Penelope Mendonca

A Graphic Novel: Storying the Absent Father

Central Saint Martins

In recent years, the comics medium has increasingly been utilised to tell stories of social relevance, and has been proved to be a powerful tool for bringing such stories to a wide readership. In 2012 the percentage of births in England and Wales that were registered solely by the mother was 5.7%, in other words more than 41,000 babies. Despite this there is a lack of research into the experience of single pregnancy and early lone motherhood where the biological father has been absent since before birth. Information on pregnancy and parenting too often assumes an intact, heterosexual couple relationship and is presented with imagery and stories that reinforce stereotypes and the romanticisation of motherhood. Through a unique methodology this study captures the narratives and perspectives of women storying the absent father, condensing and weaving together findings into a creative, non-fiction graphic novel.

The purpose of the research is to contribute to the current understanding and portrayal of pregnancy and early parenting in England through social engagement that combines cartooning with graphic facilitation, and the production of an accessible and impactful graphic narrative. Semi-structured interviews and workshops with single pregnant women, and lone first-time mothers of children under two who have never met their biological father (or donor), enabled participants with diverse backgrounds, ages and circumstances to story the absent father via facilitated conversations and drawing.

To date this interdisciplinary study has considered theory from comics scholarship and motherhood studies, engaging with women and the wider parenting movement in order to capture and reflect on representations of father absence, and experiment with an art practice that develops participants’ accounts into characters and stories for the graphic novel. By avoiding predictable categorisations such as ‘teenage mothers’ or ‘mothers of donor-conceived children’, and placing distinctive narratives alongside each other, new ways of thinking about this complex and sensitive topic are encouraged.

Tentative conclusions suggest firstly that a graphic novel showing mothers storying the absent father may offer new knowledge, enable a wider audience to access this topic, and expose comics creators and readers to alternative representations of women, pregnancy and motherhood. Secondly, a methodology which combines graphic facilitation and cartooning in order to engage with a diverse range of participants could have value to other researchers and artists as they seek to develop innovative yet accessible and focused approaches to social engagement. And finally, shaping research that specifically centres on the experiences of single pregnancy and lone motherhood where the biological father has been absent since before birth, highlights an area which has been largely ignored or marginalised within research and the wider culture. Humour is an essential ingredient in this process.

Supervisors

Professor Roger Sabin

Birgitta Hosea