The house of cartoonist and illustrator Eleanor Davis is both eclectic and organized at the same time — red and yellow paint cover the walls, a large floor-to-ceiling bookshelf crammed with manga and other comics is placed adjacent to the door and a set of six gumball machines sits just outside of the kitchen. Davis’ cat, Momo, is idling constantly in the background.
An award-winning illustrator of both adult and children’s comics, Davis is a quiet artistic force in Athens. Her work, which spans short comics about adult film actresses to books about teenage secret scientists, has been featured in three separate Best American Comics anthologies, won a 2018 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel and earned gold and silver medals from the Society of Illustrators.
Davis has also worked with and drawn for a handful of high-profile clients, including The New Yorker, Time Magazine, Google, The Washington Post and National Geographic, graced multiple covers for The New York Times Book Review and created prints for artists such as The Decemberists and Sylvan Esso.
Devlin Thompson, manager of Bizarro-Wuxtry, a comic shop above the parent record store, calls Davis and her husband, fellow comic Drew Weing, “the center of a community of talented and dedicated folk” in the city.
Davis moved to Athens with her husband after graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a degree in sequential art in 2006. Since settling in the city, she has created four comic books, including her most-recent work “The Hard Tomorrow,” which was published in 2019, and involved herself in a number of local ventures, including displaying her work at the Lyndon House and collaborating with WUGA for an Artists in Residence event in 2018.
Davis has been making comics since she was “really little” and said she created her first full-fledged comic around the age of 12. Davis said when she was younger her drawings were heavily influenced by Japanese anime and manga such as Rumiko Takahashi’s “Inuyasha,” but she “wasn’t very good at it.”
As she grew older, her drawing style became more reminiscent of techniques seen in simple mini comics and zines drawn with ballpoint pen, like “King-Cat” by artist John Porcellino.
“The ethos of 90s comics is very DIY and drawing with ballpoint, not trying to make something fancy just trying to make something honest,” Davis said. “That was really inspiring to me because that was much more achievable.”
Artist at heart
Davis said she “didn’t think very hard about why one should go to college” when she made the decision to go to art school after graduating from high school in 2001.
“Ehh — I’ll go to art school, I don’t care if I ever make any money, I’ll be a starving artist,” Davis said of her thinking.
After starting school at SCAD, Davis realized a career as an artist was something that she could achieve with hard work. Though her mother would have preferred her go to a liberal arts school to become more well-rounded, Davis emphasized that she had her mother’s support from early on.
“I think if I hadn’t gone to art school, I wouldn’t have the life I do today, so I’m happy for it,” Davis said.
Davis credits her entrance into the competitive illustration field to her website and her social media presence. In 2011, Aviva Michaelov, then art director for The New York Times, took a chance on Davis, who at the time had no prior illustration experience.
As a result of her hard work, curated online presence and “pure luck,” Davis produced her first illustration for the paper, a piece titled “Spring Again” for the Sunday Opinion page.
Davis’ published work in The New York Times led to a wealth of other job opportunities. After spotting her illustration in the paper, the art director of The New Yorker reached out to her to produce an illustration. Her work would come full circle: in 2018, the magazine reviewed her 2018 book “Why Art?,” an exploration into the cartoonist’s process of creation.
Although she enjoys writing and drawing her own comic books, Davis said they don’t usually make a lot of money. This is why for her “actual work, work” she does editorial illustration for newspapers and magazines.
When she moved to Athens, Davis became a part of a growing artist community where she is now seen as an “elder stateswoman in terms of cartooning,” said Walter Biggins, executive director at the University of Georgia Press.
Biggins said he was Facebook and Twitter friends with Davis before they met in person about three years ago and knew about her from her work before they started talking. When he first met Davis in person, Biggins said “she seemed quiet and reserved but not exactly shy.”
To Biggins, who is an avid comic fan, Davis is one of the best artists out of the new generations of cartoonists. He has also been a fan of Davis’ work for over five years and said that it has become increasingly more political and more “openly tethered to the real world.”
Art in the wild
Davis noted the current “barrier to entry” to making a career as an artist is lower than it’s ever been because of social media.
To Biggins, the artist community in Athens is vibrant but young. Davis said forming a community is “a little bit harder for visual artists than it is for musicians because visual art is an inherently isolating activity,” but events like the FLUKE Mini-Comics Festival and the artist events held at the Lyndon House Arts Center are great opportunities for visual artists in Athens.
“There’s a lot of people that I see now that teach themselves how to draw from YouTube videos. If you put your stuff online, if you have a website, if you put your stuff on Instagram, it’s tremendously possible,” Davis said.