Becoming A Successful Comics Illustrator: A Spotlight on Donya Teagle

13th October 2020
5 min read

Any illustrator or writer aspiring towards comics should check out the work of Donya Todd. 

Donya Todd illustration

Donya is a graduate of the BA (Hons) illustration programme at Plymouth University (who will be hosting an illustration event at the end of this month) and is recognised as a pioneering, British comic artist successfully pushing the boundaries of the evolving, popular genre of contemporary illustration. 

Donya's illustrative style features disturbing characters and landscapes, and memorable visual tropes and her illustrations can be found in both self-authored and commissioned comics and anthologies. Her illustrations are applied to other contexts and formats such as T-shirts, being sold as originals and digital prints.

Needless to say, Donya is a master of pushing her own brand and there's so much that emerging illustrators can learn from her approach.Whether working to commission, or on self-authored imagery, Donya has been consistently productive since graduating over a decade ago, directly selling artwork and books and constantly working on new narratives and comics. 

An illustrator needs to have huge amounts of self-motivation; it's not a job for the faint-hearted, but for Donya the process of being her own boss and self-publishing her own work is exhilarating.

Each project is a time commitment - at least 3 months for a 52-page comic, demanding skills that are typical in a career in which organisation and marketing skills work alongside creative prowess - balancing making artwork with selling it: keeping the business in check.

An illustrator must have an adaptable distinctive visual language and enjoy exploring new ideas and narratives. Donya likes telling stories but acknowledges that they don't always make sense. Exploring personal interests and obsessions for most illustrators within the world of comics and graphic novels can ultimately lead to commercial gains but being authentic is important. 

In Donya's case this involves not really aiming for weirdness but reflecting that, it just happens naturally, emanating qualities that ultimately can also draw commissioners to her imagery who want her to emulate her personal work.

Successful practice in comics and graphic novels usually demands a fiercely authorial approach and Donya acknowledges that, writing is half the battle.

So how does she approach the writing process?

Donya uses creative writing exercises to stimulate ideas and she finds that the words often come before the pictures.

She studied for an MA in Sequential Imagery at Falmouth University which despite being an intense volcanic experience, helped her to develop her skills. A lot of her work involves playing with language in a playful manner, embracing silliness and escapism, and drawing upon her interests in symbols and surrealism.

An inspirational exchange trip to Japan as a student at Plymouth University changed everything, igniting a passion for travel that is pivotal to generating ideas and finding new directions for her own narratives. 

Donya's imagery is explorative within a range of issues and concerns that have resonance in the 21st century. Whether focussed on femininity, feminism, youth, sex or obscenity, through her graphic narratives, unconscious fantasy is played out on a paper, mostly through her chosen medium of comics and books. Unlike her commissioned works these are designed not to be mass produced but published in quantities to sell - making the book as an artefact as beautiful and alluring as possible. 

A bonus of working in this area can be the lifestyle that it allows. Although Donya lives in relative isolation, working from home in a shared studio in a barn in Newquay at one end of the room from her husband Jack Teagle (himself a successful comics book artist) the internet and travelling internationally and nationally bring a constant wealth of new ideas, connections and inspirations.

Donya's top tip for emerging comic book artists?

You need to make books even if they're cheap and cheerful. Sell them online or take to comic fairs - you need to get out there.

Donya schedules in attendance at 3 fairs a year, large events such ELCAF and Thought Bubble, as well as 3/4 smaller fairs and comic conventions, booking a space to sell a mixture of original artwork, prints, comics and T shirts, revealing, "nothing beats meeting publishers, networking and making friends who work in the same area as you; hanging out with people in similar circles." 

Jo Davies is Visiting Professor of Illustration at Plymouth University. With Derek Brazell she is co-author of several books about illustration, published by Bloomsbury. The most recent book is Becoming A Successful Illustrator. You can find out more about Donya's work here.

Writing stage
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