Old Dogs

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Cutting it all the way down here.

There’s two sides to this short, slice-of-near-death story, and this comic reflects one a lot more vividly than the other. It’s a flash piece, just a single moment of almost no action that generates volumes. We have a room and we have characters: three old women and four old dogs. They don’t have heating oil, yet, but they do have firewood, and blankets, and sweaters, and each other. They’re still alive. Aside from the heat, they have booze, nicotine, and sugar. They are living in poverty, but they could be poorer still. Things are not so bad. There’s a quality of warmth to the moment.

At the same time, these characters are huddled together for protection. They are not related, don’t seem to have family to care for them in their dotage, and they’ve come together by necessity to survive a cold world. The last dog, the one with 3 legs who can’t get up on the couch, is the closest to the cold, although the story intimates that it could be the fat collie who dies first, if it ever gets incontinent and they have to put it outside.

Meanwhile, the plastic on the window has come loose, and the cold is invading their warm oasis while they doze. The same image is used in “Bringing Belle Home,” to symbolize Belle’s utter inability/unwillingness to take care of herself. The women in “Old Dogs” are on their own.

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Gorilla Girl

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Civilization is overrated.

“Gorilla Girl,” raw with emotion and rich with meaning, offers a protagonist who may consider herself a member of the animal kingdom, but is a great deal more self-aware than a lot of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s characters. She knows, at least, who she is and what she wants to do, and she recognizes opportunities when they arise and seizes upon them.

I’ve read this story many times in the last 15 years and I can’t believe that only as I found myself stuck on how to present the scenes at the circus did I see the parallels to Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, a book that had a profound influence on me as a young adult. Of course, Harry Haller, as a young man, has voluntary ties to his middle class upbringing and is torn between his 2 natures. Our Gorilla Girl, young and without male privilege, is moderately tied to convention by love of her mother but primarily by the lack of mobility and freedom offered to young girls. Her crisis may be less pronounced due to her temporal environment, but more pronounced due to her gender. Her struggle is not whether to give the beast reign or to settle down in a comfortable bourgeoisie existence, but only when and where to give the beast reign.

My first thought in tackling this story was to highlight my immediate reaction that it should be read as a universal tale of female rage, that all Americans socialized female contain within themselves this exact anger, the despair at being restricted by virtue of gender, the sense of alienation by an oppressive civilization that imposes a dull domesticity on a vibrant animal nature, but then I’m not sure if that’s me projecting. Clearly, not all women bristle against the edict to be beautiful and well-groomed and mannerly and acceptable/approachable. Some of them seem happy to become the thing my mother so desperately wanted for me, the thing that neither I nor the protagonist could hope to emulate, let alone assimilate. After Jill from “Boar Taint,” Gorilla Girl is the Bonnie Jo Campbell character with whom I most relate, although I have found other—ahem—outlets for my animal nature and made a truce with objective reality. I leave it to the reader to choose: is Gorilla Girl an anomaly, a freak who can only thrive in the carnival, or is she ubiquitous, an expression that all women carry with varying degrees of comfort and ease?

Rhyme Game

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Any time you get to draw a corvid is a good time.

For such a short story, “Rhyme Game” took forever to work through. The script, at least, took 3 days to finish. Despite the length of the story, I still had to cut out some interesting pieces, particularly the trash compactor and the butchering of the frozen cow. However, I managed to keep 100 percent of the actual dialog.

Tinny Marie’s mom, like so many of Bonnie Jo’s moms, seems stretched thin, working harder than most people could imagine to take care of her family but, at the same time, and not as concerned with her child’s welfare as the child thinks she should be. Flawed, like so many of the characters in these stories. She seems distracted, but she keeps playing this rhyming game with Tinny Marie.

Tinny Marie is a strange name to me.

Tinny Marie’s mom is nothing like my mom, who would have had a conniption if child-me had made the slightest reference to having a beer. She would not have thought that an acceptable rhyme.

Circus Matinee

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Her hair is meant to be “lightning struck,” which is possibly up for interpretation. This is how I interpreted it. 

Flipping back through the previous 2 volumes of Bonnie Jo Campbell comics, I was struck by something Bonnie said in conclusion, that she wrote her stories to inspire compassion in readers, to make them care about the marginalized folks that she most often writes about. She wants her characters to be seen, especially those types of characters who we often don’t really see.

Big Joanie is the kind of person that it’s easy not to see clearly, to dismiss for being big and fat and ugly, with bad skin and bad hair, and in the case of most of the men in this story, to sexually objectify because, not in spite, of her lack of conventional attractiveness. “Circus Matinee” puts us inside of Big Joanie’s head, where we can see her being overlooked and objectified and we get to see her reaction to it. She’s used to it. She accepts it. She anticipates it.

But also, because it’s all she’s ever known, it’s all she ever expects.

