“Where is the heroic feminine? What does she look like?” These are the questions that American born comic book artist and writer Kathryn Briggs is trying to answer in her comic series, ‘Triskelion’.
Kathryn, originally from Philadelphia in America, is the author and artist for Story(cycle), Triskelion, Anatomy of a Broken Heart and many other amazing comic books and art work, which I had the pleasure of seeing in person when I met her at a sketching and signing session just recently.
When I first meet Kathryn she is warm and friendly, and instantly strikes up a conversation with me well before the interview takes place. For my first interview with a comic book artist/creator I feel instantly comfortable and incredibly interested in discussing the work that she is here to launch, as well as her previous works. I was also lucky enough to purchase two of her comics that I fully intend to read properly once university is over!
Just talking with Kathryn is incredibly interesting, and her work and stories reflect that. The ‘Triskelion’ series that she has created came about when she asked herself, ‘who is the feminine hero?’. The series has proved to be an in depth look at the hero quest and the holy trinity of comic books – the hero, the villain and the victim – told from a female perspective.
During the course of the interview Kathryn also discusses how she came into making comics, the inspirations for her stories, and what advice she would give to aspiring comic book artists.
“Hi there! So first of all, where are you from and what do you do?”
I am originally from outside of Philadelphia in America, and I make comics. So I am both artist and the writer.
“What first got you interested in comics?”
Well I was actually doing a master of Fine Art, because I am very classically trained, an old school trained painter. So I went into a masters as a painter, and I was sort of researching the ‘hero’ archetype and looking at stories and looking at story itself. So I thought, well if I am going to be examining the hero, I should meet the hero, where the hero exists today, which is in comic books.
So I made my first comic book, that’s this one “Story (Cycle)”. That was my master’s degree and then it was, “I never want to look back”. I loved it, I have been a fan of comics and graphic novels since I was a teenager, but then just getting into making them was amazing, and I absolutely loved how accessible the medium is, how immediate it is. It really takes art out of the gallery or out of somebody’s home and it’s stuffed into your rucksack, or you can read it in the bath, or you can dump your tea on it, and you’re only four pounds out, which is opposed to the four thousand pounds!
“So when did you decide you wanted to pursue comics as a career? Was it in your masters?”
Yeah it was during my masters. It was during the masters when I was making my comic and trying to research and understand publishing on the fly. So I set up a small press to release my own stuff, and then I went to my first big comic-con, MCM in Glasgow. Having my work there, and seeing people respond to it was just like; this is it, I am not doing anything else, I love this!
“So you’re here for a sketching and a signing session, could you tell me a bit more about ‘Triskelion’?”
Sure. So Triskelion is really looking at this holy trinity of comics; the hero, villain and victim and, sort of how they relate to each other and what are their relationships? It also looks at these characters as women. What does it mean to be a female victim, a female villain, and a female hero? So these characters go on a story, they have an adventure where they are leaving the normal narrative behind, stepping sideways into the unknown, then alongside them going on their story is some academic writing about each of these archetypes. Every issue ends with a giant bibliography. So for example, you can see the characters interacting with each other and then the next page there will a little bit of hero theory, with some quotes and writing. So for this issue it was all about the victim and victim hood.
“So the new issue that you are here to launch, what is the story line about?”
This one is about the hero and the heroic feminine. This whole project kind of kicked off by me asking myself, where is the heroic feminine? What does she look like? What does she do? Is she different from male heroes? So, this one starts and in this one all the characters are breaking out of a terrible situation that they got themselves in, and then I am also examining this idea of the heroic feminine, and looking for her in archetype and mythology. I did find one which is great! Ishtar who is the Mesopotamian or Syrian goddess of love and war. She is sort of a rare example of a female character who goes on this heroic quest. So the hero quest is like, Luke Skywalker goes on a hero quest. He is a farm boy, and he goes on an adventure and he has to lose his previous ego and his identity, and he has to build up to something new and become a hero. That’s really rare in mythology and archetype to have a female character go through that process, but Ishtar does. Ishtar is a goddess and she descends into the underworld, and she has to go through seven different gates, and at each gate she has to take off one of her magical items of clothing, and then she gets to the end and she dies and becomes reborn with more power.
“Sounds really cool!”
Yeah Ishtar was awesome! So yeah, this one was looking for the female hero and also this idea of women sort of coming into their own agency and their power, and possessing their power for themselves.
“I think it’s really good, because it’s nice to have a bit more of a female orientation in comics. Do you think it’s really important that a lot of comics put more emphasis on female heroes? Or do you think comics are getting there?”
I think they are getting there. I 100 percent believe that representation matters, I mean across the board if you are talking about LGBTQI or if you’re talking about peoples colour or women. It absolutely matters that you see yourself represented in stories. I am always encouraged to see, not only women come into the floor as heroes, but to see the diversity of women. So we have cute and silly women, we have bad ass women, and we have women who are struggling with addiction or maybe negative emotions. That to me is really positive and really important to see women as more rounded humans with flaws, or with hopes and dreams, or with personal feelings.
“Instead of being really perfect?”
Yes! They are either completely perfect, or completely wicked.
“I think that happens quite a lot. You have the two character types, but you never really have the in between, which I think is pretty good”
“So what are the storylines of your other stories?”
Sure. The first one I did, Story(Cycle), is looking at the hero quest that the hero goes through to transform, from innocent to fully in command of their power and their abilities. Instead of one male character its nine different female characters from myth and fairy-tale. This one is my self-portrait kind of changes into all these different characters who go through the quest.
