They’re magic glasses; that’s why they don’t have a nosepiece. Magic.
We interrupt our irregularly scheduled content of rural noir graphic literary criticism to celebrate my favorite little Hufflepuff, who readers of this space know as the Girl. She’s 14 now (not so little; we’re almost the same height and I can wear some of her pants) so I dashed off this little sketch for her birthday. Really am sorry I didn’t ink the nosepiece of her glasses. I did get her hilarious Ugg boots and her blue hair. We live in Arizona. She wears Uggs. She’s got her own sense of style, this kid.
We’ve been working our way through the Harry Potter series for a while now, and we’re well into Half-Blood Prince. Apparently she used her birthday money to order an official Harry Potter wand off the internet, and then, two days later, she saw one of the interactive wands that activate things at the Universal Studios park in a second-hand store, and she bought that too.
Anyway, this card did say “Accio Cake!” on the inside, but the cake was a lie, because we decided she was a getting a box of birthday doughnuts with a candle stuck in them.
Now we’re in pure Bonnie Jo Campbell territory. The river. The land. Various animals. The semi-feral girl. The boat. The casual sexual violence. I don’t know why I remember this book as being less rape-y than the others, because it’s a decent amount of nonconsensual sex. Gwen acts like it’s no big deal when her boyfriend’s married, middle aged brother forces her, but it’s forced nonetheless. I’m not even 100% convinced that the sex was purely consensual on Michael’s end. Yeah, he turns toward her, but she kind of puts him on the spot. He lets us know that fooling around with semi-feral girls is not his typical MO.
Gwen is such an interesting character, a blueprint for Once upon a River’s Margo Crane, or rather, this story is one of the short fictions that later became the novel, along with “Family Reunion,” where Margo’s younger incarnation is called Marylou. Gwen is so hurt that she doesn’t even know she’s hurt. She’s run away from home, and her boyfriend, Jake, doesn’t seem like anything close to a decent guy. She’s intent on survival, and she’s good at it, but she’s not exactly thriving. In “The Fishing Dog” you think that Michael, apparently the first decent guy she’s known, could be the antidote to Gwen’s misfortune, but in the novel she can’t bring herself to stay with him. Then the cycle comes full circle in Q Road (written and published before Once upon a River, but set years afterward) when Margo’s semi-feral teenage daughter, Rachel, does consent to marry the decent older guy, and balance is restored to the force. Er, land.
Regarding the illustrations, it was not easy to find a reference image of someone using pliers to pull the skin off a catfish that’s been nailed to a tree. I watched a very useful YouTube video on the subject to get it right. It’s been said that you should never read the comments on YouTube. About 10% of them said things like, “This is how we cleaned catfish when I was a kid,” and the other 90% insisted that no sane human would ever skin a catfish like this and the guy who made the video was mentally deficient and probably a lunatic. Frankly, it really seems like Gwen knows what she’s doing, at least when it comes to catfish.
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.
Or unmelted cheese, I would imagine. Any cheese, really.
Another little slice of life here in Dragon’s Cave.
By the way, the trick to homemade mozzarella sticks is to freeze the cheese after you’ve breaded it but before you fry it. Otherwise, it melts before the outside gets crispy and loses its shape and leaks out everywhere. Of course, some people like that sort of thing.
The experimental breading is basically just pakora batter without the spices: garbanzo flour, water, and salt. Very tasty. Makes light and fluffy mozzarella sticks. Pleasing to children and other cheese-eating organisms.
Who has time to read when there’s a Buffy sing-a-long starting in 10 minutes?
Honestly, I think one of the nicest things about Comic-Con is that it’s a venue for the weirdos to let their freak flags fly, and to see that they’re not alone. I get that this subverts the intended purpose of the Con, but we live in a tough world, and if spending 3 days out of the year dressed at Pikachu is what you need to survive, I wholly support that, and will work to make the Con a safe place for you to do so.
