Q&A with Tony Thorne

Seafoam green bordered the abstract pattern. Aqua leaves splashed across a golden background, lines of white dots flow across the pattern in different directions. Tony is standind under exposed wooden beams. Wearing a t-shirt and glasses, Tony is smiling at the camera.

TONY THORNE is an award-winning designer and director in children’s television animation. Tony’s endearing character design and vivid sense of place is the culmination of his rich and diverse experience as an animation director, illustrator, visual artist, and comic book illustrator. Tony is Trawlwoollway, from the north-east of Tasmania. He’s spent a decade working in CG animation on films like Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, District 9 and Happy Feet II. Prior to that, he worked as a freelance illustrator in both Sydney and Melbourne. His clients include Streetwize Comics, Redback Graphix and Rolling Stone.

Our Art and Comics Editor, David Mahler, interviews Tony Thorne about his comic ‘100 Days’, published in #18 REGIONAL VOICES.

Hi Tony, thank you for taking the time to join us for a few questions. You kindly allowed us to edit four of your diary pages into a beautiful full-colour spread. Could you tell us a bit about the project these comics grew from?

The ‘100 Days’ journal grew out of a sense of powerlessness that a lot of people feel when they are diagnosed with cancer. I learned quickly that there would be much waiting around and doing whatever the doctors said (even though they contradicted one another at times). I had the idea when I was first diagnosed to document the whole treatment in comics, but a full time job, wife and two kids, and treatment didn’t get me past a few blocked pages. That changed when I went to the Royal Melbourne and Peter Mac. There the 100 days is a thing, and I was a Bass Strait away from family. I had time.

Art therapy seems to be a human impulse. I’m sure your confidence in illustration helped maintain a meditative state conducive to healing. Would you say you’re a proponent of creative healing?

The journal certainly played a role in keeping me well. I had this one skill that I was moderately good at. It was petty selfish at the start, other cancer patients say you need to be selfish at times. I just thought, I’ll do this thing for me, and then I thought it might help my family, and then as the treatment pathway got more dangerous and unusual, and the information got less, I thought this could really help other people facing an allograft.

Reading the ‘complete’ ‘100 Days’ diary leaves one transformed— it’s almost a means to cathartically experience and recover from a frankly terrifying illness. Do you have any plans to produce a polished graphic novel? Would finessing take away some of the rawness, the impact of the diary format?

It’s strange, but from where I stand now, cancer and the journal of the allograft are behind me. I feel like I’ve hit a new, more obscure health hurdle about which there is even less information. I am one of about half of all allograft patients who develop graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). This started around day 200. It means my cancer is banished but I have an array of chronic symptoms that need to be kept in check with steroids and immune suppression. If I were to do another health related narrative it would include my GvHD experiences. I’ve recently been doing animation work for hospitals around indigenous cultural safety and this form would be a great way to explain the inherent dangers of putting someone else’s stem cells into your body. Don’t get me wrong, it’s because of those cells that I’m still alive and relatively healthy.