Jessica Martin

The ac­tress and im­pres­sion­ist has re­de­fined her­self as a comics writer and artist. Will Salmon en­ters Elsie Har­ris Pic­ture Palace for the main fea­ture...

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

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 jesi­ca­

This page: Martin’s work is evoca­tive of both ro­mance comics and old movies but has its own dis­tinc­tive look.

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