Readers of all ages will find Philippa's work hugely inspiring, because it's made up of everyday objects, which come to life: bits of cardboard and paper, sticking plasters, plastic spoons, pieces of sponge. Even thought it's sophisticated storytelling and beautiful crafting, it also gives us the feel that we could go away and tell our own stories with the things we find around us. While the characters in We're Out do face perilous situations - dodging giant feet on the pavement, a torn limb, not being able to go home - there's a genuine, infectious warmth and joy to the book that I've seldom seen achieved so successfully in comics or picture books.
Philippa plays with dimensions in her book; the characters start out with cardboard Colin and paper Pauline listening to elderly Nanny tell stories about her journeys into other dimensions. They want to find out what it's like to visit the 3D world, and she urges them to get out there, and meets them when they arrive. At the very end of the book, it switches into 3D, complete with 3D glasses, suggesting a step into yet another dimension.
Of course, the book itself is 2D, but it makes the reader think about dimensionality, reminding me very much of a book from 1884 called Flatland: a Romance in Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott. I adore Flatland, but it's quite theoretical, and this book takes Abbott's more scholarly approach and elevates it to the realm of play and colourful adventure. Studying the two books together would make an excellent school project; I think all libraries should stock both books. There's also a powerful scene when Colin and Pauline try to get back into their flat comic world and find they can't; it reminded me of that scene in The Magician's Nephew, when the children jump into the pool in the Wood Between the Worlds and find they can't get back to their own world. This book is made of all the things I love! It packs in a lot of concept, but it works on so many levels; I think even children as young as two years old will love looking at the pictures. And the book's a nice friendly size, 16.5cm / 6.5 inches square, easy to hold and perfect for stocking stuffing.
After I saw Philippa at Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds last month, she kindly consented to let me interview her. So let's talk with Philippa!
Sarah: I love how you present your work at comics fairs, your table always looks so interesting and inviting with the dioramas you create. They remind me a bit of the peep box made by the little boy in Ezra Jack Keats’ book, The Trip. I used to love making those boxes, they were like peering into a little world. Can you remember what inspired you the first time you put together a diorama?
Philippa: I used to make boxes like that when I was little too! And doll's houses made of shoeboxes, or miniature gardens in ice cream tubs. I was definitely thinking of that sort of stuff when I made my first My Cardboard Life diorama. The collage style of the comic really suits making table displays. I can throw something together made out of cardboard boxes and scrap paper and whatever bits of material I have in the house and it looks like it's cleverly thought out to fit in with the brand!
Your collage work in your on-line and print ‘My Cardboard Life’ comics stands out so much from the majority of comics which are very based around coloured-in black lines. Who or what were some of your influences in coming up with your collage-photography way of working (inside or outside the world of comics)?
Cut-out animation and stop motion were big influences for me. Oliver Postgate especially. I like things where you can easily see what everything's made of and how it's done. All the characters in Bagpuss look like things that could be in anyone's house. Morph is another example. It's set on an artists desk and anything that might be on that desk could be included in the story. I like things that are fantastical but also really close to real life. Weird things happen but it always feels real and tactile.
Philippa drawing on stage at Comiket festival in London
You’re one of my real heroes of the small press scene. Can you tell me some of the pros and cons of publishing your own books?
Thank you! I ended up self publishing all these things because it's always been the best option for me with My Cardboard Life. I can sell the books directly to the readers who visit my website, and all the profits go to me. It works because I already have an audience who want to buy the books and I can sell enough to support myself and pay for whatever the next book is going to be. It's not the only work I do, I take freelance jobs as well, but it's nice to have this background income of independent sales and I'm not relying on anyone else but myself to make it happen.
The downside is all the extra work you have to do. Doing everything alone means you need the skills of a whole team and sometimes I get overwhelmed with orders to pack up and send out! The other downside is that with a self-published book there's really only so far you can take it. There's a limit to how much distribution you can manage by yourself.
In the end, for me it's worth the difficulties. I've been able to experiment a lot with my comics. I feel like I can make anything I want. I'm just really lucky that people actually want to read it.
For new comic creators, would you recommend they start with a web comic? How long did you make web comics before you started printing them into books and selling them at comic festivals?
Yes! Making a web comic isn't necessarily the best option for every person or for every comic, but I think that making the decision to stick to a regular update schedule is really helpful, and if you feel like people are reading it and expecting the updates, it puts pressure on you to get it done. It's a good idea to focus on producing comics, as many as you can handle making, and try to stretch yourself to improve all the time. If you do well you might pick up some readers along the way!
I'd been posting my comic strips online for about six months before I went to my first comic show (UK Web and Mini-Comix Thing 2009) I put together some hand-made mini-comics of the online strips to sell there. I sold the hand-made comics online too but it became a struggle to meet the demand for them so I started getting mini-comics printed professionally. When I self-published the My Cardboard Life book in 2011 I felt confident that enough people wanted to buy it to make it worthwhile.
What are the best ways for people to buy your comics and spread the word? Directly from your website? I notice We’re Out has an Amazon listing. I know people have very mixed feelings about shopping on Amazon, but would it help you for them to review your book there?
Direct from my website is best. They're also available in Page 45 (in Nottingham) or on the Page 45 website, also Gosh! and Orbital (both in London). I think they're on Amazon because they're listed by independent shops. I didn't put them on Amazon myself. Amazon's sort of a mystery to me but reviews are always appreciated!
Visiting Philippa's online places is a total thrill, be sure to find her there. And you can, many places!
On Twitter: @PhilippaRice
My Cardboard Life web comic
And Instagram as philippa_rice
Be sure to get a copy of We're Out, you'll be so glad you did! And you can find links to more women in comics in UK and Ireland on Maura McHugh's website here.