Tag Archives: death

Celery Fields

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Grass lawns are the absolute worst.

In Bonnie Jo Campbell’s first novel, Q Road, there’s this character, Nicole, a young woman with delusions of homicide. I think there’s a scene where she maniacally stabs a pumpkin (honestly, I haven’t read Q Road since it was released so I’m not remembering it perfectly, but I’m definitely rereading both novels after I finish this comic) and the implication is that it has to do with the sense of disappointment or discomfiture she feels as a young wife versus the expectations she had as a young bride. When I interviewed Bonnie Jo in 2002, she said,

I think that every married woman can sympathize with the homicidal bride. Think about those poor brides who worked for a year on their wedding ceremony and made everything just perfect. And then what? They’re married to some guy who probably smells. They’re stuck with this guy for all eternity and it’s nothing like the wedding.

That, I expect, is what’s going on here with Georgina. She had plans today, and her husband’s stupidity ruined them. And this is a woman who’s already living on skim milk and rice cakes in order to fit into the physical parameters of society’s expectations for a young woman, so her temper is probably pretty short to begin with. And then here’s this idiot to whom she is legally tied, trespassing, stealing, and driving his truck into a situation that any person with a lick of common sense would avoid. I mean, if you’re going to trespass and steal, don’t drive the getaway car into a swamp, amirite? Andy’s being a dope. He deserves to have mud sprayed on his face while his dumb expensive truck sinks.

I like the way Georgina’s life has this upward momentum, but she still feels these warm ties to her past. Maybe they were poor and all the people were freaks, but her grandmother’s cooking was better than anything you could buy in a store. Things were hard when the soil went bad, but now it’s rich enough that people can grow food in it. Living down by the river in the poor part of town isn’t so awful. Nowhere near as awful as living up on the ridge but losing your pony in the mud. Apparently not as bad as being married to someone who doesn’t consult you on big financial decisions, or someone who insists on maintaining a perfect lawn.

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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.

Clue: Breakfast Edition

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You can see it in her face. Mrs. Butterworth is *guilty*. GUILTY! She always seemed a bit too sweet.

If this isn’t simultaneously the funniest and stupidest idea I’ve ever had, I’d be happy to entertain alternate nominations for those superlatives. Anyway, Colonel Mustard looks like a bitter pill.

If Mr. Plum turns up dead tomorrow, it will be because he was in the icebox looking delicious, so sweet and so cold.

The Inventor, 1972

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I had the fog in panel 1 perfect, and then I accidentally deleted the layer, and just couldn’t make the fog look perfect again. But it’s supposed to be foggy in panel 1.

From the moment I took on this project, I wondered how I was going to draw the homemade scuba gear, which seemed like such a memorable symbol, but on rereading the story, I felt the homemade scuba gear was less important. The girl in the story believes Uncle Ricky was a real angel, but he was a kid who gave his friend a homemade tattoo and also made his own fireworks. He was no angel. Also, he tested his homemade scuba gear alone, at night. He wasn’t as smart as he thought.

There’s a lot going on in “The Inventor, 1972,” and I had to cut a lot out, particularly the man’s fraught relationship with his father, and the fact that he is referred to as “the hunter” despite the fact that his hand injury leaves him unable to shoot, and the scene that depicts him trying to hunt as a younger man shows him failing to take the shot. I thought there was some ambiguity about the car accident. The man keeps saying that he didn’t see the girl, but then he thinks about how happy he was when he hit her because he thought she was a deer, and then he recalls how she looked emerging from the fog. So, did he hit her on purpose, mistaking her grace for that of a deer? Or was it all too fast to be anything other than an accident? How culpable is he? He sort of hopes that he will go to jail—his situation is so bad that jail would be an improvement, to his mind—but his guilt is mixed up with so many events that it’s hard to say how guilty he is now.

In the story, the girl sees the man’s hunting license pinned to his jacked when he approaches, but when I Googled “Michigan hunting license 1972,” all the hunting licenses from that era clearly read “display in middle of back.” Having never hunted at all, let alone in Michigan 2 years before I was born, I didn’t know what to make of that, so I just left the license out, since the girl can’t read it anyway. Also, it’s supposed to be the back of his hand that’s burned, and I ended up drawing the front of his hand burned.

At its heart, I think this story is about 2 people who don’t know each other at all, even though both of their lives have been indelibly affected by the death of another character and they’re clearly connected and could help each other. I’d like to think that the girl’s parents find out that he was the person who hit her with his El Camino, but also the one who went running for help, and that they would, naturally, recognize him from their own childhood, and that somehow he gets reintegrated into the family’s life and becomes a subsequently less broken person as a result. I think it’s meant to be redemptive.

