Tag Archives: bonnie jo campbell

Gorilla Girl

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Civilization is overrated.

“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?

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Rhyme Game

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Any time you get to draw a corvid is a good time.

For such a short story, “Rhyme Game” took forever to work through. The script, at least, took 3 days to finish. Despite the length of the story, I still had to cut out some interesting pieces, particularly the trash compactor and the butchering of the frozen cow. However, I managed to keep 100 percent of the actual dialog.

Tinny Marie’s mom, like so many of Bonnie Jo’s moms, seems stretched thin, working harder than most people could imagine to take care of her family but, at the same time, and not as concerned with her child’s welfare as the child thinks she should be. Flawed, like so many of the characters in these stories. She seems distracted, but she keeps playing this rhyming game with Tinny Marie.

Tinny Marie is a strange name to me.

Tinny Marie’s mom is nothing like my mom, who would have had a conniption if child-me had made the slightest reference to having a beer. She would not have thought that an acceptable rhyme.

Circus Matinee

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Her hair is meant to be “lightning struck,” which is possibly up for interpretation. This is how I interpreted it. 

Flipping back through the previous 2 volumes of Bonnie Jo Campbell comics, I was struck by something Bonnie said in conclusion, that she wrote her stories to inspire compassion in readers, to make them care about the marginalized folks that she most often writes about. She wants her characters to be seen, especially those types of characters who we often don’t really see.

Big Joanie is the kind of person that it’s easy not to see clearly, to dismiss for being big and fat and ugly, with bad skin and bad hair, and in the case of most of the men in this story, to sexually objectify because, not in spite, of her lack of conventional attractiveness. “Circus Matinee” puts us inside of Big Joanie’s head, where we can see her being overlooked and objectified and we get to see her reaction to it. She’s used to it. She accepts it. She anticipates it.

But also, because it’s all she’s ever known, it’s all she ever expects.

This is the story of a moment. The tiger is out of its box, and now, so is Big Joanie. In that moment, she chooses not to obey, not to remain sightless as she has been made in the past, as the hapless, sexually objectified mistress in the cheap seats remains in the moment. Big Joanie says “fuck you” to men who tell her what to do and what to see. When Big Joanie chooses to see, the reader can’t not see her. We’re cheering for her.

The tiger and the snow cone pictures came out pretty well. The feet in panel 2 remind me of drawing Carl Betcher’s feet in “Multitude of Sins” from Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. I felt gross about drawing young Big Joanie in panel 5; in my first draft she was fully dressed, but that doesn’t reflect the text and doesn’t make sense. I left her the one pant leg, small comfort. Big Joanie’s face is based off the actress Dot Marie Jones, who always turns in the kind of performance that does make you look, and see. The adulterous businessman in panel 4’s face is based off convicted felon and poster boy for casual evil Martin Shkreli.

Crimes against a Tow Truck Driver

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All about being all about American Salvage

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.

How and Where I Enter

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According to my insider sources, all the 1 percenters read standing up whilst wearing tiaras.

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.

 

The Origins of Super Bon Bon

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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.

Boar Taint

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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.