In a Director’s Commentary written for the Forbidden Planet International blog, Paula Knight discussed some of the creative impulses that led to her graphic novel memoir, The Facts of Life. It has been split into three for reproduction on this blog, so look out for Parts II & III over the next few days.
Ten years ago, on the 19th December 2007, I posted a strip on Deviant Art called How A Baby Is Made, under the pseudonym ‘Missnibs’. It was to be the very beginnings of my graphic memoir The Facts of Life. In the mid-2000s I was enjoying reading many more comics and graphic novels, and this happened to coincide with a time when myself and my partner were trying for a baby. It wasn’t going too well, and I felt driven to write about our experiences and attitudes towards women who don’t have children. I’d been to a large comics con around that time which left me feeling a bit too old and a bit too female. You have to see yourself reflected in a space or medium to feel as if you belong there, and at first I felt there might not be much of an audience for my subject matter within the comics medium. However, I’d read Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi) and found it encouraging that another woman my age was writing autobiographical work. This was further reinforced when I discovered Laydeez do Comics in 2009, and later Graphic Medicine. After attending a Laydeez meeting in 2010, and speaking there in 2011, I was basking in encouragement and the project really took off. In 2012, I was shortlisted in Myriad Editions’ First Graphic Novel Competition, which further buoyed my confidence. I worked on it over six years alongside freelancing, with just over two years full-time helped along by an Arts Council England grant.
The main theme is about pressures and expectations on women to reproduce (pronatalism); ambivalence over the idea of motherhood; and what happens when life doesn’t go to plan. It’s a personal exploration of where those expectations came from: Family, friends, society, culture and politics. It’s also about what it’s like to be a woman who doesn’t have kids in a society where ‘family’ means ‘children’, and an attempt to challenge assumptions of women’s value to society being dependent on their relationship to children. It’s also about the chronic illness ME and how that impacted my life in the above context.
Aesthetically, I wanted to make a fairly traditional looking comic that was easy to read. As well as established comics readers, it was important that I attract readers interested in my subject matter whom might not necessarily be used to reading pictures. I didn’t want to create anything too ‘out there’ that might be off-putting to that readership. I tend to prefer artwork that looks as if a fallible human being made it (mine certainly does), so it’s all hand-rendered with dip-pen and acrylic paint (including panel borders and speech bubbles); then scanned, with some collage elements added digitally. I also made my own font for the text – a steep knuckle-gnawing learning curve that was eventually worth it. The textures that were added digitally are hand-created – lots of fun rolling up card and dry-brushing the creases to make ‘rock’, for example. I also painted my feet black one day, to make a ’carbon footprint’. The majority of any drawing reference is photographic (from hundreds of photos I took myself or that my partner took of me), occasionally venturing into Google street-view (3D now – amazing!) I don’t trace, but often look at photos for figure drawing, and I also draw from memory.
This article was originally written as a guest feature for the Forbidden Planet International blog and was published here on 18 December 2017. Parts II and III will follow on this site in the next few days.
Tickets for our event on Paula Knight’s The Facts of Life on 14th February 2018 are available on Eventbrite and will feature a short video introduction and Q&A conducted over video link with Paula herself, followed by two speakers who will discuss the formal aspects of the graphic novel and psychological aspects of fertility.
Helpful resources are listed below.
Miscarriage and Infertility
The Miscarriage Association
Phone: 01924 200799
Phone: 0800 0147 800
Phone: 0845 293 8027
Fertility Network UK
Phone: 01424 732361