Posts Tagged ‘Fluffy’

Sam Bain passed me on to Simone Lia. Bain had picked up one of the early editions of ‘Fluffy’ and got in touch with her by email. They’ve stayed in touch and Lia describes him as “a really friendly and supportive guy, very down to earth and he just helps people a lot with their work.”simone-800x500

The first thing that you need to know about the comic book artist Simone Lia is that she’s a very patient interviewee. On the week I was due to meet her, I got invited to the opening of a new restaurant so I emailed her and  asked her if she fancied it. ‘That sounds like brilliant fun, what time?’ she replied. When we turned up, it wasn’t brilliant fun. On a warm summer Tuesday, loads of assorted other freeloaders had turned up to fill their boots with champers and shellfish. We couldn’t get anywhere near the grub and could barely hear each other, sort of hovering in a spot where we thought it was least likely we’d get knocked against in the melee. Weird sort of thing to do with someone you’ve just met. We lasted about ten minutes before we left for somewhere civilised where we could sit down and actually hear each other.

I don’t read comic books; not because I don’t like them, I just don’t know where to start. Two of her characters, the incredibly sweet Chip & Bean, had entered my consciousness somehow though. You might know her because of a small, challenging rabbit called Fluffy or for the courageous, soul-baring ‘Please God Find Me a Husband!’. She also draws a regular strip for The Observer. Fluffy is owned by Michael (although it’s unclear how this happened) and apart from the fact he doesn’t think he’s a rabbit, he’s essentially a surrogate child, innocently misbehaving by painting on the walls of Michael’s kitchen, blurting out inappropriate truths that cause Michael to blush and constantly wanting to go to McDonalds. There’s a decent history of rabbits and men having relationships in culture, what with James Stewart’s best mate Harvey and Donnie Darko telling Jake Gyllenhaal the world is going to end. Why a rabbit? To anyone who has read ‘Fluffy’, it’s perhaps no surprise that he started off as a child.

“I was interested in a father child relationship. And then when I drew it, it wasn’t sweet enough so I started drawing a rabbit instead as it had the qualities I was looking for, which was being very vulnerable and sweet and tiny. A character that you wanted to pick up and hug. And in a comic you can do that, you can have these characters that are completely unreal and you believe it. I drew a rabbit and it just resonated. It was a picture of a man and a rabbit sitting on a bench and the rabbit says ‘You smell like my Daddy’. And thats when I started investigating the characters a bit more.”

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Comic books, or graphic novels, started being taken seriously around the time of Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ back in 1987. Instead of being just for kids, comics became things with violence and characters that had anxieties, rather than the superheroes of yore. I think you know a comic book is good when you forget you’re reading drawings and you’re invested in the characters. ‘Fluffy’ will certainly make you smile, but there are also parts of it that might have you anxiously biting your lip, hoping that the uncomfortable emotional situation you’re witnessing will turn out alright. Be warned – you might also find yourself forming your own relationship with Fluffy. His Instagram account is a thing of wonder.

Having first appeared in 2007, Lia is now working on another instalment. Michael and Fluffy will both be ten years older and Lia says that “It’s really interesting to get into the mind of a man in his 40s. How has he changed? How has he developed? His relationships, what’s going on in his life? How is he relating to Fluffy? It’s a different dynamic.” She’s got the story arc worked out and about 40 pages drawn – the deadline is next summer. Seems it takes quite a lot of time to get a comic book together and a lot of that time consists of thinking. “The more I play out scenes in my head, I imagine who they are. For me they’re really real. Sometimes I think ‘I’ll go round to Mike’s house’ or ‘Fluffy would like that’. Before I started writing the storyline, I had to think for weeks. It’s like watching films in my head. And then me drawing the characters because that helps with the thinking process.”

It’s the opposite of my own working life – I wish I had more time to think before I have to ‘do’. Given that she spends so much time thinking and then creating, is it difficult for Lia to relate to people who have regular nine to five jobs? “I don’t find it hard to relate to people. Sometimes I get jealous of people in normal jobs because they’re working with other people! I used to teach at the University of Westminster. I had to go to a meeting and I remember the thrill of thinking ‘I’M IN A MEETING’, it was really exciting. And then I thought, I hope they don’t ask me what I think because I don’t know what they are talking about.’ I was just really excited about pretending to be at work.”

