Comics artist Leomi Sadler on her new book and the journey to get there

The first in a series of books, Tummy Bugs gathers ten years worth of work. Here Sadler talks about the process of reflecting on work that was created during a different time

Leomi Sadler has been working in the comics scene for over a decade now, alongside running UK-based publisher Famicon Express. As well as comics, Sadler has also worked with commercial clients including Givenchy, Nike and Vice. Her personal work has stayed relatively under the radar though, so when Breakdown Press approached her to create a collection of her comics, she decided to tackle it in a way that felt right to her. 

“I couldn’t help but feel like if I made a big compendium of everything I’d ever done, it would be intensely incoherent, and would also feel like I had died,” says Sadler. “So instead we decided to do a library of books, each one centred around a separate channel of my output.” This first volume of the Leomi Library is titled Tummy Bugs, and gathers material from the last ten years or so. Readers can expect to see “cartoon characters being mistreated, performances of wisdom, and a sense of joy, simple-ness and perseverance” across the different vignettes. 

All images: Tummy Bugs by Leomi Sadler, Breakdown Press

The stories in Tummy Bugs are absurd, surreal and funny and a cast of strange characters carry the stories along. “The protagonists are mostly non-human, with very flawed personalities, lots of misguided behaviours and relationships,” says Sadler. “It’s a book of messages that are kind of nihilistic but in a way that’s silly and comforting.”

The visual style is expected to shift throughout the Leomi Library volumes, and in Tummy Bugs the pages are packed densely with colour, detail and blur the lines between fantasy, reality and science fiction. “I think my approach comes from having a base ideology, an appetite for particular atmospheres, rules about images that are unacceptable,” explains Sadler. “I think it’s a good way to check in with yourself and keep on track or decide it’s time to amend the rules. I don’t think that it’s a particularly special approach, and it’s funny that I think more about what I want to avoid, than have a goal of what I want to achieve.”

Sadler tends to lean towards cartoons of the 70s and 80s, while also finding inspiration from brand mascots and packaging. “I think I’m influenced by a lot of things outside of comics and illustration, especially bootleg products and cheap objects, so I think that feeds into my interest in making things look a bit ‘wrong’,” she says.

“It would be nice to say that I want my stuff to appear like it’s unclear what decade it was made, but I can’t deny the influence of my friends and peers, and the way my close relationships have shaped that way I do things.” 

The artist’s images have been created using markers, ball-point pens and even paints to create different levels of depth. “Like many artists, I’ve found I work best on really crappy bits of paper. The flatness of solvent-based markers is incredibly satisfying, I never get tired of that, and it starts to get really fun when you use that with a collaged surface,” she explains.

“Thin crappy paper is easier for me to tear and collage. I like to press down hard into the paper when I draw, so use ballpoint pens, but every now and then I’ll use a Pentel Sign Pen when I want to get a particular cartoony look.” 

As Tummy Bugs is a reflection on past work, throughout the process Sadler says she didn’t always find it comfortable looking back, partly because she was in a very different place personally when the drawings were created. “It’s weird to create an archive for old work, something that you made ten years ago and have it come to the surface again and be celebrated. It can be counterproductive to reflect on the past and spend too much attention on previous ideas of what you made and how you previously defined yourself,” she says. 

“It does feel a little bit twisted to be so retrospective. I supposed I’ve learnt this from transition. We are all people who constantly develop, and everyday something big or small or unexpected can happen, and change us. Publishing work now, that I made when I was quite a different person, is a little head fuck, especially since it was all put out under my old name. But I think I’m balancing that quite well by putting out plenty of new stuff too. We just made a brand new Famicon Collection book in December, and I’m working on a big book of new drawings that’ll be coming out this year through Les–Lilas.men.” 

What’s made the process easier for Sadler is the community around self-publishing and the freedom this offers in creating a publication that feels like personal and right. “It’s nice knowing that people won’t try to edit me, it dissolves any impish urge I might have to test her boundaries, and instead I can just focus on my own standards,” Sadler explains.

“Sometimes it can feel like the world actively does not want weird stuff like this to be made, but knowing that something like Breakdown Press exists is a great comfort. They seem to be so irrationally driven to follow her artistic vision, I really think these Breakdown guys are contributing so much to the world, I hope they are never ever allowed to stop.”

For Sadler, it feels positive to show people only just discovering her work the years that have come before the latest projects. “I think time is working in a weird way at the moment, so it’s reassuring to have this physical evidence of some of my history,” she says. “When I looked at the pre-order page on the Breakdown Press website, it also hit me how difficult it would actually be for someone to find my work in print form. Most of my self-published stuff is now out of print, and a lot of the anthologies I contributed to are also now out of print. It’s comforting to know this’ll be there for new people to find!”  

The satisfaction of publishing has never left Sadler, but she’s looking forward to having something more formal published. “It’s exciting to think that my book will appear in shops. It will be in places where I’ve never sold my stuff before, reaching all kinds of strangers.” 

Tummy Bugs by Leomi Sadler, published by Breakdown Press is out now; @leomi_sadler; breakdownpress.com

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes