What was initially to be a short volunteer research project into a Vancouver cold case to support a theory championed by a retired homicide detective, became, for me [and continues to be], a 17+ year personal journey “to restore to now dead people the fullness and degree of complication of their lives. To restore their humanness back to their lives.”
“That’s our work. To restore humanity to the human being that went before that don’t speak for themselves… You have the possibility of willing them to life; you have the possibility of waking the dead. You have to liberate your characters to their full human dimension whether they are historical or not… The characters exist in a historical reality… that makes our work a kind of 3-D chess game… To make the characters real, you have to permit a darker side.” – Ken Burns
Photos by Julian Bowers
The distinction between life and lifeless is a human construct. Every atom in this body existed before organic life emerged 4000 million years ago. Remember our childhood as minerals, as lava, as rocks? Rocks contain the potentiality to weave themselves into such stuff as this. We are the rocks dancing. Why do we look down on them with such a condescending air? It is they that are an immortal part of us.
There is nothing quite as on target as the prose I write in my mind when on the bus- whilst staring out the window to deal with motion sickness, taking in the landscape. But alas, those musings instantly disappear as soon as I pull the cord for my stop.
The difference between what I imagine for the narrative and what I actually create is… indescribable. I am incapable of bringing it to life. Yet, the passion continues, the ideas simmer.
I draw pictures. I draw voraciously. I don’t care if it is shit. I breathe. I draw.
Yet, I want to write. To write well. To tell a proper story. I want to write then illustrate to it. But instead, I am stuck in the visual- I seem to always illustrate first. Then the writing tries to appear. But the result is an unsatisfactory mishmashed scrapbook.
Is drawing a type of writing? If writing on paper is mark making, and drawing is mark making- perhaps I am writing when I draw? Is the narrative I seek actually embedded in the image, unfolding if you follow the line?
It is the business of the dramatist to make good pictures, and whether it be done by the players or the painter, what matter, so they be effective, and the story worth telling; and how shall they be better told than as the author intended they should be represented?
… the eye is to behold, and the mind to be moved… ut pictura poesis. – John Eagle
Molly’s younger brother, Joseph, was admitted to the Provincial Mental Hospital, in Essondale BC, on November 25, 1948 at 1:15 PM. He was institutionalized until his death in 1963.
Joseph’s 270+ page file and my historical research into his treatment is being developed into a visual thesis of some sorts. How it will all look in the end is a mystery. I remain passionate and mesmerized and grateful for “being chosen” to tell their story.
One must not be too romantic about madness, or the madhouses in which the insane were confined. There is, under the manias and grandiosities and fantasies and hallucinations, an immeasurably deep sadness about mental illness, a sadness that is reflected in the often grandiose but melancholy architecture of the old state hospitals. – Oliver Sacks
As part of my research for a current project into mental health treatment in BC 1940’s to 60’s, I came across vintage psychiatric videos recently.
One particular interviewee has completely captured my heart.
Psychiatric interview series. Patient no. 6 : evaluation for treatment
Los Angeles : University of California at Los Angeles, 1959.
Film : Film : State or province government publication Visual material : English
A spontaneous psychiatric interview of a young lady presenting herself for diagnosis and psychiatric treatment. Camera placement emphasizes the patient and puts view in the interviewer’s chair. Produced for research purposes directed at the viewer’s communications.
Government publication, Film, State or province government publication
1 film reel (30 min.) : sound, black and white ; 16 mm
produced for the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, by the Motion Picture Division, Theater Arts Department, University of California, Los Angeles.
Patient No. 6, age 21, is engaging, intelligent, alarmingly modern, and– though I don’t know them and their actual circumstance– I can’t help but feel they are a victim of their times.
The interview takes place in 1959, and the therapist/interviewer is gentle and is good at holding a safe space. In the interview, Patient No. 6 seems reserved, honest, with a dry sense of humour. They wear Levis, rolled up t-shirt sleeves, rockabilly hair. They sit with legs spread, elbows on the arms of the chair and they lean forward. They have an awesome style.
