If you’ve been on the internet in the past 5 years, then the chances are you have come into contact with the work of today’s guest Gemma Correll. Her illustrations are wildly popular across social media, whether it be drawings of her lovable pug, Mr. Pickles or amusing sketches that brighten your day. Gemma Correll is a cartoonist, writer and illustrator. She has a few books to her name now; A Cat’s Life, A Pug’s Guide to Etiquette, The Worrier’s Guide to Life and more – all of which have been received with positive reviews. Gemma is a regular contributor to GoComics.com with her popular Four Eyes cartoon, she also draws for the Emirates Airlines; Open Skies magazine each month. Gemma Correll has produced illustration for Hallmark, The New York Times, Oxford University Press, The Observer and more. I’m a big fan of her work, and have been for a few years now – so please enjoy my interview with the wonderfully talented Gemma Correll…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I tell them that I’m an illustrator – slash cartoonist – slash writer and then I mumble something about illustrating children’s books and pugs.
The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk by Jennifer Niven. I’m on a maritime disaster kick at the moment, having just read In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick and Endurance by Alfred Lansing. I don’t know why I persist in reading these kind of books – it always ends badly for the expedition’s dogs, even if the humans survive.
That’s my “upstairs” book, that I read before bed. I also have a “downstairs” book that I read on the couch, which is usually a photographic collection or graphic novel. At the moment, it’s Morbid Curiosities by Paul Gambino.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I can remember my parents and grandmother reading to me before bed. The first book I can remember is Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy. I think we read that one a lot – probably because my mother, with 2 young children, could relate to it.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
I would encourage them to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skoot.
Did you demonstrate an affinity with illustration as a child?
Yes. I loved books of all kinds – the ones that were read to me, the ones I read myself, the anthologies of Far Side comics that my dad had on the shelf. I was even obsessed with my mum’s Good Housekeeping magazines. I would read anything I could get my hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes when I was desperate. I realised from an early age that I wanted to create books myself. I would write and illustrate my own novels in old notebooks and give them to my friends. I illustrated a monthly children’s column in my parents’ church magazine from the ages of 10 to 16. I also self-published a comic called The Chatterbox at primary school, which I would photocopy and sell for 20p. I even sellotaped penny sweets to the front cover, inspired by the free gifts that came with the comics my brother and I read.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I worked in a clothing concession in Topshop for a couple of years. It was a mind-numbingly boring job, as retail often is.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring illustrator?
Firstly, be patient. Success doesn’t happen overnight. Secondly, work hard, for the same reason.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
If I had my way, I’d read all day, every day. So, no.
What was your big breakthrough as an illustrator? How did you make it happen?
I’m not sure that I had a big breakthrough as such. I worked very hard for several years until I was able to make illustration my full-time career. One turning point for me was the popularity of my “Pugs Not Drugs” design (now available on shirts from unlicensed street vendors all over the world!)
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path?
Anything! I think that the more material you have to be inspired by and draw from, the better your work will be. Don’t just read books about art and illustration, or graphic novels. How to Be an Illustrator by Darrel Rees is a good guide to the practical side of things.
There are a few books that I have read more than once but the book that I have revisited the most often is Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I first read it as a teenage sinophile and have reread it several times since because it is so interesting and comprehensive, paradoxically depressing yet uplifting.
Who would you say are the three illustrators that continue to inspire you?
Lynda Barry, Kate Beaton and Ronald Searle
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Probably The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It’s a page turner.
Do you think there is a relationship between books and art?
Of course. Often they are the same thing.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
Non-fiction. Specifically, narrative historical and scientific non-fiction.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Yes, there are several. David Sedaris, Erik Larson, Sam Kean, Mary Roach and Sarah Waters.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
No. I don’t think you can replace the tactility of a real book.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a dystopian novel about a gender-segregated America that reads like a cautionary tale in today’s political climate (as it did when it was written). “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
I have to mention The Tale of The Duelling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean, which is one of the best books I’ve read recently. Also, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, a memoir by a young mortician – she is brilliant. I think people are often surprised by my rather macabre taste in reading material, since my own work verges on the cutesy.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I have 1,815 books on my To-Read list on Goodreads. What I end up reading will largely depend on my local library’s availability. I imagine that I’ll read some more non-fiction psychology, neurology and science-based books, along with the usual array of historical non-fiction, feminism and graphic novels. A couple of books from my list that I’m particularly looking forward to reading are ; Shrinks – The Untold Story of Psychiatry by Jeffrey A. Lieberman and You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
I Have No Idea What I’m Doing.