Another Blue Morpho Why Not?

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You know what this design could use? More shades of blue!

This is from a couple weeks back: a commission to decorate a special ed classroom. There’s another piece I’ll highlight later.

If I hadn’t done the other blue morpho designs I might not have been able to figure this out, but I have a pretty good sense of how light interacts with iridescent surfaces now. It helped that the school changed suppliers for their butcher paper and I’d been hoarding the old blue, giving me 4 shades to work with. The lightest and darkest shades are butcher paper and the middle tones are construction paper. The color is not quite true but it still looks lovely. It’s hanging up in its forever home now.

Koi are just baby dragons

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Today I learned that embroidery hoop art is a thing. A good thing. 

This week is the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, aka the Festival of Booths, which involves building a small booth in your back yard and then having your friends over to eat snacks in your small booth. As with most Jewish practices, there are numerous rules about the booth. Also, this holiday involves shaking a bunch of leaves with a citron. It’s a whole thing. Today, my parents took us to a holiday party their friends were having down in Vail.

Typically, your booth—the sukkah—is decorated with various items of produce hung from the ceiling (Sukkot is a harvest festival), but my parent’s friends instead opted to decorate theirs with laminated photos of sukkah parties past and embroidery hoop art made by all the people who visit their sukkah.

Koi are not a traditional thematic element of the holiday, but my parents’ friends also have a nice 16,000 koi pond, home to some granddaddy fish, so they were pleased.

“Chag Sameach” is the all-purpose holiday greeting in Hebrew; you can use it for any happy holiday. 5780 is the current year in the Jewish calendar.

The design was executed with a combination of Sharpies and fabric markers.

I’m clearly a bit behind on blogging; I have 2 more paper designs to share this week.

Happy Halloween!

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Spooky, Creepy, BooOooOoo! BooOooOoo!

My friend the Vampire Bat used to send really elaborate care packages on Halloween and Valentine’s Day, handmade cards, candy, little seasonally-appropriate presents, the whole megillah. They were pretty special, to be honest, and I loved receiving them, but over the years, reciprocation became difficult. I had a family and work and didn’t always notice when holidays were coming up, let along make time in my schedule to plan for them a month in advance. And I guess I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t show my appreciation properly, and eventually she announced that she wasn’t going to put forth the effort anymore.

So now, sometimes, just to mess with her, I do send her handmade holiday gifts.

These little images—the “Spooky” owl, the “Creepy” spider, and the “BooOooOoo! BooOooOoo” ghosts—are from the packaging of some stickers that came in one of her last Halloween gifts to me, and they were so cute that after I stuck the stickers on things (what did I stick them on? I have no idea) I save the boxes with the intention of using them for some All Hallow’s Eve crafts for my friend. That was years ago, but when I found a random pair of metallic silver skeleton mermaid socks at Target (Target really goes all out with weird sock designs) I realized this was the year.

While playing around with the pieces (too bad I cut them up before this idea came to me) I realized that I could make a tiny card (the Vampire Bat likes tiny things) and then I realized I could make tiny books!

Unfortunately, I had used up all the printer paper printing out draft versions of a new comic book and neither The Man nor I work anyplace where we can reasonably steal printer paper anymore, so I had to use heavy card stock for the paper. It was harder to cut and my notebooks would have fewer pages, which would be hard to turn, but I soldiered on. What you do is you line all your pages up, clamp them together, and then apply liberal amounts of glue on one side. When it glues, the pages are basically bound together. Then you glue a bit of ribbon over that glued edge, to reinforce it. I used ribbon to bind the covers together and shore up the cardboard, and then I glued the paged into the cover. Viola!

For the card, I just used a piece of manilla folder to bind the 2 sides together. Lately, I’ve been trying to use up, rather than hoard, the vast quantities of art/office supplies I have been carrying around the country for 2 decades. The ransom letters and all the other words came out of a single issue of The Smithsonian.

My friend liked the gift (of course!) so now I can share it here.

Knowledge is Power!

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Not like nuclear power or political power…or maybe it is?

This started out as a much more ambitious idea in which lion-wizard and lion-scientist were in a lion-workshop/lab with all kind of arcane equipment and books and whatnot, but this is what came out of the paper. The kids loved it. Due to scheduling issues, I wanted something that could play through All Souls’ even though I had to put it up mid-September. The lettering isn’t my greatest because I had a time crunch and had to the entire thing in 1 day. It took about 6 hours, but some of that time was me discussing a commission with someone else in the building.

Wizard lion and scientist lion, learning forever.

Dragon Silhouette in a Rainbow Sunset

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I think this picture speaks for itself. Rawr.

My mother and I took my brother’s kids to the art museum, where they had tables set up for kids to do crafts. The suggested activity was to create a replica of a striking painting of a church using cut paper. Obviously, we did not do anything like that. I made this dragon silhouette flying across a rainbow sunset. One of the kids is super artistic, and he picked up a pencil drew a very good picture of a chubby dude in a La-Z-Boy. One of the kids isn’t artistic at all, but he drew an accurate picture of a video game controller. And then the little one took my idea of the rainbow strips, but instead of a dragon silhouette, she added an insane and possibly sentient piece of pizza out of colored paper.

