We sat down with Gemma Correll, an LA-based cartoonist from England, to discuss the comic she created for Ginger Chats and how and why she’s able to express herself best on paper.
Ginger: Thank you for talking with me and for making the amazing comic that you did for Ginger Chats. Everybody here who has seen it, loves it. Can you tell me a little bit about how you came up with the idea?
Gemma Correll: Well, I was thinking about the way that I've kind of always dealt with anxieties about speaking, like public speaking, or even speaking up in class… I often have an idea in my head and I’m not able to articulate it the way I want to. I might be able to articulate the words exactly in my head, but as soon as they come out of my mouth they just jumble up.
Something like just ordering in a restaurant is a nightmare for me because I’ll practice and practice in my head again and again, and then, when it comes to ordering, I'll just say the wrong thing so I've always preferred writing and drawing to express myself.
Ginger: When did you start creating comics to express yourself?
Gemma: Since I was a little kid, I've always journaled. I was good at converting ideas into imagery. In elementary school, I would buy notebooks and then make little comics and story books out of them, but it was more just straight storytelling.
Ginger: So many of your comics are about insecurities and anxieties that so many of us can relate to. So, I'm wondering when did you realize that this was a topic you wanted to illustrate about and then eventually make a career out of?
Gemma: All through high school I kept these illustrated journals. So I'd have a whole page a day and I’d write and illustrate my days. I always kept a sketchbook. That's always been a really important part of my process. One day my professor in college looked at the sketchbook and said, this is the work that you should be doing. I was trying to do what I thought was proper illustration work, you know. And I just thought of what I did in my journals as stupid little scribbles—nothing anyone else would be interested in.
When I was graduating it was around the same time when social media was getting big. At first I didn't share any of my illustrations on social media because I didn’t think anyone would be interested, but one day I just put one of my sketchbook drawings up. You know, I didn't have many followers back then, but I kind of felt like putting something up. And people actually responded really well to it, and they related to it. I realized that this was something that I should maybe be sharing more. People like it and it's something that I personally enjoy making and sharing. So, it just kind of went from there.
Ginger: Now that you have such a big social media following, do you feel pressure to draw what you think people will connect to?
Gemma: I try to create work that's based on my experiences. My best work is always stuff that comes from my own life. And I don't try to make stuff for social media, because I think that you can see when that happens, like it's kind of obvious when it's not the truth and it's not coming from the heart, you know.
Ginger: Some of your comics make me laugh out loud, which is rare for an illustration to have that effect on me. I think some of my favorites that stand out are “The Stay-at-Home Fairy Tales” and “Pasta Shapes for the Depressed.” I love those.
For these mash-ups of two concepts, I'm wondering how you come up with those ideas and what your process is like if you have one.
Gemma: I use my sketchbooks a lot, so a lot of the time I'll just sit and I'll just kind of draw stuff that comes to my head, without any real knowledge of what direction it's going to go in. I’ll just be doodling pasta shapes and then a lot of the work that I do is based on wordplay. I’ll just come up with one punchline and then I’ll be like, “Well now, I have to make 10 more.” So, that's what happened with the pasta shapes.
For the Stay-at-Home Fairy Tales, I’ve been doing a lot of pandemic related work, and that one I did for the New Years. I think I thought of Peter Pandemic and then I had to see what else I could do. I thought, maybe some fairy tales.
Ginger: So for Ginger Chats, our theme is storytelling and we talk about how storytelling has the power to change the storyteller because it can help them see their experience in a new way by telling it. So I was wondering, do you find that when you draw about some of your anxieties or insecurities, does it help you process them?
Gemma: Yeah, it definitely does. Just the act of getting it down onto paper makes it something that I can see. I'm not good at just processing things in my head and I tend to just overthink them and let them percolate, but actually the process of getting them out of my head and down onto paper is really, really helpful. When it's in my head, issues seem unsolvable and complex, and getting them down on paper makes them slightly more clear.
Ginger: Have you been surprised by the response to some of your comics? Do people ever reach out and share with you about their own anxieties in response to what you've drawn?
Gemma: Quite often people do that and I'm always surprised, just because what I do is so personal. I think this is a lot of people's experience that people think, “this is unique to me and I'm the only one who does this particular crazy thing,” and then 10 other people say “Oh that's exactly how I feel too.” For me, it's great, and I hope for other people it is helpful and makes them feel less alone.
Ginger: I think your comics do a lot to destigmatize mental health by approaching mental health from a light and fun perspective. I think that approach helps people see that it’s OK to laugh at these issues sometimes, and that other people are going through the same thing.
Gemma: Right. Mental health is not your whole life. It's part of your life and it's a part of a lot of people's lives and yeah, it's OK to laugh at it sometimes.
Ginger: I completely agree. I can relate to a lot of the things that you've talked about, and that you draw about, so it’s really been fun to talk with you. Thank you so much.
Gemma: Thank you so much. I’m sorry about my dog snoring in the background.