| It's amazing how many great artists are out there that we never hear about. Lee Kennedy is such an artist, and Sasa Rakezic brings us this interview with her. In it we get not only a sense of an artist's life in the UK, but the challenges facing cartoonists in a place without the "developed" indie/alternative comic scene that exists in the US. Proof that the grass isn't always greener on the other side...
your humble editor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For some reason, alternative comics in Britain have never grown into a rich
and colorful scene, as is the case in US. It's hard to say why, but one of
the reasons could be the lack of major alternative publishers. There were no
influential magazines or well-distributed yet subversive comic books which
would give space to a brave new artist. But it doesn't mean that there are
no good and expressive cartoonists out there in the United Kingdom. A good example of such an artist, is Lee Kennedy. If there was any justice in the world Lee Kennedy would be just as well known as her autobiographical comics counterparts in the US or Canada. Her confessions on life in a Catholic school, or as a wageslave behind a switchboard in a London opera house are sad and humorous at the same time. Her interest in dreams paved her a way to
guest-page appearance in Rick Veitch's Rare Bit Fiends, and she was included
in Kitchen Sink Press dream comics anthology Flock of Dreamers. Lee
Kennedy's work reflects the refined irony of the Old World, where she has lived
since 1974, but she grew up in New York City, which explains why she is
not ashamed to use popular culture references as well. Her comics were
published in many anthologies and magazines (including the Italian Kerosene) but she is still self-publishing, in these decadent times.
Tell me about how you started to do comics, and about the reaction of your
family (if they knew about it).
I don't remember a time that I didn't love comics, and try to draw my own.
As soon as I could hold the crayon, I was at it. I was inspired by the
Disney comics (Barks' Donald Duck, etc.) and the many color newspaper
strips, like 'Dick Tracy' 'Bringing up Father', etc. Oh yes, 'Little Lulu'
was very important to me early on, and Classics Illustrated comic books
(especially anything horrific!). My parents encouraged me up to a point, and
showed off my drawings, but they didn't like it when I was older, and wanted
to be an artist instead of something 'worthwhile' and secure, like a
How did your career develop? You are the same generation as the first wave
of American underground cartoonists, aren't you? You told me that you were
too shy back then to contact people like Kim Deitch or Robert Crumb, and
that only later you realized that they were just people from the street,
and not some "ivory tower" artists…
I am just a few years younger than most of the great 'underground' artists
of the 60's. When I saw the early Zaps, etc., I was crazy with joy, I wanted
so much to do that sort of thing, but I had no idea that these people were
as poor and chaotic as I was, nor had I any idea of how to approach them, or
that I could be one of them, if I tried. I just did comics for my own
amusement, showed them to friends sometimes, and then just lost or threw
them away, eventually --pathetic, really... I kept looking for ways to become
a proper cartoonist, but could never find anything out. It seems bizarre
now, but at that time, if you didn't know where to go, or who to ask, it was
very difficult to get more information. I actually did send Kim Deitch
a fan letter, when I was about 18, and he was working on The East Village
Other. He was kind enough to write back with a drawing [that] I still have
Well, I guess it's a pity, because almost anyone who joined the first wave
of underground comix became sort of famous… It seems that 60's were so
eventful, so dramatic, counter-culture wise, even if some of it seems a bit
naďve today. What were your memories of the 60's?
I remember running wild in the late 60's… It was a great time, but I was too
young and stupid to enjoy it to the full. I was always crying over some
boyfriend, and generally being a fool. I guess youth is for wasting! We used
to go to concerts at the Filmore East in New York, where I saw the Who ( and
fancied Pete Townsend), Janis Joplin (who now seems such a tragic figure but
appeared so free and joyful onstage), BB King, Chuck Berry, etc., all
accompanied by the images of the "Joshua lightshow" which was very big
then; huge projections of pulsing colors morphing around. Again, it would
seem rather cheesy today, but back then it was big visual excitement! We
saw the Crazy World of Arthur Brown in Central Park. He was so stoned he
couldn't perform properly, and people were yelling and throwing stuff at
him. He seemed to be a definite candidate for the rock & roll
casualty graveyard, but he's cleaned up now, and seems to have a nice life. He
still performs sometimes. I still love "I am the God of Hellfire" It makes me
laugh, and brings back so many memories of the retarded things we used to
do. Looking back, sometimes it's a wonder that anyone survived!
We also went to the big concerts at Atlantic City and Woodstock. I was
tripping on LSD and found the huge crowds scary when we arrived. It kept
raining, and a big helicopter-ambulance kept coming down… I was imagining we
were in Viet Nam, ha-ha. Also, I got stuck in the mud and lost one of my
sandals, which may still be buried there in Woodstock to-day…
We thought we were really going to change the world for the better, and our
parents thought we were depraved, and damning ourselves to Hell.
I also remember when Martin Luther King was shot, and how we all thought the
blacks would rise up and kill us all in revenge - in many ways we were still
racist, and prudish about sex and stuff, hard as we tried to overcome it all.
