Brighton-born and London-based cartoonist Josephine M.K. Edwards has a portfolio that bursts with talent. As macabre as it is idiosyncratic, a peek into Josephine’s world invites a dizzying mix of humour and gothic surrealism. “My journey into illustration began as a teenager on Tumblr, where I wrote autobiographical comics about the most embarrassing and humiliating aspects of my life as a form of exorcism,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I was uploading these for free online and had my first comic Emmy published by Space Face Books when I was 18.” It’s an impressively young age to have a comic published, but Josephine’s uncanny knack for capturing a reader’s attention is undeniable. Emmy, for example, was about “teenage monster girls get high by ‘broomsticking’, rubbing mushrooms and stuff onto the handle of a broom and climbing on them naked,” she tells us.
“Female abjection has always been the driving force behind my stories and illustrations and I greatly enjoy exposing private inner worlds,” she adds. “I wanted to post and express these hidden secret humiliations in order to connect with other girls who felt fucked up and embarrassed and wrong and like they were naive and bad people for trying to figure it out.” Whilst Josephine’s strength of message is apparent in the way she describes these comics, reflective humour isn’t lost on her: “I also really wanted attention from strangers online and posting this stuff was a great way to do it, I’m just lucky it transmuted into something much more meaningful for me.”
As for the elements of her aesthetic which Josephine is known for her, she points to three keywords: “inky, visceral, and lumpy”. Often, this is because her process of working is unplanned and straight from the pen. “I see the process as having a fly buzzing around my head that I need to splat onto a piece of paper,” she explains. “I like my pages to be busy, specifically in my recent comic Will-O'-The-Wisp.” In this, Josephine’s latest release with Breakdown Press, we see pages filled with the kind of details others may usually omit or forget altogether: Stella Artois cans, CD racks, steering wheel game controllers, air fresheners, cigarettes and exotic rodents decorate every crevice. “These objects make me feel particularly depressed, which I love putting into my art,” Josephine notes.
The idea for a story is often based on these kinds of feelings and emotions, which guide Josephine to the page. Rather than a straightforward story or character, she waits for something she feels is emotive enough to explore. “For the Will-O'-The-Wisp, I wanted to capture the feeling of following the end of the rope you’re tethered to in order to find the person who was looking after you, and finding after all that you were alone all along,” she explains. On its own accord, such a subject matter may appear difficult or too sensitive to appropriately cover in cartoons and comics. But, Josephine’s unique perspective makes it all work. “I have had difficult relationships with absent, bully-type men in my life, and have acknowledged my need to be accepted and loved by individuals who hate everyone and everything, apart from me,” she tells us. “Will-O' explores that side of my personality which has led to a lot of wasted time, tears and shame, and trying to unpick the thread and free myself from that particularly alluring and delicious form of approval.” From this, comes a basic script for each piece as Josephine goes on, “and then when it gets to inking I put them up on a washing line in my room which feels very nice to look at as it gets longer and longer,” she says.
As for what’s next, Josephine is still riding off the success of Will-O'-The-Wisp and uploading her current comic, P.S., for free onto her Instagram and website. “Similarly to my attraction towards depressing objects this comic is set in an office, so I can include a lot of horrible motivational signs and office art of coffee cups,” she says. Additionally, Josephine promises other fulfilling ventures. “I also want to practice my tattooing to support myself alongside setting up a screen printing station at home, so I’m able to make more clothing and poster designs.” But, most of all she tells us: “I just would like to continue expressing the horrible and secret parts of my life forever.”
Josephine M. K. Edwards: Will-O'-The-Wisp (Copyright © Josephine Edwards & Breakdown Press, 2020)