Slump times

It’s two months since I posted anything, and I’m feeling a bit like I’ve lost my thread.

It’s been a funny old time. I wouldn’t say that motivation has entirely left me, just that I haven’t had the energy to keep up with my art practice on top of everything else. For ages there, I was quite happily filling every spare moment, busy as a bee, drawing and working and reading and watching films and exercising and eating sensibly – and then, I wasn’t. I am like a passive observer, watching these things slip one by one, rather than someone who knows what activities makes her happy and pursues them. It’s all very odd.

On examination, there are some quite understandable reasons for this state of ennui – for starters, it took a bit of effort to launch the Street Noise version of Draw the Line (thank you Cartoon Museum, and thank you LD Comics (you can watch that one on YouTube), and thanks so much, all the wonderful artists who joined me).

Then, soon after, I and my family, like much of the nation apparently came down with covid. It was, thankfully, mild – but that was definitely at least a week in which I didn’t do anything, let alone artwork.

Plus, we had our kitchen ripped out and a new one put in, and then a new floor (if this makes us sound immensely rich and privileged – well, I will hold my hands up to privileged, a bit, but we’re not exactly rolling in it; we inherited a small amount of money after a death in the family, and we’re using it to attend to some long-needed renovations).

While the work was going on, we packed up everything that used to be in the lower ground floor and stuffed it into the small room I use as an office, where I usually draw, write and do my day job. There were pieces of furniture, hundreds of books, billions of pots and pans, the contents of our kitchen cabinets and years’ worth of accumlated cruft, all in towers of plastic boxes.

A room with a yellow wall,  very full of blue crates that mostly hold books.

We left a narrow path to my desk, but I ended up doing my dayjob mainly from the bedroom upstairs, where it was also quieter.

A more tenacious artist might have carried on from this soft perch, but I found it hard enough putting in a nine to five thirty from bed (it is surprisingly hard on the hips).

I’ve also been down to Devon to continue the long and frustrating process of working out how best to support my elderly parents. I’m back now, the office is empty again, and the lower ground floor is much improved… all I need to do is get my routines back.

It feels like this is going to take a bit more mental work than I would have expected – for a good long while there I was happily (maybe a bit smugly?) entrenched in my regular comics-making sessions before work each day – but that now seems less achievable. Perhaps it was the break in routine, perhaps it’s that I’m increasingly old, menopausal, tired, worrying about aching joints and with a lot on my plate elsewhere.

At the same time, I really miss drawing and everything that goes with it.

Comics history

We are beasts, and in returning our books to the shelves, have done that obnoxious thing of arranging them by colour.

Four shelves of brightly coloured books ordered by their hue.

Packing up practically every book we own and then unpacking them again at least gave me a good oversight of what comics and graphic novels I own (and allowed me to chuck out a few that don’t deserve my longterm affection).

Deep in the archives were my own comics and anthologies I’d contributed to, from the early 90s. This will at least help me fill in a few dates and holes in my CV.

One of them was Holly Girl in Sapling Town, I think the first full length comic I ever drew, for a Candian imprint called Oh…Her Comic Quarterly. Looking back, I can’t remember how I landed the gig, given that this was pre-internet, or at least pre- me having any idea of what the internet was or how to access it. I assume it was something to do with Erica Smith’s Girlfrenzy, which was – unthinkably for someone with my own narrow horizons – distributed to various outlets in N America.

Holly Girl has surfaced in various house tidying sessions over the years and I’ve always shoved it embarrasedly back onto the shelf, remembering the slapdash way in which I’d worked, and how I’d been working out the plot as I’d gone along – I was expecting to be thoroughly ashamed of it.

In fact I was quite pleasantly surprised. I mean, I’m not saying it’s brilliant (it isn’t), but parts of it made me laugh, and I’m quite taken aback by my own drawing style at that time – complex, with lots of detail, with my still-persisting but misguided belief that if people can see you’ve put the work in, surely they must see more value in it.

Panels from Holly Girl in Sapling Town by Myfanwy Tristram

It kind of reminded me of Zoe Thorogood’s Impending Blindness of Billie Scott – made by a young artist, tussling with plots and line drawing, taking a world view despite not having been in the world for terribly long, and coming up with something a bit unique. So I can be kinder to my younger self.

Also in the pile were old Sofa comics, put together by a collective of Brighton comic artists who had a couple of joint exhibitions in the 90s, again largely thanks to the organisational skills and energy of Erica Smith.

I suppose it’s good to have these things and remind myself of how long I’ve been identifying as a comics artist. and that I was fairly confident in what my style was back then (maybe more than I am now?)

Echoes and pre-echoes

One thing that took me aback about Holly Girl was that it utilises the same plot point that I used nearly thirty years later in Satin and Tat, where an older person (albeit a gay woman in this case) realises they’ve been dallying with someone underage.

Being in Devon was similarly instructive about how much less original my work is than I’d thought. I took my 17 year old daughter to my parents’ house and she had a root around in my old bedroom. I had thought that my belongings were long disposed of, but deep within all the boxes of my parent’s own book collection (yes, we seemingly have a genetic predisposition) my daughter discovered a stack of posters from the 80s, and I found an old essay I had written for a competition.

In Satin and Tat, Ella buys Alex a big poster: it’s a chunk of the plot (because apparently, these days, I do actually work out the entire plot before putting stylus to screen).

Drawing by Myfanwy Tristram. Two punks carrying a rolled up poster along the street

When I was scripting, I thought, well, as Bowie is a recurring theme, let’s make it a Bowie poster; then I looked up which album would have been current to the time and I settled on a Modern Love era poster. I depicted Ella carrying it along this one street.

Well, among the tear-out Smash Hits centrefolds of the Human League, David Slyvian, Roxy Music, and the Cure (now asynchronously on my daughter’s own bedroom walls) was, in fact, a giant Bowie poster. And it was a Modern Love one, and we rolled it up to take it back with us and then we had to carry it along that same street.

I don’t actually remember owning this poster (unlike the equally giant Iggy Pop one which was, and still is, pinned to my bedroom’s ceiling) and while it’s not exactly a coincidence – Satin and Tat is set in that era and based on my own interests – it did feel a bit correlative.

Then the essay – well, I don’t think it distinguished me with any awards at the time. But there were more echoes: it had an awful lot in common with my 2019 Longreads piece, Cut From the Same Cloth.

An essay by the young Myfanwy Tristram, pointing out that parents shocked by 80s fashions were just as bad with their winklepickers and circular skirts. (part 1)
An essay by the young Myfanwy Tristram, pointing out that parents shocked by 80s fashions were just as bad with their winklepickers and circular skirts. (part 2)

(Today I would have put the word ‘made’ on the end of that final sentence.)

Basically I’ve come to realise that one doesn’t have new ideas, you just rehash the same basic components of your psyche, again and again.

Anyway, in summary: I haven’t been drawing, but I have been back in Devon, immersed in the Satin and Tat era. And I have been feeling sorry for myself.

But enough self-indulgence. All this aside, I have actually got an exciting event on the horizon: my first ever solo exhibition. And that deserves a post of its own.

Published by Myfanwy Tristram

I am an illustrator, situated in Brighton on the south coast of England, and with a special interest in comics and graphic memoir. I also work for a non-profit which encourages people to be active in democracy and to exercise rights such as the right to information through FOIA.

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