Gill Hatcher on Comics: “There’s Still So Much Unexplored Territory.”

We had a chat with Glasgow’s Gill Hatcher, cartoonist and co-creator of Team Girl Comic.  Here she discusses her work, her influences, and the state of comics today.

What kind of comics did you grow up reading?  What has most influenced your work, and what kind of work do you aspire to?

My first comic was DC Thomson’s Twinkle (“specially for little girls”), full of lovely stories about teddy bears and kittens. I then moved on to The Beano (The Bunty was way too boring), and when I discovered my local library had all the Tintin books they were all I wanted to read. And like everyone else in Scotland, The Broons and Oor Wullie annuals made an appearance every Christmas.

Although I mainly create short comic stories rather than strips, I’m influenced by Peanuts by Charles Schultz and Amy and Jordan by Mark Beyer: Schultz’s perfect simplicity and Beyer’s far from perfect attention to detail. I’m also a great admirer of Peter Bagge. A lot of my stories are influenced by wildlife, growing up and, if I’m being honest ‘The Sooty Show’- I still find a lot of things I laughed at as a kid funny today.
I guess I aspire to develop my own unique style- still working on that!

What condition do you think the UK/Scottish comics scene is in?  What would you like to see, and what can we do to take ourselves forward?

I think it’s a really exciting time to be working in comics. Comics, especially graphic novels, are getting more and more recognition as valid works or art and literature, and there’s been a huge boom in different styles and genres of comics over the past few years. I think the UK comics scene is growing into something really vibrant and innovative, I just wish we were all a little better connected, especially outside London.

But we’re getting there, and I think the more we represent ourselves as a whole, the more we will be taken seriously by people outwith the world of comics. You could call it communication, or networking, or just ‘being friends’! Glasgow is a great place to be creating comics as not only is there a small press community, a lot of professional titles are produced in Glasgow and there are quite a few shops that are very supportive of small press. I sometimes feel Glasgow is trapped in a 60s America time warp, struggling to see past superheroes and clinging on to outdated titillation, but I can’t complain too much.

Tell us about Team Girl Comic.  How did it come about, and what are you out to achieve?

Well that leads on from my last comment. I’d been making small press comics for a few years before I decided to start TGC, but was feeling a little bit isolated in such a male dominated scene. I had friends and was not made to feel unwelcome, but my work just didn’t quite fit in with the other comics. At the time I felt like I was the only woman in Glasgow making comics, which of course was untrue. The initial problem was I didn’t know any female cartoonists, so I started looking to the people I did know: my friend Katie who did a few comics in art school, my cousin Emma who wrote funny stories, my friend Iona who liked to draw. And my sister Jess who was like ‘comics? Yeah, why not, I’ll give it a go!’

That’s how the whole ‘inclusivity’ aspect of TGC came about- any female of any ability is welcome to submit a comic. Very quickly word went round and some of those other Glasgow ladies making comics, like Penny Sharp and Heather Middleton came forward, as well as a whole load of other people.

Now there are more than 20 artists in the loop, ranging from pre-teens to forties, artists to engineers. In part we are out to raise the profile of female-created comics, although personally I don’t think there is much of a problem there these days, especially when it comes to small press and indie comics, it’s pretty much an equal playing field. What we really exist for is the creators, on a more personal level. From my experience I would say that women are particularly prone to being under-confident when it comes to promoting their creations, whether it’s a piece of writing, a song, a comic etc. So we wanted to create a group from which women and girls can showcase their work as part of a fun, unintimidating project, and maybe inspire a few others to give comics a go along the way.

You took part in the 24 Hour comic challenge.  How did that go? What are the challenges and benefits of such a quick turnaround?

I’ve done two 24 Hour comics now. After the first one in 2008, I said I would never do it again, but two years later I got the itch! Both times I started at 6am and worked pretty much continuously, resulting in mini graphic novels featuring my ‘artificial bear’ characters, Robot Bear and Sausage Bear.

Tiredness wasn’t so much the problem, it was the pain! By the end my right hand was trembling and I was getting shooting pains up my arm. But the results were amazing. The rules of the challenge are you can’t do any pre-preparation, so I was more or less making up the storyline as I went along. Probably not my best writing ever, but seeing what you can achieve when put under pressure is a great learning experience. It’s like when you draw a quick sketch and just can’t get it to look as good in the actual comic- sometimes the best artwork is created spontaneously.

In ‘Go Wildlife’ you mix fact and fiction to tell stories of the animal world.  You also regularly post autobiographical comics online.  Why do you think comics have such a close relationship with non-fiction?

Historically, comics have been far more associated with fiction, in particular superhero, fantasy and humour stories. I think we’re now seeing so many non-fiction comics because people are just starting to realise that comics are a medium, not a genre. Basically you can go anywhere with comics, and what I love is that there is still so much unexplored territory. There are plenty of books written about nature and wildlife, but how many comics are there?

Most of my autobiographical work is set in my teenage years- my ‘Jesty Pesty’ stories are almost all based on my experiences in high school. Comics are an ideal way to tell these stories for me as it allows me to only show the reader a ‘snapshot’. I’ve had a lot of unhappy experiences with my family that I’m nowhere near ready to share with the world, but also a lot of experiences that seemed important at the time but I can now look back and laugh at- fancying someone in school, quarrelling with my sister, those are the things I draw comics about.

I think comics are a natural way for many people to tell their story because they can show the reader what they want them to see, and express their feelings in a more subtle way- rather than telling the reader what happened to you and how you felt, you are inviting them to enter your mind and see the world from your point of view.

Tell us about something great…

Plan B Books in Glasgow is fantastic. A whole shop dedicated to all the graphic novels I love, with nice coffee and a really chilled out atmosphere. We need to support our local independent retailers more than ever.