Category Archives: Observations

Sloth Comics

Sloth Comics are a small UK based publisher. This is the house that handles my Hopeless, Maine graphic novels and they’ve been an utter joy to work with. Sloth publishes a mix of UK material, and French material. Publisher Nic is bilingual and is thus able to bring French titles in translation to the UK market.

The French comics market is much bigger and gets far more respect than comics publishing in the UK. One of the consequences of this is that artists can afford to create. This leads to higher quality of work, faster output, or both.

In the UK, graphic novels and comics are often treated as an inferior form. Many people think that comics mean superheroes. Most of what Sloth publishes is not superhero content – there’s one very entertaining parody – Loran’s Academy of Super-Heroes. 

Many people assume that comics are intrinsically for children, because of the pictures. This simply isn’t true. Comics can be for anyone, and are as capable of dealing with adult themes as any other medium. Most of what Sloth publishes would be suitable for anyone over twelve, and all of it is unsuitable for young children. Most of the readers are adults.

I’ve had a long and steady relationship with Sloth. I’t a house that has taken good care of me, and my work and where I’ve felt I could build a firm foundation for the Hopeless, Maine project.  I like the other comics Nic publishes and I’m delighted to be part of it all..

Publisher’s website – https://www.slothcomics.co.uk/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/SlothComicsFacebook – https://www.facebook.com/SlothComics


Why I’m not fixing people

I find the idea that one person can ‘fix’ another person implausible at best. There’s a lot wrong with it as a concept. To want to fix someone, you have to first perceive them as broken, and unable to fix themselves. There are exceptions, particularly for medics fixing broken bodies and others acting to save the lives of people who have little or no scope for agency. But mostly, it’s a really bad idea.

Fixing people can often be a cover for taking power and agency away from them. Casting yourself in the saviour role can make you feel powerful, at the expense of making the other person feel incompetent, useless or really annoyed. Telling people you are fixing them and doing things for their own good can be controlling and manipulative, undermining a person’s feelings that they can make good judgements for themselves, and limiting or removing their choices.

When we set out to fix someone else, we’re doing that on our own terms. It starts with our assessment of their brokenness – a case in point would be the way some neurotypical people want to ‘cure’ autistic people rather than recognising that as valid difference. What we fix someone into is also about our agenda not their needs – fixing autistic people to help them pass as neurotypical people does not do autistic people any good and can cause considerable harm. The expressed intention to fix someone is all too often a cover for the desire to make them more like us. Torturing queer folk with conversion therapy is an example.

Helping people is an entirely different issue. Being genuinely helpful means supporting, empowering and uplifting others. We might do that by sharing knowledge, skills, stories and ideas. We might talk about what worked for us. We might offer to step up in any way the person being helped would find useful. We centre them and follow their lead, we do not try and make them do the things we think would help.

When someone is growing, learning, healing or otherwise overcoming their problems, it is vital they have ownership of that process. If we don’t feel we own our processes, then they won’t really embed, for a start. We won’t be able to trust the progress we have made, and we may feel problematically dependent on the person who did this for us. If we’re made to feel like our achievements belong to someone who ‘helped’ us then we’re in a vulnerable and unhealthy sort of situation.

We’re all flawed, messy and complicated. We all have the scope to help and support each other in many different ways. No one needs fixing. We just need space and opportunity to take care of ourselves.


Soulmates and soul friends

In my late teens, I truly believed I had found my soulmate. There was a passionate, soulful connection that blew my mind and filled me with desire and wonder. It didn’t work out. I wandered into my twenties firmly believing that I had already found and lost my one true love.

However, it is in my nature to love, and so I went on to love a lot of other people as the years passed. Many of those people did not love me in return. Some of them did. Some of those connections were deep and powerful and some of those people remain important to me and part of my life.

I did it for a second time. I found someone who could touch my soul in ways I had never previously imagined. There was wonder and intensity, and also drama and heartbreak and I thought ‘this person is perhaps my soulmate’. We may well always be friends, but that wasn’t the relationship I wanted it to be, either.

