Comic Boom - Comics in Education

Comic Boom - Episode 6 - with creator of Speak Up, Rebecca Burgess

February 08, 2023 Lucy Starbuck Braidley Season 1 Episode 6
Comic Boom - Episode 6 - with creator of Speak Up, Rebecca Burgess
Comic Boom - Comics in Education
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Comic Boom - Comics in Education
Comic Boom - Episode 6 - with creator of Speak Up, Rebecca Burgess
Feb 08, 2023 Season 1 Episode 6
Lucy Starbuck Braidley

In this week's episode Lucy speaks to the hugely talented comic artist, Rebecca Burgess - mostly focusing on her latest middle grade graphic novel, Speak Up.

Rebecca Burgess is a comic artist and illustrator working in the UK, creating award winning published and small press work. Along with drawing comics for their day job, Rebecca also loves drawing webcomics in their free time. Being autistic, they are particularly passionate about bringing more autistic characters into comics and stories! Outside of drawing comics and cuddling their cat, Rebecca also loves playing RPGs with friends, going on deep dives into history and growing vegetables in their humble Bristol garden.

Links to everything  discussed, including Bex's recommendations and the comic to accompany this episode can be found on the podcast padlet.

Follow Bex on Twitter at  @theorah
Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com


Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Show Notes Transcript

In this week's episode Lucy speaks to the hugely talented comic artist, Rebecca Burgess - mostly focusing on her latest middle grade graphic novel, Speak Up.

Rebecca Burgess is a comic artist and illustrator working in the UK, creating award winning published and small press work. Along with drawing comics for their day job, Rebecca also loves drawing webcomics in their free time. Being autistic, they are particularly passionate about bringing more autistic characters into comics and stories! Outside of drawing comics and cuddling their cat, Rebecca also loves playing RPGs with friends, going on deep dives into history and growing vegetables in their humble Bristol garden.

Links to everything  discussed, including Bex's recommendations and the comic to accompany this episode can be found on the podcast padlet.

Follow Bex on Twitter at  @theorah
Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com


Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Lucy:

hi Bex How are you?

Rebecca:

All right. How are you?

Lucy:

I'm good, thanks. Yeah. we always like to start the podcast with, um, asking our guests to cast their mind back to when they. First started to become aware of comics, to start to read them, maybe even start to create them. What was your entry point into the comics world?

Rebecca:

basically, Japanese comics, because I, I grew up during the, the huge Pokemon.Pokemon was like really, really big.

Lucy:

Yeah,

Rebecca:

And everyone, everyone was obsessed

Lucy:

love Pokemon. So was it the actual Pokemon, was it the comics? But I came to Pokemon through the TV though really? There was the cartoons for me.

Rebecca:

yeah, yeah. Through the t TV series. And then through that I discovered like, anime and manga. and I, yeah, I wasn't really like into comics before then cuz there wasn't really comics and girls. Around that time, but manga had lot, lots of stuff. kind of more aimed at people like me. So that's pretty much how I got into comics. And I, pretty much exclusively read Japanese comics for a really long time, until comics started expanding, you know, ev everywhere else in, in this world.

Lucy:

and how old were you at that point when you first got your, got hold of your first manga?

Rebecca:

wanna say it was 11. It was say Sailor Moon Moon was my first ever comic.

Lucy:

And what is it that, when you say there was, there weren't any before that that kind of appealed to you or felt like they were made for people like you? What was it that was drawing You

Rebecca:

Lots of different things, like the art style was really pretty and cute. and at the time either had Marvel comics or Beano comics and neither of those are pretty or cute. They're kind of like, you know, yeah, like he's a big muscley man, or kind of like you know, sort of like gags strip. Kind of stuff. So Manga was appealing because you had cool costumes and female characters and really nice artwork and more emotion based stories focusing on drama and emotion rather than, action. So it was like all of those things that made manga really cool if you're an 11 year old girl. Anyway,

Lucy:

I have, I'm, I'm aware of Sailor Moon. I know what Sailor Moon looks like. I've seen the artwork and things like that, but I never actually read a Sailor Moon. What, what would I, what would I be getting myself into if I, if I picked up a copy?

