We announced back in October that the third inductee to the British Comic Awards Hall of Fame would be the one and only Posy Simmonds. At the 3rd Annual British Comic Awards ceremony held on Saturday 15th November 2014 we were very lucky to have Posy there in person to accept her award and speak with writer and BCA committee member Maura McHugh about her life in comics.
Here’s a video of Posy’s appearance at the BCA ceremony filmed by comics blogger Leonard Sultana aka An Englishman in San Diego.
What follows is a brief illustrated retrospective of Simmonds’ esteemed career thus far and a transcript of Posy and Maura’s conversation.
Rosemary Elizabeth Simmonds was born in 1945 in Berkshire and educated at Queen Anne’s School. She studied at the Sorbonne (The University of Paris) before attending the Central School of Art and Design in London. She quickly began her career as a freelance illustrator and cartoonist filling small corners in different newspapers and magazines, among them Woman’s Own, The Sun, The Observer, The Sunday Times and more. She went on to contribute to The Times, Cosmopolitan and eventually moved to The Guardian as an illustrator in 1972.
In 1977 she started a daily comic strip called The Silent Three of St Botolph’s, a tribute to The Silent Three by Evelyn Flinders. Simmonds’ version of The Silent Three was an homage to early girls’ adventure comics but the protagonists had grown up and were still continuing their adventures. Wendy Weber, Jo Heep and Trish Wright were the three main characters. These strips were very popular and later became known as Posy and they ran until the 1980s.
Momma’s Fault starring Wendy Weber and a Silent Three comic illustrated by Evelyn Flinders, the full 8 pages of which can be read at Gillian Hammerton’s blog.
CLICK ANY IMAGE TO VIEW IT LARGER.
The Posy strips have been collected in various books such as Mrs Weber’s Diary (1979), Pick of Posy (1982), Very Posy (1985) and Pure Posy (1987). There was also an original book with the same characters called True Love (1981). In 2012 Jonathan Cape published the huge Mrs Weber’s Omnibus which collects many of these previous titles and was nominated for the BCA Best Book Award in 2013. A tome called Musn’t Grumble (1993) collects all the other cartoons Simmonds did for The Guardian and The Spectator.
In 1981 Posy Simmonds won Cartoonist of the Year at the British Press Awards.
In the late ’80s Simmonds branched out into writing and illustrating children’s books. Fred (1987) was about a cat with a secret life as a rockstar which was adapted into an animated short film called Famous Fred which Simmonds scripted. Lenny Henry provided the voice of Fred. Released in 1996 it was nominated for an Oscar and won several Baftas.
Her other work aimed at children include Bouncing Buffalo (1984), Lulu and the Flying Babies (1988), Lulu and The Chocolate Wedding (1990), F-Freezing ABC (1996), Lavender (2003) and Baker Cat (2004). Simmonds also illustrated editions of two Hilaire Belloc books, Matilda: Who Told Such Dreadful Lies and Was Burned To Death (1991) and Cautionary Tales And Other Verses (1997).
Then in the late ’90s Simmonds returned to The Guardian and created one of her better known works Gemma Bovery, a reworking of Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary (1856). Published as a graphic novel in 1999 it has been translated into 9 languages and has recently been made into a French film directed by Anne Fontaine and co-written by Pascal Bonitzer. The film was released this year (2014) and stars Gemma Arterton.
In The Guardian’s Review section Simmonds started Literary Life, a weekly comic which came out between 2002 and 2004. A collection of these strips was published in late 2003. A must read for any aspiring author.
Her most recent work is Tamara Drewe. This began in The Guardian in September 2005 and was partly inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd (1874). The complete work was finished and published in 2007 and has been translated into 9 languages. It won the prestigious Grand Prix de la Critique Bande Dessinée at the 2009 Angoulême International Comics Festival. In 2010 it was adapted into a feature film of the same name written by Moira Buffini, directed by Stephen Frears and, like Gemma Bovery, starring Gemma Arterton in the titular role.
In 2012 there was a major retrospective of Simmonds’ work at the Belguim Comic Strip Centre in Brussels co-curated by comics scholar Paul Gravett (who writes eloquently about Simmond’s work in this article: Posy Simmonds: Essentially English.) Gravett said of Simmonds:
She is simply one of the world’s most sophisticated contemporary cartoonists expanding the scope and subtlety of the graphic novel. She has an astute and laser sharp ability to create memorable and complex characters with a sly wit and a flawless sense of timing. Her artistic style has developed into an effortless and evocative line work that other artists would love to emulate.
