Their introduction six years ago was the darkest of days imaginable but now, Gordon Shaw treats his ‘unwelcome guest’ ‘Rick’ with healthy disdain and mockery. In fact, he’s turned Rick into the central character in a series of short comic books. Three have been published and a fourth is imminent. “It’s a coping mechanism,” says Gordon.
To explain. ’Rick’ is the name Gordon has given the brain tumour doctors discovered in 2012 – he was 32 years old at the time.
“It was benign at first", explains Gordon, "then just as I got to grips with that diagnosis, I had another MRI scan, the tumour was then upgraded to malignant and my life expectancy dramatically shortened.”
For a graphic artist at the start of an exciting new phase of his career this was a bitter blow. Gordon was about to enter into a collaboration with a celebrated artist and friend. A shared studio was on the cards and for the first time since he graduated from Edinburgh College of Art, Gordon felt his creative juices in full flow. Then came news that his friend had been stabbed in a street attack in London. He ultimately survived and went on to achieve great things but at the time it put and end to what had been such a rich vein of creativity and possibility. Within the space of a year two promising futures had been rocked by unrelated events.
Now back in Edinburgh, Gordon is learning to use his art to deal with the tumour and all that accompanies it.
“Having to return for regular MRI scans and not knowing what next to expect. Then there are the seizures - I had five yesterday and one this morning. There are also mood swings and bouts of fatigue to contend with. It is a future shrouded in uncertainty. I have counted my life in film releases. I have lived to see the first two of the new Star Wars trilogy – but I was not sure I’d see the third when they were announced. Right now, I feel pretty confident I will. The name ‘Rick’ came from well-meaning advice from a friend who was promoting the curative effects of Turmeric. At the time I thought it was spelt ‘Tumeric’ which then became ‘Tumour Rick.’
“I attend a support group and that’s when you realise that what you share with people is a label. There are over 130 types of brain tumour, each with their intensity and side effects, so each of us has a different variation of the condition and a different story to tell.. Using comics as a form to express pain and suffering was first inspired by Joe Sacco, whose award-winning graphic novels include ‘Palestine’ and Safe Area Goražde. The people lining the streets looked broken – it was etched in their faces. His comic books are a brilliant way of finding humour and humanity in the face of suffering. In London, a friend and I once organised an exhibition ‘NOT FOR RENTAL’ – it was a huge success and raised money for Art Against Knives and McMillan Cancer. Over 200 artists from a wide variety disciplines exhibited. On top of this we organised a series of workshops ....What made it so special was the creative involvement of both sufferers and perpetrators of knife crime - their words their words and images spoke with such clarity and volume. That is the redemptive power of the arts. Some of the work on display was also sold during the exhibition. Now through my own illustrated books I can mock, ridicule and give ‘Rick’ a bit of a kicking. And, so can my friends."
My friend Gordon got sick
He had a tumour called Rick
He gave it a name
To have someone to blame
‘cos we know Rick is a Dick
“I can say quite honestly that the past five plus years since the diagnosis I have enjoyed some of my happiest and most fulfilled moments.... I have spoken at events. My debut as a speaker came when a tutor at Edinburgh College of Art recommended me for an international Graphic Medicine Conference to be held in Dundee. Originally, it was a for a five minute slot. Then when someone dropped out it became 20 minutes. It was a packed conference (doctors and artists) and around 85 – 90% of the delegates were from North America. It was a great experience and I met lots of fascinating people. I have also spoken to the Teenage Cancer Trust and the Beatson Clinic about what I can offer and have run workshops on art in healthcare. Recently, I was approached by a Brain Tumour action- charity about the prospect of appearing in a video they are producing.. Then when they saw my Rick comics, they were also keen to use some of their content during the film.”
“My fascination with the brain and it’s extraordinary capabilities keeps me constantly thirsting for new knowledge and I am still finding my creativity. At the moment I am doing homework for my creative writing night class – all this helps me to improve the words I use with my illustrations. It is a constant learning journey.”
Gordon, who now works with the Scottish Design Exchange a couple of days a week is relishing the chance to meet other artists who display at the store in Leith.
“The Scottish Design Exchange started stocking my ‘RICK’ books and now to be helping in the shop has been a real boon. I am making new friends with so many like-minded creative people and get to meet the wide range of customers that come through the doors – they come from all corners of the world.”
To get a copy of Gordon’s Rick Graphic Novel series pop into SDX in Ocean Terminal. RICK4 is on its way.