Emily Cooper. Building the Right Sort of Reputation and Writing Comics.
Emily Cooper has had a busy year building up her writing CV. She not only writes, but is also a talented artist, photographer and, in between creating imaginative costumes, experiments with crocheting. She’s an example of someone not satisfied with using only one form of media to create stories and is not afraid to try out new ideas to tell them.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m Emily, a soon-to-be graduate of creative writing at the University of Nottingham.
I’m passionate about comics and graphic novels, as well as writing generally, which is why I’m running the ‘Writing Comics’ workshop at the Nottingham Festival of Words.
I’ve been doing lots of things associated with publishing outside my university course. I provide support and advice to the University of Nottingham Jubilee press, which is a great place to hone my proofing and editing skills on documents which will be used by academics – quite a step up from cleaning copy for assignments.
As a writer I’ve had a story ‘Remembering’ published in the online magazine ‘Cadaverine’.
I also co-ran the University of Nottingham Creative Writing Students’ Anthology in 2012. It was a steep learning curve, and the wonderful Pippa Henessy taught Christian and me to typeset.
I went on to design the Nottingham Festival of Words Events brochure with Pippa. This required all the typesetting and designing skills I had acquired over the last few years, and I’m really happy with the result (which can be seen as a downloadable pdf on the Nottingham Festival of Words website). You can also pick up one of the 10,000 copies from around Nottingham.
Why did you become interested in comics?
One of the first graphic novels I read as a young adult was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Some people might argue that it’s not a serious literary work because it’s fantasy, but it’s an amazing story can be read on many different levels. I think I have my eyesight to thank for introducing me to comics. Before I had glasses, the small chunks of text and pictures were so much more manageable. But over time I discovered there are so many comics and graphic novels published by large companies and independent comic writers.
What really struck you about graphic stories that got you so interested in them?
I’ve always loved drawing and art; especially when the artist puts a story on the page. It isn’t just the story any more, just as a film is not just a story. Just think about how much skill is needed to make a comic. A graphic story is more than words on a page.
So Sandman is one of your favourite comics or graphic stories, are there others you could recommend to people who don’t know anything about the medium?
I’ve pretty much read everything of Dave McKean (probably best known for illustrating the classic Batman graphic novel Arkham Aslyum; A Serious House on Serious Earth), and his work with David Almond (who I recently interviewed about his new graphic novel for the Nottingham Festival of Words). If you don’t know where to start, I’d suggest looking online. Try Googling ‘Gunnerkrigg’, ‘Strays’, ‘Fox Sister’ or simply ‘webcomics online’.
There are lots of talented people out there with stories to tell. The internet is their playground. Most of the webcomics I read are fantasy. It’s simply the genre I like most, but there are lots of crime, romance and horror comics out there. If it’s a genre in prose, there’ll be comics out there.
What is it particularly about a graphic story or comic that does attract you?
I think it’s because illustrating a story creates more than pictures. You can express a great deal more than words on their own. There is an extra layer, a subtext, when you combine writing and pictures. A writer could describe a glance between two characters, but when the artist draws that, suddenly there’s a lot more depth to the story.
How easy are the online magazines you read to find and how did you find out about them?
At first found out about them through friends. I think a lot of this sort of thing is word-of-mouth. There may well be links to webcomics on any website where people gather. They might say, ‘Hey, I’m writing this’ or, ‘My friend’s been doing this’ or just, ‘I think this is fantastic, go read it’.
If you type in’ web comic online’ you should find hundreds of sites of posted artists work. Webcomics can start on host sites, and ‘move out’ when they’ve gained strength. Smackjeeves or Comicfury are good places to start. Browse around until you see something you’re interested in.
How do you know when you’ve found the right comic for you?
Comics can be categorised in many ways; art style, audience, presentation and genre. As far as audiences go, I think a comic for young adults will probably appeal to me. I like comedy, and I read a lot of anecdote style comics about the artist’s life.
For genre I know I like fantasy, I’ll even read children’s fantasy books. I’ve read and reread Coraline by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean and I’ve just read Skellig again after interviewing David Almond.
I am rather picky with my choice of art style. However, with online comics sites it is understood that when the artist first starts out, the art might not be amazing and it’s interesting to see it develop over time. Sometimes you can even see the artist’s confidence and ability grow over the first ten pages of a new comic.
Comics are presented to you in all sorts of different forms. You can have webcomics or printed copies (and there are several different types of both.) I tend to read web comics because there’s so much more available to me. But if I know one of my favourite authors is bringing something out, I will go and hunt it down.
How many comics are available as ebooks?
There apps for smart phones, I believe DC and Marvel have their own, and there’s also Madefire, which animates the graphic novels. There are other apps where the first episode is free then you pay for more content.
