Category Archives: comic

His Lips Are Moving

If you can’t see it, it isn’t happening

I wasn’t planning on drawing today, but a bunch of people have been saying I should write political cartoons again, and this one just came to me this morning, and the whole thing will be meaningless in 24 hours, and the Rabbit said I should, so I dashed it off in record time.

I do want to get better at drawing caricatures, and this guy is too easy to lampoon, but looking at his cruel face and that mean little butthole of a mouth is unpleasant. He’s a bad man. These are bad times. Just saying no to lying fascists is only step one of the solution.

You Are the Pilot of Your Journey

I will concede that a person could *own* too many books (in relation to the size of the space in which they have to store books) but I fail to understand how anyone could possibly *know* too many books. In my opinion, most people don’t know enough books.

Some time ago (April, 2019, according to the date on the original file), Professor Gwen Tarbox asked me to comic-ize this Facebook status written by Professor Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. I previously comic-ized another of Professor Wesley’s Facebook statuses—I don’t think she can help writing poetry, even on Facebook—and I readily agreed. And then I made the file size too big (I think) and the drawings too complicated and it was taking hours and hours and I was working from these really old and not necessarily focused photographs and I just sort of…gave up?

My life was really complicated around that time and it’s only just sort of settling (obviously, few of us are really settled in this pandemic, but I guess we’re adjusting to the new normal) and Patricia Jabbeh Wesley recently published a new book of poetry, Praise Song for My Children. I haven’t read it yet, but I did acquire a copy (persuaded my public library system to buy it) and it’s the next thing I’m going to read. (I’ll link to my review and to Amazon after I read it for people who want to know more/buy their own.) Anyway, having the book in my hands (combined with the fact of pandemic) reminded me that there was this half-finished comic. And it still took like 3 more hours to finish. It’s way too much detail for a comic, and I don’t think most readers will even be able to zoom in (but trust me…too much detail for the format) but I guess that makes it exceptionally beautiful.

I do want to publish more comics. Probably not in this style. I’d like to develop a more cartoony one that takes less time.

If I was in the Patricia Jabbeh Wesley business (the way I’ve been in the Bonnie Jo Campbell business) there could be no end to these. There’s a lot of material. This wouldn’t even be one of the posts I would have chosen myself, although it’s got some good stuff in it. This guy thinks that shaving your eyebrows makes you beautiful? Not to mention the part where she’s been married for decades and has adult children…what makes random dudes think that women care about their opinion of their appearance?

I must also add that my eyebrows are just as bushy as Professor Wesley’s. Possibly moreso. However, I am also married and my husband has never spoken of my eyebrows to me. I assume he likes them.

Maybe this is playful banter and I miss some of the subtext but this guy doesn’t actually sound like a friend to me. Professor Wesley’s retort reminds me of the lady telling Winston Churchill that if he were her husband she’d serve him poison and Churchill replying, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.” And then, hilariously, his comeback is that she’s too smart and knows too much? How is that an insult? I’m guessing she is proud of the number of books she’s read and the level of education she’s achieved (I met her in grad school: she was finishing up her PhD when I was working on my master’s). I don’t know anyone who cries when you call them smart. The only thing people like that cry about in regard to their educational level is their student debt.

Anyway, comic.

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.

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.

Shifting Gears

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So, according to this story, raking leaves makes you have a baby.

Poor Tommy. He’s skinny, he has no life outside work, and the only woman he interacts with on a regular basis thinks he’s an idiot. His ex-wife found him selfish. Meanwhile, he still thinks they’re both great. He knows Sharon is mean and critical and he still thinks she’s great. I bet if we saw more of Tommy moving through the world we would see that, like Jim in “The Burn,” he thinks all women are interesting and magical. He would admire them all and never figure out what he was doing wrong in regard to relationships.

“Shifting Gears” once received an honor that I’m not sure any work of short fiction has been granted before or since, which is that, in 1999, it was the official story of the Detroit Automobile Dealers’ Association Show. Perhaps no one has ever captured the raw but quiet emotionality of a man’s love for his truck before. No one has ever so accurately parsed a truck’s redemptive power.

I could have drawn one more dog in this comic. Sorry I couldn’t fit him in.

Taking Care of the O’Learys

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Mental illness doesn’t run in the family so much as it line dances there.

I find “Taking Care of the O’Learys,” achingly beautiful, in the way that audiences are taught to look at life while watching Our Town, except with moldy potato water buckets and inebriated bondage. Barb could leave—other women might, like the wife in “The Yardman,” —but she has a moment in which she’s wholly open to love, and in letting it in, she understands that it’s paired inextricably with the general weirdness she’s been resisting, and that it’s not just doable, it’s actually wonderful. The madness isn’t anywhere near the worst thing that could happen. Losing your family is the worst possible thing. She wouldn’t really leave anyway. She’s the kind of person who keeps washing the floor even though she knows she’s done her utmost and it needs to be replaced. But she did need to be reminded of how much they loved her. It’s a happy ending with madness.

