I wasn’t going to post this back cover; but BJC wanted to see how it looked.
I wasn’t going to post this back cover; but BJC wanted to see how it looked.
Bonnie Jo wrote this script and provided the pictures of the junkyard. She also wrote the following text:
Why Write Fiction?
Most of the stories in AS were all inspired by real life, but I ventured far from actual characters and events.
Sometimes we fictionalize a story in order to make more sense out of it
As Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
There are some stories that can be told ONLY in fiction. In “The Inventor, 1972,” I write a guy trying to rescue a girl he’s hit with his car, and while she’s lying there in the road, he has a fleeting thought of molesting her. No man who hoped to survive the night could dare admit to such a thought.
There are a lot of ways of looking at any piece of fiction. After rewriting and illustrating 30 of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s short stories and telling her story about writing American Salvage, it seemed like I could/should write my story (apology?) about making these comics. A little piece of it anyway, which was much harder to tell than I thought it would be. It took all week to finalize the text; my first draft would have filled the entire page with words and never even got past panel 4. I guess I’ll have to write another comic about growing up in the North Shore of Chicago when you’re just not like the other humanoids, because John Hughes never got too deep into that story.
I think I mentioned the details about panel 2 in a previous blog post, although I can’t seem to find it, but Ferris Bueller, Michael Jordan, &c: true story. Panel 3 depicts “Hassle Castle,” which is what we called the admin building at Antioch College. The building, we were always told, was designed by the same guy who designed the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, DC. The side I drew was originally built as the front door of the school, at which time it faced a railroad station and only had 2 buildings behind it. Later, the train line was shut down and the school expanded behind the Castle and now this is the back of the Castle, facing 1000 acres of protected wilderness (nice backyard!) and the old back of the Castle is now considered its front.
Panel 3 has a little backstory. I’m not sure I ever ate Stove Top Stuffing in my life; if I did, it certainly wasn’t at my mother’s house. We didn’t use boxed matzah ball mix either, but Antioch College is in a tiny town in southwestern Ohio, so I couldn’t necessarily be particular about ingredients while I was at school. Anyway, I was cooking it in the minuscule shared kitchenette in Birch Hall. At Antioch, I met a number of lovely and academically talented people who referred to themselves with some degree of pride as “white trash,” and one of these people came in to use the kitchen at the same time. She saw the box and asked me what the heck it was. I explained matzah balls and then added, “I’m cooking from my culture,” and she indicated her box of Stove Top Stuffing and said, “I’m cooking from my culture.” So that happened.
Even as a starving artist, I’ll always be an outsider to American Salvage, but I hope I got into it pretty well.
It was pretty nice of Craig to write this script for the Upcoming American Salvage comic, not only because we gave him about 6 seconds notice that he was getting a page in the book, but also because last year he published an entire comic book about the history of Portage Printing (I drew 3 pages for him) and it’s sort of amazing that he still had any material left over. I thought he might have some kind of clever advertisement in his back pocket, already prepared, but he managed to come up with an original story that ties back into the “salvage” theme of the rest of the book.
I’ve never been to Portage Printing: when I lived in Kalamazoo I had a 500-page a semester copy code from the university, plus I got one of the secretaries to give me an unlimited code so I could secretly make copies of my 600-page novel in the middle of the night. However, I suspect it’s a top-notch place. Craig has really created an amazing business model, combining an obvious passion for professional excellence with the unforgettable marketing device of filling his workplace with old-timey artifacts. If you happen to be in southwestern Michigan and need to print a comic book or something like that, I highly recommend checking his place out.
Craig sent me some of the source images, and his loyal customers provided some others via the Portage Printing Yelp page.
Bonnie Jo had the idea for a comic about the origins of American Salvage, and she sent me about 6 sentences, one per panel, and then we sort of bounced the script back and forth until it worked for both of us, so this is actually the first true collaboration we’ve done in 2 books. The other 31 (thirty-one!) comics I’ve written about her work didn’t really involve any direct communication or feedback during the process. So this was fun. I love memoir.