The trouble with the idea of a soulmate is that it’s so singular. If you invest in someone imagining them to be your one true love, that one other soul to whom you belong… if or when that goes wrong it will hurt you to staggering degrees. What is there left if the person you thought was your soulmate doesn’t want to be with you, or doesn’t feel the same way, or for technical reasons you just can’t make things work?

To further complicate things, I’m polyamorous. My default state is to be in love with more than one person – not least because I’m not in the habit of ceasing to love people just because a new person has caught me that way. The singularity of the soulmate as an idea really doesn’t sit well with my plural nature. I find the intensity of it attractive, though. I have a need for intensity that has on many occasions drawn me into situations of drama because I can’t reliably tell the two things apart.

At this point in my life, I have put down the idea of the singular soulmate. It just doesn’t work for me. I am embracing the idea of the soul friend – it’s a more spacious notion with much more room in it for multiple people. It also doesn’t have the romantic connotations of the soulmate concept. Soul friends are deep, substantial connections where there is richness and love and sharing of meaningful things. There are a number of people in my life who I would call soul friends, and who I am fairly sure could apply that term to me as well.

It also means I get to change my story. At no point in my life have I found and lost the one person in the universe who was meant to be my true love. I’ve had some amazing experiences with people, I have loved deeply. Nothing in my history prevents me from loving anyone else with my entire being, on whatever terms that actually make sense.


Passing your hat round

As a busker, I’ve stood in the street many times with a hat on the ground in front of me for people to throw coins into while I sing or play music. It’s not exactly begging, and it’s not exactly transactional work and it might be gift economy. People who like what I do throw in a few coins and hopefully we all have a better sort of day as a consequence.

Putting your hat out online is in some ways similar. Be it a virtual tip jar, a ko-fi account, or Patreon, or a funding site… if you’re a person who makes stuff and shares it, this can be a good way to go. The internet is full of free stuff, but making content has a cost – time, energy, electricity. 

For some of us, it’s a challenge because it feels too much like begging. There will be people who treat it as asking for something for nothing, with no regard for what kind of busking gig you have. Putting your hat out means asking people to take you seriously and to value what you do. That’s also a vulnerable place to be, because if people don’t respond in ways you find affirming, it can feel really exposed. Putting out the hat also acknowledges that you aren’t selling a million books every year, or whatever it is that you do, and that’s a vulnerable move, too. It can feel an awful lot like asking for help, and many of us aren’t good at that, either.

If you’re going to put your hat out for coins, you need to feel confident that you’re doing something people will value. Ideally you need to have done enough of whatever it is to have people feel invested in you, and to prove that you’re serious and can keep going. If you’re asking for ongoing support – as with the Patreon model – it’s really important that you can keep putting things into the world. People are unlikely to keep supporting you if they don’t feel satisfied by what they get out of that. Mutual respect is a really key part of this process.

If you’re considering tossing coins in someone’s hat, let me add that small donations are worth a lot. Most creators are financially marginal, and the price of a cup of coffee makes a difference. Even the creators you may believe should be doing well probably aren’t. The vast majority of creative people working professionally are just scraping by at best, working other jobs or depending on other sources of money. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme, it’s more a trying not to starve while making nice things scheme. 

Coins tossed in the hat aren’t just useful financial support. It’s also incredibly validating to be supported in doing whatever it is you do. It’s a very loud round of applause. For the same reasons, it’s a really good thing to leave likes, reviews, and other kinds of positive feedback. Most of the creative people I know are anxious folk half convinced that everything they do is terrible and unworthy. A few words from a fan can be life changing.

I have ko-fi and Patreon, and if you like what I do, your support is greatly appreciated.


Death and Empire

I hold a number of opinions about the Queen. Firstly I am simply glad for her that death came quickly and she didn’t spend months, or years suffering. For anyone who is grieving the loss of a person they cared about, my every sympathy.

But it’s complicated, and we do need to talk about the issues, too. For a lot of people, Queen Elizabeth was a symbol of a whole lot of things that made them feel comfortable and patriotic. Those people are mostly white. For a lot of people around the world, Queen Elizabeth was the face of oppression and she came to the throne when the British Empire was still very much a thing. She was the embodiment of colonialism, and the living reminder of atrocities committed in the name of the British Empire. Anyone feeling relief, or rage in response to this death is entitled to that feeling. You can’t really separate the role of the Crown in world history from the specific person most recently wearing it. That’s not how crowns and empires work.

