June 13, 2014

Spotlight: Josephine MK Edwards

So many ghouls, so little time.

I stumbled upon Josephine MK Edwards’ comics on Tumblr, where we exist in a similar sort of space and share a few mutual Internet friends, and I’ve been following her for at least a couple years. And although I don’t know her well, I feel like I know a lot about her through reading her raw and heartfelt comics. Her work features teen ghouls, female protagonists and badass babes, plus a refreshingly unique style. Each drawing she does reads like a small moment in her life and as a collection, her work seems simultaneously biographical and relatable.

Themes of disappointment, boredom, personal strength and being alone speak so deeply to my own experience with girlhood. There’s a striking contrast of everyday experience with fantasy that reminds me so much of my own interpretation of my life, only Josie presents them in a way that’s both heart wrenching and slightly off-putting--a combination that keeps my eyes glued to her work and could keep me reading her comics for hours. I spoke with Josephine about her comic series Emmy, being (and crying) in art school and being a female in a male-dominated field.

THE LE SIGH: How autobiographical and personal does your work tend to get? 

Josephine M K Edwards: All of my comics are based on things that have stayed with me for some reason or another, like memories that keep me awake at night, reminding me of all the stupid things I’ve done and said, or experiences with people that have dramatically changed my viewpoint on something. I’m terrible with fiction or making up new worlds and societies or planets. I feel like I’d miss out on something incredibly important and there would be huge flaws in my concepts because I’d get confused and get criticized about it, so I feel a lot more comfortable writing about something I said to a boy I liked once and he laughed at me.

That being said, however, I don’t like getting too personal in my comics. Most of my writing is mocking myself and it’s very difficult for me to be sincere about anything very precious to me because I don’t like myself very much and don’t think I’m very smart. Also I don’t think my viewpoints should be intrinsically linked to my protagonist or whatever; my protagonists are never the heroes of the story. It’s easier for me to present a few viewpoints in my comics and let the readers interpret it for themselves. That’s called ambiguity/cowardice. I suppose stuff that has happened to me is what stirs and compels me and therefore I’m horribly self-involved and think my life is incredibly interesting.

TLS: What’s your experience been like as a female comic in a male-dominated field?

JMKE: When I make comics I feel very isolated. I don’t feel like I’m part of a comics community or that I’m fighting for a space to be seen. There just seems to be a lot of girls hungry for comics about people like them. I think my stories are pretty unique; I mean, only in the sense of the alternative comics scene, and I feel that the stories are pretty universally relatable to young girls or people who once were young girls, and therefore there’s a big crowd who are probably bored of stories about boys by boys. I don’t think I’m articulating myself very well. When I release a comic or a drawing to my blog I am mainly contacted/getting support from young women like me. If I had to show my comics about having obsessive painful crushes on older boys or vagina feelings to a room of men every time I’d finished, I’d have given up long ago, because these kinds of special stories that are so familiar to young girls are very rarely talked about or presented in a comics format, that I suppose women get excited about it.

TLS: What has being an artist with a prominent web presence been like? How does it differ from "real life?"

JMKE: The Internet is definitely real life in terms of artist exposure and opportunities, and luckily now you don’t have to hire out a space and hold a gallery show for your awful cartoons that you try and flyer for at your college that nobody comes to see, apart from your mum who asks afterwards, “What did I do to you that makes you draw things like this?” after seeing a drawing you did of two capybaras humping with Viking helmets on. I mean it’s nice but I feel like sometimes I just stick to work I know will get a good response and rarely experiment because I don’t receive any criticism like I would "in real life" because the only people that bother to talk to me are people who follow my blog who give me lovely feedback.

But sometimes when that’s the only response you get it kind of turns into white noise after a while. People at school tell me my work isn’t as good as it could be all the time, and I guess it’s because I’ve been patted on the back online for so long, but it hurts me, which is utterly pathetic. Usually I’ll just comfort myself with the fact I have got a comic published, I do have quite a few fans, someone has a tattoo of my work to try and block out the comments of my experienced practitioner tutors, who for one thing probably don’t "get it" because they’re old and work in a school, but are the ones who’re grading my work and telling me it’s terrible.

TLS: Has being in a formal educational setting changed your work at all?

JMKE: The course I took didn’t change how I work because I hate school and I hate the artistic process you are forced to squeeze out into a sketchbook every time you just want to draw a flipping picture. I mean I understand experimentation is important but I had to do a daily diary documenting everything I’d done that day and evaluate it. I hate school and I always have. I hate having miserable depressing tutors critiquing my work and telling me maybe I should do a performance piece instead and I hate having to compare yourself to other students all day long and I hate having to try and present my work to the class in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a fucking moron because I used confetti in a drawing compared to a room full of shitty oil paintings.

TLS: Have there been any literal tears during the course? (A question obviously based off my own experience).

JMKE: The only time I’ve cried was when I had to hang up my exhibition show recently and because my brain is full of things like Wacka Flocka Flame lyrics I couldn’t get anything even or look straight because I'm incapable of adding up two numbers.

TLS: What’s been your biggest challenge when it comes to making work?

JMKE: Getting up and doing it. I like lying in bed getting virtual haircuts with my headphones on and eating ten sandwiches because I’m a human bin bag.

TLS: Emmy is your first published comic, right? Do you have plans to make more work like Emmy or do you see yourself moving in a different direction?

JMKE: I focus more on the stories rather than the actual characters and so when I brainstorm ideas for an Emmy sequel it’s been difficult. Usually I just make up the characters as I go along, but now Emmy’s a developed little elf and I have to think about experiences that would specifically happen to her. I don’t really like it.

TLS: What are some themes you’ve been into lately?

JMKE: "That friend you had when you were little that you used to project all your weird not-really-sexual expressions onto," "the worst birthday parties that people have ever had," "how many guys have tried to put their hands in your pants while you’ve been sleeping and why have you wanted to protect their feelings so much that you couldn’t get up and leave or tell them to stop?"

TLS: What was your childhood dream job?

JKME: I was a little shit and just wanted to wear a feather boa and sign autographs and be on the cover of magazines.

TLS: Would you be able to choose a single comic that sums up your life perfectly right now?

JMKE: Dan Clowes’s Art School Confidential comic.

Check out more of Josephine MK Edwards’ work here.


Lindsay Bottos is an artist/writer/cyber babe living in Baltimore. You can see more of her work here and follow her blog here.