EDEN COOKE & JESS POLLARD
Intro: We chatted with Eden Cooke and Jess Pollard about their short comics in The Witching Hours anthology, their inspiration behind their individual stories and how they got started in comics.
Modular: Tell us about how you both got started in comics and how it led you to producing work for The Witching Hours.
Eden Cooke: When I was in elementary school, I took a course called What’s so Funny? It was a course that was teaching fourth grade students how to write funny comics. That was my first exposure to comics. I got really into Gary Larson comics as a kid and then Manga as a teenager. When I was in University, I took a sequential art course followed by a couple more comics courses at Emily Carr [University] - one was short comics and another was longer comics like graphic novels and I was just like “Wow, this is really hard… It takes a really long time…” *laughs* “But the projects are so incredible.” In terms of The Witching Hours, Hannah Myers, who is now the editor-in-chief [of Cloudscape Comics], decided she wanted to make this anthology and was like “You seem to like making comics. Will you make a comic for this?” She happens to be my best friend so maybe it’s nepotism. *laughs*
Jess Pollard: So, I’ve always drawn comics since I was a little kid, mostly for my younger brother and my mom to make them laugh. I liked Gary Larson and Calvin and Hobbes as well. In Victoria—on Vancouver Island—there’s a comics and graphic novels program that’s one year long. I took that program after High School. I actually have a certificate in comics so… *laughs*
JP: Yeah, so that was obviously really fun. I went to art school after that for a three year program. Then, with The Witching Hours, it wasn’t my first Cloudscape submission. I think I have done three now. One semester at university, I took medieval studies so when it comes to things like witches and fantasy I was like… “Mmm sign me up!”
Pictured: Pages from Jess Pollard's Wicked Creatures
Modular: Both of your stories share a somber nature to them. What informed the tone you chose for your individual stories?
EC: I was reading Ulysses at the time and a lot of George Steiner. My story is very concerned with words. At the beginning, some people didn’t really like the dialogue because it’s very dense. But the point is that you’re not supposed to understand what this cult leader is saying. It’s intentionally obfuscated. So, at the beginning of his speech, he’s talking about how “Her hair is black as ink… her mouth will turn dark…” It’s all about the concept of heretical speech and of being told that someone who is different from you is bad.
JP: I think because we both have stories that are influenced by history, there’s a sense of almost magic realism and an essence of the real world being brought into our stories. People fearing powerful women and this inherent distrust of women with something they don’t understand. The historical context is so dark already that it feels natural to make the environment somber.
“One semester at university, I took medieval studies so when it comes to things like witches and fantasy I was like… Mmm sign me up!”
Modular: Eden, your story The Three Knots has such a nice flow to it. What made you decide on the narrative structure?
EC: I think it’s because I always have too many thoughts that I want to squeeze into a thing. I was like “Okay, I have all of these ideas. There’s this folk tale I wanna get in there… and this person who’s worried about this thing… and I wanna have this grandmother character… and there should be the context of this personal history of the church….” So, I tried to squeeze it all together and I was like, “Okay, well, I kinda have to leave out and infer and then have it flow in a certain way.”
Modular: The ending is so powerful and haunting. Did you intend of having it feel somewhat open to interpretation?
EC: Yeah, that was definitely intentional. I really like that in a story. I know what I think happened but it can be effective for it to not be necessary spelled out for you.
Modular: Jess, you also manage to pack a lot into such a short story with Wicked Creatures - it deals with prejudice, repression, and ultimately self-acceptance and transformation.
JP: Yeah, and connection. Because the main character thinks she’s human and discovers that she actually isn’t. That she has so much in common with this witch. Then, they become free together. I think Gwen could have stayed in her community but she chose instead to accept herself and leave.
Modular: What were some of the visual inspirations for your stories?
JP: I did a lot of visual research on medieval fishing and farming and clothing. I was like, “What kinda shoes would she actually wear?” She’s a fisher person so she has a special eel catching basket because that was a really common thing to eat in this time period. All of those design elements - I tried to make them as historically accurate as possible. In terms of the actual art style, it was really me trying to draw more realistically. That’s my more realistic art style. I do lots of cartooning as well but, for this story, I wanted to give it more of a serious energy.
EC: I was, similar to Jess, looking at what Cornish fishing villages looked like. In terms of art style, that’s just how I normally draw. Although, I don’t ever draw men. *laughs* Not that men or women or non-binary really look that different but trying to draw like a gruff bartender would not typically be something I would choose to draw. So, that was an interesting challenge.
Pictured: Pages from Eden Cooke's The Three Knots
Modular: Do you have anything you're currently working on or planning to release?
JP: It’s so exciting. I’m working on this project called Curse like a Russian with my wonderful Russian friend. We’re releasing illustrated zines of these idiomatic expressions.
EC: I am doing two things for Cloudscape - one for an anthology about mental health called Through the Labyrinths of the Mind. I’ve had cancer two times. So, I did a comic about health related PTSD and what it feels like to have gone through cancer treatment and for it to have come back and have no one really believe me. It’s a fairy tale kinda thing where there’s a representation of myself as a house that has something growing in it. And this weird little figure that runs through the house like lighting candles. So, it’s sort of like mysterious, which is really fun. Well, it wasn’t fun to write it but it was fun to draw it. And then, I’m doing one where I’m just the illustrator in another Cloudscape [anthology] called Fantastic Frights.
“I think because we both have stories that are influenced by history, there’s a sense of almost magic realism and an essence of the real world being brought into our stories.”
Modular: Are you reading anything right now that you'd like to recommend?
EC: I actually have one with me right now. I just got it from the library. It’s called The Daughters of Ys. It’s a Celtic fairy tale. I’m working as an art teacher right now and been doing comics and zines with my high schoolers. So, I’ve been taking out ones that are like YA. It just came out I’m really excited about it. I also got one called I Know What I Am. It’s the life story of Artemisia Gentileschi, the renaissance painter. I was really excited to learn more about her as a person so I just got that one.
JP: I’m really excited to shout out this comic! This zine! I missed zines so much because, obviously, the conventions can’t happen and I’m a big fan of zines and small print. So, my roommate’s girlfriend dropped this off and she’s like a young creator. It’s called Paper Bitch Kisses by Sian Raya and it’s a riot grrrl zine. It’s all about feminism and women supporting each other. It’s only available in print so you have to get a physical copy like the olden days. It’s really inspiring and exciting and, even though it’s going back to an older zine tradition, it’s cool to see the younger generation like Gen Z pick it up.
Download The Witching Hours anthology here.