Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Life Drawing, by Jessica Martin

In the midst of yesterday's deluge, a brave postman swam our street to deliver Life Drawing: A Life Under Lights, the autobiography of Jessica Martin told in comic-strip form.

I've know Jessica for years through comics and Doctor Who things (she played an alien werewolf in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (1988-9)), and have read her previous comics work. It Girl (2013) and Vivacity (2014) are biographies of real Hollywood stars, and Elsie Harris Picture Palace (2015) is a fictional story about a Hollywood writer. Her own story continues the theme - a love of cinema's golden age weaving through her life.

I thought I knew Jessica's story, from her first appearances in TV sketch shows doing impressions, then on Doctor Who, to being in the huge stage hit Me and My Girl with Gary Wilmott - which my grandpa took me to see. Her account of her time in Doctor Who, and of producer John Nathan-Turner, didn't tell me anything new. But her book is full of illuminating detail, such as when she was in the pantomime Cinderella alongside a future Doctor Who co-star...

Peggy Mount, as seen in
Life Drawing by Jessica Martin

She's honest too about her own vanity and ambition, and how what she calls "erratic eating" affected her work. But this is much more than a series of showbiz anecdotes. It's not just that old Hollywood and muscials excite her, they inspire her to press on.

For all the breezy, straight-forward style, I loved how Jessica conveys the tangle of relationships and her love for people without condoning their actions. Early on, her dad pulls an "ornamental bull whip off the wall" during an argument with Jessica's mum, and we later learn that her parents were never married as he already had wife. He's a difficult figure, and yet we feel for him when Jessica's mum leaves him and in his estranged relationship with Jessica's half-brother, and in his final days.

The book ends with her sharing her drawing and comics with people who encourage her. Comics is a new chapter in her life, but she faces it with typical determination, passion and energy. That's what radiates from this book. It's inspiring.

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