Streeten was also in Nepal in February 2018 for a workshop for South Asian illustrators. The result was a zine showcasing stereotype-free conceptualisations of heroines. The idea, eventually, is to have such standalone artworks develop into graphic novels and reach out to more people, including through school curricula.
“If more people can access stories of everyday heroines, it helps those who are going through similar experiences feel less alone, and more confident about speaking up about their own experiences,” Streeten says, accepting that graphic novels still struggle for acceptance.
When creating her graphic novel Billy, Me and You (2011) about the grief of losing a child, Streeten faced questions about why she wanted to use the format for such a serious subject. Streeten’s response: for easy accessibility. Pictures with words are easier to understand than a long novel or modern art. That is the reason she conducts workshops for making simple sketches.
But many still associate graphic novels with children’s comic books, even after Holocaust story Maus (1986) won the Pulitzer prize and an Iran-born girl’s confessions Persepolis (2000) garnered critical acclaim. Women’s art in this genre is taken even less seriously.
This is not new. From the 18th century, women who worked at or owned printing presses, to the suffragist movements of 19th and 20th, British women were prolific cartoon makers. However, these cannot be found in most cartoon archives.
“Many early women cartoonists did so for a cause, and stopped after their cause succeeded. Most archiving is a masculine pursuit and it was not in their interest to document the feminist agenda,” Streeten explains. “Many women also wrote under gender neutral names or under last names only, so their contribution to this art form is not as well known as it should be.”
Streeten reckons this is a worldwide trend, conceding that things have changed for the better today. Women can now disseminate their artwork through the Internet even though it is not yet a level playing field.
Streeten now wants to work on a new book about the history of women’s cartoons all over the world, that will be an update to her previous book Inking Woman. She says: “At the end of the day, everything is political, whether a cartoon is about trauma, anxiety, or even lifestyle. Women’s cartoons and graphic novels depict our social and political scenario through women’s lives.”
Nicola Streeten’s sessions at the Nepal Literature Festival, Pokhara
Workshop: Graphic Novel Your Life
19-21 Dec, Hotel Barahi
Panel discussion with Kanchan Burathoki:
The Art of the Graphic Memoir
3:00PM-4:00PM, 22 Dec, Taal Barahi Chowk