To heighten the implied creepiness and Barb’s sense of terror of the first part of the story, I decided to flip black and white, and only use a very few colors. Probably the colored parts will look less awesome in print form but they looks amazing online: blue tarp, green mold, red, orange, and yellow fire. Quite pleased with this one.

Running

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I miss those ’90s flare low rise jeans, but I don’t miss belly shirts.

To me, “Running,” feels like the precursor to “Daughters of the Animal Kingdom,” with its discussion of motherhood versus not-motherhood and its frequent reference to animals. “Running” is rife with birds, and I could have drawn a bird in every panel, as I drew only animals in “Daughters of the Animal Kingdom,” but I got hung up on the part of the story that describes the pattern of a male wood duck as looking like a map of the world, because I kept looking at photos of male wood ducks and couldn’t see a map of the world in there. Plus, I really liked the juxtaposition of the prematurely aged mom smoking a cigarette while complaining about her daughter smoking cigarettes.

I also enjoyed drawing the redwing blackbird. Male redwing blackbirds are super territorial and will attack anything that remotely resembles another male redwing blackbird. My mother has a story about one attacking the head of my black-haired brother when he was little. As for panel 4: ducks are jerks. Duck rape is a thing. As for panel 5: I couldn’t fit many more baby ducks in there. I wanted to draw 40. In the last panel, I tried to illustrate the good form/bad form the narrator talks about in reference to running.

Celery Fields

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Grass lawns are the absolute worst.

In Bonnie Jo Campbell’s first novel, Q Road, there’s this character, Nicole, a young woman with delusions of homicide. I think there’s a scene where she maniacally stabs a pumpkin (honestly, I haven’t read Q Road since it was released so I’m not remembering it perfectly, but I’m definitely rereading both novels after I finish this comic) and the implication is that it has to do with the sense of disappointment or discomfiture she feels as a young wife versus the expectations she had as a young bride. When I interviewed Bonnie Jo in 2002, she said,

I think that every married woman can sympathize with the homicidal bride. Think about those poor brides who worked for a year on their wedding ceremony and made everything just perfect. And then what? They’re married to some guy who probably smells. They’re stuck with this guy for all eternity and it’s nothing like the wedding.

That, I expect, is what’s going on here with Georgina. She had plans today, and her husband’s stupidity ruined them. And this is a woman who’s already living on skim milk and rice cakes in order to fit into the physical parameters of society’s expectations for a young woman, so her temper is probably pretty short to begin with. And then here’s this idiot to whom she is legally tied, trespassing, stealing, and driving his truck into a situation that any person with a lick of common sense would avoid. I mean, if you’re going to trespass and steal, don’t drive the getaway car into a swamp, amirite? Andy’s being a dope. He deserves to have mud sprayed on his face while his dumb expensive truck sinks.

I like the way Georgina’s life has this upward momentum, but she still feels these warm ties to her past. Maybe they were poor and all the people were freaks, but her grandmother’s cooking was better than anything you could buy in a store. Things were hard when the soil went bad, but now it’s rich enough that people can grow food in it. Living down by the river in the poor part of town isn’t so awful. Nowhere near as awful as living up on the ridge but losing your pony in the mud. Apparently not as bad as being married to someone who doesn’t consult you on big financial decisions, or someone who insists on maintaining a perfect lawn.

Sleeping Sickness

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Personally, I find that you can be mean no matter how long you live.

This is a rough story! It’s got a lot of the elements you see later in “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters,” with the mom who does her best for her daughter, but also doesn’t see what all the fuss is about when her best isn’t very good. It’s got the weird sexual interaction between the teenage daughter and the mom’s boyfriend, things that are not OK, but for a moment Reg feels something that’s not not OK anyway. If you do the math on this one, Reg is 12, and her mom had her at 16, so Mom is 28, which is how old I was when I first met Bonnie Jo Campbell in grad school, at which time I still considered myself too young to procreate.

The weird sex stuff is toned down here; it could have been an entire comic on its own if I wanted to go in that direction, but ultimately I decided the more important part of Reg’s relationship with John Blain was her understanding of how he fit into her mother’s world, and how she was willing to make that sacrifice for her mother.

I also had to cut out the cow and her calf for lack of space. A lot of stuff didn’t fit in these panels.

Reg blames herself for John Blain’s death, although it seems obvious to me that this guy was going to drink himself to death sooner or later, and she probably would have found him frozen to death even if she had gotten up earlier. And then we have the precursor to “Winter Life,” where the protagonist is able to look past all the hurt and confusion and bad behavior because they can look forward to spring, and all the new things that will grow when the sun comes back. Reg knows that John Blain didn’t mean to die; it’s just one of those things that happens when you’re an itinerant alcoholic in a harsh world. Reg doesn’t know about love, but she does value constancy, and in that, John Blain didn’t let her down.