Fairy princess cushion

I’m putting together a sketchbook zine with small drawings and comics made in my local park. This took place in the park but I drew it from ‘memory’ back at home.

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I think we all have a Fairy Princess Cushion in our lives, don’t we?

 

New comic: X Utero

Just back from the printers – my full-colour 20-page collection of 10 short comics created between 2011 and 2013 (many of which I’ve shared here). The themes are reproductive status, language used around miscarriage, heredity etc. Some are very personal but some seem to have proved relevant to others who’ve had similar experiences (judging by responses I’ve had since I began sharing them).

Availability: It’s for sale here at my comics shop. I’ll be taking it to Ethics Under Cover: Comics, Medicine & Society (4th International Conference on Comics and Medicine) where I’ll also be presenting work in progress at 9am on 7th July. It will also soon be available from Wellcome Bookshop on the Graphic Medicine bookshelf. Wellcome will have a table selling their Graphic Medicine titles at the Narrative Medicine Conference, June 19-21st, and X Utero will be included. I’ve just found out that Linda Humphreys MSc, will mention some of my images in her presentation at the same conference. She used some of my comics in her reflective writing class for Genetic Counselling students at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia.

This comic is probably the last on this particular subject matter I’ll share until my book is finished. And, I’m afraid the title and cover of X Utero comprise a shameless play on the band Nirvana’s final album In Utero. It seemed fitting!

My next printed thing is likely to be Motorways – more of a sketchbook collection and not an anthropomorphised uterus in sight!

Mother, or not?

This one’s dedicated to new friends in the Gateway Women sisterhood! It’s (probably) the last of the short comics around this subject matter that I’ll be doing until The Facts of Life is published by Myriad Editions in 2015.

My sharing of this work has been about trying to get people thinking, if not talking, about issues around fertility, miscarriage, and non-motherhood. I think it’s important that there’s discourse about this in society, so that people who feel isolated in their suffering (due to stigma) can perhaps gain confidence to talk more openly – only if they wish. I’m hoping that comics can be part of that – a jumping-off point, if you like. So thanks to everyone who has helped to share and support the posts/ work I’ve created on the subject over the past year or so. I’ve had some long-overdue conversations; connected with women I barely know over the subject; and heard  things on the grapevine that have made me glad I’ve put it ‘out there’, despite, at times, feeling unsure about it.

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I’ll be adding ‘Mother, or not?’ to a collection of comics I’ve done about miscarriage and childlessness over the past couple of years – coming soon (if the faffing with colours for print doesn’t finish me off). For me this one represents acceptance and new things.

ps: Texture = terry towelling (the stuff that nappies are made of). In yellow, it seemed just right for the centre of a daisy.

‘Do you have children?’

Last week I attended a meeting by Gateway Women, an organisation run by Jody Day for women who are ‘childless by circumstance’ – be that infertility, chronic illness, or by marriage etc (there are many and varied reasons). It was full of interesting, vibrant women, none of whom appeared to live up to the pejorative stereotype of ‘crazy cat lady’. Well, blow me down with a feather!

One of the hot topics at this particular meeting was what to say in social situations when asked: ‘Have you got kids?’ This question can be very difficult for some women to hear, let alone answer. All women are asked this at some point in their lives; we live in a pro-natal society that, if you haven’t reproduced, demands to know why not. Never mind whether you wish to answer such an emotive question.

Here are some storyboards I drew on the subject in 2011, and which I presented at the Graphic Medicine Comics Forum day: Visualising the Stigma of Illness in Leeds, November 2011. I talked about the stigma surrounding miscarriage and resulting childlessness. You can hear the podcast of my talk here. These pages comprise a generic and condensed version of events. Thanks to Deb Joffe for modelling!

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I feel that many people who do have kids hope to hear ‘yes’ in reply and are ill-prepared for a ‘no’. In my experience, they tend to: carry on their line of inquiry; make assumptions; and offer unsolicited advice. There’s a fine line between genuine interest and intrusiveness – and I’ve experienced both. But I acknowledge that it’s awkward for both parties. I no longer ask people that question and have now developed antennae that help me to read between the lines. I don’t mind being asked as much as I used to, because I feel better prepared (I’ve had plenty of practice). It’s not only childless women who struggle with this: I know mothers who wish people would take more of an interest in the non-mothering side of their lives too – they don’t want to be defined by their reproductive status alone. And men are not immune either.