They have however been in and out of treatment and psychiatric hospitals since age 14, labelled with difficulties that include:
Antisocial and impulsive behaviour, promiscuity, lesbianism, illegitimate children (2 stillborn, 1 adopted, twins adopted, 2 in grandmother’s care), multiple marriages, drug and alcohol addiction, psychosis, runaway, theft, bad cheques, car theft…
Treatments have included hospitalization, detox, medication, shock treatments and psychotherapy.
I created a mind map of dialogue snippets…
4 years later, in 1963, Patient No. 6 and the therapist/interviewer meet again. And again– though I don’t know them and their actual circumstance– I can’t help but see a person who cannot fully express their individuality and identity.
My heart breaks for them as they reach for the handbag. May I smoke?
They do express the benefits of talk therapy and they seem to have found an understanding life partner and they are committed to their children.
I have two children that have to be raised. I want them to be emotionally stable.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this beautiful human being– so open and engaging.
I do hope they continued to ride motorcycles and wear Levis. I do hope they had a happy life.
UPDATE: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL IS BEING RE-WORKED AND THEREFORE SET TO “PRIVATE” WITH RESTRICTED ACCESS
My work is based on extensive research, interviews and published accounts. I use mainly primary and secondary sources in order to build the story. I have attempted to stick to the facts in the text and avoid assumptions, yet draw conclusions from the circumstantial evidence. Visual scenes have been created for the purposes of dramatization. This is a work of creative non-fiction inspired by true facts, physical evidence and historical research. In the end, this is my artistic interpretation and nothing more than that.
Regarding my passion project Molly- a true crime analysis: 2003-2016 was all about researching, drawing, accumulating, writing, collecting. 2017 was all about creating an online weekly draft, telling the story with images, words and music in whatever way it unfolded, sharing it openly, publicly. 2018 has been all about allowing others in, and letting go of control, and hiding the project and process away so that those others could take a run at it. The outcome of all this is still unknown. I admit it feels odd and strange.
But what has been brewing inside me is another version of the story– one that only I know how to tell. And I keep pacing about it. It’s not that I don’t know what to do. It’s that I KNOW what I am supposed to do and it somehow scares the shit out of me.
2019– I am ready.
Keeping a “don’t know mind” is important during this time as you may be somewhat confused and in a state of not knowing. Let spirit and your inner truth, wisdom and intuition sort it for you. Let go of any attachment to how it is supposed to look, who should be in the picture and how it needs to unfold.
There is freedom in trusting that everything will land where it should so take some time and enjoy your life, enjoy your community, enjoy the outdoors and enjoy your unique talents and creativity. Worry and obsession about whether or not you are “doing it right” will only rob you of your sleep. Let the energy of TRUTH assimilate into your being without any effort or hyper-vigilance. The word of the week is TRUST.
MOLLY, A GRAPHIC NOVEL– my now 15+ years passion project– continues at the drawing board and at the writing desk and in my heart, with new developments, insights and directions behind the scenes. Some announcements in the new year.
NOTE: this is a work of creative non-fiction inspired by true facts, evidence and events. It is an artistic interpretation and no more than that.
Come back to me, Molly. It’s been a strange time- hiding you from the world in order to explore new ways of telling your story. I’m not sure I like this anymore.
You chose me. Remember? At the library? 15 years ago. As your spirit wandered restlessly on the viaduct, you passed through me with a surprised breath and your soul snagged on mine. Tell my story, you whispered.
And for 15 years, you and I have explored so many ways to tell it. But of late, I feel like I’ve lost you. I miss the unpeeling of the onion, the uncovering of truths, teasing out the knots to reveal the thread, the connections. Your slow reveals.
I miss the smell of old newsprint, the texture of old flannel, the moss on the forest floor.
I miss you walking on Pender, you at the end of my lane, you sitting in my living room.
Have I let you down? Did I fail to trust that you are guiding? Have you met my mom and dad? Are you safe?
