We recently had the pleasure of catching up with Susie Gander, creator of Perry Winkle, a comic brimming with heart, drama and a whole lot of purple. She details her real life inspirations and influences, and endures it all with a smile.
AP2HYC: You created Perry Winkle during treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Can you take us through the moment and your decision to turn your experience into a comic book?
Susie Gander: It was actually during my very first chemo, the oncologist advised me to be prepared for a long day. I had four bags of various chemos (ABVD) with washes and steroids in between. The last bag alone took an hour to complete. The whole process took from 9:00 A.M. ’till 4:00 P.M. This was a long time and although I watched some movies etc, I wasn’t really engaged. I was looking around, checking my arm, checking the bag etc. It wasn’t really a distraction. In an effort to be constructive, I just started doodling and all of sudden she just started to take form on the paper and it made me think about how I could communicate my feelings best and my head was very much down and focused on Perry Winkle, not the situation around me.
AP2HYC: A strong theme throughout the comic is the power of internal strength, which is literally manifested in Ms. Winkle herself. How did you come up with her character and her affinity of purple-blue hues?
Gander: During the whole process, I tried to maintain a positive attitude. Anytime I felt low etc, I would give myself a good talking too. “Come on Susie, sort yourself out you silly moo.” So when Perry Winkle came to life, she is basically what I was telling myself during the whole thing… but with added sass. Purple hues is an easy one 🙂 The lymphoma cancer ribbon is purple. This colour needed to be the overall hue throughout. But it doesn’t have to be purple. I had one young lady who sent me Perry Winkle in a dark blue, to represent another cancer.
AP2HYC: Other than your personal experiences (or the immortal words of the wisest man in Westeros), what other bodies of work, people, or really any other nouns have influenced your creative process?
Gander: Michael Turner is a huge artistic influence. He was one of the best and very missed. Perry Winkle’s outfit is influenced by the cliche superhero look (including cape – Sorry Edna Mode) combining a bit of influence from varying characters such as Wonder Woman (Bust Line), Doctor Strange (Cape), Batman (Central Large Belt Icon).
AP2HYC: Perry Winkle strikes a wonderful balance between moments of hilarity to gut wrenching, and fantastical elements to one of the most relatable things any sick person does – internet search their illness. And the pacing feels so natural. How do you find that balance and know where to place each of these moments?
Gander: The moments were taken from real life experiences but amplified. Full disclosure here, but the “fart” moment. The chemo genuinely made me gassy, I was tooting away. It was funny and they are the moments of joy in a hard situation, even though they seem small, it meant a lot to have a laugh. So any moment like that was translated into the comic somehow. Perry Winkle is like a timeline of events, if something really emotional/strong happened that day, it was in the comic, the very same day.
AP2HYC: At the end of the comic, you give a big shout-out to Bloodwise, the blood cancer research charity and their support line. What role did this organisation play in shaping Perry Winkle? I must confess, my curiosity in part stems from my experiences working a support line, and I’m always interested in learning if other support lines play a significant, supportive role for people who utilise them.
Gander: Bloodwise was so supportive of Perry Winkle. I was very honoured to be made a Bloodwise ambassador, to help spread awareness of lymphoma. They wrote an article titled from “Chemo to Comic Book.” The work they do is incredible and the support they provide is priceless.
AP2HYC: What can fans of your work expect next from you?
Gander: I have recently done a few pages with Jay Martin on an upcoming comic and currently playing with the idea of another comic similar to Perry Winkle. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy has affected my fertility. My husband and I don’t have any children yet and are currently going through the process with the hospital, however I am not ovulating at all, so I cannot start the IVF. Maybe it could help raise awareness of the process. I am not sure yet, it’s just a thought.