Creating Heroines: Graphic Novel Masterclass with Dr Nicola Streeten

| by Dr Nicola Streeten

In February 2018 Dr Nicola Streeten travelled to Kathmandu to deliver a graphic novel masterclass for the British Council. Here she blogs about her experience.

The masterclass had 50 people booked to attend after it had been advertised for just three days, so I was looking forward to working with a group of enthusiasts. The attendees were impressive. Most had university degrees and there was an excellent mix of trained artists, professional designers, and people already producing comics -  alongside people who had little or no experience of drawing.

I began by pointing out that my expertise and experience is Western. Most of my examples and references are from the UK and the USA. For this workshop my intention was to focus on works by women and bring in the idea of heroines. In this way, I hoped to introduce different approaches to the form, combined with some basic tools for less experienced drawers, and I combined this with some fun practical exercises.

The first images I showed the group were of two friends of mine in the UK with their new born babies! Firstly, Kripa Joshi a Nepalese cartoonist based in the UK. She is most well-known for her Miss Moti strips which address body image, and has attracted positive media attention. She is also on the editorial team of The Strumpet, a fantastic transatlantic annual of women’s comics. Currently she is working on an online comic and has given birth to her second lovely daughter. I first met Kripa because she was a guest presenter at Laydeez do Comics, a women-led (but not women-only) graphic novel and comics salon that I co-founded in 2009. It meets on a monthly basis and this year is the first Laydeez do Comics Women’s Prize for Graphic Novels - the winner will be announced on 24 March and Kripa Joshi is one of the judges. 

My second mother and baby feature was Karrie Fransman one of the leading lights in the British comics community. I first met her after I saw her early strips for the Guardian, a national newspaper in the UK. I loved them and invited her to present at Laydeez Do Comics. She has become one of my closest friends and is a constant source of inspiration. She created the brief for the British Council Creating Heroines project, working closely with Daisy Leitch on the British Council Literature team. 

The drawing exercises I led in Kathmandu were based on ideas from some brilliant workshops I have attended by talented American cartoonists Brian Fies and Lynda Barry. Both workshops took place at Graphic Medicine - a conference started by medical doctor turned artist, Ian Williams in 2007 combining academics, artists and health professionals. As Lynda Barry does, I also referenced the excellent work by Ivan Brunetti. Particularly useful for those who think they “can’t draw”. We spent a bit of time on this theme, starting with a basic approach to how to draw figures, by reducing everything to simple circles, rectangles, lines and dots.

 Image 1

I then introduced the basic toolkit for comics, including panels, speech balloons, thought bubbles and the gutter followed by self-portrait drawing exercises in 4 panels: draw yourself as a figure, a dog, an object and a monster. Everyone put their names on their sheets and pinned them up on a board.

 Image 4

Next I suggested how to draw facial expressions…


Image 2

And then I posed for everyone to draw specific positions, such as running, waving and smiling…

Workshop 6

After a short break and introduction to a lot of recommended graphic novel titles, and examples of how the comics form works, including from my own book, Billy, Me & You (Myriad Editions, 2011) I talked about the narrative arc. Simplistically the approach to narrative that breaks it down for comics to Act 1: the setting, Act 2 and 3 the introduction of the problem or the crisis and the response to it. Finally Act 4 the resolution, or the ending. Dividing a piece of paper into 4 panels, the group was asked to think of something that had happened in their everyday and draw it as a 4-panel comic. It worked well and there were great stories of oversleeping in the mornings!

For the final exercise of the day, the group created a mini comic drawing and writing in response to someone they know well, who they consider a role model or heroine. Pleased with the results we looked at each others works and finished the workshop with a group photo and me urging them to start a Laydeez Do Comics branch in Kathmandu!

Workshop 3


Dr Nicola Streeten is an anthropologist-turned-illustrator and author of award winning graphic memoir, ‘Billy, Me & You’ (Myriad Editions, 2011). She co-founded the international forum Laydeez do Comics in 2009. Her PhD was A Cultural History of Feminist Cartoons and Comics in Britain from 1970-2010 with a focus on the role of humour. Since 2015 she has been lecturing in the UK on Critical and Theoretical Studies to BA Illustration and Animation students at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts, London and Kingston University; and in Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex.

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