Synchronicity at Bristol Comic and Zine Fair

Yesterday I exhibited at Bristol Comic and Zine Fair, very-well organised by the Bearpit Zines people. It was a marvellous day, although I now have a sore throat – probably from six hours’ over-table chat, or perhaps from being a self-employed homeworker undergoing unusually prolonged exposure to public germs.

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A while ago I made a one-page comic using my cytogenetic report from a Bristol lab – it was part of a bank of NHS fertility tests myself and my husband underwent (this one to make sure that we were indeed male and female). It forms the centre spread of my collection X Utero, which I was selling at the fair. What’s synchronicity got to do with it? Well, one lady (pictured below) stopped to study that particular page in great depth and announced that she had recently secured a job at the very lab where my test was done (the address is on the comic/ report). She performs chromosomal analysis tests – there! What are the chances of that? A chromosomal analysis tester (I don’t know her exact job description) going to a comics fair and finding a comic made from a report produced at her workplace. She bought a copy!

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It’s the second-best incidence of synchronicity I’ve had so far – up there with meeting the American poet Robert Chrisman (who knew Maya Angleou) on a train-bus going to York, while I had Maya Angelou’s latest book right there in my bag. Synchronicity was first described by Carl Jung but I read about it in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She advises noticing synchronicity to help you to feel that you’re doing something right, in the right place at the right time. The idea borders on being slightly too mystical but it feels good when it happens – and that’s OK with me. Most people call it coincidence! Anyway – I guess you had to be there…

Here are some more photos from the comics fair:

Laydeez do Comics Bristol

I’m not partial to defining my activity by genderAlthough technically I’m a ‘female’ illustrator, proofreader, comics creator and writer; I don’t feel I should need the adjective to help describe my involvement in those jobs. However, when the gender scales have historically been weighted on one side in any given arena (comics in this case), perhaps, for a while, you can heap it on with spades on the other to help redress the balance.

I first went to a comics convention in Bristol in the mid-00s because Jeffery Brown was speaking – I’d read all of his books. I’d also read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and thought wow, a woman the same age as me writing autobiographical comics – maybe that means I can too! So I tripped along to the comics con all fluffy-tailed and excited…

But I felt so out of place. I felt old for a start (I was 36ish) – and starkly female. The overarching feeling was that I didn’t belong there. It’s hard to pinpoint why – the proliferation of young men, the daleks and stormtroopers – I’m not sure. Nothing wrong with young men, daleks and stormtroopers, (I was a Doctor Who and Star Wars fan as a child), but it wasn’t what I was searching for at the time. It was probably something tribal – about recognising oneself in others to foster a sense of belonging. Despite my own lack of costume, I felt like an interloper from another planet.

Although I enjoyed Jeffrey Brown’s talk (I even asked him a question) I still left feeling somewhat disheartened thinking that even if I did get round to writing my graphic novel, who would want to read a comic with themes of fertility and miscarriage? That dalek wouldn’t be interested, would he? I was yet to discover Graphic Medicine where there are plenty of comics dealing with stuff going wrong with bodies. And I was also largely unaware of  the female creators from the 60s/70s who were certainly not shy of drawing the personal and intimate details of their lives. As it happens, the first two people to buy my first comic, Spooky Womb, were men (though still no daleks).

Laydeez do Comics 

So, imagine my joy when I stumbled over Laydeez do Comics! I think I googled ‘female graphic novelists’ sometime in 2009, found LDC and thought I really must go to that thing one day. It was a graphic novels forum run by women (Nicola Streeten and Sarah Lightman) but open to all. They had guest speakers, including men, talking about their comics work – with a ‘focus on the autobiographical, domestic and everyday’.

I finally went along to Laydeez in late 2010 when Posy Simmonds was speaking. It was rammed, I didn’t know a soul and I was horrified to discover that there was an introductory ice-breaker question (‘the question’) to answer in front of all the other attendees. Blind terror aside, I managed to splutter out something comprehensible enough for Nicola Streeten (co-founder of LDC and author of Billy, Me and You), to ask if I fancied coming along to speak about my work the following year. No, I thought, you have to be kidding. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t pursue it but Nicola did, thankfully. I once heard Grayson Perry say in an interview that his motto is ‘take the path of most resistance’ and this chimed with me at the time. I’d decided I wasn’t having children after some troublesome years, and that I must get out there, meet new people and do new stuff. This opportunity was all three.

