The Inking Woman/ April news

My graphic memoir The Facts of Life was published last month in the UK by Myriad Editions, and in N America by Penn State University Press. I’m hugely pleased by how it has been received so far. I’ve had emails from strangers telling me how much it meant to them – how the themes reflected their own experience of trying for children, growing up in the 70s and 80s, living life without offspring, and, for others, how it has given them recourse to consider choices to come. It means such a lot to discover that my hopes and intentions for the book are being fulfilled and that it appears to speak to the people I’d hoped. I’m a great believer in the notion that once you create something for public consumption, and it’s out there in the world, it no longer wholly belongs to you: People are free to project what they wish onto the work and share their thoughts and responses whether positive or negative. Whatever is to come in that respect, I will just have to suck it up! Hopefully it will be palatable, though. 

I’ve had some great reviews and written a few interviews; including from Bristol 24/7 and Teddy Jamieson of the Herald, Glasgow. I also wrote an article for my childhood newspaper The Northern Echo, much to the pride of my parents! The Northern Echo is where I first read cartoon strips – Garfield, Peanuts, and Fred Basset, and the first part of the book is set in Darlington, where the newspaper is based.

I have a page from my book in The Inking Woman exhibition opening tomorrow at The Cartoon Museum in London. I’m proud it has been chosen alongside many of my contemporary inky women, and also those who have been cartooning and making comics for decades. Do go along to see it if you are in London!

New comic: X Utero

Just back from the printers – my full-colour 20-page collection of 10 short comics created between 2011 and 2013 (many of which I’ve shared here). The themes are reproductive status, language used around miscarriage, heredity etc. Some are very personal but some seem to have proved relevant to others who’ve had similar experiences (judging by responses I’ve had since I began sharing them).

Availability: It’s for sale here at my comics shop. I’ll be taking it to Ethics Under Cover: Comics, Medicine & Society (4th International Conference on Comics and Medicine) where I’ll also be presenting work in progress at 9am on 7th July. It will also soon be available from Wellcome Bookshop on the Graphic Medicine bookshelf. Wellcome will have a table selling their Graphic Medicine titles at the Narrative Medicine Conference, June 19-21st, and X Utero will be included. I’ve just found out that Linda Humphreys MSc, will mention some of my images in her presentation at the same conference. She used some of my comics in her reflective writing class for Genetic Counselling students at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia.

This comic is probably the last on this particular subject matter I’ll share until my book is finished. And, I’m afraid the title and cover of X Utero comprise a shameless play on the band Nirvana’s final album In Utero. It seemed fitting!

My next printed thing is likely to be Motorways – more of a sketchbook collection and not an anthropomorphised uterus in sight!

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.

MotherOrNot_PaulaKNight_p1_web

MotherorNot_PaulaKnight_p2_web

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!

no_page1

no_page

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.

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:

Laydeez do Comics Bristol 2

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.

Early pregnancy transvaginal ultrasound comic page

Hopefully this will be a page in my graphic memoir, so it’s not intended as a standalone comic. It will have context!Paula_Knight_transvaginal_ultrasound

I used a blank scan of white paper to make the ultrasound image, turning up the contrast to pick out texture. And I fiddled with ‘warp’ in Photoshop. I liked the connection between scanning this artwork about having a scan, and making my own scan image by scanning ‘nothing’ to illustrate my ‘nothing there’ scan at the Early Pregnancy Assessment Clinic (EPAC). The results of the actual scan are in my medical notes, which I extracted from the hospital last year. The medical notes helped me to remember certain details about it.

It’s probably a bit odd to those who understand comics that the radiographer’s speech isn’t in bubbles. She has taken over my narration – I did this to reflect the feeling of having no control over what happened in my story at that point. It was more about the scan machine governing my story – telling me what might happen next. Maybe it will be too confusing in context – any thoughts welcome.

Pixelmix 8-bit font by Andrew Tyler: http://andrewtyler.net/

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