“…to just leave everything behind in the pursuit of something else.” We interview Kayla Marie Hillier about documenting her life in comics form.
ILS: Hi, Kayla. For readers who aren’t familiar with you or your work, could you give us a quick run down of who you are, where you’re from, and what you do.
KH: For those who aren’t familiar- I’m Kayla Marie Hillier and sometimes I make comics.
I grew up in a tiny village in Ontario called Stoney Point, got a degree in Philosophy and Film Studies in the Niagara region, and then moved on to Toronto where I worked for the Beguiling, and helped with lovely fests like TCAF for quite a few years.
I’m lucky that many of my friends are talented comic folks and being around them can be quite inspiring - hanging out with Julia Scheele especially over the fall of 2009 - she kinda shoved me toward drawing again (I’d stopped and focused on writing for many-a-year). That little push resulted in me deciding to document a, shall we say, life changing 3 month trip that I made around the UK and throw it online as a webcomic, which of course became Galavant.
Currently I’ve taken a bit of a siesta from drawing, but I do have many projects under my hat. I sling coffee for a living at the moment, so when I find the time I continue to trudge through the comic muck. I mean that in a loving way.
ILS: Could you tell our readers a little bit more about your trip, the impact it had on you, and what led you to document the experience in comics form?
KH: In Canada you don’t get as much time off for holidays as you do in the UK. For about 3 years I was working for an IT Recruitment company, essentially working six months to take a one week holiday, to work another six months for yet another week long holiday, not really enjoying my work, lacking in the ‘personal fulfillment’ department. So, that’s what started the whole thing to begin with. I’d gone to London for one of those week long holidays and fell in love. London felt right. More right than Toronto felt even, so I decided to have a little courage and get rid of my well paying job in the middle of a recession, get out of a comfortably complacent relationship, and take a sincere holiday - do some real travel.
To be honest, I’m still digesting that move. As I say in Galavant, I’m still essentially working through a decision I made at the end of 2009. I don’t regret it, but it’s only now, two years later, that’s it’s started to show it’s reward. I’ve never felt that twinge of “that was it- good job Kayla” until recently. That’s why it was so important for me to document it. I could have had a good life in Toronto. I was heading down a path, but I decided to not go with the flow and instead start over. I guess I hadn’t anticipated how much I’d really have to start over, but here we are. I could have just taken photos and written a blog… or… I dunno, the usual, but something made me think that I’d want to do even more than that. That I’d never have the opportunity again to just leave everything behind in the pursuit of something else. I thought that I’d like to see things through my eyes- not through a lens.
ILS: On the topic of telling your story from your own perspective, I’d like to talk a little bit about autobiography as an idea. Now, obviously a great many works are autobiographical to one degree or anothe; Writers frequently talk about putting bits of their own experience into a story, or modelling characters on parts of themselves, but you’re writing about your own experiences, a relatively short time, in terms of conventional autobiography and memoir, after the events. What’s it like to work on an autobiographical work so soon after the story it tells, and how have you found writing about other people, many of who I’d presume you’re still in touch with?
KH: One of the most interesting things I found while creating Galavant was how my opinion of certain events would change after I drew/experienced them- the memory and the drawing seemed to generally stay true to the actual event but over time just like with any memory- how you remember things or how you feel about certain situations can shift- so that’s been interesting.
Some parts I drew several months afterwards so I do feel like those situations tend to be more reflective - for instance the outro was probably one of the first times that I sat down and really asked myself how I felt about the whole thing.
Writing about other people has been kinda tricky- I did have one request to be left out of the comic and of course I respected that. I think everyone I was hanging out with- as most of them are comic artists, understood and were okay with it. But it does influence you- worries about people not liking how you drew them or fears that you’re not remembering things correctly.
I know with Adam a lot of the time I’d ask him for feedback or ask him questions to make sure that I was remember things correctly.
I feel like I was pretty damn honest through the whole comic but there are some events that were definitely left out because they cut too close and I didn’t want to hurt/offend anyone- but in those instances I tried to at least hint that something else was going on, if not solely as a reminder for myself (A part of me kinda wants to draw the mucky bits just for myself- therapeutic maybe?).
ILS: One of the parts I really enjoyed was the bit at the rockabilly night, where you commented on how amazing it was to see people so committed to their particular subculture. Have you been part of a subculture like that during your life?