I spoke at LDC for the first time in May 2011 along with Mary Talbot (Dotter of her Father’s Eyes) and Jo Tyler. Laydeez often places emerging practitioners alongside the more experienced. I showed the beginnings of my graphic memoir and some children’s illustration work to a supportive audience. It was like a big fuzzy comics cuddle, and I felt a glow of promise and excitement – a renewed interest in carrying on with my memoir. Both Mary and Bryan Talbot were encouraging about my work, too! It was also at that meeting that I found out about Myriad Editions’ First Fictions First Graphic Novel Competition, which I subsequently spent the summer working on, entered and reached the shortlist. So I have a lot to thank Laydeez do Comics for. A Brick Lane curry to fill the gap left by a nervous stomach rounded off the evening perfectly. And, I’ve met some ace people at meetings since.

Laydeez do Comics Bristol (and San Francisco, Leeds, Chicago…)

I wished there was something like LDC in Bristol and sat around waiting for someone else to provide this for me to attend. They didn’t, so I thought I’d better get something together myself. Nicola and Sarah were keen and we held the first Bristol event at Cafe Kino in August 2012. It was packed out – and I was happy to be spreading the Laydeez joy to Bristol. There is a healthy comics community in Bristol (Bearpit Zines, BLAM included) so I felt that there would be some interest. Speakers at the first event were Katie Green, Smoo Comics (Simon Moreton), Nicola Streeten, Sarah Lightman, Sicker Than Thou (Andrew Godfrey, Emma Mould) and yours truly. See some photos from that event and Nick Soucek’s blog:

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LDC London now meet at Foyles Bookshop, so I wondered whether our branch of Foyles here in Bristol would be keen to extend that relationship – I knew they had an event space. They were very keen, enthusiastic and helpful! The next Bristol meeting is on Monday April 8th upstairs at Foyles Bookshop, Cabot Circus, Bristol, 6-7.45pm.

Click here for details – with guests Hannah Berry, Joff Winterhart and LOAf magazine‘s Rosie Faragher. It’s free but you must book a ticket here. Hope to see you there for some effervescent comics discussion, and cake c/o Sarah Lightman!

Facebook event page.

Miscarriage comics – talking about it

Last week, The Miscarriage Association began a campaign – It’s time to talk about miscarriage. Of course, not everyone wants to talk about it and that’s fine – either they find it too difficult or prefer to keep that part of their lives private. However, the taboos surrounding miscarriage mean that many women who do want to be open about it feel that they can’t. Perhaps they are afraid of upsetting others or making people feel uncomfortable. This further compounds their isolation and grief.

I’ve been making comics on the subject for a couple of years now, based on my own experiences of repeated unexplained early miscarriage. I also wrote a post about the language and euphemisms used to refer to miscarriage. As well as a natural urge to express myself through creativity, my hope has been to express something that others can’t, and to help break taboos. Comics can do this because pictures replace the need for words which are hard to say – or it seems that the symbiosis of words and pictures can speak louder than words alone and the impact is more immediate. And perhaps this could help in breaking the silence surrounding miscarriage. Here is most of the work I’ve done on the subject so far:

Or does it have a positive affect? I’m not sure. The response to sharing this work has been varied: From supportive other creatives doing similar to befuddled relatives telling me I just need to ‘get counselling’. The funniest response was at Comica Comiket last autumn when a guy did a double-take at my comic Spooky Womb: he pointed at it, looked at me, pulled a ‘scary’ face, then ran away! I guess he wasn’t ready to come face to face with anthropomorphic female reproductive parts at a comics fair. Poor chap!

It has been very connecting in that women I barely know have spoken to me about their own experiences of miscarriage and not having children. Not that I’m offering myself as a comics creator-counsellor by any means – not equipped! But I appreciated these connections.

However, I often worry about offending people who’d probably rather not know or upsetting others who’ve had similar experiences. Of course this reflects some of the reasons women in general don’t/ can’t talk about it. In fact, I’ve read articles about comics mentioning that comics should be all about cheering people up and the lighter side of life. But a couple of years ago I was excited to find that there’s a whole website about the intersection of comics and medicine/ illness (Graphic Medicine) where it’s accepted that comics can play an important role in empathy, understanding and education. Hello! I thought.

I’ve started writing warning messages on posts recently. But perhaps that’s me pandering to the taboo – just another way to steer it off the radar. Though I feel it’s mainly out of respect. I’ve discussed these issues with Mita Mahato and Katie Green recently (comics creators also sharing emotive work). On conclusion, I’m inclined to think that people have a choice as to whether or not they look, and this recent campaign by The Miscarriage Association has given me cause to believe that perhaps it’s OK. After all – not all my social networking updates are about this subject – there’s a peppering of other interests too – music, wildlife, politics, goats shouting like humans etc.

Here’s an interesting post by artist Lily Mae Martin, about sharing intimate, honest and often difficult details of her life as a mother. I met Lily when she spoke about her work at Laydeez do Comics.