Rebecca:

It is part of a whole genre that we really liked is it's called Magical Girl, which is sort of like, it's a bit like superhero with a hidden identity. And Sailor Moon is a hidden identity kind of thing. but she's doing romance at the same time. So rather than it just being actioned, it's tied in with romance or school relationships with your friends and stuff like that. that's why I'd describe it as a mix between, superhero and romance drama genre.

Lucy:

Cool. That's really interesting. We're gonna go on to talk about your book, speak Up later on, and there's a few parallels there from things that you've been In terms of education and your time at school, was comics part of that or was it very much something that you did at home? How did the two cross over or were they always very separate?

Rebecca:

they were kind of separate to a point, comics were kind of. Frowned upon when I was in school, especially Japanese stuff for some reason. I dunno why, but art teachers hate Japanese comics..I have no idea why that is. so like in, in school at least they'd try and stop you from, from drawing comics. Both in, in uni and college and school, they always discouraged, drawing comics. Sp specifically, so it was pretty separate and the way that I got into comics was, making comics. It was go to small press, conventions where people just make, make their own stuff. at the time it was very small, so I joined like a little group of people who were about 10 years older than me, which is amazing cuz the, then they teach me and my sister how to make comics and how to draw and just give us tips in general. So I, I learned everything through the indeed small press, zine kind of circles as opposed to school and then, in school, most Of art school. Even in uni, it was very much like trying to make you not do comics at all. So I, I learn nothing about comics from, from there at.

Lucy:

So it's all self-taught and and learning from people who are in that scene. And what do you think could have been done differently to, try and make that less of a divide what would you have liked to have happened?

Rebecca:

I think it'd be nice if teachers had just been more, Encouraging or I think more open-minded is probably the thing. I don't, like, we could spend ages talking about why comics are really downplayed. It's especially here in the uk, like they're not really considered a, a thing over here. I, I don't feel like they are, I dunno if that's your experience, but

Lucy:

Yeah, I think it can really. But I think I'd say on the whole, they're definitely outside of the norm to be looked at within a lesson, you'll get occasional educators and some of which will speak you on this podcast. You're really passionate about it. And then, then in those particular schools, you're lucky enough to go to those schools. Wow, you've got a great opportunity. But often they're misunderstood. Yeah. And because of that, that kind of was something to do more to do in your own time rather than to bring in into the school.

Rebecca:

I think misunderstood is the right word. Cause I remember having this trouble in school as well, even early on in, in school. I think they're just comics are a bit stereotyped as to what they are. So unless you've read the. you know, the whole range that's out there. Unless you understand what's out there and the kind of stories that are being told, I think you just make an assu assumption about it and think we can't use this in a educational setting, or it won't enrich kids in any way. So you just sort of, Ignore it or try and down downplay it and try and get kids interested. I think I want sort of like high, high art or fine art that was my experience anyway. It was sort of like comics is the low brown thing and if you want to better yourself that then you need to be interested in other things.

Lucy:

Yeah. I've spoke to, Hattie Earl, who's a, uh, academic at Sheffield Hall University for one of these episodes, and she was talking about how that's kind of embedded with the history of of, comics as well, which is really, really interesting. And I think the more we understand that, the more we unpick it, the more we can kind of, kind of overcome those misconceptions.

Rebecca:

it does feel like it's changed. Like it feels like it's changed a lot since, I was a teenager, so g give it like, not, not very long, and it'll probably be completely different

Lucy:

Yeah, I think it's definitely an upward curve happening here I was really interested in your process. How do you create your comics? do you work digitally? Do you work in traditional media?,do you do scripts and then create your visuals?

