Biscuits (assorted)

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Longlisted   —LDComics Award2018

Winner   —First Graphic Novel Competition2018

'A delicious, grin-inducing joy – as well as one of the most effortlessly accessible and all-inclusive celebrations of friendships that I’ve ever been blessed to stumble across. It has leapfrogged, legs akimbo, over hundreds upon hundreds of other comics to find itself quite startlingly in my Top Twenty Favourite Graphic Novels Of All Time.'—Stephen Holland, Page 45

Gnash Comics Book of the Month
The Feminist Bookshop Book of the Month
Page 45 Book of the Month
Stephen Holland Top 20 Comics of All Time
Literary Lucie Top 10 Books from 2020

Every day we pass a thousand people in the street or squash up against strangers in the underground. Like every city, London is teeming with life: diverse, beautiful, messy, incongruous life, and every face seen fleetingly in the crowd carries a story or two. Some are sad, some are funny, some are boring, but none are ever quite what you would guess.

In Biscuits (assorted), Jenny Robins takes a look at a handful of women’s stories in the city as they defy and comply with our expectations, and as they step out of the cookie cutter mould of what it means to be a woman today. What can a relentlessly positive supermarket employee, a strong-minded mother with a secret, a mistress of distraction (and oversharing) and a miss-adventurer in bi-sexual dating do in one long, hot summer? What can they learn from each other and from the colourful cast of women (and the occasional man) in this book of interweaving stories?

An extract from Biscuits (assorted) won the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition 2018.

Danielle Tute, OK Comics

8 March 2021

Biscuits (Assorted) arrived in the midst of the first lockdown, a story bringing together women from all walks of life, with a warmth that was desperately needed at the time of release. Jenny beautifully illustrates moving and funny experiences that leave you smiling and wanting more. Her characters feel real, like someone that you'd see on your way to work in the morning. Lockdown is a lonely world, but getting to read these snapshots of life is a genuine delight.

Lynne Walsh, Morning Star

8 March 2021

JENNY ROBINS has cooked up the perfect lockdown treat in this award-winning graphic novel. Friendship, between both friends and strangers, is the sweet centre of a book which won the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition in 2018.

Biscuits (Assorted) is sometimes bitter-sweet but never saccharine. Each woman depicted is authentic and instantly recognisable and individualistic. They do not fit the cookie-cutter stereotype.

There’s Lucy, staying sane in her call-centre job by playing a game of profanity bingo. Her handmade card shows squares citing “Cock” and “Piss off” among the many customer responses to her cold-calling and she leaps up, shouting “BINGO!”, to a complete absence of response from her workmates.

We meet Maya, constantly chattering away on public transport. We’ve all sat next to a Maya — sometimes, we have been Maya. There’s a deft seeding of a very gentle narrative and we find, in time, that this is her way of bringing comfort to an anxious and fearful friend.

Clara searches for a date but only to please best friend Helena, stressed by wedding plans and pregnancy. There’s cheery optimism and bumpy bathos in only a few frames, as Clara gets an instant reply from a potential “plus one.” She shows her friend: “He responded with a dick pic.”

Hana, resolutely cheerful on her check-out, mentors her colleague Piotr in the ways of London and he’s a quick learner. “Do not talk to people on public transport except in special circumstances,” she instructs,“it is not so important where you are from, but whether you live north or south of river” and “do not expect to ever buy house.”

These little whiffs of cynicism are wafted away, as Robins has Hana defiantly chatting with customers. She tells Piotr: “Most people want to talk to you, really; you just have to look for clues to what they might want to talk about.” Hana loves London and it seems to love her back.

Apart from these beautifully crafted characters, there’s another love affair, with the city itself. Clara claims that it’s “the greatest city, I think we can all agree, the true city of love. And pain. And really expensive beer.”

This is a book for a cosy armchair and several mugs of tea. It comes with a warning: you will miss your friends; you will miss your home town and there’s a chance you might miss hobnobs.

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RAMZEE, author of LDN

5 March 2021

The art is really cool in this comic but the comedy is next level. The one-liners are great. This would be a really cool TV miniseries.

Emily, Busy Mama Book Club, Bookstagrammer

29 January 2021

Biscuits by Jenny Robins⁣

Women. They aren’t made from sugar and spice and all things nice. They don’t fit into a mold. You can’t use a cookie cutter to make sure they are all the same. And this is essentially the premise behind this amazing graphic novel. ⁣

Looking at snapshots of a range of women’s lives across London; Biscuits is so clever and beautiful at the same time. I’ve never read anything like it before. Hilarious in places, devastatingly sad in others it feels so very real and relatable. Summing up what it means to be a woman is an impossible feat but Robins has come close with this. ⁣

There are a few characters who we see a lot of throughout the book- you come to think of these are your friends whilst reading. Then there are others which you only find out one thing about but yet these still have an impact too. I’m in love with the friends that send each other pictures of their poop... SO GOOD! ⁣

Jenny thank you for creating such a brilliant book. I will be eagerly awaiting whatever you are making next- a true true talent. ⁣

If you are after an excellent graphic novel then I urge you to seek this one out. Available from all good bookshops and direct from the publisher @myriad_editions too

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Literary Lucie, Bookstagrammer

29 January 2021

Biscuits (Assorted) is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel that explores the lives of a wide variety of women who live in London. We are given short and snappy vignettes into their lives, and we see how their stories are so unique and yet still somehow connected. We meet some wonderful women along the way; some in more depth, and some for a fleeting visit. We meet Hana, who always stays positive even when faced with prejudice. Sarah, who is juggling motherhood and illness. Clara, who is struggling to find a date for her friend’s wedding. One of my favourites, Maya, an over sharer on public transport, and so many more.

One of my favourite things to do in London is to ‘people watch’ and try to work out something about that person. What do they do for a job, what have they got in that Costa cup, who are they meeting here? Not a single person I see is the same as another; everyone has their own lives, their own stories. They all just happen to be embarking on this journey in London at the exact same time as someone else.

The overall idea and title for the graphic novel is amazing; this cookie cutter shape, this mould that we are meant to fit doesn’t work because the ‘perfect’ woman doesn’t exist. We are all unique and our differences should be celebrated. This way no two people live the same lives and experience the same things, no two biscuits are exactly the same. And London is full of a very wide variety of biscuits.

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Jodie Reads Books, Bookstagrammer

29 January 2021

This evening I started reading Biscuits (assorted) by Jenny Robins, which won the myriad first graphic novel competition, and I’m completely hooked. It’s published tomorrow! Looking at the stories and lives of a variety of (fictional) women in the city, it’s funny, compelling and hella relatable.

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Rebecca, The Shelf Ldn, Bookstagrammer

29 January 2021

After yesterday’s poetry revelation, this @myriad_editions graphic novel is opening my eyes to graphic novels!
🍂
Biscuits tells the story of dozens of different women living in London. From the over sharer on the bus, to the joyful positivity of a shop worker, we dip into moments of everyday life, seeing what life is like for women in the city.
🍂
I loved darting between each character. This was such a funny, relatable read that I just loved! I’m in awe of the talent of graphic novelists- swipe to see an extract of these incredible drawings which tell the story.
🍂
I’m now so keen to read more graphic novel. Please let me know if you’ve got any recommendations!

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The Feminist Nook, Bookstagrammer

29 January 2021

What's your favourite biscuit? 🍪

Biscuits Assorted by Jenny Robins

Biscuits Assorted is a graphic novel that dives into a whole range of women's lives in London. It brings together a variety of women from all walks of life across London and tells the story of a few of these. Some of the women's lives we delve into more deeply than others and I found myself drawn to the several stories the most.

Clara and her continuous scepticism to love. Hana and her upbeat and positive attitude in comparison to her younger sister Selma and her cynicism. And Sarah and her balancing of motherhood and illness. These women particularly stood out to me as there were lots of little complexities and difficulties in their lives that slowly unravelled across the story and drew me into their lives.

The book has a little bit of everything and has lots of women in all shapes, sizes, races, religions and identities. It felt like a really diverse and realistic selection of women's stories from London were being brought to life. There were funny notes, sad notes, real points of hardship in some of these women's stories and it felt like a real social commentary as well as story about women's lives.

One other aspect I really enjoyed was how hefty this graphic novel is. Sometimes I feel that I can whizz through a graphic novel in a couple of hours and then feel a little disappointed I've finished it so quickly no matter how good it is. Biscuits Assorted is definitely a graphic novel for older teens to adults so I definitely felt like the target market of this book which was enjoyable.

Biscuits Assorted is a collection of women's stories showing that there is no mould for the everywoman and every individual is unique. The women in this story all raise their voices in their own way to make this book feminist, fun and moving in all the right places. This was exactly the kind of read I needed whilst life has been madness so thank you to @myriad_editions for the copy. This came out on Thursday this week so be sure to go get your copy as it will not disappoint. ✨

Caption: Biscuits Assorted book next to a mug of coffee and plate of Oreo biscuits on a wooden flooring.

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Gnash Comics

29 January 2021

Hope no one expects me to do any work this afternoon just got my pre pub copy of Biscuits by @jennyrobins and settling down for a wonderful read! Out 12 November and heading for Gnash November book of the Month.

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Dylan W Owen, Instagram

28 January 2021

It’s excellent and a great example of ‘comics for people who don’t read comics’. Following the occasionally intersecting lives of several women over the course of one balmy London summer, it has the feel of something like Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland or Alison Bechdel’s Dykes To Watch Out For (but is still very much its own thing).

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Win Wiacek, Comics Review

24 January 2021

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Utterly Captivating Human-Scaled Enticement… 10/10

There’s a 1944 Powell & Pressburger film called A Canterbury Tale, where a group of disparate but loosely associated characters weave in and out of each other’s klives for a defined period, gradually proceeding towards a shared denouement. It’s about far more than that and is really good. You should see it.

Biscuits Assorted is a bit like that, but also completely different. You should read it. It’s really, Really good.

Artist, teacher, Small Press artisan and author Jenny Robins is clearly a keen observer and gifted raconteur deftly attuned to nuance and ambiance and quite possibly hopelessly in love with London. Her award-winning debut graphic novel is a paean to modern living in the city, recounted through overlapping snapshots of many women’s lives in the months of JuneJuly and August of a recent year (and don’t worry about which one).

If you need the metaphor explained, there are different varieties and, occasionally, they don’t do what it says on the tin…

Seriously though, here in captivating monochrome linework are a plethora of distinct and well-round individuals of differing ages and backgrounds working, playing, living, dying, risking, winning, failing and constantly interacting with each other to a greater or lesser extent, all united by place, circles of friends, shared acquaintances and enjoying – for once – full access to their own unexpurgated voices.

