Tag Archives: 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.

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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.

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.

The Perfect Lawn

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Hope springs eternal, especially when you’re optimistic and delusional.

This kid is great, so thoroughly convinced of ideas that are so patently false, so willing to act on those beliefs. He sees the couch in the basement catch fire, and his instinct is to run to the bedroom on the first floor and carry a girl out of the house. And this is after she warned him to stop following her. She refuses to eat in her own house if he’s there, and he still thinks that she’s going to marry him if he just keeps kissing up to her mom.

And the girl: all she can think about it getting away from him, from her mom, from that house, from that town. She’s destined for urbane sophistication, she just knows she is, and all of this is beneath her. Otherwise, she’d be more worried about this crazy, obsessive kid.

The mom is special. I considered drawing her and Kevin making out in Madeline’s bed (omg yes) for the last panel, but the smoldering cigarette is such a big image in this story and I wanted to give it more air time.

If you can, you have to zoom in on the first panel. I drove myself crazy trying to draw the house, the kids, the mom, and the girl all in one panel and it looks tremendous up close, but it’s perhaps a bit jumbled when you shrink it down.

Shotgun Wedding

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Well, if this isn’t the most gendered thing I’ve ever drawn…

“Shotgun Wedding” is a pure example of flash fiction, not just due to its length, but to its form. It’s the story of a single moment of revelation, which, in my view, is the point of a flash. It reduces a story down to the climax, takes a massive web of understanding and compresses it into a tiny dot: this moment, in which one person has to let go of another.

The love between the sisters, and particularly of the big sister, who is the first person narrator, for her more vulnerable sibling, is really beautiful. The little sister is both the embodiment of feminine perfection but also the odd girl out in the family, too magical and delicate to exist in the world where everyone else lives. She’s balanced by the strength of her sister’s determination, and the sense of responsibility the narrator has always felt to protect her like a precious treasure. In the space of the story, the dynamic has just ended. The little sister has her husband as a counterweight now, but the big sister is going to be reeling backward, as you do when you’re pulling hard at something that suddenly gives way.

But time, to my way of thinking, is infinite in both directions. The moment in which the big sister was a teenager standing at the window with a shotgun protecting her family will always exist, as will this present moment of release.

There’s a fun balance in the pinky-pinkiness of the little sister’s world and the metallic shotguns of the big sister’s. It was challenging but entertaining to draw. Took me forever to get the little sister looking over her shoulder right.

Eating Aunt Victoria

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Oh, naugahyde. I mean, who doesn’t love sticking to their living room furniture?

This is the exact sort of short fiction I live for. It’s bizarre and serious, funny and terrible. Although she’s 18 and the piece is written in 3rd person, Bess is essentially an unreliable child narrator, since we experience the action through her biased perspective, which shifts suddenly as she realizes that Aunt Victoria is a human being with powerful emotions, some of which involve her, and that she and her brother are 2 separate people. She’s not joined at the hip to him, or to the house where they grew up. The text says “Hal was releasing her into the universe,” but really, she’s releasing herself. She just craves Hal’s confirmation that she exists as autonomous entity, just as Hal needs Bess to accept him as a gay man.

In this story, Bess has 3 connections to her dead mother: her living brother, her stepmom, and her house, and it’s no coincidence that the house is crumbling around them. Hal is drifting away (car, school, boyfriend) and Victoria is clearly never moving on (hence, she’s literally stuck inside the porch), so Bess has to choose to move on or remain stuck.

There’s a meanness to the kids’ understanding of Aunt Victoria, where fat-shaming stands in for their own confusion and anger about their mother’s lesbianism, her death, and their lives since they lost her. I think it’s easy enough to read the text in such a way that you understand food is a substitute for love in this family. Bess and Hal haven’t had enough since their mom died, despite Aunt Victoria attempting to provide for them. (But they don’t want her one-step-removed restaurant leftover love; Hal adopts a sour grapes attitude and tells himself gas station junk is all he needs, but Bess misses meals and wishes someone would offer one to her, something that’s just for her.) Aunt Victoria, despite her locked cabinets of treats, can never find satisfaction: her lover is gone and she didn’t know how to inspire affection in the children (so it doesn’t matter how much food she hoards; she’ll never satisfy the need for what she’s lost). Undoubtedly, she’s still depressed, possibly more broken than the kids over her partner’s passing. Presumably, the story’s end is a turning point in this family, and, in lovingly taking care of Aunt Victoria before moving on to their own timelines, they can heal all the wounds left by their mother’s death.

As always, I had to cut some good parts of the story to fit the comic in 6 boxes. In this case, that meant excising the arc about Bess’s own sexuality. She fears being a lesbian, she fears being a virgin, she fears being alone. Her desperation to keep up with her older brother sexually leads her to one of literature’s greatest cringe-worthy seduction fails. She’s literally so unprepared to enter this phase of life that her come-on scares off an 18-year-old guy who’s already agreed to sex. This is where having a mother to advise her about relationships (and to put her brother’s sexuality in perspective) would have come in handy. Presumably, she’s going to learn a lot in the Navy. Presumably, they’ll set her straight (so to speak) and offer her everything she needs.