My mother talked with the employee who was staffing the table until said employee very abruptly announced she was going to go stand somewhere else and relocated to another table.

I just realized that this image kind of mirrors the late, great mosaic table I made in the ’90s.

I’m finishing up a lengthy editing job and working on my big project, which is coming along apace. I’m also thinking about 2 upcoming scholarly comic projects in which I’d like to participate, once for a forthcoming anthology of Bonnie Jo Campbell criticism to which I was invited to contribute, and the other is for a forthcoming anthology about comics in academia.

Embrace Me

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#relationshipgoals

I’m working on something big again! No, not lizard porn. This is just a little distraction from the big project. I took a photograph of some lizards copulating in a bush and it was blurry and unusable but the arrangement of their limbs was so cunning I had to make this little sketch to memorialize it. Anyway, the thing I’m working on is much, much worse than lizard porn.

Six Boxes: Deconstructing and Illuminating Bonnie Jo Campbell Part 3

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Data is beautiful, even when it is meaningless.

[Part 3 of the presentation I gave at the Symposium of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here.]

Part III

Memory

Another thing we can do in comics, which is more difficult in print (but not impossible, if our text is digital) is quickly scan for information. Picking out the most important symbols made the themes of each story pop out from the page, so it was easy to create a graphic interpretations of those themes (see graph), but after I did so, I realized that basing the graph on the comics presented, of course, my own bias. I drew far more metaphors for women’s bodies than I drew the visual and physical assaults on those bodies. In the books, the assaults outnumber the metaphors. Sometimes, I had to look away, because the stories were so immersive, in their way, that the rural noir world of Campbell’s Kalamazoo threatened the world I live in, a world in which I have so much privilege that it’s possible for me to look away, even as I’m intentionally fixing my gaze on the subject.

But I also know what a privilege that is; in many senses, the ability to look away from things that may distress you but don’t affect you is the definition of privilege. In the American Salvage comic book, I devoted an entire page to examining my privilege in the face of Campbell’s work, so instead of talking even more about myself now, I want to finish by talking about a colleague of mine, Sarah.

I met Sarah at the same time, in the same place, as I met Bonnie Jo Campbell, on the campus of Western Michigan University in 2002. I asked her for permission to share her story with you and she enthusiastically approved.

Sarah was born in rural Michigan and lived the first part of her life in the physical and emotional space occupied by many of Campbell’s characters, at risk, in socioeconomic distress, in Kalamazoo county. Her parents might have sprung from the pages of Campbell’s books: her father was a schizo-affective Vietnam veteran who would sometimes mistake Sarah and her brother for Viet Cong and hold them at gunpoint in his home. Her mother was a narcissistic alcoholic who brought a parade of strange and sexually inappropriate men into the house. One of Sarah’s oldest memories is of her mother arguing with her flavor of the week and both adults driving away from the house in anger. Little Sarah, perhaps five years old, chased after her mother’s car, begging not to be left behind, but her mother, who thought her parenting was more than good enough, disappeared down the road, and my friend fell into a muddy ditch, where she cried until she couldn’t cry any more, realized that no one was coming to save her, and then climbed out of the ditch and went home to clean herself up. She voluntarily chose homelessness at fifteen, because anywhere felt safer than her mother’s house. Her arm still bears the scar of that tumble into the ditch thirty-five years ago.

Sarah tells people, “If you want to know where I come from, read Bonnie Jo Campbell.” She says, “The thing I have most loved about Bonnie Jo is that I know her characters. They’re real, not fictional.”

Ultimately, Sarah didn’t become a Bonnie Jo Campbell character herself. She finished her master’s degree, recognized that physical separation was the only way to escape her family’s cycle of insanity, and headed out to the Bay Area.

Today, Sarah, the impoverished, neglected, hurt kid with the crazy, unpredictable, unprotective parents, the girl who came up in Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Kalamazoo, is the Lead Techwriter for one of the largest internet companies on the planet.

At the same time that I read Bonnie Jo Campbell as a window into a world outside my experience and learned to see situations uncommon to the world of my childhood, Sarah, straddling the blue collar and academic points of view, reads these stories and feels heard. Knowing that Campbell has verbally recreated the conflicts of her origin is almost an assurance, decades after the fact, that someone actually was listening when a small child cried in a muddy ditch for a mother who would never come to her rescue. Decades and miles removed from the trauma of her early years, Sarah cherishes the honest, brutal, funny portraits of the world she knew, grateful that Bonnie Jo Campbell is listening for these voices, delighted that someone is recreating characters she find familiar, giving voices to the unheard and putting the unseen in the spotlight. Because Bonnie Jo is watching, listening, and writing, Sarah’s truth is seen and heard.