Although to many she’s known as the clever satirist behind
BK Magazine’s long-running ‘What She Said’ weekly comic strip, Kathy MacLeod is also a successful commercial artist and illustrator.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Bangkok. My mom is Thai and my father was American. I went to international school here (Ruamrudee) before going to Wesleyan University in Connecticut where I studied fine arts. I always loved to draw, but it wasn’t until college that I realized I didn’t want to do anything else. Still I worked in a few other fields like teaching and graphic design (drawing comics on the side) before deciding to go freelance in 2013. My clients are mostly local businesses and international NGOs—I do animations, brochures, web content, murals, maps, etc. I’ve done a few book projects as well, including an upcoming cookbook that will feature a lot of my food drawings.
How long has the ‘What She Said’ comic strip been running?
I actually started a comic strip with the same name and basic concept for my university newspaper in 2003. Back then my drawing style was extremely basic; the character didn’t even have a mouth or nose, there were no backgrounds, etc. I keep a diary in comic form anyway—I’ve filled up about maybe 50 sketchbooks so far—and when my friend suggested that I draw something for the paper, it just seemed natural to pull from the well of content that I already had. For the BK strip, which started in 2011, the same thing happened where the editor came across the diary comics that I’d been posting on my blog and wanted to run them in the magazine. I cast myself as the lead character because I can only write what I know. I started drawing comics just as a way of recording my own personal history (probably out of a fear of death and oblivion or something) and I don’t really know any other way. Though lately I’m trying to make the comics for BK more universal, and often in list format, because they tend to get more response from the readers—it seems like all content is moving in that direction now anyway!
Is the main character a fairly accurate portrayal of yourself?
Yes, almost embarrassingly accurate. I think most people can relate to the things I say, so I’ve become less afraid of showing all the neuroses and anxieties under the surface.
You adeptly skewer urban attitudes and platitudes, but there’s also nods to the never-ending ‘battle of the sexes’ in your strip.
I’m fully devoted to the fight for gender equality. I use my comics as a way to explore and work out my views on these issues, because they are complicated and ever-evolving. A lot of men still see feminism as a scary word and have an unsavoury view of feminists that is out of touch with reality, and I’m happy to have a platform to try and shine a spotlight on how that is wrong, and how men can do better. Sometimes it’s gentle and sometimes it’s not, and men get angry at me. Women have sexist views reflected back at them their whole lives and we end up internalizing it—but we’ve grown strong and found a voice despite it. I don’t think men are quite used to being mocked yet, and I’ve found that they are more sensitive to criticism than anyone. But I think it’s important to be aware of the ways we subtly participate in the oppression of others and how we can evolve. Even if it’s just making more of an effort to listen to women instead of talking over them—it makes a difference. None of us are perfect and we can all do better.
If I ever use women as the targets of satire, it’s not out of some attempt to balance out my treatment of men—I really don’t think I need to contribute to that. I’m happy to make fun of mindless consumerism and narcissism and other hypocrisies like that, which both genders are guilty of.
Does your weekly strip offer a suitable outlet for all your secret, or not-so-secret, frustrations?
I’m always worried about being too negative in my comic, but it does feel cathartic sometimes to let out my frustrations with Bangkok or people in Bangkok—or just make light fun of something that fully deserves it and is long overdue. I think anyone who takes themselves too seriously is a ripe target—I had so much fun a while back drawing a comic for BK called “Photos Every Artsy Farang Takes in Bangkok”. And for my top secret frustrations, there is my private comic diary. I’m hoping someone takes the initiative of publishing it all upon my untimely demise…
Comics were once a male-dominated domain, but that paradigm has shifted, especially in Asia. Would you agree?While the paradigm has definitely shifted, I think there are still challenges for female cartoonists because the powers that be are still very much male-dominated. For instance, a prestigious comics festival in France two years ago encountered a huge controversy when the panel put out their shortlist of finalists for the top prize—and all 30 contenders were male. But women are producing some of the most interesting work in comics and redefining the medium in amazing ways. The MacArthur Foundation just awarded one of their “genius grants” to a cartoonist for the first time ever, to a woman named Alison Bechdel.
Maybe I just wasn’t aware of it back then, but I was lucky never to have been told as a kid that I couldn’t draw comics because I was a girl. I really never experienced sexism in this industry until I became a professional and experienced “the industry” firsthand. I’ve encountered some pretty vile sexism from editors and other professionals. I was told recently by a comics professional that male cartoonists are more passionate and stick with it their whole lives, whereas women get bored of it eventually and move on to something else. I plan to prove him wrong.
Who are some of your favourite female artists in Thailand?
The art scene still seems to be very male-dominated here, but I love the work of Yuree Kensaku, a Thai-Japanese artist, and Piyarat Piyapongwiwat. And Tuna Dunn is a great cartoonist that I’d love to meet someday.
What are some of your favourite hangouts in Bangkok?
I think I’m at WTF at least once a week. Fun nights out often end at Woodball on Sukhumvit 53 or SoulBar in Charoenkrung. When I work outside the house I usually go to Ceresia in Sukhumvit 33/1 or Hello Stranger on Sukhumvit 26.
Do you plan on remaining here in BKK?
I feel very settled in Bangkok at the moment, in a comfortable place with my community and career. I don’t know where else I would go at this point. Needless to say, I don’t have much interest in returning to the United States right now and am grateful to be right where I am. Though with the threat of rising sea levels, I’ll probably want to get out of here in the next decade or so.
What does the future hold?
I plan to continue with my comic strip as long as I have ideas in my head, and I have a steady flow of freelance work coming in, with a bigger focus on animation this year. However, I’m dreaming about taking some time off of freelance work to focus on my own artwork. I’ve been wanting to write a graphic novel forever and have started some planning and sketching, but have not had the time to fully devote to it. And of course, I’d love to do another exhibition once the inspiration strikes again.