my personal thanksgiving


On December 26th 2012 at about 11am, I started to slip away as my brain and body both began to gradually shut down. A tiny blood vessel had ruptured in the left thalamus of my brain like a bomb blast in my head, and 4 years later I’m still living in the ruins of that explosion. Every day gives me ample illustration of all that I’ve lost, but today, on the anniversary of what could easily have been my death, I prefer to ponder all that I still have, and any advancements that I’ve made. Boxing Day has become my very own personal day of thanksgiving.

A major goal of my rehabilitation has been somehow getting back to work in a body that no longer operates properly. Having a useless drawing arm has been very challenging for a cartoonist, but despite this I’m happy to say that 2016 was a work milestone. Firstly, Thanks to the recommendations of old friends ED BELL & STEVE LEE, I had three months teaching 3 seperate classes of 2D animation at Academy of Art University. I had never tried teaching before, but settled into it when I saw each class as a creative team with a creative goal that we worked towards together; a process that I have a great deal of experience with.

I’ve been retraining to draw with my LEFT hand ever since losing dexterity in my trusty RIGHT drawing hand, and those efforts recently paid off when I landed a 7 month storyboarding gig just after my teaching assignment finished. My old friend JIM CAPOBIANCO took a chance on me, and I storyboarded on an animated sequence within a live action film (the new MARY POPPINS) under Jim’s direction. I had to make up for my lack of left-handed drawing speed by working long hours each week, but I was happy to do it. The chance to make myself useful as a professional cartoonist again was an absolute joy.

Since waking up in a hospital bed 4 years ago, half paralysed and 220k in debt (due to an insurance SNAFU) I had a powerful motivation to think of some new way to make a living, but although I wracked my damaged brain as hard as I might, I simply could not think of a viable PLAN-B career. Being a cartoonist is all I’ve ever wanted to do, or been half way good at. There is still a lot of uncertainty, but that has always been the life of a freelance cartoonist. My recent medical travails have highlighted it perhaps, but adapting to change was always a big part of this career I chose for myself at the age of 17.

Like living in a half ruined house, some things still work in this ramshackle body of mine but many things don’t. Some damage may be repaired one day, some damage may be permanent, and it’s often hard to know the difference. But with the help of dear colleagues & friends believing in a slightly shop-soiled cartoonist, I’m extraordinarily thankful that, professionally at least, I’M BACK.

72 thoughts on “my personal thanksgiving”

  1. I had no idea, jamie, and am very touched by what you’ve shared. Don’t know what i could do to help but if u think of sonething let me know.

    I have been painting for 10 years and one day slipped and fell and broke a bone in my left hand I had to relearn how to paint with my right hand and found that within an hour it was as though I have never hurt myself I was able to paint with my right hand and until my left recovered maybe you are you’re going to have is good and experience as I did I hope so

    Robert story

    • you adapted in an hour from left to right? incredible. Perhaps you had a gift for ambidextrousness without knowing it? It has taken me 4 years to get this far and I’m nowhere near being back to the level of skill i once had.

  2. You don’t know me but we have a mutual friend, Betsy De Fries. I read your post and have to say more power to you. You are making an incredible journey and long may it and your improvement continue.

  3. Best wishes for 2017 James. You are amazing and an inspiration to us all. Just from your posts I would also add that you are a very good writer (you can tell a story so well) and closely linked to this you take extraordinary photos…I so enjoy your travel photos.

    • Thank you, Rosemary. I’m glad that you like my travel pics. I literally have thousands from my days as a global hobo. Glad I got to travel when I was young (back when remote little towns did not yet have their own websites).

  4. James so glad your professional path is progressing. You are more than a “half good” writer as well. Spoke to your Dad and Wendy after mass on Xmas day, he is a great believer in your writing. All the best in 2017. Baci.

  5. What a journey you have been on, and it ain’t over yet. I love how you share, so eloquently, the ups and downs along the way. Those in the classes that you taught are so lucky to have had access to your experience. I cannot wait to see what comes next for you, I do know that it will be awesome. All the very best.

    • Thanks for your wishes of encouragement, Narelle. It’s certainly not a journey I would have chosen willingly (anybody who tells you they’d make the same life choices if they lived their lives again hasn’t had a stroke) but I’m trying hard not to let it suck the joy out of my life.

  6. Dear Boy: Thanks for putting us onto this. For some reason, this one wasn’t flagged through to us in the usual way. Firm grounds, certainly, for satisfaction on your part from this significant breakthrough; great news! Congratters, and keep it up. Yes, Robbie’s eaglet has landed. Love, Dad & Wendy

    • While still in hospital, I was made aware of Bolte Taylor’s famous TED talk. I could relate to parts of her story, and her step-by-step descriptions of the shutdown of her body and mind as the stroke began, and the strange mental detachment, curiosity and calmness during what should have been an utterly horrifying event, could have described exactly what happened to me.

