One of the things I enjoy about being part of the Disability Arts on Line (DAO) family is that it provides for me a unique platform on which I can present my more adventurous cartoons.
Take the Criptarts for example. I haven't a clue where it's going each week and the end result is usually more of a surprise to me than to you. Of course I've got a rough outline in my mind for each episode, but it's as though the characters come alive once I've started to lay them out in the strip and they just take over.
You've only got to look at the last but one episode for an example. I'd decided to make some sort of comment about the heavy snow we'd been experiencing. I'd got a story-line mapped out and was pretty sure where it was going when Bonk, the self-defined 'nutter' with the purple spiky hair, suddenly jumped in with his joke. Just as I was about to make some serious comment about reduced access. As Aadila said: "Gross!"
You can go to the episode by clicking here.
And last week. Inspired by Liz Carr's performance as Clarissa Mullery on Silent Witness, I'd decided to 'guest' her on the strip. But what happens? The characters take over again and use it as an opportunity to take a poke at the government!
Click here and you'll see what I mean.
It was the same when I invited Penny Pepper onto the strip. I still haven't got the felt tip off the laptop!
Click here ...
So as the strip continues, be prepared for further undisciplined behaviour from Bonk, Liz, Aadila, Ben, Ranj, Val, and their guests. I will try and exercise some editorial control, but as Colin Hambrook, DAO Editor, knows from past experience (especially with me!), I don't hold out much hope!
Several people have commented recently that my cartoons have become more 'dark' of late.
I suppose that it's inevitable considering the subject matter to hand these days; disabled people dying after having their benefits stopped, the government disassembling the welfare state and taking equality back to the dark ages, what can you expect?
I'm not consciously looking for bleaker material you understand. It's just that it's being thrust into our faces everywhere we turn. Even the so called 'right wing' press have started to recognise that all is not right with the way the government is running the country ... and that's saying something!
So you'll be pleased to hear that I've been working on a new strip cartoon for Disability Arts on Line (DAO) that takes a look at disability from a slightly lighter perspective. The characters all belong to a Disability Arts group ... but you're going to have to wait until we publish to see more!
But what was that I said about the dark ages? Now there's an idea for a cartoon ...
Last week at the Shape media conference I had the pleasure of meeting Kristina Veasey. She has taken part in two Paralympics and talked about her own experiences competing as a disabled athlete.
For most of us non-athletic Crips, and in particular those of us involved in disability arts, the world of the Paralympian seems remote to say the least. We see them as single minded Super Crips with no interest or involvement in disability politics and protest. What we do hear about are those sporty wheelchair users with amazing upper body strength telling non-disabled people that they don't need ramps!
The media love them as well, providing photo opportunities of 'good' disabled people (as opposed to 'bad' disabled people who are scrounging on disability benefit and can't be arsed to find a job!).
All this media hype of course goes to reinforce the stereotypes of disability that Mr and Mrs Jo Public know and love. The acceptable face of disability versus the unacceptable.
But having chatted to Kristina after her talk, I learned a few things. For example did you know that all Paralympians have to sign a contract that specifically prohibits them from taking part in any political protest during the duration of the games?
This means that if they did protest for the duration of the games, (against ATOS for example) they would have sacrificed years of training and would have to return any medals that they had won.
But some paralympians find ways around the system. For example Kristina told me that was why, as a retired paralympian, she became Amnesty International's paralympic ambassador during the Beijing games - "so I could give voice to protest."
Perhaps between us all - paralympians, activists, disabled artists - we could start to tear down the wall that the media & society have erected and start working together.
As ever the challenge is to be able to communicate more openly with each other and to be prepared to let go of those unhelpful stereotypes. I include myself in this as a veteran of creating and maintaining some of these stereotypes. My exchange with Kristina was a kick in my assumptions which I found very helpful and thought provoking.
Perhaps all disabled people, all working together could create a power base strong enough to bring this government and their draconian measures to a shuddering halt.
We can but hope.
BTW if you do have tickets for Paralympic events you may be asked to participate in an on-line survey. Why not use this opportunity to voice some of our concerns about the dichotomy between the experiences of paralympians and many other disabled people. Here's your chance to comment on the gap between the portrayal of paralympic athletes and the daily struggle against barriers that most disabled people face.