The Facts of Life news

After working on The Facts of Life over six or more years, if feels so good to say that it’s an actual book now and I’ve held it in my hands!

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I’ve also pleased to announce that, in a deal negotiated by Louisa Pritchard Associates, Myriad Editions have sold the N American rights for The Facts of Life to Penn State University Press, and I’m excited that it will be joining their Graphic Medicine series. I’ve long been a fan of Graphic Medicine and I’ve spoken about this work at three of their events and conferences since 2011. It feels like the right home for my book over the pond. It will be published there around the same time as MK Czerwiec’s (aka Comic Nurse) book Taking Turns. I met MK at a Graphic Medicine event that was part of 2011 Comics Forum in Leeds, and we’ve had a similar timeline to publication over the past few years. I’m very much looking forward to reading this book, which is a memoir about her time working as a nurse in a HIV/AIDS unit in the 1980s. Other excellent books that I’ve read from the series include The Bad Doctor by Ian Williams, Hole in the Heart by Henny Beaumont, and Things to Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park by Aneurin Wright, all of which were first published by Myriad Editions in the UK, so PSUP already feels like home!

In other good news, I’m delighted that my book is currently Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller for Biography/ Memoir. I’ll keep you up to speed next year with news about events I’ll be attending and at which I’ll be speaking about the book. All the very best for the festive season and wishing you health and happiness in 2017!

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The Facts of Life will be published by Myriad Editions and Penn state University Press in March 2017.

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Halfway: Graphic memoir update

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HALFWAY! Through the artwork stage of my graphic memoir The Facts of Life. What? Only half way? I know – I’ve been on with the thing since 2010. Most comics creators are well aware of what a gargantuan labour-intensive task writing and drawing a long-form comic can be, many taking a good ten years to complete one alongside other work.

My personal reason for derailment has been health issues this year. When I signed the contract with Myriad Editions, and got my grant from Arts Council England, I was relatively well and thought that I could get the deed done in a couple of years. But this year has seen a relapse in my ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia symptoms. I was first diagnosed with this in 2008, and when I started working on this project in earnest, in 2011, it felt like I was comfortably in recovery. I started out working for six days each week to get the artwork stage of the project done by my original deadline, but it wasn’t to be. The illness raised its ugly head again around March/ April of this year after a particularly rapacious bout of blood-spitting bronchitis. (Never come near me if you have anything vaguely viral or snively.) Many describe it as a ‘fluctuating illness,’ and, well, it fluctuated the wrong way.

I’ve had to cut back on how much work I can do each day, and in summer I had to stop work completely for a few weeks due to chronic muscle pain/ soreness and clobbering fatigue. I’m back to work again now, but doing only four pages a week and that mostly seems manageable – although not every week. I’m grateful to Myriad Editions for their patience, support and understanding. The book is now due to come out in 2017 but no specific date has been decided yet. Here is the latest cover design: COVER_Couple_ChartBlueBG_redcrosses_darkerchart

In other news, my book was mentioned in The Bookseller recently, and in last week’s Sunday Times online, alongside some of my talented comics contemporaries – Nicola Streeten, Ian Williams, Rachael Ball, and Henny Beaumont. It was an article about the growing popularity of graphic novels with a medical theme (aka Graphic Medicine). There are some amazing books coming out, and already published, by those folks, so do look them up. Also look out for Una’s new book from Myriad Editions – Becoming Unbecoming.

Also, I occasionally post snippets from the work in progress, and ‘deskies’ at my work Instagram account: @paulajkstudio

How a Baby is Made

To celebrate my invitation to join the Mumsnet Bloggers network, I thought I’d share the first incarnation of my graphic memoir in progress, The Facts of Life.

I drew How a Baby is Made in 2007, a few years before the story was over and I could begin writing it properly. This was really my first attempt at a comic strip. I entered it for the Observer/ Cape Graphic Short Story Prize in 2007, the competition’s first year. It was always intended as part of a larger story, but I needed a deadline!

It’s frightening to think that I started this project such a long time ago. Between 2007 and 2010 I kept a card index file of memories and relevant thoughts. In 2008 I was ‘diagnosed’ with ME/CFS so that put a spanner in the works for a while.

I eventually, and tentatively, gave this its first public airing at Laydeez do Comics in May 2011, where the encouragement was such that it spurred me on to get stuck in.

Click 1st image then spool through gallery to read whole strip:

Although I’ve been vexing over how long it’s taking me, in a way I’m glad. Over those intervening years I’ve learnt such a lot – not only about comics but also about accepting my limitations due to my health, and accepting that the baby thing wasn’t ever going to happen. This time lapse has also given me the chance to re-evaluate and become more acquainted with where I want to go creatively – something I lost a grasp of while I was ill.

Looking back at old work can be thoroughly excruciating: ‘Yikes – what was I thinking?’  But the exercise has its uses. For example, I won’t be drawing wings on babies, and things will be altogether less twee stylistically. It’s not that I don’t like this at all – I appreciate it because it’s a marker of how far I’ve come with the project despite thinking it’s not far enough! And it’s almost like a diary entry too – it reminds me of how far I’ve moved on in life and how relieved I feel not to be in the middle of those tricky few years.