KH: I don’t know if I’ve ever been 100% fully devoted to a subculture. I’ve never really been a trend follower- I’ll be on top of something and the second it gets big I’m that asshole that has to stop doing or liking whatever it is. I try not to do that anymore, but, deep down,my inner indie kid feels it’s necessary.
So I guess I’m a bit of a hipster. Insert groans here, haha.
ILS: There’s a lot of that goes on in punk. Once someone gets successful, it’s like rats leaving a sinking ship. There’s a punk cartoonist by the name of Mitch Clem who wrote once that “Punks fear money like a caveman might fear fire.” It’s nice to know that notion isn’t specific to our little corner of the cultural landscape.
As far as culture more broadly goes, what are your major reference points?
KH: I think anyone that belongs to any kind of non-mainstream type grouping has the whole selling out fear deeply ingrained.
Ooh um, major reference points, hmm, broad culture…
Well music for me is huge. It’s always played a major role for me- creatively and otherwise. I’ll use it to get in the right mood to write or to remind me of certain events and moments. There’s some specific tunes that immediately drag me into my sorrows- where I tend to have my more clever moments.
I’m a big film fan - I have a Philosophy and Film degree - I love teen flicks- so I think that it all kind of goes hand in hand. Teen flicks tend to have loads of music, deal with relationships … that whole thing. I love that. I like to examine how people relate- understand one another- which of course also relates to philosophy. It’s all connected, heh.
ILS: Who are your favourite philosophers? I was in Edinburgh with my dad a few years ago, and I was excited to take a photo of the David Hume statue just down the road from the castle. When we got to it, it had a huge traffic cone on it’s head. Still not sure whether that was awesome or shitty.
KH: I was there a week or so ago and no traffic cone- I’ve seen that in Glasgow outside of the art gallery on a statue- Hume is very interesting mmhmm
Anyhoo- my favourite will always be Nietzsche and I know that it sounds a bit like a cop-out, but existentialism is probably the area I’m most interested in- Human, All Too Human is one of my all time favourites. I love his idea of the fettered spirit vs. free spirit. I also really dig Kierkegaard - different areas of Chinese philosophy are really interesting as well- But Nietzsche will always take the cake.
ILS: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re living in Manchester now, aren’t you? How do you feel about the city, and how do you interact with it on a daily basis?
KH: I am living in Manchester at the moment- oddly enough I’m potentially moving in the next month or so-
I have a weird relationship with Manchester- I love the city, but in a true ‘love’ love kind of way where you accept all the good and the bad. I’ve had some seriously tough times in this city and I can’t seem to separate it from that- but at the same time it has some of the best bloody cafes I have ever been to. The industrial revolution began here! That’s awesome! I’m also living in the swankiest apartment that I probably will ever live in and the rent is silly cheap.
Wherever I live- I do make a effort to explore and really see every part of the city. I walk everywhere until I feel that I’ve “conquered” it. But my focus in general is cafe culture. I bloody love a good brew and a baked good.
ILS: I only really know Oldham Street, and Salford, the former because it’s full of comic shops and arty book shops, and the latter because it’s where my mates live.
If I remember correctly, you had first hand experience of the rioting that hit Manchester earlier in the year. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
KH: I did-I work at a cafe and it was one of the places that go hit pretty badly. It was really strange … you could just see people filtering out of the city center and I kept hoping that nothing would happen but then we started to see these big groups of kids/teens heading downtown wearing dark clothes with their faces covered. Freaky stuff… so finally our management said we could close and just as we’d finished tidying up and we’re getting ready to leave they broke our windows- luckily they didn’t come in just then (they came back later and trashed the place, broke our pastry case etc) but it definitely wasn’t my favorite Manchester moment. I just remember running down the stairs trying to figure out if it was safer to hide or try and run through the crowds outside… horrible.
Got home safe eventually just crazy- I was really hoping that Manchester would stay out of the whole riot scenario.
ILS: I remember seeing your Twitter feed as it was going on, along with tweets from a few other UK comics folks asking if you were ok. There was definitely an air of tension up and down the country, and a very real fear at times. Did that experience colour your view of Manchester, or the UK, at all?
KH: It’s strange- I don’t think the whole thing really affected my view of Manchester in a negative way- if anything the amount of people who pulled together to clean up the city and lend support afterwards was super overwhelming and uplifting.
