The joy of comics: bringing people together

Claudia Skubel Digital Communication Officer
19 April 2024
Clients sit together working on their own artworks

Light chatter mixed with the scratching of pencils on paper fills the air of the Sacred Heart Church. The grey and rainy Melbourne weather has driven the Drawing Group inside from their usual spot in the courtyard of Sacred Heart Central, but the mood inside is warm bright. Some bow their heads in concentration while others talk amongst themselves, chatting about their art or events of the previous day.

When the opportunity came around to apply for the 2024 City of Port Phillip Community Grant back in August of 2023, Liu Ponomarew, our Wellness Place Coordinator, had a few ideas. It needed to be something that could appeal to clients who didn’t necessarily attend the Wellness Place or other Engagement Hub activities and groups. It also needed to have flexibility for clients to drop in without regular commitment.

“We already knew that many of our clients liked to draw and had an interest in comics and zines. [Sacred Heart] Central staff had observed that quite a few clients wrote, drew, or doodled in notebooks that could fit in a pocket or backpack” says Liu “so a comic book project felt like a good fit”.

A client drawing of fish
Fish drawn by a client during one of the comic sessions

The Comics Together Project

The drawing group and their Comics Together project has been running since February with the help of local comic artist Michael Fikaris. “We’ve been meeting once a week and workshopping ideas of writing, storytelling and drawing,” says Michael.

Clients have been diving into the opportunity to creatively express themselves. The 90-minute sessions on Tuesday mornings often stretching closer to two hours as clients get caught up in the process. “The most enjoyable part is when someone asks what time it is, and we realise that we have been taken to a place of creativity working on something together…this is the joy of comics,” says Michael.

Michael talks with a client
Michael discusses art techniques and styles with a client

The Joy of Comics

When watching the group, it’s clear what Michael means by the “joy of comics,” it transcends all boundaries. The two trestle tables are strewn with various decorated papers. There is a husband and wife, who don’t speak any English who come along every week just to sit and draw. A client who has been rediscovering an old skill. “I haven’t drawn since I was in school – drawing was the only thing I was good at.” Another client sitting with her ‘art studio,’ a small briefcase filled with art supplies, as she practices ink painting a dove.

A client works on an ink painting of a dove
Perfecting the dove

All Skills Sets are Welcome

Everyone is welcome, no matter their skill set. “[There are] no technical or drawing skills required, a comic book character can be a stick figure, a shape or a squiggle,” says Liu.

“Some of the best feedback has been when the clients are surprised, they had it in them. When someone thinks that ‘not drawing well’ means they can’t make something interesting and useful to add to the project. Because really, the process here is for spending time together working on something that we can share,” says Michael.

A page with the words
Is this page blank?

A Comic Anthology

The project is now in its tenth week of twenty and will conclude with the creation of a comic anthology containing the artwork produced by the clients during the sessions. The hard part will be choosing what to include. “Michael has the daunting task in the final month of the project, of leading the group in making decisions about how to bring the many disparate pieces/drawings/words together into a more or less cohesive whole,” says Liu.

While a mammoth task – the stack of A5 drawings currently sitting around 15cm high – Michael, the Drawing Group and Liu couldn’t be more excited to share the project.

“Art is a great way of celebrating the diversity, creativity and resilience that we see in our clients. The arts can show us how and where people shine.”

Comics Together will be completed in October 2024.

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