People who suffered because of England’s desire for an empire are still being impacted by that – we’re not so many years from being obliged to let countries rule themselves again and the impacts on cultures, economies, identities and environments remain. If you can’t see how that works, I can recommend finding out about the jewels in the crown jewels as an illustrative place to start.

Here in the UK, we’ve been seriously hurting for years. Many people lost loved ones to covid. Many people lost jobs, security and mental health to the mismanagement of covid. That’s all getting worse thanks to Brexit and ongoing terrible political decisions. Most of us are scared and hurting. But there’s been no way to express that collectively, and there are plenty of trolls, on and offline, waiting to smack you about if they don’t like how you’re feeling. By dying, the Queen has given people a focal point for grief, and it’s likely the responses in the coming weeks will be informed by the sheer backlog of grief people in the UK need to process. 

Perhaps we could manage to recognise the grief of other people whose history with the Queen involves more overt forms of oppression and conquest. Perhaps we could find it in our hearts to be glad that one old lady died at home with some dignity, and to wish that kind of dignified death for everyone. Do we owe her more love and concern than any other elderly person? 

Could we perhaps stop telling each other that some people have special entitlement based on the accident of their birth? Could we instead share out that grief and love a bit more evenly, grieving the many elderly people who died of covid and government cruelty in recent years? Could we be kinder to each other in our grief? And might we possibly be willing to hear that ‘great’ Britain really hasn’t been even slightly great for a lot of people.Could we perhaps decide that life is worthy of respect, not just the lives of a select few.

And a reminder that no one owes their oppressor respect. No, the Queen didn’t go out into the world and dirty her hands directly causing misery, but a lot of other people have done so in her name and you can’t be a figurehead for something while trying to claim that you have no hand in what you’re a figurehead for or how that thing has operated in the past. You can’t sit on wealth that comes from violence, slavery and colonialism and be beyond criticism.


When to disagree with apparent experts

My default position is to listen to and respect experts. I’m interested in substantiated theories, evidence, lived experience and other variations on a theme of people knowing what they are talking about. I am deeply uneasy at this ongoing thing in British politics and media of treating experts as intrinsically suspect, and treating uninformed opinion as being as valuable as expertise.

People pretending to be experts are amongst us. Check out their qualifications, and if you aren’t sure what those mean, a quick internet search will tell you if that’s even pertinent to the subject matter. Some experts do make the mistake of talking outside of their areas of knowledge and that can be problematic. Being an expert doesn’t make you good or kind, and a person can have a lot of qualifications and still have awful ideas. Jordan Peterson has qualifications.

Challenge experts when they haven’t given you enough information or been clear enough. Being an expert doesn’t automatically make a person a great communicator, so flagging up what needs a better explanation can be a very good idea. They should be able to direct you towards their evidence.

Check out their funding, if you can. You aren’t going to get objective facts on climate science from someone hired by the fossil fuels industry unless they’re turned whistleblower. One of the things to be alert to is speakers who come from Think Tanks – these often have impressive sounding names, but think tanks are often fronts for big business and people with obscene amounts of money. They often don’t represent the people they claim to. When people from think tanks make it into the media you don’t tend to get much information to frame what their think tank is really about, and all you have is the persuasive and impressive title to go on.

Lobby groups and pressure groups can sound like a source of expertise, but these can also be misleading. For example, The Tax Payers Alliance in the UK purports to be a grassroots movement representing the concerns of ordinary people. Its funding isn’t clear, and it campaigns for low taxation – which usually benefits the rich and corporations to the detriment of ordinary people. LGB Alliance claims to represent lesbian, gay and bisexual people but in a recent court case was obliged to admit it has a 7% lesbian membership having previously implied that it was a mostly lesbian organisation.

People can be experts in the theory of things and have no lived experience of it. This is a major issue for neurodivergent folk and for people living long term with illness and disability. It can often be the case that your lived experience is deeper than their ‘did a module at university’ experience. People who have looked at things from the outside should not be talking over people who actually have to live with the thing.

