Unlimited: Al Davison - Muscle Memory

 
A snippet of the comic created by Al Davison for his Reform the Norm micro-commission

In September last year, we announced the ten local artists awarded micro-commissions as part of our Reform the Norm partnership with Unlimited. Among the recipients of these £1000 micro-commissions was Al Davison, visual artist, comics creator and co-owner with his wife Maggie of TAG! Artworks - a comics shop and art studio in Fargo Village.

Much of Als work focuses on his own experiences of living with disability and surviving physical child abuse, including his Reform the Norm commission, which recounts the story of how he responded to an incidence of hate crime in both visual and audio formats.

This week, were delighted to confirm that Al will also be one of two artists offered a strategic commission of £20,000. Well be revealing further details on that soon, but in the meantime, he told us more about the micro-commission hes been working on so far.

My Reform the Norm commission is a four-page comic sequence about an experience I had of dealing with hate crime from a taxi driver when I was on my way to a book signing in Aberdeen.

Its a story I was already planning to tell as part of a bigger project Ive been working on, but what Reform the Norm has also enabled me to do is to create alternative versions for people who experience storytelling in other ways.

I wanted to make sure it would be accessible to as many people as possible, so alongside the comic, I will also be producing a version that combines the images from the comic with recorded dialogue for anyone who has difficulty reading, as well as a full audio-book version for people who are visually impaired.

The audio recordings will be voiced by myself and actor Matthew Reynolds. We still have some work to do on that, because lockdown has meant that I havent been able to get into the studio to record my parts yet. But the drawings are now ready to go – Ive just finished the colouring on the last page.

The story will stand alone for Reform the Norm, but its also intended to be part of an autobiography Ive been creating in graphic novel form, called Muscle Memory. Its something Ive been working on for about 20 years now, on and off. Originally I was just working on it in-between other paid projects, but getting set up on Patreon has enabled me to spend more time on it.

I don’t have a huge number of patrons, but I have enough that the income I make from that covers the rent for our shop/studio at Fargo Village. That’s been a huge help and has meant that work has sped up a bit, but it’s still a big project to finish, and my health dips a lot as well, which affects how much I can do. I’m currently about 150 pages into a 400-page book.

The theme of the chapter that this particular story falls within is “Fighting Back”, which is all about dealing with disability hate crime and body-shaming. I wasn’t able to use stills from the original footage that I showed the driver, as it had degraded too much, so I substituted images from a later martial arts demo that I did with Chad Spring, demonstrating the same techniques.

Sadly, the incident with the taxi driver isn’t all that unusual. Over the years, I’ve dealt with a lot of physical assaults as well as verbal abuse, and it’s definitely something that’s got worse over the last few years.

There was an article in the Guardian last year which reported that hate crime against the disabled had gone up something ridiculous like 76% since 2016, and I have noticed a change myself. Prior to that, if I was out and about in Coventry, I’d get the odd person calling me names maybe once or twice a month. But just before we went into lockdown that was happening three or four times a day.

I think disability often gets left out of conversations around hate crime. When I see people talking about it online, the focus tends to be on race and gender. I think it’s really important that we make sure that disability is part of those conversations, which is one of my motivations for creating this book.

I do think some of it is down to a lack of awareness. Often disability hate crime isn’t widely reported in the media, and one of the reasons I’ve been given for this is that publicising it could inspire copycat crimes. I can understand that, but it’s a bit of a catch-22 because if people don’t know it’s happening, it’s quite hard to get anyone to take action on it.

One thing that has happened over the last year is that a lot of those existing inequalities have been brought to light because of the massive impact the pandemic has had on people with disabilities – I think something like 60% of people who have died from covid were people who had a disability, which is quite a scary statistic. I hope this will help to change the conversation, but at the moment there’s still a lot of frustration and a long way to go.

Visit Al's Patreon page

Panel 1
A taxi pulls up at Aberdeen airport, next to Al Davison, an older man in a wheelchair with a beanie hat, hoodie and white beard. A caption reads "On my way to Asylum Books and Games for a book signing".
Panel 2
Al holds up a hand to hail the taxi.
Panel 3
A middle-aged, dark-haired man steps out of the taxi on the driver's side. The driver says, "Davison? For the Adelphi?" Al replies, "Yes". The driver replies, "They didn't tell me that you were one of - that you had a wheelchair."
Panel 4 
Al getting into the car on the passenger side. He says, "Well we did inform them."
Panel 5
The driver attempts to put the wheelchair into the back of the car, swearing.
Panel 6
Close up on the driver in his seat. "You know..." he says.
Panel 7
Exterior of the car with a speech bubble from the driver, continuing, "You should kill yourself."

Panel 1
Al and the driver sitting side by side. Al shouts, "WHAT DID YOU SAY!!" The driver replies, "Err - I said if I had to live your life I'd kill myself."
Panel 2
Al says, "NO YOU DIDN'T. YOU SAID I SHOULD KILL MYSELF." The driver replies, "I couldn't live with that, what would be the point?"
Panel 3
Close up of the driver's face in shadow, frowning.
Panel 4
Close up of Al's face. He says, "That? My lower legs are paralysed, that's all. As for my life..."

Panel 1
Side view of Al and the driver. The driver is out of focus in the foreground. Al, in focus, says, "You couldn't live with having a lovely wife? Family? A dream job where you get to travel and do book signings? That life?"
Panel 2
Al is out of focus. The driver, in focus, says, "Selfish. She could have a normal husband, but you make her pity you and now she has to look at you everyday, and well... ugh!"
Panel 3
The driver, frowning, continues, "and you go out, knowing that people are disgusted, and will attack you. You make nice people help you, put them at risk." He shouts, "WHAT'S THE FUCKING HOLD UP!"
Panel 4
Close-up of Al's eyes.
Panel 5
The driver shouts, aggressively, "MOVE!"

Panel 1
Al is holding his phone up to his face, looking for something.
Panel 2
He holds the phone out in front of the diver to show him. "Oh, I get attacked," Al says.
Panel 3
The phone in Al's hand shows an image of him sitting in a wheelchair, blocking the leg of a man who is attempting to kick him.
Panel 4
Close up of the driver's eye, frowning.
Panel 5
Close up of the phone screen, showing the attacker being knocked backwards, away from Al. "But I handle that myself..." Al says.
Panel 6
Close up of the driver's eye, widened in shock.
Panel 7
The outside of the taxi, black text against the sky. Al says, "So how about you shut the fuck up for the rest of the drive. Or do you want a live demo?" The caption reads, "He muttered to himself then went quiet. The rest of the journey was without incident. I phoned in a complaint to the office when I got to my hosts."