Interview by Anthony N. Castle
The Banksia Project has worked in conjunction with Supanova Pop Culture Expo to showcase female comic creators at conventions here in Australia and is now transitioning to a mentoring program. Six recipients will be chosen for coaching and feedback in a year-long skills development program. Each recipient will also receive Supa-Star status at a Supanova in 2017, alongside mentor and Platinum Ledger Award winning creator and publisher Alisha Jade. Hailing from Brisbane, Jade’s become a mentor for local female creators since launching womeninauscomics.com. With one week until applications close, we caught up with Alisha Jade to talk about the initiative…
What inspired the creation of the Banksia Project?
I’ve always been annoyed both about the lack of diversity in comics and about the lack of structured support for anyone looking to start making their own in Australia. We don’t have the comic cultures of Japan, Europe or the USA here for people to soak in or to provide easy access to information and advice, which can sometimes be the difference between someone making comics or not.
In that sense, the Banksia Project started with a goal of proving to events and audiences that women creating comics exist, and they’re pretty awesome, and to impart some general convention based skills to the creators themselves so that they could incorporate these into their own craft.
What has been the impact of the initiative so far?
From feedback, I know that I’ve been able to impart not just skills and ideas that have helped the creators on the day but after participating a number have been further inspired and have been making excellent professional strides. On the representation side, it’s been wonderful to see enthusiastic Supanova goers who had never picked up a comic approaching the tables and giving comics a shot with the women showing their stuff. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard someone tell me that they’re going to give making comics a go now that they’ve seen a woman behind a table, so representation is definitely important.
What drove the transition to a mentoring program?
During the year I noticed that the scope of the coaching I was delivering was too limited for my satisfaction. Even though it was limited by design I was noticing that a lot of the questions I was getting and a lot of the areas of opportunity involved aspects of comics making I hadn’t considered as priorities. I am hoping that as a result of the change I’ll be able to provide coaching in effectively all aspects of making comics, from concept to execution to print and sales. As I mentioned, there aren’t really a lot of resources available for people to learn this stuff and trial and error can be both expensive and depressing, so I’m hoping that this program will help both pass on skills I’ve developed and also encourage new people to give comics a go.
What do you see as the end goal of this type of work?
I mentioned earlier how we here in Australia don’t really have the kind of comic saturation you can find in other places. As such, the readership historically has tended to be relatively low, and confined mostly to what comic stores could order through That Awful Monopoly. I noticed a few years ago that often my audience would tell me that before they picked up my work they had no idea people did this kind of thing locally, and I remember being in the same kind of ignorance before attending my first Supanova. The problem for independent comics in Australia isn’t that people don’t read them – it’s that people don’t even know they exist.
From that perspective, I believe that we can’t really build the kind of infrastructure we see in more comic-friendly countries without a more developed reader base. This means paying attention to reader groups that are traditionally underserved and using creative and new ways to get people’s attention and get them open to thinking of comics as something other than The Big Two. The major prose publishers are already cottoning onto this – just look at the increase in ‘graphic novels’ for women and kids being published and the numbers on the New York Times Best Seller List. Which, by the way, often dwarf Big Two comics. And to me the first step for this is visibility. So in a lot of ways it’s lucky that I have no issue being as loud, obnoxious and enthusiastic as I can, because the more attention I get both for myself and other creators, the more the general public seems to realize that we are here and we’re worth paying attention to.
And I think that’s a good first step.
Applications close next Tuesday, 31 January: www.banksiaproject.com.
Also check out womeninauscomics.com