The actress and impressionist has redefined herself as a comics writer and artist. Will Salmon enters Elsie Harris Picture Palace for the main feature...
Meet the creator of Elsie Harris Picture Palace.
Comic Heroes: You’re perhaps best known for your acting. What drew you to creating comics?
Jessica Martin: In my childhood, I was always a keen artist and, being a fan of classic black-and-white movies, my subject matter would invariably revolve around either recreating portraits of my favourite icons or creating fake film posters or stories featuring film stars of my own imagining. I excelled at art at school but English and Drama were the subjects I chose to study and then I followed my dream of becoming an actress. My epiphany came when I decided to take up drawing again as a hobby about four years ago. A book called
The Creative License by Danny Gregory, advocating the practice of daily sketching of everyday surroundings and objects, got me out of my narrow spectrum of drawing pretty ladies in nice dresses and unwittingly learning the rudiments of drawing and perspective. An acting colleague, who happened to be a big comics fan, saw my drawings and said I should try doing a graphic novel.
CH: How would you describe Elsie Harris Picture Palace?
JM: It’s a coming-of-age romantic adventure set in an imagined 1930s London and Hollywood. It is a ragsto-riches showbusiness story with
a twist, since my heroine Elsie is destined to become a star behind the scenes rather than on the silver screen. It will appeal to readers who like their protagonist to have skills and determination. If one had to do the odious cross-fertilising of film titles for a strap line, it would probably be something like “The
Artist meets Mad Men”.
CH: Did you draw on your own acting experiences for inspiration?
JM: My acting experiences and observations have definitely informed my “angle” on the storytelling in all my work: the incredible energy, drive of creative people, the politics of collaboration, the rocks that are hurled before the “show that must go on” are gold for any storyteller. And in my romantic way, I have convinced myself that possibly all the roads I’ve walked along in the arts have been preparing me for this, which is my absolute passion, writing and drawing comics!
CH: What sort of research did you do into the period?
JM: The research for this book was never-ending but a labour of love. The worst thing about it was that I would end up getting sidetracked into exploring a whole area I didn’t know about, and filing it away as “something to be used for a future project”. I have so many books on my shelf relating to film history, studio history, biographies and then stacks of photo images taking up space on my iPad.
CH: What appeals to you about the 1930s setting?
JM: I have a nostalgia for the glamour that existed between the two world wars. The amazing beauty of Art Deco architecture, the style and stories of film, literature and song, all seemed to pour out of a world that on some level had a sense that this kind of perfection could not last forever.
CH: Mark Buckingham has written a lovely introduction to the book. How did that come about?
JM: Mark has been my mentor and friend since I first met him at the London Film and Comic Con two years ago. He said very kind things about the early portfolio pages of
Elsie which I showed him.
CH: How long did the book take?
JM: The present version of the book took about a year and a half to complete but the concept and initial work began three years ago. I knew I wanted to write and draw this graphic novel before I’d even published a comic, so it’s been a case of learning on the job. My first, self-published, work It Girl proved to me that there’d be an audience interested in this genre and then, when Elsie Harris Picture Palace was shortlisted for the Myriad Editions First Graphic Novel Prize in 2014 and Miwk Publishing then invited me to publish, it was the green light to complete the book.
CH: There are elements of romance comics in Elsie. Any favourites?
JM: I love the Kirby and Simon
Young Romance collections and the Alex Toth romance comics too. I also have collections of vintage magazine illustrations which are quite often romantic. Nowadays romance seems to reside mainly in Manga. I want to bring it back!
CH: What are you working on next?
JM: I’m taking a breather whilst I perform in Elf: The Musical in the West End. But I’ll be reading and researching. My next short comic will be noir style, featuring a Hollywood couple who deserve a full graphic novel really. I’ll also be thinking of a future storyline for Elsie. She’s only 19 by the end of the first book, so there’s plenty of scope for future adventures!
Right: Martin may be best known for voicing the Queen in Spitting
Image. Try hearing the voices of famous actors in her graphic novel...
Born Fulham, London
High It Girl, Vivacity
Now Elsie Harris
More www.official jesicamartin.com
This page: Martin’s work is evocative of both romance comics and old movies but has its own distinctive look.