I managed to catch up with one of the Small Press Expo’s special guests, British illustrator and cartoonist Gemma Correll, while she was in town for the convention. Gemma has recently released Pig and Pug, a picture book about an unlikely friendship, and The Worrier’s Guide to Life, a comic strip collection that strikes a humorous balance between The New Yorker cartoons and cat memes.
Between The Covers: Is there anyone at SPX you’re excited to meet?
Gemma Correll: I know Kate Beaton’s here. That’s quite exciting. But I’ll probably be too scared to say anything. I thought comics people were meant to be really introverted, but it seems like everyone is really outgoing.
BTC: That’s one of the reasons I like your work so much, because you’ve pretty much nailed what I feel like as an introvert. When you make comics about any social anxieties or issues you’re working through, do you think it’s therapeutic in any way?
GC: Yeah, it is very therapeutic. That’s why I started doing that kind of comic in the first place. I’ve always done diary comics and if I’m anxious about something I tend to draw to get through it. I draw on planes a lot because I get really anxious on planes. But I feel like I look really aloof because I’m drawing. I’m not trying to be rude.
BTC: How many sketchbooks have you filled to date?
GC: If we count from when I left college, about 30 — some are bigger than others though.
BTC: You’re just finding other ways of interacting. Pig and Pug, that’s a story about two friends who don’t like each other at first but, in spite of themselves, they start to become friends. Would it be wrong to classify them as “frenemies”?
GC: Yeah, I think that’s probably the right word.
BTC: Was that a theme you felt tied to, or were you more drawn to the animal aspect of Pig and Pug?
GC: It’s kind of a bit of both. The first thing was that it’s a pug. If it’s a pug I have to do it, it’s like a law.
BTC: Have you gotten tired of pugs yet?
GC: I never get tired of doing pugs. I just worry about other people getting tired of me doing pugs all the time. The story is for really young kids and it’s very simple and very funny. I do like the undertones of them being frenemies but really loving each other. It’s one of those things when people are similar in temperament and they clash. I went and visited the author [Lynne Berry] in Nashville. She doesn’t have a pug, she has Boston Terriers but Boston Terrier isn't alliterative. But she does have a pig. And the pig was really sweet and really, really grumpy. She would kind of snort at you unless you fed her.
BTC: That sounds like my dog.
GC: Yeah, that’s what my pugs are like as well — grumpy unless you’ve got treats for them.
BTC: What do you think it takes to be a pug aficionado? I don’t think there’s really a term for people who really love pugs, is there?
GC: No. There should be. I was going to say pugaphile, but that sounds pretty weird. Not pugaphile. [laughs] Yeah, pugs are kind of cat-like in certain ways, so I can see the similarity with a cat-lady because they’re lap dogs and pug people get obsessive with pug stuff. You’ll have everything with pugs on it. I’ve got a ridiculous amount of stuff with pugs on them.
BTC: And you’ve contributed to that with your pug merchandise.
GC: I know, it’s my own fault. It seems to be a certain kind of person who loves pugs, generally. Maybe more odd people? Which is fine, I’m one of them.
BTC: You’ve been really prolific recently. As well as Pig and Pug, you have the line of “Doodling…” activity books, How to Be a Girl and The Worriers Guide to Life. What do you think is the most effective habit that you’ve developed to produce so much work?
GC: Drinking coffee. I don’t know. I’ve always just drawn so much that it just kind of comes naturally. If I’m not drawing, I feel a bit lost. I find it hard to say no to things and I’m always working on my own work anyway.
BTC: You’ve had some interesting side projects recently, including a mural — is that right?
GC: I painted a mural of my characters. It was a local project in Norwich to brighten up an underpass. I didn’t really have the time to do it, but I really wanted to do it.
BTC: Your work actually covers a pretty wide range of interests. Is it just natural because you have that many interests or do you think about your audience?
GC: Yeah, it comes out of having so many interests and, quite often, I worry that I do too much different stuff. I can’t help myself. I love pugs and I love drawing them but I don’t want to only draw pugs.
BTC: But there are some running themes in your work, including gags about millennials. You’re still young enough to be a millennial, what is your take on the way they’re portrayed in media?
GC: Well, it’s pretty negative, isn’t it? Every generation above thinks the next generation is ridiculous, so I like making fun of that. I am a millennial and I do drink coffee every day and have tattoos. But I don’t think people see how millennials are affected by finance and housing issues.
BTC: You recently helped to get Eat More Comics kickstarted, how was that process?
GC: It was really, really good. Although The Nib doesn’t exist on Medium.com anymore, it was such a good online anthology. I feel like it all deserves to be remembered. Some of the things on there were really hard-hitting and clever. A lot of those comics have disappeared into the void of the Internet.
BTC: I guess it’s exemplifying a weird stage in Internet publishing. You have to preserve content in some way, if it’s not going to be online. That’s why print’s not dead.
GC: No, it’s not. I don’t think you could ever get what you get from a book on the Internet.
BTC: So is there anything you’re working on right now?
GC: I am working on a feminist coloring book. It’s not connected to the “Doodling…” books, it’s more in depth. I’m having a lot of fun with it. The publisher is Seal Press in New York and they publish a lot of social, political and feminist books.
BTC: Did that evolve out of your working with How to Be a Girl or was it something you were already planning?
GC: It came out of my Four Eyes comics. I’ve done a few which are not explicitly feminist comics but have the theme of body image and things like that. I think they saw it online and thought they could do something with it. So I worked with them to come up with something that is partly educational and partly fun.
BTC: That’s always an extremely difficult challenge, to find a good balance between those two. But there is such a great outpouring of work in the feminist bent making it into pop culture. Which is exciting.
GC: There’s a lot of books like Caitlin Moran’s books and humor books about feminism but there isn’t a coloring book yet.
BTC: But now there will be! What are you currently reading?
GC: At the moment I am reading Girls Will Be Girls. It’s a feminist book by and about Emer O’Toole, an Irish writer. It’s a humorous book about various concerns — there’s a whole chapter on body hair. It’s part memoir, part essays.
BTC: What drove your research for the feminist coloring book?
GC: It is such a wide theme. I wanted to put a lot of basic stuff in because some of the people who are reading it will be more knowledgeable than others. Also, because it’s an American publisher I’ve been reading up about American feminism, like the Seneca Falls conference. The Emer O’Toole book I was reading anyway. That’s just good for seeing how you can write about feminism in a funny way.