We are waiting for the start of a talk by award-winning American graphic story tellers Mimi Pond and Sarah Glidden who were in Wellington for the Festival, hosted by our own Sarah Laing (of Mansfield and Me fame) last week.A small disclaimer: I was drawing pretty much in the dark at Circa Theatre (I'll aim for the better lit front row if I do this again). But Mimi since got in touch via Instagram and said I managed to get her purse right so that's something!...
The sketch above shows a section of the cover of Mimi's semi-memoir The Customer Is Always Wrong. Mimi says there was "no magical meaning" for why she chose to ink her entire cartooned memoirs in Viridian Green: "it was just what felt right".
This shade of green echoed the inside of the vintage diner where she worked as a young art student, the inspiration for her two books set in the ’70s Californian sex’n’drugs’n’diner scene – Over Easy which is now a bestseller, and the new saga The Customer Is Always Wrong, just out. Mimi also wrote the first full-length broadcast episode of The Simpsons, which won two Emmy Awards, and has many books and newspaper columns to her name.
Trump's America: Both artists had comments but Sarah is wary of fixed opinions, perhaps due to her experiences in the Middle East.Sarah's comic stories include Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. These books grew out of her travels with film crews and journalists documenting the lives of refugees and other locals, plus her own trip to Israel. The books became as much about Westerners' beliefs and prejudices in these conflict zones, as the people they met there.
Both women agreed that the writing was the hardest part of their work.Mimi had first tried to write her memoir in novel form but couldn't sell it. She then switched to the graphic form despite her publisher saying "no one could do that much drawing – it's insane!" This was "liberating", allowing her to tell her story exactly how she wanted. An avowed 'purist' her work is all hand drawn, including the text in each cartoon which retains the work's "soulfulness'.
In contrast, Sarah is at home on the computer.She sketches on location at times "when I can't take photos" but the bulk of her work is created from photo reference; she takes photos on location and also often poses things out in the studio.
Sketching floor plans while on location allows her to work out the spatial compositions for her frames, a challenging part of the process. Her aim is always to show the 'real' Middle East behind the 'exotic' cliche; capturing everyday things like plastic stacker chairs that we also see in the West.
Both artists like the way images can convey things that don't have to be spelt out in words – such as the way portraits of Bashar al-Assad keep recurring in Sarah's street Syrian scenes.
Mimi (shown here with Sarah Laing) aligned herself with the punk movement, despite (or perhaps because of) being surrounded by hippies in her years at the diner.Her bright blue tinted hair was cleverly styled and she wore a striped school blazer-style jacket dotted with button badges.
Mimi on the #MeToo campaign: "I'm proud of women now. [Back in the 70s and 80s] I felt I was hitting my head against the wall whenever I complained, I was always told 'It's just the way it is.'"