Olivia Sullivan

Posted on November 13th, 2015

Olivia Sullivan is a relatively new face on the UK small press circuit. Currently in her final year at university, she has recently started publishing her own comics and had a strip included in our very own Dirty Rotten Comics 5. Taking inspiration from music zines of the 80s and 90s, Olivia’s work displays a gritty, hard-edged aesthetic which is reflective of her approach to storytelling. This week, Tom Mortimer spoke with Olivia about her experience starting out in comics, how she maintains a personal connection to her work, and her upcoming projects for 2016 and beyond.

T: You’ve mentioned to me that you’re quite new to small press, it can be quite a long slog. How are you finding the process?

O: I’d like to think that small press is for any age, any person. That is what attracted me at first. I discovered that you can make comics without being published or being known. Art school opened my eyes to the prospect of self-publishing, which I never considered or knew I could do. I made my first small-press comic about a year ago, and Orbital Comics were really helpful and supportive. They took my comic as soon as I walked through the door, without knowing anything about me prior. This is what I feel is really important: people helping those with little to no reputation. Otherwise, we will be stuck with the same art and the same views, by the same people, and that is really boring. But this cannot change unless we get help and chances.

The process is still scary. Bearing your soul for people to ignore or critique you is never a nice thing, but for people to also appreciate it and tell you that you did a good job is really priceless. I’d like to be as honest about this question as I can, as that is what I stand by in my work. You can feel ignored at times and this can be frustrating even in the small-press community. As I am just starting, I can feel this way at times. But the people who do recognise you are those you need to appreciate, as those are the people that have been where you are and haven’t forgotten that.

T: A rough and ready honesty is quite evident in your work, something that echoes through a lot of small press. You’ve produced a few zines in the past, is there a connection there?

O: I am interested in the D.I.Y aesthetic, and zines are a big part of that. Even before any art education I was aware of fanzines in the 80s and 90s of the subculture of bands I follow, and I was thinking about how I could incorporate that into my artwork. It really just started from being interested in music and the paraphernalia around that.

olivianewT: In relation to artwork, you’ve got quite an exciting project lined up for 2016. Did you want to talk a little about that?

O: It was a short story that I wrote a couple years ago, the main character is caught in a spiral of losing grip of reality. I was really inspired by Trainspotting and Skagboys, and my own visions coinciding with lost youth and the culture that surrounds that. It is quite fantastical and perhaps to an extent purely nonsensical, but there is a message within it, and it relates to having confidence in my ideas. No matter how ‘far out they may be’, I want to stop censoring my ideas. I hope it will be the start of what I wish to maintain in my writing and style. Also, I’ve been told I draw like a guy. I don’t know if this is a compliment but I get it, it isn’t cute what I do.

It’ll be my first go at creating an actual graphic novel, made by my blood, sweat and tears (not literally I hope). My aim is for it to be on sale summer/autumn 2016. A lot more interesting things will be happening in that year, with another project in the summer that is based on my visual diaries.

T: You touched on a gender issue there, can you say any more about that?

O: I do feel that girls can be seen differently in comics, but that is my opinion. I know there are an array of talented and successful examples. But I’m getting more at the content – I’d love for people not to feel pressured into the pretty.

T: Speaking of which, there seems to be a running trait in your work with the other worldly but everything comes rendered with this great speckled detailing and textured surfaces that have quite an earthy feel. The settings and activities also seem to tie in with everyday domestic environments. What does this relationship mean to you?

O: As I mentioned before, the autobiographical nature of my work is something I can’t really detach from. I need to have a perspective that is personal. Even if it is freelance or commissioned work, I have to make it ‘real’ to myself, something that I believe in. The visual diaries project and the graphic novel in 2016 will be the pillars by which I can develop this personal visual language. Daily life is important. The things we take for granted, the hilarity in the ordinary, and the details of the mundane are much more special. They relate to the common person, which is what comics should be – accessible and inclusive. The rustic elements of my work relate to this. Not everything is polished, but that doesn’t mean I want to cop out of any detail. Ugliness can be extremely detailed and beautiful. Take James Jean for instance, he is the absolute definition of detailed deformities that become aesthetically pleasing.

Thanks to Tom and Olivia for this week’s interview. For more of Olivia’s work check out her website. She can also be found on Twitter @ZenBucko.