Rebecca:

A mixture of things depending on what I'm working on. for my published comic, they need a script. Well, my editor needs a script because no one can understand my sketchy thumbnails that I normally do. but I really like to draw it all out first, in little little miniature comic pages to get, get the pacing right. And then before, even before that, when I'm just fi thinking of the story, like it's kind of like mostly just rough notes and then I'm just doodling little faces and writing down snippets of conversation, And then I turn that into, the mini comic pages that only I can read. And then if, if I'm working on something where an editor isn't involved, I just draw it straight out from, from those little sketches. But if there's an editor involved, then I meticulously go through my notes and create the script, from, there. I don't do the dialogue on the fly, I have a rough idea of what people are going to say, but most of the time I do that in the moment as well. Cause as long as I've got the reactions in the faces, like it just feels more natural to, to kind of do it in the moment, as I'm writing it out. So I don't super plan that until like it's there with the image, if that makes sense.

Lucy:

So you're then thinking about what the people would say in that moment more than sort of trying to preempt it.

Rebecca:

Yeah, like obviously I, I have a idea of what they're gonna say cuz you still need to do the pacing and everything, and have the little beats, but, Kind of like belittle details in dialogue. I don't do it until the moment, otherwise it feels a bit less natural somehow. I wanna do it as it's coming out of my head. But I definitely need vi visual. I'm, I'm a very visual person, so I can't do anything without having like expressions there with it. I can't just write it without some sort of visual next to it.

Lucy:

You've kind of answered my next question. My next question was gonna be, do you think you could tell these stories in other ways, or is is the combination of image and words like absolutely essential for you?

Rebecca:

Yeah. I can't, I don't feel like I'm a good writer. I'm not good at writing. I, I don't think I'm good at comics, but not writing. They feel really like entwined together. Maybe, cause I've been doing it for a really long time, like, cause I've been drawing comics for so long, they just like can't, uh, separate them somehow.

Lucy:

I wanted to talk to you in some detail about Speak Up, which I just really love. And. I found really emotional. We'll talk about that late in a minute.

Rebecca:

Oh.

Lucy:

I don't see, I was getting teary at one point I'll tell you about, but it might not be the a point that you think that I would, I dunno, I'm interested to know what, what your reactions to that, I hesitate to ask this cause it sounds like a bit of a boring question, but I do think it is a boring question that has interesting answers. So, what inspired you to, to write that story? Well, why was that a story that you really wanted to. and maybe you could give a little summary of the story to people who might not have read it, who are listening.

Rebecca:

okay. Speak Up is about, a girl called Mia, who's 12, and she's autistic and therefore gets very overwhelmed, in certain social settings like school. And is very shy and has, what you call selective mu, where she can't talk in certain situations. and so it means that at school at least she kind of comes across as really quiet and shy and like no one knows anything about her. And all the kids at school kind of make fun of her. And she's a bit isolated. But then on the internet, She's kind of like this singer that's going viral online. but because she doesn't have any confidence in herself, she's kind of like got a secret identity going on. So her online persona, no one knows who that is in real life. And the story is kind of about, but, double identity thing. And like the ki some kids in school. All love the online persona, but they don't realize that it, it's Mia. And yeah, there's just all this story that kind of unfolds around that. I made it because I'm autistic. and I just remember when I was a kid, never relating to any characters what whatsoever. In any kind of stories or cartoons or whatever. And I think I had so little confidence for when I was a kid and had a lot of, anxiety problems. I guess I was very like overwhelmed and anxious all the time and I know it definitely, You know, it would've helped a lot if I'd seen characters like myself. Just kind of like feeling overwhelmed by the kind of stuff that I felt overwhelmed by becau, because when you're autistic, you are so sensitive to, to stuff that you feel kind of alone in that or I, I did anyway as a kid, because. You just sort of feel like you have to get over it because everyone else used to be dealing with normal everyday things, so Well, and you, especially when you get to a teenage kind of level, like you feel kind of ashamed of yourself and like, I feel terrible that I can't deal with stuff in the same way that other kids can. I think I, I just would've loved to have seen, stories with autistic characters when I was a kid. It just would've, like, made me feel better about myself. So that's pretty much, pretty much the reason I, I wrote it and specifically the kind of themes that I went for.

Lucy:

And did you find it, was a cathartic experience?

