Walking is grounding.
When you are walking, some part of your body is always in touch with the ground.
Walking together with J was something we did everyday. It was J's preferred mode of transport. And wherever he walked, he was very observant of the world around him. He saw faces, shapes, light and shadows - stories in things and places most people would overlook. I enjoyed walking with J because of this, and because I liked to hold his hand. It was a way of grounding for me.
Walking is motion.
At the start of the COVID restrictions, taking a post-dinner walk was my daily routine. Those months there was also an outbreak of dengue all over the island, hence I walked only after the sun has set and the Aedes mosquito was less likely to bite. My typical route was a 45min leisurely stroll around the neighbourhood. Particularly in those early months of COVID, the shops would be shut early and the pavement, void decks and roads were mostly deserted. And in this world that seemed to have stopped, it felt like only my body was in motion.
Image taken on one of the COVID walks.
Walking is learning.
One of my favourite graphic novels is Walking Man by the late Jiro Taniguchi (I had written about this in this blog in 2007). A bespectacled, stocky man moves into a new neighbourhood with his wife and dog. He takes walks around the neighbourhood and in each vignette, he encounters and learns about an aspect of himself, the seasons, nature...
Just before J died, he was exploring a new project with illustrator and comic artist JT, commissioned by a foundation keen to break the taboo around death in our society. One of the early ideas they had was a comic inspired by the Walking Man. It, however, had a grim subversion - the walking man is death himself - at first unaware of this fact, and discovering in his walk his identity.
Image taken on one of the COVID walks.
Walking is restorative.
2 years ago, when I was recovering from the surgeries, J would make sure we took walks 2 to 3 times a day - first along the corridors in my block of flats, and subsequently when I didn't need to be so careful, around the neighbourhood. Looking back, that period was akin to a "lockdown" for caregiver J. He must have been miserable all those months. I should have encouraged him to get out with his friends and not worry about me being at home.
During the homebound months of COVID, my walks were at first uncomfortable. The "zoomed-out" body was all tense and my nerves complained about the walks. One evening, I thought that since there was no one around, I should just walk as freely as I wanted to - I gave full reign to my natural walk, a swagger! J used to make fun of my gangsta walk, but I think he was secretly envious of the swagger. If I swaggered, the nerves relaxed. I was boss of my walk.
It was during one of these COVID swaggers that I suddenly had an idea for a new comic!
I knew that Furrie and Shortie would be coming to an end, and I would need a new distraction soon. So why not a new comic? It would be of an old lady's daily walks and the creatures she encountered in her neighbourhood - my own version of Walking Man.... Walking Auntie!
That night I got home and started immediately to sketch the characters. They didn't take much work to invent. Because I saw them everyday. The old lady. The area in Toa Payoh that our flat was in had lots of old people. They walked alone or drove their little mobility scooters. Some were wheeled in their chairs by helpers. Occasionally we would encounter an old couple, one holding on to the other - J would always remark that he wished only that we would grow old together like them...
There would be a cat (or several) on most walks. So of course there would be a cat in the comic. It would be ghost cat. And there would be a nightjar. I have never seen one, but the one time I saw a photograph of it I remembered that it was such an odd looking frog-mouthed bird, I had to draw one. And then shrews, not rats. There are so many shrews (and rats) in Toa Payoh and the one stressful thing on my walks would be the thought of encountering a shrew or rat running across my slippered feet. Oh, and a lizard - every comic needs a villain - and lizard poop, the villain's evil posse. It would be funny.
The name OG came about during a dinner party during Phase 2 of COVID... we discussed what the acronym for the department store stood for. Everyone knew the joke - Old Girl. Once I completed the first episode, I inked the title. And it was Only Grace (OG).
The only human the reader will encounter in the comics will be Grace, but she's never entirely alone. And only by the grace of God, we are able to walk - and laugh.