Drawing on experience

Claire Folkman and Kelly Phillips, creators of all-girl comic anthology Dirty Diamonds, talk to about the importance of illustrating how women live and change in the 21st century

Image: Kelly Leigh Miller

Image: Kelly Leigh Miller


“Dudes support dudes. That’s been our history for a very long time.” So responds Claire Folkman, co-founder of Dirty Diamonds, the all-girl comic anthology, to my question about the position of female artists within the comic book industry.

Her response points to the common misconception that comics are primarily for men, a view that fellow founder Kelly Phillips believes has done much to “skew” the proportion of male to female artists. “The typical target audience [for comics] has been boys or men.” As a consequence of this, male artists have come to dominate the industry, leaving women struggling to find a place in which they can showcase their work.

Cue Dirty Diamonds, the comic anthology dedicated to providing a platform through which women can display their artistic talents. Friends since the 7th grade, the two “go-getters,” as they aptly describe themselves, wished to develop a space that would help to chip away at this gender divide.  “Many anthologies are 75% men and 25% women,” Claire notes, “so much of comics is men writing about women. We give women the opportunity to write about women. We’re 50% of the population – I think it’s really important that we’re there to represent how we represent the world.”

Established in 2011, the anthology has released five issues to date. Each issue is based around a  central theme, ranging from alcohol and break-ups, to jobs, travel and comics. I ask what factors are considered when deciding on an issue’s topic. “When we pick a theme, we try to go for something that applies to everybody in some capacity,” Claire responds. “But we also try to pick themes that are applied to women, but that we might not get the opportunity to respond to ourselves. These are all stories told with women in them, but they’re also not necessarily stories that women themselves have had the opportunity to tell.”

The themes are all topical in nature, drawing on issues that are currently being discussed in society, in relation to women. This uniquely contemporary element of the anthology is reiterated in the semi-autobiographical nature of the comics. “What we’re generally trying to get,” Kelly states, “is a sort of a real-life story from these girls, based around our themes. It gives us an opportunity to see not only the artwork from these women, but also a little bit about their lives.”

It is this strong connection to modern-day life that has led to the archiving of Dirty Diamonds in the United States Library of Congress. Claire explains the significance of this. “We act as sort of documentarians for our place in time and history. We really serve as a place not just to showcase people’s talents, but also what our daily lives – our language, our style, our clothing – is like in the here and now, for women.”

The latest issue, which will debut at the Small Press Expo on the 19th September, is based around the theme of beauty. The anthology received an overwhelming amount of responses from female artists. Kelly believes that this is due to the abstract nature of the concept, which has opened up a wide range of interpretations about “what beauty is, what’s important about it, and how girls relate to it. What we’ve found is that people are very conflicted about their relationship with beauty. We have a lot of submissions where girls are showing ways that they’ve worked through very specific things about beauty, but are also still working on it. This is something that’s really hard to wrap your brain around, because there’s so many expectations and so many conceptions about what is expected when you think of beauty.”

Image Jillian Fleck

Image Jillian Fleck

I wonder if the girls believe that these expectations have come from today’s magazine and internet culture. Kelly certainly believes that this is the case for younger women. “The cultural standards would have been very different twenty years ago, versus now. Now there’s more internet to mess with your head. There’s all kinds of stuff that you can be exposed to that shapes your idea about what your sense of beauty is.” As Claire further explains, the internet is “everywhere and it’s constant. You have this ongoing stream of images in your face all of the time,” which come to create certain pressures.

Yet Claire is quick to point out that the internet should not be viewed in an entirely negative light. Due to its “wide range of exposure to so many different types of people” and “so many different types of beauty, the internet, while it has its downsides, has moments where it does a really good job of trying to give everyone their space to be who they are and what they are, and to not feel like that’s wrong.”

This sense of self-acceptance has been central to the work of the older artists within the anthology, indicating a strong contrast in the beauty perspectives of these age groups. As Claire notes, these women “are spending a little bit more time trying to convey the idea that you have to choose to be comfortable with who you are, and not seek it from an outside perspective. I think the older artists have a little bit more of a message for the viewer, whereas the younger artists are a little more introspective, with a lot more self-exploration. The book does a really good job of giving a sampling of how your ideas around beauty change as you move through life.”

 The book is Dirty Diamond’s biggest issue yet, containing over 200 pages and over 50 comics. I ask whether this has caused the stories to become slightly repetitive. “I can’t say I’ve ever had a moment where I’ve felt like the majority of the book was similar,” Claire informs me. “Our themes are so general that it’s really easy for a wide variety of people to take it a lot of different ways,” and develop it through their own personal, artistic language.

Kelly offers some examples, pointing out some of the many juxtapositions to be found within the book. “We have a comic about a girl who cut all of her hair off, and that sort of removed her identity, because it was originally acting as a shield for her. Whereas there’s another comic about a girl who had long, beautiful hair, and she thought that it wasn’t really meshing with her identity. Once she cut it off, that’s when she started to feel more like herself.”

“What I love the most though is when people break the rules of the theme – when they stretch it to its utmost capacity. We have comics about how beautiful your internal gut bacteria is. There are organisms in your body that keep you functioning, and there’s all this life in there that we just ignore all the time, and I love that a girl was like okay, yeah, that’s beauty to me.”

“I think there’s something to be learned from seeing how someone else does life and living,” Claire states, “and this book, as with all our other ones, does the job of communicating that.”

It is not surprising to find that the girls have received an overwhelmingly positive response to the anthology. Kelly informs me that girls will now approach them, with the sole purpose of saying, “we found your book, we’re so excited this exists.” Yet it is in the progress they have made in the comic book industry, where the girls are to be most admired. “The organisers of events have started to see us as a representation of this particular niche within comics,” Claire proudly notes, “and to understand that our niche needs to be present.”

“We’re there to say hey, ladies make comics, ladies make really good comics. Lets check this stuff out.”

The Beauty Issue will be available to purchase on the Dirty Diamonds web store: http://dirtydiamonds.storenvy.com

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