When you look into the toad’s eyes, you can see god.
A birthday card for Mx. Kitty, psychonaut and psychedelic researcher: a Sonoran Desert toad (Invilius alvarius) and some fly agaric (Amanita muscaria).
The toad, the mushrooms, and the grass are butcher paper; the background is tissue paper and origami paper. Everything is affixed matte medium, except the spots on the mushroom and the toad’s eyes, which are tacky glued. The black details on the toad are ink.
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.
“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?
I don’t know if that deer is laughing at me or with me.
You know you’ve spent too much time on the Wacom tablet when you try to control-Z a piece of paper.
This is just a quick sketch I did before I went to Florida (I’m back now) based on a selfie I took the week before. Although I still have some Dragon Comics to finish, I’m also working more in pencil lately, trying to be less dependent on the tablet and Photoshop. Been working on a big project that might take the rest of the year, but still trying to update this blog semi-regularly. Seriously, I drew this picture just to remind myself that I could draw.
The original photo was taken at a place called Rooster Cogburn’s Ostrich Ranch, about 45 minutes north of Tucson. It’s a tourist attraction petting zoo where you can feed little deer, miniature donkeys, goats, sheep, bunnies, parakeets, lorikeets, ducks, and sting rays. I might be missing some creatures. Oh, yeah, the stupid ostriches, which I ignore, because the rest of the attraction is much more fun. You get a lot of joy for $10. The deer are my favorite, but the sting rays are pretty cool. And the bunnies are bunnies.
And then you have to read the next couple lines in the poem.
With the comic finally put to bed, 11 days late, I managed to get a seasonal bulletin board up; the image hadn’t been changed since mid-December and now it’s basically spring in Tucson, even though the weather has been unseasonably cold.
The quote is from Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” which was first published 104 years ago, yet presciently questions the point of a meaningless wall.
The letter art for the word “spring” is all original, of course, although I did look at some animal alphabets for inspiration on the S and the G. The S is supposed to be a vermillion flycatcher, the P is a lemon bud, the R is a monarch butterfly, the I is a desert marigold, the N is a long-suffering saguaro, and the G is a gecko. The small block letter are just the easiest style to cut by hand, and the lettering of “mischief” is based on a Harry Potter inspired font called “Mischief Managed.” The other animals are a hummingbird, a jackrabbit, some kind of fish, and a gambrel’s quail. I feel like it needed more animals, but The Man wanted me at home and the school is closed until Monday (in Tucson we don’t celebrate President’s Day, but we get 2 days for Festival of Vaqueros: the rodeo).
Maybe I should go back Monday and give the rabbit some whiskers, and take a better picture. We’ll see. My massage therapist also suggested that I should let my creating hand rest a little bit.
I continue to not understand why a plain black dress costs as much as an F-350 stake-bed truck.
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.
Can you tell that I’m pleased with myself? Can you tell that I’ve never seen a feral boar hog?
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.