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This is the story of my work in progress, Coma Comic and
how it’s evolved since it was last presented at the Graphic Medicine Conference
3 years ago in Dundee.
Back in 2016 I was interested in simply telling my story.
That being. The emotions & physical sensations of Strep
throat developing in Necrotising Myosistis and the internal world of the
subsequent drug-induced coma.
I aimed to focus on 2 clear memories of when I woke from
1, I had no blueprint for this experience
2, If there’s Purgatory, this was it & it’s manmade.
In an attempt to make sense of this other, internal, world,
I journeyed into the creative dreamscapes of other artists.
I focused on the No Blueprint and attempted to visually pin
down and unravel the maze like structure of my experience. Capturing Fear &
Aside from relying on metaphor, my maze involved a lot of
This page is from a preliminary 4 page comic called, Don’t
Pick The Flowers.
However, I literally found myself down a rabbit hole, going
along a few dead ends.
The was a primal experience with primal emotions, so early
on I’d decided to use animal symbolism to express myself…which was and wasn’t a
I spent more time trying to figure out the anatomy a rabbit
than moving the story on.
I realised that I needed more structure. I needed a
And I found that in Dan’s diaries.
They are a day by day account of life from the day the
infection turned severe. He documents everything: of friends & family rallying;
bedside vigils; his shock, hopes & fears and how the children coped.
So even though I’d previously got confused with the
direction & focus of my work, there were a lot of drawings and nothing went
to waste. With Dan’s diaries I felt I had enough & was confident enough to
work up the introductory pages and apply for the Myriad First Graphic Novel
Competition last year. I’m really glad I did because it was shortlisted.
Moving forward Coma Comic keeps time & alternates
between Dan’s diary and my purgatory in the coma.
The roots of my purgatory are Medieval, the reason being
that at the point at which my mental state changed I’d just seen a Medieval
skeleton spiral across my path. This happened just when I’d woken up within the
Coma, I knew I was awake & not in a dream but I was somehow trapped in
darkness. I’m guessing this is my mind showing me what me what my body already
Bewilderment, soon becomes Fear, and my fear begs the
I don’t know where I am, what is happening or why.
I search for answers, ask logical questions, what have I
done to be here?
This questioning of myself manifests into seemingly
external accusations, blame & guilt. A perfect storm.
Visually I reference Dante to Map my personal journey
through Purgatory, if Dan’s account is in words, mine is in picture form.
Spiralling layers ascending from the base of my being, incorporate the
progression of my experience and treatment, and culminate in a spinning disc.
Interestingly throughout the journey I refuse to admit a guilt, however, when
spinning on this disc, or the wheel of life, I know that I can’t break through
the surface unless I admit to something.
Immersed in this visual world, I take inspiration from
medieval illuminations decorating the page borders. I use animals from the
original version to reflect pain, fear and death and start creating a lexicon of
creatures to represent different aspects of the journey. The headless animal is
the coma itself, my virgil, my protector and guide through the series of
At this stage I’m feeling confident. I’m thumbnailing the
book, alternating between mine and Dan’s version of events. And then I make an
unexpected connection with Underworld myths.
I watched a film called, Gods of Egypt. It was so bad, it
was good. But the scene that interested me most was one with the feather of
The Feather of Truth is a feather used
in the Hall of Judgment in the Land of the Dead to determine if souls of the
deceased are worthy for the afterlife. If your soul weighs more than it does,
you are unworthy, and Ammit the Devourer eats your soul.
So the reason this interested me so much was that midway
through my coma story I find myself balancing on the edge of a feather, over a
body of water. It was here that I find out I’m going to life, despite the
skeletons, I was unaware that I might die.
Soon after this I make connections with my visions &
The Godness, Hel from Norse Myths, who greets the sick
Chinese gods and the wheel of life. The spiralling disc
that either returns you to your present life or you’re born into a new one.
And characters from Greek myth.
Some of these stories I realised I knew & some I didn’t. However, having started with no blueprint I realise it was there all along, as long as there’s been humankind it’s been there. Our relationship with nature, our nature & workings of the mind have provided a rich source for all myths and religion that we feed our collective consciousness in the form of stories.
This is a transcript of the COMA COMIC ET AL presentation I gave at the Graphic Medicine Conference in Dundee, July 2016.
Today I’m sharing 3 self published comics that focus on different stages of a journey I’ve been on since contracting an invasive streptococcal infection three years ago.
COMA COMIC is born out of my memories whilst in a coma and is an exploration of the events and emotions I experienced.The best description I can give for this twilight reality is being trapped in a nightmare state that you can’t wake up from. As a confused spectator and disorientated participant my mind was in freefall.
To begin with I didn’t know where to start. To move things along I thought it might help starting in amongst the creative imaginings of another artist. Which is how DON’T PICK THE FLOWERS came to be. Having drawn a short comic about Klimt in the past I was familiar with his work, with its characters emerging from geometric clothing and the natural world engulfing, bent and curled.
