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.

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Graphic novel progress

Here’s a timeline and brief diary for my graphic novel, The Facts of Life, to date. It’s been a case of ‘comics interruptus’ so far for all sorts of reasons, but it’s gathering speed now and I’m ‘in the zone’:

2006: After reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, I realise that it’s possible to be a middle-aged woman writing memoir using the medium of comics. Can I play, too? Seeds of idea for a autobiographical graphic novel germinate. Start an alphabetical card file of memories. I begin to sketch memories and draw my first comic strip How a Baby is Made. Tentatively show one or two amenable friends who emit positive noises and suggest I go for it. I go to a comics convention for the first time but feel that neither myself nor my story fits somehow, and leave discouraged. (It would be a long time until I discover the the indie self-publishing scene).

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2007:  I enter How a Baby is Made to the first Observer Graphic Short Story prize – but it’s not really a short story. Join Deviant Art as ‘Missnibs’ and post strip there – but I’m not yet au fait with social networking and don’t get very far.

How a Baby is Made 1

How a Baby is Made 1

2007/8: Submit idea to a new comics publisher – initial interest and very encouraging but nothing solid. My proposal is still a little under-cooked. And so am I.

2008-10: Hiatus – all will become clear in book! Discover Laydeez do Comics.

2010: Timeline of memoir ends so ready to start writing – theme of story has changed somewhat due to life events! I go to Laydeez do Comics for the first time and feel more encouraged that there might be a readership for my story. I start to transfer the card file entries to colour-coded post-its, which stay on the wall for over two years until the glue goes crispy and they start to drop off. I use these headings to start writing scenes in words. Join Twitter as a proofreader (my other work) but end up using it to meet comics people instead, thus discovering Graphic Medicine. Further enthused. Sadly, I don’t attend the very first Graphic Medicine conference because I mistakenly think it’s for academics and medics only.

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2011: Get going! Background research and much reading. Enter 17 pages to Myriad Editions’ inaugural First Graphic Novel Competition. It’s good to have a goal. Air project in public for the first time at Laydeez do Comics in May (where I hear about the competition). Attend Arvon Foundation Graphic Novels course where I receive some welcome feedback and meet more lovely comics people – in full flow of quenching thirst from the overflowing cup of comics camaraderie at this point. In November I speak about my project at Comics Forum in Leeds at the Graphic Medicine day. It’s the first time I’ve spoken at an academic conference and it seems to be well received, although I’m extremely nervous. I’ve finally met ‘my people’, professionally speaking, this year! Trawl through old photos.p1_2010_gray

2012: Good news – reach shortlist of Myriad competition! It’s the first time I’ve got so far in any professional competition. Keep in touch with Myriad as project progresses. More research, reading, and story-boarding in between paid freelance work. Make my first self-published comic, Spooky Womb, to dip toe into water. I take it to autumn Comiket and it sells well. My first children’s books as author are published this year, too. A year of firsts.

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2013: More good news! Sign contract with Myriad Editions. Then follows another unfortunate 8-month hiatus. In summer, I speak at the 4th Comics and Medicine Conference in Brighton, which buoys me. Unearth old teenage diaries and letters. Start working on book again towards the end of the year, when I finish the artwork for my prologue.

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2014: Finish first draft of storyboards. Feeding of recycle bin with superfluous splurge. Successful application to Arts Council England for funding to complete my book. Re-read letter to make sure! They definitely said yes. Have a go at making a handwritten font for the lettering – aka a week of faffing resulting in alphabet spaghetti rather than beautiful lo-fi fontage plus sore knuckles from all the gnawing. Begin to make working drawings from the storyboards, which I transfer to Bristol Board for painting and inking. Fonts can wait until patience is restored.

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Onwards: Part three to jiggle,190ish pages of artwork and lettering to draw and complete, and the cover to design. Now working on it for six days a week stopping at eight o’clock most nights. I don’t get out much. I hope friends and family can bear with me for the confinement over the coming year. BBC Radios 4 and 6 are my friends now, plus garden snails and local cats at lunchtimes.

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Comics from Brighton and Bristol to the Lakes!

A long-overdue catch-up post:

Upcoming comics events

Next weekend, I’ll be tabling at Bristol Comic and Zine Fair, organised by the lovely folk from Bearpit Zines. There are 40 exhibitors – some from Bristol; some from beyond – it promises to be a fantastic day. I’m especially excited to see that Gareth Brookes will be there with his graphic novel The Black Project out from Myriad Editions (my publisher-to-be). I’ll certainly be buying a copy. Gareth was the winner of Myriad’s First Graphic Novel competition in which I was shortlisted with The Facts of Life.

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Then, on 18th October, I’m off to the inaugural Lakes International Comic Art Festival where I’ll have a table in the Comics Clock Tower sharing with Ian Williams (Graphic Medicine man). On the Saturday night I’m taking part in Quick Strips – Myriad Authors and Friends, where it is suggested that we will be ‘revealing all’. I’m hoping that this means a 6-minute presentation of work in progress! It will be my first time as a guest at a comics festival.

I’ll be taking Spooky Womb, X Utero, and a newly repackaged non-limited edition version of A Fray, along with some pages in progress from my book. If you can’t make it to these events, my latest comic X Utero is available in Blackwell’s at Wellcome bookshop and Orbital Comics. Or you can buy them direct from me.

Ethics Under Cover – Graphic Medicine conference

In July, I went to Brighton to present at Ethics Under Cover, Comics Medicine and Society (Graphic Medicine) on the panel Whose story is it? with Mita Mahato, Peaco Todd and Linda Raphael. I talked about the ethical considerations of secondary characters when writing memoir – especially if their stories also contain medical details. I felt that it went well personally (I sold all my comics) and our panel was well received. Podcasts from the conference are regularly uploaded here. It was lovely to catch up with old and new Graphic Medicine comics friends and spend time eating samosas(c/o Mita) on Brighton beach.

mytalk_Comicsmedicine4_brighton _UniSussex.

In other news

As a result of contacts made at the Brighton conference, I was approached with an offer of some paid comics work, which I did over the summer. I can’t say much about it yet for confidentiality reasons, but I was happy to have been able to use my artistic skills in a way that might be useful to others in a healthcare setting.

I’ve also just received a contract for a new children’s picture book text (as author only). I wrote it earlier in the year and Bright Literary Agency have been representing it since May – so I’m please to have had this interest so soon.

I expect that’s just about enough for now – phew – worralorralinks!

Bloggin’ the blog

Last week was unusually busy for me on other blogs, so here’s a round-up:

First, Joe Gordon, editor of Forbidden Planet International was kind enough to offer the finalists in the First Fictions First Graphic Novel Competition the chance to guest on the Director’s Commentary series for a day each. Mine can be read here. I was quite pleased with the response to this with some new followers and positive noises.

Also, a podcast of the talk I did last November at Comics Forum/ Thought Bubble now appears here on the Graphic Medicine blog. As a result of this, and the image above, I was approached by Linda Humphreys MSc of Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. I’ve given her permission to use some of my work in her teaching materials for a reflective writing class taken by Genetic Counselling students. She currently uses Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies, so I’ll be in good company. I didn’t have a particular audience in mind when I created these images, but I’m happy that Linda suggests they might “stimulate student reflection and encourage empathy with the (illness) narratives of others.”

Finally, I wrote about my experiences of attending two Arvon Foundation writing courses for Paul Gravett‘s blog. Katie Green also contributed to this and you can read it here.

Stained glass window in the toilet at Ted Hughes Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank, Yorkshire

The Hurst, Arvon Centre in Shropshire.

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.

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.