In a 2007 interview in The Telegraph, Simmonds referred to herself as an invisible woman. She likes to go unnoticed which she finds very useful when observing people to get inspiration for characters and stories. This year however, we are honouring Posy Simmonds for the legacy of her work and her very visible contribution to British cartooning and comic book art.
Here is a transcript of the conversation between Maura McHugh and Posy Simmonds at the 3rd Annual British Comic Awards ceremony on Saturday 15th November 2014.
Maura McHugh: Someone said recently when I said I was going to talk to Posy today, she mentioned that 30 years ago she had seen your work in a newspaper and she wanted to do what you did.
Posy Simmonds: Well, I’m glad.
Maura: I was wondering when you were starting out what were the comics that you read that made you want to draw them? How early can you remember comics being a part of your life?
Posy: Right back when I was 2, 3 or 4 I can remember looking at comics. And then when I was about 8 some Americans moved into the village where I lived and they used to go to an Air Base every Saturday and come back with tons of comics. Of course they read them there but they’d often used to say “Oh, Posy do you want to see some comics?” So I had armfuls of ’50s comics. Alas, I haven’t got them now, I must have thrown them away, but I had everything from Superman, Casper the Ghost and Sad Sack, just tons and tons and they were all mine. I suppose if Proust had a madeleine as a thing which brought back (memories), for me it’s lying in the sun with an American comic on my face and its the smell of the ink and ah, comics!
After I was 10 I probably didn’t read comics for decades because in those days, the ’50s, sadly comics were thought really for children and you were supposed to grow out of them. Now it’s a wonderful time for everybody.
Some of Posy’s Juvenilia.
Maura: You were always making them at home weren’t you? Drawing them and stapling and actually making little books.
Posy: Yes, yes. Those were horror comics. Some of them were advice. I remember writing one when I was about nine called ‘How To Make Love And Be Loved In 4 Easy Lessons’.
Maura: At nine?
Posy: My Mother was horrified but actually it was very innocent; it was about dropping handkerchiefs.
Maura: If only it were so simple. The interesting thing is you did see this as something you wanted to do early on?
Posy: Yes, I always liked the combination of words and pictures. It really is a simple as that. I did graphic design at Art College. At that time of course it was mainly typographical. So in those days, in dinosaur times, you had to actually hand-draw lettering which has stood me in good stead. When I left art school I did that awful round that people do now in a more sophisticated way of showing your work. The very first things I got were in newspapers and that was my work ever since really, newspapers.
Maura: What do you like about doing ongoing work in newspapers like you’ve done with Tamara Drewe?
Posy: I have to say by the end I didn’t like the deadlines. I had been used to deadlines because newspapers made you work very fast and so you never had time for second thoughts. Actually doing a serial I thought I’d start with about 20 episodes but in fact it was a slog and by the end I was only about 2 or 3 episodes ahead. I could have done without those sort of deadlines. People said “Why on earth didn’t you write the whole thing before you started?” but it doesn’t work like that. You get most of your ideas, or I do, under pressure. I like the idea of being on this story which was kind of like a hatching creature. I didn’t quite know where it was going.
Maura: You were saying earlier you had one time where it (Tamara Drewe) was published twice in a week and you did one and you literally didn’t know what you were doing for the other one.
Posy: Oh yes, that was a bad day. I had to deliver two at a time. I’d done the first one and I just didn’t know what was going to happen so I just did a queue in a supermarket. I thought “Ooh I’ve got Saturday, Sunday, Monday to think what happens”.
Maura: But it came in the end?
Posy: It came in the end.
Maura: Thinking about your career if you were to give advice, I know maybe people hate asking this question, but for people who want to do comics and cartoons, what would you say is your main advice?
Posy: Leaving college or if you’re starting out August is a brilliant time to find work especially in newspapers or magazines because people go on holiday but they still need their issues filled and that’s how I got things, in August. Just ring up and they’d go through what they need so you were a dogsbody but it was a good way to of getting started. The second thing I’d say is just keep a notebook and draw and write down things if you’re on buses or wherever.
Maura: I’d like to thank Posy for coming along today.
Posy: Well, I’d like to thank you very, very much for this great honour.
For Children (and adults too):
Lulu and the Flying Babies (1988)
Matilda: Who Told Such Dreadful Lies and Was Burned To Death (1991)
Baker Cat (2004)