Diagnosed with a brain tumour at 32, Scottish artist Gordon Shaw creates comic books to communicate his experience of cancer.
His uplifting story is told in this new feature length documentary, which is being given its TV debut on the BBC Scotland channel after its premiere at the BFI Flare festival.
Through his comic art, Gordon charts his thoughts and reactions to cancer in an unexpected medium – with humour and the odd expletive. And Edinburgh-based Gordon has given his tumour a name – Rick.
He said: ‘I seriously believe they have helped me come to terms with what has happened…or as close as anyone can get.’
Made over the course of three years, the documentary sees Gordon approaching his 40th birthday – a milestone made more significant as brain tumours kill more people under the age of 40 in the UK than any other cancer.
Gordon has also found the love of his life, Shawn – a warm-hearted and protective American who lives in Bath County, Virginia.
This poignant long-distance love story is underscored not only by the trauma of cancer, but also by the amount of time they must spend apart, heightened by the restrictions of the pandemic.
The couple’s daily calls and the bittersweet moments when they do get to be together are a running thread throughout the film and are in some measure an inspiration for Gordon’s latest venture.
Although his previous comics looked at his own personal experiences, for his next book Gordon has chosen to focus on the people who look after people with cancer – the carers.
His tumour is growing again and he’s on chemotherapy whilst meeting and interviewing people who have cared for and lost loved ones to the very same disease that is killing him. In creating this comic he hopes to gain an understanding of what Shawn will have to go through when his condition worsens.
Whatever will ultimately happen, this is a film about the triumph of love and creativity in the face of death.
Long Live My Happy Head is a Melt the Fly production, funded by BBC Scotland and Screen Scotland and produced in partnership with The Open University. Carers’ stories and the artworks they inspired will be available to view on bbc.co.uk/happyhead by following links to The OU.
Long Live My Happy Head will be shown on Sunday ,27 March, on BBC Scotland, from 9.30-11.00pm.