It was in the 90's when you started to publish your comics, right?
Well, it was in the 90's when The London Cartoon Centre started doing
courses for adults, and I started trying to make comix my career... From
the Cartoon Centre I started to get a little self-confidence, as the tutors
were so encouraging. They had a show at a little gallery that used to be in
a Brixton comic shop, so I took part, and started to submit things to
alternative comics. One publisher didn't use anything, but kept sending tips
and encouragement. I was also making my own comics, secretly using the
photocopier at my day job.
Your work has reached wider exposure through the British women comics
anthology called Fanny…
Yes, I kept getting good feedback working with the Fanny series, it was
really exciting because you actually got a small fee, which always makes me
feel like a 'pro', also because I was among so many really great women
creators, like Kate Charlesworth, Carol Swain, etc. I wish that anthology
could continue, but there's no hope, these days. I began to be asked to
contribute stuff to a lot of other anthologies and exhibits, and came into
contact with creators from all over, like Roberta Gregory, Leanne Franson, Jim Woodring, Dario from Kerosene, Donna Barr; so many cool, gifted minds! It makes you realize more than ever that cartooning is a universal passion...
What do you think is the advantage, and what's the weakness of the present
day's alternative comics scene?
Well, I think there's advantage in the scene being much more visible and
accessible these days. The Internet helps, too. You can track down really
obscure stuff. That said, the "audience" seems even more elusive. Nobody
seems very interested in comics nowadays. I feel old, too. When I attend
some of these conventions, everybody's about 18... I guess that's the way it
should be, really, but as I age, I deal with topics like how it feels to be
getting older (horrible!), and the kids don't want to know about stuff like
that, while people of my own generation no longer read comics, most of them.
They should, though! I guess I am in the first and possibly last generation
that will keep on cartooning until we fall into the grave. I think it will
be fascinating in a morbid way, to be seeing autobiographical comics of very
ancient dying people. Haha, that sounds dreadful, but I think there is value
in it. I know Crumb and Kominsky seem to be going that way. A few years ago,
Crumb had that big MidLife Crisis story, and boy, I loved that. Good for
him! I'm dealing with it in my own way, for what it's worth, Roberta Gregory,
too...That book of mine that's probably never going to be published, but is
rotting at the Slab-O-Concrete (my British publisher) was going to be called The Menopause Special!
Do you think that female cartoonists have anything in common? You published in some women author's comics anthologies, so what do you think about projects of that sort?
I've never thought of myself as a 'woman cartoonist,' and I still have the
pathetic old hippy belief that any differences in the psyches of men and
women are due to indoctrination. I'm sure men have the same feelings and
thoughts that I do...
Going back to the 60's, though, the only very well-known underground woman
was Trina Robbins, and she was Kim Deitch's girlfriend. Women were still not
particularly encouraged, or welcomed in that milieu. I don't think Aline
Kominsky would have been able to present her work so widely, at that time,
if she hadn't been involved with Crumb, either. Not that they don't deserve
to be well known, of course, but I think, back then, being with a successful
man certainly gave them an 'in'... Later on, we had Dori Seda, Mary Fleener,
Roberta Gregory, Phobe Gloeckner, Lynda Barry, etc, and today, there are any
number of excellent women cartoonists. I do rather enjoy taking part in
'all-girl' projects like Fanny and Girlfrenzy. It's fun, and gives us a
chance to show what a varied and fascinating lot we are!
Your comics are mostly autobiographical. Some people think that
autobiographical comics are too egotistic, but I believe that it is just
kind of honest to speak in your own name. What do you think?
I do know people often say that these autobiographical comix are just
self-indulgent ego-tripping... Maybe that could be said for a lot of art! To
me, though, it's endlessly fascinating to read the details of other peoples'
daily lives. It's really my favorite type of comic. It's like juicy gossip!
I couldn't care less about most superheroes, and other action-adventure
comics-with a few exceptions, of course. I admit I sometimes think maybe I
am just some kind of egomaniac, when people criticize what I do, but if I
never get tired of reading other peoples' stories, presumably, there are a
few people out there who enjoy reading about my mundane trials &
More seriously, I think that creators like Al Davison, with his experiences
of being 'disabled', and the visits of Joe Sacco to troubled areas can make
positive difference to peoples' attitudes, and do real good in the
What keeps you occupied at the moment?
I do a series on famous fat people for Size magazine, and would like to carry on with that sort of thing. I'm also interested in the evolution of comics on the web, although, for me, nothing will ever replace 'real' comics. I've taken redundancy from my dreadful dayjob, but it makes me totally destitute, so now I have the hassle of trying to get enough state benefit to survive, and they're always tormenting you to make sure you're an 'active job-seeker'. Well, cartooning's what God put me here for, and although nobody's paying me for it, I'm 'active', all right....
You can see more of Lee's art at the following websites:
Her personal website, which is chock full of the artist's rants and raves, can be found at: http://homepages.msn.com/stagest/crazycrone/index.html