Artist Mark Stafford interviews All Is Not Well co-organisers Ryan Prout & Jonathan Clode
MS: How did the All Is Not Well project come about and what were you hoping to achieve with it?
JC: I have worked in social care for many years and during that time I’ve also been writing comics. I was seeing a lot of stories capturing people’s experiences, particularly in regard to what’s become known as ‘graphic medicine’ and was reading and enjoying (if that’s the word!) these types of stories. I’d noticed a lot of media coverage about the issues impacting people in care but I felt the viewpoint of the care giver was consistently lacking. The project initially started with a view to trying to put that viewpoint and experience across through comics.
RP: I have been using social documentary comics in my teaching for a while now, and also writing about them. All is Not Well in part came about as a way of applying some of my academic research to a creative project with a focus on social issues in Wales.
I met Jonathan at an event I organised at the School of Modern Languages and we talked about a collaborative project. Outside of sensationalist stories about things going wrong, the news media and cultural production, more generally, tend to ignore care givers, and the essential work that they do. It was easy to agree that an aim of the first part of the project should be to draw attention to care givers and to how underappreciated and unrecognised their work is.
MS: The project requires active collaborations with homeless people.- to what extent do we, or can we -hear the ‘truth’ of their experiences?
JC: I think the actual truth of lived experience of homelessness is at once too brutal and personal to truly be captured by anyone other than the person experiencing it. We tried our best to work with creators who have had these experiences, and felt able to interpret them in a way that made sense to them and to our project, and hopefully didn’t retraumatise them. I think that’s the most we could really ask of anyone.
MS: How willing are people to share the , often worst, experiences in their lives for the sake of art/charity/whatever?
JC: I think if your desire to learn about what someone has been through is sincere, then, at least in my experience, people are usually willing to share. Too often people who have been through homelessness have also been through services that endlessly ask them to re-tread their worst moments, in many cases for the benefit of process and administration, so I’m always mindful of that. Also, you must be careful not to retraumatise someone for the sake of capturing something that’s not ultimately going to help them, at least not in any immediate or tangible way. There are ways of reflecting a person’s experiences that won’t require them to dredge up their darkest moments. I did some poetry workshops in a previous job, not to try and get anything out of it for me or my work, but just to see if we could find some artistic expression that was a positive distraction and at best, perhaps provide some brief catharsis. I think the most important thing to consider when you’re trying to tell another person’s story, but you need them to relive something extremely painful for you to do that, is why? Why am I doing this?
MS: Did/do you often encounter true stories that are just too weird or dark or funny to fit the brief, as it were? And can I steal them?
JC: That’s a hard one to answer. The short response would be yes to all of the above. I’ve seen some of the worst examples of human behaviour next to some of the most humbling acts of kindness I could ever imagine. I wrote an as yet undrawn biography of a woman I used to work for, it’s a kind of hidden history of the old hospitals where they shut disabled people away. I guess that’s the closest I’ll ever come to capturing the true breadth of it all. She was one of the most remarkable, unique and resilient people I’ll ever meet, and she passed away recently. My biggest hope is that one day I’ll get her story out there.
MS: Does the UK actually want to hear about homelessness, and the systems that perpetuate it, especially as property values and property development seem to be the only part of the British economy that much of the population gives a damn about? Talking about homelessness would seem to bring into question the rock that many are clinging to…
RP: It’s turning a blind eye to homelessness, maybe, that allows us to go on with our day to day lives. And turning away from homelessness could also be like turning away from disability in the sense that there’s a primeval fear that it could be contagious. Even if almost everyone is only a property slump, an interest rate rise, and a few missed square meals away from becoming part of the underclass, and a potential revolutionary.
For the situation to have got so much worse in the last decades there must be a reluctance to hear about the subject, and to think about it. And lack of investment and lack of interest in social housing on the part of successive UK governments. The obsession with the property market, and the use of homes as an asset class, can’t be detached from the rise in the number of homeless people, I would say. One of the next strips to be published on the site will be ‘Do Not Pass Go’, a homelessness edition of Monopoly, drawn by Gayle Rogers. It addresses exactly the points that your question raises. Stay tuned.October 7, 2022