5 December 2023

'Eventually Everything Connects' for Sarah's eight visual essays on uncertainty

| James Day
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Eleri Mai Harris and Sarah Firth showing off their new book at the launch.

Eleri Mai Harris worked with Sarah Firth over eight years to help bring ‘Eventually Everything Connects’ together. Photo: Supplied.

It’s been on the shelves for a month, but getting Sarah Firth’s debut graphic novel ‘Eventually Everything Connects’ to the shelves took nearly eight years.

The author and comics artist had to fight tooth and nail to get her eight visual essays on uncertainty out to the world, which all came to a head on the slopes of the Dandenong ranges.

The final product turned out quite different from the original pitch of a “quirky idiosyncratic stream of consciousness portrait of thinking”. Even in its developed form as an examination of the world and all the larger systems within, Sarah says it didn’t go down easily with the market-focussed publishers.

“I pitched my book to so many in Australia, UK et cetera and I just kept getting rejections. But it wasn’t because they said it was bad. Most said ‘it was cool’ and they ‘personally loved it’, but wouldn’t publish it because there was no market for something like this,” she says.

“It was ‘too innovative’, ‘too different’, ‘too hybrid’, too whatever; or ‘can you make it a straight memoir, or science communication, or remove the chapter about sex and make it more child friendly?’ The whole thing got me so stressed out that in 2022 I actually went off to Belgrave in the Dandenong ranges to chop wood (like that’s a normal thing) and genuinely thought I had to let the project go.

“And then a weird coincidence happened. When I was lopping off some branches and feeling sorry for myself, I got a call from my agent saying Nakkiah Lui loves your book so much that she wants to get on the phone with you.”

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The project finally came to fruition thanks to the help of the Australian actor, writer and comedian, who got her published with Joan Press (an imprint of Allen & Unwin) after she watched the video pitch Sarah sent her.

“It’s been quite difficult to explain the book to people, but I essentially told Nakkiah: ‘Are you often sitting around thinking holy f***, what the f***, what am I supposed to do?’

“‘This is a book on philosophy that doesn’t necessarily answer questions, but asks them. What is going on? What do I do? What am I? Who are you?’ And for some reason she loved it.”

Helping Sarah throughout the journey has been her long-time friend and professional comics editor Eleri Mai Harris. Sarah and Eleri were friends in Canberra before they were engulfed in the world of cartoons. Their collaboration on the project first began in 2015 at the first Comic Art Workshop.

Cartoonists were invited to pitch their ambitious projects with peers from all over the world. But with only 24 hours to put a pitch together, Sarah pulled an all-nighter and to her surprise the “really bad idea for a book” was warmly welcomed.

“It’s the most complicated graphic novel I’ve ever seen, it’s crazy,” Eleri says. “Everything from poo to lobsters to philosophy, it encompasses it all.

“I remember seeing her pasting these little bits of random paper with drawings on them to a wall and saying, ‘does this make any sense?’ But it’s really amazing to have seen her take it from that stage as a bunch of ideas, to what it is now as a well and truly connected piece of work.”

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At 39, Sarah was diagnosed with aphantasia, a condition that doesn’t allow her to create mental imagery. While the realisation was a shock, on top of dyslexia, it helped explain her “very messy process”.

“I feel like there’s a very broad spectrum for how people write, particularly graphic novels that have this additional drawn element,” she says.

“You’ll see in the book that some chapters are very memoir focussed, talking about my experiences, and then others are quite complex topics like physics and philosophy. Depending on what I’m writing about, I have a very different thought process. If it’s emotional, I need to draw it first, whereas if it’s very intellectual, I need to write it first.

“I don’t know if they’re limitations, it’s just the kind of animal I am and have to work with.”

Want to find out what all the fuss is about? Learn more about ‘Eventually Everything Connects’ at Allen and Unwin.

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