Strangers or intimates, life-long or Mayfly-momentary, this addictively engaging collection of incidents and characters all share locations and similar pressures as they go about their lives, but the way in which they all impact upon each other is truly mesmerising. I’m a bluff old British codger and I’ve met these very women and girls all my life, except for those who are completely new to my white male privileged experience. Now, however, I know what they’re like and what they’ve been thinking all this time…

And it’s outrageously funny and terrifying elucidating, rude in all the right ways and places and able to break your heart and jangle the nerves with a turn of a page.

Biscuits Assorted is a brilliant and revelatory picaresque voyage that is impossible to put down and certain to become a classic of graphic literature. It’s also the most fun you can have with your brain fully engaged.

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Eleanor, Graphic Novel Staff Picks for 2020, Turnaround UK

14 December 2020

I first learned Myriad would be publishing Biscuits in the summer, after returning from a long and weird furlough it what had already been a long and weird year. Promising a vibrant cast of women living across London, their lives peered into through a flurry of interweaving stories. Suffice to say it was something to look forward to. Fast forward to today and it did not disappoint. Biscuits is a delight. A hilarious and heartwarming trip through the once bustling streets of London, with all the secrets and stories its inhabitants contain. And a much-needed escape from our poorly written dystopian plot line into something resembling normality. The equivalent of cracking open a tin of Quality Streets to find an assortment of friendly faces.

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Stephen Holland, Page 45 Comic Of The Month

4 December 2020
Come, meet some new friends. You’ll feel like you’ve known them for years!

If my favourite part of this job is providing top-notch recommendations tailored specifically to readers’ tastes, then perhaps the greatest pleasure of all is being taken completely by surprise by a graphic novel – debut of otherwise – which renders me wide-eyed with wonder and so slack-jawed (after an hour or two aching with laughter) that I cannot wait for someone new to walk through the door so that I can press the book fervently into their hands.

Current status...? Unequivocally ecstatic, thanks.

Jenny Robins’s BISCUITS (ASSORTED) is a delicious, grin-inducing joy – as well as one of the most effortlessly accessible and all-inclusive celebrations of friendships that I’ve ever been blessed to stumble across.

Not only are there more sparkling rejoinders per page than any other comic I can think of – even John Allison’s wit-ridden BAD MACHINERY – but I cannot think of anything quite like this in terms of structure, which is extraordinary given how obviously winning it is in retrospect.

Over the course of 300 pages, many, many stories will unfold, served up in one- two- or three-page conversational snippets before we’re led gaily away to see what some other women are up to. The book’s dip-in, dip-out structure leaves its readers room to pause and to ponder, to smile and reflect. It’s like hopping between tables down a pub populated by the most fascinating folk all up for brand-new experiences and a pretty decent crack.

I warn you right now that it’s not without the odd moment of quiet courage in the wake of tremendous adversity, but that courage is as impressive and infectious as the fun.

Running throughout the book - between the brief bursts of evolving story - is an extrapolation of the cover’s cookie-cover motif as characters pop up and are spotlit once, twice or several more times, with equally evolving and often satirical one-sentence status summaries appended. The idea being, of course, that we are all individuals far more likely to surprise than we are – thank god – to conform uniformly either to some bizarre homogenous physical and mental shape or indeed or own characters as perceived by others.

And I don’t have time to write much more tonight, but right in the centre the threads converge at least geographically on London’s South Bank during a feminist festival, before our friends bid each other a fond farewell and get on with the rest of their lives.

Indeed, BISCUITS (ASSORTED) bursts with a spirit of place – that place being London – in all its contrasting and often crammed together higgeldly-piggeldy glory, with majestic full-page architectural collages providing additional chapter breaks.

The detail is rich and the textures quite worked but not overwhelming – this book is so full of space! Better still, the gestures are just-so expressively, and each individual’s facial reactions dance from gleeful or aghast to contemplatively serene. Although I think Maya, perpetually on the phone while travelling by The Tube, is going to come away with a very stiff neck.

Jenny Robins’s BISCUITS (ASSORTED) is December 2020’s Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month.

Moreover, it has leapfrogged, legs akimbo, over hundreds upon hundreds of other comics to find itself quite startlingly in my Top Twenty Favourite Graphic Novels Of All Time.

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Jared Myland, OK Comics

16 November 2020

Yep, I’ve got a biscuit problem. The title of this book reached right at me.

Retailers often get preview copies to read, and I try to sample them all. Occasionally I read the whole thing in one sitting. This was one of those!

2020 has been an abnormal year for everyone, the perfect time for Biscuits (Assorted), a book that celebrates the everyday lives of normal people.

Jenny Robins peels back the wrapper to reveal an assortment of people moving through their city, leaving crumbs as they go.

Some characters know each other, some don’t, some just pass each other by. Much like people in every town, they have their own quirks, attitudes and idiosyncrasies, all of which are expertly explored by this first time graphic novelist.

It’s the perfect book to help escape the real world and enjoy something normal for a change.

When you’ve read it, let me know who your favourite character is. I know mine.

Ruth Wainwright, The Feminist Bookshop

16 November 2020

In Biscuits Jenny Robins has brought women's lived experiences to life in an incredibly vibrant, beautiful book.

I was first drawn to Biscuits because I loved the premise, a graphic novel that focuses on women in London (my hometown), not as a monolith but an incredibly wide-ranging set of individuals with hugely different lives, personalities, ambitions and aspirations.

