This article contains references to eating disorders and sexual abuse.
Katie Green is an artist based in the south west of the UK. She creates comics and zines, as well as designing craft projects and knitting patterns. With her latest book, Lighter Than My Shadow, she chronicles her struggle with—and recovery from—eating disorders and sexual abuse. She’s crafted a truly special book, one that’s both intimately personal and infinitely relatable. I got a look at the new printing from Lion Forge, and spoke to Katie about making comics based on lived experience and how sometimes it’s not as cathartic as you’d expect.
Green was driven to create Lighter Than My Shadow after finding the comics landscape lacking in books focused on surviving an eating disorder. “The decision to create LTMS was very much wrapped up in my recovery process. The idea came when I couldn’t find a book that I could really relate to when I was going through those awful experiences. Everything seemed either to oversimplify and suggest that I could just think positive and everything would be okay, or worse, that there was really no hope of a full recovery and I would live with this at the back of my mind for the rest of my life. I had to keep believing that neither of these was true, and I wanted to create a book that told such a story: unflinchingly honest about how hard it was, but also hopeful, proving to readers (or really, to myself) that full recovery is possible,” Green explained.
Lighter Than My Shadow has a unique art style. Simplistic and profound, it’s a perfect fit for the story that Green’s telling. But it took a lot of trial and error to reach the final look of the book. “I tried a lot of approaches and processes before I hit on the style that felt right for this story. I think I had to do all those experiments in order to arrive at the pared-down approach that I finally used, and in that phase I was doing a lot of collage which is where the textured background came from. I also really dislike drawing in boxes, which can be something of a problem if you want to make comics, so I used the creases from my paper as panel borders instead,” Green told me.
For Katie, putting her life onto the page was a strange experience, and one that she attempted to craft as if it was just another story. “It was quite surreal. As much as possible I tried to treat it as any other story I might write, being sensitive to pacing so it would be manageable to read, with a nice flow. It was strange to try and be so detached from such emotional and personal content, and I wasn’t always able to. I thankfully had the support of a great editor right from the beginning of the writing process, who really helped me shape the story,” Green said thoughtfully.
When it comes to her creative process, Katie is a prolific artist whose ideas spill onto the pages and from there she forms the work that we’re lucky enough to see. “I draw a lot. Even when I think I haven’t been drawing much, there’s a pile of papers in my studio and pages in my sketchbook that tell me otherwise. Drawing is how I think, and I try to do a bit every day. I have a lot of ideas that take a long time to come to fruition, so I try to keep a record of them. The problem is my process isn’t linear, so sketchbooks aren’t ideal. I use them, but have to fill them with bookmarks and notes to link things together. I prefer loose sheets of paper that I can collate later, which means my studio is usually in a state of organised chaos!” Green shared enthusiastically.
With a topic as visceral and personal as eating disorders, the passionate and grateful responses that Katie often gets can be overwhelming. “It’s something I love and find hard in equal measure. It’s always amazing to hear from someone who’s connected with the book in some way, and taken the time to reach out. But it’s also really upsetting to hear how many people are struggling with this stuff. It makes me very emotional, but also incredibly glad that I decided to make the book,” Green said, putting into words the emotional response she’s had to the release.
Though as readers we might find Katie’s honesty courageous, that’s not the way that the cartoonist perceives Lighter Than My Shadow. “People often call me brave, but I honestly don’t feel that way. I didn’t really think about the book being ‘out there,’ or the consequences of sharing so much of myself with the world. It just felt like something I had to do. Also, I had really strong feelings about how little we talk about mental illness, and about sexual abuse in particular. If I had been more educated, more aware, I’m not saying things wouldn’t have happened to me, but I might have been able to take action sooner, before things got so bad. So my desire to bring these things out into the open was always bigger than any worries I had about sharing my story,” Green explained.
One of the greatest myths of creation is that mining your most traumatic memories can create the best art whilst also helping you heal. But Katie, as many of us have discovered, learned that catharsis isn’t guaranteed. “I found quite the opposite actually. I was spending day after day sitting with and reexamining struggles that I really had moved on from, and inviting them right back into my present. It was very triggering, and caused me to reevaluate my whole idea of recovery. It’s also a very crafted version of the story, which isn’t to say that any of it isn’t true, but it’s a flavour of my experience and not my true experience as a whole. That would be extremely boring to read, and so I tried to keep my personal catharsis out of it as much as possible,” Green professed.
When it comes to what’s next for Green, it looks like she’ll be sharing more of her own stories as well as creating new work that she’s tight-lipped about. “Lighter Than My Shadow isn’t a closed book, because recovery is very much an ongoing process and I may have more to say about that in the future. I have other ideas percolating too, taking their time to fully form,” Green teased before explaining her feelings about the book’s reprint and North American distribution through Lion Forge, which has been a “privilege and a joy. I’m really glad the book is finally getting an audience in the USA, and especially thrilled that Lion Forge chose to market it as a young adult read. It really is the book I wish I had found in my school library when I was struggling, so to think that someone in a similar situation might stumble upon it is such a great thing.”