Back in the 90s, when I was fairly new to Brighton, I had the good fortune to meet a woman named Erica Smith.
Erica was the force behind a feminist zine, Girlfrenzy, to which I contributed a few cartoons. There isn’t an awful lot on the internet about it, but what there is has now been bolstered by the addition of an interview with Panel Borders, the comics-themed podcast.
I listened to it at lunchtime today while I was on my run, and as I pounded past the i360 (Brighton’s stupidly-named viewing tower, under construction) I was gratified to hear a brief but complimentary namecheck about half way through.
Listening to Erica’s reminiscences, and those of the audience, I was reminded of how on the ball she was. I don’t think my (biro-drawn, unconfident) cartoons would ever had had such a wide audience without her energy and knowhow. A professional graphic designer, she put out comics that looked a whole lot more polished than the more usual photocopied, handwritten efforts of the time.
Not just that, but she organised accompanying events: spoken word evenings, gigs, exhibitions and comic fairs. All, like she says in the podcast, sorted out by face-to-face meetings or by post, for these were pre-email days. As I puffed along the seafront today, I castigated myself for not having even a fraction of her can-do attitude.
In the interview, Erica talks about time away from the comics scene. I also had time away. In my case, it was to do with full-time employment, followed by parenthood.
Now, Girlfrenzy made a point of highlighting female cartoonists, which at the time were rare. It’s been a bit of an adjustment for me, coming back to find that there are many, many vociferous, opinionated, talented, diffuse female voices in self-published comics today.
I mean, obviously it’s wonderful — but it certainly feels very different. These days I’m just one voice in a massive sea of women cartoonists. What? You mean suddenly I have to stand on my own merits?!
The funny thing is, I bet many of today’s young cartoonists haven’t even heard of Girlfrenzy. They should do themselves a favour and look out for back issues on eBay. Make sure you don’t get the DC Comics ones though. Therein lies a tale that I don’t think Erica covered in the podcast.