This comic took almost an entire week to write and draw, but in my defense, I was at Tucson Comicon for 3 of those days, 4 if you count picking up my media badge and skulking around the load-in on Thursday. Usually I write the script before I start drawing, but I knew that panel 1 should just be this moment of the girl lying on the ground with the man kneeling in front of her, so I just started drawing and figured out the text as I went along. Maybe it would have been more coherent if I had worked it all out first.

Priorities

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His second-to-last word were, “I don’t want to be a statistic.”

This is something from my sketchbook, the only comic of a million ideas that I had while drawing “Close Encounters of the ∞ Kind” that I actually recorded. It never got worked up because I was busy and it was dark. But, man, we are living in some dark times. I had a whole screed that I intended to publish here about how dark those times are, for me personally and for the world at large, but suddenly I’m not feeling it. A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend asked, “People with invisible disabilities, what do you wish other people understood about living with your chronic illness?” and I wrote, “I am literally doing the best I can.”

I am literally doing the best I can.

In case anyone was wondering, I finished all the art for Close Encounters; it took me about 8 months all told, working an average of maybe 20 hours a week for most of it. Linda loved it. Although it was meant to be ambiguous and mind-bending, beta readers seemed to find it a bit too ambiguous and mind-bending, so I’m adding just a bit more text. But honestly, its intention is to be something that the reader has to work at and at this point in my life whether or not an individual gets my art has little impact on my artistic process.

What bums me out: the artwork is about 1000 times better than what usually ends up in my webcomics, and it still bears about as much resemblance to the pictures in my head as a 5-year-old’s crayon drawing does to a portrait of their family, and to get it that good required an entire month to draw a single page. Granted, I learned a lot in the process and if I had to do it again, it might take only 4 or 5 months, but that’s still too slow for the kind of comics I want to produce. You need at least a page a week. At 4 pages a week, these webcomics are as good as it gets right now. It’s a conundrum.

Hopefully, I can announce the next comic book on the horizon pretty soon.

The Things You Carry (a comic from my subconscious)

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It also teaches you a lot about balance.

This comic appeared to me, more or less fully formed, as an idea in a dream. No kidding. This scenario wasn’t the dream; it was an idea I had for the comic *in* the dream, which was a pretty normal dream about being back in college (at which time I wasn’t into cartooning). In the dream I wasn’t totally sure it was funny, but it seemed imperative to remember it and bring it back from the dream world. (I’m still not sure it was funny, but the few people I bounced it off of seemed to think it was worthy.) Originally, as I dreamed it, the punchline in panel 3 has the artist saying, “It’s OK, I guess,” but this feels better. Upon waking, I recalled that I had dreamed an idea for a comic, but I couldn’t remember what the comic was. A couple hours later, it came back to me while I was pinging Misses Kitty. So random.

It’s just about mortality, and the way the idea hangs more heavily on you the older you get. You watch your parents getting old, you have friends die of terrible diseases, your heroes start to die, and you can’t deny that you’re further from 15 than you are from 50, and that you too will, inevitably die. You can begin to carry around the weight of your own fragility wherever you go, if you’re not careful. It helps you make more careful choices about how to live, if you can focus on what you have left. But there comes a point where you start to understand the true meaning of being over the hill. You have an expiration date. You started some decades ago, and most surely, some decades hence, you will stop.

So you better draw a lot of comics while you still can.

His Song Went on Forever

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I’m not that deep. I’ll never be that deep. But I can see into the depths. 

I don’t usually do stuff like this, not being one for idols, but David Bowie was such an phenomenal creative spirit that it’s hard to imagine the hearing, seeing human being who wouldn’t be inspired by his work. He was a true artist in every sense of the word, a man who wrote what still stands, in my mind, as one of the greatest commentaries ever created on love, aliens, and rock and roll (let alone one of the greatest albums of all time) when he was 24 year old, and then, rather of resting on his laurels, invented himself again and again, for every album, for every movie role.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars played in the background as I drew this comic, and while I’ve listened to this album start to finish literally hundreds of times in my life, I kept hearing new ideas, new notes. It kept offering new inspiration.

I can’t even talk about “Lazarus” right now.

If you notice that I have chosen the silhouette of Jareth, the Goblin King to represent the dozens of faces that Bowie wore in his career, it is because I am 9 years old, and because when we fall in love, we always remember the moment, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love The Hunger or The Man Who Fell to Earth, brutal and adult as both those films were.  

This is sort of what I feel about any really great artist finishing their work here: it’s sad they had to go when they did, but it’s wonderful that they got to stay as long as they could. The world is a better place for the existence of people like David Bowie and Robin Williams, and I’m a better artist for having walked in their light.