Monday, February 27, 2012

Pre-Raphernalia, Part 2: Revenge of the Sisterhood

I was very honored to be asked to do a cartoon of
Fanny Cornforth for the wonderful (and very funny)
Kirsty Walker for the revised edition of  her book,

This past year has been a pretty rough one for me. While doing the odd illustration job over the years (and most of my illustration jobs are decidedly odd ) I've held a steady day-job at Borders for 17 years. Yup, that long. Borders at the beginning was a great place for creative types to work and have health insurance and steady paychecks...

Unfortunately that all changed and we all know what happened to Borders as a company.

And we can't say we didn't see it coming. And no, it isn't because people don't like books anymore. But I'll keep that rant for other another forum.

I was fortunate enough to find a new job at a used book store (soooo much better) and a smaller apartment for less rent. As I continued to do my usual color paintings and my webcomic, "Heaven and the Dead City"  (shameless plug and the subject of a future post) I was in desperate need of some silliness after the stress and upheaval of  the past year.  My recreational activities usually involve drawing in my sketchbook-- stuff that only I will see and would be too embarrassed to show anyone else.

The Pre-Raph Cartoons nearly stayed there if not for the prodding of some curious friends (you know who you are) who I worked with at Borders who were also Pre-Raphael-philes. (Um... is that even a word? Oh, who cares.) Anyway.  They asked me to put them up on Facebook and we all got a few chuckles.

Then the awesome Grace Nuth saw them and this happened.

Over the past year, I had been a fan of and was rapturously reading many Pre-Raphaelite blogs online (many you will find in the upper right column of this blog). Lurking is probably a better word, since I was too shy most of the time to get involved in the topics and conversations. One of my favorites was Grace Nuth's The Beautiful Necessity  because, among other lovely things devoted to the Pre-Raph world, it was so "Topsy-and-Ned" oriented (and we all know I have a fondness for these two guys.)

Maybe it was an omen of things to come, but I friended Grace on Edward Burne-Jones' birthday. The response to these ridiculous pencil drawings was overwhelming (Grace, being VERY cool, has a LOT of readers) and I couldn't remain a shy lurker anymore. Thank goodness.

One of the things I've always missed about being in college was being around people with similar interests to talk about the things we all liked--- be it art, movies, music, whatever. You had no trouble finding a kindred spirit somewhere. I joined a comic book club in college (I was the only female--a good and bad thing, I suppose) and met a lot of creative geeks like myself. Later, when I hung around people who actively worked in the comic book industry in the early '90's, there was a similar vibe. A type of community of like minds.

Working at a bookstore was the closest thing I could come to the sort of environment that I sorely missed. However, by putting up the cartoons on the Internet and having people actually see them and enjoy them brought me in touch with a lot of new friends who liked the same sort of things I did. We could share pictures and stories and have conversations and discussions... And after feeling artistically isolated, I feel like I'm part of a creative community again.

Maybe even.... A Sisterhood. (Granted, this Sisterhood also includes Brothers.)

I was especially taken by the concept of a Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood and especially Stephanie Pina's wonderful website and FB page.  The focus was on the ladies. And it was about time.

The ladies involved with the Pre-Raphaelite movement often were (understandably) very frustrated-- Victorian England wasn't an easy place for a woman, especially if she had any artistic or "bohemian" leanings. Maybe that's why I started drawing the Pre-Raph cartoons, to have fun with everyone (male and female) trying to get out of their stodgy restrictions.What would happen if they talked with one another in a 21st Century way?

I always like to tell the story of how I drew the following cartoon during a blackout during this past summer... by candlelight. How goth.

I had read that Lizzie Siddal and Georgie Burne-Jones had wanted to collaborate on a book of fairy tales and this tragically never happened due to Lizzie's death. However, I wished it had happened as it might have begun a true Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, in which the Pre-Raphaelite women collaborated with each other on projects not unlike what their husbands, brothers and lovers were doing in the PRB.

In recent years there has been a surge of women creators in the comic book industry (as well as best-selling female characters) but it wasn't too long ago when a woman in comics would hear the frequent phrase, "Chick books don't sell." And that was the basis for this cartoon. (Plus my friend Stefan wanted to see Christina Rossetti as Gabriel's moody "goth" sister.)

(In reality, however, Rossetti was actually very supportive of female artists--maybe a little too supportive. His mentor, Ford Madox Brown, actively taught female students who were otherwise shunned by the male-dominated art academies.)
Not Ford Madox Brown giving a lesson to a student, but dastardly Charles Augustus Howell
and his talented mistress who painted forgeries. It happened, but not quite this way.

But I'm having so much fun doing these cartoons that I have recently begun to transfer them from my sketchbooks onto good paper, clean them up and ink them ("inking" for me involves Pigma pens and acrylic gouache) so that they might hopefully be compiled into a book. It's a slow process (and one of several projects I have going), but in the mean time I'm still drawing new cartoons in my sketchbook during my lunchbreaks to post online.

I'm especially thankful to the friends who encouraged me to show these sketches and for all the new friends I've met because of them.
And thank you, Pre-Raphs, for just being you.


  1. These csrtoons are brilliant - I also love the moody Christina Rossetti, she's great.

    Really intrigued by this story about the fairytales - where did you hear about it?

    1. Thank you! Glad you liked them. :) The story about the fairy tale collaboration is mentioned in several books about Lizzie Siddal, including Jan Marsh's "Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood."

  2. Sorry for not coming back to you earlier to thank you for the reference - I must have missed it when I last read the Jan Marsh book but will need to check it again. It is such a great story.

    Taking more time to look at your cartoons, my favourites definitely are those of Christina, Lizzie and Georgiana. Georgiana looks like she'd be great fun to have as a friend; it's that devilish little grin.

  3. I love your blog! I became interested in PRB after reading Keats and looking for illustrations of his poems. I'm interested in reading more about the Pre-Raphaelites, and I've read Rossettis in Wonderland by Dinah Roe. What do you recommend for a good briography on the Rossettis?

  4. Thank you, Caroline!
    Well , first off Jan Marsh has probably written the most extensive biography of Rossetti himself, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Painter and Poet. She's also written a book about his sister Christina. Angela Thirlwell has written a book called The Other Rossettis, about Gabriel's brother William and his wife Lucy, the daughter of Ford Madox Brown, who was a painter in her own right. I haven't read this one yet, but I did read Thirlwell's book Into the Frame (about Ford Madox Brown) and enjoyed that so much I'm dying to read this one! Those are the two the come to mind immediately.

  5. Thanks Raine! wow, that's a lot of books to read ... don't know where to start. I still have a stack of Walter Scott I haven't read.