This is the story of a moment. The tiger is out of its box, and now, so is Big Joanie. In that moment, she chooses not to obey, not to remain sightless as she has been made in the past, as the hapless, sexually objectified mistress in the cheap seats remains in the moment. Big Joanie says “fuck you” to men who tell her what to do and what to see. When Big Joanie chooses to see, the reader can’t not see her. We’re cheering for her.

The tiger and the snow cone pictures came out pretty well. The feet in panel 2 remind me of drawing Carl Betcher’s feet in “Multitude of Sins” from Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. I felt gross about drawing young Big Joanie in panel 5; in my first draft she was fully dressed, but that doesn’t reflect the text and doesn’t make sense. I left her the one pant leg, small comfort. Big Joanie’s face is based off the actress Dot Marie Jones, who always turns in the kind of performance that does make you look, and see. The adulterous businessman in panel 4’s face is based off convicted felon and poster boy for casual evil Martin Shkreli.

We can dream, can’t we?

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I care. Fight me.

I wrote this comic on October 8, shortly before my life got very, very hectic. Things have been weird. Comics lacked urgency. This script seems to have aged well, though.

So, yeah, I love those videos where some tough old dude puts on a pair of EnChroma glasses and then starts crying at things being purple. If only it were that easy.

A couple people encouraged me to get back to comics recently. I’ll be presenting a paper about my Bonnie Jo Campbell comic books at the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature’s annual symposium this spring, and BJC suggested I try to get Women and Other Animals out in time for that! Finally, I can collect them all.

I’m No Angel

img_7920 (1)I’m not comfortable with creating religious content, and since this design needed to include the Mission San Xavier del Bac, I wanted to make it clear that we were looking, as the lyrics suggest, at a picture of a child with wings, not an angel. I thought giving her rainbow hair and rainbow wings would eliminate confusion, but no sooner had I finished worked, a small child came by, excitedly pointed at my work, and said, “It’s an angel! An angel with rainbow hair and rainbow wings!”

Ah, well. I’m used to being misunderstood. Also, angel people see angels everywhere.

Of course, this bulletin board is inspired by the Paul Simon song, “Under African Skies,” from the amazing 1986 album Graceland, which he recorded with a variety of musicians, many of whom were South African. This track features 3 South African artists as well as the vocal work of Linda Ronstadt. The entire verse goes as follows:

In early memory
Mission music
Was ringing ’round my nursery door
I said take this child, Lord
From Tucson Arizona
Give her the wings to fly through harmony
And she won’t bother you no more

While many people, no doubt, wish that the children around them would be less bothersome, obviously I couldn’t hang that line up outside the elementary school library. The basic function of people in an elementary school library is to be bothered by children. I mean, not bothered by them per se….

Anyway, the school or their supplier changed the shade of the blue butcher paper, resulting in less contrast between the text and the background than anticipated. I guess I can’t do green on blue anymore. My first pictures, taken in artificial light, were unusable; you could barely see the letters, let alone read them. With better lighting and a DSLR I got some usable images, although I had to do a lot of color correction, and it’s still not as good as the phone picture I posted on Instagram with the Juno filter. But it is readable. I couldn’t find the name of this font; it was just a thumbnail when I Googled “musical font” and the link didn’t work so I can’t credit the source.

If you find yourself in Tucson, Arizona, I recommend a trip to the mission, one of the oldest buildings in America. Don’t come during Catholic holidays, because the Mission is still in use and you’re not supposed to wander around during mass, but the rest of the time it’s an interesting place to explore. There’s a museum, and a tiny chapel full of candles and saints, and a wooden statue of Saint Francis that people get real cozy with, and a gift shop, and a grotto you can hike to with a shrine to Mary. Also, if you come in decent weather in the middle of the day, there will be a bunch of Tohono O’odham people selling fry bread out front. If you are a person who can safely consume white flour and oil, it’s a real pleasure.

Dark Nights on Planet Earth

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Who wants to buy me a plasma cutter so I can do this sort of thing in metal?

Well,  I’m in love with this style of paper cutting, except, obviously, it would work even better in metal. It’s weird that I’ve never even attempted anything like this before; was actually way easier than I thought, probably the only bulletin board I’ve ever done that actually took less time than I’d estimated. The whole thing still took 12 hours over 3 days, but cutting out the details (with a scalpel) didn’t take much longer than sketching them out.

You can view some process pictures on my Instagram feed if you want to see that, along with some closer imagers of each design.

The quote is slightly messed up, probably because I never sleep as much as I need to. There should be another definite determiner between “in” and “contrast.” Still, pretty good stuff. Some kid will probably rip some of the details; they’re very fine and I wasn’t able to hit every spot with glue. It’s too tempting for the littles. After the break, I’ll go back and secure it a bit more.

Speaking of the break, I’m grateful that I didn’t have to get anywhere near an airport this week.