Writer/Artist: Kate Charlesworth
LGBTQ+ fiction is something that’s hard to get right. It’s often a struggle to find stories with relatable plots that go beyond the associated clichés – the soppy teen romance that’s oh so unrealistic, the idyllic accepting parents that so many of us never had. However, this isn’t a problem for Kate Charlesworth, whose work presents some of the most intriguing non-fiction narrative I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long while.
Sensible Footwear documents Charlesworth’s life as a lesbian, incorporating non- fiction documentation of the LGBTQ+ movement from the 1950s to present. Charlesworth has created a detailed look into the world of gay culture and the gay rights movement, using her own life experiences as a basis for the inclusion of relevant events and developments that were happening around her at the time.
The result is a highly unique format: a combination of digital collaging techniques integrated with a graphic memoir, which results in a sophisticated and impressively composed visual diary. Historical points of reference thematically combine with fragments of Charlesworth’s own experiences of growing up in an era when it was a lot harder to meet other people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Color and texture is used to emphasize the individual themes and messages portrayed in each layout - the attention to detail is phenomenal. The reading experience consistently reminded me of looking through a stunning scrapbook filled to the brim with historical significance.
Flashbacks are included in a range of illustrative styles used to differentiate between the various eras. Charlesworth’s certainly not afraid to play around with media. From grey-toned watercolors, to vibrant pencil sketches, to watercolor studies bursting with primary color, each style chosen integrates so well with the current theme.
My favorite style used is by far the technique used to represent present day: vivid watercolors topped with loosely lined colored pencil in a zesty orange hue.
Sensible Footwear is not only a historical record of the UK’s gay scene - it’s one woman’s struggle to fight for who she is, despite the isolation created by society. It’s the story of Kate blossoming into a politically aware cartoonist, struggling with a non-accepting parent and experiencing relationships and friendships. In my opinion, these relatable issues make Sensible Footwear a graphic work of educational importance that every LGBTQ+ individual can relate to. I appreciate the courage it must have taken to allow us as readers to take a deep look into her personal struggles and accomplishments.
Personally, I’ve experienced many people outside of our community presuming that parents just accept their children. Sadly, this just isn’t true. So many of us are estranged from our parents, and although Charlesworth’s story doesn’t result in that, she does consistently reference the difficulties she experienced with her mother, which I applaud. Sensible Footwear is the realistic LGBTQ+ material we’ve all been waiting for (along with Tamaki’s Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me).
I can’t recommend this multi-media masterpiece enough. It presents such a detailed account of the development of gay history that I don’t think it’s possible to read this without learning something. Charlesworth has created a strong sense of voice, including a not-so-subtle anti-Tory narrative that I loved. This book was near-perfect – my only qualm was the jumbled order of cultural references, such as the jump from 1972 back to the 1950s. As the work is quite long, I feel that could be slightly confusing. Overall though, it’s a fantastic read. So kick off those trainers, make yourself a cuppa and dive into a copy of Sensible Footwear.