A story told in images and a few words

The Surrey Art Gallery Association will host their first Thursday Artist Talk of 2020, on Jan. 9, a monthly series that provides a platform for different artists to share their work and their experiences with the local public.

This month’s event will be led by New Westminster-based graphic novelist PJ Patten, whose upcoming book Tower25 explores his mental journey of overcoming addiction and other obstacles in his life.

A personal creation

The event is free and open to all ages, and will include discussion on both the artistic process behind the creation of Tower25, as well as the very real story that forms the backbone of the novel.

For graphic novelist PJ Patten empathy is key. | Photo by Eden Fineday Patten

“The story is based on events that happened in 2005–06,” says Patten. “I had lost everything I’d owned due to drug addiction, and I was homeless in Southern California. It’s a memoir about trying to sort out sobering up and the problems you face when you’re trying to get back on your feet again.”

Patten has always been a big fan of manga and graphic novels, and the style of Tower25 is based on illustrations he’s made in personal journals over the years. There are even a couple pages in the novel that were taken directly from his journals.

“All throughout my life I’ve been drawn to drawing and writing,” he says. “I still keep a regular journal, and I feel it helps get those unspoken, unknown things out of you in a way that can help you process them. Writing and drawing have helped me get through a lot of things in life.”

Raven Boy.| Photos courtesy of PJ Patten

Patten’s style is somewhat unorthodox, as Tower25 has no panels or speech bubbles. There are a couple images per page with a few sentences added, a fluid combination that is influenced by his Japanese grandparents. His grandmother was a painter and his grandfather a poet, and Patten sees his creation as a balanced combination of those two styles.

“I feel like there’s something that can be told when you combine images and words together that you can’t do with either one by themselves,” he says. “I feel it pulls the reader in more, and that graphic novels can take a subject that is heavy and makes it easier to read or stomach.”

Reaching out

In its initial stages, Tower25 was very much a personal exploration project, a vehicle for Patten to sift through his own experiences in a constructive way. After receiving encouragement from his wife, he kept at it, and discovered he had a lot that he needed to put onto paper.

“Getting it on paper has helped me gain control of its narrative,” says Patten. “Instead of having these skeletons in my closet or in my head, it’s out on the paper and that’s freeing.”

As the project began to develop, Patten shared some of his work online. He received some positive feedback, which made him feel that the story is something that could give a voice to a perspective that doesn’t always have one.

Weights. | Photos courtesy of PJ Patten

“The main character is basically faceless throughout the book,” he says. “I did that so people could picture someone they know or someone they’ve seen inside the story for themselves. Overall my goal is to raise an awareness of the issues of homelessness and addiction, and focus really on the human side of it.”

Patten keys in on empathy as one of Tower25’s biggest targets. He wants readers to more fully understand what addiction can be like, and develop empathy for those who struggle with it. He hopes that this week’s event at the Surrey Art Gallery will be a platform to shift the minds of the audience with regards to both the message and the medium of Tower25.

“I hope people will come away from [the event] with the idea that comics or graphic novels aren’t just for kids, they are a medium that can carry important messages,” he says. “And I hope that people will have a better understanding of homelessness and addiction, and maybe will be a little more kind and understanding to people who are suffering.”

For more information visit www.surrey.ca/culture-recreation/30458.aspx?startDate=Dec-13-2019. You can also follow Patten on Instagram @pjpattenillustration