On reading, I was thrilled to see how brilliantly Jenny Robins executes this idea in her captivating illustrations.  As the triumphs, mundanities, thoughts and inner worlds of these women are unfurled you find yourself bounding through the book and then returning to the graphics because there is so much more to see in each.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this exquisitely crafted graphic novel and can't wait to see what Jenny has in store for us next!

Teddy Jamieson, Herald Scotland

12 November 2020

Here comes everybody. The super-positive supermarket worker, the friends sharing photographs of their toilets, the sick mum and her smart daughter, the burlesque performer, the woman on the bus oversharing on the bus, the soon-to-be-bride and her bisexual friend who doesn't have a date for the wedding …

Jenny Robins' graphic novel debut, Biscuits (Assorted), is a thrilling, raucous account of big city living with a cast of 11 women (and counting) and their overlapping lives in London. It's a busy book full of short, sharp scenes and quiet moments. The result is immersive, funny and hugely affecting. An extract from the book won the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition 2018.

I'm not sure many people would decide to make their graphic novel debut by creating such an epic story with such a huge ensemble cast. What sparked the idea and was it daunting to take on?

I know, it's kind of a lot. I think it helps that the project didn't remotely start as a graphic novel. In fact, at the time I was planning another comic entirely. But there came a point at which I had to choose between the two projects to develop. Biscuits started with a poster about feminism (and how it isn't simple) that I did for zine distro One Beat Zines. I immediately fell in love with the image and wanted to do more of them. I posted them on Instagram under the hashtag #3point52billion, because that is the approximate number of women in the world, and as such the number of ways it's OK to be a woman. Then I was going to do them as one-off, one-page comics to go with each cookie cutter and give a little sort of snapshot into the lives of these characters whose stories I had implied with the caption underneath. And it just grew and grew.

To enter the project for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition (and the LDComics prize before that) I put together a sort of pitch of where I thought the project could go, but until I won and suddenly had a book contract, I really didn't know what length it was going to be. It was daunting at times, but once I had most of the script written that first summer, it was a mountain that I at least had a map for how to climb.

What fed into that idea of short scenes and lots of characters?

I usually describe the structure to people by comparing it to Love Actually. The influences are broad though, I think, if medium brow. I love novels with fractured, time-distorting narratives like The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Biscuits is not temporally messy, but it does jump around a lot.

I also love things that give you small but potent glimpses into people's lives like Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton's photoblog and interview series.

Within comics, I love sweeping ensemble epics like Love and Rockets. In Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez's work so much of the story is told through dialogue and body language, I like how real that makes it feel. Dave McKean's Cages is another great example of a polyphony of characters, where each overlaps and gets their moment in the spotlight.

It's a book about London. What is your relationship with the city? Love? Hate? Indifference?

I love it. I've lived here since 2008, three years south of the river, nine north.

When I was at uni at Southampton Solent they used to hire a coach once or twice a year and bring us to the city to go to museums and stuff. I remember trying super hard on my outfits because we were going to London, and I had to look cool. But now I know you could generally wear your pyjamas on the tube, or full drag, or anything in between, and people wouldn't bat an eyelid. Londoners have seen it all, and it's all here, all mashed up and on top of itself.

That's not to say that people don't live separate and sheltered lives within the capital; there are a lot of different bubbles and communities, and there's so much I don't know about or understand. There are tower blocks right next to Georgian terraces and pawn shops next to hipster cafes, parallel populations living virtually on top of each other but scarcely mixing. I think that's really interesting. Also, it's just pretty; the buildings, the trees, the layers and layers of history.

One of the questions the book asks is whether London is a lonely city. What do you think?

Yes, it can be. As Hana points out right at the beginning of the book, it's not the norm to talk to strangers in London; in order to meet people you need some kind of excuse. Work, mutual passions, mutual friends etc. Dating apps, I guess. It's doable. But because a lot of people move to the city for a few years and then leave to grow up and settle down somewhere else, those social groups can be fleeting.

Also, when you meet people, they often actually live in another part of London. Too far to walk in lockdown, but even in the before-times, seeing your friends who live in the same city often meant an hour-or-more journey on public transport. Which is pretty mad. Communities grow into and out of each other and evolve constantly.

You have to build your own family where you find it, from the mix of people who you manage to connect with.

I love the rhythm of the book, especially those moments where you just stand still and observe. How easy was it to find that form?

Thank you so much. Getting the pacing right was the thing I was most determined to do, so I tried really hard. That said, the methodology was not straightforward. As the book evolved and grew, I had a number of different methods for tracking the structure - colour coded spreadsheets and graphs and numbered charts. I wanted to make sure there was a mix of tones and that the conflicts weren't all at once, while also preserving a relatively classic narrative structure.

Ultimately, the final decisions were made on instinctive feel. In the evolving script document, I had pages labelled simply as "buffer", where I knew I wanted to slow down and take a breath. In manga, a lot more of these would probably be location, or poetic point-of-view images similar to the way establishing shots are used in film. And some work like that.

But I also wanted to use more non-sequitur type images, to highlight the plurality of the experiences of the characters. Also, I just enjoy drawing mash-up pages and I thought they might sell well as prints, so, that was my excuse.

About those images of the scuzzier corners of the city. Did you draw them in situ, or did you use photographs?

Almost everything in the book is drawn from photographs, with certain changes made to the characters of course. But I don't tend to think of London as a city of scuzzier corners. Here the scuzz can often exist on the very same street as the posh, or at most a few blocks over. The infinite desire for real estate has gentrified so much of the city, but there's still a lot of communities rubbing elbows with each other – tower blocks or rundown terraces one block over from Georgian splendour or modern chrome. That doesn't mean the people actually talk to each other of course, or frequent the same establishments, but they are very much in the same space.

