When the subject of “unusual jobs” comes up, tall ship sailor should definitely make the list. So should “comic book artist.” It’s truly amazing when one person combines both, and that’s what Lucy Bellwood of Portland, Ore., has done. As a citizen in the U.S. and Great Britain, she styles herself at “America’s one and only dual citizen tall ship-sailing cartoonist.” She’s the author of two volumes of a comic called “Baggywrinkles,” and she’s an experienced hand on the tall ship Lady Washington. She took some time to answer a few questions from me.
How did you get interested in tall ships? When I was in high school in the southern California town of Ojai, I’d often dreamed of a practical way of going to sea. One day, I ran across a list of working replicas, and learned that many of them offered volunteer programs. Then I discovered that the brig Lady Washington would visit Ventura and I booked spots for a sail.
I can’t really do justice to the excitement and exhilaration I experienced during those first three hours on board. Mostly I was fascinated by the crew — their easy camaraderie, boundless enthusiasm, and dedicated competence were inspiring, to say the least. I hadn’t a nautical bone in my body, but I’d always loved the feeling of working with others to create something bigger than the sum of its parts.
A few months later, I completed a two-week volunteer stint on Lady Washington. I was petrified, but I was also utterly aflame with the thrill of actually doing this thing I’d spent so much time reading about in books and seeing on screen. I returned twice for a stint in the San Juan Islands in Washington state (heavenly) and a vomit-filled transit from Aberdeen, Wash., to San Francisco. Later, after I returned from an eight-month trip outside the country, I signed on Lady Washington again. I suppose there’s no hope for me now.
How did you get interested in comics as an artist? Rather like sailing, comics were a late-blooming passion for me. I grew up exceedingly passionate about drawing and writing, but didn’t quite realize that I could put the two together until I entered college. After spending some time at Reed College, I took a summer course at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont.
The five days I spent there were staggeringly inspirational, life-changing to the same degree that my first trip aboard the Lady Washington had been. The 35 workshop participants ate, slept, and breathed comics the entire course. My goal was to create an eight-page story, but I arrived with no clue as to what it would be about. I began doodling a mast and a few sails, and realized that the story of my first experiences on a tall ship would be excellent fodder for a small comic.
I was utterly unschooled in the ways of comics, and I hadn’t grown up reading much beyond Calvin and Hobbes, but the medium felt natural to me. Exhausted but exhilarated, I barely dragged myself into the studio on the last day with my finished eight pages, but I’d done it and, just like sailing, I wasn’t looking back. Pretty soon, I’d created and published the two volumes of Baggywrinkles with the help of Portland’s Independent Publishing Resources Center.
How do the worlds of tall ships and comics intersect? Comics are often a rather solitary affair, while you don’t get more communal that tall ship sailing. They’re also both extremely labor intensive. I’m deeply passionate about both, and I want to communicate that passion to others. The best part of writing and drawing about tall ship sailing is that I know it from direct experience. There are plenty of adventure stories out there which paint tall ship sailing as this romantic, bygone profession, but when you read a comic by someone who’s actually done it, reading the comic becomes an entirely different experience.
Who is the audience for your comics? I’ve certainly had an inspiring amount of support from fellow sailors, but I’m also interested in making the series accessible to non-mariners as well. Now that the Historical Seaport (which owns Lady Washington) is carrying them in the ships’ stores, I’m also paying greater attention to the content and language. Oddly enough, there aren’t as many great comics for kids as people seem to think, particularly educational comics. I’ve had local librarians come up to me at conventions and buy Baggywrinkles in bulk the minute they hear that they’re age-appropriate AND educational. It seems to be a rare combination. I would just love to make sail training comics for tall ship organizations. The challenge there, of course, is that the general public may not need such specific information.
What kinds of comics do you like to read? My tastes in comics are pretty eclectic. I’ve never really been one for mainstream superhero series, but I love the world of independent comics. Currently my favorite creators include Craig Thompson, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Cyril Pedrosa, and Jen Wang. For nautical comics, I recommend Drew Wieting’s “Set to Sea,” and Kevin Cannon’s “Far Arden.”
Any comic projects on the drawing board? As it stands I am long overdue to start a new issue of Baggywrinkles. My goal is make upcoming issues much longer, blending autobiographical stories from my time tall ship sailing with educational snippets on sailing lore. I’m also drawing my first full-length graphic novel/memoir about growing up as a dual US/UK citizen, completing a written thesis on comics theory, and drawing a 30-page story about creativity, genius, and fear. Baggywrinkes was where it all started, though, so I can’t see myself letting it go neglected for too long. Just keep your eyes peeled and I’m sure new material will crop up soon enough.
Lucy Bellwood’s comics are available through her website, the online store of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, and retailers in Ojai, Calif.