Heredity

Here is a comic on the theme of heredity that I did a couple of years ago. It is part of my collection, X Utero (A Cluster of Comics) available from my shop, at Orbital Comics and Foyles in London.

It was a way to process the knowledge that, not having had children and not having siblings, family traits will die out with me. Quite an egotistical thing to be concerned with, really, but one that people who haven’t had children occasionally think about – possibly because they are glad or sad that they won’t be passing on their DNA! Rather than being too concerned about my own DNA coming to rest, I was more sad about the prospect of family photos becoming obsolete – so I made a comic with them for anyone who ‘cares to take a look’. It might have worked a little better if I’d been able to find a photo of my dad as a child wearing glasses!

And, this week, Andy Oliver has reviewed this comic along with my other comic of a graphic medicine flavour, Spooky Womb, in his Small Pressganged column on the comics news site Broken Frontier. You can read what he has to say here.

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(M)others’ Day card

 

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I made this as a way to value all women who are childless by circumstance, because perhaps they deserve a bunch of flowers, too. Mother’s Day, for some, can be a saddening reminder of the myriad reasons why not. You could say it works in a similar way to Valentine’s Day if you’ve been dumped or are suffering unrequited love. I’m pretty much reconciled to not being a mother myself, and have been for some time, but I do have twinges – especially on ‘days’.

Of course, it’s a grand idea to demonstrate appreciation for one’s mother. I’ve just spent a good hour on the phone to my mum, mining her horticultural knowledge in a bid to rescue some ailing houseleeks that she gave me. She is a hive of knowledge for all things green-fingered!

I recently read about Anna Jarvis on TheNotMom.com blog – the woman who started Mother’s Day in the USA. I was surprised to discover she wasn’t a mother herself and equally unsurprised at how dismayed she became at the commercialisation of the holiday.

The source of this idea came from a post I read on Twitter last year when I was researching Mother’s Day. I read a tweet by a girl who commented about how she had accidentally written ‘Happy other’s day’ on a card to her mother. Laughingly, she remarked how it sounded like she was addressing sad weirdos on the edges of society. So I thought I would ‘own’ her error! My meaning is to bring attention to the ‘othering’ that childless women can feel in our society rather than, I hope, to perpetuate it! My intention in making this image is not to satirise Mother’s Day rather to suggest that we spare a thought for those in our lives for whom motherhood didn’t happen.

It just so happens that the M in Scrabble scores 3, which is the number of early miscarriages I had. I didn’t realise that when I had the design in mind – another synchronicity moment! The tulips at the top are made from my old NHS fertility temperature charts. I like to make new things from redundant material.

Possible sources of help, should you be struggling with childlessness:

Miscarriage Association

Gateway Women

More to Life

 

 

 

 

 

Happysad memory comic

These pages are from a longer comic I made about my late father-in-law, Pete. I made it towards the end of 2011 when he left hospital to return home to be with his family in his final days after a long illness. The title refers to something later in the comic, but I won’t be sharing those pages yet (if ever) because it’s probably too soon.

These first pages are about my favourite memory of Pete. I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish the comic, but, at a difficult time, it felt cathartic to draw and it was my way of coping. Perhaps that’s enough and I’ll never feel the need to finish it. I wanted to share this, though, as my way of celebrating his life and what was an essential part of his character – humour. We laughed about this occasion for years afterwards and I prefer to remember this sort of thing rather than his illness.

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Panel two, page two, might worked better at a page turn – if I ever do finish it, I shall rectify that!

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? I 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.

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.

Spooky womb

It had to happen eventually. Anthropomorphising a uterus, I mean. Perhaps it’s the neglected children’s illustrator in me. (Feel free to clamp hands over ears to block out the deafening irony.) I probably won’t make a habit of it.

Anyway – I’ll be showing this and some other comics work at Comic(s) Bodies, a multidisciplinary symposium taking place at Nottingham Contemporary on 25th May. There is an exhibition alongside talks by graphic novelists Karrie Fransman, Nicola Streeten and Mary Talbot. I believe also that Thom Ferrier and Andrew Godfrey might have some work there.