A Solitary Habit: An Interview with Francesca Cassavetti
Francesca Cassavetti is the cartoonist behind A Very Nasty Solitary Habit and The Most Natural Thing in the World. In this interview with Bugpowder she gives us her thoughts on making autobiographical comics and the independent comics scene in this country.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
Hmm, where do I start?
I have been making mostly autobiographical comics for a number of years, although I only plugged into the small press scene in the last year or so.
My most popular one to date is The Most Natural Thing In the World (I really regret the long, unwieldy title so tend to refer to it as TMNTITW), which I started to keep me sane after my second child was born. After a few unsuccessful attempts at interesting a publisher, I finally put it out last year as a mini comic in four parts and it seems to touch a chord with people. I am in the process of getting it printed as a collected edition in one volume (Bugpowder edit-to-add: this has now been done).
Most of my comics are based on my life, either straightforward reminiscences, or an event may spark a train of thought. Some are based on a true incident, some are more like riffing on a theme or trying to find some humour in a situation. Party Pieces came from meeting up with a college friend I hadn't seen for twenty years, while Paris Break was a way of exteriorising and making sense of some feelings I'd had since childhood.
That said, I have just collaborated with Dan Lester for his latest anthology and I would like to stress that I am not a sexually frustrated Jewish man...
I could go on or you could ask me another question.
Please tell us about trying to get The Most Natural Thing In the World published. How did you approach publishers? Were there are any 'near misses'? Any publishers that you thought might bite but didn't?
Truth be told, I didn't try that hard or that consistently.
Also, I think the time wasn't right. I gave up after sending it to Harper Collins and Hodders long before the British started to wake up to the whole idea of comics for adults. I gave it to an agent when it was still half finished and she didn't get any takers. I sent it to Cape about four years ago and got a nice reply but, again, they weren't quite sure what to do with it.
I went to see Knockabout many, many years ago with a strip I was doing back then, and they suggested I should go to comic conventions. At the time I couldn't see the point as I had nothing to sell, not having clicked that I could simply put something together myself and that it could be acceptable. I thought I needed the seal of approval of a publisher. Also, comic convention spelt superhero to me and I knew I didn't fit in there. It wasn't until I happened to meet Gary Northfield on an Indesign course last year that the light went on, and I realised that there was a scene I could be part of.
On the making comics side of things, are you self-taught artist or have you taken classes?
I have been drawing ever since I could hold a pen, and after school I got a diploma in graphic design. We did a bit of life drawing at college, but I just draw a lot, mostly people. My 24-hour mini comic A Very Nasty Solitary Habit is about just that. Obviously as a trained graphic artist, putting a book together is not that difficult, and the computer only makes things that much quicker and easier. As long as you have taken the time to write and draw the bugger first…
Before you plugged into the small press scene, how did you distribute your comics?
Before I discovered the small press scene, I simply didn't distribute my comics. I occasionally showed them to friends. I had some strips that ran in a few (now defunct) publications: Fabian Carr About an A&R man ran in Studio and Bloke in a Dressing Gown and New Man in Bitch.
I guess Most Natural Thing strikes a chord as it's a universal subject. People have babies, always have, always will; and no matter how much you think you're prepared and you want them, the way your life gets turned upside down always comes as a shock. It's a constant process of adaptation that lasts until your kids leave home. I tried to be fairly non-specific, and stick to a straightforward pregnancy and birth to make it as easy for as many people as possible to relate to. I wanted to deal with a psychological journey (hey, that makes me sound really clever and intellectual) while taking a wry look at the ludicrousness of human behaviour rather than any kind of medically accurate drama.
We're all ridiculous at times, we all feel overwhelmed, but in the end most of us get through it. And come out the other end, certainly less carefree, but also hopefully less selfish and stronger human beings.
How do you juggle being a (presumably) busy parent and cartooning?
To begin with it was very difficult. I had to learn to seize the moment and work in short bursts. When they were tiny there were naps and evenings, if I wasn't too exhausted. Then came the drop-in creche when I could rush home for a couple of hours then rush back to pick them up. And then with school you get the luxury of much larger chunks of time, and over the years, as they get more and more independent you reclaim that time and use it far more efficiently than you did in the past. And then they grow up and leave you, a burnt out manic shell unable to relax as you feel you have to use every spare second to produce something creative. Or is that the drugs?
I tend to carry a sketchbook around so I can always jot stuff down or do a sketch if I'm at a loose end or on a train or whatever. Actually sometimes I lug it around for ages without getting it out and then I'll have a flurry of creative activity. I wish I could get to one of those drawing events that people organise occasionally, but I tend to hear about it after the event and then they always seem to happen in the back of beyond like New Cross (no offence intended to people from those parts but it's a hell of a schlep from here).
What are your ambitions as a cartoonist? Would you like to make a living at it?
I suppose to be recognised by my peers, and to be read by a wider audience would be nice. Obviously it would be great to make a living making comics but that's not the driving force.
I'm fortunate enough to make a bit of money from commissions, but I also earn a living as a freelance subeditor, which is very agreeable. Ultimately I can please myself with my comics and if they speak to other people too, then that's a bonus.
When I was a young whippersnapper I had ambitions to be a famous cartoonist and then over the years I realised it was easier said than done and that no one was going to come and find me. I needed to get off my arse, draw the strips and maybe show them to people.
At the moment I'm pretty happy with the way things are going, although one needs to keep producing or one soon starts to feel frustrated.
Francesca Cassavetti, thanks for your time. Francesca's blog is here.