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.