Tag Archives: family

The Solutions to Brian’s Problem

american salvage 5 solution to brians problem_edited-1

Here’s another word of advice: if you are a normal human being, you should never, ever Google any combination of the words “12 gauge shotgun” and “suicide.”

A pretty easy text to comic-ize. The only real issue was deciding which 2 of the 7 list items to combine into 1 to fit the 6-panel format. Math! I guess this story would also be considered experimental, in the sense that it really is a list of possibilities. Some of them offer pros and cons. For some of them, the pros and cons are obvious without being pointed out.

It’s not just relevant to drugs: it’s about anyone who’s ever stayed in a terrible relationship with a terrible person because love causes you to see people as you wish them to be, or as you think they could be, or they way they used to be, rather than who they are right now, and who they are likely to be in the future. It’s easier to keep doing the same thing than it is to change. But Brian’s tolerance is crazy high. The line in the book is, “last week your wife stabbed you in the chest while you were sleeping, that she punches you, too, giving you black eyes that you have to explain to the guys at work.” She stabbed him in the chest! (I presume it was with a steak knife.) But his instinct is still to protect her from the rest of the world, if not from himself.

There’s another story in American Salvage that reminds me of this one, “Bringing Belle Home,” where the guy will still do anything for the girl, even though she’s cruel to him, even though she doesn’t even seem to want him anymore. Love makes you crazy. That’s the only explanation.

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The Inventor, 1972

american salvage 4 inventor 1972_edited-1

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.

The Yard Man

american salvage 2 yard man_edited-1

How could anyone fail to be charmed by an ermine?

As with last year’s “Daughters of the Animal Kingdom,” I knew that I’d have to only draw animals in this comic, but, as with “Children of Transylvania, 1983,” I knew I’d have to excise huge swaths of the story to fit it into 6 panels, especially if I was going to insist on making the animals the focus of each panel.

In “The Yard Man” we see one major theme of this book, which I categorize as, “Heteronormative Men Who Really Like Women but Aggressively Don’t Understand Women.” In Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, the main characters often seem crippled by a stunning lack of self-awareness, but in American Salvage the men tend to know who they are and what they want (love), they just don’t understand the people (women) they are trying to get that love from. Anyway, I’d call this story a little sad: Jerry and his wife are living apart by the end. Jerry still loves her, and he’d probably follow her if she asked him to, but she doesn’t ask, and he really, really, really wants to see that snake again.

I have to apologize for that snake. My picture does not do it justice. I probably should have drawn it as a red blur moving through the grass. Bonnie Jo reminded me that snake’s identity is meant to be a mystery, but the snake is not a symbol. It’s just a snake, she said. Pretty proud of that ermine, though.

As I told the Rabbit, I see both sides of the issue. The creatures are amazing. There is poetry to a wall full of honey, to an ermine returning to land where ermines have not been seen in years. But also, you can’t live like that, with bees inside. When I lived in Michigan, I had to help a friend remove bats from his house a couple times, and I had encounters with deer, snakes, and spiders. Never had any problems with honeybees, though, and I’ve never even seen a wild weasel. Once, in Kalamazoo, I was out in the woods. And you know how sometimes you’re walking in the woods and you step on a stick and it makes a loud crack and suddenly some deer, which you never even knew were there, jump out of the undergrowth? I had the opposite experience. I was standing quietly in the woods not noticing some deer walking along the ridge and one of them stepped on a stick and the crack startled me and I jumped a couple feet in the air. I could see the deer peering down the ridge looking at me like, “Isn’t that sad? Poor, dumb animal.”

Who Are You, Again?

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It seems unfair that it takes me just as long to draw a comic with terrible artwork as it does to draw one with beautiful illustrations. 

Just a little bit of silliness, plus an excuse to use a lot of sesquipedalian words, because I’m not abstruse enough.  I do have a little bit of face blindness and a marked inability to recollect people’s names 30 seconds after meeting them myself, actually, although I learn to recognize people after repeated exposure, so hopefully no offense taken by people with legitimate neurological disorders.

