05 Jul

When we first decided to make Three Words: An Anthology of Aotearoa/NZ Women's Comics. I think we had this idea that comics would be submitted and we would accept some and reject others. You know, like proper (!) editors. It soon became apparent though that the book was just as much about community and visibility as it was about comics so we decided to embrace everyone who wanted to be embraced. And it was wonderful.

We also ended up including some artists we discovered during the process of making Three Words. Artists who didn’t know they wanted to be in it until we made them the offer and then they wanted to and so they were.

One such cartoonist is Celia Allison who makes Cecily. Celia Allison is from Canterbury but like so many (women) has not been included in the various surveys and histories of the Aotearoa New Zealand scene (at least not that I’ve seen). But again, like so many absent (women) she is very successful. My educated guess is that Celia Allison has been unnoticed and/or omitted because she does not make comics for a traditional audience or in a traditional format (I was going to elaborate on ‘traditional’ but I am bored of going on about this stuff. I’m sure you know who and what I mean).

Cecily the cartoon does not appear in anything released by Fantagraphics or Marvel or Earth’s End or any other dedicated comics publisher. Instead it appears on tea towels, calendars, greeting cards and even on the arms of glasses. Sometimes the work from these places is collected into a book but – importantly - the book does not always come first. This is in opposition to how it’s usually done where merchandise features comic characters because they’re already famous in print or on the web.

Cecily the cartoon is not sold in specialised comic shops and only very occasionally in book shops. Instead you can find it in gift and boutique homeware stores. It is also widely available in Australia and Britain.

Celia Allison’s target market is middle-aged women. Yes you read that right, middle-aged women. Obviously men can buy Cecily stuff but this is incidental because middle-aged women. 

The website states this explicitly “Cecily is someone that women will recognise, for Cecily’s foibles are their own. Cecily diets, skips gym classes, sometimes drinks too much and worries about how she looks. She has bad hair days, occasionally consults her horoscope and struggles with technology. She is a modern woman who lives life to the full as she pursues career, friendship and love.”

And in an interview Celia Alison says, “a lot of men don't get it.”

You see? Women.

My instinct is that it’s also the middle-aged women who probably do not generally read comics. Those women who are not factored-in when the discourse is about things like how comics are historically by/for boys; how comics engage reluctant-reading boys; how there is a ‘new breed’ of female comic artists; or what’s it like to be a ‘female in comics’ yada yada yada. 

These are the same women who are invisible in other pop-culture contexts like gaming. A number of studies show that up to 40% of online gamers are middle-aged women playing cards. Boom! Until researching this post I had no idea.

As well as being an aces cartoonist Celia Allison is an impressive business woman. She founded the company that creates and distributes her work; one that consciously “…demonstrates respect for environmental, ethical and social issues". The company (also called Cecily) prints with vegetable and soy-based inks and makes Cecily products locally in Christchurch for example.

And while I lament Celia Allison’s lack of visibility in the mainstream Aotearoa New Zealand comics community I’m not sure she herself does, saying Cecily’s “unfashionable” nature has helped the cartoon to survive.

Celia Allison and her comic kick arse.

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