Lucy Bellwood has been very busy. Last year, the cartoonist ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to print her first longform comic “True Believer.” She’s released four issues of her comic “Baggywrinkles,” which is about her own experience working on tall ships and exploring nautical history and lore. She drew a story that appeared in digital magazine “Symbolia” depicting the experiences of two women who served at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay and did a much-linked to fill-in of Ertika Moen’s NSFW comic “Oh Joy, Sex Toy”
Bellwood is also one of the artists working on “Cartozia Tales,” a new ongoing fantasy series launching this month. CBR News spoke with Bellwood on a day she wasn’t working at the Portland, OR based Periscope Studios about all of this, and her plans for the future.
CBR News: I’m glad we could talk. It seems like you seem to be popping up in a ton of things this year.
Lucy Bellwood: It has been an insane year. I graduated last year in May and that was about the same time I did this Kickstarter campaign to publish “True Believer,” which is my first long-form comic. I got all this money and I graduated so I was like, all right, I’m going to freelance. Like most cartoonists, I’m still in that state of, I don’t know how I got here. [Laughs] It’s going to be that way forever, I think. Part of it’s imposter syndrome. Part of it’s just bewilderment, I suppose. You don’t really know how these things happen, but you meet people and then stuff happens.
You cover this in the first issue of “Baggywrinkles,” but can you tell us how you ended up working on a tall ship?
I found a website that said, hey, you want to sail a tall ship? [Laughs]
I was in high school — I was big into Renaissance Faires and wearing historical costumes. I went to a weird hippie school in Ojai, and they were pretty much okay with me showing up to class dressed as a pirate, which happened more often than not. That whole community of Renaissance Faire culture is lacking in that there isn’t a whole lot to it, practically speaking, beyond dressing up and getting drunk and buying really expensive leather goods. [Laughs] I was like, you know what I’d really love is to do something that’s practical or more realistic.
I found on this website that there was a boat in New Zealand that did this thing: “Come live and work on board and 18th Century tall ship!” It wasn’t really practical to go to New Zealand when I was a senior in high school, but I realized that there are all tall ships that come through Ventura, which is just a twenty minute drive where I’m from. That year, January, 2007, we went out and booked a “battle sail.”
There are two vessels that sail together and they do these reenactments of Napoleonic naval battles with black powder — but no cannon balls because of safety, I guess. [Laughs] They take you out for three hours and do lots of maneuvering and firing of guns and dramatic business. It’s a total blast and I was just stunned watching the crew sprinting all over the place and shouting at each other and quoting Eddie Izzard. It looked like a ton of fun. Yeah, they’re wearing ridiculous canvas pants and they’re in costume, but it looked like something I really wanted to do. I think it was a month later I shlepped up to the Bay Are and did my first two weeks as a volunteer. After that, you’re basically trained and you can come back whenever you want and work aboard for as long as you like. I kept doing it after that and couldn’t stop.
I have to ask, what exactly is a ‘baggywrinkle?’
Baggywrinkles are basically old bits of line that you frizz out and tie along a straight piece of rope. Then you wind that in a spiral around a stay or a stationary line so that if a sail comes into regular contact with it, it’s not going to chafe a hole though the canvas. It’s an absurd name for a practical object, but they also look ridiculous. It’s like somebody stuck a rope through a poodle.
The first question that people ask every time they come on a tall ship is, what are those fuzzy things? You have to try to say ‘baggywrinkle’ with a straight face, and they’re like, “What?” That really is the technical term.
In “Baggywrinkles” #4, you addressed “the plank.”
[Laughs] I made that damn comic because everyone who comes onboard, after they ask, “What are those fuzzy things?” they say, “Where’s your plank?” That’s the common misconception, that you’re all pirates because you work on a big pirate ship. Most people who were working on tall ships were merchant mariners, the kinds of people who hate pirates because they kill them and take their stuff. So we have this love-hate relationship with the pirate re-enactment community. They show up in their ridiculous leather and huge scabbards, and it’s totally impractical for being on a boat. Their stiletto leather boots leave divots in the deck. But at the same time, those are the people who often tip the most handsomely and give us good press and attract a crowd. Nobody wants to see a bunch of grungey people in canvas pants who haven’t showered in two weeks; they want to see Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s kind of a necessary symbiotic relationship. [Laughs]
One comic you did recently that got a lot of attention was the fill-in you drew for Erika Moen’s strip, “Oh Joy, Sex Toy.” How did that happen?
I’ve gotten to know Erika since I began working at Periscope, which has been a huge thrill for me. I wrote a huge sappy blog post about how I’ve known about her work for such a long time. We’d been working together at the studio for a while and then we had all gone out to exhibit at TCAF. She and Dylan Meconis and I were all on the same flight going home and as we were sitting in the airport she was like, I’m doing conventions back to back all month and I’ve run out of buffer strips already and I don’t know what to do. I was like, maybe I could do a guest strip for you, maybe? She was like, would you? I was freaked out and super-excited.
