After my stroke at the end of 2012, my focus for most of 2013 was on learning how to walk & talk again, and navigating the bureaucracy of disability benefits. By September, I was still very much a mess, but finally wrestled with an issue that had weighed heavily on me the entire time – whether I’d ever draw again.
Janine Dawson had sent me a sketchbook while I was still in hospital, complete with pre-dated pages. I could not keep to her schedule though. Partly because I had so much physical therapy and became exhausted easily. Also, I was deeply afraid. My clumsy attempts to draw with either hand caused despair. So I focussed instead on the many other things I needed to do. There’d been hope that sensation & motor coordination might return to my right drawing hand eventually, but 9 months later it was still asleep (and in most respects, still is). I finally accepted that my trusty right hand was kaput, and wouldn’t draw again. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but only after that acceptance could I train the understudy to go on stage – My LEFT HAND.
I drew for its own sake, with absolutely no expectation of ever drawing professionally again. That filled me with sadness, but the idea that I might not draw at all was worse. Drawing was always part of my self-identity. So, Julia & I often drew together. I was painfully slow, but started to enjoy the random quality of my drawings done with my non-dominant hand. Never exactly sure what my LEFT hand would do, I drew in a spirit of exploration, like when I was a child. (I now believe that this open lack of expectations actually set me free). My mobility was even worse than it is now and we often drew paused images from TV, but went location sketching too, starting at the college campus near our apartment.
Julia had bought me two beautiful leather bound sketchbooks for Christmas 2012 (and I had a stroke the very next day). 2014 was when my drawing had progressed enough to start filling one of them with sketches. I went out sketching with her, or sketchmaster Matt Jones. Unsure of how to earn a living, I often considered what other job I might do.. Be a writer? A teacher? Kevin Richardson helped me explore script writing. Steve Purcell & Derek Thompson called me for a few weeks of story brainstorming. It is hard to overstate how much those first short gigs meant to me. I began to feel useful again. In the first year of my stroke many friends (from many studios) had arranged fundraisers to help with my medical bills, but I was too frail to attend. In 2014, Ben Walker arranged “Bizarro Sketch Night”, where artist friends bid on each other’s art, drawn with their non-dominant hands. A fun event that I was able to participate in myself. I’ll never forget all these encouragements from my community.
John Hoffman gave me a sketchbook, and in 2015 it was where I began to sketch out a graphic novel. The plan is to incorporate old pages done with my RIGHT hand and new pages done with my LEFT, and for them to be compatible (this art-therapy project continues to this day). Julia encouraged me to start colouring my blog stories digitally (and for Christmas that year, she bought me a new cintiq!) Using Photoshop with one hand was tricky, but the workarounds I learned came in handy when I got my first ever LEFT-handed paid drawing assignment, a cover for Carol Hughes’ book!
2016 had so many work opportunities that I was taken off disability. My financial safety net was gone, but it was exciting to take the plunge into freelancing as a LEFT handed artist. Again, friends gave me encouragement & chances. Steve Lee got me a brief teaching assignment (at the Academy Of Art). Then Jim Capobianco asked me to storyboard on “MARY POPPINS RETURNS”. This was very exciting development for me. It was a long gig, subletting a room in one of the satellite buildings of PIXAR’s Emeryville campus, where old colleagues were watching my progress..
In 2017, I did LEFTY storyboards for Brad Rau at GHOSTBOT. Soon after, Jonas Rivera suggested I try out storyboarding on a PIXAR project, which became Pete Docter’s “SOUL”, and after a few months, that became a staff position. It was wonderful to be working again with my old roomie Rej Bourdages, who’d always supported me in my darkest hours. Keeping up with all the other inspiring drawing geniuses in Emeryville is intimidating for a one-armed old duffer, but is a great way to improve. In 2018 & 2019 my drawing dexterity & speed increased (and with this steady job, I finally paid off my mountain of medical debt). The 2020–2022 pandemic years were ironically a boon. Working from home gave me extra hours (previously sucked-up by my commute) to do more spare time personal projects, where I pushed my LEFTY drawing skills even further.
It’s been a decade since I began drawing with my non-dominant hand. Every day is still a struggle, but I’m so grateful to be where I am now. On this day in 2013, I had absolutely no hope that I’d ever become a full-time professional cartoonist again. That I actually got here is due to many colleagues, friends & loved ones not only encouraging me to draw, but giving me real professional opportunities to do so.
All throughout this topsy turvy journey, at every low & highpoint, Julia has never lost faith in me. Even though I became a feeble old man overnight, she stayed with me. She understands how important drawing is to me (as it is to her too) and she has always offered encouragement. She has gone out drawing with me. Challenged me, and pushed me to new levels. Her artistry is a constant inspiration. I’m extremely lucky to have her by my side.
I’m profoundly grateful to all of you, who’ve supported me in so many ways over the past 10 years. You’ve given me great joy.