This week’s Artist of the Week: Matthew Mewhorter of Cancer Owl brings us artwork with an important message.
BYMG: How did you get started?
MM: I actually began drawing obsessively in the third grade, out of jealousy, because I wanted to have the classroom attention that my classmate Mark was getting. After I took the crown as the “best artist” in class, I couldn’t stop. I knew this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to do comic strips and children’s books when I got older. I’m lucky to be doing both.
Cancer Owl started as a suggestion from my therapist to begin art journaling my journey with cancer. I began doing that a little, but it picked up steam last March when I had my surgery to remove my cancerous tumor. In the hospital, I had this urge to draw myself as an owl. For one, I have always loved owls—such fascinating birds; but secondly, it seemed like drawing myself as an owl was a fun way of taking my personal story to the public. I also wanted to give cancer patients and survivors the voice we deserve: honest, uplifting, heartbreaking, hopeful, and unapologetic. I wanted to tell the truth about life with cancer in a way that can actually grab people’s attention, whether it makes people uncomfortable or not.
BYMG: Who or what influences your work?
MM: Cancer Owl is influenced not only by my story, but also the stories of my fellow young adults fighting cancer. I mean, cancer patients and survivors are cool as hell. Many of my comrades in ailment have a wicked sense of humor, and tend to be blunt about having cancer, the nastiness of treatment, and facing death. I was talking with a fellow rectal cancer survivor who lost her anus, and we had a hilarious conversation about her “phantom butthole”, similar to an amputee suffering from phantom limb syndrome.
Artistically, I was first influenced by Jim Davis’ Garfield and Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. They made me fall in love with comics. I also was in love with The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and anything by Maurice Sendak. As time went on, I became highly intrigued by the work of Salvador Dali, Basquiat, and Ralph Steadman. And in more recent years I allowed my style to become more honed and influenced by graphic novelists Craig Thompson and David B. And there are so many writers, thinkers and stand-up comics, but all of my influences encourage me to tell the truth, no matter what.
BYMG: What’s the big message you want readers to take away from your work?
MM: That cancer is not only okay to talk about, but also a condition where we can find humor and hope. I want cancer patients and survivors to say, “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel” or “that’s what it’s like!”. And I want non-cancer types to get a deeper understanding of what we go through, and can improve how they approach others with cancer. I strive tell the WHOLE truth about having cancer, and that includes other people’s really poor attempts at being comforting. Cancer Owl is not meant to be cheeky or comfortable. I believe humor is one of the best ways to tell the truth about life’s difficulties, and comics offer a powerful, humorous snapshot that delivers an entire thesis in a thing that’s read in seconds.
MM: Well, between battling cancer, being married, working full time still as a therapist, and having the most awesome two-year-old on the planet, it’s been a bit tough getting that dream routine that we artists are encouraged to have. That said, early morning’s been best time. That or I’ll moonlight on a weeknight and on the weekends. The night is when most magic happens though. But all of my comics are coming from my regular art journal chronicling my experience with cancer.
For Cancer Owl, if it isn’t therapeutic for me when I put it in my journal, it won’t become a comic. Because if it isn’t therapeutic for me, then it won’t be for others. So, I journal my ideas as they come as a form of self care, then the creations all get sketched, inked and colored digitally on my Wacom tablet, Photoshop, and Manga Studio 5.
BYMG: Favorite creation so far this year?
MM: Well, at first, I thought about my comic about running at 6 in the morning, despite cancer treatment. It really struck a chord with my fellow cancer people. But probably my favorite creation isn’t released from my sketchbook yet. That work is a longer narrative, where cancer is actually given a face and a body, and I describe the odd love/hate relationship I’ve had with my diagnosis so far.
BYMG: Where can our readers connect with you and find more of your work?
MM: Cancer Owl is still very new. There will be an official website any day now. But I wanted to share my stuff as soon as possible, so you can enjoy Cancer Owl in 3 different ways:
Follow me at on Tumblr.
“Like” me on Facebook.
Follow @CancerOwl on Twitter!