Today, Comics Beat is pleased to present this conversation between Avery Hill Co-Publisher Ricky Miller and Shanti Rai, author of Sennen. The conversation covers topics that include comics in the United Kingdom, favorite comic shops, fibromyalgia and more. 

L: Sennen cover; R: Shanti Rai

RICKY MILLER: What got you into making comics?

SHANTI RAI: I’ve always loved reading comics. I grew up with The Beano and Tintin (and any other comics I could find second hand at boot fairs) but I’d always just been more of a traditional writer. I started writing novels when I was a child just for fun, and it was always something I thought I would end up doing professionally. I didn’t actually learn to draw until I spent a year locked inside with extreme agoraphobia when I was eighteen. I spent a lot of my time back then browsing Tumblr and it was there I discovered artists like Jack Teagle and Luke Pearson, who drew me into the UK comics scene. I decided to try my hand at making my own comics and found it extremely fulfilling, I think in part due to my interest in filmmaking. It feels like comics are the direct bridge between novel and film so comics making fit perfectly within the venn diagram of my interests. 

MILLER: You’ve come through the self-publishing route in the UK. Which shows and stores supported you and your work?

RAI: The first ever comics fair I visited was ELCAF, and it was subsequently the first ever comics fair I exhibited at. Since then, I’ve exhibited at the Brighton Illustration Fair and DIY Space London. GOSH! Comics have also been a massive supporter since the beginning—they stocked copies of my first ever self-published comic, Daydreams, in 2015 and have been supportive with everything I’ve created since!

MILLER: From what you know of others who self-publish in the UK, what is the self-publishing world like now in comparison?

RAI: I’m very disconnected from the comics scene these days since becoming ill with fibromyalgia, but with the internet it feels easier than ever to self-publish. There are so many avenues into selling your own comics, however unless you have a substantial following on Instagram, YouTube, etc. it can be difficult to get off the block. Etsy has always been a place where I sold and bought self-published comics online, and it remains a great place to buy and sell (I still sell through Etsy), but in recent years Etsy has become overwhelmed with drop-shippers and the fees have become ridiculous. 

It honestly doesn’t feel like much has changed out in the world. Small community projects and comic shops remain the best place to get your work out there, and self-promotion through social media remains the best way to get eyes on your work. There are always so many events going on in London, Bristol, Brighton, etc. The community seems alive and well, even after covid.

MILLER: Do you feel you’re part of a comics community in the UK? Are there forums where UK comics authors meet/chat/share thoughts and experiences?

RAI: I think there’s definitely an amazing and thriving comics community in the UK and I feel so lucky to be a part of it. However, chronic illness means that I’m often isolated from society, and it’s not much different with the comics community. There’s a limit to what I can be involved in in terms of exhibiting at fairs or attending events (even online), which makes it difficult to stay connected. There are a few online groups I’m a part of through Instagram where people share their work and chat about comics, which is really nice.

MILLER: You describe yourself as a British/Bengali illustrator, do you feel diverse backgrounds like yours are represented well in UK comics?

RAI: I think there has been a huge change—even in the last ten years—of comics creators being given platforms in an industry that used to be very white and male dominated. It’s not an accident that’s happened, it’s the result of active choices made by publishers and publications to put diversity and inclusion at the forefront, which is a brilliant, positive change. Though it’s still very much a white, male dominated industry, I definitely don’t feel like being a woman, or mixed-race, or disabled, or queer is a barrier to entry anymore in the way that it felt when I was growing up. I feel like the world of small press comics is one of the most inclusive and diverse.

Avery Hill logo

MILLER: Who are the UK publishers that you look at as publishing work that speaks to you, and that you’d think would be a good home for graphic novelists?

RAI: Honestly speaking—Avery Hill! When I was at university I read From The City To The Sea by Tim Bird and The End Of Summer by Tillie Walden, and Avery Hill cemented its place at the top of my “publishers I want to be published by” list. Your catalog of comics feels very diverse and mixed, and when I was approached about creating Sennen with you, it was like it was meant to be. I’ve also felt overwhelmingly supported as a disabled creator whose illness massively affects the amount of work I can do. I’ve also always loved Jonathan Cape and Nobrow’s respective catalog, as well as ShortBox, though they’re sadly closing down as a physical publisher and moving exclusively to digital publishing.