You could say that this was the conception of my project and now it’s reaching its acne-ridden angsty teenage years. Now, I realise that people might think that my ‘book’ has become my ‘baby’ but watch this space – I intend to write all about that knotty notion in a future post.

A finalist’s front-row view – Judging a Graphic Novel

Last weekend I attended the First Fictions Festival in Brighton for the ‘Judging a Graphic Novel’ event in which I was a finalist. The judging panel consisted of Ian Rankin, Hannah Berry, Bryan Talbot, Corinne Pearlman (Myriad Editions), Ed Hillyer and Steve Bell (Guardian cartoonist), who was away on holiday. Gareth Brookes’ The Black Project won – a deserving winner. I love the look of embroidery used in such an innovative way, and the story is original too.

The week or so before the event, Corinne Pearlman asked if we would be willing to read some pages from our entries, and a couple of days beforehand we discovered that we would also take questions from the panel of judges… in front of a paying audience. The pressure was on!

Paul Gravett, who was sporting a rather fetching yellow comic-themed shirt, chaired the event. Us finalists had to sit on the front row of the lecture theatre within spitting distance of the judges. We didn’t spit on them, nor they on us, but I could see the very whites of their eyes and they could probably smell our fear. It was quite nerve-wracking but exciting.

It was good to meet the other finalists and to hear more about their book proposals: Tom Eglington, Hannah Eaton, Dylan Shipley & Adam Blackman, and Con Chrysoulis. My friend, Thom Ferrier, was also a finalist so I was already acquainted with his work. It was a shame that Gareth Brookes couldn’t make it, being on a different hemisphere, but he’d sent a representative to read his entry. I sat between the two T/homs and introduced myself to Tom Eglington by asking if he’d drawn his plane crash page from life… ah well.

The judges suggested that all of the shortlisted entries were publishable and they stressed what a gargantuan task they had in whittling things down to a longlist, let alone a shortlist or winner. Each judge had slightly different concerns: Ed Hillyer was interested in whether the text was physically readable; Ian Rankin was searching for a satisfactory narrative; Corinne Pearlman didn’t want anything too set in stone; and Steve Bell was checking if artists could draw – hands in particular.

My presentation seemed to garner a good response – the audience laughed in all the right places and it was rewarding to experience that. It was a chance for me to show that I intend part of my book to include elements of humour despite tackling a tricky subject matter. I was happy to discover that my attempts at humour so far (apart from what I said to Tom) aren’t in vain. So, it was a worthwhile exercise in that respect – thank you, kind audience!

I took along How a Baby is Made, the book I cite in my story, The Facts of Life, and the one that taught me all the mechanics! It was great to find that one of the event’s sponsors used to be a bookseller who stocked that very title. Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) might call this ‘synchronicity’.

We enjoyed a much welcome post-event glass of fizz, and apple tart served on First Fictions flyers in absence of plates – novel! Later, I also attended Bryan and Mary Talbot’s talk about their soon-to-be-launched collaboration, Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes.

All in all, the whole experience has been positive: I came away from the weekend with greater confidence in my work, feeling galvanized to further develop it. I’m sure the other finalists will agree that writing and drawing a graphic novel is a task which requires much time and dedication; I hope they all feel that it’s worth it because I can’t wait to read their books when they come to fruition.

In hospital/ Inhospitable – graphic novel page about a patient/nurse exchange

I did this page early on before I’d started to plan my graphic memoir-in-progress The Facts of Life. I was experimenting with media and styles. I like the pencil and ink look but have since decided on acrylic paint and ink for this project. 

Pregnancy loss as subject matter is taboo and will make some people feel uncomfortable, but it can be rewarding, and possibly useful to others, to communicate such experiences. Call it catharsis if you want; I hope that it ‘speaks’ to someone as well. I’ve chosen comics as a medium because I feel that visual communication has more to offer than prose alone. This probably comes from my involvement as an illustrator of children’s books where images are as important as the written word in storytelling, if not more so.

This page deals with being in hospital during a suspected ectopic pregnancy. I’ve since come to realise that the nurse in my strip was probably overworked and over-tired on a long night shift.

I imagined what she might be thinking, but I can’t be sure what was going on in her head – it could have been totally unrelated to my calling her. Nevertheless, her response affected me in a negative way. I’m using ‘author’s truth’ in place of not being in a position to ask her. Sometimes you just have to make it up.

I think this is one of my images that Paul Gravett used in his keynote speech last year at Comics and Medicine: The Sequential Art of Illness.

First Fictions/ Myriad Editions First Graphic Novel Competition Shortlist

Panel from The Facts of Life

The shortlist for Myriad Editions’ First Graphic Novel Competition was announced on Monday. I’m over the moon to be able to say that I’m one of the seven shortlisted entries with my graphic memoir-in-progress The Facts of Life. I’m in good company too, along with friend and comics creator Thom Ferrier, whose entry The Enlightenment of Iwan James is also shortlisted.

There were over 70 entries judged by Bryan Talbot, Ian Rankin, Steve Bell, Ed Hillyer, Hannah Berry and Corinne Pearlman.

The winning graphic novel will be announced on 21st Jan 2012 at the First Fictions Festival in Brighton.