Jonathan Clode meets our first creator T.O. Walker
Our first Q&A is with T.O. Walker, creator of I See You
You’ve worked on comics that deal with sensitive social issues before. What is your process when working on subjects that can be difficult both personally and to the reader?
I create comics about things that are important to me and I find the process of creating to be therapeutic. I like having a voice and being able to express it in ways that work for me. When thinking about the impact on readers I try to make sure that my comics are not unnecessarily graphic, and I try to get across what I’m communicating in the least distressing way I can, without losing any of the story.
I tend to start off with a few images from the story in my head. I then write out an outline of the story and sketch out panels before beginning to draw. I often start off with the more difficult images but I build on this with more positive images in order to get a balance between difficult and positive content.
Do you see a correspondence between the visual style of a comic and the story content?
I based the visual style of my comics and illustrations on the contents of the story and what I want to communicate. Style is an important aspect of communication in comics and my style varies a lot from subject to subject. I sometimes do illustrations aimed at children and these are very different, colourful and playful!
What are your feelings and impressions in general about the coverage of issues around care giving in the traditional media?
I think caring is generally not as valued as it should be. It can be very hard work with very little recognition and few or no breaks.
How did you decide on the theme of ‘I See You’?
When people are very distressed they can benefit hugely from the care of others. Care can be emotional as well as physical and I wanted to communicate that.
I also wanted to create something to acknowledge the care my dad provided for me when I was discharged from psychiatric hospital as a teenager, and show teenagers that I care for what I would like to provide for them.
I also wanted to show a man in a caring role because, although most carers are women, men can be carers too. I think showing men in a caring role provides a good role model for boys and young men.
Your story deals with mental health issues, specifically in young people. What are your thoughts on the attitude to mental health services for children and teenagers?
I think children and teenagers are best supported with emotional distress in non medical settings. Like adults, they benefit from compassionate support from people who genuinely care for them. We need to recognise that children and teenagers are not adults. We need to support them to grow and to be themselves. We need to respond with hope and kindness. I also think we need to be patient and understand that the process will take however long it takes.
It seems comics are increasingly used as a means to be informative. How do you think this can benefit people?
I really like the accessibility of comics. People access information in different ways and comics can both ‘show’ and ‘tell’ people information. I think as well as making information more accessible it can make information more meaningful and more memorable.
‘I See You’ is largely wordless. What are the challenges in constructing a story that doesn’t rely on dialogue to drive the narrative?
I wanted to communicate the importance of actions, that caring actions can communicate more than words and that they can communicate care when words are difficult. With no dialogue I had to try and draw readers in with the images straight away and then hold their attention with these images. Hopefully I have done that by using images to create a sense of curiosity in the reader, making them want answers to questions about what’s going on, why is it going on and what will happen next.
If a reader takes away only one important idea from ‘I See You’, what would you want it to be?
That love, patience and commitment can make the world of difference even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
Do you think using comics to tell these kinds of stories can shift attitudes towards the medium among people who might never consider reading one?
I hope so! I think people are increasingly recognising the value of comics in telling a wide variety of stories.
Having worked on ‘I See You’, are there any other stories around care that you’d like to work on in the future?
I’m working on an illustrated fairytale about parenting, attachment and diagnosis at the moment, and a graphic novel about women in prison and their journeys through therapy. I’m also working on a comic about baking which for me is a kind of self-care.
T.O. Walker’s graphic memoir Not My Shame is available from Singing Dragon
You can follow her on Twitter @northern_thirtySeptember 30, 2017