Where Would You Be Without It? An artist talk with Eleanor Davis

by Cailey Tervo


Last week, comic artist and illustrator Eleanor Davis visited my comics class here at CCAD, where she gave a talk about how she found her style, her career, and how she learned to be happy. Alum of the Savannah College of Art and Design, Eleanor is currently hanging out here in Columbus via a residency at the Thurber House, sponsored by the Columbus Museum of Art.  If you are interested in knowing more about her and her work, the CMA is currently showing an exhibit of her original artwork until February 14th, 2016.

Eleanor fell in love with comics when she was a kid through titles such as Little Nemo in Slumberland, Popeye, Moomin, and some Japanese manga. As she went into high school, she discovered the growing indie comic scene via artists such as John Porcellino, Tom Hart, and Kevin Huizenga. Inspired and without the Internet to express herself, Eleanor began creating zines and minicomics while still in high school. She created more than twenty zines and comics while still in high school, and went on to major in sequential art at the Savannah College of Art and Design. While pursuing her love of comics in college, Eleanor also studied and minored in illustration.

After she graduated from SCAD, Eleanor had the opportunity to make two kids-graphic novels, Stinky and Secret Science Alliance. While she felt proud of these works, she found that they weren’t representational of the art that she liked or the indie comics that originally inspired her. She completed Secret Science Alliance (with the help of her husband and fellow comic artist Drew Weing), but doing so left her completely creatively and socially drained. She had trouble leaving her house, let alone interacting with other human beings, and she began to wonder if making art was making her sick.

Eleanor began to question herself. She lingered on a quote by poet and author Rainer Maria Rilke, “Would you have to die if you were forbidden to write?” When she applied the quote to illustration and comics, Eleanor had to be honest with herself. Would she die if she couldn’t make art? After some thought, her answer to the question was “no.”**

This answer left her questioning her love of art, as well as her right to make it. Eleanor made the drastic decision to halt production on her book Secret Science Alliance 2, a big “no no” in the comics industry. With that, she made the decision to take a break from art entirely. Leaving her comics career behind her, she found a job on an organic farm, determined to free herself from the pressure to create art.

CUG6GBaWIAAp-_B Eleanor looking at some of my work!

Ironically, Eleanor discovered that her year-off from art was actually her most productive year yet. While she was taking a break from commercial work and comics, Eleanor began focusing on collaborative work, such as puppet shows, mural work, and gallery shows. Slowly but surely, she rediscovered the spark that originally inspired her to create in the first place. For her, drawing went from feeling like a forced, tight grip on the pencil to an easy, relaxed flow like using an ouija board.

It was after this break that Eleanor felt that she discovered her personal style, and began to recognize themes and imagery central to her illustrations and comics, such as naked people, the apocalypse, babies, and giant monsters. She stopped worry about what to draw, and began drawing from herself. She found that people really responded to her personal work, and began getting contacted to do editorial illustrations for publications such as the New Yorker. While Eleanor considers herself a comic artist and cartoonist, she makes most of her income through her illustration.

Through her journey, Eleanor learned how to be happy. She is stricter with herself about not working so hard, as well as getting out of the house and seeing people. She is a working illustrator, but Eleanor considers her comics to be her personal work. While she is here in Columbus, she is working on a comic for Youth in Decline about sex, feminism, and misogyny. She hopes to finish the inks before her residency finishes later this month.

You can see more of Eleanor’s work on her website, and twitter. You can also order her book “How to Be Happy” here*.

Cailey is a senior illustrator major, RA, president of the Illustration Student Collective, comic artist, and cat enthusiast. She also probably needs a nap. You can view her work on her website http://caileytervo.com/