MILLER: Have you considered approaching international publishers, and do you think there’s more opportunity in other parts of the world for people who do what you do?

RAI: I think before I got sick, my ambitions were at massively different heights. Had I been asked this in 2016 I would have come back to you with a huge list of international publishers that I was on the brink of emailing, but since becoming ill, big plans kind of got put on the backburner. I’ve always been a huge fan of the comics scene in Belgium and the Netherlands (I actually once visited Amsterdam to buy a collection of Joost Swarte comics I couldn’t find in the UK), so I might have approached publishers there. I’ve been approached by people in America, and I think there’s a huge market over there for comics in general, but the UK scene feels like the best home for my work right now.

MILLER: You recently published a comic online about having fibromyalgia. Could you tell us a bit about how this affects you, and why you wanted to do a comic about it?

RAI: As might have come across in all of my previous answers—becoming ill with fibromyalgia changed my life profoundly. It’s the kind of all-encompassing thing that affects every single aspect of everything I do, including my work. I wanted to write a comic about my experiences with the illness partly out of frustration and a desire express what I’m going through, but also in the hopes that it might be able to educate people about fibromyalgia, who it can affect, and how much it affects the lives of those who suffer with it.

There’s so much invisible grief involved with having an invisible illness that it’s hard to express in casual every-day conversation. I kind of want to be able to pour my experience out onto the page and then hand out copies of it to my friends and family in the hopes that it helps them understand me a bit more. I’m working on a full-length version of the comic right now, exploring my personal struggles with fibromyalgia, the health care system, and navigating a world where invisible illnesses are only just slowly beginning to be understood.

With the advent of long-covid, more and more people are living with the realities of chronic illness and how terribly lonely and isolating it can be. After posting the first three pages of my comic on Instagram, I had a wave of messages from people suffering silently with these chronic illnesses too—including fellow comics creators—sharing their stories and solidarity with me. I want to be able to connect with other people who are suffering too, even if it’s just through the comic. I can kind of say to them—it’s okay, you’re not alone.

MILLER: Are there any comics that deal with chronic illness that you would recommend to people interested in the subject?

RAI: Taki Soma’s fantastic comic anthology Sleeping While Standing deals with her experience being diagnosed with MS in a really raw and personal way. The rest of the book is fantastic too, so I fully recommend it.

MILLER: What art programs do you recommend for people interested in making comics in the UK?

RAI: It depends where you are but there are a lot of local art and comics events happening all the time—keep your eye out at arts centers and museums. Meetup and Eventbrite can be great places to find events that are happening locally. The Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration is in London, and it has lots of really great online courses. I took a comic-making class one many years ago when it was still called the House of Illustration and had a really fab time.

MILLER: What are some of your favorite comics stores, and bookstores that have good GN sections?

RAI: Gosh! in London is the best comic shop for me, as it has everything you could possibly want! Forbidden Planet is great too, and the Waterstones in London Piccadilly has a wonderful graphic novel section. Here in Bristol is also a great place to get indie comics.

MILLER: Are there figures in the UK comics industry who you’re especially inspired by?

RAI: Isabel Greenberg’s work heavily inspired me when I was creating my first self-published comic KO. Her exploration of folk tales and mythology is fantastic, and I just love her style too. Luke Pearson, creator of Hilda, has always been an icon for me. I’ve loved watching his style evolve and it’s been a joy introducing my little sister to comics through Hilda.

Shazleen Khan and Sabba Khan have both created brilliant comics that touch on being British Bengali and British Pakistani respectively, which is something I want to explore in the future as I share a similar cultural background.

MILLER: What do you think about the UK comics laureate program?

RAI: I think it’s great! It’s a brilliant way to highlight comics creators and the current laureate, Bobby Joseph is so involved in the community and in shining a light on diverse artists.

Have you had a chance to read Sennen? Be sure and let The Beat know what you’re thinking in the comment section.


  1. This piece was incredibly enlightening!
    But seriously. I love Avery Hill. I think they’re very underrated in my circles! Thanks for giving them this great spotlight. I can’t wait to dig into Sennen & the works of Shanti Rai! Thank you Ricky Miller for all the great books! Thank you Heidi for spotlighting them!

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