Monthly Archives: April 2019

Yonis in Academia

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As Dolly Parton once said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

The original plan was to write this comic before I tackled Women and Other Animals. The progression went: SSML put out the call for submissions, I joked that I considered myself the world’s foremost expert on Bonnie Jo Campbell, Bonnie Jo encouraged me to submit a abstract for the conference, after which I got accepted, after which she asked me to create this comic book. So the symposium was always waiting at the other end, and this story was always dancing in the background, but it took forever to get the script down; I couldn’t seem to focus on it until I’d gone through the stories. It’s still my introduction to the comic.

Another reason I wanted to draw this comic was because yonis were the only part of the human anatomy I didn’t draw in the course of illustrating the complete short fiction of Bonnie Jo Campbell.

I dug out the original “Yoni” essay, and, unlike a lot of my older work, this one seems to have aged pretty well. It’s a tight piece, although I’m much more conscious of trans-exclusionary language these days, so there are definitely parts that I would have tackled differently, and some of the things I wrote about my body 20 years ago are no longer the case since I turned 40. However, it was fun to research and write, and still fun to read.

I’m not sure if I was a redhead at the time of this story, but my hair does look great. Also, I realized after I laid out panel 1 that I didn’t have a laptop at the time. I didn’t have my first laptop until more than a year after this story happened, and it wasn’t a sleek little MacBook, it was an enormous, clunky ThinkPad. I drew something closer to the ThinkPad anyway, so we can all remember how ridiculously large computers used to be. Because the desktop CRT wouldn’t have fit in this comic.

The illustrated euphemisms in panel 1, clockwise from top left: honey pot, a pearl on the steps of the temple of Venus, phoenix nest, little man in a a boat, and of course, whenever possible, I do like to include my filthy little pussy in comics. Her name is Lupin. The little man in the boat is Peter Dinklage, because the world needs more Peter Dinklage. Obviously. “Phoenix nest” is sort of archaic and out of favor. When I Googled it, I didn’t get pictures of genitals or fiery bird nests. I got mostly pictures of people in fur suits.

The images in panel 2 came out of my files. When I gave this presentation, I blew them up and mounted them for visual aids. There was a big poster at one time, but I just found these little ones. It’s so great that I’m a packrat so I could recreate these original images as well as the hard copy I read that day. I tried to locate the video of the reading, but I’ve never had a copy and I don’t remember who shot it, so that was a bust. Not even a still photo. But the people who were there in the audience that day definitely remember.

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Bringing Home the Bones

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The family the exhumes together…blooms together? Zooms together? Resumes together?

That’s a wrap on Women & Other Animals. The great sense of accomplishment I feel is only mitigated by the fact that I still have to draw 4 more supplemental pages to finish this comic book before I convert the pages to black and white, remove the boilerplate text, and send it off to the printer. Along with all the proofread text from the blog. After which I have to prepare 15-20 minutes of remarks on the subject of “I turned every single short story in all of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s short fiction collections into comics” for this presentation I’m giving to the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature.

Whew.

For “Bringing Home the Bones,” I decided to use Susanna Campbell, Bonnie Jo’s mother, as the model for Charlotte, except I made Charlotte frown in every picture, which Susanna does not do. The more I thought about it, the more right it seemed. First of all, this whole project started with Susanna, with a comic I wrote about Bonnie Jo and Susanna, called “Understanding,” about how sometimes even your mother doesn’t understand you. And second, of course, there is a lot of Susanna in these books. Most people’s mothers influence their lives a lot, but Susanna, I think, influences the work a lot.

And then, only after I worked through all that and finished the page did I realize that I’ve come full circle. This comic actually ends with the line that Charlotte knows the hope of “being understood by her daughters at last.” Maybe your mother doesn’t understand you, but you can understand your mother, and you’ll feel better about the rough edges if you do. I don’t know why that is, but I feel like it’s often the case.

Good thing I’d already worked out how to draw people doing things in the dark when I drew “Storm Warning” or panel 5 might have defeated me tonight and I’d be a day behind schedule again. That ice cream maker in panel 4 is pretty sweet. We had a hand crank ice cream maker when I was a kid but it was plastic and made in the ’80s.

Beyond that, this is just another great story. I could compare many elements of it to Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.” You’ve got the mom still living the old way, and the daughter who stayed, and the daughter who left and embraced the new and can’t understand the value of the things to which the mother clings. But in “Bringing Home the Bones,” the daughter does come to understand, a little, and in return the mother gives her something back, that piece of herself she had withheld. Not the actual memory, I don’t think, but some emotional availability that she felt compelled to keep hidden away since her parents’ deaths.

The Smallest Man in the World

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I too have benefited from the magic trick of shrinking art to hide imperfections.

I love anything that features human anomalies, giants and little people in particular. Here, the Smallest Man in the World is based on one of my very favorite actors, Peter Dinklage, but I made him shorter, fatter, clean shaven, and gave him a really bad haircut. The most beautiful woman in the bar, and her sister, are based on Salma Hayek, who is very beautiful. I wouldn’t know what it feels like. From time to time someone claims that I am very beautiful, but usually that means they’re trying to butter me up.

The character claims that she can’t hide being beautiful, and that if she didn’t put on perfect makeup and have her hair lovingly highlighted it would be like a tall man slouching, but I don’t know if I believe that. I know a lot of models and other people who are professionally beautiful, and they definitely express different levels of traditional beauty with and without their faces on. Not that they’re not pretty without makeup, but you couldn’t compare their unmade faces to someone trying to hide something. I think the narrator gets a lot out of being beautiful—the world certainly gets more easier to move though, for the most part, the more conventionally attractive you are—and does everything in her power to be the most beautiful person in the room, any room. Did you read Wonder by RJ Palacio? It’s a lot harder to be unconventionally unattractive. What about the part in I Heart Huckabees where Naomi Watts puts on the bonnet and instantly becomes unacceptably ugly to every man in the film?

That part I can relate to, because I totally own a bonnet, which is very comfortable and keeps the sun out of my eyes, and all the men in my life who have ever seen me wear it have admitted that they think it’s ugly and would prefer that I didn’t wear it around them.

Woman always compliment the bonnet.

It’s a medium length piece, but it almost reads like a flash, being all one fast-moving scene, and really boiling down to the moment of connection between the alcoholic little person and the alcoholic pretty person. The little person is always going to be perceived as little. Even Peter Dinklage, as ruggedly handsome as his face is and as dynamic as his acting chops are (and even given his role as a giant dwarf in Thor: Ragnarok) still can’t escape his height. I’m pretty sure beauty is a lot more fleeting, and perhaps more artifice than the narrator wants to believe. She may carry it like a burden, but some part of it has to be self-imposed, right? She could be frumpy if she wanted to. I could show her how.