Laurence Dea Dionne is an illustrator, graphic artist, painter and art educator based in NDG. Dionne has a longstanding passion for art, and studied Art Education at Concordia University. She has worked in school and community settings with children, teenagers, adults, seniors, and people with disabilities, but is now completing her fist graphic novel through Young Volunteers Quebec. Entitled “Nuances”, the novel is geared towards young people struggling to find emotional and physical well-being, as well as their friends and family. It is inspired by her own struggles with mental health.
Dionne was a guest speaker at Notre-Dame-des-Art’s First Thursday in March 2016.
NDA:Your graphic novel, Nuances, consists of three stories, each about struggling with mental and physical well-being. I’m intrigued by the second one in particular, the main characters of which are an owl and a rat, who represent the Id and the Ego, respectively. How did you come up with this idea, and why did you choose an owl and a rat to represent these two Freudian personality aspects? And does the superego have a role to play as well?
LDD: The idea came while I was seeing different therapists and trying out different (mostly ineffective) techniques to beat my depression. The famous book by Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, was suggested to me, and as I read it, my mind struggled with which ‘voice’ I would be better off listening to: the classic head vs heart struggle. That’s when the characters developed.
The id, or Isobel the owl, creates problems for Des by simply following her instincts, as owls are known to do, while Desmond the rat, a typically clever but nervous animal, represents the ego in his attempt to control the situation as an attempt to beat his fears. The superego also has a place in this story as a morally driven dog who reminds the id and the ego to work together.
NDA: You mention in your press kit that one of the reasons you chose to write this graphic novel was due to your own struggles with depression. How does writing about such a personal issue make it more difficult, and/or how does it make it easier?
LDD: When I started the Nuances project, I was looking for a way to deal with the pain that my previous career had left me. It was meant to be an outlet, and it turned out to be super effective. Telling your story to people who understand what you went through heals the wounds in an unexpected way, as if by sharing the burden, you can lighten the load a little.
But, re-creating a painful thing isn’t always easy. Throughout every step of the comic-making process, you’re adjusting things to make the story more relatable and convincing. You have to replay the scenes in your head until their message is clear. That means you’re constantly revisiting painful memories, and the more vividly you can recall them, the better the result… It never gets easier, but it’s an important story to share, and it’s worth every effort.
NDA:What is your process like? Do you write the entire story out before starting illustrations or do you do a few pages of both, or what?
LDD: Nuances stems from a need to evacuate all the negative things that got stuck inside me as well as the healing process I went through when I got myself out. I had written pieces of ideas, feelings and events, and I proceeded to assemble them into three stories. I focused on the emotional symptoms of my depression, the thought process of the search for healing, and the physical transformations that I was undergoing at the time. I realized these were all universal themes so I reached out to family and friends in order to add to each one.
I got a grant from the Youth Volunteers program, found an amazing mentor at Lounak Studio, and wrote the script for the graphic novel. I chose the format and layout of each frame by making thumbnails, which I then printed oversized to pencil in the final shapes. I inked everything on a separate paper using a lightbox, scanned that in, and colored it on the computer, adding text and onomatopoeia.
Each of the stories were made separately, and I worked one step at a time on the entirety of a story before moving on. This not only gave time for newly acquired knowledge to sink in, allowing me to apply it later, but it also reduced discrepancies between the beginning and end of each story, which is important to keep the reader hooked.
NDA: When you draw or create characters based on real people, do you ever worry about offending anyone? How true to life are they?
LDD: I spend a lot of time drawing people travelling on the bus and the metro. I often feel that I have to give them the drawing because I get a guilty conscience from not having given them a choice to model or not. But the positive reactions I get from these people make me proud of being an artist and really highlight art’s power to connect people.
I also like to insert real-life characters into my comics, whether it’s a specific physical trait or a type of personality or way of speaking of someone I know… or don’t. But you have to be careful with that kind of thing because people might get insulted by the way you portrayed them. That’s why it’s wise to change things around a bit. But being nice to everyone always helps!
NDA: Are there any illustrated books from your childhood that still influence your style, or inspired you to want to tell stories with your art?
LDD: I think pretty much every comic artist was inspired by the most visible thing out there at the time of their youth. I remember reading stories like Tintin,Natacha: Hôtesse de l’air, and Yoko Tsuno with my dad, who always used the most outrageous voices and accents for each character. It was really precious time for me because I didn’t see him often.
When I became a teenager, I had a rough time and enjoyed losing myself in the folly of manga. It started with Ranma 1/2, then Dragonball, then Sailor Moon… but the one that had the most impact on me was Kenshin, by Nobuhiro Watsuki. I found in this series to have a perfect mix of accurate history and exaggeration, something I strive to achieve in my own comics and art.
Since then, I’ve discovered the wide world of independent comics and graphic novels, and I fell in love with Studio Lounak’s style: unique and meaningful comics that fit in-between the typical adult and children’s sections at the library.
NDA:Speaking of teenagers, you’ve also done some work as a teacher. How did that affect your perception of teens, compared to before you taught? And does it influence your writing?
LDD: When I was younger, I drew every day as if I kept a diary. It was extremely therapeutic for me.
In fact, I could say art is what kept me going. At the time, I thought that if I became a teacher I could help others that had a similar experience, but I discovered that, at least for me, the cost was too high. When I made the move to become an artist, I realized I could help others just as much by sharing my art without going through everything else.
So, to answer your question: I hated teens, I hated being a teen, I hated that teens hated themselves, and that made me want to help them. I’m makingNuances for them, and for their families, who struggle just as much watching their beloved teenagers go through teenage-hood.
NDA: Marketing your work is a big part of being an artist these days. You have a website, you’ve created a press kit, and you also attend Comic Book and Graphic Novel fairs. Do you find that aspect of it difficult? What kinds of skills do you find yourself needing in order to do all this self-promotion and what do you find easier or more difficult?
LDD: My art speaks about people, and it’s created specifically to touch people, so getting to spread the word to people is right in my ballpark. Being more of an artist than an entrepreneur, I still find it difficult to not take it personally and fall back into shyness when I run into uninterested parties, but I love meeting and helping people, and learning new things.
NDA: What aspect of living in NDG impacts your work?
LDD: The architecture, for sure. The way the buildings work together to create an aesthetic specific to NDG, the way the light hits the buildings and the streets at specific times a day, the way you can see the lit cross atop the dome of the St-Joseph Oratory perfectly framed by trees in early spring right after sundown on the corner of Terrebonne and Mayfair, for example…
NDA: So… will we recognize any NDG spots in Nuances?
LDD: Yes! The first and second stories were inspired by different places in NDG, but it’s not likely that people will recognize them: every borough in Montreal has houses and trees, and streets lined with fences. However, the third story, Fable, is meant to be more realistic as it speaks about the physical world, and as it takes place in NDG, you’ll notice recognizable elements in the backgrounds at that point such as- well, I’ll just keep it a secret for now and you can discover it for yourself when the book comes out in December!
Check out Laurence’s website here to see more of her fantastic work!