• Hero

    Eleanor Davis: How To Be Happy

Illustration

Eleanor Davis on the motivations behind her stunning upcoming book

Posted by James Cartwright,

The pursuit of happiness is a preoccupation that concerns nearly all of the western world – job satisfaction, thriving inter-personal relationships and a constant sense of well-being are things we’re all convinced we need to strive for. And yet so few of us ever really find that balance. This is something that Eleanor Davis knows only too well and has sought to explore in her latest collection of comics How To Be Happy, an amalgamation of short stories and sketches created over the past seven years. It’s a stunning body of work that brings together loosely personal and wholly fictional stories about joy, anguish, fear and loneliness – emotions all motivated by that essential quest to be the best you can be.

Needless to say the imagery is characteristically magnificent, but we wanted to find out more about the motivation behind Eleanor’s upcoming masterwork…

  • Screen-shot-2014-06-19-at-10.27.17

    Eleanor Davis: How To Be Happy

  • Screen-shot-2014-06-19-at-10.28.24

    Eleanor Davis: How To Be Happy

This is a collection of drawings and short stories rather than a graphic novel, how long have you been amassing all of these?

A long time! I think the earliest is Seven Sacks. That was the first comic I did for MOME, way back in 2007. Seven years!

There’s a lot of variation between visual styles in the book. Do you make a conscious decision to illustrate certain stories in a specific way?

My drawing style changes a lot both because different stories call for different styles and because I don’t want to get stale or bored. I don’t like to draw the same image twice. A good drawing is sort of mystical; it has its own life and existence in addition to being a representation of something else. A drawing that’s been drawn over and over again can turn into just a symbol – it stops being a living thing. Some stories are tighter and the drawings get tighter with them. Some are just drawings I spat into my sketchbook.

Some of the narratives inside appear as if they could be autobiographical. Do you write from experience or from your imagination?

Most of the stories in How to be Happy are fictional stories about my own experiences. Some of them are non-fiction stories on the same subject. None of the stories are not about me. I would like to write stories not about me very much. I’m not sure if this is something I might be able to achieve through personal growth, or if it is even really possible for anyone. Maybe really good artists just expand their definition of “me.”

The title of the book seems like a bit of a curveball. Does it refer to the stories themselves or more to you personally? (As in, is this construction of narratives a kind of therapy for you?)

I was trying to come up with titles for my books, which is a collection of stories that are mostly sad, or about people who are trying not to be sad. I suggested the title How to be Happy to my husband Drew as a joke and we both laughed and laughed. After we finished laughing Drew said; “But seriously, that’s a good title.”
 
I read a lot of self-help books. I think the struggle to be happy is an important and noble one. The stories in How to be Happy are a pretty motley collection written over the course of seven years, but most are about the search for happiness, the desire to be our best selves, the need to connect with other human beings, the struggle to become good.

What’s the one thing you’d like people to take away from reading your stories?

I am very glad, and thankful, when someone tells me they’ve read one of my comics and can see themselves in it. It’s good when a piece of art can make us feel less alone.

What else are you working on now? Do you have any plans to flesh any of these stories out into full graphic novels?

All the short stories in How To Be Happy are stand-alones. I think short stories are maybe my “thing.” I wish I would have figured that out about myself earlier. I would like to do more short stories and put them out more frequently; once a year or so, maybe in a zine. I’ve been wanting to do a regular mini-comic or a zine, like I did way back in high school. Thinking about that makes me really happy.

I’m also working on a TOON book for young comics readers with my husband Drew Weing, and a historical murder-mystery for young adults with my mother, Ann Davis. That’s called _Catta of Samarkand_. Drew and I are talking about making a video game together. We’d like to have a baby. I’m excited about so many projects. There is an awful lot I’d love to do.

How To Be Happy is available from July 2014 from Fantagraphics.

  • Glutenfree11

    Eleanor Davis: How To Be Happy

  • Eden-4

    Eleanor Davis: How To Be Happy

  • Screen-shot-2014-06-19-at-10.28.39

    Eleanor Davis: How To Be Happy

  • Screen-shot-2014-06-19-at-10.28.06

    Eleanor Davis: How To Be Happy

  • Screen-shot-2014-06-19-at-10.28.57

    Eleanor Davis: How To Be Happy

  • Screen-shot-2014-06-19-at-10.29.12

    Eleanor Davis: How To Be Happy

  • 605a4088214f5fa2f7a733159828fcb6

    Eleanor Davis: How To Be Happy

Jc

Posted by James Cartwright

James started out as an intern in 2011 and is now one of our two editors. He oversees Printed Pages magazine and content wise has a special interest in graphic design and illustration. He also runs our online shop Company of Parrots and is a regular on our Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Illustration View Archive

  1. Main

    Let’s get this straight – no one uses colour pencils like Yann Kebbi. His rushing waves of familiar greens and reds depict street scenes filled with fumes, scowls, ageing pedestrians and whooshing movement – always with a dry happiness and a side order of mystery. Recently Yann’s wry depictions of human life have been featured in The New York Times and other prestigious rags, but some of his most interesting work lies in the personal sketches he whacks up on his blog for people like me to dribble at. The seemingly slapdash paintings of his family and the Hockney-esque sketches of the French countryside are exquisite, and proof that Yann has got so many more styles to try out yet before he perfects his repertoire.

  2. Main1

    Kristina Tzekova is an excellent testament to the belief that there’s no limit to what you can do with a packet of coloured pencils and a sheet of white paper. The illustrator recreates scenes from music videos and cult films in comic strip form, from Kanye West’s Bound 2 to Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, and the results are the perfect cross between lo-fi doodles in the margin of a maths exercise book and Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering photographic studies of motion. Simple though they may seem, her drawings are incredibly intricate, taking into account the continuity between each image just as scrupulously as they do the the details which easily have been missed, from the cheeky glint in an eye to the quirk of a top lip. Here’s hoping somebody picks up on Kristina’s work and makes them into a book sharpish!

