Continuing our series of themed guest Commentary posts featuring the work of the shortlist nominees for the recent Myriad-sponsored First Graphic Novel Competition, today’s guest is comics creator, illustrator and children’s author Paula Knight, talking us through some of her very intriguing-looking comics memoir The Facts of Life, elements of which (especially the younger years scenes) will have a familiar ring to them to many readers:
My graphic memoir, The Facts of Life, is about the pressure on girls and women to become mothers, and how life doesn’t always turn out as expected. It’s set in 1970s/80s Northeast England and modern-day Bristol. Although I deal with miscarriage in the story, it’s not intended as a misery memoir about desperation for children; rather it’s about trying to make true-to-self decisions unfettered by society’s expectations. After this first page, the story dives into childhood. I’m thinking of making my own handwritten font for the text.
The childhood part of my memoir follows two best friends piecing together snippets of information about sex and how babies are made. Here I also try to recreate the backdrop of our childhood. These pages reveal us exploring uncharted territory of mysterious anatomy.
I’ve been writing relevant memories onto a card file for the last four years. I remember childhood incidents clearly but I don’t have word-for-word recall. I recollect certain phrases but I’ve had to recreate much of the dialogue in the early part of my memoir because those forty-something brain cells aren’t quite sharp enough for finer retrospective detail. My lifelong friendship with the other key character, Susan, has helped to keep memories alive.
This page tells of how I discovered the nuts and bolts of the facts of life and my continuing curiosity. I originally intended this story to be about how people find out about sex, but as related events unfolded in my own life, it grew into a more coherent narrative.
Older girls in the local playground would unwittingly throw us scraps of enticing but baffling information. The usual location for this was the climbing frame – the original one still exists. When gathering photographic reference there last year, I got stuck and had to be helped down. ‘Cal’ is based on me trying to perform a manoeuvre that was effortless in 1978. Gathering reference can be good fun, as long as I don’t end up doing myself a mischief. I prefer to gather my own rather than relying on the internet, although that isn’t always possible.
I’m including relevant references from popular culture and politics of the time – not only did they influence our attitudes to sex, relationships and career, but also my aim in citing them is to help steep the reader in that era.
At different life stages, the story examines the pressure to become a parent – the subliminal social priming of young girls and peer-group pressure felt as an adult. I try to untangle where it comes from in my case – is it societal, familial, a straightforward human and hormonal urge to procreate, or a murky soup of all? I also include 1980s/90s ‘having it all’ media myths because they are partly responsible for creating unrealistic expectations.
These rough pages are from the latter part of the memoir when the unwritten facts of life hit home. Not having children, and the reasons behind that, can throw up some awkward social situations. This is a generic representation of many I’ve had. Here, I was trying to consider the whole page and how panel borders can be used (but not overused) as visual language. My aim here is to use them to help illustrate the breakdown of communication between characters.
I’m currently scripting the part of my memoir when I was trying for children. This page shows me recovering after a suspected ectopic pregnancy. I’m tempted to make this into a double-page spread to emphasise the sense of floating away. I’m aware that these should be used sparingly, so I’m deciding whether it’s an important enough part of the story to warrant that.
Finally, this page describes the isolation surrounding miscarriage. The middle two panels also sum up how I feel about the process of writing this particular story, and they echo the ‘pregnant’ Sindy doll earlier.
My hope is that the subject matter might help to attract new readers to the medium. Although it covers obvious female issues, men have also been interested in reading it – non-parents form a growing breed! Most people go through the process of thinking about possible parenthood at some point in their lives, and that part of my story involves both male and female points of view.
I was delighted to reach the shortlist of the First Graphic Novel competition, and I find the comics community to be supportive and positively oozing with inspirational talent! I’ve talked about my work at Laydeez do Comics, Comics Forum/Thought Bubble and First Fictions Festival. I’ve recently started a blog about my work which you can find here.
As well as illustration and writing, Paula is a trained proofreader. Her first two children’s picture books (as author) are due for publication this year. Her children’s literary agent is Bright Literary Agency; you can follow more of her work via her site here.