Tag Archives: daughters

Bringing Home the Bones

waoa 16 bringing home the bones _edited-2

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.

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Sleeping Sickness

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Personally, I find that you can be mean no matter how long you live.

This is a rough story! It’s got a lot of the elements you see later in “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters,” with the mom who does her best for her daughter, but also doesn’t see what all the fuss is about when her best isn’t very good. It’s got the weird sexual interaction between the teenage daughter and the mom’s boyfriend, things that are not OK, but for a moment Reg feels something that’s not not OK anyway. If you do the math on this one, Reg is 12, and her mom had her at 16, so Mom is 28, which is how old I was when I first met Bonnie Jo Campbell in grad school, at which time I still considered myself too young to procreate.

The weird sex stuff is toned down here; it could have been an entire comic on its own if I wanted to go in that direction, but ultimately I decided the more important part of Reg’s relationship with John Blain was her understanding of how he fit into her mother’s world, and how she was willing to make that sacrifice for her mother.

I also had to cut out the cow and her calf for lack of space. A lot of stuff didn’t fit in these panels.

Reg blames herself for John Blain’s death, although it seems obvious to me that this guy was going to drink himself to death sooner or later, and she probably would have found him frozen to death even if she had gotten up earlier. And then we have the precursor to “Winter Life,” where the protagonist is able to look past all the hurt and confusion and bad behavior because they can look forward to spring, and all the new things that will grow when the sun comes back. Reg knows that John Blain didn’t mean to die; it’s just one of those things that happens when you’re an itinerant alcoholic in a harsh world. Reg doesn’t know about love, but she does value constancy, and in that, John Blain didn’t let her down.

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.

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters

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I’m counting on you, my flesh and blood, to somehow read my mind.

This is the central story of the book, of course, and the one that stayed with me the longest. When I think of this book, I think of this story, and when I first thought of starting this project, this is the story that came to mind. So I’ve been thinking about how I would portray it for a long time. Still, it always changes once I start working.

Originally I thought the middle aged daughter would appear in the background, along with the house, and the memories would be small elements, but the memories sort of loom larger and larger; this woman only has the past. And then I didn’t draw the middle aged daughter at all, because the mother hardly sees her. I mean, she feels her anger, she watches her, but she doesn’t see her child. She’s busy justifying herself.

 

Tell Yourself

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I think we’d all jump off a bridge if Amber dared us to. Am I right?

This comic seems a little graphically threadbare to me, compared to the previous ones, and I think it’s because “Tell Yourself” just doesn’t have as much definitive imagery as some of the other stories in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. “Playhouse,” yesterday, for example, has the peonies and the playhouse and the alcohol and everyone’s hair and the rabbits and the fruit stickers and the Tasmanian devil tattoo. The central visual feature in “Tell Yourself has got to be Mary’s clothes, and frankly, I also find the idea of a barely-adolescent girl wearing low rise jeans and a crop top with a pair of cupcakes over her cupcakes slightly discomfiting. I didn’t want to spend too much time focusing on her “darling new breasts.”

My mother would have done anything to persuade me to dress in a more feminine fashion when I was in 8th grade, but she never in a million years would have let me out of the house in that outfit, even when I was in high school. She would have been highly critical if she saw me dressed that way when I was in college. But I see little kids dressed like that all the time. The supply seems equal to the demand.

After the outfit, the only big visual symbol is the rocking chair, because I couldn’t figure out how to work in the gum-cracking or the terrible baby perfume. For the first time in this project, I was really at a loss for how to illustrate the final panel. I settled on the potatoes; it locates the narrator in this role she has created for herself: being a mother comes first, even though Mary’s already gone. But she did change her shirt. And I’ve left mom with the knife. She’s not wholly defenseless.