5 minutes with Sarah Laing — from ComicFest 2019

Edited 07/21: Sarah Laing is back for ComicFest 2021! Have a read of our 2019 interview with Sarah ahead of this year’s ComicFest — coming up Saturday 21 August at the National Library in Thorndon.

We are pleased to have Sarah Laing for our next “5 minutes with…” feature. Sarah is a Wellington-based writer and illustrator who has had novels, short stories and the graphic memoir Mansfield and Me published. A collection of comics from the past ten years is forthcoming from VUP – Let Me Be Frank will be published late 2019. She also the co-editor of Three Words: An Anthology of Aotearoa/NZ Women’s Comics and has illustrated a number of children’s books.

Q: What first got you interested in comics?

A: My dad was a big comics fan – he’d grown up on the war comics you could buy at the dairy – so we always had comics lying around. Tintin, Asterix, Garfield, Charlie Brown. My cousins had a big stash of Disney comics and I particularly liked tales of Uncle Scrooge and his mountains of money. I also used to read Bogor in the Listener, and wrote some fanmail to him, with my own fanart of hedgehogs and snails. He offered me a job when I grew up – I wonder if that offer is still on the table?

Q: What is your average day like?
A: Up until recently I’ve been finishing off my Let Me Be Frank manuscript – a collection of my comics over the past ten years, to be published by VUP in late 2019. I’ve got to be an almost fulltime cartoonist thanks to a CNZ grant. Almost fulltime, I say, as I have three kids and various part-time gigs, including mentoring creative writing students, and illustrating for a number of publications. Right now, since I have submitted my manuscipt, I am lookng for a proper job to pay my bills – feel free to hit me up!

Q: Can you tell us about a current or recent project you’ve worked on?
A: My most recent project I talked about in the previous question, but I worked on a great project last year, in collaboration with Dr Giacomo Lichtner, the Italian Embassy and the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand – it was an adaptation of Denebedetti’s account of the SS raid of the ghetto in Rome. You can read that comic here.

Q: Do you have any traditions or rituals that help you when you get to work?
A: I waste an awful lot of time and feel incredibly guilty about it, and then sometimes I’m freakishly productive. I have to check Facebook, Instagram and Twitter each morning before I start work, and I also have to make myself coffee and a piece of toast and peanut butter. When I’m in my productive phase, I allow myself to draw badly and make mistakes, focussing instead on the shape of the story and actually completing it. The drawings may look terrible at the time, but when I go back to them, they have a looseness and a spontaneity that I like, and I often wonder if they are better than my final illustrations.

Q: Who/what is your biggest influence or inspiration?
A: I have so many influences and inspirations! I am a huge fiction reader, so always have a novel on the go. I love all the women I follow on instagram and support on patreon, like Gabrielle Bell and Sarah Glidden, Mimi Pond Lisa Hanawalt, Summer Pierre, Glynnis Fawkes and of course the indominatible Jillian Tamaki. I am also a big music fan, and my latest discoveries include Nilüfer Yanya and Charlotte Adigéry. Nature, films, TV (Russian Doll! So good!), art, foreign cities, family, friends, random encounters… all of this feeds into the psychic soup I take ladles from to make my work.

Q: What or who are your favourite NZ comics or creators?
A: Again, there are so many people I like and I always scared of making these lists for fear of missing someone off! I really love Sophie Watson’s comics, and I’m excited about her larger project she’s working on. Ross Murray’s latest book, Rufus Marigold, is great – I’m looking forward to hearing him talk about it at ComicsFest. Giselle Clarkson makes hilarious, beautifully drawn comics, and I really admire Zoë Colling’s autobio works. Indira Neville is hilarious and arresting, and Kirsten Slade is unmissable. Sam Orchard makes great comics about his life as a transman, which always hit the spot. The greats are still great – Dylan Horrocks, Ant Sang, Toby Morris – and I really love the irreverant lo-fi nature of Brent Willis’s comics. Austen Milne is an up-and-coming cartoonist who I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of, and I wish I could see more of Meng Zhu’s comics, who was in Three Words…. Arrgh, gotta stop now!

Q: What is your dream comic project?
A: I have a few graphic novels bubbling away in my head… my dream involves being published by Drawn and Quarterly and being invited to all those American and Scandanavian comics festivals!

Q: If you were to enter our cosplay contest, who/what would you dress up as?
A: Hmm, tough call. Tove Jansen? Rita Angus? Or maybe Vivienne Westwood. Or am I meant to be choosing a fictional character? In that case I’ll go as Little My or Rachael in Bladerunner.

You can find Sarah online in the following places:
Instagram: @sarahelaing
Twitter: @sarahelaing
Blog/Website: sarahelaing.com