I live in Islington, which is very much poshville, but pictures like the stack of discarded market boxes or the broken sofa left in the street were photographed within a three-minute walk of our flat. The image of Jane and Alice walking through what looks like a pretty rundown area is one of the few pages taken almost entirely from one photo - and it's a photo taken in Bermondsey (also poshville).

As is only right in London, you have a very diverse set of characters. How did you "cast" the book? Who did you want to include?

While I was more consciously chasing diversity when drawing the original #3point52billion project, as they evolved into comic-book characters the process was more organic. Most of the cookie cutter images existed before their stories, I didn't know which ones were going to turn into bigger characters, and it wasn't particularly planned. I actually am a bit sad that I didn't end up with any East Asian characters with a story more than a page long – but this does at least show that I wasn't ticking off a list.

I went with the stories that seemed interesting to me, and that I thought would complement each other. Maybe in the future I'll have a chance to flesh out the stories for some of the cookie-cutter womxn that didn't get a chance this time around. Ultimately, this isn't a book ABOUT diversity, it is a book that contains diversity.

Susan is that rare thing in comics, a character in a wheelchair. It's just her and Charles Xavier. Oh, and Batwoman. (Or am I misremembering?)_

This piqued my "well actually..." muscles and sent me on a Google hunt, but it's hard to find much outside of superheroes searching that way. Apparently, it's Batgirl, not Batwoman, and she changed her name to Oracle whilst wheelchair bound. There's also a character called Harper in Archie comics who's based on Jewel Kats, a real-life person who also has an autobio comic. Niles Caulder from Doom Patrol is also in a wheelchair, Taina Miranda from Unstoppable Wasp is pretty bad-ass, and there's a character in a single issue of Spiderman called Turbine who has a solar powered hovering turbine bike. There's a whole lot in Manga, of course, but the databases that tell you that are less genre-biased.

A better question to ask might be, why don't we see more people in wheelchairs in the media generally? Like most issues of representation, I would imagine it's better than it used to be, and likely will never be as good as it should be. A lot of the time when we write characters we fall into either end of the "lazy assumptions" spectrum - assuming people are different to us and assuming they are just like us.

I'm sure I have fallen into both of those traps in Biscuits at certain points, because, of course, I don't actually know what it's like to be anyone other than me. But I've done my best. For Susan I read a whole lot about Osteogenesis Imperfecta, and most of it didn't make it anywhere near the book, because people don't actually tend to go around telling our life stories all the time.

Asking some of the questions the book asks: Do you want love that boils or stills the blood?

Both, of course.

You have two characters send each other, umm, toilet photographs? Tell me that's not really a thing.

You'd be surprised how many people have approached me to confess they have done this.

Which dystopian future would you most like to live in?

I'm with Rosa. Zombie apocalypse for me, every time.

What was your own route to comics? Were you always a reader?

There were Asterix and Posy Simmonds books in the house growing up, and then in my teens I discovered DC Vertigo trade paperbacks like Sandman in my local library and got into Rumiko Takahashi via watching Pokemon cartoons. Later, I fell in love with David Mack's Kabuki series and Los Bros Hernandez's Love and Rockets. Since I've been reviewing comics for Broken Frontier and The Quietus in recent years, and had a bit more disposable income to spend at small press fairs and local comic book shops, my reading is more varied, and my to-read pile way too big. Some recent influences would have to be Eleanor Davis, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Kate Brown, and Cyril Pedrosa.

What do comics allow you to do that other media can't?

As a creator, they let me do my two favourite things, which is play with words and play with pictures. As a reader, I guess it's partly the same; you get to experience and appreciate the work aesthetically from both those directions. But, also, comics are something of their own, the reader sets the pace. You can slow all the way down and stare at a double-page spread for ages, or you can speed through and then come back to your favourite bits to check things. You can be so much more specific than you can in a novel (the old "a picture speaks a 1000 words" adage), while also giving the reader quite a lot of work to do, imagination-wise.

Comics have one huge advantage over TV, movies or games – budget! You don't need to scout a location, hire an actor or a crack team of state-of-the-art digital animators to create a believable setting, event or phenomenon, the limits are solely the imagination and ability of the writer/artist.

What's next?

Hopefully, a lot of things in the long term, but in the short term a lot of sleep. I'm one of those people who always has more ideas for projects than time to do them, and there's also my day jobs as a teacher and illustrator to squeeze in.

But now I know I can make a whole graphic novel, of course I want to do that again. I have more than enough ideas for a Biscuits 2, but I'm not sure I want to dive into the intense workload situation that this book was again particularly soon.

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Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier

12 November 2020

Today marks the publication of Biscuits (assorted), the debut graphic novel of Broken Frontier’s very own Jenny Robins, published by Myriad Editions. The winner of the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition in 2018 it tells the very different stories of a diverse group of London women as their lives weave around each other.

While we can’t review a BF team member’s work on the site I can assure you it’s one of the standout releases of the year and a remarkably assured debut book. Cleverly constructed, ever playful with the form’s language, and employing some sparkling dialogue and characteristion, it’s a graphic novel you will return to time and again. In fact, this joyous, witty, poignant and, most importantly, very human story is the book we all needed as a counterpoint to the challenges of 2020.

