Words and photos by Bianca Pirvuneanu
Born, bred, schooled, and fed in Erdington, Jess Brown is the fantastic mind behind the Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses website, as series of online graphic novels and digital comics with dark humour and kick ass protagonists.
Recently exhibiting her work at the Love Erdington Festival, as curated by Arts All Over the Place, Jess’s dark imaginings and strong characters were a bit hit throughout the weeklong showcase. Erdington Local caught up with Jess to learn more about her inspirations and ambitions.
You grew up in Erdington, going to school here – were you creative in the classroom too?
“I went to Yenton Primary School. From what I remember I didn’t do too well at a lot of classes, but I did manage to excel at things like art and poetry (even if my spelling was extremely bad).”
What inspired you to get into illustration, and what were your first creations like?
“Honestly, I wanted to become a writer. I’ve always wanted to tell stories, but in a more visual way than just the written word. I love comics, animation, and games a lot. So drawing was always a way to convey the stories I wanted to tell.
“My first creations live in a long forgotten sketch book somewhere. I’d like to say they were baby’s first masterpieces, but honesty…? Probably a lot of Sailor Moon tracing.”
Your stories are very evolved, with a ‘cast’ of characters living in their own new worlds; where did the inspiration for these come from?
“From my childhood, which consisted of a lot of VHS tapes (Disney, straight to home video animated movies), video games (J RPGs, Action Adventure games) and other comics (a lot of manga).
“I’d like to say I did a lot of reading as a kid to, but I didn’t. Though there are a number of authors that did inspire me in my teen and adult life – Terry Pratchett.
“I’ve always liked mix genres like urban fantasy, or horror sci-fi, stuff that’s hard to pin down but gives you a lot of creative room to explore stuff outside of general story conventions.
“I think a lot of creative people who ‘world build’ do it to explore things that don’t get explored in the stories they liked (or maybe stories they didn’t like). Especially when it comes to characters, at least that’s what got me started. Wanting to tell the story you’d want to read is cliché, but true.”
On your social media you talk about your ADHD, calling ‘your brain like soap that refuses to be gripped’. Is your artwork important to your health and wellbeing?
“Yes, I would say, art is important for me to stay in focused because ADHD makes me hard to keep focus at one thing in a time and it helps set a routine for me.
“It can be hard to start into something, like normal people can just stand up and say, ‘OK I’m going to do this right now,’ and for some reasons my brain is like ‘no you can’t do that.’ I do something for like 10 minutes and then I stop and then I do it again for 20 minutes or an hour and is important to taking many breaks for recharge.”
You mentioned you are working on a children’s story; can you tell us any more about that?
Ah yeah, it’s my next project. Working title is Knight’s Folly. It’s about a little girl who enters an enchanted forest to become a witch, with the help of a monstrous looking knight. It’s going to be aimed at kids and young adults.
“I’m a little hesitant to describe the story as traditional fantasy, but movies like The Dark Crystal and The Never Ending Story are big inspirations. It’s still bare bones at present but I’m developing the script and am hoping to maybe get it professionally published.”
You also mentioned you write narratives for phone games; can you tell us any more about that?
“Not much to tell really, my job title is usually ‘Narrative Writer’ or ‘Narrative Director’. My role tends to be writing the stories and creating character scenarios for the games I’m brought in on.
“My last job involved writing a choose-your-own-adventure style narrative using a new app. There’s also the general writing that goes into some of these games, like item descriptions and so on. Someone’s got to write all those little blurbs, right? That’s usually me.”
Where would you like your artwork to take you next?
“I want to be financially secure; and I am thinking of trying to do some 3D modelling, as a hobby.”
For more on Jess Brown and a full online archive of her graphic novels and comic visit www.damsels-dont-wear-glasses.com