Ten year comicsiversary!

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.

 

Page from The Facts of Life, pub. Myriad Editions (UK) and Penn State University Press (N America), 2017

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.

Advertisements

Drawing in the dark : Low

I went to Cardiff last night to see one of my favourite bands, Low, play at the Tramshed.

I’ve avoided standing gigs since my ME/CFS symptoms escalated over the last year. I can’t stand for long periods, but I was determined to see Low on this tour. It occurred to me that I could ask if it was possible to be seated – and so it was done (thank you very much Tramshed)! I was offered a sofa on the balcony with a great view. This meant an opportunity to draw. Drawing at gigs means drawing without being able to see the marks you are making, thus making it a good exercise in looking. I don’t draw all the way through, because I find it does distract a little from a band’s overall performance, and listening properly. Perhaps concentrating so much with one sense (sight), takes from another. Although, you do get a good sense of movement – bodily quirks and posture – which shows in the lines. And I love to draw moving hands.

The gig was amazing, as usual, and they played my favourite song, Murderer, so that well- and-truly iced the cake for me.

Sketchbook and earwigging

Sketches from the last week plus some overheard snippets of conversation.

Pregnancy test comic

Click to view gallery. The numbers relate to actual blood hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) readings taken from a notebook I was keeping at the time. I hope to use something like p2 in my graphic memoir. Page 2 is the original drawing I used to trace p1.

I considered using other text such as: Shall we watch Curb Your Enthusiasm again tonight? Coz it helps. Or: Once, twice, three times a lady not having a baby (bit cheesy). But it was mainly about drawing itself: giving the lost,  the thing that never came to fruition, some permanence by drawing it.

Thinking about it – this is something I’ve done in the past. As a lovelorn teenager dealing with unrequited love, I would draw the object of my affection – perhaps my way of ‘having’ something of them in the absence of ‘having’ them – or the only tangible way to express secret feelings!  This must surely be a common occurrence with artists – sometimes obvious in their work – where secrets are hidden behind seemingly fictional characters.

Here are the pages bigger in case the gallery is too small (click to view larger).

Once a collection of lines p1

Once a collection of lines p2

Childless or child-free?

Click to view:

There are supportive communities online for those who are childless by circumstance and for those who are childless by choice. I’ve never felt that I can totally identify myself with either label.

I’m not keen on any term that defines you by what you are not. It seems rather negative. There has been much discussion about this topic on Gateway Women, a site conceived by Jody Day to bring together, and celebrate, women who don’t have children for whatever reason. She coined the term ‘nomo’ (not a mother). Again, the term certainly isn’t for me for the reasons stated above, but the site has some interesting articles and is a good place to go if you’re seeking solidarity with others in a similar situation.

In short, people who didn’t procreate shouldn’t have to be defined by that very fact. However, and all too often, women of my age are.

ME/CFS Comic

This is an image I produced last year for the blog Better, Drawn. The blog is run by comics creator Simon Moreton, and part of its aim is to encourage visual expression of the issues and feelings of long-term mental or physical illness sufferers. 

Most contributions are one-page comics, and you don’t have to be a seasoned scribbler to submit a page. Its intention is not to showcase drawing virtuosity, rather to provide a common space for people to display their experiences of illness.

My page at at Better, Drawn is all about ME/CFS, a misunderstood, stigma-steeped illness. Or rather, I should point out, two illnesses lumped together for which there’s still no test or cure. I originally posted it anonymously worrying that clients would pick up on it and decide that I was somehow unreliable. I’ve decided that my decision to remain anonymous was probably tantamount to admitting to some sense of shame regarding the illness. With hindsight, I’ve decide that was counterproductive to my intentions of drawing it in the first place! I should also point out that I’m mostly recovered but still in touch with others who aren’t, and this image illustrates a common experience.

Fellow creators who’ve contributed to Better, Drawn include Andrew Godfrey, Emma Mould, Nick Soucek, Thom Ferrier, and Bonbon, as well as Simon himself.