Grace Helmer's new comic is a wonky journey through space and time
Stepping away from her usual autobiographical works, Grace Helmer tells us about her new comic which applies her illustrative style to a more philosophical storyline.
- Lucy Bourton
- 24 February 2021
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
“I suppose I just got bored with myself as the subject,” says beloved London-based illustrator Grace Helmer on the abstract focus of her latest comic book, Speck. Centring around a narrative with an oil-painted comic “about a blob that moves through space and time,” Grace’s latest title features all the illustrative details we’ve grown to know her for, yet with a beautifully conceptual subject.
Refocusing on this almost philosophical narrative may come as a surprise to some of the illustrator’s fans, known largely for her autobiographical works or paintings depicting recognisable scenes. Across both personal and commissioned works, these projects were near and dear to Grace at the time, describing each as “stories I had an urge to tell, and the telling helped me figure out some things, so then I could move on,” she tells us. However, taking the quieter period of the past 12 months to reflect on the initial reasons and motivations for her craft, (as well as “my mind becoming warped by having to promote myself on social media”) Grace explains: “It felt like I had lost the part of me that used to dive into subjects I was interested in just because I was interested, the part that would take the time to research and try things out become coming up with any final artwork.”
A hugely relatable feeling – especially for any creative with growing success and, in turn, a growing pile of commissions – Grace recently decided to combat it, heading back into her folders of references compiled over the years. Dually re-reading stories she finds inspiring, Speck’s storyline began to take shape. For instance one “big influence” is Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino (a collection of 12 shorts which take a “scientific ‘fact’ and builds an imaginative story around it”) and Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds, of which Grace points to the line, “I was born as a breakfast pastry in the fancy part of France and hours after I was born I was still warm from the heat of the oven” as a key inspiration.
Collectively these influences led Grace to want to create a comic which would “combine this wonky view of travelling through space and time, with feelings of being quite small and insignificant but still having these big emotions,” she explains. “That you could be a croissant but have all these feelings and no one would ever know.” The illustrator channels this idea into her central character Speck, a tiny little white blob with the sweetest smirk journeying through the sea and sky at first, and onward to more everyday scenes.
Really taking her time with this self-initiated, self-published project as “Covid took away any urgency really”, Grace describes Speck as an example of her spending “more time writing and editing and deleting bits before I was happy with it,” she adds. With commissioned work running alongside, this also added welcome breaks for Grace to step back from Speck and reflect on its development. Time passing also had a more optimistic effect on the comic’s storyline too, with the ending switching for more hope around six months into pandemic. “I learned that though a sentence or a phrase may sound great, if it doesn’t serve the story then just cut it and get over it!”
A truly expansive story full of abstractly relatable moments dependent on your point of view, when asking Grace what she hopes readers will learn or gain from picking up the comic she leaves it suitably open-ended and intriguing by answering: “To try a crisp sandwich if they haven’t already.” You’ll have to pick up a copy to see exactly what she means!
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.