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Charles Devus - disability arts online
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The Ballad of Justin Sane / 7 September 2011

a cartoon-style piece with imagined people wearing bright, strange clothes walking holding hands

Justin Sane, Thing-Thing and Jeremy, characters from Charles Devus' graphic novel

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Back in May, I had a couple of pieces at the Creative Future stand at the Impact Art Fair and I was gratified that my work created a fair bit of interest. The story behind the series from which these pictures are drawn is an epic in its own right and would probably make a good novel, but that’s another tale.

Simon Powell of Creative Future has been of invaluable help to me this year and was instrumental in getting a piece of mine published in The Big Issue's Outsider Art edition in May. He has also been gracious enough to mentor me in what is proving to be a painfully productive period in my life.

For instance, Simon has been nurturing my embryonic graphic novel about a character called Justin Sane, his little alien son Cedric and his friends. The action takes place in Rowfontine, the capital city of a country of the same name.

I have been working on the Rowfontine project for well over 30 years. It started as the classic vehicle of the abused child; a fantasy in which to hide. Like a lot of things created out of psychological necessity, it hid a wealth of painful and obscene things under cover of the soothing balm of a make believe romantic history.

What started as a Christmas gift of an Airfix model ship became a navy. The navy required a nation. And the nation, being young and traumatised, required a history, preferably a military one. From there it became a wargame which gradually expanded into a complex culture.

Rowfontine had its own monthly newspaper, its own play called The Music of Division and a whole host of other things. What it really wanted however was a comic book in which to show people what it actually looked like.

I came up with a lot of crap ideas over the years along these lines, all of which thankfully died a death. Then in October 2003, when I was homeless and living in the YMCA in Brighton, something happened over which I seemed to have no control.

I started feverishly drawing little characters, aliens, animals and vehicles in a little A10 blue notebook. I started on the 2nd of October and by the 3rd of November I had over 300 of them. But what to do with them? I felt the muses had called in no uncertain terms and I had a genuine duty to my new extended family.

Somewhere along the line, my dull brain thought of combining these characters with the Rowfontine. Of course the problem is that the Rowfontine, with all its architectural characteristics, existed only in my head so I would have to represent it largely without a model to draw from since my draughtsmanship is not anywhere near the standard I would like. This presents a problem.

Hence my homework, to complete a map of the city I had commenced early in 2003 and had bottled out of finishing. But that is my fear and my trauma, finishing projects, so it is proving a rewarding but increasingly difficult task as I approach the end of it. Though of course the end, in this case, is just the beginning.

Keywords: creative writing