As grief took hold following the loss of his mother, Doctor Who comic artist Neil Slorance found the colour fading from his world.

His work, including his award-winning Dungeon Fun series, Doctor Who comic strips and political cartoons, was familiar to many, credited with bringing enjoyment and raising a smile.

But it would take a book of a different kind – a well-thumbed old gardening book stuffed with handwritten notes and, crucially, packets of seeds – to lift him from his personal slump.

His mother’s old gardening book, found among her belongings after she passed away, brought inspiration to begin his own unexpectedly therapeutic gardening journey from Daleks to dahlias, and return colour back to his life.

Now it has become the backdrop to his new comic book, a profoundly personal project that delves into the depths of grief and the healing power of plants.

The Herald:

The book is a departure from the sci-fi and escapism of his best-known works and his biting political cartoons. Instead, it explores how Neil navigated loss and the surprising comfort that came from watching the seeds he’d found in his mother’s book, grow and thrive.

As well as a reflection of his personal journey, it is reassuring reminder of the cycle of life and how the simplicity of nature can provide solace and become a beacon in even the darkest times.

Neil’s mother, Janice, died in October last year aged 66 after a three-year struggle with myeloma, or blood cancer.

While her loss was anticipated, the waves grief that came with it took Neil on a dark journey, sometimes overwhelming him in the most unexpected times and places.

Such as when his father, Gordon, handed him a favourite book of his mother’s, a slightly battered copy of “The Flower Expert” by Dr D. G. Hessayon, with her handwritten notes, sketches, lists and seeds tucked inside.

“The garden was a huge part of my childhood, I would always be playing in the garden, climbing up trees,” says Neil, who was raised in Mosspark, overlooking Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.

“My mother would be in the garden a lot too, but I don’t think I paid much attention to the plants and flowers or what she was growing apart from the sunflowers.

“When I flicked through the book, there were drawings in the back to show what the garden looked like and notes of the plants she grew, what did well and what didn’t.

“There were seeds and seeds catalogues, instructions of how to care for them. She had used the book as a file.”


The Herald: Neil's comic strip was inspired by his mother's gardening notesNeil's comic strip was inspired by his mother's gardening notes (Image: Neil Slorance)

The book pricked waves of emotion, and as he handled the packets of seeds which his mother had stashed away with plans to one day plant them herself, Neil felt compelled to try to grow them.

Using his mother’s notes and the book as a guide, he nurtured her seeds into tiny flowers.

“I killed a few on the way but managed to get two of the sunflowers to flower,” he says.

“At first, I thought of what I was doing as my way of getting closer to someone that I lost, but as it went on I found gardening developing into a more serious hobby.

“The more I got into it, the more I found it therapeutic to just pop outside for a bit, not think about anything and spend time in the garden.

“Over the past year, gardening has been a huge help in dealing with grief and my mental health.”

The Herald: Neil's mother, Janice's book, The Flower Expert, inspired his comic Neil's mother, Janice's book, The Flower Expert, inspired his comic (Image: Neil Slorance, James Morrison)

Neil decided to tell the story of his journey through grief and how discovering gardening via his mother’s much-loved book had helped him through, hoping it might support others as they deal with their own feelings of loss.

“I did my best not to bottle my grief up and be ‘the big man’ and not talk about it,” he says. “I listened to podcasts and other people’s stories and felt it was very important to talk about grief and your journey with it.

“But I know guys in particular can struggle to open up and talk about grief.

“Yet since I started this, there have been guys who have got in touch with me via email to talk about it and how they have lost someone.

“I feel this has got men talking about their grief and thinking of gardening.”

Neil, 36, whose previous work has included a collaboration with writer Colin Bell on Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor series and award-winning Dungeon Fun series, floated the idea of the book on fundraising site Kickstarter, where donations far exceeded what he had expected. It has just been published.

He adds: “It is a bit different from what I normally do and when I started I thought it might be a wee book about my garden. I hadn’t really intended it to be a personal, cathartic thing.

“But as I went along, I definitely had my mum in mind.”

The Herald:

The book, Plant Daddy, is now available on his Etsy shop, artbyneilslorance, and follows Neil, of Clarkston, East Renfrewshire, through grieving to finding the book and planting his mother’s seeds, along with gentle tips on how to get started gardening.

While the first sunflowers he grew from the seeds he found have blossomed and died, he has kept their seeds which he has shared with others and intends to grow himself – keeping his mother’s passion for the flowers alive.

“There were ups and downs – I’ve murdered a lot of plants since I started - and a lot of learning,” he adds. “Gardening is like life, there’s a seasonal cycle.

“It has helped me process grief, while planting is an act of hope, you don’t quite know what you will end up with.”