Tag Archives: bonnie jo campbell

Real Paper Comic Books

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You may not know you want then. You may not want them at all. But I have them.

If you would like to own this one-of-kind, limited edition Bonnie Jo Campbell Comics comic book, and you are unable to travel to one of Bonnie Jo’s readings, or to the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where they are being sold, I have a small number of comics for sale, meaning you could receive this stunning collector’s item and help a starving artist at the same time.

If you know me personally and can come to my house, come over and I can sell you one at retail price. If you don’t know me or aren’t near Tucson, you can still harness the power of the internet. PayPay $5 and your shipping address to littledragonblue [at] yahoo [dot] com. But don’t do this if you are my grandmother, because I mailed you one yesterday.

These are really beautiful, high quality comics, professionally printed. If you’re a fan of Bonnie Jo Campbell, or of QWERTYvsDvorak, or of weird, uncategorizable, literary indie comics, or of supporting people who create art evert day that it doesn’t feel like their thumb is about to fall off, they come highly recommended.

Sleepover (More or Less)

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Obviously, I took a couple liberties with this one, but I think I caught the gist of it.

Well, that’s a wrap. There were a few moments when I didn’t think I’d make it, but I did: 16 comics in 4 weeks and 1 day, 6 panels for every one of the 16 stories in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell. And now I can tell you that these comics will all be available in print, an actual physical comic book that you may have the good fortune of possessing if you happen to check out Bonnie Jo’s upcoming book tour this fall, and maybe if you attend the Tucson Festival of Books this spring, and perhaps some other places as well. It’s pretty exciting.

So, yeah, it’s more about me than about “Sleepover,” but I think, if you parse this comic the way I parsed the rest of the stories, you’ll see the connections. From the very beginning of this project, while trying to figure out where and how to begin, I knew that I would have to tell this story, and so the first piece in the book would have to come last, because who wants to read about Monica? Besides the people who apparently read these blog posts, I guess. Actually, more people read any of my individual blog posts than have read all of my novels put together.

Really, I don’t think I totally understood “Sleepover,” or Stu’s advice entirely until reaching the last panel. Although, don’t you just understand everything on an increasingly deeper level the older you get? Maybe in another decade it will all carry even greater meaning.

It seemed imperative to get Stu’s actual words and handwriting into this comic, which necessitated spending nearly an hour going through papers for this one particular paper, and even though I was kind of freaking out about the time as it happened, looking over some of this stuff was delightful. I had forgotten what excellent feedback both Stu and Bonnie Jo gave, voluminous critique. Stu covered almost an entire page with comments about “Changing Planes,” a story of fewer than 250 words. He wrote almost as much about the story as there was story, and it wasn’t even for class. He gave me an extra critique just because I asked. And Bonnie Jo headed my thesis committee, even though she wasn’t even employed by the university at the time.

I miss grad school. But the future might be even more fun.

The Fruit of the Pawpaw Tree

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I spent way too much time trying to make the baby donkey look cuter and fluffier.

I read that the pawpaw is the only tropical fruit native to Michigan. I don’t really understand how, because I lived in Michigan for 4 years and there is absolutely nothing tropical about it. From the beginning of September until the end of May, it’s cold, and I always assumed that tropical fruits came from the tropics. Maybe they mean that it’s the only tropical fruit that can survive living in Michigan. I could not thrive in that weather, so I moved to Arizona. I have never eaten a pawpaw, not this kind of pawpaw, anyway. Some people refer to papaya as pawpaw, but it’s a totally different fruit.

“The Fruit of the Pawpaw Tree” is the last story in the book (but the penultimate story of our BJC comic journey) and a lot of people list it as their favorite, because it’s the happiest, most optimistic story in the book. It’s like Susanna in this story redeems all the hurt and broken women in all the other stories. Sometimes life is hard, but sometimes if you’re hard, you get through it OK. Sometimes you close yourself off to certain emotions, but then one little thing gets through your armor, and you realize you don’t have to be closed off to everything, all the time. People totally do find love at 64.

 

To You, as a Woman

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I don’t think there’s anything even darkly funny about this one. 

“To You, as a Woman” may be the most difficult story in this book, the hardest luck, the saddest progression. It took a long time to see my way into the comic, and it wasn’t until I took a big step back from the second/first narrative and to a distant, plural, third that it was even possible to reframe the piece into this format. For a while it seemed insurmountable. Just like real life trauma, the story jumps around in time and emotions, jumbling an entire sequence of terrible events together so that each cut runs together while standing alone with its own bright pain, less simple to pull out the threads.

About an hour before I sat down to write the script, a woman who’s been reading these comics asked where she could buy Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, and I sent her an Amazon link, and then, because it’s my regular habit on Amazon, I clicked to see the 1- and 2-star reviews, which are usually hilarious. Not today. Here we have people wholly incapable of engaging with literature on a critical level, disguising their misogyny with crude dismissal of nuance and reality, blithely unaware of their own massive prejudices. These are the people who read a book about 16 different characters and claim that all the stories are the same, not because they are, but because they think all women are the same.

You don’t have sympathy for substance abusers, or unwed mothers, or people who receive food assistance? Maybe you should ask about the myriad, lifelong jabs of physical and emotional pain that led them to make those choices before you judge. You don’t like authors discuss rape too often? The 1 in 3 women who are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes don’t like experiencing it. And let’s face it: if you’re born into poverty and raised up in poverty and struggle through your life in poverty, the odds of being sexually assaulted are probably higher. Go read Fifty Shades of Gray and tell everyone what a remarkable piece of quality fiction it is if you think there should be happy stories about rape and you’re just the informed critic to spread the good news. This book is about the way people actually are: vulnerable, flawed, attempting, every day, to pull themselves out of the miasma of their circumstances despite the constant pain of being alive.

