…Lighter Than My Shadow was going to be a prose book.
I’d always enjoyed illustration, and indeed always wanted to be an illustrator. But I was one of those people who thought that books with pictures were for children, or perhaps for those who weren’t able to read ‘proper’ books (you can imagine what I thought about comics).
Until I stumbled upon the book that changed everything.
The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is a picture book, but in its few short pages of sparse text and deeply allegorical images, it resonated more with my experience of mental illness than any prose book ever had. I’d never seen pictures so eloquent, nor found so few words to be so profound. There was something about the combination, the two working together…
I felt like I’d struck the most unique and exciting idea anyone had ever had, and a whole world had opened up to me. Books with pictures tackling serious subjects: imagine that! I enthusiastically told my friends that this book idea I’d been harping on about for years was going to have pictures, and be unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.
…and so I read my first comic in 2005.
From there it was only a short step to discover a whole world of people telling serious stories with pictures. With every new book I read I was filled simultaneously with inspiration, and with crushing despair that I could never live up to the quality of storytelling these artists were achieving.
And yet, there were hundreds of books about eating disorders. If I was going to bother telling another story about anorexia, I wanted to do so in a way that might bring something different to the conversation. Though I lacked confidence in my skills as an illustrator, I was pretty sure I was a better artist than I was a writer.
The change was like flicking a switch. Once I discovered graphic novels existed, I knew that was how I needed to tell my story.