The Launch of Andrew’s Comic

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Posted June 30, 2015 by Josh McCullough in Comic Books

Cancer is a terrible disease that often robs people of their lives, it is likely you know someone who has gone through this, either themselves or through a relative, we can all however understand feelings of loss and sorrow. What marks true tragedy however, is whenever someone afflicted by cancer dies so young, this is the case with Andrew Fitzsimmons, a young lad from my home town who sadly passed away October 1st 2013 at only 23 years old. Andrew was a brilliant young man who was determined to complete his goals and, like many of you readers, loved comics. This love of comics is what has driven Andrew to tell his story using the medium, leaving a legacy of his life in the recently launched Andrew’s Comic from Uproar Comics. While Andrew may not have gotten to see his comic into print, his legacy will live on thanks to it. I was lucky to receive a copy of this comic recently and also attended the official launch where I chatted with Andrew’s family as well as the guys from Uproar comics. Today I’d like to talk about Andrew’s Comic and share the experience of the launch with you all.

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Page 6 from Andrew’s Comic

First off, let’s talk a little about the comic itself. Andrew’s Comic follows Andrew from just before diagnosis through his stages of treatment and contains all the hardships and triumphs along the way. It’s a very emotional story, even if you’ve never dealt with cancer before the story is sure to affect you as it speaks to anyone who’s dealt with loss. Andrew packed a lot into his life, so much that you’d be hard pressed to call it brief. The comic follows these achievements ensuring an even deeper emotional connection as you see how Andrew was able to continue living his life despite the illness. The comic manages to balance this out in a refreshingly honest look at the journey of a cancer patient, while it shows the difficulties he faced it never makes it seem like Andrew is desperate for pity or that your life is over if you’ve been afflicted by the disease, instead it shows that while it’s an incredibly tough illness, life still goes on so you have to make the best of this. Andrew feels very relatable and likable, any comic fan reading the book should be able to see some of themselves in him, making the story hit even closer to home.  Little touches such as the 60s Batman show playing in the background work very well as cute land subtle touches to the story which help comic fans relate to what’s happening. They’re a clever addition that add to the personal element.

 

andrew's comic display

Copies of the comic were given free to attendees.

The comic was officially launched at Black Box in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Thursday 25th June, and it was certainly an impressive night. The atmosphere in the room was indescribable, despite the sorrowful reason for meeting there was a very positive buzz moving about the room as people experienced Andrew’s story, free copies of the comic were available to take and pages from the comic were pinned around the walls. The most impressive thing was the amount of people absolutely absorbed in the comic, people of all ages, genders and backgrounds were giving their full attention to reading the comic and discussing it enthusiastically with others. As I spoke to Andrew’s dad he too was very impressed and touched by this, stating that “we’ve been impressed by the diverse audiences, there’s people of all ages and interests. The book speaks to different audiences.”   Knowing that Andrew was a big comic fan, it was lovely to see so many people enjoying them too, and I’m sure he would have been delighted his story was reaching so many people.

Andrew's comic launch

The turn-out and atmosphere in the room was a moving sight.

After everyone had a chance to check out the comic, Andrew’s friends and family took to the stage in order to talk a little about Andrew’s life and the process of turning the story into a comic. Simon, Andrew’s social worker from CLIC Sargent (an organization that helps young people afflicted by cancer), was the first to take the stage. He told us about how he first met Andrew in the hospital, and how they would argue over comics, given Simon was a Marvel fan compared to Andrew’s DC love, it was a sweet reminiscence and you could feel the respect and friendship they’d shared. Simon then moved on to more serious matters, discussing Andrew’s attitude towards the cancer, he described that he was “trying to live his life to the fullest, regardless of chemotherapy”, and this seemed to embody the message Andrew wished to get across with the comic, which Simon explained as “we shouldn’t be allowing cancer to change our lives, as we have that power.” This has become apparent through the creation of the comic, which Simon believes “shows he is achieving a lot more still” and that he “would be very proud of what we’ve created.”

He expanded more on the comic itself, saying that the idea of it caused Andrew to become much more lively, he was even getting up early to script the comic. On this subject, he talked about Danny McLaughlin and Kevin Logue from Uproar and their relationship with Andrew; despite not knowing him before, Simon said that “you would’ve assumed they’d been friends for years” and that they were great at giving Andrew complete creative control. Danny then took the stage and reiterated this saying that he instantly hit it off with Andrew, getting to know him very well and even talking about quite deep stuff. He praised Simon as being “amazing for Andrew and the family” and went on to praise Andrew for helping him understand more about the disease and claimed that he “inspired” him. He went on to call the book “one of the best things we’ve ever done” and hopes that “it carries to other people in similar circumstances” as well as believing that it “speaks to any person dealing with loss.” When he finished, he presented the family with a portrait of Andrew drawn by Andy, the book’s artist (the same one as the back page of the comic).

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Craig (Batman) and his brother Andrew (Robin), the only time Craig was ever allowed to be Batman.