I love comics, obviously. I don’t buy a lot of them, because I am poor, and because I am partial to graphic novels/trade paperbacks, having little patience for story lines that are doled out a dollop at a time over a space of years, and because I have very little shelf space left and would rather borrow comics from the library or a friend and not have to store them if I don’t love them enough to make them part of my permanent collection. The allure of that type of acquisition eludes me, as well. If I buy a comic, I’m damn well going to read it, and I’m going to use my bare hands to turn the pages. I maybe even dog ear it as I do so. But I’ve known serious collectors, and I support that madness too.
There were probably fewer than a half dozen straight up comic book dealers at this convention: we have 3 major independent shops in this town, all of which were represented, and maybe 1 or 2 retailers came out of Phoenix. Most of the vendors weren’t selling comic books. They were selling swords and wigs and T-shirts and plushies and stuff that’s of interest to people who come to comic book conventions. Even the artists weren’t primarily selling comic books, but were instead selling paintings of dragons, or their own drawings of popular characters, or books with more words than pictures.
But comic books are the catalysts. And while the Star Wars area was bigger than the Marvel section, and I don’t even know what to make of the replica cars from non-comic related movies and TV shows, there’s room for every fandom at a good Con.
I’m not even going to say anything about the shoes, but where do you even get a headband like that?
You hear a lot of noise about the children. Think about the children. How will we explain this to the children?
Children are a lot more open-minded than adults, and a lot better able to assimilate information that diverges from their previously held worldview. Children like to be initiated into the secrets of the world.
So, you know how we explain this to the children? With simple unbiased, age-appropriate words, providing additional information as appropriate, because there aren’t any important conversations we have with our kids just once. We communicate our values through word and action, and if we show the children that it’s OK to be who you are, even if you’re different, then we raise children who learn to be kind and accepting of themselves and others. We teach that the world requires many different ways, and that it would be dull and flavorless if we were all exactly alike. We celebrate diversity wherever it can enrich our understanding of our condition.
If we communicate fear and hatred, we raise children who learn to loath their own uniqueness and torment those who dare to express their uniqueness honestly. We teach them to police themselves, to ridicule divergence and lack of conformity. We drive everything that doesn’t fit within our rigid boundaries underground and then we congratulate ourselves on keeping things orderly, of proving to ourselves that clearly, ours is the only perspective, because we’ve silenced all the other voices.
Mostly, though, we have to trust kids to know who they are. Our labels and our perception can’t get at their inner truth; they have to get at their own insides themselves. We have to let them know that we trust them to tell us who they are, even if they are something we do not yet understand. That’s what we tell the children.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that the appropriate pronoun for Dragon is “dragon.”
This story arc has been brewing almost since the beginning of the comic, which is why it has never happened, in 107 comics, that Dragon has been referred to with a gender pronoun.. For a while it seemed like I was going to chicken out and not go with it, but it’s been on my mind for a long time. As is true for most of my comics, I have some person stuff to work out. The time is right. Everyone’s talking about gender right now. Of course, some of us have been talking about it for decades, but now your granny is talking about it.
To start, I think most open-minded human beings can admit that gender behavior occurs along a spectrum. We really meet comparatively few men who, say, don’t think puppies and kitties are adorable. We rarely find women embracing the quality of weakness. And since gender is expressed through choices and behavior, if its expression takes place on a continuum, then gender itself can’t truly be a binary either. You could describe it as a quaternity (one, the other, both, neither) but even that doesn’t get at the nuances of who we feel like inside.
Little kids are taught the binary, which leads some of us to hide the parts that don’t fit, or else to be become saddled with derogatory tags. But why does a kid’s gender matter? We don’t want kids pairing off and mating in our society, and we no longer force adults into rigid gender roles for their entire lives to reinforce a social order for which they must begin relentlessly training at a young age. So, frankly, why should we care about little kids’ gender at all? Why shouldn’t we let them be who they feel they are?