I have learned many things while working with Geek Vibes Nation. One of those important lessons is that just because a creative work might not be something I would normally gravitate to, doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of my attention. Such is the wonderful book by creator Lizzy Stewart entitled: It’s Not What You Thought it Would Be. In this book that comes out on July 27th from Fantagraphics, Miss Stewart examines the relationships of different women and how friendships and lives change through time and distance. This is done in a thoughtful and sometimes whimsical style that reflects her skill as an illustrator and writer. So it is with great pleasure that we welcome creator Lizzy Stewart to GVN’s Talking Comics. Thanks for sharing your time with us Lizzy.

The Beginning

GVN: So as is my want, let us start with your background. When did you take an interest in illustration and writing and who were your inspirations as you started your career?

LS: I studied illustration at Edinburgh College of Art and graduated in 2009. I think it’s hard to pinpoint the start of my relationship with drawing…. I think it has more to do with never stopping drawing rather than  ‘starting’. Most kids draw and write little stories and illustrate them. But then they find other things that hold their interest and leave illustration (and picture books) behind. The people who do not stop doing that are the people who end up doing it forever, like me!

I think my early inspirations were people like Raymond Briggs, Carson Ellis and Maurice Sendak. I mean, they are still big names for me and many other people. But when I started, they were the people I thought about the most, I think.

Illustrator or Writer

GVN: You are one of the talented creators who do illustrations and write. Do you consider yourself an illustrator who writes or a writer who illustrates? Some who do both tend to think of  themselves more one than the other. So, I am curious about your assessment.

LS: Well, I studied illustration and I’ve been a freelance illustrator for twelve years. So, I guess I probably think  of myself as an illustrator first although that does feel like its shifting a bit. In the past few years I’ve mostly been making books (picture books for children and graphic novels for adults) so it does seem like my career is moving into a more  hybrid space.

Self- Reflection

GVN: I found your book IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE very insightful and it touches on so many different aspects of friendships and how they evolve over time and distance. What was your inspirations for these collections of stories? Any self reflection involved?

LS: I would assume that most fiction writing comes with a dose of self-reflection, but the book is not particularly auto-biographical, I don’t think. When I was writing the stories, I usually had a feeling that I was trying to communicate or explore. So the plot of the story was fleshed out around that. There  are two situations that are lifted from real life I think, but the characters aren’t really based on real people so their responses are different.

There are three stories that feature the same two characters (at different stages in their life). For those stories, I knew I wanted this arc of their friendship changing to happen concurrently with how their lives are changing. The first story for them is Dog Walk and that came about quite quickly, I wrote it in one go at a cafe in Crystal Palace, SouthLondon.

From that I had these two characters that felt quite solid to me. From there, it became much easier to imagine how they might grow up and how they would react to certain situations. So it was then just a matter of placing them somewhere and finding out what they’d do or say.

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GVN: One of the many things I can relate to in many of the chapters is our human predilection to assume what other people are thinking about us. This is true between friends and strangers. (I.E. “I sent you a Facebook friend request and you didn’t respond. So I thought we were done.) You represent this brilliantly in the book. Was this a topic that you wanted to explore originally or did it just materialize as you went along?

LS: The book is actually made up of stories that existed separately as comics that I put out over the course of about six years. So the book was never really ‘written’ as a single cohesive thing. I was lucky, I guess, that, thematically, Itend to write about similar themes every time I tell a story! So, it all fit together OK.

We padded it out with some new stuff (the last story, for example, was new) but any recurring themes are the result of a bit of luck rather than a strong sense of narrative intent! These stories sort of cap off a period where I was writing a lot about young women and how muddled you can feel as you find your way through your teens and twenties. So there are things that crop up again and again because they’re things that crop up in life.

Miscommunication is definitely a running theme, as well as trying to find a place that feels like your own. There’s also maybe something about expectation which is where the title ‘It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be’ comes from. And maybe that’s OK.

In the Mood for illustration

GVN: I love the illustrations for the book. As an old artist, can I ask what media you used? It seems like a mix of watercolor and perhaps at times, pastel or oil crayon. Whatever it is, it works.

LS: All sorts. Again that is a result of the stories being made at separate points over a number of years. So sometimes I would have been in an inky mood and another time it’s coloured pencil. There are a couple of digital ones and one of them even includes a bit of charcoal which is a notoriously love or hate material!

Fantagraphics Reaches Out

GVN: You are working with Fantagraphics for your book. Did you pitch the book to them or did they approach you to develop a book? How has that process been?

LS: They approached me, which was, obviously, very nice! It was very out of the blue and quite a surprise. I tend to make these little comics between illustration jobs as distractions and experiments for myself. I print them up and sell them at a couple of UK comic shops and online at fairs here. But I never really expected them to have a life beyond the little print-runs I make. So I was very surprised and excited that they a) found the work in the first place and b) liked it enough to put it in print!

Coming to a Book Store Near You

GVN: Thanks again for your time, Lizzy. Before I let you go, do you have any other projects on the horizon you would like to share? (When you’re not teaching Illustration at Goldsmith’s College)

LS: It’s book central for me at the moment! So, ‘It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be’ is out in July with Fantagraphics and in September I have a collaborative graphic novel out in the UK (with US distro) with Avery Hill Publishing. That one is called ‘Lights, Planets, People!’ And it was written by a brilliant writer called Molly Naylor with me drawing all the pictures. THEN next summer I have a graphic novel out in the UK called ‘Alison’ which will be published at some point afterwards by Fantagraphics. So…it’s a busy time for books for me.

GVN: Well we will be following your upcoming work with interest.

It’s  Not What You Thought it Would Be comes out July 27th from Fantagraphics and can be found where all great books are sold.

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