There’s no second punchline, because there is no first punchline. It’s not funny.
Sometimes, words just form in your head and you don’t have any choice but to write them down. I’ve gotten whole phaetons this way, whole pages at times, without any conscious thought. The other day, contemplating the violence, hatred, and pain that seems so prevalent in the 24-hours news cycle, these words fell out of my pen. Well, you can’t make a comic about that, says I, but in my experience, people love depressing comic. And this is the most depressing one I’ve ever written. So it should have at least as much staying power as the one about my post-traumatic stress disorder.
I don’t want to be the person whose privilege is to look away, but the subject matter of this comic was hard to draw. The trash picking kids in India for the first panel were the worst. After I drew it, I went back and erased about 10 pixels around each of them, because I couldn’t stand to have the drawing of trash touching these cartoon kids. The dead African men were a little easier, because they were already dead at least, and not likely to suffer anymore. And then the Syrian refugees…all those Syrian refugees. So many homeless babies. What right do I have to live in a house and eat food, let alone draw comics and write speculative fiction novels, when people are in so much pain all the time?
Meanwhile, so many people around me are going through personal turmoil, or working hard for causes like trans rights and Black Lives Matter, or just trying to overcome heartbreak or pay their bills or not be hurt by strangers on the internet or toxic family or bad relationships.
But that’s the thing about myself I’ve known for a long time. At heart, I am a cynic, full of darkness and nihilism, but I found long ago that the only way for me to exist was to wear a cloak of optimism, to cover myself in rainbows and announce that everything was going to be all right. I wouldn’t be here now, writing this blog, if I hadn’t done this. People freak the hell out if ever they see what’s under the cloak. They don’t like to hear me tell the truth.
This is a true story: in 1997, I was driving from Yellow Springs, Ohio, to Deerfield, Illinois. I had lived in Yellow Springs off and on for 5 years, and had just left behind me 2 of my best friends, the guy depicted as the Bear in Dragon Comics, and another guy who’s too complex to be summed up as 1 single animal, but I think he would be happy if I called him the Faun. They hugged me goodbye as I hopped into my moving van, and as soon as I pulled out of sight, I burst into tears. I was driving toward something good, but I felt such grief over what I was leaving behind.
The road merged onto the highway, Interstate 94, a road I knew well and had driven many times, a road that would take me right to my parents’ house. I looked up and saw the sky above the tree line, and a brilliant circumhorizontal arc splayed out across the clouds. This awakened in me the memory of a dream I had had about 15 years earlier, as a very little girl, about a goddess appearing to a group of children in a rainbow made of clouds, and instantly, I stopped crying. It was as if the universe had opened up to me, or at least one single page of it. This sign was telling me my purpose in life, why I had been left on this planet that always seemed so alien and hostile to me. I was here to serve as an avatar of Aphrodite: the acolyte of love and beauty.
This answered a lot of questions for me, specifically about why I was so unhappy all the time. Depression: anger turned inward. Because I was here with a very specific job to do, but it seemed as if the legions working against my cause were so much more numerous. Serving love and beauty is easy in paradise, but it’s a great and terrible work in a world where so many serve hatred and ugliness. I was angry because the opposition was so great, and I had no choice in my work.
Anyway, the world is terrible. And I keep drawing comics.