Come back to me, Molly. Let’s start again. From the beginning. I have paper and pen in hand. Tell me what’s next.
I am so used to sharing my creative process openly– and now I find myself in a new state of being, where in order to discuss and develop the project further, I have to stop sharing it.
This is all exciting and unreal– so why do I feel anxious? It is weird. Unfamiliar.
A soul reached out and I was chosen to tell her story… but…
When public goes private, do I lose her?
What a strange feeling this is.
Anxiety is potentially a huge by-product of the energy this month as we try to navigate through all of what is coming our way. It is much like a run-away train. We will simply need to trust that the tracks we put down will hold, and the train will end up settling in the right place.
From the critically acclaimed writers of The Dregs comes a new horror series about body image, social media and memory. When an entrepreneur with a god complex creates a technology that allows two minds to share one body, he doesn’t anticipate the degenerative effects of long-term trials. Come Into Me is a contemporary comment on a connected culture and our longing for approval in the digital age. This is a world where technology and flesh become indistinguishable begging the question: How much sharing is too much sharing?“
As I interpret it, Come Into Me– dystopian piece of speculative fiction– is a commentary on the invasive nature of social media, the voracious desire to delve into the lives of others, the shallowness of digital connection, the cavalier and irresponsible medicalization/quick fixes of communication/mind exploration and the depersonalization of the modern world.
Ideally, I would have loved a longer read(!)– there is so much awesome and rich subject matter here– and I would have loved to have the artwork push the envelope a bit more to truly reflect that rich subject matter. I longed to have more beats and fuller pages, BUT it was an absolutely intriguing book and the art work was totally engaging! I can’t wait for the next issue.
I encourage you to grab a copy. For as readers, we are part of the creative process as well!
On January 15, 2017, I launched the first chapter of the third draft of my experimental graphic novel: Molly- a true crime analysis.
Birds have been a recurring theme throughout the work. It is difficult to explain their symbolism fully, but to me they carry messages across space and time.
I spent Dec 31, 2017-Jan 1, 2018 drawing birds for a particular image I wanted for Part 22 and in order to end and start the new year working on the book. The drawing process was a joy but I was surprised at how loud my inner critic was, how sad I became, how I questioned the validity of the book, the point.
I danced with the critic though, didn’t fight the darkness that welled up, and continued to put china marker to paper and wheatpaste to canvas until I felt done.
MOLLY- A TRUE CRIME ANALYSIS
This true crime/cold case/murder mystery art project has been part of my life since 2003, though I know I was born to write and illustrate it.
“The image of a dead bird in the snow is similar to the popular “Babe in the Woods” motif of children who are in their mortal sleep in the forest, and may have likewise been a call to empathy for the less fortunate.”
I have so much I could write about the two days. But for now I will list just a sample of words I scratched furiously into my SKiP sketchbook…
Radical imaginations, weaving process, verbal to visual, resist, politics of care, intersectional framework, history can be a weapon/tool, mutate change, visible thinking, metaphorical typography, critical creativity, Gutenberg Parenthesis, porous pedestrian, kennings, serendipidoodle, fringed oddity,spurned desire, Sanburgian synthesis, scheduled creativity, the way out of the box is the shackles, pareidolia, storytelling ethics, mark making…
I am so excited to build on the connections made at the symposium.
Some photo highlights from my two days:
A huge thank you to Jason Toal and the entire team for including me!
I’m so excited and honored to be hosting two sessions at SKETCHING IN PRACTICE (SKiP) 2017 June 23-24, 2017 at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre!
SKETCHING IN PRACTICE (SKiP) is a two-day symposium that explores the construction of meanings through sketching. In 2016 we brought in scholars and practitioners from diverse backgrounds to explore the question, What happens when we draw? Last year we looked inward. This year we peer outward, asking Where does sketching lead to action? This year we are focusing on the HOW and WHY particular visual strategies are used to achieve a goal.
