Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Indie World of Alice Urbino

Back in March 2015, I interviewed an up-and-coming comic artist for my university project. I thought I would share it here as her work is brilliant and she was very kind to agree to the interview so why not spread her name a little? This is the draft version. I am too worried to post the original in case I end up plagiarising my own work!

Alice Urbino knows all too well of the stick women often face in the comic book industry. The Brighton-based oil painter and comic artist is on the brink of breaking into the indie, small press world.

“The comic industry, in general, is a hugely male-dominated industry,” the 21-year-old explains. “It depends on what sub-genre of comics you are honing in on but as a woman, you do have to deal with a lot of crap - especially in the superhero genre.” But Urbino has been focusing on the indie side of the comic book world where she says women make up a large part of it.

“I think women kind of dominate in this genre to be honest. There are so many comic collectives out there specifically made to promote female artists and it has really become a big thing in recent years,” Urbino says. “But it's easy to think you are accepted in this area and forget about how misogynistic the other 90 per cent of comics can be. The indie scene is so progressive but the mainstream comic media still has a long way to go.”

But despite the comic book industry being an unofficial men’s club, Urbino, who graduated from Staffordshire University with a degree in Cartoon and Comic Arts, has come far in promoting her work. She has received lots of positive feedback from big artists and more recently, a write-up on renowned web-magazine Broken Frontier. “I don't think I've reached my ultimate goals yet by far but I think being put in a list of six small press creators to watch in 2015 was really exciting. From that article I'm getting a big push from certain people who are interested in moving me up to the next level.”

And Urbino really will be one to keep your eye on throughout 2015. Proving herself to be an artist of many talents and a woman with a witty mind, she insists that the key to success in the industry is through networking. “It’s all about the people you know. I had artistic inspirations I wanted to meet, I met them and I became friends with them. I really think networking is the one thing that can really make or break you,” she explains. “Once people are aware of you, and like you as a person, they want to give you chances and opportunities. Be passionate about what you do and people respond to it I guess.”

And it is through her talent, persistence and attitude that she landed a spot in Comic Book Slumber Party: Fairytales for Bad Bitches and subsequently, a book signing at GOSH! Comics, in London. Urbino says she became friends with Hannah Chapman who runs Comic Book Slumber Party - a small publishing company and comic collective.

“She has turned out to play a huge part in me getting some exposure. When she asked me to be in her latest book, my art was bundled together with a bunch of other big, named artists and all of a sudden I was being treated like I was one of them,” says Urbino. “And because Hannah worked at GOSH at the time, she had set up a launch party for the book where me and Donya Todd [another artist] sat behind a table and signed them. It was very surreal for me, being this small time name and being treated like I was something bigger. It took me a while to get over my shyness. There was lots of free champagne so that helped too.”

Urbino, who will be moving to Bristol at the end of March, began drawing cartoons as an infant and always told people she wanted to be a cartoonist. It wasn’t until more recently that she decided to focus on the comic side of drawing after realising that she had a lot of friends who created comics. “To be honest it just seemed like the natural direction for me to go - I think I just fell into it.”

She now has had three pieces published in anthologies with other artists in the small press. “I'm at a point in my career right now where I'm at the very cusp of becoming something bigger so I'm sort of in this limbo mode at the moment,” she says. Most of her work is self-published but she is currently in the works of having a book of her own published by Comic Book Slumber Party and is talking to several other publishers about getting her longer, on-going comic Dimension pushed out to a bigger audience.

The idea behind Dimension came to Urbino while she was studying at university. The story - which has two issues published to date - tackles themes of depression and anxiety. Terry Kempinski begins to isolate himself following his break-up a month prior to the events of part one with girlfriend, Jess. The 20-something man is still unable to return her things and can no longer take pleasure in writing. His childhood friend, and housemate, is struggling to justify Terry’s isolation to their social circle.

In an attempt to relax, he decides to clean out his dirty bathtub and take a soapy soak. But he is soon pulled from his calmed state when he is swallowed down the plug hole and lands in another dimension.

“My tutor didn't like the idea when I first pitched it to him,” she laughs. “But it was really the only idea I was interested in doing. It's something I feel like I have to do and it's very personal to me.” The project has recently blown up, receiving several positive reviews online which Urbino believes stems from the subject matter being so relatable. “I use it as a way to express myself - I hope other people can see themselves in it too. I use a serious subject matter and tried to add a fantasy/paranormal element to it where the lines between dreams and reality kind of blur. Certain games, shows and comics have really inspired me over the years and from realising what material I was drawn to most helped me determine what kind of comic I wanted to write. It’s just a big mixture of a bunch of different things I've been heavily influenced by over the years mixed together with my own personal issues.”

While many artists would struggle to tactfully convey themes of depression in their art, Urbino knows that the best art often comes from your own feelings. “I see Dimension as something I do for myself, and if other people relate then that's good too. I know that whatever I put down isn't wrong because I am experiencing it. The art I admire the most is raw and truthful, so I try to follow that as much as I can. I just draw whatever I'm feeling.”

But the 21-year-old doesn’t always find it easy to sit down and draw her feelings and confesses that she can’t seem to find motivation at the moment. “I’m probably the slowest person I know. Dimension takes a lot longer than the anthologies as they are only ever three pages,” she explains. “I've got a lot of future projects I've agreed to take on but I'm struggling to come up with ideas for them. It's like I've got more work opportunities than I am capable of. I have one or two ideas in the making but most of my ideas are spontaneous things I have to do when I feel them - I guess I just have to wait until I feel them again.”

Urbino’s biggest career goal is to be published by a bigger company and have a successful book that will be in shops around the world. “I think I will be down here in the small press world for a while longer until then.”