• Cover
  • Leavitt-kitty
  • Leavitt-thinking
  • Leavitt-chopsticks
  • Leavitt-mommy
Illustration

Sarah Leavitt

Posted by Alex Moshakis,

In September, Freehand Books published writer and cartoonist Sarah Leavitt’s latest book Tangles, a poignant account of the author’s mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. To mark the book’s release in the UK – it’s published by Jonathan Cape, no less – we talked to Leavitt about why she began to produce cartoons, why she decided to tell her mother’s story, and why it’s important to reveal humour in tragic circumstances…

Why did you become a cartoonist?

I was a late bloomer – I started making mini-comics and publishing small comics in magazines in my mid-30s, about six years ago. I had always drawn small pictures, sometimes with text, but rarely showed them to anyone other than family and friends. Working on Tangles was really what made me fall in love with doing comics. As for the why – because the more I did it, the more it felt like the best way to communicate in the way I wanted to: condensed, intense pieces.

I can do these better with image and text combined than I can with just text. Also, I keep discovering more and more incredible cartoonists, from hundreds of years ago and right now, and I want to be part of that world. Cartooning is one of the things I am most passionate about and engaged with. I wish I could spend all my time on it.

Tangles is an account of your mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. Why did you choose to tell the story?

I just always knew I had to. First I thought I’d use prose, but after she died, and I started sorting through my collection of notes and sketches, I realised I needed to do a comic book. I wanted to make a record of her and of the illness. Sort of a report from the front lines. As time goes by, I feel more and more strongly that we as a society need to respond to Alzheimer’s disease not only with research, medicine, social support, etc, but also with art, as people have done with AIDS, because it affects so many people, so many families, and it is such a cruel and destructive disease.

You managed to find humour in the situations you recorded. How important was it for you to make people laugh?

It was a big part of the story. Our family laughed a lot through the whole thing. We always had a weird sense of humour, and so many things happened that were funny in a dark sort of way, like Mum bumping into furniture and apologising, and then there were other times when you could either laugh or cry, and there wasn’t a lot of difference between the two, if you know what I mean; sort of an hysterical response to a crazy situation. And my mum laughed too, especially as she got more ill, sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes because we sang or danced to make her laugh.

What do the rest of your family think of the book?

My dad loves it, and has been extremely supportive of the book since it was published. My sister has also been really positive about it. That was great, because I was nervous. My dad’s side of the family, who are not in the book, love it. Even my 93-year-old grandmother: “The little people! They’re so human!” My mum’s sisters – I’m not sure. They have never mentioned it to me since I sent them each a copy.

What have you got planned next?

Historical fiction! A tale of death and destruction from 19th century British Columbia, in the years just after our gold rush. That’s my next book – still in the research stage, which has been lots of fun, a great shift from Tangles. I also have shorter autobiographical comics in the works.

Portrait8

Posted by Alex Moshakis

Alex originally joined It’s Nice That as a designer but moved into editorial and oversaw the It’s Nice That magazine from Issue Six (July 2011) to Issue Eight (March 2012) before moving on that summer.

Most Recent: Illustration View Archive

  1. Main9

    Co-founders of Dastoli Digital Robert and James were huge fans of Star Wars in the late 1990s, recreating hundreds of images from comics, books and game graphics on Microsoft Paintbrush using the Windows 3.1 operating system. In the run-up to the release of Star Wars Episode VII which will come out on 18 December 2015 they’re releasing an image a day from this seemingly bottomless archive, giving fellow fans a glimpse of their fantastic attention to detail and brilliantly retro colour palette.

  2. List

    We’d hate to say we told you so, but in the case of London-based illustrator Daniel Clarke, we definitely did. In January 2012 we crowned him our Student of the Month, and two years on he’s still going strong – actually he’s going even stronger. We were always drawn to Dan’s work for its stunning use of texture in the creation of atmospheric scenes; the smudge of ink on paper denoting a bitterly grim London day, or variations in pattern serving as an allegory for tower blocks.

  3. List

    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

    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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.)

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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…