Interview: Sarah Lightman

Putting women in the frame


Sarah Lightman is a one-woman comics industry. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow and her research into Autobiographical Comics and Trauma has been published in numerous books and journals. Her visual diary, The Book of Sarah, will be published by Myriad Editions in 2016.

She is director of Laydeez do Comics, the foremost comics forum in the UK. She has edited Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women, a new book as well as a critically acclaimed exhibition curated by Lightman that has travelled the US and Canada and is in London currently at gallery Space Station 65.

She says her different roles - scholar, artist, and curator - "all feel integrated and interconnected. I love speaking about art to the public, teaching comics at JW3 and at universities. I also love the very silent space of art-making and academic writing."

The book and exhibition give space to silenced, unheard voices: "I think that, over the centuries, we have lost so many women's voices. For example, in general only the male voice, story and contribution is preserved in biblical texts and commentaries and talmudic literature. The same is true of the arts. Why is it that the majority of the canons for art, literature and the like are all [filled with] works created by men?

"I am constantly asked, 'Are there any Jewish women comics artists? Really? Enough to have a whole exhibition about them?' I knew I had to find a way to get the word out about the talented women working in comics today."

Central to the book project is her commitment to creating archives about women comic artists. "This book celebrates women's contributions to comics and makes it easier for researchers and enthusiasts to find out more about their work and their lives. Graphic Details: Jewish Women's Confessional Comics in Essays and Interviews is a much-needed resource, not only for those teaching courses on Jews and comics and women and comics.

"The beautiful, full-colour illustrations give a taste of many works not usually accessible, with interviews so you can read the artists own words. For example, Israeli comic artist Racheli Rottner's illuminating interview with Noa Lea Cohn is her first in English. Paul Gravett and myself interviewed Corinne Pearlman, whose brilliant comics about British Jewish Life, 'Playing the Jewish Card', were a regular feature in Jewish Quarterly, but have not yet been collected into a publication. I'm hoping my book will be the springboard for more collections and works in translation by Jewish women comic artists."

The book will engage both academic and popular audiences. "I edited the essays carefully to make sure they were both informative and accessible. From the Graphic Lesbian Continuum - where Dr Heike Bauer writes about Israeli artist Ilana Zeffren's weekly columns in Israeli newspapers, showing her and her queer, feline family - to Joanne Leonard's beautiful and moving piece that compares her own photographic and collage-based work, My Journal of a Miscarriage 1973 to Diane Noomin's comic Baby Talk: A Tale of 4 Miscarriages.

"Publishing this essay with many examples of artists' work, has been very fulfilling and, I think, culturally important. There is so much universal humanity in the artwork: trauma, family issues, questions of identity, and broken hearts, which are not gender or faith specific. The incidents in the Graphic Details show and book emphasise the poetry and value of our everyday life experiences."

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