With Biscuits (assorted) now hitting shop shelves and available to buy from Myriad Editions here (and after a mammoth social media marathon of promotional events!) I spoke to Jenny Robins about the London small press scene, her favourite characters and working with Myriad…

ANDY OLIVER: Pre-Biscuits you’ve been involved in the UK small press comics scenes for a while. Where may readers have seen your work before?

JENNY ROBINS: I had a short comic in Solipsistic Pop #4 in 2012, but I didn’t really join the small press scene till the end of 2013, after meeting John Anderson at Comica Social Club I had a 4 page comic based on a found text collage story in the Soaring Penguin anthology Meanwhile… and then I had a similar collage based poetry comic in Over the Line, a poetry comics anthology by Chrissy Williams and Tom Humberstone.

Later on as I was developing the project that became Biscuits (Assorted), there were appearances of Biscuits characters and pages in Dirty Rotten Comics and our very own Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook in 2018. In fact the Hana and Clara story that’s in there never made it to the book, it didn’t make sense after the rest of their stories came together. So if you’ve read that it’s probably best to think of it as a parallel universe story.

AO: For the uninitiated who may have missed your comics media blitz this week what’s the basic premise of Biscuits (assorted) and what are the themes it explores?

ROBINS: It’s been a bit intense hasn’t it? Sorry. There’s a video of me baking. It’s completely ridiculous. I’ve been evolving the stories that are in Biscuits for a long time. It’s quite a joyful book, although it does contain sad and upsetting things. It’s an ensemble comic of short interweaving stories about female-identifying individuals who live in London. It started with a project where I drew a lot of characters inside cookie cutter shapes – a pretty basic metaphor for all us women being individuals and not necessarily what you might expect of us. In the illustrations each woman stood alone with a short caption that hinted at a deeper story. You can still see them all on instagram under the hashtag #3point52billion.

But as the stories got longer and turned into a graphic novel length project, they became very much more about the relationships that these characters had with each other, and with the key players in their lives. So it’s ultimately about courage and hope and love and friendship and how we support each other through tough times. It was very much written before the pandemic, so the tough times are more varied, but there do seem to be a surprising amount of themes in the book that reflect our current times.

AO: What was the origin of and inspiration for the book’s cookie cutter motif that runs through its pages? And who are some of the characters we meet in Biscuits?

ROBINS: The cookie cutters began with a poster design that I did for a zine bundle that I did for One Beat Zines. The poster is about how things like feminism and equality should not be treated like they are simple. More recently I’ve become attached to a great quote by Reni Eddo-Lodge on the same topic: “Demands for equality need to be as complicated as the inequalities they attempt to address.” But it became more about the people than the issues very quickly. I’m afraid I find people and stories more engaging than issues and politics – they’re just as complicated of course, but you can make friends with them in a more forgiving way.

The people with the biggest stories in Biscuits are Clara, Hana and Sarah (above). Clara is embarking on a very ill advised bi-sexual dating quest to address her love geometry. Hana is super friendly and positive, but rather lonely, and now has a brand new friend to share her home city and all of her ideas about it with. Sarah is taking the summer off to do a field-work data project with her young daughter Milly, but there’s something she’s not telling her. You can read more in depth teasers for these stories at the Inside Look I did for Broken Frontier last year!

There’s also Susan – the twitter poet, Maya – the over sharer, Jess – who has a mystery to solve, Almas – who has more than one cause to fight for, Keerthika – who just wants to take photos, and more besides.

AO: The playful narrative structure of Biscuits is one of its greatest delights. Why did you feel that a series of overlapping vignettes was the right approach for this story(stories)?

ROBINS: Thank you so much! I worked really hard at trying to make it make sense and balance well. I think it may have been the allure of the challenge! It also gave me the freedom to give the different characters different amounts of page time, without having to juggle a lot of one-off static stories into an order that made sense. The stories in Biscuits all happen chronologically (apart from one memorable flashback) over the course of one summer, so it was quite nice with the more minor characters that this helped to give a sense of their lives carrying on in the background.

AO: Of all your sprawling cast of characters in Biscuits (assorted) which ones did you find yourself feeling particular affection for as you progressed?

ROBINS: Maya always makes me smile. She’s so stubborn. Most of the characters have pretty hefty self-destructive streaks, which makes them frustrating and relatable through their vulnerability, I think. And that’s when it’s easiest to have affection for them. Although they’re very different, of course there’s a bit of me in all of them. Almas’ story about thinking Bagheera was a girl in the Jungle Book is true about me, and most of the jobs portrayed in the book are jobs that I’ve had. Write what you know, isn’t it?

AO: Given the diverse cast of players in Biscuits (assorted) how did you approach the responsibility of ensuring an authenticity to the voices you were bringing to life on the page?

ROBINS: Oof. Yeah. I read a lot. I looked at and listened to the world around me. I sought advice when I felt I needed it, and paid for it where appropriate. I probably have messed something up and will end up offending someone. But you can do that even if you only write about people that fit your exact identity profile, right? The scenes or throwaway lines that deal most directly with issues of identity are mostly things that I have seen or heard about first hand. The way that Samarah’s English teacher speaks to her for example, is something I saw happen in real life to a Somali student I knew. And yes of course when I drew her henna I tried my best to get the patterns accurate. But having her know about Pink Floyd, or watch horror films from between her fingers – that didn’t require any research. What I do believe is that we are all a combination of the expected and the unexpected. In London many people do grow up in or grow into a mix of different cultures and there’s a certain amount of common experience here. But no-one is 100% a stereotype, or 100% unstereotypical. As Hana puts it: “we are all simultaneously unique snowflakes and parts of the snowman.”