Re-imagining this world and placing one of my characters within it gave me the confidence to approach the page differently, throwing out normal conventions in relation to scale, with no up & no down. Free from self-imposed restrictions, but with the safety of sequential panels I challenged myself to draw a symbiotic, and somewhat parasitic relationship between her and her environment that conveyed a succinct metaphor for her physical and emotional journey.
The thin veil of reality is broken as the curiosity of our protagonist leads us into the beating heart of the painting. Fantasy and reality converge as she encounters a confusion of moving shapes and shifting perceptions. Both at one and apart, tensions ebb and flow as at first she is seduced and then aggrieved by her environment.
She ceases to be a mere observer the moment she dares to pick a flower.
With this comic under my belt and feeling more confident it was time to turn my attentions to the Coma Comic itself.
The introduction is a straight and brief account of the events that lead up to the coma.
On the morning that the infection took hold, the sky outside my bedroom filled with crows, all circling and calling.
In the retelling of my story I’ve replaced the crows with seagulls. I wanted to avoid anything that might appear clichéd, especially when depicting a portent of impending doom. And in deciding to use seagulls it opened up another dimension.
It’s difficult at the best of times to describe pain. You’re generally asked where it is on a scale of 1 – 10. With 10 being the highest. And we tend to forget what pain feels like. The relief of it subsiding overrides the pain itself. However, when it comes to sound I believe we can recall and imagine it more readily, and if you’ve ever heard the piercing screech of a seagull, you don’t easily forget it.
So if 1 is the hoot of an owl then 10 equates to the repeated screech of a seagull…like a crescendo my pain was rapidly rising through the scales of territorial calls. Seagulls leant themselves brilliantly for my depiction of pain.
Following this, it made sense to use other animals to tell my story, focusing on an aspect of their character to provide metaphor and visual short cut throughout the main body of the comic.
The introduction focuses on me as first person narrator, later transitioning into rabbit form avatar. These next few slides cover the short period of time between being admitted to hospital and when the infection overwhelmed my body and I suffered Toxic shock. I have few lucid moments, according to the hospital diary kept for me by my ICU nurses, no amount of painkillers touched the pain and they had to sedate me.
And then, the coma and the great purge.
Best described as a cross between a PENNY DREADFUL, THE DAILY MAIL and DANTE’S circles of purgatory, my mind proceeded to host a wild range of characters, starting with a medieval skeleton; sadistic beauticians; ninja circus performers and oriental seafarers whispering my fate on a wind swept quay as I balanced precariously on a feathers edge. Added to that I was accused of murder. Believing that I must have done something pretty awful to find myself in such a helpless situation I’d unleashed a pandora’s box of imaginings.
And the imaginings of these two turbulent weeks were rooted in my childhood memories and family relationships, which were then compounded by overheard snippets of conversations in earshot of my bedside.
Nurses genuinely wore half skull masks, my ability to communicate was long gone and I was very afraid. This is a turning point in the telling of my story. I was silent, alert and fearful…And so the rabbit…Who spends it’s life being all of those things.
Referencing Dante, and like lots of fantasy epics I’ve drawn a map of my drug induced purgatory. Starting with FEAR, through FIGHT to FREEDOM. The next stage for me is to write COMA COMIC in chapters, one circle of purgatory per chapter. Using a similar approach to DON’T PICK THE FLOWERS we’ll follow rabbit as she journeys through the circles with Dan’s(my husband) & the hospital’s diaries providing a parallel narrative.
EVERLUTION is the last comic I’m sharing today and is drawn in response to the everyday indignities I’ve experienced since becoming an amputee.
When I woke from the coma, I was immediately made aware of what had happened. At that point
I didn’t care – I was so delighted to be alive, free from the nightmare. It was then that I had my clearest moment of clarity. Regardless of only having one leg and despite the bewildering darkness I just experienced – I was still me.
Holding on to that thought has at times been tough and has been challenged on many levels.
However, through EVERLUTION I wanted to demonstrate that regardless of the physical and emotional changes I’ve encountered – I am the same person and that throughout my life, intentionally or not, I’ve always walked differently.
I’m looking forward to attending the Graphic Medicine Conference in Dundee on the 7-9 July. I’ll be talking briefly about my artistic response to the events and consequences of contracting an invasive streptococcal infection in May 2013. There are going to be lots of great speakers and workshops there, so it’s sure to be a great event.
Hi, come and see me this Sunday 29th May at the Brighton Illustrators Fair. BIF!!! It’ll be a great opportunity to meet artists and illustrators from all over the place and buy some great art and comics.
I’ll be there with a fine selection of comics, postcards, stickers & stuff. The superlative Myfanwy Tristram won’t be there this weekend, however, her fine work will be…Whoop!