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Faith in Practice

For others to judge

Hannah Kowszun

A comic writer, illustrator and practicing Catholic, Simone Lia has written several graphic novels, the latest of which - Please God, Find Me a Husband! - has been getting excellent reviews, although it isn't technically about one woman's search for a husband.

Whatever's in you comes out in your artwork. Sometimes I look at the art in the world and think it's reflecting despair. If our culture doesn't have God in its soul, it's reflected in culture.

Please God, Find Me a Husband! starts off with someone in their early to mid 30s getting in a real panic about being single and feeling she has to find someone now. But then she turns to God in a fit of rage and it's more about what opens up after that angry conversation with God.

It's all autobiographical. I feel he answered me back and the book is more about my relationship with him than my wanting to find a husband. At first I was quite resistant to doing something so personal and it took me a long time to write it, but I thought unless I put it out there, it's not going to have authenticity - you just have to tell the truth sometimes.

When I first visualised it I thought it might be more like The Story of a Soul by St Thérèse of Lisieux. Obviously it's nothing like that because she was so holy whereas me, I'm fighting with God all the time, having temper tantrums, discovering I've got quite a distant relationship God because I always want my own way. It's quite difficult seeing that side of my soul illustrated like that, but then that was the reality of my experience. It was a journey. And I learned a lot from going on that journey and coming to a real place of peace.

When you see your prayers written down, you realise God is listening to all our prayers and he is answering them. Perhaps not in the way, or the order, we would like them to be answered, but he does listen. When I was making the book it was difficult because it was so revealing, but at the same time I did have a real sense that God has a perfect and brilliant plan for me, even if it's not how I always dreamed it. When God's in the picture it is an adventure.

I got into drawing because I enjoyed art at school and did it for A-level. I had really great teachers who massively encouraged me and gave me a prize. The prize made me think that if they recognised something in me perhaps I could persuade my parents to let me go to art college. My dad wanted me to be a quantity surveyor. I was actually quite happy to go along with that, but getting that prize made me rethink things and they let me go to art school at the University of Brighton. There I discovered I enjoyed using images and text and got into doing children's books, which felt like a natural progression. A few years later I went to the Royal College of Art, which was where I discovered more about comics.

My experience of comics up until then had been the Beano, which you stop reading when you're about 10, so I hadn't had much exposure to them. But friends at college were bringing in comics and I realised that I really loved that way of doing things, so I started making my own; self-publishing was my friend.

At the RCA there was a bit more of a focus on conceptual art and we weren't overly encouraged to do comics - I think I may have been one of the naughty students - but then we won a prize, which gave me a lot of encouragement. Again!

A few years after college I was doing research for the first graphic novel I published, Fluffy, and I had a moment where the scales fell off my eyes and I found myself coming back to God. In fact, I wanted one of my characters to have some kind of life-changing experience and for it to do in the heads of everyone around them, but I didn't know what this experience would be, perhaps some kind of life improvement course. As it worked out I had a life-changing experience of conversion and I was the one doing everyone's heads in! It meant I had a lot to draw on for the book.

I think needing to make a living is the reason I haven't written more graphic novels. I used to do a weekly comic or illustration for a magazine as well as other illustration work, which gave me enough to live on as well as free time to work on my books. But then the recession came along and that stopped. You have to do lots of different jobs to make a living, which is a shame because I love working on my books so much and would love to do it full time.

I'm not so drawn to publishing online. I like my work to be an actual object you can hold in your hand: something tangible that you can sniff, turn the pages, move forwards and backwards. I get really excited about paper and things like that.

Everyone can draw, even if it's only a stick man. I think people worry too much about what their drawing looks like. The great thing about comics, it's all about communication: you can literally tell a story using stick men. Whereas if you're drawing in the normal sense it's a lot more to do with looking; it's the experience of you looking at a tree and being in the moment of looking at the tree and then seeing what happens on the paper. It's all about the process rather than the end result. Bit by bit, before you know it, there will be a good representation of a tree.

In Please God, Find Me a Husband! my real challenge was wanting to show what happens when you pray. So when I went into the Bible story; I found myself walking in the streets of the Holy Land and stumbling into Jesus. It was literally what happened in my imagination through prayer. The way I've drawn Jesus and God, in that cartoony way, it's not how I see them, but I was trying to communicate the essence of what was happening to me at the time.

I was worried about my book being blasphemous. I didn't want to be disrespecting God at all. It showed what was happening in the moment and my projection of him - he didn't say very much in the book but now I know that's how God is.

Simone Lia was talking to Hannah Kowszun