The dog in panel 5 was named Rebar, and he only had 3 legs. The picture of me in panel 6 is totally recycled from the last book. The donkey in panel 4 is the only donkey I drew for American Salvage, while Mothers, Tell Your Daughters is full of them. American Salvage, on the other hand, features many more drawings of blood and weapons.
Jill is probably the Bonnie Jo Campbell character with whom I most strongly identify, because we’re both idealists who believe that, armed with only our advanced degrees and our own sense of self-righteousness, we can accomplish anything. Also, we both swear we’re only going to eat one square of dark chocolate a day. And then we both become overwhelmed with self-loathing when we fail.
I ended up cutting out more of “Boar Taint” than I intended, particularly the parts of the story that involve Jill’s awareness of being a woman surrounded by men, and of her concern for the Jentzen woman, who appears to be the only female in a household comprised entirely of men, who, presumably, are all inbred cannibal cultists. Speaking of which, those inbred cannibal cultists came out great. (Note: the text does not ultimately support the cannibal cultist theory, but it does give you the sense that Jill is walking into Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes right up to the point where she drives off with the boar hog.) Also, the panel in which Jill’s husband (his name is Ernie, and the story also lets us know that he and Jill are really in love and spend every night humping like rabbits) tries to gently explain to her that nobody is selling a high quality stud pig for 25 dollars looks pretty sweet.
Anyway, that’s a wrap on American Salvage. It took twice as long as Mothers, Tell Your Daughters but the illustrations are probably twice as good. I gave myself a deadline of New Year’s Eve to finish the 14 stories in this book, because then I wouldn’t have to change the copyright date on the bottom of my template. Deadlines are helpful. Next year, I’ll create the cover and some other supplemental material, and I understand Bonnie Jo wants to bring the print comic out in time for a literary festival in March, so look for Bonnie Jo Campbell Comics v. 2 in the spring. Fingers crossed, next year I’ll get my chance at Women and Other Animals.
Obviously, Bonnie Jo did not write this story in order to explain how Donald Trump got elected, because American Salvage was published in 2009, but…I think this story kind of explains how Donald Trump got elected.
There’s not a lot of story in the story—it’s almost more of a character sketch, and it tells you, very concisely, about the kind of person who believes whatever the minister on the Faith Channel says and acts accordingly. Hal Little is not a bad guy; he’s a pretty decent guy who likes babies and birdsong and whose prejudices aren’t his own, but things he’s picked up from the people he trusts. His father taught him to have faith in his religious leaders, and so he does. So much faith that he’s destroyed his life.
“Fuel for the Millennium” is like the flip side of “World of Gas.” Hal is one of the guys driving Susan crazy with his crazy intention to control the uncontrollable. And then, what happened to these dudes after midnight on New Year’s Eve? Some of them ended up like Tiny in “Blood Work, 1999″ and I guess the rest of them became doomsday preppers. What else could they do? Nobody’s going to pay them enough money for their pole barns and windmills that they can buy back their houses in town. Plus it would be embarrassing to admit that they were wrong, so they just doubled down and kept predicting crisis at a later dater, and then they voted the crisis into office because the ministers on the Faith Channel told them to.
I chose the classic image of Jimmy Stewart calming the citizens of Bedford Falls at the start of the Great Depression because it’s the most recognizable depiction of a bank run, but also because the idea of a bank runs seems ridiculous in the 21st century. Let me put it this way: if civilization collapses, do you really think your little green pieces of paper are going to have value? Almost everybody’s money is all electronic now, and we know that it’s only our collective belief in the reality of that money that makes it real. If the sort of thing that Hal describes in this story actually happened, the chickens would be the most valuable thing you could have.
I’m pretty pleased with that chicken, as well as the drawing of the raptured pole barn.