Interview: Kathryn Briggs
Luci Wallace talks to comic book artist Kathryn Briggs about her work.
Can you introduce yourself and tell TYCI about what you do?
I am a graphic novelist currently based in Scotland, although I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I write and illustrate my own comics, which tend to be about processes of self discovery, telling stories from a female perspective and about archetypal characters, mythology, or fairy tales. I release my work through my own small press, Ess Publications.
When did you start making comics?
My background is in fine art painting, but during my Masters study a few years ago I decided to try out sequential art; I was investigating the archetypal Hero story, so it made sense to approach the Hero on their modern home turf: comics. I fell head over heels in love with the medium and haven’t stopped since.
What was it that interested you about them?
I’d been a comics fan for ages, but was always a bit too intimidated to make my own; it’s a lot of work! These days that’s exactly what I enjoy about the medium – the intense way you can surround a story and explore it’s nuance. I am also very interested in comics as an accessible art form, art that exists outside the gallery setting. You can read a comic in depth while curled up in bed, or you can gloss over it on a noisy train; you can dog ear them, dump your tea over them, cut them apart and you won’t ruin a priceless piece of art. Comics empower the viewer.
Your style is quite different from a traditional comic book style. Can you tell TYCI more about your chosen style of drawing?
I think it’s an adaptation of my background in fine art painting; I tend to treat my comics like collections of paintings connected by a story. My primary medium is watercolors, but I also used ink, pencil, collage and Photoshop. I don’t keep to a unified style, that would be boring! I try to keep myself challenged and entertained through out the long process of creating a book by switching things up from page to page.
Can you tell us about the structure and layout of the comic and why you have chosen to create it in such a way?
I’ve stuck with traditional comic book formats, fonts, and even speech bubbles because I wanted the reader to identify my books as comics. They’re arty comics, but still comics. I’m hoping to both make my work accessible and to show that comics are an amazing medium, there’s so much potential!
You use an interesting mix of media, from maps and photos, to papercut art and other comics. Why did you decide to include these elements? What kind of effect did you want to create?
Since the concepts and stories I’m trying to tell aren’t necessarily linear, or have a traditional narrative structure, using a variety of media frees up the illustrations to be dreamy or symbolic. Sort of like patch-working together memories and emotions; the result is a bit rough and (hopefully) feels a bit tenuous, which is sort of a reflection of the idea that the comics are graphic representations of my research process. I’m usually working through a hypothesis in my comics; I’m researching and testing as the story unfolds with the very real possibility that my hypothesis is a load of rubbish. I’m going off topic, but it’s an important part of what I do! I want to be open to the possibility that I’m wrong. By using all sorts of media I’m aiming to create a visual representation of someone trying to string disparate ideas together. Sometimes it creates a well balanced idea, sometimes it’s a chaotic bunch of rubbish.
Can you tell us more about your main characters in Triskelion and what they represent?
There’s a Hero, a Villain, and a Victim; I started with their archtypes and worked backwards to fill in their personalities.
The Hero is Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom. She’s associated with male roles in mythology, she wears armour and she doesn’t have a mother, which is one of the reasons I chose her. Since I’m investigating the idea of the heroic feminine, is the female hero simply a woman in a traditionally male role? Like Superwoman, does she just hang with the guys and do exactly the same job as them? Or is there something else?
The Villain is Circe, who appears in The Odyssey as a witch living alone on her island. She’s famous for turning the intruding sailors of Odysseus into pigs. I felt like she’s been painted with a pretty unfair brush – wouldn’t anyone defend themselves from a bunch of strangers trying to get into their home? In Triskelion she’s dangerous because she’s powerful, and she’s also a catalyst for change; she never takes anything for granted, she’s the one who asks questions. Villains usually disrupt the status quo; for good or evil purposes.
The Victim is nameless, just like so many millions of victims down through history. She’s a preteen girl with a ginger cat as a familiar. At first she’s nearly consumed with “WHY ME?”, but her journey is all about taking control of her narrative and finding her voice.
How important was it for you to have female characters taking the central roles?
It’s sort of the point, really! I very much want to tell stories from a female perspective because it’s empowering; for the one telling their story as well as those listening (of any gender!).
You focus on history and the roles defined within it – hero, villain, victim – why did you choose to look at this?
History sort of snuck into Issue 2. With regards to telling stories from a female perspective, history often leaves them out. I wanted to focus on the Victim character in this Issue and I ran into the complicated role of victims in the way we recount history. The winners and losers make it into our history books, but what about all the victims of those conflicts? Those who died in epic battles and the families they left behind or those who were displaced by war or natural disaster? Or the smaller tragedies like a girl who could have been a brilliant doctor and saved lives but was not allowed to get an education? I felt like it was worth remembering that history is story; it’s an art, one of the nine muses, rather than something objective.
What inspired your narrative?
I went back to the Hero monomyth for inspiration, so I’m exploring the idea of the heroic feminine as they go through the well-worn narrative structure of a hero story. I did hit a big writer’s block along the way, which is when I started thinking about History. And she took me on a ride! I also wanted the Victim to start to ask questions and get involved with her story, rather than just react to the events happening around her.
What would you like to achieve with Triskelion and where do you see it in a few issues time?
Well, without any spoilers (because there will be some surprises), I want to paint as complete a picture of the heroic feminine as I can. That’ll involve more archetypal characters making an appearance, the characters stepping out of their comfort zones, and the Victim in particular learning to feel empowered. The next issue will look at the Villain and the concept of villainous, so that should take me in some interesting directions. Then the Hero will have her issue.
Can you tell us more about your work outside of Triskelion? Maybe a bit about your publication company / paintings / Ex Libris Book Fair?
Yes, Ex Libris Book Fair just happened! It’s such a pleasure to be a part of Literary Dundee’s annual Book Festival. We’ve also been a part of Glasgow’s Aye Write. Ex Libris is unique because I bring in people working in all sorts of book formats – zines, comics, artist books, illustrations, calligraphy are all in one fair.
Ess Publications is a publishing company I started in 2013 when I finished my first comic. I wanted to set up a publisher specifically for book works that fell in between genres. I’ve released all my own comics as well as some interesting collaborative stuff – a playable deck of cards by four artists, a collection of art and writing in response to “monsters”, and a hand bound book and DVD collaboration between my sound artist husband and myself.
I also do some collaborative work from time to time. I have an on-going project called SANK, I’m now involved in Treehouse Comic Collective, and I’m doing a few pages for an upcoming release by Geeky Kid Comics called “Untitled”.
For more on Kathryn’s work, visit her website.