New Brunswick comic artist Patrick Allaby talks about his latest work, Martin Peters – Part 1.
In his latest comic, Sackville-based artist Patrick Allaby continues his exploration of personal, non-fiction storytelling with Martin Peters – Part 1, a true story about teenage relationships and growing up in Fredericton’s Skyline Acres neighbourhood where Allaby spent the first 18 years of his life.
“The story is set in Fredericton in 2008 and 2011 and I really wanted to tell a story that captured what it felt like for me to be a teenager in Fredericton, wasting hours on MSN, wanting to do something, but having no place to go, and being completely naïve,” said Allaby.
Martin Peters – Part 1 a story about a young diabetic named Martin Peters and his relationship with his first girlfriend, Katherine Paul. The two meet at high school and bond over their common love for Pink Floyd becoming fast friends through regular chats on MSN and hangouts in the neighbourhood park. As their friendship develops, Allaby is able to convey all the drama, anxiety and complications that go along with teenage relationships.
“It’s an exercise in imagining the trajectory my life would have taken if I’d been diagnosed with diabetes at a younger age,” he said. “Originally, I’d wanted to do this as a rock opera, but I can’t play any instruments so I made it a comic instead.”
Allaby was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in December 2015, and the topic has since become a reoccurring theme in his work.
“In some ways it has been a blessing, because I’ve really been mining it for all it’s worth,” said Allaby, “but I also am prone to thinking it’s ruined my life.”
In an age where conversations surrounding racial diversity and gender equality are slowly helping to guide programming in everything from festival lineups to theatre stages in a long-overdue attempt to better represent the world we live in, similar conversations surrounding disease and disabilities remain on the fringes. Through their work, artists like Allaby and others who have made the choice to include characters who live day to day with diabetes or other forms of affliction are helping to create greater awareness and a stronger representation of reality.
Following his own diagnosis, Allaby became more aware of how common diseases like diabetes are represented (or not) in popular culture. These observations and his own experiences have since had a great effect on his work.
“After I got out of the hospital, I spent the following months trolling the Internet, reading up all I could on diabetes and one of the things I was particularly aware of was the lack of media – especially TV and film – dealing with diabetes,” he said. “Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal incorporates diabetes into its plot pretty beautifully, but mostly I found Al Pacino saying, ‘I need a glass of Orange Juice!’ in the Godfather Part III or Jane Krakowski saying, ‘I need to get out of here before I get airborne diabetes’ in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and felt unsatisfied, so I’ve been trying to compensate. Although I’ve done like five comics about diabetes in the past year, so I think right now I’m overcompensating.”
Allaby begins his latest story by challenging our own interpretation of our surroundings and how we all believe we’re aware of what exists and what happens around us until something is directly brought to our attention. Like those situations where you hear a word for the first time and then begin to notice it multiple times a day. To convey this idea and set the tone for the story, he shares his own experience with discovering the artist Grace Jones.
“I tend to feel that New Brunswick is ignored or overlooked by the rest of Canada and my intention with the Grace Jones introduction was to acknowledge the way in which we tend to overlook things that have nothing to do with us,” said Allaby. “So many people live in generic suburban neighbourhoods like Martin, but you never see those places in tourist ads for New Brunswick and there are no TV shows staring teenage diabetics who spend their nights strolling around the suburbs. However, so many people like Martin also have no knowledge of the world outside the straight, white, English, middle class, male world they exist within.”
The main character in the story is based on a real life friend of Allaby’s who actually grew up in the same neighbourhood. When their paths actually crossed later in their lives, Allaby was so inspired by the fact that they both grew up in Skyline Acres but never met each other, he decided to tell Martin’s story through his art.
In part one of this two part series, we are given a glimpse into the life of Martin Peters. In part two, expected to be published later this summer, Allaby continues the story while also sharing Martin’s reaction to be portrayed in comic form.
“One of the things I deal with in Part 2 of Martin Peters is his reaction and discomfort to how he’s being portrayed in this story,” said Allaby. “It can be hard accepting and owning things you’ve done and through this, Martin’s had to come to terms with not always being a great person.
“I’ve always loved books in which the author or narrator are characters, like Pale Fire or The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov, The Canterbury Tales, anything by Kim Deitch, David Boring by Daniel Clowes, Building Stories by Chris Ware or even Arrested Development’s forth season. It’s so enchanting and adds this level of verisimilitude that you wouldn’t otherwise have.”
In the end, it’s sharing stories that Allaby enjoys most. And while Martin Peters may be a story about teenage love, living with diabetes, and growing up in a lonely suburb, it’s also simply a great read and one that is thought provoking, engaging and beautifully told.
“I work in comics because I like how they can convey both words and pictures at the same time,” said Allaby. “I love reading novels because they can convey this level of interiority, they allow you to get inside the heads of the main characters, but I always find it frustrating, especially when reading something old like Middlemarch, or Emma and you don’t really have an idea of what space the story takes place in, or what the characters look like. It’s so jarring to watch film adaptations. I always end up thinking, ‘this is what I was supposed to be picturing in my head?’.
“In comics, you can both get inside the heads of characters through the narration and text and show the world they live in, give a clear idea of space with pictures,” said Allaby. “As well as being about Martin and Katherine, Martin Peters is also about Fredericton and specifically Skyline Acres, the neighbourhood where I spent my first 18 years and which populates the backgrounds of these pages.”
Learn more about Patrick and his work by visiting www.patrickallaby.com