Interview: Comic book writer and illustrator Alice Atkinson on inspiration and drawing process

Spider-Man, Captain America and Batman made their big screen debuts years ago – but although their franchises have expanded to movies, video games and TV, the magic of their comic book adventures has not diminshed in the slightest.

Telling stories in the form of pictures has been around since the stone ages. Humans started permanently manifesting their thoughts and ideas on cave walls already 40,000 years ago.

The basic idea of “A picture is worth a thousand words” has not changed to this day, where comic books are as popular as ever and social media platforms and other online communities give artists, both amateur and professional, the means through which they can put their art out there.

Alice Atkinson, 27, is an administrator and freelance comic book author and illustrator. She has been telling her stories through means of writing and drawing since she was a child and soon found comics to be the best platform for her to communicate her thoughts. She suffers from anxiety and finds her mental disorder to be a source of inspiration.

“Tearing your own flesh to pieces isn’t exactly the healthiest way of dealing with a chemical imbalance in your head (!) so I turned to drawing comics to try and show what it was like – there’s so many misconceptions and misunderstandings about mental illness and trying to explain with words wasn’t working so I went back to that idea of a single image speaking a thousand words and trying to get a complicated idea across in one go,” said Atkinson.

Alice Atkinson illustration
Her anxiety and depression are some grounds for her inspiration and her drawings are a way to show “what it’s like”. Source: @AliceAtkinsonOfficial

One of the first pieces Atkinson sold was a series of four canvases depicting physical representation of what it felt like to have an anxiety disorder. Knowing that at least one person could relate to her at was a nice experience for the administrator. Most of her works get published on her social media like Facebook and Instagram.

Atkinson prefers to illustrate her own comics, so that she can translate her specific idea in the best way possible from a written or theoretical basis into a visual. Illustrating her own comics has taught Atkinson how to get as much emotion and as many ideas into very limited space.

“I like to keep my stuff short; mostly I stick to single images with a caption or maybe two or three panels max. I like the idea of using a single image and a few choice words to get an idea across; also, in terms of how I post things, I tend to post to Instagram and Facebook mostly so it’s easier in terms of following a narrative if everything can be self-contained to just one post,” said Atkinson.

Alice Atkinson illustration 2
Atkinson’s style is defined by bold colours and sharp lines but she is always open to try new things and techniques. Source: @AliceAtkinsonOfficial

Her art style is characterised through bold colours and sharp lines, mostly drawn with graphic pens and ink that dry quickly. However, Atkinson is flexible at testing new techniques and incorporating those into her work.

“Generally though, the thing I like about using ink is that you can’t fuck it up because once it’s on the page, it’s THERE. You can’t spend ages on something, erasing it and then redrawing and then rubbing it out and trying again until you get it just ‘right’ – it’s very much a case of ‘get it right first time or figure out how to fix it’ which is good for me because it means that all pictures have an end point in sight,” said Atkinson.

Drawing her ideas without being able to re-do it again and again help her keep her attention on the subject itself and not lose interest.

Not knowing when a drawing is finished is a problem Atkinson has found that a lot of artists seem to have. Her preferred means of creating art makes it unable to go back to her work and edit it again. Once it is drawn “the picture is done and that’s it”.

Like it is for most other creative people, the inspiration for her art comes and goes. However, social media challenges like #inktober, a project where artists try to produce a piece of ink art based on a given word every day for the whole of October, is one way to get back into the drawing and writing process, Atkinson said.

“One of the words was “collect” and my brain immediately jumped to the idea of the Grim Reaper collecting souls. I wanted to keep it light though so from there, I thought about the idea of the Grim Reaper coming across a kid dressed as Him for Halloween and the Reaper taking such a liking to the kid that He decided to spare him from being “collected” that night,” said Atkinson.

Alice Atkinson inktober grim reaper
This is one of Atkinson’s works for the #inktober challenge on Instagram. Source: @AliceAtkinsonOfficial

Comics can be dated back to the 18th century Japan and 1830s in Europe. They did not become popular until the humorous comic strip “Famous Funnies” was printed in 1933 in the US, the same year Superman was created.

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