies Night was exclusive to women. The the reaction to CBSP has blown me away so much. It’s not just women getting involved, wanting to volunteer, creating fan art of our mascot. The point is not to dissuade male readers (I’ve even heard rumours that guys make comics!) but to encourage girls who are often put off by it’s ‘boys club’ reputation.
It’s great that more and more female creators are invited to speak on panels at cons and festivals, that’s super. We’ve acknowledged that women are under-represented. Well done us. But diagnosing the problem doesn’t mean it’s cured, and I believe we’ve got a long way to go before we get there.
Donya Todd’s poster for the event.
I think it goes without saying that there’s still a huge dearth of women working for the big 4 (5? 6? I lose track). Do you think this is something that can be meaningfully remedied?
I don’t want to pick on DC in particular here, but I know there was a load of controversy a couple of years ago when it was revealed that only 1% of their creators were female. Lots of people started calling for them to hire more women. I’m always a little edgy about stuff like this because positive discrimination is still discrimination. I’d rather see amazing art by a male artist than mediocre art by a female creator just so a quota can be filled. But the petition made some really valid points. “When women see other women creating comics, they feel empowered. It encourages women to read, to buy, and to maybe one day contribute to the comic book industry. ” That I agree with whole heartedly. I think that there is room at the top of the ladder, not just for creators. It’s also a shame that DC will be losing Karen Berger after 33 years, though it’ll be interesting to see who takes on her mantle. If there’s a woman out there who’s up to the job, I really hope she gets it.
It’s interesting to consider a mainstream publisher like DC as opposed to the alternative/indie scene that kind of favours people making their own roads into the industry. Do you think the rising number of female readers and creators can be attributed to the continued growth of comics outside of the traditional North American male-centric genres?
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. Especially when I think about the women whose work I keep an eye on – a lot of them came to comics through illustration rather than reading Batman as a child. I don’t think that this is unique to comics either. Whenever you tell a minority that they’re not a part of anything, every time you shut that door, they just go and make a door somewhere else. France is great for comics! The books coming out there are really beautiful, great stories, amazing art, and the gender stuff just doesn’t seem to come into it. The French seem to understand comics in a way mainstream comics don’t.
From CBSP guest Philippa Rice’s Tumblr
Tell me more about your own history as a comic reader.
Haha, oh man, I feel like this is such a long (boring) story. As a kid I used to read everything that my older brother brought home. At the time I thought they were pretty scary stuff, Alien, The Hobbit, Star Trek, Witchblade, but they stuck with me. There’s a couple of scenes that have stayed with me (a fat man eating a metal bed frame and a swamp-dwelling cyclops who sees a man doing unspeakable things to a chicken) and I think that those put me off for a few years. And then in my last year of school I read Maus, We3, and Blankets. And those changed it for me I think. And it’s just been a slow and steady stream of new writers and artists that I like since then. I’m a huge fan of Jillian Tamaki’s Skim, and Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve. But it was moving to America that changed things for me because all of a sudden I had a local comic book store, a pull list, and Brandon Graham’s Prophet in my life.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m loving a lot of Image titles at the moment, Saga, Mara, Prophet. I refuse to wait for the trades to come out which means I’m drowning in monthlies. I’m also reading the Wonder Woman: The Complete History by Les Daniels which is fascinating. And I’m dipping in and out of Hilary Chute’s Graphic Women.
You’ve got an interesting selection of exhibitors at the debut CBSP. Are you acting as curator? Which criteria did you look for when selecting exhibitors?
I’m still really new to this, and organising CBSP has taught me a lot. Mostly I contacted artists whose work excites me and that I always want to see more of but I also tried to vary things up in terms of art style, what they’re doing with the medium, and what they’d have to say to people about making comics. There’s definitely a slant toward indie comics and creators who self publish. Wai Wai Pang’s comics are often about comics themselves, way experimental, and really breaking them into base elements, while Philippa Rice creates a really funny webcomic, and adorable zines in a much more recognisable format. It’s such an interesting group because for a lot of them comics are not the main thing they work on, they’re something that they use to express themselves through personal work – and it means what they’re doing is incredibly inventive and bold.
In the future I would love to involve creators working for Marvel, DC, or Image though, because as publishers they’re shaping the industry so much and I’m interested to see where it’s going.
Why do you think events and festivals so important to comics?
For me the best part of comic events is the chance to meet people. Cartooning is infamous for being lonely work, and so you go to these things and the atmosphere is just electric. The creators always seem so stoked to see each other and to catch up with people they may only know through social media sites or blogs. And then you get those of us who are just super keen to meet people we admire, find new stuff to read, and talk about comics for a few hours. Actually, I think it’s that last part that’s the most important. Events are a vital part of the industry because they invite conversation and debate, whether it’s through workshops, panel discussions, one-on-one interactions between creators or creators and their fans, or whether it’s a social setting. The more we talk about comics the better they’ll be.
And the most exciting part is that you’ll never know who you’ll bump into. I’ve washed hands next to Kate Beaton, danced with Pendleton Ward, and had an intense conversation about women in comics with Hilary Chute. You wouldn’t get that sitting at home.
My favourite thing about festivals is a chance to embarrass myself dreadfully in front of my heroes. Which festival do you think does the best job of them all?
TCAF is doing it right! It’s in a great space, has brilliant outreach programmes for schools and librarians, has a dedicated area for children, really diverse exhibitors, and the most fun you’ll ever have at an after party. Ever. The guys that run it are so passionate about what they do and you can see that everybody, exhibitors, panelists, volunteers, visitors, is having a blast. And don’t even get me started on the fact that it’s free!
Word on the grapevine is that you’re a creator yourself. Tell me about your own work.
I think if comics were a swimming pool it’d be safe to say that I’m wearing armbands and treading water in the shallow end. I’m lucky enough to be working on an anthology, created by the women who attend the GCC’s Ladies Night, not only as an editor but as a writer. I’ve got a 6 page story in there that’s being illustrated by the incredible Kat Leyh. I definitely lean more toward auto-biographical work. I’ve written and illustrated a couple of short stories inspired by everyday life, and I’m working on something about my families South African roots. That said, I’m also working on an incredibly dorky script that revolves around my two cats, lots of zombies, and their quest to find kitten ear wash. I’m not sure that will ever see the light of day (as I can’t draw cats and I’ve yet to find somebody bored enough to draw it) but it’s fun to fool around with.
Do we get to see a preview of your story with Kat Leyh? Tell me more about the anthology!
You DO get a preview – character sketches and the first page pencils! Kat’s an extraordinary artist. As soon as I saw her comic Pancakes I knew I wanted her to illustrate mine, so I was thrilled when she accepted my pitch. There’s more than a few familiar faces in this story – you know who you are.
The anthology is so exciting! It’s called Graham Cracker’s Ladies Night presents: Chicago. It’s a collection of stories by regular Ladies Night attendees, some fictional some very much fact, and they all take place in the Windy City. For a lot of the girls involved this is the first time they’ve written or drawn a comic so there are some interesting things going on in terms of storytelling devices. But there’s also work by comic veteran Lauren Burke (Womanthology, P.I Jane). I’ve seen the scripts for a couple of the other stories and they’re brilliant. The cover art is actually by honorary woman Edward Cheverton, who’s created countless posters for Ladies Night and it’s only right to have him involved. It’ll be released in a few months so watch this space!
A huge thanks goes out to Hannah for taking time out to talk to me in the run up to the event. For those of you in the Bath area, or adventurous folks otherwise located, the event takes place tomorrow from 10am – late at The Raven of Bath, 7 Queen Street, Bath, BA1 1HE.