Career slashers, pigeonholes for people who don’t really fit them
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In 2021, Camille Toussaint and Caroline Renaudière created a slightly off-the-wall Instagram account, half-written, half drawn. Adopting a very opposite perspective to that of the slasher, a character involved in a number of inspirational activities, each week the project shares the wild imaginings of two freelancers on a quest to find meaning.
If you read KingKong, it is likely that you are a part of this large community of people of indeterminate status, carrying out various types of often very varied work for numerous clients, which I have called freelancers. If that is the case, you might be familiar with the term ‘slasher.’
If not, it might be of interest to you that the word simply comes from the English ‘slash’ (not to be confused with its Belgian homonym to which, however practical both might be, there is absolutely no connection), that is to say the oblique diagonal which separates the words in a list (/) and refers to a person who has several occupations on the go at the same time, and which on the face of it are not linked in any way.
Not very innovative, you may well say, and working several jobs at the same time has always been a thing. But with the difference being that the slasher emphasises the hype version of the notion. Understand it more in the sense of ‘I am a consultant / jewellery designer / retraining organic market gardener’ than in the sense of ‘I need to do two jobs to pay my bills.’ The ‘slasher’ is thus a concept very rooted in the real.
Because whilst the term initially aimed to foreground people with multi-skilled profiles, often undervalued in the world of work, the notion, by way of #dreamjob and other Instagram-friendly successes, quickly veered off towards a concept which seemed to imply that when you are involved in several professional activities, you are automatically hyper fulfilled, hyper busy, hyper confident, that everything is going amazingly well, and everything always goes to plan at the first attempt.
It’s enough to throw any self-respecting freelancer who is a little lost into an identity crisis, even though they have been a slasher from the outset, or at some point or another in their career. At that point when, between two projects, they clumsily try to find a logical connection between their various occupations, are beset by latent imposture syndrome and are dreading hearing, in the middle of a procrastination crisis, the fatal question: ‘And how about you, what do you do in your life?’
And it is precisely this condition of being a slasher – second interpretation, by which is meant a freelancer who is always weighing things up – that Camille Toussaint, an illustrator, and Caroline Renaudière, a scriptwriter, look into with their eponymous Instagram account.
The concept is simple: publications made up of a comic strip, on the one hand, and of a story on the other, talking about the everyday existence of two freelancers who are a little undecided and unsettled. Successes and failures, rash negotiations, existential questions … all so many themes which the two roomies humorously look into, each week, or thereabouts.
Launched in October 2021, the project at present has 1,600 subscribers. So it’s not going to bring about a revolution on the web, but that figure is enough to confirm that many people recognise themselves in the SOS messages sent out by these freelancers (occasionally) in distress.
Slashers / roomies
Caroline and Camille met one another on the benches of the IHECS (Institute for Higher Social Communication Studies in Brussels). From being a journalist paid by the piece who drew in her spare time, Camille little by little became an illustrator. If you spend time in the Brussels illustration world, perhaps you have come across her linocuts of Brussels, or maybe l’Emoustille, the newsletter she co-created. For her part, Caroline has resumed her studies in screenplay writing, after a Belgo-Spanish career journey fluctuating between writing and cinema (she in particular has to her name the casting of the Normal series), miscellaneous training programmes and varied projects. A somewhat scattered life of wearing several hats is thus one the both of them know very well. In 2021 they became roommates, their apartment becoming a witness to their spicy procrastinations.
The birth of a slash
Wanting to work together, they, first of all, considered a comic strip on rap. ‘But neither of us knows a great deal about rap.’ The idea of mixing writing and drawing nevertheless germinated, and took shape when they jointly responded to a call for proposals involving working on a project with a magazine. For both of them it was their first joint application, which they only just missed out on, but it led to something clicking into place. ‘We came second. It was disappointing, but then we said to ourselves that we could also get something going with the two of us, without waiting for a request from the outside. We simply had to establish some signposts, a rhythm, and stick to them.’
The subject of slashers was one which came easily to them. ‘We found it funny as a word, and above all absurd that it was used in such a serious and professional way, to talk about a situation which we experience every day and which there is nothing very glamorous about sometimes. Us, we also “carry out several activities concurrently,” but we also spend a large part of our time staring at the ceiling, getting stressed that we don’t have enough projects and wondering what we are going to do with our lives.’
It has to be said that they don’t spend a long time staring at this ceiling, because one week later, the first publication came out, and one year later they are still there. And there is a good place to be: testament to this is a sizeable community, their taking part in a writing residency and a published comic strip project in progress. Not too shabby for two avid enthusiasts of procrastination.
They are upfront about it. If the project ever got off the ground, and if it is keeping up the pace, it is because there are two of them involved.
A partnership which allows them to bounce ideas off one another, but also to give each other a boost and overcome the difficulties inherent to working on one’s own: ‘Working in a team provides you with legitimacy, with confidence,’ explains Camille. ‘We wouldn’t have got “les. slasheuses” going on our own, or continued with it, particularly when such or such publication hadn’t worked.’ Caroline corroborates this: ‘Working as a pair, it lifts the pressure of saying to yourself that if a project isn’t working, it is automatically because it is rubbish. Here, there being two of us motivates us: we try, we learn, we move forwards.’
A complicity which allows them to test more ambitious ideas, concepts and formats. And … to change course when it doesn’t work at the first attempt. Testament to this is this publication on the art of screwing things up, published after a pretty traumatic failure. Which just goes to show that, yes, the two of them have bouncebackability.
For us as the public, the duet-based creation in addition allows us to access two aspects of personality within a single project. Because whilst the preparation of each publication is shared, Caroline ultimately works on the storyline, which provides her with her share of existential questions, cynical and/or absurd; with Camille working on the comic strip which accompanies it, endowing the stories or characters with a comic, light or offbeat tone. Consumed together or separately, we in any case thoroughly recommend them to you, without any moderation.
From a blog to Insta, there is but a (large) step
In principle much keener on paper than on social networks (we should emphasise that at the beginning Caroline was pushing to create … a blog), the two creatives are here experimenting with 100% online publication.
The first point to make: Instagram offers ease and rapidity for creation, in particular as regards comic strips. ‘There is a whole comic strip culture on Instagram,’ explains Camille. ‘The comic strips are shorter on it, less elaborate, less meticulous than in printed books. Unlike on paper, you can publish basic drawings, quickly, without them needing to be perfect. That allows us to keep up with the pace without polishing our content for hours on end.’
The creatives also emphasise the distance which using the social network allows them. ‘We publish once a week and that’s it. No story, no photos of ourselves, just drawings and a text.’ A use which, taking an opposite view to the usual practices of social media, provides them with a certain detachment regarding their work. ‘We know that it’s virtual. When a publication works, it’s wonderful, but if it doesn’t work, we are less affected. On Instagram, failure is more unreal.’
Successes and failures, long live normality
Each week, putting together the delightful adventures of these two blue-haired characters, the project develops, much as its protagonists do, by trial and error, with self-deprecation and kindness. Depicting characters in what is the most ordinary about them, ‘les. slasheuses’ have a deliciously human side to them, funny and endearing, and incidentally prove that doubts and failures work just as well, and even more, as slick and brilliant successes.
‘And that raises a question,’ concludes Caroline. ‘Given that the account is based on our stories, if what works for people is the aspect of messing things up, the only thing we can hope for is that our projects never take off.’
We won’t go as far as wishing that on them, but if it might allow us to follow their adventures, we secretly hope that they will continue, even through their fabulous successes, to try out one clumsy mishap or another from time to time.
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