Gaiety Girls, Moebius and Steampunk

Greetings all.

What in the world, you may well ask, do these seemingly disparate subjects have in common? I suppose the simplest answer is that they are all things that have affected my world this week.

Gaiety Girls were popular musical comedy actresses in the nineteenth century who starred in shows produced by impresario George Edwardes.

Marie Studholme as pierrot
I am privileged to be a patron of The Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America and they asked me if I would unveil a house plaque in honour of Gaiety Star Marie Studholme. Unless you have a particular interest in music hall history you probably have no idea who this lady is. In her day, Marie Studholme was a household name… a talented singer and actress, postcard beauty and, as I discovered last week, a true renaissance woman.
By strange coincidence (the amount of times I use that phrase, it no longer seems strange at all) I had known about Miss Studholme since my childhood. My mother inherited a scrapbook of postcards that had belonged to a distant cousin in rural Ireland… the main object of her devotion being Marie Studholme as well as other Gaiety stars like Phyllis Dare and Gabrielle Ray. Coincidence number two was that the site of Marie Studholme’s former home is just off the Finchley Road right next door to where my university campus was. And what a beautiful home… a whitewashed mediterranean style villa with blue shutters and a heavenly garden that the lady herself used to cultivate. I learned that she was a skilled sportswoman, writer, martial arts expert, motorist and she even invented a form of air conditioning whilst suffering the stuffy overheated dressing room of the Gaiety shows. This woman did not know the meaning of ‘bored’ and though she died in her fifties she packed a hell of a lot more into her life than most individuals in her lifetime or today. And that was before the suffragettes. So I felt it a true honour to be celebrating her memory.
Her soul exited this stage a good few years ago. More recently the comic world lost Jean Giraud (Moebius) last week. I am of course only just discovering the great art geniuses of this genre, so forgive me if I say that I was ignorant of who he was until the news of his death. Thanks to all the tributes that have been wending their way across the ether, I found a fabulous interview with this master in which he spoke about his art but also offered a whole philosophy on the nature of art and as he said, its place as ‘an oasis on top of a desert’. He also said that ‘Artists, writers and liars create the world’ which reiterates that fact that we have nothing without imagination. I love the beautiful fine lines of his work, which have a classic quality to them even in a Sci-Fi fantasy genre. There is a Batman illustration I saw that evoked Gustav Dore‘s style. He spoke about how he enjoyed looking at art that could make him see something of the person’s soul. So true.
The internet has fast-tracked my comic artist research and what is interesting is, however modern the artist is, they all stand on the shoulders of the greats that have gone before. My surfing this week was mainly to do with inking… that is the technique I’m currently focusing on for my “Illustrating the Graphic Novel” Course with Andy Fish. I am immersed in this wonderful exercise but, by God, the bar is so high. I’ve been looking at work by Berni Wrightson who cites Franklin Booth as a great influence. I now have a Franklin Booth book on its way because my jaw dropped when I saw his ink drawings. The detail is mind boggling. I also love Virgil Finlay, who I’m sure was influenced by Franklin Booth too.
In keeping with this nostalgia for graphics past, I noticed that Waterstones in St Albans had an intriguing display next to their Graphic Novel section, which said ‘Steampunk‘. I’d heard of the term but wasn’t really quite sure what it was about… assumed it must be some underground comic movement. Again forgive my ‘eureka’ about something that’s been around since the eighties. Steampunk seems to embrace all things Victorian, mechanical, futurist in an H.G Wells / Jules Verne sort of way with Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper and Hot Air Balloons thrown in for good measure. My mind was whirling with all the possibilities for a Victorian style fantasy graphic novel.
Well the spirit of Marie Studholme must have been smiling on me because I showed some of my first graphic novel pages to Adrian and Neil at The Music Hall Guild and they have asked me to design some pen and ink caricatures for their charity greetings cards. My very first graphic commission. I am so thrilled. So watch this space as I work on my first doodles.
Till next time….

About Jessica

Jessica Martin is a multi-talented performer whose career has taken her from comedy impressionist to musical theatre leading lady and scriptwriter.
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