Keynote Topic: The average person reads and interprets thousands of images per day–not surprisingly doing most of it with little more than a glance. According to Dr. Andrew Causey, the cost of this massive amount of processing is that we end up missing the deep content and context of the world around us. At the 2nd Annual 2017 Sketching In Practice Conference, Causey will share insights from his recently published book, Drawn to See: Drawing as an Ethnographic Method, on how line drawing can be used to build a more attentive, and deeper form of perception.
Remember | Resist | Redraw: Creating Radical Graphic History Posters with Kara Sievewright and Robin Folvik
Workshop overview: The Graphic History Collective (GCH) is a group of activists, artists, writers, and researchers passionate about comics, history, and social change. In 2017, we launched a collaborative project called Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Project to critically intervene in the Canada 150 conversation. With this project, the GHC hopes to encourage people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for radical change in 2017 and beyond.
Workshop overview: Sketching Off the Page takes drawing into the 3-dimensional realm and into a full body physical expression of the elements of visual art as they intersect with the elements of movement. As an experiential learning workshop, participants are taken through a full body warm up that introduces the elements of dance and warms up the mind to creative possibilities linking the visual page to embodied representations. The act of solo and co-operative sketching on paper weaves its way into remarkable ‘sketchings off the page’ : sketchings that invite a sense of presence that moves from the connection of pencil to paper, into body-to-body connections through dance, which further invite the connections of heart and mind. These connections are revealed as complex and profound as they challenge and broaden the perception of what sketching is and what it can be.
Live sketching demonstration / performance: “I practice “nomadic creativity” on a daily basis. I carry a portable studio (backpack filled with drawing & sketching materials) and a sketchbook, looking for hidden corners in coffee shops, where I sketch and draw my ideas. Over time, this ritual has evolved into a large body of works (containing more than thousand drawings). My presentation involves setting up a pop-up studio and performing my sketching rituals. Additionally, I will present my sketchbooks and engage in a conversation with SKIP’s participants. This project/presentation aspires to stimulate creativity and promote sketching as the most versatile and engaging creative strategy.”
Reclaiming Writing – Adapting Writing Systems as an Expression of Cultural Autonomy with Gabe Wong
Workshop overview: Writing is a visual act. How we write is an expression of our culture. Through different orthographies, the form of our writing is loaded with meaning, creating references to a culture’s history and relationships. Often, a writing system can be seen as a product and tool of colonization and assimilation, and once it exists, it cannot be taken away. By reclaiming the way we write and taking ownership of our own writing system, we can also take ownership of our own culture and identity. Even a subtle change in the way we write can be an expression of our individual and cultural autonomy. In this workshop, participants will sketch and develop alternative ways of writing that best represent their culture or history. Culture in this workshop is wide ranging, it can refer to a nation, but can also refer to groups with shared experiences, e.g. second-generation or queer culture. Participants can draw and develop new glyphs, draw new calligraphic approaches or explore different ways to writing. They will then share their developments, through their novel writing, with their peers.
How smooth is a mountain? Exploring the texture of lived space with Suk Kyoung Choi
Workshop overview: We attempt to communicate when we draw, but how do we connect conceptual form with the marks we make? Does this connection suggest we live in similar or very different visual worlds?This workshop explores the use of drawing to explore the textural geometry of embodied space. The workshop will take the form of a mediated experiment where participants sketch their interpretation of an automatically generated inspirational phrase describing a scene. Starting from a brief presentation of my research interest in the conceptual metaphors of texture and their relationship to environmental frequency, we will explore our individually embodied understandings of the space – time we inhabit. This exercise offers an increased awareness of how meaning is wrapped up in embodied (personal) metaphor, and a deeper understanding of how we may access previously hidden dimensions of experience. Come to experiment, explore, reflect, and engage in imaginative play! Drawing reaches into the subconscious: If you can feel you can draw. All levels of drawing welcome.