AO: There’s perhaps one additional character in Biscuits (assorted) that could easily go unmentioned. Given that there’s an almost psychogeographical element to the book can you tell us about some of the London locales you’ve depicted that serve as its backdrop?

ROBINS: I got into the habit of just photographing everything and everyone I saw in London that looked vaguely interesting. So I have these vast, not particularly organised folders of photographs. Most of the mashup pages are consciously a mix of different parts of the city, which means that you’re never quite sure which part of the city they are in. All of the bus routes are 100% accurate at time of writing though. Some of the playgrounds, the South Bank of course, and the giant horse’s head sculpture by Nic Fiddian-Green needed to be specific, so I made them as close as I could to reality. These public spaces are such an important part of the city. There’s also the calendar events that Keerthika in particular attends which I loved including to give a feel for the passage of the Summer. She’s the perfect character to see them with because she’s quite young and innocent, but also a photographer, so she really looks at what’s around her. And these become more about the people and less about the setting as the book goes on.

2018 Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition winner Jenny Robins (second left) and, left to right. judges Kate Evans, Martin Rowson, Corinne Pearlman and 2012 winner Gareth Brookes

AO: Going back to that Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition win can you remember how it felt the moment your name was announced? And how would you describe the importance of the competition in terms of its role in elevating new talent?

ROBINS: Haha! I think I remember a certain inarticulate scream? It was an absolute life-changing moment and so validating. You go through life not really knowing if you’re any good at making stuff. I mean, not to be a dick about it, I know I’m good at drawing and making silly jokes. But at crafting something that people want to read? You can’t trust your friend’s opinions on that cos they’re your friends. So to have a panel of super impressive judges choose your work. Yeah, validating. Winning forced me to take the project seriously and woke me up to some scary opportunities to be creatively brave, something I’d not done enough of for a while before.

I also talk a lot about the inestimable difference that competitions like Myriad’s make by simply offering deadlines up to creatives. When you’re pottering along with your day job that pays the rent and your commissions and safe little personal projects that you can fit in around the edges, it’s hard to get down to that big ambitious project you’ve always wanted to do. But with a deadline for the first 30 pages, well, that’s motivational. Because the reality is most of us aren’t going to quit our day jobs any time soon, and we’re going to be tired all the time. So deadlines. They’re the way forward.

AO: You’ve worked with highly respected editor Corinne Pearlman at Myriad on Biscuits. What was that like in comparison to working on your self-published projects? In what ways did the book evolve with that additional input and discussion?

ROBINS: This is by far the biggest project I’ve ever done, so it was in some ways all new. Corinne was brilliant at picking up on the things that weren’t going to work and helping me decide on questions of structure. It was her idea to divide the book into three months. She mostly let me get on with it, but the changes she suggested were spot on. We shuffled some scenes around here and there. Too many of my characters started out with more creatively inclined stories or jobs and Corinne encouraged me to change that. It’s all very well writing what you know with the standard tortured artist and troubled writer protagonist, but when they point of your book is that the characters are different types of people, you can’t very well have them all being creatives. In the final stages there were a lot of grammar adjustments. Apparently, I’ve been using commas wrong this whole time. And I wasn’t even using hyphens at all. Hyphens suck, what’s wrong with being two words?

AO: Can you talk about your artistic process? What mediums do you work in?

ROBINS: Mostly pigment liner. The pages set at night do have some gradients added in Photoshop, and I did use Photoshop to add some of the more intense hatching in, especially towards the end. I drew all the bricks though. So very many bricks. Cough cough subtle plug many of the original pages are available for sale cough cough. No I don’t have Corona. I don’t do a lot of detailed page planning because I like to use stills from video for the character poses, and I don’t know what I’m gong to find that fits the mood I’m going for before I’ve looked. I scripted most of the story in the first summer holidays after I won the prize, but some parts were open until relatively late in the process. For a long time I didn’t know whether I wanted to include a scene for Helena’s wedding or not, for example. None of the work was done chronologically except for the first 30-odd pages, which now look really different to me because I hand-lettered them originally with the speech bubbles within the drawing. Which I soon learned was a stupid idea.

AO: It’s always a strange question to be asking a creator when a new book is just hitting the shelves but, finally, do you have any thoughts on your next comics project?

ROBINS: Sleep! Oh wait, comics project? I have a lot of thoughts. And lists, and doodles and notes in my phone. I don’t know. I would love to do a Biscuits sequel, but I’m not ready to dive back into the Graphic Novel lifestyle yet, I need a break. So there might be some exciting small and medium-sized projects in the short term. I’m about to apply for some money from the British Council for something which I haven’t told anyone about yet, so if they say yes, there will be something exciting happening next year with that. I also have an idea for a project which I’d like to write and have a different artist draw each chapter, but that’s still in very early stages. Between now and Christmas though, probably mostly sleep and nice relaxing portrait commissions. Oh and I should catch up on my writing for Broken Frontier I guess!

Buy Biscuits (assorted) here

For more on the work of Jenny Robins visit her site here and online store here. You can follow her on Twitter here and Instagram here.

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Rubyyy Jones, Performing Artist

11 November 2020

Ohhhhhhhhh babes! We are still in, and will remain in, dark and complex times for the foreseeable future and I'm thinking of all wayyys we can stay healthy and more peaceful and a bit joyful through out.