This is told in a great south London accent and ends with a very endearing giggle. Lia has the kind of shiny, raven hair that looks like it would be at home in one of those L’Oreal ads that Cheryl Cole does. Very dark eyes too, that contain plenty of the mischief you’ll find in her work and also something of the mystical – we’ll come to that soon enough. She’s a lot more attractive than the version of herself you’ll find in the opening pages of ‘Please God, find me a husband!’ where she appears as a kind of frumpy, bespectacled librarian who’s miserable, having just been dumped. Mulling this as she walks through Leicester Square, the character decides to ask God what will become of her. “Well, to cut to the chase, God – I’m going to be thirty-four in two weeks time and if you want me to marry someone you’re going to need to get a bit of a move on.” The scene ends with God cheering her up by dancing with her to an INXS song. Which is just how you thought that was going to pan out, right? Pleasegod

What follows is a story familiar to many people in their late twenties or early thirties: the search for a soulmate. This journey involves going on retreat, travelling to Australia and revisiting her past. The twist is that God is along for the ride as Lia is a devout Catholic. Rather than the title of the book being an exasperated common expression, it’s a prayer to her maker to help her out. Obviously I can’t tell you if she finds her man – you’ll have to read the book. But what an incredibly brave thing, to put your life out there like that. It’s fair to say it wasn’t all plain sailing.

“When I was doing it I kept stopping and thinking ‘I don’t want to say all this; it’s really personal and embarrassing’. At the beginning when I had the idea I thought I was going to be this holy lady and then when I was writing it I realised I’m not like that at all. I had to put in the stuff that was quite embarrassing because I thought ‘I’ve got to keep it real, I can’t just stay stuff that’s going to make me look good because then it’s not going to be authentic.’

One notably courageous part of the book is when Lia revisits her childhood self, which seems particularly painful. “When I was praying I saw all that. I do think that I needed some healing and I couldn’t quite handle it – I didn’t want God in there. I’ve got all this brokeness but sometimes you can’t even accept the healing that goes with it, it’s just too painful. I wasn’t ready to receive it even then. I was a bit worried about my parents seeing that as well, I didn’t want to upset them. You’ve got to be a bit delicate.” Later in our conversation she will tell me about violent situations between her parents. “There have been some situations that have not been good.”

As she carries on talking about the kind of soul baring necessary to finish the book, she describes a compulsion to keep going and alludes to a higher power at work, “Every time I stopped I would have some weird intervention, usually by a stranger on a bus talking me back into it and I would think ‘how did that just happen?’” Along the way she realised the book wasn’t really for her and now she has the letters to prove it, from people who’ve read it and written to tell her how it has helped them. As you might have guessed from the opening scene where she dances with God to INXS, it’s not all soul searching. There’s plenty of laughs to be had to, not least when Lia morphs into Penelope Cruz when confronted by a Crocodile Dundee type.

Perhaps because of the lack of a spiritual dimension in my own life, people who have faith fascinate me. Where does it come from? “I think there is a lot of different ways that God can speak to people but in my experience that audible voice has happened and you know that it’s not your voice. It’s outside of you but also inside of you. That was my experience. But I’ve also had experience of just having felt God there and it’s as if someone was actually standing there”. For a long time she says she had some sense of an inner voice or some higher wisdom but just ignored it. That the answer to what that was ended up being in the Catholic church was as much a surprise to her as anyone else.

To her credit she’s aware of the frustrations of language to articulate spirituality. Does she think you can explain what it’s like to have faith to somebody who doesn’t have any? “You can give it a go but I’m also aware that it can sound like a load of mumbo jumbo. I have to remember that before I had my experience that I was in the same boat. I didn’t believe in anything particularly. I can say that I have a relationship with God but I’m aware that can just sound like nothing really. I could just be talking about myself – I’ve got a relationship with myself.”

Before we go our separate ways, she tells me that her favourite artist (currently anyway) is a vlogger called Casey Neistat who she has discovered researching material for the next book ‘because Fluffy likes Youtube.’ As we come up into a warm summer London night she tells me that she’s going to walk to Elephant and Castle and we say our goodbyes. A day later she emails to say she kept walking beyond there, arriving two hours later back in Brockley. I can’t help wondering if it was God or a small, cute rabbit that she had for company in her head along the way.

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