Continuing Education

“What I See”: Discovering Your Vision and Voice through Comics

Comic book creator Tatiana Gill found her truth in comics and, through her class Draw Your Story: Find Your Voice through Comics, she plans to guide others in doing the same.Image

Since she was old enough to peruse the printed page, Gill has been fascinated with the art of comic book storytelling, a creative medium that would ultimately take up boundless creative space in her life. “Comics are an extremely effective and fun way to communicate almost any kind of information. I am using comics to explain topics that can be difficult to talk about or understand, and I would like to do much more of that.”

Gill has seen the comic book industry grow and mature with the times, from a medium overrun by white male superhero power fantasies to a platform for celebrating diverse voices frequently dismissed by mainstream media. “Between my brother, myself and my parents, there were always comics around the house,” she recalls. “When I was a tween, my mom self-published her own autobiographical comic. Thanks to that we met many local Seattle cartoonists. Her new friends introduced us to underground comics that had autobiographical comics by women, LGBT+, and other underrepresented voices. Around that time, I also started collecting X-Men comics and going to comic stores to discover new titles. Around age 15 I got into Vertigo Comics, which were just coming out.”

Comics would ultimately become more than mere entertainment for Gill, but a means of creative self-expression she one day hoped to ply into a career. “I have always told my story through comics, even as a kid,” she recalls. “If I was fighting with my mom, I might draw a comic about it. One side of the page would be ‘What mom sees,’ and the other side would be ‘what I see.” My mom is a visual artist and both she and my brother got a kick out of my Imagecomics, which encouraged me. When I was thirteen, I kept a visual diary, with comics or illustrations describing the feelings I couldn’t put into words. Even in my twenties, when I was trying to get published drawing more typical comic stories, I would still do private comics about myself that I didn’t intend to submit anywhere. In my late twenties, I started putting these autobiographical comics into 'zines, and selling/trading them at conventions. That’s when I discovered other people liked them too!”

In her early twenties, Gill landed a job at Fantagraphics Books, a publisher known the world-over for a catalog of titles that successfully shattered expectations about the medium. It became more of an immersive experience than she anticipated. “I was no longer compelled by the stories of the superhero world, which starred perfect-looking, athletic, type-A people,” she recalls. “I saw people and stories I could relate to in Love and Rockets, Strangers in Paradise, and most of all, in autobiographical women’s comics about partying, roommate high jinx, and early life trauma. Now in my forties, I am still passionate about women’s autobiographical comics, but pulled more towards stories about health issues and life passages.”

Comics were there for Gill in her darkest periods, allowing her to shed a light where it was needed most. “In my late thirties, I started telling truly raw autobiographical stories about my alcoholism recovery and the self-harm leading up to it. Through that, I found a much stronger voice than I had ever had before. Those stories seemed to rip right out of me, demanding to be told, whether I wanted to tell them or not.”

Now with numerous self-published works to her name like Blackoutings: How I Quit Drinking, Living in the Now, Omnibusted and more, Gill has found her voice through comics—a siren song she looks forward to hearing from other creators. “What excites me most is the diversity growing in the industry,” she says. “Comics by and for women, LGBTQIA, POC, people of different walks of life, body types, and abilities. For too long the industry, the comics scene and comics fandom was an old boys club. I found that very discouraging and it kept me from getting involved, until it started to change, thanks to online comics dissolving the entry barriers.”

With Draw Your Story: Find Your Voice through Comics, Gill hopes to help students tell their story and create an opportunity to find healing for themselves and their communities. “I hope that by telling the stories that we often don’t hear in mainstream media, we will promote greater understanding, empathy, and compassion,” she says. “Through telling my story andImage the stories of those under-represented in my community, I have helped heal my own traumas, explain the struggles of civil rights leaders, and detail ways to help vulnerable populations through their own words. In this class we will look at a variety of different comic storytelling approaches by others, and practice a variety of comics approaches ourselves.”

If Gill has any agenda for her students, it is for them to garner confidence and explore their creative potential through comics. “I hope they will channel and hone the power they have to change the world through telling their story,” she says. “Although stories can be told in infinite mediums, I find comics to be one of the most accessible and powerful. Comics are approachable, they don’t require a certain reading level to get information out of them, and the combination of words and pictures can tell an engaging and moving story that helps put the reader in the narrator’s shoes.”

Learn more about Draw Your Story: Find Your Voice through Comics.

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