The Autobiographical Self

My upcoming book Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics could be called “educational” (and I’m very flattered when people do) – but it’s just as much “autobiographical”. Ever since I started in comics – in 1998, I was a late bloomer – I wanted to draw about myself. It so happened that at that time there was a surge in Dutch comix of female autobiographies, with the publication of three women comic artists, who were called “The Big Three” for a long time:

Gerrie Hondius, Barbara Stok and Maaike Hartjes.

I loved their comics, so if I wanted to do something in the same genre, I’d have to make sure it was sufficiently different from what they made. And with that thought, a journey in search of my Autobiographical Self started.

This was my first depiction of myself, walking into the studio of Maaike Hartjes, where I drew my first self-published comics. At that time I was 26 years old, thin and pretty clueless about where to begin when starting my own comic.

For the first few years, I tried drawing all kinds of different styles. I copied styles I liked. I drew myself realistically one day, cartoony the next. It was almost a therapeutic process, expressing not only different emotions but also coming to grip with my self-image.

See what I mean? That’s Bitchy Bitch from Roberta Gregory, a comic I absolutely devoured.

And then, in 2002, a new relationship brought step-children into my life, and my comic character changed to a more sedate young woman who (usually) stayed calm in all the dramas of family life.

I grew, as a person and as a comic character. Literally. I started putting on weight and although I was quite comfortable with it, I had to re-invent my comic persona: no longer young and thin, but mature and “filled out” (and blond for a while!).

At the same time my comics changed from being purely autobiographical (like the webcomic I did in 2005) to being more educational. I made “comic reports” for national newspaper Trouw, so my character became a reporter. This meant a more cartoony approach, which I still use in my books. It’s very convenient: my comic persona is ageless, easily identifiable and still looks like me (thanks to my unconventional hairdo, which I’ll never change unless I want to be “incognito” of course).

The self-image and identity of an autobiographical comic artist is a very visible thing, and it’s exactly that which makes it my favorite genre. Making autobiographical comics is a brave and vulnerable undertaking, which is rewarded in the end by finding oneself on the pages of the Book of Life (Ooo, that’s deep!).

That being said, a few weeks ago I met up with my little brother (he lives in Berlin, so we don’t see each other very often). He grabbed me brotherly by the neck and exclaimed: “My god, Sis! You have a hump!”

I do, I know it’s there, it’s the badge of honor of a serious cartoonist, always bent over her work.

But having it pointed out by my younger (and gorgeous) brother struck a chord. It made me wonder if I shouldn’t re-draw myself. So that people who know me from my comics who meet me can exclaim: “Oh, you’re so much prettier in real life!” And I can rub that in my brother’s face. With his big nose.

 

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Author: Margreet de Heer

Dutch graphic novelist, known for her educational series 'A Discovery in Comics', featuring 'Philosophy', 'Science' and 'Religion'. In the works: 'World Domination' and 'Love'. Margreet lives and works in Amsterdam with her artistic husband Yiri and two cats. In 2017, Margreet was voted Comic Artist Laureate of The Netherlands, an ambassadorship of Dutch comics which she holds for the period of three years.

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