  3. Img_1065

    Here at It’s Nice That we spend an awful lot of time talking about, thinking about and writing about creatives but ultimately we don’t get too many chances to really see what goes on in their day-to-day working lives…until now. Our new collaboration with super-cool eyewear brand Ace & Tate – who believe in great design and ultimate customer choice – is taking us inside the studios, and inside the minds, of a host of some of our favourite creatives.

  4. Main_14.40.48

    Three cheers to Portuguese illustrator Marta Monteiro for executing what I would have believed to be an entirely impossible feat; creating a series about tiny, lilliputian women living in a giant world without it being even the slightest bit cutesy. Her miniature characters are practically heroines; tying up villains with cotton from a giant reel, transporting a slice of pizza on their shoulders and playing tug of war with spaghetti, and all in the style which has won Marta commissions from some of the great champions of illustration out there, including the New York Times and NoBrow. This series has even been awarded a gold medal by the Society of Illustrators in the category of commissioned work, so if you don’t take our word for how brilliant it is, take theirs! here’s hoping for dreams of Borrowers for nights to come.

  5. Main

    They don’t come much sharper than Sara Andreasson, the Swedish illustrator who was on the site back in March but who has posted so much new work on her website that we see fit to feature her again already. The Swede has been hard at work, creating commissions for The Debrief, New York Times Magazine and Rolling Stone, toying with witty observations and reassuring block colour to demonstrate that she’s just as nimble whipping up images to suit a brief as she is with personal work. Her experiments with rasterisation and contrasting patterns are especially intriguing, hinting at a whole new technique which is ripe for exploration (and more of which can be seen of on her Tumblr.)

  6. List_2

    Julianna Brion is an editorial illustrator whose diverse portfolio houses projects for a bunch of fortunate clients. Like most creatives who make commissioned work though, when she’s not drawing to a brief she’s filling sketchbook after sketchbook with scrapbook-like doodles which are as beautiful, if not more so, than her finished images. Reclining figures, pastel dogs, picture-perfect houses and foliage all feature, rendered in a rainbow of acrylic paints and sketchy pencil. For me, looking at the sketchbook of a successful illustrator is kind of like peeping into the messy bedroom of an impossibly well-coiffed, super dapper gent. And who doesn’t like to be nosy?

  7. List_3

    Trust Helsinki-based illustration agency Agent Pekka to sign up some of the best illustration we’ve seen in a long while without so much as a cough to show it off! They’ve just added French illustrator Jean-Michel Tixier to their books, and he looks set to be an amazing addition.

  8. List_2

    When it comes to brightly-coloured multimedia creations Mike Perry is king, and as far as we’re concerned there’s little chance of anybody threatening to knock him off his throne any time soon. As if to strengthen his case, he’s just made My Mother Caught Me Doodling, a 160 page hardback celebration of the female form, which sees Mike create tribute after tribute to ladies. Naked ladies.

  9. Main

    Considering it had been a while since I had had a proper delve through this great guy’s portfolio, revisiting his site was a refreshing reminder of just how talented Gwendal Le Bec really is. Sometimes people can be frowned upon for aping or mimicking a style from someone else but in Gwendal’s case it’s different as he successfully takes elements from all the most infamous illustrators of times gone by and adds them to his own style.

  10. List

    We’ve been harping on about what a terrific illustrator, and all-round cheery chap Ryan Gillett is for quite some time now, and it seems people have been taking notice. Ryan now counts the likes of Virgin, The Sunday Times, Anorak and Smith Journal among his many clients, who keep him busy at all hours on commissioned projects. It’s not hard to see why either; Ryan’s cheerful scenes made with the sensibilities of a traditional print-maker ought to excite even the most severe clients. But he still finds time to do the nice things that remind us what a stand-up guy he is; like producing screen printed postcards to send out to all his fans (including us). When they arrived the other week they brightened up our days, and also made us realise it was about time to praise Ryan once again…

  11. List

    Thank God for Laura Callaghan! In an illustrated world saturated with images of pretty girls sweetly baking cupcakes, making daisy crowns and chasing after boys, she injects a much-needed dose of the sinister femme fatale. Her characters have undercuts and piercings instead of being clad head to toe in lace, they read lesbian magazines instead of Vogue and they wear vials of their lovers’ blood round their necks. What more could you want from a role model?

  12. Listleipzig

    Sergio’s back, and he’s as good as ever. With new tour posters for the likes of Mac DeMarco and Future Islands and a bundle of personal work, we decided to whack him and his pointy-nosed people up on the site once again. Retro and somehow futuristic at the same time, his prints steer clear of twee although smiley, bouncy-haired characters abound. Their massive forearms and John Lennon glasses say “I’m clever and I work hard” in a way reminiscent of early communist posters, mixed with a touch of The New Yorker; what a brilliant combination. I love Summer, a print of a sunbather on a beach gazing into a snow globe. It might not have occurred to Spanish Sergio, but to me this seems like a brilliantly British reaction to too much sun.

  13. List

    Roosje Klap and Mathias Schweizer have just finished work on a pretty extraordinary piece of digital collage for Dutch literary magazine De Gids – a publication that’s been in existence since 1837. The images on display propose rooms that reference literary voices of the past like Ovid and Baiga, compositing various erotic references into surrealist dreamscapes. The pair worked on them in tandem in the manner of an exquisite corpse – building on each other’s work in stages over time – only instead of strange little bodies as the final product, we’re met with what Roosje refers to as “graphic sex cadavre-exquis!”