It’s sickening, how easily some people manage to look at huge segments of the human population and decide those people aren’t human. You expect that kind of ignorance in the comments section of YouTube, or Reddit. Not from an Amazon book review. I wonder, what circumstances in your life taught you to be so self-centered, so casually cruel, so unwilling to exhibit empathy? Why do you read literature at all if you’re only content with work that reinforces your narrow beliefs? Isn’t the point of literature to better understand the human condition, one point of view at the time?

 

A Multitude of Sins

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Those are some extremely nasty feet.

Admittedly, the interpretation, “She doesn’t need religion anymore,” has been filtered through my experience, but this is the only story in the book that really depends on religious references to forward the plot*, and it doesn’t look good for Christianity. The idea that a man could spend an entire marriage physically, emotionally, verbally, and sexually abusing his wife, and then be worthy of heaven because his fear of the flames of hell caused him to seek Jesus while lying delirious in his deathbed, is sort of deplorable to me. I know plenty of Christians who believe the way to heaven is good works, and that people of any denomination will be rewarded if they live righteous lives, but I probably know more who cry and pray over perfectly wonderful human beings who don’t happen to be saved, and are therefore damned.

By this metric, the Dalai Lama is damned, but Jeffrey Dahmer is in heaven. Chew on that. Or don’t, if you find jokes about cannibalism in poor taste. Whoops, I did it again. I am also damned. I think Mark Twain summed it up best in Huck Finn when Huck says that if Tom Sawyer isn’t going to heaven, he doesn’t want to go either.

The thing about her identity is unquestionable, though. One really cool technique that Bonnie Jo uses in this story is to offer clues in the form of nomenclature. To wit, in the exposition at the beginning of the story, the main character is referred to as “the wife.” Then, as she starts to react to her situation instead of lying back and taking it, she becomes “Mrs. Betcher.” Finally, at the very end of the story, when she ignores the preacher to work on the fascinating theater curtain (a project her husband would have never allowed her to take for pecuniary reasons) she is “Mary” at last. This may be why Bonnie Jo has been a finalist for the National Book Award, and I have not. But I guess the fact that I can point this out is why I’m drawing these comics, and everyone else is not. I bet I could write a 2000 word essay just on the use of this naming convention in “A Multitude of Sins,” but I guess I’ll leave that to people who write more conventional and less personal literary criticism.

*In some ways the Corinthians quote in “Somewhere Warm” could be the flip side to the terrifying Revelation visions in “A Multitude of Sins,” but religion plays a very different and less prominent role in that story, whereas this one even takes its title from the New Testament.

Natural Disasters

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Status: I’m just drawing a human placenta here. 

The world is a terrible place to bring a child. It’s full not only of sharp and hot objects, but also of dangerous plants, animals, geologic and meteorological phenomenon, and, most corrupting influence of all, human beings. I don’t actually understand how anyone over the age of 30 can even consider it. I get being young and naive and optimistic, or being a kid who doesn’t fully grok birth control, but surely by 30, most reasonable people have become cynics, no matter how much love they have in their hearts. Our world is inherently dangerous, and more so if you happen to be a completely helpless and dependent organism. And yet my Facebook feed is constantly full of babies and sonograms, even though I turn 42 this November and have a number of friends who are grandparents. My cohort keeps creating new humans, on purpose.

I’ve been to parties where people brought gifts of baby products to a pregnant woman, but I’ve never attended one of these weird-baby-themed-games kinds of baby showers. It sounds demeaning for everyone involved. Most likely, anyone who actually knew me would know better than to invite me to such a gathering, but it’s always interesting to see what “normal” people think is normal.

While I share the narrator’s belief that the world is wildly dangerous place, I’m not afraid of babies breaking. I’ve worked with many babies in my life. Babies are actually more resilient than adults in many respects. A lot of new moms seem overly cautious, in my opinion.

Daughters of the Animal Kingdom

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If you’ve never Googled “slug love dart,” go ahead and do that now. We’ll wait. 

Yesterday’s comic being so busy, I wanted to get back to a simpler style, but, having already decided to only draw the animals mentioned in the story, rather than any people, I sort of got carried away with their various textures. Still, this took less time than any other story out of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters so far.

In the story, the narrator doesn’t answer her mother when her mother asks her where she was, but the reader knows that she was at the women’s clinic, getting an abortion, because having a baby at 47 when you’re already a grandmother several times over and your husband is a dog and you’ve been working on your PhD thesis forever is bad idea. I totally feel this one. It’s such a tremendous relief–throughout the whole story she is thinking nice things about being pregnant and having a baby, but she’s also thinking about everything she’ll lose, and more to the point, all the complications that come with sexual reproduction and the raising of an autonomous individual who feels like they’re part of you but makes independent decisions you don’t want them to make–and when she makes the choice that’s for her, not her husband, or her daughter, or her mom, it’s like a wave of possibility washing over the last page. And there’s the sweet parallel with the silkie walking away from her nest (isn’t that a fluffy silkie I drew?) except chickens are kind of dumb and don’t have tons of potential besides eggs and meat, and the woman is really smart and still has a lot of things to accomplish in her life.

I’m bummed I couldn’t find a good picture of a love dart sticking out of a slug. But that’s a love dart, zooming toward the slug (magnified for clarity). Sexual reproduction is really complicated. And ridiculous.

If it doesn’t make sense, read the book.