In the new book 100 Demon Dialogues, comics writer/artist Lucy Bellwood spent 100 days examining her own inner voices and demons. Imposter syndrome, catastrophizing, just plain being mean to oneself—all find their way into the compendium of one-panels wherein Bellwood's anthropomorphized demon, living outside of her, attempts to derail, deflate and otherwise imprison Bellwood in a quagmire of negativity. Nothing doing. Instead, Bellwood harnessed this voice as creative catalyst, facing the demon head-on as as a self-proclaimed form of "self therapy." The entries can range from funny and poignant to the painfully relatable, but the most meaningful thread found throughout is that one glorious human construct that almost always keeps us going: Hope. Bellwood appears at Big Adventure Comics On Wednesday July 18 (5 pm, free. 418 Montezuma Ave., 992-8783).
You must have been developing this book and tour for quite some time?
It's interesting. The tour still feels like—here I am still booking venues two weeks ahead of time. A lot of places book out four to six months in advance. But I hired a publicist this time around, and we spent a lot of time talking about, 'What does that look like if you're an independent contractor? [Am I] responsible for contacting press?' But anyway, when I did the 100 Day Project that led to the creation of the book, I did not start it to make a novel at the end. Maybe a third of the way into it, people responded and I decided to do a Kickstarter. I thought being independent I could do it so much faster, but this was not correct. I took a lot of time because I was fucking around trying to find a printer who could print the book domestically. My last book was printed in Malaysia, and it was great, but … there's been a resurgence of traditional shipping; a number of organizations running tall ships to transport things like coffee and coco, and it's not like they're ever going to replace enormous commercial tankers, but it's a statement. We've sort of kept the mystique of foreign goods without understanding the implications of importing them; so I did this comic and it got me thinking about slightly less convenient choices for the sake of doing something that would have a more positive impact.
Did doing the book make you feel better?
I definitely grokked the fact that this project is self therapy for me. It's very much a way to soothe when things are difficult. I first did a comic with a character that looked like this [demon] character in 2012. I was dealing with the same shit creatively that I'm dealing with now., like having a hard time balancing my business work and creative work. My creative drive was drying up, and it felt like nothing I was doing was good enough. I did this comic about facing these problems at this drawing gathering I used to host. I thought if I drew something, I'd feel better, and if the only thing I could draw was a comic about not knowing what to draw; even that would be better. I used it as an excuse to make art. So when it came up again, I think it was 2015 and it was Inktober, I couldn't figure out what I was going to draw, so I did this demon saying, 'You've run out of ideas because you're a failure,' and me saying 'Fuck off.' I did a month of them and it was so helpful. People really loved it—and I wouldn't say I only do things for approval on the internet, but it definitely gets your attention. So I came back to it the following year and I really liked the format.
But it was hard stuff to get into?
I'm a big sucker for structure in creative projects. It calms me down a lot. I'm also a sprinter. I'm really keen when I have creative projects to do it all in one sitting—finding something that was like, 'You're going to do 100 days of a thing, and you can't sprint—you have to do one day at a time." There's something really zen about it. It's a practice; we talk about creative practice all the time, but I don't know if we really delve into what that means. I have a friend who, when he graduated, went off a joined a Buddhist monastery. We talk periodically about the distinctions in our lives and the similarities, and there's a lot of stuff we're doing that's not so different. I love being able to talk to him and think about the practice he's engaged in—doing the same thing every single day. A month still feels like a sprint, but 100 days—you could do something good every day, but you're gonna have days where you feel shitty. I had to make peace with the notion where there were days I wouldn't feel like doing an entry, but continuing to show up for it in spite of those days was incredibly valuable for me.
You started to feel better?
I feel like this book is dangerously close to self-help, but it's not 'Fix me!' Most books talk about how to banish the inner critic, how to banish the self-doubt, and I think that's inaccurate. That's not how humans work. A person with no self doubt is a sociopath.
So you're pretty happy-go-lucky now? Whistiling a tune and skipping down the street?
I totally get that sense of 'Oh, good, there are no more problems now!' But I am different for having done that project. I am definitely a different person for having talked to so many people about the project. It highlighted some things I hadn't realized speak to me the most about the kind of creative work I want to be making. I don't want to say relatable content, because that's a very buzz-wordy phrase, but something that allows people to be seen. I hadn't categorized anything else I'd done with with that. I knew people defined my work as relatable or emotionally moving, but it became apparent that I was talking about stuff people weren't traditionally comfortable talking about.
I grew up in an environment that was very emotionally open. My mum came to the states from England to become a therapist. She didn't become one, but my uncle did and my parents were very open to talking about feelings. I went to very alternative schools with community engagement, like, all-school councils where people sat in a circle and there was an emphasis on speaking from the heart. It's kind of a super power in that what seems normal to me seems so vulnerable to most people. There are some entries, the ones I always thought would be too much—and my imposter syndrome preyed on this, because you're talking about the stuff that's sort of hard. Anytime there was an entry like that I did share, people were even more into it. We're in this cultural moment. People have always wanted to be seen and feel connected to other people. There's something in the water, this cultural shift and emphasis.
Definitely. But do people start to feel ownership of you, or like you owe them some kind of emotional labor because you're talking about these things?
I was sort of worried about it. It's a tricky thing doing confessional stuff on the internet. You don't know who's reading it, you don't know what kind of experience they're having. I knock wood, generally, that I have suffered very minimal internet shit. That's partly me; I'm not super incendiary online. I try to be constructive and supportive. I don't pick fights. It's not that I'm silent on matters that matter to me, I'm just not a very provocative person. There are times I feel it's an emotional failing, but the people who I follow [online] who make me feel capable of activism are positive and encouraging. I don't need another person screaming at me and telling me everything is awful. We know. I'm trying something new where I don't tweet about a political issue until I've taken some action about it. If I want to tell someone to call their Congressman online, I do it first. Long answer to a short question is that I don't always hear from [readers]. Sometimes because I'm shy, sometimes they think I don't need to hear it, and this is incorrect. By and large the response I've gotten for this project has been unbelievable.
I always like to ask comics artists who they're reading.
I feel like I'm such a poser, because I don't read a lot of them. I read a lot of prose books. The book that totally springs to mind Eleanor Davis, who is not indie by any stretch. Her most recent books is called Why Art?, and it's this beautifully illustrated heartfelt and meta book about why art is needed at hard times. She did You and a Bike and a Road, this autobio about a bike trip from California and trying to get home to Athens, Georgia. She bikes through the Southwest, and there's a lot of meditation on border culture and her own depression. It's so beautifully drawn. She's also an idol for me as someone who blends her personal work with her political work. I am really into Ellen T Crenshaw. She has a healthy career, but I don't know if lots of people know about her. I'm just gonna cheat and talk about older ones. Like Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa. I think it's out of print, I don't know if you can still dig up a copy, but Pedrosa is a powerhouse.
What does your live show look like?
Well, if we can get a projector, that would be amazing and we can do something that's more like a presentation. In my experience, book shops and comic shops are very different. At comics shops, mostly people don't present. At bookstores, the author usually talks for half an hour, does a signing and everyone buys books. If we get a projector, I can do a visual presentation on the history of the project, show a few of my favorite entries and talk about how I've used them to help myself get through art-block and life-block. There's a sort of interactive component. I've been carting around a guest book, and people who come can fill out the name tag with their fears and stick it in the book. There's something beautiful about it—you'll see the same threads popping up over and over again and the handwriting makes it clear that it's a real person, it's a universal experience.