Then I have ‘Magpie’, which is a wee collection of short comics that have appeared in different UK anthologies, and I like to do them because sometimes it’s just nice to draw cats, and to take a break from your epic investigation!
“This is really cool”
Thank you! I also like to cut apart old books and build new books inside of them. So this one (Anatomy of a Broken Heart) was an antique anatomy book for children, it was a childrens textbook from 1911. So Luella, who was the previous owner, was nine years old, and I went through a bad break up and cut it up and wrote into bits from ‘Dante’s Inferno’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’.
So I really liked artist books, but I didn’t like that they had to be under glass or in drawers, or only accessible if you had white gloves on or something. So I made this whole book, and scanned and reproduced it. So it’s a graphic novel that exists, and again, you can sort of beat it up!
The other one (The Lost Childhood), is the same idea. I bought a vintage book with the title that I wanted, that I decided I wanted to use, and then I cut into it. For the Lost Childhood I even did some paintings that I cut up. I sort of enjoyed the idea of creating my own art, and then the deconstruction of it. So that’s another thing that I am kind of interested in…destroying books.
“And making your own!?”
Yeah! I think I just like using inappropriate paper. I think maybe it’s less intimidating, as this large piece of white paper stares back at you ominously. A lot of times I will grab bits of maps or lined paper, or draw comics on top of other comics. Like this one is an old sixties girl romance comic that I drew my comics on top of.
“So is there a particular inspiration behind the structure that you have adopted?”
I think I just kind of let every page make its own decisions. Sorry, it’s hard to put into words. Every page in Triskelion is a bit different, and I do that partially because I let the script inform what the page looks like. It’s almost like I am building every page like a piece of art itself. So the finished product is like a comic, but it’s also like twenty eight pieces of art that are strung together. It’s almost like I build it one page at a time, and sometimes the script only comes together one page at a time. It’s like, OK this is page twenty two and this is what we are working on, and I just kind of feel it from there. I am sorry it’s not a very empirical answer.
I think some of my short form comics I tend to experiment a bit more with layout more consciously, and sort of play around with that idea. With Triskelion it’s more like individual pages with pieces of art that I am trying to make.
“See the narrative within Triskelion, what inspired you tell that particular story?”
It’s almost like a spiritual successor to my master’s project. You know my master’s project was looking at the hero story and the hero archetype, which is so prevalent in our mythology and our pop culture. So I guess it was building on that, I was like where are the female heroes? What do they look like? Are they different, or are they not? Can there be a hero if she doesn’t have a victim to protect from a villain. Are those sort of interdependent relationships? Like does Superman exist without Lex Luthor, who is trying to destroy things? Or does all of the villains in Gotham city exist if Batman was not there to try and defeat them? So yeah, it was just sort of building on these questions about the hero, and what it means to be a hero?
“So who are the villain and the hero in this story?”
The hero is the goddess Athena, the one from Roman mythology. She is a bit more active, a lot of times in ancient depictions of her she is in a long gown, but in this one she is in battle ready gear with a shield and a sword and her helmet.
The villain is Circe, she is the sea witch and she appears in the Odyssey by Homer. They land on Circe’s island, who is a sorceress, and she turns all of these men into pigs. They land on her island, and walk up to her gate, and she is like “Nope don’t know you strange men” and turns them all into pigs. She is portrayed as a seductress, and maybe like a villain and witch, but honestly if you were living by yourself and a boat full of strange men land on your island, I might turn them all into pigs as well. So that is Circe, and I sort of kept her as a sea witch. She is also morally ambiguous as well. Her motives aren’t really clear as to what she is doing.
The victim is a girl, who is twelve years old, and she has a cat with her at all times. She is a nameless victim. It starts out with Circe wanting her to come along with her and she is very confused, and doesn’t understand what is happening. Athena is trying to defend her. They all sort of go together, instead of fighting out with a big epic battle, they step outside of that narrative and end up in this mystical place. They go on this journey outside of story to the beginning of the story.
“Do you have any other future projects that you are currently working on, or thinking off starting?”
Well I am taking a small break to catch up on some short comics that I want to do, and then I am going to jump straight back into Triskelion five and finish up the series. At the moment I have been doing some short form work for another writer, for a project that might be coming out. Then I am doing some short form work for Radio On, which is a comic anthology all about music, and then I will be doing Dirty Rotten Comics, and I also have an essay that is coming out in an anthology all about divorce. I wrote my essay about finding my creative voice after my first marriage ended. So I always have a lot going on!
“So last question. What piece of advice would you give to aspiring comic artists?”
I think the number one advice is just make comics. You have to find your voice and what you’re interested in, and you have to just do it. I think maybe one thing that I would want to tell people is, that all of us comic people have day jobs. We’re all up late night working, we are all struggling, we’re all doing it, but we’re all doing it because it’s what we love to do. Never ever feel guilty for working to pay the rent and not putting time into your comics, we all have to eat and we all do it and we are all doing the best we can. We all go out and attend comic-con’s and book fairs and meet other comic people and artists. That sense of community can sometimes get you through those moments of self doubt, for not feeling the best about your work, because then you’ll have a huge amount of comic people that will be like, no you’re awesome!
“Well I think that’s a really positive note to end on. Thank you very much, I really appreciated it”
No thank you!