I’ve just been reading Paula Knight’s comic “Spooky Womb”, a short extract from her longer, autobiographical graphic novel The Facts of Life. Paula’s a prolific greetings card and children’s book illustrator, but also works with comics. The Facts of Life is a comic memoir aimed at adults, and deals with the complicated and difficult subject of miscarriage.
The Facts of Life has been shortlisted for the First Fictions First Graphic Novel award, and perhaps it’s not surprising: her subject matter is exactly the sort of deeply personal, multi-layered stuff of everyday life that can – and should – be the topic of graphic memoir. While there have been numerous text-based memoirs on similar themes, Paula’s is the first that I know of in comic format. Her delicate, highly-realised style brings an unsettling edge to the story and the imagery, catching you off-guard at times. It takes a moment to realise that the blushing doll’s face that floats serenely through the memoir’s panels is, in fact, Paula’s anthropomorphised uterus. It’s a conceit that would be almost impossible to make work in text – but in the context of these gentle drawings (and you can see more on Paula’s blog), it not only makes sense, but soon comes into its own.
Paula’s work as an illustrator shines through in the panels and pages from The Facts of Life that she’s completed so far. She has that illustrator’s instinct for condensing storylines into single images and a few choice words. If anything, panels such as “childless or childfree” (one of my favourites) demonstrate her singular strength in picking and choosing from her repertoire of styles to bring out the best from the panel’s meaning. How different the above image would look if it had just been drawn – her choice of collage is no mere stylistic whim: this is illustration as art at its communicative best. In some respects, I would like to see even more of this sort of work in The Facts of Life – the narrative sequence as a series of haiku-like, illustrated panels.
Not that this is to imply that there’s anything second-rate about her “traditional” comic pages. Far from it. Her comic pages carry that same sense of careful decision-making. Each page is an object lesson in how to tell a difficult and complicated story concisely. Spooky Womb is a very much a little extract from a larger work, and is an episodic, comic-style “aside” from the main story. It’s to Paula’s credit as a storyteller that it also seems to summarise the whole emotional story of The Facts of Life in just a few short pages. This is her first such short comic – and the first printed extract from The Facts of Life. I really hope she does more – both to help spread the word of what will eventually be an excellent book, but also to give us all more chances to enjoy her work in person, not just through the screen.
Spooky Womb is available through Paula’s online shop.