Its that time of the year when publishers all around the globe launch a blizzard of biographies and autobiographies onto the general public months ahead the Holiday season, but in Jessica Martin’s Life Drawing: A Life Under Lights, we have a very different kind of autobiography, presented as an original B+W graphic novel from crowdfunders Unbound. And, as an all round actress, performer and now comic book creator, it’s the most appropriate of formats in which to tell her fascinating story. After all, Martin has become something of a fixture at comic cons up and down the country and an amazing ambassador for self-publishing. A real champion of the indie press.
Funnily enough, it’s where this book ends that my own personal story overlaps with her’s begins. Meeting Jessica at a comic book convention soon after taking up writing about comics, comic book creators and all things geeky, little did I know that here was a performer with a connection to my own life – and that of many, many others – through the wonderful work she’d done on television for such national favourites as the satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, the comedy/impressionist show Copycats and Doctor Who, wherein she played Mags an alien werewolf, as you do. Needless to say, from this brief list alone, you can infer Martin has led a rather colourful and impressive life. But, it wasn’t always so, and in her journey to the fickle, fleetingness of stardom, there is much to ponder as she tells a story of tough times, a disrupted childhood and further domestic dramas many reading this engrossing graphic novel can relate to.
But, it’s not a story that lingers sentimentally over these episodes. It’s merely the facts of life, and Martin often regales them with a pragmatic and oft-times reflectively resilient voice, rather than one begging for the reader’s sympathies. In the end, as much as there is sadness, loss and tragedy – as there is in anyone’s lives – Martin would rather illustrate how happiness and a mainly satisfactory life has been the main theme tune playing as the incidental soundtrack to her life. And, when she introduces the many, many great, good and grand actors and actresses, producers and directors she’s met along the way, it’s not done with any sycophantic sense, but as an integral part of her life and development as an entertainer. A life made up of hard graft, as she follows her dreams to become a performer like her idol Judy Garland or Barbara Streisand, and a little bit of being in the right place at the right time. Like any of us, really.
Yes, there is glitz and glamour, but this isn’t the main takeaway I get when reading this graphic novel. Having only retrospectively realised who Martin was and how she shared herself with us on television, I was intrigued by here many, many various acting and performing roles, but what I discovered was a story of determination, as well as sometimes isolation too; Jessica being the product of an Irish mother and a Singaporean father at a time when the benefits of multiculturalism were not noticed and, indeed, at a time when the UK wasn’t as harmonious as it can sometimes be (when we’re not dividing ourselves over Brexit, that is).
But, there’s also an undercurrent in the latter pages of this book, as Jessica matures and settles down to enjoy the blisses of marriage and motherhood, that reminds us that the life for an actress can be fleeting if your face, or age doesn’t fit. As we have seen time and time again, more middle-aged actresses don’t have the same range of choices they may have done in their 20’s and without a family too. The inherent sexism of showbiz does rear its ugly head – although Martin is far too confident a writer to comment on this directly, or with any great disappointment either. Not when this was a period in which she was encouraged to get into comics by her co-star in Spamelot, by comedian and fellow performer, Phil Jupitus, only a few year ago.
Martin has come a long way in a short time with this personal narrative delivers in an entertaining, engaging and informative way that details the highs and lows but always with an optimist at the very heart of her story. Warts and all, maybe, but with a good deal of showbiz glamour and greasepaint too. Now, that’s showbiz, folks!
Life Drawing: A Life Under Lights is out now in hardback from Unbound.