My piece Grand Mal in collaboration with Jane Hawley has been recently published online in Pinch Journal. For those of you who were curious about the full story, here it is at last.
About two months ago, G volunteered me for an illustration project. A writer in her Facebook group was looking for someone who could illustrate, and G sent her a link to my blog. I’d never done a collaboration before, what more an illustrated story, but I decided to go for it. I wrote to the writer, told her I’d never done a comic before but that I’d love to try. I saw on the forum that someone had volunteered their friend for her project too. I never knew if they were in touch, but I ended up with the project – a four-page graphic memoir.
So this week I finally finished Grand Mal, a sad and surreal account by Jane Hawley seeing her mother fall into an epileptic fit for the first time. The story is intended for Memoir Journal, a literary journal that promotes the art of memoir: that sacred act of remembering and re-telling.
This project meant a great deal of things to me. It was my first ever attempt at telling a story in an illustrative/graphic novel form, one of my favourite genres. More than that, it was the first time I was telling a true story in comic form. If J-school has done anything for me, it has been that training in journalism for two years opened me up to the art of non-fiction – a genre I’d always thought flat and un-literary before. But many books (Behind the Beautiful Forevers, A Beautiful Mind) and graphic memoirs (Maus, Persepolis, L’Ascension du Haut Mal) and one comic journalist (Joe Sacco) later, I’m recognising that quick and painful thrill in the heart. I’ve fallen in love with non-fiction.
I’m graduating in a few weeks and that heady time of self-questioning is now. Working on Grand Mal has helped pull together the threads of all these past years’ self-searching, and it feels great. Many, many thanks to G and to Jane for all their kind words of encouragement. More updates on when the complete graphic memoir will be out shortly.
[Update, 2 November 2013] Grand Mal is now out in Memoir Journal’s latest Invisible Memoirs anthology. Jane even got a personal note from the editor saying all sorts of nice things about it, encouraging us to expand it into a novel-length piece. If that intrigues you at all, get your copy of the anthology today!
i get the damnedest dreams. A often tells me that i have no need for television; i just need a nap.
this was one of those times when i jolted awake still swatting the air, a half-strangled cry about to leave my throat. the experience was so vivid that i had to sketch it.
i couldn’t run and i couldn’t hide. i could only buy guns from vending machines lining the corridors of the train station with dimes and nickels and shoot them down one at a time. my brother trailed behind me, hands over his ears, body uncontrollably jerking and twisting against the pseudo-physical crush of noise and innumerable painful collisions with leggy, insect bodies.
i don’t remember if we made it out of there okay.
some sketches i did during my last getaway to oxford. it was a while ago, but i just haven’t had any time to scan and upload them since i got back. it was my first time using a traditional ink pen with an inkwell, which i picked up out of curiousity. not a lot to shout about, but enjoy!
i did a lot more traveloguing this time around with the help of my pen-brush. it was so much easier to put a brush to lined paper than it was to write on it. sometimes a canvas needs to look ready to be invaded – not too virginal, a little out of purpose. i usually prefer diaries without lined paper, but this one was surprisingly great to draw in. i doodled all over the pages between scribbles, leaving ink splotches everywhere and having it bleed through some of the pages. the pages all feel very lived in now and each doodle evokes a recollection of sensory pronoia… it is for me perhaps a bit like proust’s madeleine or DFW’s protagonist in “All That”, recalling his childhood pronoic ecstasy amidst his imaginary voices and afternoon light. this was possibly one of the best summers of my life. i had never had so much time to do whatever i wanted before. i wrote, i drew, i read. i talked with A, i spoke pidgin German with A’s 80-year old Oma, i met the rest of his family in Hannover and Hamburg. i discovered a new artist, started collecting crystals, learned how to knit. going through my pages now in Paris where i’ve suddenly lost control of my personal time and space, i feel like i can almost smell the country air again. A was wonderfully patient with me whenever we sat down somewhere and i would pull out my diary and brush. he would just sit back on our bench and lap up the view, leisurely sip his chocolat viennois, apologise sheepishly whenever he realised he was part of my doodle and was moving too much for me to capture him.
A and i spent three nights here and took a slow afternoon walk along the river one day. boathouses fringed the banks and all looked incredibly cosy. children’s clothes hung on a line in one of the boathouses and others had kitchen tables which looked like they had just seen some breakfast toast and coffee.
this year’s AGM was on Public Health, as were the rest of our projects over the past year. i took some notes from the conference but obviously i wasn’t really listening.
Celle is Oma’s favorite town in the world and i could see why. just 20 minutes from Otze, it’s a tiny little town with old Fachwerkstil buildings, cobbled streets and policemen on horses clomping around. it just doesn’t seem like a town of modern times. it’s too quaint, too dear, too happy.
one of the random stopovers A made on the drive back from Frankfurt. i had been sleeping the whole way and when i woke up, we were suddenly in the hills and surrounded by the fluorishing green of highland forests. i loved it. it was possibly even more dear than Celle – it was so tucked away and untouched by metropolitanism that it didn’t seem possible that we did not just time-travel a few decades back just to get there. it looks a lot emptier in this drawing than it rightfully should, but it was too difficult for me to sketch in the folk bustling around.
A drove me to and back from Frankfurt in one day just for my visa. it was three hours each way and by the time he reached the fourth hour his eyes were looking tired and he looked like he would fall asleep at any moment. we decided to pull over at a Rastplatz for him to take a nap. he slept deeply for about half an hour in almost exactly the same position and made a great little sketch.
the farmhouse is huge and the largest room in it is the living room, which was where Oma and A spent most of their time (i was upstairs reading in A’s bed, mostly). there is a huge glass window that looks out onto the garden and so sort of makes a lovely green fourth wall. i’m not fond of this sketch at all because it’s horribly sloppy but it reminds me of all those afternoons when we just sat around and read, worked, knit, drew in complete silence and serenity.
it looks nothing like him. long ways to go before i’m anywhere close to accuracy, i’m afraid.
Oma’s routine was to turn on the telly to watch the news, but to eventually doze off while doing so. this is a more stylised rendition of her sleeping profile.
40 minutes before my flight out of Hamburg to Paris. we’re sitting in Opa’s nursing home room and reminding him of things and people he wants to be reminded of. it was all in German and i could do little else but smile and look géniale, so i decided to sketch instead. the pen-brush ran out of ink shortly so i couldn’t really texture anything properly. Opa asked to see the sketch at the end and remarked kindly that i got his size right.
i felt so mind-fucked (in the good way) after going through Art Spiegelman’s collection of sketchbooks “Be A Nose” that i felt like doing a little homage to it. if you look for it you can just about make out the highlighter yellow emitting from the flashlight. mouse and flashlight take up the focus point because i liked page 38 from Spiegelman’s 1983 sketchbook best. and no, didn’t use the books as reference, just picked out the impressions that hit me the hardest.