Natalie d’Arbeloff on Double Entendre

It might be a comic for now, but the lifelong artist and recipient of the Rosalind B. Penfold award’s autobiography may become something else as she develops it

It was a big deal when Natalie d’Arbeloff chose to reveal her age in the Guardian in January. At 89, and having worked as an artist, writer and cartoonist her entire life, she shows no signs at all of slowing down.

Her graphic autobiography, Double Entendre, is told from the point-of-view of her two alter egos, Ottoline and Augustine. Both have distinct personalities, but form equal parts of d’Arbeloff’s psyche; they exist to show the different ways that she processes pivotal events in her life.

D’Arbeloff has said that Double Entendre is currently a graphic novel but may change shape and format as it continues. Considering the different media she has mastered, it’s exciting to wait on what this autobiography will become.

Josh Franks: You’ve been creating art for your almost your entire life. When did you start making comics as well? Have you always been interested in them?

Natalie d’Arbeloff: I drew little cartoon books as a child but didn’t think I was making comics, at least not like the ones which were popular then. I enjoyed some of those superhero comic books but never felt like imitating their styles of drawing or writing. I decided when I was about nine that I would be an artist and that’s been my profession and my life ever since. I don’t see any difference between making comics or paintings or artists’ books or three-dimensional work or videos or writing. I like moving between different media and the comics medium is one among others which I use, depending on what form seems best suited to particular ideas.

JF: Double Entendre is an autobiography told from the perspective of your alter egos. Why did you start featuring them in your work? And what was the impetus to tell their stories in the form of your first graphic novel?

ND: Double Entendre, my graphic novel in progress, is autobiography from two different but related points of view: that of Ottoline—myself in narrative, emotional, confessional mode—and that of Augustine, myself in more detached, philosophical, investigative mode. They’re not really two separate characters and there’s only one story, as you can see in the sample images. The impetus for Double Entendre? Autobiography is a recurrent theme in so much of my work that it’s hard to say where it doesn’t feature! So I can only reply that this is simply another version, another angle, on certain aspects of my life.

My cartoon alter ego Augustine first appeared in 1984 in a series of mini-comics The Augustine Adventures or Small Packages. I’ve recently written about these and others in a series of posts about my experiences in being published and self-publishing. You can read these posts if you scroll down on my Facebook page beginning on 18th February then move back upwards.

Images courtesy of Natalie d’Arbeloff

JF: Who are your greatest artistic influences? Are there any comics creators you particularly admire?

ND: Some of the comics creators/cartoonists I particularly like are Marjane Satrapi, Steven Appleby, Maira Kalman, Saul Steinberg, Rachael Ball, Sylvia Libedinsky, Nick Wadley, Mel Calman, Charles Schultz, Claire Bretécher, Art Spiegelman and Harvey Pekar.

JF: Tell me about the techniques you’re using to draw Double Entendre. Do you work digitally or by hand? Are there any particular techniques you use?

ND: For Double Entendre I draw by hand in pencil or pen on paper then I might use a tonal wash in watercolour or acrylic. I then scan the drawings and perhaps alter the colours digitally, using Photoshop or other graphic software, and I might (or might not) add new colours entirely digitally. That’s about it.

Read our interviews with the other shortlisted creators of the Laydeez Do Comics prize 2019:

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