      I too remember parts of my body ceasing to function as I tried to crawl through my apartment to find a phone (a process which may have taken hours, looking back at the timeline). Once I’d found the iPhone, I remember the problems as my failing mind tried to deal with the interface. I remember a call with my girlfriend where I tried to tell her I needed help (I was later told I’d made no sense at all; speaking utter gibberish). I remember too my girlfriend finding me on the floor, and then being hoisted onto the ambulance by medics. Thereafter, the memories became more vague as the time ticked by, becoming fleeting images by the time I was admitted to the ER. There’s a memory of being in a scanner of some sort, and then the next two weeks of memories are very vague indeed.. Some isolated moments of clarity here and there but long foggy patches. A two week fever dream. Of course my brain was swollen by that stage and I was on a cocktail of drugs and sleep deprivation. I became reconnected to a normal sense of time after about 4 weeks, but still had cognitive problems for months.

      So i can relate to parts of her TED speech and book, and can vouch for the notion that at least some parts of the experience can be remembered, but unfortunately, unlike her, I did not become a spiritual Yoda, attuned to life’s mysterious beauty. If I wrote a book it would only be about my own crippled clumsiness, and spastic incontinence!

  7. Way to go James!!!
    I bet you never saw yourself as a truly inspirational life-coachy kind of person, but that is exactly what your story and your approach has become for all of us animation old-timers out here. Each entry and step along your way which you shared with us who cannot easily visit you has been extremely moving to read and watch.
    That you are now standing so proud is a testament to your fantastic pig-headed will to persevere. It’s made me bite my tongue every time I might have wanted to moan about daily grindy mundane stuff.
    A big cheers and a toast to you for 2017!!
    Phil and Lisa

    • ha ha! A life coach, I’d never thought of THAT as a possible alternate career. In general though, I think people tend to want life advice from people who look like they are going places, with abdominal muscles and so on. NOT from lopsided old gits with canes.

  8. Hi Jamie,
    I agree with so many of the previous comments. You are truly an inspiration not only in your perseverence and grace in the face of an extremely difficult situation but also in the honest and down to earth way you share your experience with us with humour and generosity. Your overwhelming talent and gentle spirit shine through your writing and drawings pre or post-stroke. It is only right that your career is rebounding and I hope 2017 is a good year for you and Julia.

  9. Oh James, I have followed your progress somewhat sporadically and vicariously. I am a lazy facebooker but have kept a note on your progress. Often I’ve thought about responding but then I just didn’t have the words. Don’t know if I have the words now but I’m saying something: well done James! Your creative bent was perhaps best displayed in our high school years in your drawings. However, like others have noted, your written words have a life also and they always will, audible or inaudible, they matter! ‘They’ tell a story, your story, which is real and encouraging and honest, I believe. Your pictures convey what many words attempt to convey, a 1000 words as ‘they’ say… Your words about your mum a while back have stayed with me. Such an insight to such a tenuous time in your life and a privilege to read. In essence you’re a creative soul and it is no surprise that you write accordingly. So, dear James – keep sharing your life, your ups and downs and know that even though people may not respond tangibly they have done so in the quiet of their cognitive heartfelt states. I hope this makes sense… Hope 2017 presents you and yours with more opportunities and happy surprises.

    • Anne Bower! Good lord, how very good to hear from you after so long (can it really be 30/35 years?!) I do so appreciate your checking in, and reading the encouraging things you said. (thank you too for reading about Mum earlier. That was very difficult for me to write, but as I go through my own ordeal I think often of her example of shouldering adversity with grace, so writing about her was very important to me). Happy New Year to you and your Kelly clan!

  10. We were just saying yesterday how grateful we are that you’re still with us. Deane was saying you draw better with your left hand than most of the world with the right one 💋👍

  11. I don’t know anyone more talented than you Jamie and a handful as talented – when you’re among the best you naturally compare yourself to the best and that’s always humbling – except for the insane!

    • Thank you, Scott. I’m not really comparing my self to anyone else, but I do sometimes compare what I can do now to what I used to be able to do. Those wistful feelings do happen, but mostly I can take pleasure from whatever I can still do, no matter how crude.

  12. Dear Shop Soiled,

    You are some kind of marvellous. Indeed, most people would be happy to have half the talent you now show us. You’re an every day inspiration.

    Keep on drawing pal!

    Love Betsy xx

  13. What a privilege has been to have met and work with you for the past 7 months. You are a great inspiration and a pleasure to be around. Wish you an even better, healthier and fun New Year!

    • Thanks. I was pretty thrilled at this opportunity. It’s hard to say if it will lead to other similar things, but I’m hopeful. Happy New Year to you and your branch of the Beard Clan!

  14. And the band played on… You’re a fucking trooper mate. I should be in SF mid to late January. I owe you at least a pint in Vesuvios for sharing your wisdom with my class. ;)

  15. James,

    As always your fortitude of character defies that of mere mortals.
    Let’s hope that the new year brings you further advances in health and greater opportunities for your unbounded talent.

    Go Jamie!

  16. G’day brother, the only upside to not seeing you regularly these days is seeing the improvement in your mobility leap ahead each time we catch up. You’ll soon be back lifting pints of Trumer with your ‘gammy’ hand mate! Love to you and Julia and have a Happy New Year!


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