We’ve already showcased some of Guen Douglas’s tattoo designs in a blog post last year. But recently, this prolific Berlin-based artist has gone public with another form of creative expression: an Instagram account filled with unique comics. Guen Douglas told us more about her affinity for Gary Larson, the intersections of tattoo and comic designs, and what it feels like to make art in times of a global pandemic.
The Instagram account tolarsonwithlove doesn’t have many entries yet, but each of them presents an extremely imaginative take on a particular aspect of reality. Whether it’s a blissful illustration of an intimate self-care moment, or a visual satire referencing present crisis, the comics by Guen Douglas grab one’s attention with their narrative and, not unlike her tattoo designs, invite one to admire the details.
Douglas can still trace back her passion for comics to its very beginning: she was first introduced to the world of comics by her older brother, who eventually ended up getting a degree in animation. As years went by, she eventually switched from second hand Garfield annuals and Lucky Luke books to the newspaper comics section, where she first discovered Gary Larson. “I used to think that Larson’s comics changed the way I interpreted the world’’ – she now recalls – “but actually, maybe they just allowed me to be free and unashamed to see the world in all its grotesque and comic wonder the way I already did.’’
As an experienced tattoo artist, Guen has a special appreciation for the practice of creating her comics: “I have been trained to create art specifically for tattooing, it’s not often that I find a way to properly express myself visually away from the rules of it – even when I paint, I paint with a self-consciousness. I try to force my paintings to look like my tattoos, which is actually silly because they are very different mediums.’’
Although Guen confesses she’d sometimes draw little three-panel comics depicting her life over the last few years, those were meant for her eyes only, kept privately for the occasional trip down the memory lane and some laughs. But then came the revelation: ”a long train ride to Austria at Xmas changed everything. I had no work to do and a few ideas bouncing in my head. I played around with the idea of expressing them in the three-panel format I had been using but it dragged out the joke and softened the impact. Then I remembered Larson and his one-panel surrealistic comedy and thought I would make my comic a love letter to his genius.’’
Guen posted the first comic just a few weeks ago. It was a visual commentary on this year’s Mondial du Tatouage, a huge tattoo convention in Paris that was scheduled to coincide with another event in the French capital. As Douglas reflects: “When Mondial du Tatouage was canceled, we were all in shock that a sausage festival happening the same weekend in Paris wasn’t immediately canceled too, so I drew up the ‘Poor Cécil’ panel. I hesitated to post it for so long because for the first time I was feeling very vulnerable. These cartoons are 100% me and I didn’t want to be exposed. By the time I found the courage to share it, the sausage festival had also been canceled, so I had to scramble to change the caption for it to make sense.’’
Even though the positive feedback Douglas received in response to the ‘’Wash your hands’’ panel was the catalyst for her to start a dedicated Instagram profile, the artist is still somehow cautious about sharing her comics with a wider audience: “I am still getting waves of anxiety before posting so now after drawing I give myself one sleep to get over any lingering fears I might have, which gives me a new perspective the next day to edit if the caption reads too harsh or confusing.’’
It’s almost impossible not to recognize the unprecedented circumstances in which Guen chose to publish her comics, but the artist remains hopeful: “They are satirical so they are mostly tied to a moment but I do try to find a timelessness, too. So far I’m really enjoying having found an outlet that fuses my interest in news, politics, pop culture, comedy, and art, and I hope people enjoy them even after this catastrophe is over. We have a really special opportunity right now. This is a rare moment. We are experiencing something that affects us all across political, geographic, gender, race, and socioeconomic lines, and it means we cry together but it also means we can have a laugh together. It is after all the best medicine, right?’’