And yes I've got my dance classes, our not-a-workout workout space and suchhh but I'm also thinking about the quiet and individual ways we can take space and experience pleasure... And I'm going to share with you!

Reading has always been a huge part of my life. As a qiddo it was my way to escape and cope and dream, preferring the world on paper as opposed to in my face. I was the qid getting scolded for reading at the dinner table or while walking down the street.

But somewhere along the way I fell a bit out with books. School and pressure made them feel less fun or freeing. I also started to often have a huge feeling of anxiety while reading, a feeling of danger or foreboding... So slowly, it became less a part of my life.

I don't know how it happened, but like it goes sometimes, I just one day had the gut feeling, the tingly knowing of I WANT TO READ A BOOK. I read many different things, but I craved fiction and deep diving into another world. And just like it slowly left, it slowly came back into my life again. The progress is slow but slow and steady wins the race!

I want to share with you a glorious book that I think is special and accessible and magical in many ways. Biscuits: Assorted by Jenny Robins @mywordsfly is a graphic novel that explores a bunch of women's stories and lives as they push, pinpoint and play with society's (and the readers) expectations about who they are, what the can do and what they know. I adored Jenny's OG series of characters in cookie cutter holes, posing outside and all around the shapes cut out for them.

I LOVE the smudgy, sweet comic illustrations - which make it part book, part art - and give a little more support if you're the kind of babe who struggles with reading or the kind of babe who wants an extra bit of stimulation. This is a perfect lockdown treat if you have some pennies!

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Simon Chadwick, The Cartoon Club

10 November 2020

Jenny Robins won the Myriad First Graphic Novel competition back in 2018 with an extract from Biscuits (assorted). She has been diligently working on it ever since. That work went right through the early 2020 lockdown, as is reflected by aspects of the story. But it’s not just this contemporary reference that makes it feel relevant – it manages to do it through its vastly varied and captivating cast of characters too. 

Biscuits (assorted) is told through a multitude of vignettes. Each is a tiny sliver of a particular woman’s life as they go about their daily routines in London. Like many capital cities, London draws people to it, from the towns and villages across the nation, and from other countries too. Naturally, these people’s paths intersect as a result. What Biscuits (assorted) sets out to do is chart a course through many of the women that live in the city, and see how their lives affect one another. Regardless of background, those interactions are many, and fascinating as the tale progresses.

Characters include Maya who has precious little social awareness, broadcasting the details of her life to all and sundry as she chats on her phone in public spaces. There’s Clara who just might have her finger on her own self-destruct button. There’s also Hana, a warm-hearted people-person who works in a supermarket and just loves to talk. And so many more.

With all these characters it could have easily failed as a narrative. However, Robins uses her skills as an illustrator to reinforce her storytelling. Not only does she manage to give each character a distinct visual look, but she further shapes their personality with snippets about their preferences, traits, worries, and joys. These in turn can reflect how that character’s story is told visually. What emerges are rounded characters with depth that the reader wants to know more about. In life, no person is a blank slate, and it’s the small defining details that make us who we are and that other people respond to. Robins uses that understanding to drive the story onwards. This ultimately rewards the reader as the characters’ lives begin to increasingly overlap.

Character development is an essential element of any creative fiction, and often takes too long to engage the reader (and with minor characters it may not happen at all). Biscuits (assorted) has no such problems. It sinks its claws in within a page of each new character introduction, and drip-feeds you revelations and relationships that build a bigger picture as the pages turn. And you’ll want to keep turning those pages. Not because of some imminent danger or pulse-racing chase scene, but because you want to know just how far Sarah is pushing herself with her illness and whether Jess will find out who Deb is. 

As a first graphic novel this is a remarkable piece of work. Complex, thoughtful, daring, and at times funny. It’s a stark reminder that wherever we come from, we are all so alike, sharing the same hopes and fears, and a desire for companionship. If this book has a legacy then it should be to give people pause, and consider those around them, to serve as a reminder that they’re not all that different from you.

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5/5 star review by Ben Tallon, Goodreads

3 November 2020

A warm, well-observed, wonderfully illustrated lens on contemporary London life. Jenny's attention to detail lends this graphic novel an authenticity and energy which set it apart.

I felt uncomfortable, elated and irritated via the dips in and out of the characters' lives; all of which is a testament to Jenny's writing and art-working.

Clara was a personal favourite character, yet whilst eager to gobble up her story, I did not feel the need to rush forward, past other characters to continue along. Each narrative is well crafted, funny and poignant in lively pops.

Highly recommended as a real-world alternative to Marvel!

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Jodie Reads Books, Bookstagram

This photo would’ve been better if it included biscuits, but—shamefully—I’m not that keen on biscuits and never have them in the house. Luckily, I was much more keen on Biscuits: Assorted by Jenny Robins.

Graphic novels are a god send when you want to be entertained but only have a short amount of time. I haven’t read many, but each time I have read one, it’s been all in one go, in around two hours. Perfect.

Biscuits is a funny, touching novel about a cast of loosely linked women of all ages living in London. Robins does slice of life brilliantly - I felt like I was peering through windows, in a non-creepy voyeuristic way.

Biscuits: Assorted won the @myriad_editions first graphic novel competition and I can see why. Myriad has run the competition four times, starting in 2012, and it’s part of their mission to encourage and nurture new talent, and to amplify voices. As well as publishing the winners of the competition, Myriad has published shortlisted works before.
This is definitely my favourite graphic novel out of all I’ve read so far! Thank you to @myriad_editions for the gifted copy!

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