A Coffee with… KARRIE FRANSMAN! At the London Book Fair 2015

CPP - Karrie Fransman Until the panel I’d just attended, of which Karrie Fransman was part, I was rather unaware of her broader work beyond her first and second graphic novels. What had intrigued me most, which I’d heard about in a meeting with one of her editors at Jonathan Cape, was her work for the Red Cross which, I later discovered, won Broken Frontier’s Best One-Shot 2014 award.
Karrie was good enough to agree to a post-panel coffee and interview and, amongst many other things, this was something I was particularly keen to hear about and the first subject we talked about.

Looking briefly back, the LBF panel I’d attended on Tuesday had TPub’s Neil Gibson talking on how businesses and public institutions were using comics to communicate internally and externally. A particular surprise and of particular interest was hearing how the 9/11 Commission had turned to the medium to get across the contents of a hefty report that nobody had read. Clearly the Red Cross had had similar thoughts for National Refugee Week with the aim of challenging misrepresentations refugees and have their voices heard.

They wanted someone to produce a comic based on the true story of a brave teenage Kurdish Iranian refugee called Ebrahim. Visiting Gosh! Comics and talking with stalwart of the London comic scene (and the host for tomorrow’s panel) Steven Walsh, they went away with a number of recommendations of whom Karrie was one; ultimately they chose her for the project and the responsibility of telling his story. The resulting comic, Over Under Sideways Down, was covered in major newspapers across the spectrum and tweeted about by Neil Gaiman, Simon Pegg and many more. CPP - KF - Over Under Sideways Down

What’s interesting, and relating back to the subject of the ‘Why the Graphic Novel’ panel and the particular strengths of sequential art, is that Karrie frames the metaphorical sequences, such as the emotional attachment of Ebrahim’s geographically distant mother represented by an umbilical cord of beads, as magical realism. Mind this is sequential art, not prose where such categorisations are unnecessary; as had just been discussed at the panel, the medium is perfectly suited for metaphor, phantasmagoria… the abstract and surreal – something that features strongly in Karrie’s work.

We move on to her career and comic journalism or reportage. This is clearly one of Karrie’s passions but she’d found it a hard sell to newspapers. Instead she went into creative advertising, becoming familiar with business communication, before finding success in sequential art. She now works full time on comics, project by project.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Karrie is currently working on two projects, and the promise of either is pretty mind-blowing. I’m mindful of an earlier part of our discussion, reflecting on some of the things raised in the panel and, in particular, how Julie Birmant and Clement Oubrerie preferred to work with established constraints. Karrie is quite the opposite, as in no small part demonstrated by her sequential sculptures (! – see our Profile Page on Karrie for more) and taking the form into three dimensions both geometrically and culturally is just what the first project is!

It’s a major installation at the Southbank Centre as part of their 2015 Alchemy festival on South Asian arts, a work she’s effectively project managing, a collaboration between two Bangladeshi comic artists and a set designer. She describes it as a ‘paper theatre’, a comic you can walk into!

As explained on the Southbank Centre’s website: LE - Street Stories of Bangladesh
Pother Golpo recreates a typical Bangladeshi street scene, with 2D buildings, street furniture, cars, bikes and pedestrians on specially designed installation pieces. New commissions from a trio of leading graphic novelists invoke the richness, complexity and intensity of everyday life in Dhaka and other Bangladeshi cities.
Graphic novelist Karrie Fransman recently travelled to Bangladesh with the British Council, and Bangladeshi graphic novelists Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy and Asifur Rahman have participated in reciprocal exchanges to the UK.

The installation is inspired by the artists’ experiences of Bangladeshi cities – they even include themselves in the unfolding story.

It runs from the 15th-25th May with certain live events happening at different times around it; there’s a preview from Karrie’s camera at the bottom of this page.

CA - KF - Van-Dyck-self-portrait-1641 Karrie’s second project is completely different. She’s been asked to be one of the artists involved in the ‘Artists in the Frame’ touring exhibition, as Sir Anthony Van Dyke’s last Self-Portrait visits galleries around the country to celebrate its public acquisition for the UK in 2009 by the National Portrait Gallery. At each stop will be a self-portrait of a contemporary artist and Karrie has the Manchester gig. She expresses some trepidation, identified and identifying more strongly with the literary side of things, at her debut in a fine art environment, but that’s to be expected.

Certainly from the sneak peak I got of the early stages of the work her scheme, quite aside from the quality of the artwork, is going to get people talking: Components of her inner selves compete for recognition in a metaphorical wrestling match around the frame of the portrait (Van Dyck himself having been almost inevitably involved in the choice of framing of his own). It’s a narrative piece rather than static art.

Ah, but what’s in the portrait itself? You’ll have to wait and find out…

In the mean time there’s the fantastic Pother Golpo exhibition to discover (see some amazing preview photo’s taken by Karrie below!) which, at the time of writing, is opening its doors now. There’s also that Red Cross Refugee Week Comic to check out, as relevant now as it was on release, and likewise deserving of being read and shared. And then there’s Karrie’s still recently released second graphic novel Death of the Artist. CBP JC - Death of the Artist

In short much work from Karrie Fransman. But for all she’s now established and taking the sequential form to entirely new places (something absolutely relevant to the next LBF comic’s panel) Karrie, as I heard during and after this interview, retains a huge passion for comics Reportage and its relevance and potential. Now with two graphic novels, work for a national humanitarian awareness campaign, being a part of a high-profile (also national) portrait tour, and an international installation collaboration under her belt, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be some Reportage coming our way before too long, whether from those nay-sayers in Karrie’s early career or others who’ve come to recognise the unique potential of the medium.



CA - KF - Alchemy 1
CA - KF - Alchemy 5 CA - KF - Alchemy 3
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More articles from the London Book Fair 2015:

A Panel and Chat with Comic Publisher TPub’s Neil Gibson

Why the Graphic Novel? Panel coverage from The London Book Fair 2015

The London Book Fair: An Author’s Perspective by Chele Cooke