Tag Archives: comic

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.

 

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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?

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.

We can dream, can’t we?

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I care. Fight me.

I wrote this comic on October 8, shortly before my life got very, very hectic. Things have been weird. Comics lacked urgency. This script seems to have aged well, though.

So, yeah, I love those videos where some tough old dude puts on a pair of EnChroma glasses and then starts crying at things being purple. If only it were that easy.

A couple people encouraged me to get back to comics recently. I’ll be presenting a paper about my Bonnie Jo Campbell comic books at the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature’s annual symposium this spring, and BJC suggested I try to get Women and Other Animals out in time for that! Finally, I can collect them all.

November 1

no halloween

We could have this stuff 5 days a week, what do you think?

No, I don’t want to talk about it. Unless you think you’ve got something to say to me.

I know that a lot of people think Smarties are gross. I used to think I liked them. Tonight I didn’t even want the good chocolate.

On the plus side, I’m a finalist in a writing contest. If you want to cheer me up, you could vote for me. You can check out the complete list of finalists and all the entries here.

Paradoxes of Childhood #127

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Dirt is relative. Stink lines are definite.

The first comic since I got this new computer, and it’s drawn in pencil. In hindsight, it would have worked better in the other style. Maybe the funny ones should be digital and the serious ones in pencil? I’ve been drawing webcomics for over 4 years now (four years!) and I’m still working this stuff out.

Anyway, this one, obviously, is based on a true story that I hear pretty much every day. You know how I know if the dishwasher is clean or dirty? I look at it. Then I use my powers of perception, primarily sight, but also smell to some extent, to determine whether or not the dishes therein are soiled with food particles. The same skill you use to determine that 1 part per octillion of your fork tine hosts a speck of foreign matter, except what I’m looking at is discernible with the naked eye.

This one harkens back to Superhuman Abilities Endemic to Childhood, except this is like a subhuman ability. Kids, amirite?

I should also add that I am speaking on 7 (seven!) panels at Tucson Comicon. One of the panels will actually be about comics. (The other 6 will not. The con’s tag line is “Pop culture for all!”) I am a bit apprehensive about the comic discussion: it’s the only one that I’ll deliver on my own, plus the time slot is not desirable. It’s just when the con really kicks off, early Friday evening, and last year I did another panel in that slot, which happened to be during the first big-name guest’s autograph session. What I mean to say is, nobody came to our panel, because everyone went to meet Billy Dee Williams. True story. Actually, one guy came: the official con photographer. He thought Billy Dee Williams’s people were being dicks, and he was cool enough not to mention the fact that we gave a 50-minute presentation to a empty room, and he told us a funny story about how Stan Lee owes him a beer, and he took this picture of us, which the con is using for publicity on social media.