Ryan Prout talks to Michi Mathias about the world behind her latest story.

Ryan Prout sat down with A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR creator Michi Mathias to talk about representing the reality of care giving in comics, and her artistic approach to translating real life onto the page.

Your strip for AINW has a factual feel to it, and gives the reader a sense of what a day in the life of a care worker is like. How did you achieve this?

Very luckily for me, I have a friend who does this job. I spoke with her for hours and took pages of notes, and then tried to make a cohesive story. Every bit of this really did happen to her, though not in this sequence, of course. I met with my friend a couple more times to show her my drafts and make sure I hadn’t misrepresented anything and she was concerned she might’ve sounded too negative, but I think it just shows honestly what hard work they really do.

Based on your research, what surprised, or impressed you, the most about what working as a care giver entails? What don‘t we know about care giving that we should know?

I was completely overwhelmed to learn all this! The sheer amount of work, the long distances driving all day which can start before dawn on early shift, the incredible responsibility for someone’s wellbeing, how much is unknown until the moment of arriving. I’m afraid I’d never even wondered about what happens if you’re released from hospital and you’re on your own.

In your work, how do you negotiate between making complex concepts clear and not sacrificing detail?

Good question. I think I probably do tend to err on the side of detail if the purpose is to explain something but always I’m trying to find the clearest, simplest way. I love flow charts and Venn diagrams and automatically visualise info into graphics that way. Even as a child, I was told by other kids that I was good at helping them with biology and things like that, and I guess that’s just something I naturally like doing.

What drew you back into working as an artist after a hiatus?

For some unknown reason I signed up to an online “30-Day Challenge” six years ago, all about creating something in a month, and then couldn’t think what to do. I decided to attempt an illustrated project, although – or because – I’d accidentally stopped drawing decades earlier. And to my amazement, I’d loosened up away from my unsatisfactory photorealism efforts, and people said they loved my style – I didn’t know I even had one! My first clients were from that group, which gave me confidence to carry on.

How does working with analogue materials differ from digital, and which do you prefer?

I love ink on paper, fountain pens, dip pens and watercolour, and have to admit I’ve never tried digital beyond what’s necessary to make corrections after scanning my work. I do understand that I could save a lot of time and make things easier for myself, but just haven’t been inspired to make the effort and investment to learn. Maybe someday…

What are some of the other projects that you’re working on, and how do you decide which stories to develop?

All my comics are based on reality – I’ve never had a proper creative idea in my life! I often have to draw what’s going through my head after seeing or hearing something; my very first comic was made, quite spontaneously, after finding a terribly annoying product for sale. True stories of dumb things I’ve done also feature. My big current project is a graphic novel called Two Shillings a Day, based on a wonderful true story from 1897 involving a London tailor, bicycles, camping, and Ireland.

You can follow Michi’s work at her website and on twitter @MichiMathias

March 27, 2018