Long, tired day.

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.

 

Somewhere Warm

 

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In Dad’s defense, I also fled Kalamazoo for the southwest. Those winters were killing me. 

Believe it or not, this comic took longer to draw that any of the others. I must have drawn the girl’s face in panel 3 about 50 times. Same with panel 5, and the mom never came out quite the way I wanted. Panels 2 and 4 are perfect, though. That’s my biggest obstacle drawing comics. I can usually draw one character the way I want them to look 1 time. But drawing the same character over and over, with different expressions and postures, from different angles, and make them still appear to be the same character feels impossible. I need a life drawing class. Or a bunch of live models.

I left the clothes and skin intentionally blank so as not to detract from the girls’ freckles.

It’s kind of a sad story. The mom just starts to thrive on being alone when the kid comes back, and the kid coming back is going to be a massive burden on her. The mom doesn’t exactly change as a character, although she does grow. It’s sort of like she’s choosing to stay the course, even though she never gets the outcomes she expects, but the growth is in her understanding that some people are just awful. At least, in the future, she’ll understand that she’s pouring her love into an open sewer. I mean, I guess the baby can be seen as a chance at redemption, like maybe this time, if she just loves enough, the baby won’t grow up and leave her. But personally, I sort of think she’s going to keep getting the same outcome. The fact of the matter is, if she ever met a man who she didn’t drive away with her creepy, cloying talk, he would suck her dry.

Revenge of the Helicopter Kids

Listen, you don't know my parents like I do. My parents are better than those other parents and they deserve special treatment.

Listen, you don’t know my parents like I do. My parents are better than those other parents and they deserve special treatment.

If you, like me, have 150 Facebook friends with school age children, you’ve probably seen a bunch of photographs in the last couple weeks featuring kids in new clothing and various attitudes of excitement or embarrassment holding signs proclaiming “First Day of Kindergarten,” or some similar sentiment. Well, my cousin posted a picture of herself hugging her 5-year-old with a caption explaining that she was probably the worst mother in the world because she wasn’t going to make him hold an adorable sign before he went off to school, and that the child would probably be scarred for life because of this moral failure.

So that’s where this comes from. But it comes from other things, too, like the Boy once again losing his Kindle privileges because he was watching YouTube when he was supposed to be doing homework. I’ve been thinking along similar themes, how we hold our kids to higher standards than we hold ourselves, and most of us would find ourselves without smartphones if some higher power took them away when we used them to screw around on the Internet instead of work.

My feelings on helicopter parents are well-documented. OK, there are worse things you could do to your kids, but when we’re talking about good intentions gone wrong, wrapping your kids in bubble wrap and protecting them from every possible bump the universe might have to offer while arguing with teachers, coaches, and other experts on particular aspects of childhood why your kid is better than other kids and deserves to be treated differently is a terrific way to raise a completely helpless and ineffective human being. How long do you plan on doing this, I wonder? When I taught at the college level I heard of parents trying to advocate for their kids, and a couple kids told me their parents were going to call me, but my standard response was that I wasn’t going to talk to their mommies and daddies because they were grownups and responsible for their own behavior. Legally, I wasn’t supposed to discuss their grades with their parents either.

Still, my supervisor assured us that parents would call anyway. From the kids, I heard firsthand that their overbearing parents didn’t prepare them for life after high school. They didn’t know when to go to bed without being told; they didn’t know when to get up. All their lives they’d been told they were the best, and suddenly it turned out that they were just like everyone else. And, having never been allowed to fail, they didn’t know how to succeed on a level playing field.

Seriously, moms and dads, back off! Your kid should be given more responsibility every year so that they have actual adult experience when they are 18. They should be allowed to fail, over and over, so that they learn about consequences and how to make better decisions. They should be taught not to throw a fit when they don’t get everything they believe they deserve. Otherwise, they are going to be mightily disappointed when college spits them out into the real world and they don’t get every job and raise and promotion they think the world owes them.

However, if any children would like to argue that I deserve something more than I’ve achieved in life, I would welcome the effort.