Making a living as a comic book artist

| by Dr Nicola Streeten

Comics creator and scholar Dr. Nicola Streeten shares her journey into comics and graphic novels, and offers tips on how to find your own way in

I draw, write, speak about, teach, facilitate and organise events about comics. After graduating with a degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Sussex, I attended art college and worked as a freelance illustrator. In 2008, I began to incorporate comics into my practice. I also embarked on post graduate academic studies, with a growing interest in gender, feminism and comics. I have developed my practice as both a creator and a scholar. Each informs the other. Alongside my academic research I completed my graphic memoir, Billy, Me & You, based on my experience following the death of my child. 

nicola streeten Billy Me You Streeten cover LR 4

In 2009, I co-founded (and continue to direct) Laydeez Do Comics, now known as LDComics or LDC. This is a women-led group, welcoming to all, which aims to support and champion self-identifying women making graphic novels. The emphasis is on the autobiographical and the drama of the domestic. 

In 2017, I completed a PhD in Gender Studies. My research was UK Feminist Cartoons and Comics from 1970-2010 ,which informed my contribution to The Inking Woman, published in 2018 by Myriad Editions. This is complemented by my recently published book, UK Feminist Cartoons and Comics: A Critical Survey, (2020, Palgrave Macmillan).

nicola streeten front covernicola streeten the inking woman


The landscape in UK comic books today – where to start?
The UK comics community is very welcoming. It is quite London-based, but activity is nationwide, too. LDComics is a friendly place to learn about and socialise around comics.

Tips if you are new to comics:

    1. Read as many works as you can; many libraries have a graphic novel section now. Start with some of the more famous publications: Maus by Art Speigelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel any of Posy Sinmonds’ books… and of course Billy, Me & You. Establish what you like and whose works you want yours to be aligned with.

    2. Get a pen or pencil and paper, and just draw! If you are a beginner, a good start is to draw a diary comic: a small square daily that includes a visual representation of something about your day. nicola streeten feel love

    3. Try to go to one of the main comics festivals in the UK: Thought Bubble, Harrogate or The Lakes International Festival of Comics Art in Kendal, Cumbria. They have a huge presence of independent or small press/zine activity as well as mainstream works, and are great places to chat and get an overview of activity.

    4. Go to one of the many meet-ups, talks and events, often London-based, but increasingly taking place around the country. These include LDComicsBroken Frontier and Gosh Drink and Draw Work in Progress meet up Cartoon County in Brighton and Nottingham Does Comics.

    5. Visit a comic shop. They often stock self-published works and the following are run by passionate and friendly people, who will recommend works: Gosh Comics and Orbital Comics in London, Page 45 in Nottingham, Gnash Comics in Devon and Travelling Man in Leeds.

    6. Sign up to online newsletters and visit the following websites that include archives of reviews and listings of events: Graphic medicine, Broken Frontier, Paul Gravett. Listen to podcasts for insightful interviews including Dan Berry’s Make It Then Tell Everyone 

    7. Sign up to a course, such as at Royal Drawing School, London, House of Illustration, London or Arvon. You may consider embarking on a degree or post-graduate studies, either practical or academic. John Freeman recently posted about this on his informative blog, Down The Tubes

How did you get started?
I self-published a zine, Liquorice Mag, in 2008-9 with my then 12-year-old daughter, Sally Plowman. We distributed eight issues on a subscription basis to friends and family. Issues included chapters from my book, giving me a fun activity to do with Sally and a deadline. I sent copies to key people in the industry including Corinne Pearlman, publisher Myriad Editions’ creative directorPaul Gravett and Professor Roger Sabin. Six months later Corinne approached me about publishing as a book. Billy, Me & You was Myriad’s third graphic novel; they have now published more than 20.

What about the money?
Let me stress that the income from sales of my books, considered critically successful, is in the hundreds of pounds. However, the opportunities that have emerged since publication in 2011 have been the best of my life, and have enabled me to generate income from different strands of activity. I have been invited to literary festivals and talks, delivered workshops and facilitated projects in a wide variety of contexts all around the world. One of the most rewarding experiences has been developing and working on the British Council’s Creating Heroines project. I have received two Arts Council England grants to pursue projects. Post-PhD, I have been teaching at the London College of Communication, the University of the Arts and Kingston University. All this activity offers sources of income. 

nicola streeten a z babies

Are there any barriers to entry?
The best thing about making comics is all you really need is a pencil and paper.

What's next?
Short term, I will be working with the LDC team to deliver the LDC Festival on 28 and 29 March 2020. My book launch event will take place in April at the British Library in London.

Longer term, I will begin research towards The Inking Woman International, scheduled for publication in 2021. It will also be an exhibition at New Art Exchange, Nottingham, working with Ritika Biswas, special projects curator at NAE. 


Dr Nicola Streeten can be found on Instagram @nicolast.reeten and Twitter @nicolastreeten. 

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