After the glitz of Wednesday’s instalment in the monthlong season of Comica anniversary events at London’s Century Club, last night’s session was a distinctly more intimate affair as creators Lucie Arnoux (Je Ne Sais Quoi) and Lucy Sullivan (Barking, Shelter) took to the stage to discuss drawing from life and their own work with the comics form.

Comica’s Paul Gravett opens proceedings (L to R: Lucy Sullivan, Lucy Arnoux, Paul Gravett) [Photo ©Dean Simons]
Coincidentally both Arnoux and Sullivan took the same illustration and animation course at London’s Kingston University (but at different times). Sullivan made the connection when she spotted one of her old university tutors from Kingston make an appearance in Arnoux’s graphic novel Je Ne Sais Quoi. As students Sullivan said she tended to focus more on animation and Arnoux did mostly illustration. 

[Photo ©Dean Simons]
Arnoux is originally from France. She has been making comics since she was 14 and was published in French magazines. She has been in the UK for 13 years, arriving as a student. She had high hopes about becoming the queen of comics having grown up in the comics-rich environment of Franco-Belgian bande dessinée (where comics “exist”)..only to have those hopes dashed when she saw that comics in the UK are not accepted as an artform and are practically invisible (things are slowly improving though).

Sullivan’s family ran a pub in London and she grew up in that environment. She discovered comics and horror movies there. The comics – such as Viz – and horror movies were not suitable for young kids though. She also was given Tank Girl as a teen by one of the bartenders.

[Photo ©Dean Simons]
The pair discuss their approaches to page design. Arnoux automatically defaults to a nine-panel grid and is completely at home with it. Apparently in French it even has a nickname: “gaufrier” [tr. “waffle maker”]. Sullivan is uncomfortable with a rigid structure when it comes to pagination and the thought of a nine-panel grid gives her “The Fear” – she once had to do it for a Vertigo anthology and tried to get out of it. She prefers the freedom of spreads.

[Photo ©Dean Simons]
The genesis of Sullivan’s 2020 debut graphic novel Barking was from the death of her father. She has previously described the book as an “exorcism”. In Barking, Sullivan draws from her own personal experiences of mental breakdown; the experiences of friends who have been sectioned (institutionalised); and supplementary research. It was essentially trying to imagine if she herself were sectioned in her twenties – it is deeply drawn from life but with the worst aspects of herself channelled into a fictionalised analogue character. She had initially tried to make it fully autobiographical but found it too hard so an analogue made the process easier and liberating, while still drawing heavily from memory and experience. The book was produced with only a loose script or plan.

[Photo ©Dean Simons]
Arnoux draws herself and her own experiences in her debut graphic novel Je Ne Sais Quoi, which chronicles her experiences as a French person resettling in London. Much of the book was originally serialised monthly in a French magazine over a period of six years until the French magazine shuttered. It was in French so she translated it into English and British publisher Jonathan Cape picked it up. It was released in October 2022.

Live Draw – Sullivan demonstrating her artistic process that utilises carbon sheets [Photo ©Dean Simons]
[Photo ©Dean Simons]
A fascinating aspect of Sullivan’s art is that she makes heavy use of carbon copy-sheets. She makes the imprint on the carbon paper and all the effects – from scratches, smears, linework etc – seen on the page in Barking are done entirely via this method. It is also a very cheap material – even if typewriters aren’t a thing anymore.

Sullivan continues to mine her memories and experience in her latest project, self-published, folk-horror series Shelter. Sullivan is in the midst of scriptwriting, research and planning mode and hasn’t had much opportunity to draw of late. Shelter is becoming quite an ambitious project – but she has been fortunate to get funding assistance from Arts Council England.

Arnoux live draws and answers Sullivan’s questions [Photo ©Dean Simons]
Arnoux is currently the artist on the French adaptations of the Enola Holmes books (part of the series has been released in English with Andrews MacMeel Publishing), where she is taking on the art duties from her friend Serena Blasco – who remains as writer – with the series sixth volume. She has now done two books – released in 2019 and 2022.

She has a dream project that she is in the midst of pitching. It is a YA fantasy adaptation. She won’t disclose what it is but hopes it will happen before someone beats her to the punch.

Arnoux mentions finding it hard to bridge the gap between the French and English comics markets as each seems disinterested in the other (even if it is starting to improve). She also mentions that the US adaptation of Enola Holmes – from Legendary Comics – which relies more on visual realism is not to her taste. She likes the liberation of not adhering closely to attempts at photo realism.

A comparatively intimate setting [Photo ©Dean Simons]
After the convo came the signings.

Book sales and signing time! [Photo ©Dean Simons]

Je Ne Sais Quoi (Jonathan Cape) is out now. Barking has been picked up by another publisher and a new release will be announced in the near future. The prequel issue of the Shelter project – Early Doors – is available from Sullivan’s website.

Comica Festival resumes next week with the final two sessions: Dave McKean and Iain Sinclair discuss AI in…But Is It Art? [which is officially sold out] and political cartoonist Martin Rowson makes a prime ministerial mess as he takes the audience through his 40 year career in…Giving Offence.


  1. From an array of similar platforms, writingpapersucks seems to be the most unbiased and relevant, as it provides information based on personal experience. No assumptions, no predictions, only facts.

Comments are closed.