Rebecca:

yeah, definitely. I, about all the stuff that I've written in the last, six years or so has been kind of like themed around autism and it's all been quite cathartic, to process. Stuff that I didn't really have words for when I, when I was a kid. Cause I wasn't diagnosed as autistic when I was a kid. So, um, yeah, it's, it was nice to process various experiences.

Lucy:

and then must be benefits as well from in from a reader's perspective in people who aren't autistic. Reading that and maybe gaining some understanding of some awareness of what that might feel like or what, what other people in their class might, might be experiencing.

Rebecca:

I hope so. Yeah, I do hope so. I got a really. nice message from someone the other day from a parent who was like, oh, this made me think differently about how I treat my autistic child. So that was kind of amazing.

Lucy:

that's super interesting cuz it was actually, that was the, so the mom character for me in the book was when I think it might be cuz I'm a, I'm a mom and, well it definitely is cause I'm a mom. Um, and I, I felt really, yeah, I felt really emotional by the mom's. journey. Cause I feel so, so, so often in children's or writing for younger people. Adult characters are quite one-dimensional. They're kind of like good or they're bad. And Mia's mom in this story, well, all the characters are really multi-dimensional, but Mia's mom, she's allowed to make mistakes and then come back from those and realize her mistakes and become a better support for her child and that kind of journey for the mom. I felt like that was really unusual to see that in a book for, for young people. And when she, had a moment of realization about how she'd been treating Mia that made me quite emotional.

Rebecca:

that was really sweet though. Yeah, I Yeah, I was thinking of my mom, who I think had really good intentions, when I was younger, but she just didn't understand me, so she just sort of like, pushed me way too much. But you know, we, with all the best intentions, So that, that's definitely where her character was coming from. But, I've met lots of parents who just didn't realize, cause the, there's no information available for them and they don't, you know, they don't realize they're just trying to do their best. So that's just like someone that's not autistic. So how are they supposed to know? Like, I, I barely know how. The how neurotypical people work. Like you can't expect it to be both way around. I think just need a little bit of com compassion for people that are just trying to do their best, like It'd be good to have a bit of compassion, man.

Lucy:

social media is also not the bad guy in this story as well, which is something that it often can be painted at, but it's, um, as, it's a lot, it's quite different to the sort of rhetoric that we often hear around social media and young people engage in social media. Cause it gives Mia an outlet, But it is nuanced again, isn't it? It's nuanced. There are some things in the story which might not be seen as so positively with the social media, but um, it gives her an outlet to be I don't wanna say someone else, but a different side of herself, That maybe other people don't see because of our anxiety. Is that something that, that you've found? Is that coming from personal experience around using social media?

Rebecca:

I don't, I really don't think kids should be on social media

Lucy:

That's interesting,

Rebecca:

I don't think anyone should be on social media until they're like 16 personally. But I'm like, oh, well it's a fictional story, so whatever. I really, I just don't think it's, I don't think it's actually healthy for you. I think you need like a space to grow up without social media, I just don't think is good for you. but I did, I grew up before social media, so I grew up in kind of like the sort of space in between that where you, you could post, I could post artwork online and like express myself, but not have all the terrible things that come with social media where you have like, you know, Thousands of people judging you,

Lucy:

What sort of things do you read? We talked about your, where you started in reading comics. What sort of things do you read now?

Bex:

Yeah, I read everything. Like I really had picture books at the moment as well. Because I, I just suddenly realized about, three years ago that picture books have the most amazing artwork, So like an artist, I just keep buying more and more and just stare. I don't, I barely even like read the picture books. I just stare at the artwork, And then I continue to read loads of comics. I think my favorite, Western comics at the moment are kind of like middle grade, like the stuff that I'm writing really. I just really like the art styles, in middle grade comics and I still read a lot of Japanese comics as well. But I'm, yeah, I'm reading all sorts of stuff.

Lucy:

And do you get inspiration from what you read as as well?

