Brighton author recalls how coma put her at the very edge of life

Brighton author Zara Slattery is in print with COMA (Myriad Editions, £18.99, available in all bookshops and online), a tale of sudden illness, mythical creatures and family love.
Zara SlatteryZara Slattery
Zara Slattery

Zara, aged 50, offers a graphic memoir, recounting the 15 days she spent in a medically-induced coma after becoming critically ill with a deadly bacterial infection in 2013.

“It is a dual narrative following my hallucinatory journey, a drug- and sepsis- induced purgatory within the coma and the continuation of family life on the outside told in diary form by my husband Dan. Developed over several years, an early extract of Coma was short-listed for the Myriad First Graphic Novel prize in 2018. A great amount of planning went into the book from mapping events, developing characters, interviewing friends and family named in the diaries to plotting the comic, thumbnailing and final artwork.

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“Coma is a story about love, loss and family. It’s very much about the light and dark of the human condition and what we hold in our deep sub-conscious so I hope it has broad appeal. Beyond that I believe it will be of interest to people in healthcare, particularly those working in ICU Coma opens a window to the potential world of the patient at the edge of life, family life and the crucial role communities play when supporting friends in adverse times.

“Inspired by my medieval-themed hallucinations and fascinated by the role memory, stories and language played in my coma, I explored these ideas visually in my sketchbook. Over time I realised there was a connection between my imaginings and global underworld myths. Connecting these narratives with Dan’s diary created a framework that enabled me to correlate them in comic form.

“There wasn’t a specific audience in mind when I started writing, I just felt that it was an interesting subject and one that posed many questions. Writing and seeing the finished book has revealed answers that I didn’t expect to find. I adapted my way of working to accommodate the scale of the book becoming a lot more methodical in my practice. From the first sketches to the last edits, it was hugely enjoyable. On a project of this size, it helped involving friends with proof reading and to simply see if stuff worked. Working with an editor was also hugely rewarding, and I’ve been lucky to work with Corinne Pearlman at Myriad Editions, who is a great advocate for comics.

“The book opens at home with Dan’s first diary entry and the day the illness took root. It follows early medical encounters and the slow dawning that the situation is more serious than first thought. We soon enter hospital and the onset of a hallucinatory journey into a haunting under-world. I may one day write about rehabilitation. However, this is a stand-alone publication.

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“This is my first published graphic novel. I’ve always drawn and was an educational/editorial illustrator before I started writing short story comics in 2010. Not everything can be expressed in words, and I’ve always enjoyed using pictures to tell stories and explore character. Moving on from illustration to comics felt like a natural progression.

“Comics and graphic novels are an incredible artform to work in, the interaction between word and image brings theatre to the page. As well as being fun, comics can be poignant and challenging, with the ability to make difficult subjects accessible.

“Too often we leave behind our visual literacy when we could be richer for embracing it. There are some incredible comic creators working in the UK today in the small press scene as well as mainstream publishing. There are so many books that have moved beyond the typical subject matter associated with comics, so there’s a whole world to explore.”

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