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Eleanor Davis insists that she’s no prodigy. “I think because I was never particularly a good artist, I was always aware that it wasn’t something I was good at naturally. I had to work at it really hard.” She did have a head start, though. Her parents were both comics fans, so Davis grew up reading and copying classics like Little Lulu and Little Nemo in Slumberland.
Her reading soon expanded to include manga and newer comics. Inspired by John Porcellino’s King-Cat, Davis began publishing her own mini-comics when she was 14. She later entered the Sequential Arts program at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where one teacher insisted, “Don’t make a lot of lines all over the place. Just draw the right line right away.” Davis resisted at first, but, she says, “It actually ended up kind of being my mantra after that: ‘Just draw the right line.’”
That credo has taken the form of comics in elaborately handmade and digital form. When Françoise Mouly, co-founder of RAW and The New Yorker’s art editor, encountered Davis’s work, she was struck by its rigor. “It’s very imaginative and funny and fanciful, but it’s also very thoroughly worked out,” she says. “She’s not afraid to be clear.”
For Mouly’s TOON Books, Davis wrote and illustrated Stinky; with her boyfriend, cartoonist Drew Weing, she’s working on The Secret Science Alliance for Bloomsbury. For these children’s books, she says, “I try to make it 100 percent fun and excited and happy.”
Her personal work tells a different story. Davis’s darkly ambiguous fables often feature humans who encounter mythological creatures, only to reveal their own savagery. “I’m not actually a very mystical-type person, but putting my stories in more mythical settings has been a way to help me simplify them and try to sharpen them a little bit.”
And Davis’s approach to art is changing. “For a long time, I was driven by an acute fear of failure,” she says. “And recently, I have been realizing that I can do art just to feel good, just for the fun of it. And that’s been a real nice change in my own attitude, to not have it be so desperate as it used to be.”