Bex:

Like, this sounds weird, but I think most generally my inspiration for most stuff comes from like where something doesn't exist yet and I want to make it, if that makes sense. So normally story ideas only pop into my head if, if I'm like, huh, I wish this would exist. You know, Yeah. I think maybe a lot of comic art artists are like that probably cuz it's quite quick and easy to, to just bash out stuff. It's, it is kind of like a very, I. Sort of thing, especially with web, web comics. So I think probably a lot of web comic artists are coming from a space of like, this thing doesn't exist and I'll, I'll make it.

Lucy:

So coming to the end of the podcast, I'd like to end with a couple of takeouts main things that you would like to leave. Educators thinking about. a couple of points maybe.

Bex:

I mean, my main thought is, is I think it is good to like encourage. To get into comics if they show an interest. Cause for me personally, Comics is a, a really good area and web comics, and small press especially for me, is a really good area for finding, diverse stories. and stuff that maybe you are not getting in mainstream media. Like I feel like I'm quite lucky that my book has got published, um, because I, I don't see that much autistic themed stuff anywhere. But I do see a lot of that stuff in small press, So I think if, you encourage kids, Get in into small press comics, then they'll be able to Learn about people that they never knew existed and like grow that empathy for other kinds of people. I think that definitely happened with me when, when I was younger as well and it, like, I've met so many different kinds of people in small press, which I probably wouldn't have if, I just kind of Uh, yeah, stuck with mainstream comics, so I, I think it's a good space to learn that kind of stuff if you are someone from a marginalized background as well, then you, you could find more relatable stories, a free school press as well.

Lucy:

And from a really practical point of view, just people, if people don't know, Where can they access those kind of small press comics? Where's the best place to go and find, try and access some of those that they'd like to, to find some of the people they work with.

Bex:

So obviously on online, you have Taper I think is a great, and Web Webtoon kind of like the two big web comic. Websites, but also in real life. Most comic conventions have artist alleys where you'll have small press artists like sharing stuff, and you definitely get a wide range of things that are both for adults and kids. So especially if you go to somewhere like thought Bubble, I think is the best for, having comics. that aim at all ages. I'd say that those, if you go to like London Comic Con on Thought Bubble, you could pick up those of physical, small press comics and also go, go against my personal point of view and, and get, get kids online. uh, I read the web comics, but you do get web comics for, for kids like. which I didn't even realize, but someone was telling me the other day that you get a whole website dedicated to web comics and specifically at kids, which is kind of awesome. So those exist as well,

Lucy:

Yeah. That's brilliant. I've never been to thought Bubble. I really, really want to go.

Bex:

It is so good. Like it, there's so many different kinds of stuff there. It's re it's nice because it's not just one thing like co uh, London Comicon is a bit more. Focused on certain kinds of artwork, but, Though Bubble just does everything. Like, it just has so many different kinds of stories and art artists. It is amazing.

Lucy:

The last thing that we like to end the podcast on, I cannot say we like, I'm three people here. It's just me. That I like to end the podcast on is, A book recommendation, a comic recommendation, a graphic novel. If we were to add one thing, could be for an adult, could be child readers, whatever, just let us know what age do you think it's suitable for? What should we add to our to be read pile

Bex:

Oh.

Lucy:

would you recommend?

Bex:

Oh, my favorite is Emma. by Karou Mori. it's not, So it's set in Victorian London, but it's not Jane Austen's Emma. It's a different Emma but It it's my favorite comic cause to me it just embodies everything that's great about comics. It delves into the characters in a very deeply, so it's quite, uh, psychological, but not in an ob obvious way, which I really Like it, has a lot of, all the characters have lots of different layers. The pacing in it is very, cinematic, which is also a thing that I, especially like in comics. And there's lots of silent storytelling, which is another like classic comic kind of thing that you can't get in any other kind of storytelling, you know, where there's no words being said, but there's loads going on, like just with interactions between the characters and it's just like. it's a really beautiful comic as well. so I just totally recommend it

Lucy:

that sounds absolutely brilliant. I'm gonna check that out. Thank you so much. thank you for coming today. It's been brilliant to hear talk. I absolutely loved your book.

Bex:

Thank you.

Lucy:

It's been really, really great to talk to you. So thank you so much for coming

Bex:

Yeah, thank you. It's been really nice.