It’s ten years since I drew How a Baby is Made, a short strip which was to be the genesis for my recently published graphic memoir The Facts of Life. I entered it to the very first Observer Graphic Short Story Prize, even thought I knew it was probably going to be a much longer story (240pp, as it turned out!) I didn’t get anywhere with that, but, never mind, I eventually reached the shortlist of Myriad Editions’ First Graphic Novel Competition in 2012, and, they published my book. It is also published in N America by Penn State University Press as part of their Graphic Medicine series.
At the time I started it, I’d had two early miscarriages, and the reality was beginning to dawn that we might never have children. I began to reflect on life’s expectations and where they had come from – social priming, family, education and politics etc. I began keeping a card file of memories stretching back to childhood. I’d also become obsessed with graphic novels and gobbled up Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Jefferey Brown’s back-catalogue – and Maus by Art Spiegelman. I was an illustrator – I could make autobiographical comics, too! This unavoidable urge to draw about my looming personal situation and its societal background would not go away.
It was the first time I turned to drawing as a means of exploring and expressing hurt and complicated emotions. As I pointed out at my book launch, if someone had told me the project would not come to fruition for another ten years, I’m might not have believed them, and, if I had, I’m not sure I would have had the wherewithal to continue. As it turned out, I couldn’t do much more about it until 2010, because I was diagnosed with ME and had to cease work. The story wasn’t over until then, anyway, and it would have been a very different book if I’d carried on with it straight away. It was definitely better for having been put to one side for a few years: As is the case with some stories, it simply isn’t their time yet, and you fold them away at the back of the airing cupboard where they mature – at least until you shake out the moths which have left the holes in your story more clear to see.
Here is the strip I drew in 2007, plus a page from my book The Facts of Life.
If you’ve read my book, you’ll see how different the drawing styles are from the original strip – another element that benefited from percolating. I wanted to move away from cute, and, if I was going to spend a few years working on something, it needed to be a style I was comfortable with and one that people familiar with the subject matter, but not necessarily with reading comics, could relate to. Many elements from this strip remain in the book, such as our Sindy dolls enjoying relations under the bed, and the whole sorry sandpit debacle.
I’d like to say here’s to another ten years, but, since my book came out I’ve had a bad ME/ Fibromyalgia relapse which left me bed-bound at first, and I’ve been unable to draw without considerable pain. Once again, many ideas have been consigned to the great airing cupboard in my mind (and a few sketchbooks), so let’s hope there comes a time when I can unearth them and get back to the only work I love. Let’s also hope for a cure for the chronic illnesses ME and Fibromyalgia, which wreck so many lives.