The final speaker was Andrew’s brother Craig, who gave a very moving and bittersweet speech. When he took to the podium, an image of Craig and Andrew as boys dressed as Batman and Robin came on screen, which Craig amusingly joked about being the only time he was allowed to be Batman. Throughout this Craig was funny and charismatic, keeping in line with the atmosphere of the night, however it was clear he was very emotional throughout his talk, describing Andrew in fantastic words. He believes the comic “captured Andrew perfectly” and went on to describe him as “a superhero like Stan Lee would create” however “what sets Andrew apart is that he had no mask or weaknesses,” but instead “he had a willingness to fight to the end.” He summarised Andrew’s message perfectly as “you’re never alone, you’re as strong as your heroes, Andrew never wanted to take pity, he exhumed positivity” and stated that in a world of Hollywood heroes it was great to have “a local hero” paraphrasing Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies by stating “Andrew is the hero we need and that we deserve.” The most poignant moment came when Craig said that “the only sadness I can take is that Andrew will not see his dream realised, however, like any good comic, there is always a ‘to be continued’, we can see our hero live on within these panels.” Once Craig was finished, Simon returned to the stage, presenting a cheque raised by donations to Andrew’s Comic for the charity “Home from Home”, a charity which provides temporary living accommodations near hospitals for families who have children being treated for cancer. On top of this, he also stated the family’s goal was to have Andrew’s Comic made available to anyone suffering cancer under the age of 25, so that Andrew’s experiences may help them through their battle, to aid this goal, 3,000 copies of the comic have been sent to hospitals across the UK and it is being made available to read online. It was truly inspiring to see Andrew’s dream come true and that his story would reach so many people, it’s clear he would’ve been proud of this achievement.

Andrew's comic donation

A cheque was given for CLIC’s “Home from Home” charity, as a result of the amound of donations received to publish Andrew’s Comic

Once the speeches were over, I got the chance to talk to with Danny from Uproar about the comic, who was very enthusiastic about the project and was great to converse with. He says that he’s “completely proud of what we’ve achieved” and thinks that everything about the project fit. Danny claims that it was first and foremost Andrew telling the story as he scripted it and helped Danny to understand what he was going through, Andrew’s friends and family who helped Danny to understand what Andrew was like. Danny had only know Andrew for a few weeks, but as Simon said, it felt like they’re been friends for much longer, “I only met him once, but we talked constantly for about five weeks.” Andrew’s death hit Danny very hard, “I was crying in a corridor when I found out”, though this emotion helped him with the book as he not only used this, but his own loss of his dad in order to bring out the emotion of the story. It’s this reason, the ability to imagine your own loss, that Danny believes makes the book so universal and can effective for so many people. He went on to described how his aim with this comic was “the gut punch”, using the idea that comics can be quite bright and cartoony yet they have subtle emotions that really catch you off guard and affect you, that he claims was his intention with the comic, to get in your head and hit you hard. Danny stressed that he did not want to hold back with the comic, at times it may have been hard, especially for the family as they became aware of some of Andrew’s struggles he hadn’t told them about, and stated they were very brave in choosing to continue making the comic. He once again thanked Simon for helping him deal sensitively with the issues, especially regarding the family.

Following this, we talked about the nature of comics and how it brought across the emotional impact of the story, which Danny was really passionate about. Danny described comics as “the ultimate visual literature” and believes it’s their universal nature that has helped spread the story, according to him “comics are universal, they can be read at your own pace and you get your own experience. There was no other medium to do it in, Andrew loved comics and everyone who reads it is touched by it.Danny believes that the art of the comic is one of the key reasons for its emotional impact, even going as far to have removed elements from his script in order to not detract from the art “I found myself just removing quite a lot of text from the script as I realised it wasn’t needed,” he told me, “the scene where he’s telling his friends and relatives, there’d originally been a slow build up to the reveal, but the art just captures the moment so well that there was no other way to do it justice.” These subtle elements of comic storytelling are what made Danny feel this was the right way to capture the emotion of Andrew’s journey, and is even planning ways to use comics to tell stories of other difficulties and issues young people may have to face. While chatting to Danny, we spoke to Andy, the artist, who filled us in on his approach to conveying the emotion of the script; “You can’t think too much about the art or it seems forced, it has to come naturally,” he said, “We didn’t’ tweak much from the drafts as that’s where the best emotion comes out.” He went on to further discuss the style of the book “when doing this you have to decide if you’re going for something super realistic or if you want to try and capture the feelings, for me, body language is the most important aspect, as that’s the way you get the emotions across.” It certainly seemed from talking to both of them that a lot of heart and emotion had gone into the comic, and it certainly shows. The book received a hugely positive reaction from everyone I spoke to, so it definitely seems to have done its job and is a worthy memento to Andrew’s legacy.

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Andrew Fitzsimons may be gone, but he’s left an incredible legacy. (Photo from andrewscomic.co.uk)

By the end of the night, I left feeling somewhere between sad and uplifted. Andrew’s story was a hard hitting look at the struggles of the battle with cancer, and his death at just 23 is a shocking and sobering fact, but despite this, Andrew’s legacy will certainly live on. He achieved so much and he and his family have been so brave in making his story public as a way to help others in similar circumstances. Andrew’s Comic is a powerful book and the perfect tribute to Andrew, all those involved should be proud, it is sure to help many struggling with cancer or any form of loss and has already had a hugely positive impact on our community.

If you would like to know more about Andrew and his family visit their official website, for more information on CLIC Sargant check out their website and you can follow Danny and uproar comics on twitter.


About the Author

Josh McCullough

A writer at WTN Josh is a huge comic fan whose tastes edge towards the strange and surreal. If there's one thing he loves more than comics then it's Doctor who. Never try and argue with him that there's a better doctor than Sylvester McCoy. Any fedoras that would make good press hats should be sent to his PO Box.