We cannot trust mainstream media to put experts into a context. When 99% of scientists agree on something, and we get to hear from one of them alongside one of the 1% who disagree, we’re being shown a really misleading picture. We can’t trust the people who tell us they are experts to be as good as they say they are, and we also can’t afford to trust the people who undermine the work of genuine experts. This is exhausting and demoralising at the best of times. It isn’t easy to navigate through all of this, although the simplest indicator I’ve found so far is that genuine experts tend to be cautious and tend not to speak in absolutes. Genuine experts point to their evidence rather than asserting that it exists.


Vilifying Britain

This week, Rishi Sunak has expressed an intention to treat as extremists people who ‘vilify Britain’. It’s an attack on the right to free speech, which is explicitly the right not to be mistreated by your government over airing an opinion. It’s also disturbingly vague, which makes it more dangerous. What does it mean to vilify Britain?

Could it, for example, mean discussing the history of the bloody awful things that British people, British companies and British leaders have done to people around the world? You can’t talk about the British in Ireland, or India for example, without it rapidly becoming obvious that the British were acting villainously. You can’t talk about how British people profited from the slave trade without making us look pretty bad. I could go on at length, because the list is huge.

Do I vilify Britain when I point out that we are living with policies that kill vulnerable people in the UK? What about if I suggest that policies around care homes during the covid pandemic were murderous? What happens if I talk about the Leave campaign and how that was probably interfered with by Russian interests? Or the utter madness of going ahead with leaving the EU and the massive harm we’ve done to ourselves. I’m certainly not making us look good as a country if I talk about things that are happening, and have happened. That’s awkward, isn’t it? Does that make me an extremist?

Then there’s the issue of who isn’t affected by this. It’s the flag shaggers. Right wing nationalistic groups are all passionatley and vocally pro-Britain. We have every reason to think that in terms of safety and risk, right wing extremists are the people we should all be concerned about. They won’t say mean things about British history, though. They won’t pull down statues of slave traders. It looks awfully like being an actual villain is going to be fine, and making a fuss about villainy is going to be suspect, if we’re really going this way.

I’m no fan of imperialism, or colonialism, or fascism, and I’m going to keep saying so. We’re not a great nation. We’re a horrible mess of a nation and we urgently need to get our shit together.


Chicken Sacrifices

CW food issues, blood, suicide

I’m not sure how long I’ve been struggling with anaemia, but it may be fair to assume that it started long before I noticed it. My hypermobile body always gets tired easily, so noticing an extra thing contributing to that tiredness wasn’t easy. 

I bleed hard. I always did, even when on the pill. Now, while being messed about by being peri-menopausal, I bleed hard and irregularly. In March that meant three periods in six weeks, two of which were very heavy. That’s when I became aware that anaemia was a problem for me. I was very ill, and for months after even when I wasn’t being very ill, I was struggling to function because of how exhausted I felt.

I’ve been vegetarian for years, trying to push into being vegan. In theory, I should be able to get all the iron I need from leafy greens and kidney beans and whatnot. In practice, I can’t. I take supplements, but this year those just haven’t been enough. There’s a limit on how much iron you can safely ingest this way without putting problematic amounts of pressure on your liver. And it turns out that not all iron is created equally, and that plant iron is hard to absorb compared to the iron we get from meat. One of the consequences of the hypermobility, is that it impacts on my digestive system. My ability to digest food is not what it could be – especially when I’m bleeding.

I made the decision to put meat back in my diet, once a week. Since doing that, I’ve started to recover and I’ve now weathered two periods without being massively ill. Mostly that’s been a win, but the guilt is huge. At one point, when I was in a really bad place with my mental health, I ended up sobbing my heart out over a bowl of chicken soup because it felt so unreasonable to me that chickens were being killed for me. It didn’t help that I’d recently been sent a review book that had a lot to say about how awful you are if you aren’t a vegan and how anyone can be vegan easily and those who aren’t, are not trying hard enough. I tried so hard, and the cost of doing it is high for me, and I don’t want to end up in hospital or having heart failure.