The new e-reader ‘Kindle fire’ is expected to increase the number comics being turned into e-books. It has a good screen resolution and colour. Manga is normally black and white, but if the comics are illustrated in colour, then a black and white screen loses a lot of the richness of the story.
You’re working on a project at the moment. Can you tell me more about this?
Pippa Henessey and I are co-authoring a graphic story to be published in an anthology by John Stuart Clark otherwise known as ‘Brick’. He’s a graphic novelist who wrote Depresso. The anthology is a follow-up to this. We sent in a proposal with pictures and storyboard to see if we could be part of that anthology and we were lucky enough to be chosen. Pippa is in charge of the script and I’m doing the drawing.
Are there any other areas of writing, other than comics, that you enjoy?
Well, it’s not just writing. I’ve tried my hand at a whole host of things. Illustration, typesetting, and crafts. I mentioned the Nottingham Festival programme I typeset, but I was able to do that because I’d designed Speech Therapy’s flyer, and had something to send them – and I wouldn’t be able to typeset at all if it weren’t for the Nottingham Student Anthology.
I really enjoy seeing words and pictures working together, so I suppose stepping into typesetting was a natural thing for me. It fascinated me from the word ‘go’, and is an area of publishing I’d love to have more experience in.
You mentioned craft? What do you do when you’re in a creative mood?
Well, I only really get to indulge in this when I’m in Kent with my parents. My bedroom is also my Mum’s craft room, and has been for quite a while. Imagine, a teenager, surrounded by tools, fabric and the temptations of a sewing machine. When I’m out and about I’m constantly seeing things and thinking, ‘I could make that’. Sometimes I write the idea down and get to it once I have my materials around me. I knit, sew and crochet. If it’s fabric, felt or wool… well, let’s just say it’s not going to be left untouched for long. Recently I’ve been making different masks for different events. My sister is a stage manager- or will be as soon as she’s finished her course. She’s really enthusiastic about them. I just worry that she’ll find a play and tell me she needs forty animal masks by the weekend!
If you’d like to have a look at some of the things I make, go to http://www.behance.net/rusticwriter
How did you come to do a writing workshop on comics for the Nottingham Festival of Words?
I’m interested in what the Nottingham Writer’s Studio does. They’re a great bunch of people helping the literary scene in Nottingham. I saw an advert saying they were looking for people to run events.
I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to try out the skills I had already learnt from teaching children (year 7s and upwards) how to use a pinhole camera. I ran a lunchtime club and organised the taking of the photographs and supervised the use of the dark room. I couldn’t let the students do the processing because the chemicals can be very unpleasant, but they did get to see and understand how the whole developing process was done. They really enjoyed it and it went very well.
I learned a great deal of patience and even more about keeping children safe in potentially hazardous environments. It gave me a great deal of confidence teaching children. They followed the instructions I gave them, and learnt quite a bit from the sessions. I think the best part was that I had successfully passed on a skill. They had no idea how normal camera worked, so using something like a pinhole camera was a really good way of helping explain that. The children were very sad when I left school and they couldn’t do it anymore.
More recently, I’ve just finished a course in teaching writing at the University of Nottingham. This is been really useful experience, because I can now tailor a specific teaching packages for all sorts of different writing workshops. This helped me decide to send in a proposal to do comic writing workshop for the festival. I was delighted when I proposal was accepted.
For people who think they really can’t create a comic, can you just go through how you going to run the workshop?
It’s designed for pretty much any age group. Writing comics can be challenging, depending on what you’re aiming for. But there are all sorts of different levels comics can be written at, with all sorts of different audiences. I certainly don’t want anybody who comes to the workshops to feel that they have to be an artist. This is a talk about writing comics, not drawing them.
Having said that, there will be some doodling involved. As long as everyone can draw a stick man, then that’s more than enough. We’re going to create a comic in a graphic way, visualising rough pages. Many graphic novels are co-authored with a writer and artist, and it’s essential to have the finished page in mind. There’s a great variety of ways that comics or graphic novels can be created.
The main focus is on how to write a comic and how to look at comics as learning material. I’m hoping that doing this will change the way they look at comics. To do this workshop has meant I’ve had to re-read a lot of my graphic novels (what a shame!). This has made me look at them in quite a different way. I’ve had to look at the techniques that are used in them and how the story is constructed.
I would recommend reading graphic novels, as many as you can get your hands on, but not to be in a rush. Also, beg, borrow and steal anything Scott McCloud has written on understanding and creating comics. I’ve done a lot of research for this workshop and his books were my first port of call.
Writing Comics will be at the Newton Building, Nottingham Trent University, Saturday 16th February, 10.00am – 12.00noon