“People assume the series is about geriatric seafarers!” cartoonist Lucy Bellwood reveals the secrets of Baggywrinkles

Baggywrinkles_coverLucy Bellwood’s Baggywrinkles is one of those comics that had us intrigued from the first moment we heard the title. Which is a good thing because the synopsis of it being about life on tall ships might have put us off checking it out – which would have been a huge mistake! However thanks to it’s charming art and gentle humour we are now converts to these utterly delightful nautical tales and we felt compelled to get in touch with the creator of Baggywrinkles to find out more about this genuinely unique comic.

“”I wanted to capture the excitement I had felt at discovering this was still something you could do, and then communicate that to a new audience of young readers.”

Baggywrinkles is based on your time sailing tall ships, it’s quite an unconventional subject for a comic, what inspired you to start making a comic about this?

Lucy Bellwood: I was on a train heading to a five-day summer session at the Center for Cartoon Studies backn in 2010. I knew I was going to have to try and create a comic start-to-finish in my time there, and since most of my idols at the time were women making autobio comics on the web I thought, “well, this should be easy! Just make a comic about something you’ve done.” Except…what had I done that was remotely unique or interesting? How I could possibly think of anything that was—oh, wait. The boat thing. That’ll do!

After the mad dash of finishing that first minicomic at CCS I kept coming back to Baggywrinkles in between other projects from year to year. As I built my career in comics, met people, contributed to anthologies, learned my way around social media, and tackled larger projects, I kept making time to add installments to this weird niche I’d begun to colonise.

How does it differ from your other autobiographical comics and what is it about telling stories about yourself that you find so inspiring?

LB: Funnily enough I think Baggywrinkles (as a book) is one of my least autobiographical comics. The important autobio element is that I went there. I did this thing. And the book exists as proof that you, the reader, could go do that thing, too. The rest of it is mostly history and comedy and things that have stuck out as important to me. We’re really used to reading books about pirates or naval heroes or maritime history that are steeped in the romance of the past. I wanted to capture the excitement I had felt at discovering this was still something you could do, and then communicate that to a new audience of young readers.

A lot of my other autobiographical work is deeply personal and covers more traditional ground: emotional history, self-image, identity, exploration, etc. But the stories that get me most excited generally use the self as a lens for getting people out into parts of the world they may not have experienced before.

Autobio can reflect parts of ourselves back and help us understand that we’re not alone. Adventurous autobio helps us understand that new experiences aren’t as far off or impossible as we might imagine. My goal is to help people see the world around them as a daily adventure – something to be engaged with like an explorer on a voyage.

“My goal is to help people see the world around them as a daily adventure – something to be engaged with like an explorer on a voyage.”

We love the way you mix stories with fact pages, did you have any inspirations creatively for how you wanted to structure the book? And which comics and cartoonists inspire you in general?

LB: As I said before: Baggywrinkles wasn’t drawn straight through, or even really conceptualized as a complete “book” until I put together the Kickstarter to publish the collection, so this is an interesting question. Since each chapter was drawn about a year apart, my influences were shifting pretty dramatically from part to part. At the start I was still drunk on having read [Craig Thompson’s] Blankets for the first time, and I think you can see that willingness to play with panel borders and page layouts throughout the first couple chapters. I can tell you that the Horrible Histories books were a huge inspiration for the chapter on Scurvy, as were Kate Beaton’s delightful history comics from Hark, A Vagrant. But it’s been all over the map.

Did you do much sketching and planning while out on the boat or did you do it all on dry land? I’m guessing source material and accuracy were of paramount importance in getting the look and feel right, so how much research and fact checking did you need to do after the fact?

LB: The book was started long after my live-aboard stint on the Lady Washington (which was also long before I decided to become a cartoonist), so I wasn’t doing much sketching at the time. Since starting the series, though, I’ve had some amazing opportunities to sail with organizations and make comics about the work that they’re doing. Back in 2014 I joined the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in the world, for a historic voyage on the East Coast. The comic that came out of the trip was partly sketched out during the voyage, though it was so short that a lot of the painting had to be completed upon my return.

As far as accuracy goes in Baggywrinkles, I mostly relied on photographs I’d take while aboard, or Google Image searches for other people’s photographs from crewing aboard. I’m not as much of stickler for accuracy as most people think. I have written a post on common boat mistakes in art, which I hope is helpful, but honestly past a few really glaring errors, I’m just game to see more tall ships in comics.

“I’ve had some regrets about the obscurity of the term, since folks tend to render it as two words and/or automatically assume the series is about geriatric seafarers”

Baggywrinkles is a brilliant name for the book – were there ever any alternative titles in the running?

LB: Haha, once again the hurried chaos of that week at CCS comes back to haunt me. Baggywrinkles are the very first thing people ask about every time they set foot on the Lady Washington, and it’s really such a delightful word I couldn’t think of anything else at the time to call the collection.

That being said I’ve had some regrets about the obscurity of the term, since folks tend to render it as two words and/or automatically assume the series is about geriatric seafarers (which would actually be a pretty excellent book, brb).

The book has just been released via ComiXology, how has it been released previously and how do you think releasing it digitally has helped you get the word out there?

LB: I self-published the first five chapters of the book as a series of minicomics between 2010 and 2015, while also releasing them online through my website. The sixth chapter, all about the history of scurvy, was only available online until the Kickstarter campaign to print the collected edition. That’s where ComiXology came in. After I’d raised the funds to print the book, Chris Murphy from ComiXology approached me about getting it on the site through the ComiXology Submit platform, which helps independent creators get their work into the system.

I’m a big believer in making it as easy as possible for people to find the work that you do. If they respond to the material, you get to forge a connection, and those connections are what’s helped me build my career. I already sell PDF editions of the book through Gumroad, but not everyone uses Gumroad! If there’s a reader who isn’t familiar with Baggywrinkles, but encounters it through ComiXology, so much the better.

” I have written a post on common boat mistakes in art, which I hope is helpful, but honestly past a few really glaring errors, I’m just game to see more tall ships in comics”

Are you still sailing and what can we look forward to from you next?

LB: I’ve got a couple really exciting sailing-related projects coming up: in August I’ll be joining the Oliver Hazard Perry, Rhode Island’s official tall ship, for a ten-day summer camp teaching teenagers about life at sea. The comic that comes out of that experience will hopefully serve as a shipboard introduction to kids on sail training vessels, covering basic terminology, shipboard life, and more. Think of it as a slightly more technical Baggywrinkles appendix.

Then, in December, I’m shipping out with the Schmidt Ocean Institute, who run the R/V Falkor, to explore the Pacific Ocean between Guam and Honolulu and craft a hybrid comic-coloring book about the oceanographic research that’s being conducted on board. I’m beside myself with excitement about both these opportunities, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of the experience.

Finally, what is your favourite nautical term or fact that you include in Baggywrinkles?

LB: My favorites are actually the ones I didn’t get to include in Baggywrinkles, since it turns out that even though I was drawing these stories for myself, the over-all effect is that they’re best marketed to a middle reader audience. This meant having to forego the list of Definitely Not Filthy Sailing Terminology that I had the pleasure of putting together for The Nib a couple years ago. The ludicrous terms included there are definitely some of my favourites.

You can purchase Baggywrinkles on ComiXology for £3.99 and find out more about Lucy on Twitter: @LuBellWoo, Tumblr: lucybellwood, Instagram: @LuBellWoo, on Facebook: Baggywrinkles, Soundcloud: Lucy Bellwood (for panels, interviews, and comics classes I’ve taught!), her Homepage: lucybellwood.com or her Patreon age: patreon.com/lucybellwood