I’ll expand on this when it comes to artwork, and I’ll save my reasons for foregoing adoption for the book*. I’ll also be addressing my own thoughts on remedies for sticking those severed panels back together, but in the meantime there are some good suggestions on the blog No Children, What now? The Gateway Women hope that, in future, both parents and non-parents will settle into a mutually respectful way to handle this hot potato without anyone getting burnt.

*The Facts of Life (working title) is due to be published by Myriad Editions in 2015.

Propensity for panels? My cute roots

I’ve been wondering why it took me so long to work in comics, but perhaps the propensity for panels has always been there, lurking. These images are from my early career in illustration (pub. between 1997-2000) when I was churning out greetings card designs. The range for Lip International was my first big commission – a range of 32 cards, which progressed to stationery and kitchen textiles. They are made from torn paper collage (mainly Canson textured papers) with pencil crayon and paint for detail – my signature style until I had to put it to bed due to RSI (tearing thousands of tiny pieces of paper takes its toll over the years). The textile products were sold in Sainsburys and somehow made their way into the soap opera kitchens of Brookside, and Hollyoaks! I hate to admit watching them in my 20s, but it meant I could squeal with delight when I saw ‘my’ oven gloves and T-towels on screen (how deeply uncool). I barely watch TV now.

My agent called me ‘triptych queen’ and I still have a tendency to work in threes. The panel layout for my graphic novel is three rows deep with panels often occurring in multiples of three. (This suits my story because I had three miscarriages.) I’ve been arranging panels for my graphic novel in a strikingly similar fashion to some of these cards. I didn’t do it consciously remembering earlier work – but was rooting around for a card to send this week (I still have heaps of these things in in the loft) and the panel radar lit up! Maybe it had been there all along, waiting to resurface at a time when I could put it to better use.

My work back then was labelled ‘cute’ and ‘twee’ – something I’m running from now and want to avoid in my comics work. That said, it was a good living, and although I find this work cringingly insipid now, it served me well at the time. So, I’m happy to carry the propensity for panels with me, but the subject matter and cutesy style can stay in the loft.

Motorways

I’ve had to make one or two journeys due to family illness this year and, when not driving, I’ve found it to be quite absorbing to draw the fast-changing landscape of motorways. It takes my mind off things. The drawings are very wobbly, of course, due to the movement of both the vehicle and subject matter – but I like that quality. I became excited by the shapes of those 1950s concrete motorway bridges – and I started to fixate on the CCTV cameras. I also found the black digital display boards to be somewhat foreboding and ‘looming’ when they didn’t contain any information. They’re just the right size to be spooky in some way. Maybe it was just the mood I was in! See if you can guess what I was listening to…

Starsky the Rainbow Trout

I wrote this at Cleveland College of Art & Design in Middlesbrough (1987-8) when I was studying for my Foundation Certificate. I made this book dummy as part of my response to a textiles module. The brief was to buy a whole fish from a fishmonger’s, which would serve as inspiration for the duration of the project. We had to draw and ‘get to know’ the fish – we kept them in the college fridge in between classes. The studio was ripe by the end of the module.

Starsky was executed in pencil crayons and inkpen (very 1980s – everyone wanted to be Raymond Briggs back then). I was a strict vegetarian at the time, and, although I eat fish now, I’ve never really fancied trout.

As a published picture book author, I would say to my young student-self:

  • Not bad for a first try at making a story book, but:
  • Avoid rhyming text for a first book; it makes translation of co-editions tricky, but if you must:
  • Try using a thesaurus to avoid lazy rhyming stanzas.
  • Learn some grammar and how to spell ‘fly’ and ‘embedded’.
  • Fish don’t ‘shout’ – they scream silently (in the same way an uprooted flower does). They don’t laugh either. Mainly, they glug.
  • Think about page turns – who was lurking on the bank? Make the reader want to turn the page to find out. Same goes for the very last line – it would be more dramatic if it had a page to itself at the end.
  • Don’t simply illustrate the words, drop some words and let the pictures do the talking, too.
  • Try for a more imaginative title – publishers aren’t keen on ‘Sammy the Squirrel’-type titles. How about Massacre in the River Tees* instead?

I got an good mark for that module, and the tutor tried to persuade me to apply for Textile Design at degree level, instead of Graphic Design. I don’t think textiles would have been my thing. Too stinky.

*joking, of course