How one illustrator found success by turning her inner voice into something real.
Interview with Lucy Bellwood by Yu Vongkiatkajorn
If you were to see your own personal demons, what would they look like? That’s a process Lucy Bellwood knows better than most. An illustrator and cartoonist, Bellwood recently produced “100 Demon Dialogues,” a comic about her relationship with a little monster that can’t seem to get out of her head. The comics, though autobiographical, are intensely relatable: Bellwood’s demon is that self-critical voice we all have, the one that tells us we’re not good enough. But, as she demonstrates, sometimes that voice is just trying to protect us, and at times, has anxieties of its own.
What was the inspiration behind 100 Demon Dialogues?
Way back in 2012, I drew my first comic about an obnoxious little character who’d been following me around telling me my work was no good. Several years later, for a challenge called Inktober, I began exploring the relationship with that demon through a series of dialogue comics. Those pieces were really popular, like noticeably popular — people responded to them in a way they hadn’t when it came to my other comics…which probably isn’t too surprising considering universal self-doubt is a more relatable subject than maritime history, my usual track. So this year for the 100 Day Project, I thought I’d get to the bottom of it all and do 100 conversations in the course of 100 days.
How did you think the demon evolved over time?
The demon takes many forms, and over the course of the project he really became a dimensional character. It became more apparent that he was just trying to keep me safe, or felt needy, or scared — he was suffering from the exact same things that I was!
Writers say that the longer you sit with a character, the more it begins speaking for itself. That always sounded a little abstract to me, but I totally got there in this project. With three months, you really do have to time to sit with somebody and just listen. And if there was a particular day I couldn’t think of something, that was okay. Having no ideas is a perfect example of self-doubt! Win-win. But then the goal shifted towards not falling back on the same fears, on digging deeper.
But sometimes, that happens, right? I feel like that’s often the case when it comes to things like anxiety.
Oh yeah! The same themes resurface. And not only did the demon evolve with each iteration of those themes, the little avatar that represented me alsobecame a character — one who was more compassionate, more understanding, and more Zen than I would say I actually am in real life.
The most fascinating thing of all to me is that my actual internal mental landscape began to change as a result of the project. There was probably a tenth of the entries where I felt like the demon got the upper hand, and days where I just felt overwhelmed or small — it was particularly hard to draw those entries. But I also found myself being more compassionate, or I saw myself running into emotional traps and going, “oh, I recognize this now.” I can make a different choice here, and rather than moving down the path of anxiety, I can choose self-acceptance or kindness.
I know there’s varying evidence, but some people say that it takes 3 months to start a new habit or routine, and I couldn’t help but think about how that applied in the course of the project. It really did feel like I had shifted something in my inner landscape in a permanent way.
What do you think that shift was?
I think it was a shift towards being kinder and more aware of the anxiety traps I would fall into. There is power in being able to name things, and art has that capacity to capture something on the page and neutralize it. By turning your anxiety into a character, you create something that is external to you.
That was a big shift mentally. When I’d fall into anxiety spirals, or experience self-doubt, I could say: “this is not me, my anxiety is a part of me, but it’s not the whole me.” It’s now possible to recognize that this is me, the whole complete, confident, loving person, and next to me is this little asshole who seems intent on ruining everything. But it’s not malicious — that’s something I realized. The demon in his fully-formed, characterized state is not an evil being. He’s a sympathetic character. That’s why the culmination of the series is a scene where he throws a tantrum, like a toddler, because he feels like he’s not being listened to, and he’s lonely and feels neglected.
Yeah, it seems like the demon has his own anxieties as well.
Absolutely. I initially toyed with an ending where I came home to find the demon battling his own army of tiny jerks, but by the end I knew the project was bigger than that. It’s about all of us, and that meant getting him to look outside his own ego and recognize the community around him.
It's time to take this show on the road! I Kickstarted a print collection and a demon plush toy at the end of the project in 2017, so my efforts since then have largely been about getting the book into schools, libraries, bookstores, and counselors' offices around the world. 2018 is a year for touring and hearing stories from folks who followed the project—and for wrestling with the hydra of commercial distribution.
I've already visited eleven cities across the US to talk about the book and gather stories from others. Readers have been extraordinarily brave and open in sharing their own struggles with Imposter Syndrome, and I'm using their stories to inform a future workbook based on the project.
You can purchase Lucy's book, 100 Demon Dialogues, here. ∆