After I was freaked out and super-excited, I was like, hold up — this is not what I do online. I do family-friendly comics about boats. Then I was like, rope bondage! It’s perfect! [Laughs]
Even though those two things have nothing connecting them — it’s not like a sailor introduced me to it — it’s certainly not something that is practiced on the boat. But I was like, this is perfect. My sailing audience will be like, we like knots. And Erika’s audience will hopefully learn something that they weren’t otherwise familiar with. I was kicking myself, because I could have done something that was short and just a page long review of some kind of novelty toy, but I felt like, with rope, there’s a lot of safety concerns you have go over.
It was very well received. It was an incredible experience just in terms of the traffic that it generated for my site. I had a huge traffic spike, got a lot of new followers and new readers. I didn’t get any negative backlash from it. I was kind of concerned that people would be like, what are you doing making these pervy comics on the internet? [Laughs] I come from a very liberal background so I don’t think anyone was particularly shocked, but the really gratifying thing was hearing from people who were like, I used to think this was really scary and pervy and I didn’t understand it at all, but this is really approachable and maybe I’ll try it sometime. That’s the best thing I could have possibly asked for, that people are willing to try something outside of their comfort zone in a way that doesn’t make them feel threatened. That’s what I find so inspiring about Erika’s comics: She manages to approach sexuality as this thing that’s very normal and not weird.
You recently drew a story that appeared in “Symbolia.” How did you find yourself involved with this project?
“Symbolia” came about because my friend Sarah Mirk who is also from Ojai. We met a teenage writers group many, many years ago and both ended up moving to Portland. Sarah had interviewed these two female vets who had served in the Navy at Guantanamo. She went to “Symbolia” and had basically done all of the ground work and they said okay. I got an e-mail from her asking if I wanted to work on this comic and they liked my stuff. We had this really long back and forth editorial process of fact-checking and meeting with the people she interviewed. It was a very research-intensive comic. She basically roped me into it and I’m glad she did because I had a blast.
Was it more research heavy than most of your work”
Yeah, and I was really grateful to have Sarah onboard for that to do the distilling. Because comics are so minimal, you have to take so much out to make it not seem wordy, and I am a very loquacious person. I like to talk a lot and use big words and in comics that’s just a no-go. You have to be brutal and minimalist if you’re going to get anything done. It was great to have her on board for that.
I had a lot of anxiety about the project because I wanted to make sure that everything was right. With most comics, you can kind of fake it, and if reads right, you’re doing your job. But with military stuff, I was like, oh my God, I’ve got to put the right number of strips on everybody’s sleeves. I’m sure I still fucked up with the types of guns I used or something. Drawing guns, drawing cars, drawing military establishments, endless uniforms — it was a cartoonist’s nightmare for me in terms of things I’m not comfortable with drawing.
You’re also working on “Cartozia Tales.” What can you tell us about that project?
Isaac Cates and his partner Mike do a lot of constraint-based comics, using challenges like the panels all have to mirror each other on this page or you can only tell a story using silhouettes. There’s a group of underground cartoonists who are really into that and developed all of these different things you can do to make a story more interesting or to push it formally. Isaac wrote to me saying, I’ve got this core group, this “magnificent seven” he called it, of cartoonists he wanted to start a fantasy series with. Once we started bouncing ideas I realized this was going to be a really cool project with a lot of really fun people. We all threw place names into a hat and he came up with a world map that Sarah Becan, one of the contributors, turned into the beautiful world map that’s on our home site now.
The way that the anthology is working is that we split the map up into segments and then each issue we roll a D20 to determine who sets their story in each sector. [Laughs] So it’s super-nerdy and it’s really fun. We’ve wrapped up issue one and now we’re all starting on issue two, which is where it should get really interesting because we don’t know what’s going to happen. Either people are going to pick up the stories that they get left in the sector, so the previous person’s story is open-ended so they pick up the characters and run with them, or they start a new story or take those characters out of that sector — I have no idea. I’ve discovered a lot of new creators that I didn’t know about before, so that’s awesome.
Fantasy is something different for you.
Definitely. I’ve never done something like that before. I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to spending time on things like world-building and character design because I associate them with people who are really wrapped up in creating the world of their comic rather just sitting down and actually drawing the comic. I love fantasy. I voraciously read it growing up, but I just hadn’t tried any stories like that. Collaborative storytelling is really good because there’s less pressure. You’re just bouncing ideas around like, hey, what about otter people? and everyone goes, yeah, otter people, let’s do it. [Laughs] Then somebody else will pick that up and add something to it, so you don’t feel like all the pressure’s on you to make something perfect and whole and cohesive. That’s really fun and we’re taking a light-hearted approach to it.
In the past year, you graduated, had a successful Kickstarter campaign, started working at Periscope Studio and you’ve had all these things coming out. Do you have the next year planned out
[Laughs] If it’s anything as crazy as this year, I don’t even fucking know. This year has been getting my foot in the door and setting things up and making contacts and going to a lot of conventions. That’s been cool to meet a lot of people that I really admire at shows and realize that it’s like twitter in real life. [Laughs] In the next year I want to draw more. It means “Cartozia,” putting out more issues of “Baggywrinkles” and then who can say. I’m illustrating a couple children’s books. I’d like to contribute to a few more anthologies. Beyond that I don’t know. There’s no project right now that’s my magnum opus graphic novel that I want to start. The theme this year has been keeping an open mind, and things keep cropping up.