This article is part of our lead-up to Kill Screen Festival where Katie Skelly will be speaking.
“I want to work harder and grosser and draw uglier,” cartoonist Katie Skelly told the Comics Journal in 2014. Skelly has become a one-woman force in the comics scene, both as a critic and an artist since self-publishing her first comic, Nurse Nurse, in the late 00s. She grinds hard, no doubt about it, but it’d be a stretch to call her art ugly; rather— she deals with ugliness within her characters, the places where social niceties collapse, where blunt, hurtful words carry as much weight as a punch. There are punches, too, though.
Skelly’s comics alchemize her omnivorous cultural intake into her own singular aesthetic. Her most narrative work, Operation Margarine (2012-2013) tells the story of two runaways on a motorcycle, depicted in gorgeous black-and-white and jolted to life by Skelly’s nervy, energetic linework. The book deals obliquely with Skelly’s personal life, which she quietly folds into the protagonist Margarine’s past without making it the focus of the story.
Image from Operation Margarine
The more recent My Pretty Vampire (2015) and Agent 9 (2015) see Skelly moving in a bold, Francophile direction, full of flat block colors and spacious panel layouts. Agent 9 relays the sexual exploits of a fashion model with almost no dialogue: it has an exhilarating run-on-sentence way with narrative, where things burst into the story with no explanation. By the end our heroine has been pushed into some kind of orifice that smash-cuts to her strutting on the runway in a fabulous new outfit.
Like contemporaries Julia Gfrörer and Sarah Horrocks, Skelly’s also an accomplished critic. She reviews comics at the long-running Comics Journal, regularly appears on panels at conventions, and co-hosts the Trash Twins podcast with Horrocks. The Trash Twins rhapsodize about art left behind by popular culture, from French erotic horror maestros Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin to The Anna Nicole Show.
Skelly’s recent fixation has been the newly restored 1973 anime Belladonna of Sadness: she interviewed the team behind its restoration and her incisive, process-minded approach to the material stands in stark contrast to the hyperventilating coverage of the film elsewhere. She also went deep into Belladonna’s tangled themes for Slutist, cogently dissecting the film’s “powerful, if paranoid, exploration of female sexual agency.”
You can trace Skelly’s influences all day but her work doesn’t feel like mimicry. Her affinity for termite art, fashion, exploitation film, melodrama, and erotica bleeds together into a stylish, indelible artistic voice.
Panel from Agent 8: Skeleton
To learn more about the Kill Screen Festival and register, visit the website.
Header image via Katie Skelly