I struggle a lot with suicidal thoughts at the best of times. Going through the anaemia, I have wondered repeatedly if it would be better and more responsible to let it kill me than to take iron from another creature. It’s not a state of mind I would wish on anyone else, but I’m not always confident that keeping me alive and healthy is worth some other being dying for, and that’s not a great place to be.

I’m sharing this in the hopes that it will help people be kinder to each other around issues of diet and choice. I’m in a difficult, painful situation with no easy ways out, and a solution that saves me from high levels of pain, exhaustion and panic, as well as making it more likely that I can stay alive. 

Not everyone has a gut that works well. Not everyone can easily absorb iron from plants. Some of us need a lot more iron than others. I’m actively in favour of everyone reducing their dependence on animal products, on reducing the misery food animals are subject to, and in reducing the environmental impact of the farming industry. But I’d also like to feel ok about trying to stay alive.


The high cost of lying

There are times when lies are the wisest and most compassionate choices. If Hitler is at the door and Anne Frank is in the attic, lying is the honourable choice. However, the human mind is a delicate thing and there are consequences to constantly distorting your relationship with reality.

It is more normal to talk about this in terms of the victims – people who have been gaslit, brainwashed, mislead and otherwise compromised by untruth. These kinds of experiences can leave a person not knowing who or what to trust, including no longer being confident in their own judgement. Gaslighting is designed to damage a person in ways that make them easier to control.

But what happens to the person doing the gaslighting? What happens to the person who has to keep asserting that x is really y and that z never happened? It doesn’t really spare them from having to acknowledge what they did or what really happened, at least not inside their own minds. It doesn’t liberate them from consequences, but it does tie them to an ongoing process of not being able to deal with anything. What happens to a person when they spend their time pretending that fake things are true, and/or that true things are fake?

What happens to the Emperor when people notice that he’s naked and that his story is a lie? 

UK politics is a mess at the moment. We’re watching people who have spent years lying, trying to explain how they’re going to fix the problems they helped cause, while not admitting they helped cause the problems. Not that any of them are proposing any actual solutions. The sounds coming out of the government are peculiar and nonsensical. I find myself wondering what it must be like to have spent the last few years lying about how great Brexit is for everyone, how great a job your party is doing of handling the pandemic, and what a fine, upstanding chap your leader is. I would think that could take a toll on anyone’s mental health, and I cannot help but wonder if we’re seeing the consequences.


Being diseased

I’ve made some considerable effort not to get covid – I wear masks when I can (I get panic attacks so sometimes I can’t wear them). I’m vaccinated. I stay out of crowds and I don’t do much indoor stuff with people. But here we are, and it is in me and has been in me for a few days.

At this point there are no legal requirements for me to behave in any specific way. There is only advice, like working from home if I can. Little wonder that I have it. Part of the problem here is that we have a fundamentally broken system when it comes to work. We expect people to go to work when they are ill – spreading diseases of all kinds, and slowing recovery. Working when ill is horrible. The person who can just take a few days off and rest will recover faster. But, a lot of workplaces will punish you for doing that. Most people can’t afford to be unpaid or to lose their jobs over taking care of their health.

I feel grim, but not as grim as other things have made me feel in recent years. I’m very tired, but I was very tired anyway so it’s hard to know if this is new and extra very tired, or pre-existing very tired. My concentration is rubbish, but it’s mostly been rubbish this year.

I’m looking at how body stressors add to my experiences of panic. I’m starting to think that my panic experiences aren’t just silly things happening in my head for no reason, and that panic might be what my body does when it starts to feel dangerously under-resourced. I’m usually the first person to assume I’m making a fuss and taking a thing far too seriously, but here I am with covid and it is by no means the most ill I have felt this year. 

What if the panic isn’t an over-reaction? What if the panic isn’t something I need to learn how to control, but a genuine and reasonable response to hazards? What if the problem is one of being under-resourced, not one of just making a fuss? Everything I’ve encountered on the mental health side assumes that panic is an over-reaction, and that the problem is the panicking, not whatever caused it. Last week I had panic attacks caused by being in more body pain than I could take. Maybe the fact of the panicking isn’t the problem here. Maybe I’m not just making a fuss over nothing, and maybe that’s even relevant when the things going on are more about mental health as well.