Peripatetic lines: on reading (and ‘writing’) wordless stories with Stef Lenk
Workshop overview: The intent of this workshop is to introduce the skill of ‘reading images’ without language as a crutch. I will present two self-created wordless graphic narratives; participants will ‘read’ and then write their interpretations down. We will then share and compare these interpretations, discussing what does and doesn’t work (relative to the initial goals of the narratives), how visual stories differ from text narratives in terms of reading experience, and how visual metaphor can open up a story to create more universal significance to audiences.
Workshop overview: Facilitating learners with clients in meetings and ideation sessions in a project-based learning environment is a complicated yet rewarding teaching and learning opportunity. Participants will learn a vocabulary of strategic maps that learners at the MDM Program draw from to organize sessions, rapidly generate ideas visibly, align stakeholders on prioritized needs, identify problems to solve, propel projects forward within limited time-frames and more. Participants will also be exposed to specific use-cases where strategic maps were used in addition to trigger phrases that led teams to draw from specific visual tools and maps during ideation sessions with clients.
Workshop overview: How can we illustrate an idea when all of the actors are not visible or even tangible? We’re familiar with the idea of systems through ecosystems, which manifest themselves in observable natural events. Donella Meadows of MIT applied ecosystems toward human communities, coining the term “systems thinking.” A system is greater than its constituent parts, which interrelate for a natural function or human purpose. Today, systems thinking drives many innovative initiatives in science and economics. Whether the system is natural or human, we can identify common qualities. Patterns of behavior that change over time can be identified, creating surface events. Structures create these patterns, and we can even draw the deeper mystery of how a function or purpose activates these structures. In a system, sketchers can create portraits of actors, contain them in hierarchical frames, and draw relationships with arrows. These parts can then be organized meaningfully in space. In a virtual Realtime Board, we’ll sketch a system that connects seemingly unrelated events—dark matter, the demise of the dinosaurs, and the rise of mammals. We’ll discuss how this exercise applies in practical contexts.
Workshop overview: How students used a comic book app, Blackboard blog and ticking clock to co-create course content and demonstrate social justice action: An example of upstanding to sexism and homophobia. Our learning challenge was to have students generate their own scenarios, stop wrongful behaviour and bring everyone back into right relationships — a process using students own social construction of knowledge. Rather than lecture, we challenged students to dramatize best practice via a series of comic book panels. Teams of students were given an iPad with a comic book app to create the photo-based comic representations of the witnessed scenarios. Then each team contributed its comic book page to our collaborative, “Upstander’s Comic Book” (a.k.a. – a Blackboard blog). Then everyone engaged in rich feedback on each teams comics using the blog comments option. There was one catch — the comics had to be storyboarded, created and posted in less than 10 minutes! Come and join us for this fast and fun session. And yes, there will be a ticking clock!
Participants will learn about Katarina’s 14+ year involvement in Canada’s most important unsolved cold case- The Babes in the Wood (as profiler, researcher, now writer/illustrator) and how she now uses an online weekly serial format (Jan 15-Nov 19 2017) to present her work.
Participants will learn:
• about the case and how Katarina got involved
• how her relationship with the case evolved over time
• how drawing is essential to the work
• how the decision to go online came about
• the importance of visual storytelling and the use of music to enhance the experience
• simple visual techniques to tell their own story
Katarina will share openly about her passion project/life’s work through audiovisual and take the participants through a Lynda Barry inspired story project.
Session 2 JUNE 24, 2017 1:30-2:30 PM:
Drawn Together Wheatpaste/Street Art Project [WORKSHOP]
• learn how creative engagement builds connections, creates safe space and fosters dialogue
• learn about the use of street art techniques to engage community
• experience hands on drawing and introduction to wheatpaste techniques and group will create a temporary mural.
Kat uses a friendly “follow me” approach that takes the participants through in depths drawing techniques. The resulting drawings are cut out and used in a group mural.
No previous drawing experience necessary!
Project tools will be supplied!
This event is held in partnership with Simon Fraser University’s, Faculty of Communication Art and Technology; School of Interactive Art and Technology; Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences; and the Teaching and Learning Center.