I guess I feel like people in any city have the potential to do something of that nature- if anything shocked me it was the age of the rioters. So many kids and teens- that was upsetting.
ILS: What is it about comics that draws you to the medium?
KH: I think I’m drawn to comics in a very similar way that I’m drawn to film. Film combines, acting, music, and all these lovely visual aspects- comics do the same- they combine words and pictures. I think an image at times can provoke so much thought and emotion- without having to give you the answer and spell it out to you. But an image drawn from someone’s hand emotes in a different way- I find that so bloody interesting. I think that’s why I’m so drawn to autobio comics, you get the extra pleasure with how things are drawn- how people represent themselves.
I like being pleased about what I’m reading and then getting the extra BABAM! at the artwork.
Awww comics are just bloody fantastic. heh
ILS: I’ve never thought about it that way before, but now that I think about it, you’ve got a point. The works of Joe Sacco, and Craig Thompson’s Blankets come to mind, in terms of that very expressive linework that, like you say, comes straight from their own hand.
Of course, comics have the added bonus over film in that they’re much cheaper to produce in most cases, and require less hoop jumping.
KH: It’s true- that is probably the best part about comics- a single person can call all of the shots and really make it what they want. Surely there are improvements that can be made via the input of others, but there is something to be said for a singular idea being developed beginning to end from a single source or idea.
Comics are very different in so many ways I think mmhm
ILS: Have you had any opportunities to do comics work beyond your self-published stuff?
KH: Not really as of yet- I’m going to be in the next Paper Science in early 2012- I’m really excited about that actually.
I’ve done a few bits and bobs here and there for friends or other things- but that will be my first major thing outside of my own stuff.
ILS: For the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with it, and I include myself in this, what’s Paper Science?
KH: Paper Science is put together by We Are Words + Pictures which is a group of comic artists and writers who promote comics at festivals and events all over the UK. They also do this via Paper Science which is a quarterly anthology that runs with support of Newspaper Club. I’ll be in the 7th issue- the 6th one has just come out this weekend. Really fantastic stuff for only a couple pounds!
ILS: How have you found the comics scene in the UK? I noticed the Phonogram lads, Jamie and Kieron, popped up in Galavant.
KH: The UK comics scene is good. I personally really dig it. Since I got out of uni, the lion’s share of my friendships have been with comic artists or people related to the comic scene by some happy coincidence. I really like the Toronto folk but I haven’t really done comics in Canada, I started out in the UK scene. I never felt that push to do it back home. Most of my friends there are published whereas most of my friends in the UK are self-published. I think it’s much more encouraging to get your own work done when you see what all of your friends have accomplished of their own accord. I also really like the level of control that you can have by making something yourself.
I rambled on a bit about this at TCAF but I just feel that this scene has a more “give it a go!” feeling whereas back home I’d look at the professional stuff that friends were creating and I’d feel like I should just quit while I’m ahead.
Ah and to add.. yes Jamie, Kieron… and loads of other amazing British comic artists/ writers have been so bloody welcoming and supportive - not only with my comic shenanigans. Loveliest people.
ILS: Do you think that’s to do with relative proximity to the major US players, in terms of publishing?
KH: I do think so- not only that but you have Drawn & Quarterly super close by and loads of other publishers. That being said though, there are quite a few publishers that have popped up in the UK over the last few years who are allowing for some incredible opportunities for UK artists. I think things are definitely changing.
ILS: How has getting your work out there via the web been for you?
KH: I don’t have much experience with comics outside of throwin’ ‘em up on the web- but it has definitely been a positive experience. You get this immediate response from people- you don’t really get that when you toil away at a book and then release it. Every page is out there and each individual moment is getting a reaction. It’s neat.
But since printing the full Galavant collection I’ve also had the opportunity to hear from people who have never read it online and have bought the book. Neat seeing how the two experiences differ.
ILS: Right then, I think that’ll do us. Have you got anything you’d like to add before I let you go?
KH: Hmmmm ponder ponder… I don’t think so. heh.
(Andy’s note: This interview was conducted between the 6th of October and the 5th of November, 2011)
Kayla Marie Hillier is a comics creator and pastry slinger based in the UK. She is originally from Canada, where the friendly people come from. She can be found at her website, and her autobiographical webcomic, Galavant.