Cost for the two days is $35.00, is non-refundable and is a flat rate for both days. We have made every effort to keep the cost of the symposium down and part of this is managing administrative costs, we thank-you for understanding.
I am workshopping my graphic novel through a weekly online serial.
we have been witnessed a crime:
Looked at the original headlines:
I’ve introduced my involvement (more to come):
And travelled to Ireland to get our first glimpse at the main character:
Molly’s and The Babes in the Wood timeline are now starting to twist around each other.
So I need to celebrate
I am 95 pages in— 95 pages in 4 weeks! Or looking at it another way, 95 pages in 13.5 years. Yes, I must celebrate this. But instead, I am struck with creative insomnia! A buzzing, busy brain. Is it excitement to keep going? Is it fear? Is it a
Of course it is. Holy shit. I am putting it out there, doing it for me, for Molly, for my supporters, for storytelling. Holy shit. I am doing it. And accurate to the way the creative process works and the inner critic whispers, I am struck with nervousness. I have been struggling so long after so much life change to just live a day a time. And now here I am, planning 46 weeks of instalments. Planning my life. Professionally, creatively. Thinking ahead… thinking past tomorrow…
I’m past patiently waitin’. I’m passionately Smashin’ every expectation Every action’s an act of creation! I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow
– Lin Manuel Miranda
After years of 5 minute living, a way to get through the rollercoaster of life-
I am sitting here with a full calendar and giant lovely to-do’s and I admit, I am a little bit scared. But loving it. Deep into it. Experimenting. And trusting Molly.
Thank you so much for reading, for sticking with me when I updated late, for encouraging me and supporting me.
I’m so glad I got to share this, my first full-length comic, with you, my sweet readers from the beginning and all the new ones who joined in along the way. I can’t believe anyone read along at all, and the fact that so many of you did is something I can’t even believe.
The future of Boundary: I’m going to be Kickstarting a book, so keep watching this space for news about that! The archives will stay here, free to read any time. And in the meantime you can follow new comic news at mytwitteror instagram.
If you like, you can support myPatreon, where I’ve been posting journal comics every day, and will be sharing sketches and plans for upcoming projects.
Thank you all again.
And thank you especially to Julian, without whom I couldn’t have done this. – Emily Cowan
I can’t wait to PHYSICALLY hold that book in my hands.
Hella cool queer brat who makes a comic about sad teens!
I’ve been chatting, speaking, blabbing, vomiting words with friends and family about it, at the dinner table, over the phone, even on the radio—
Check out my INTERVIEW about Molly- a true crime analysis from January 20, 2017 Radio Interview on ESSENCEtial Conversations CJSF 90.1 FM with hosts Rebecca Mears (catchingfire.ca) and Lucca Hallex (powersourcerer.com):
Somehow, I have NO PROBLEM chatting away here on this blog, sharing verbosity without fear—
And I have no problem, indeed it is my mission, encouraging others to speak as I capture dialogue of participants when I mind map and co-faciliate- I want to make it safe for you to speak freely—
Then why- when I speak out loud, sharing my passion, does a voice inside my head try to shushme? Why does this voice tell me I am talking too much? Why is it telling me to not take up airspace, to not waste people’s time? Who is that voice? Why is it asking me to be apologetic? Is it still that teen that wanders around aimlessly in my brain?
But, on this weekend, of all weekends, as millions of women (and supporters) MARCHED- why would I listen to that voice? What events in my past have trained me to listen to that voice at all?
Instead of marching Saturday morning here in Vancouver, I was busy finalizing my latest section of Molly. I knew that for me, working on Molly was the “march” I personally needed to do for myself- to fulfill this commitment I have made.
So shush, wandering teen, you shush. For I need to SPEAK FREELY. Without restraint, constraint. I deserve it.
“Continue to embrace the things that make you unique even if it makes others uncomfortable. You are enough. And whenever you’re feeling doubt, whenever you want to give up, you must always remember to choose freedom over fear.” – Janelle Monae at Women’s March on Washington, January 20, 2017.