Tag Archives: mothers

Bringing Home the Bones

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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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Running

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I miss those ’90s flare low rise jeans, but I don’t miss belly shirts.

To me, “Running,” feels like the precursor to “Daughters of the Animal Kingdom,” with its discussion of motherhood versus not-motherhood and its frequent reference to animals. “Running” is rife with birds, and I could have drawn a bird in every panel, as I drew only animals in “Daughters of the Animal Kingdom,” but I got hung up on the part of the story that describes the pattern of a male wood duck as looking like a map of the world, because I kept looking at photos of male wood ducks and couldn’t see a map of the world in there. Plus, I really liked the juxtaposition of the prematurely aged mom smoking a cigarette while complaining about her daughter smoking cigarettes.

I also enjoyed drawing the redwing blackbird. Male redwing blackbirds are super territorial and will attack anything that remotely resembles another male redwing blackbird. My mother has a story about one attacking the head of my black-haired brother when he was little. As for panel 4: ducks are jerks. Duck rape is a thing. As for panel 5: I couldn’t fit many more baby ducks in there. I wanted to draw 40. In the last panel, I tried to illustrate the good form/bad form the narrator talks about in reference to running.

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.

A Perfect Circle

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Of course, in 30 years, they’ll teach it in  completely different way than you learned, but at least you’ll be able to empathize with your child’s frustration.

There have seriously been moments in my marriage when the greatest stressor we faced as a couple was the elementary math curriculum. I never mastered anything beyond algebra myself, and of course mathematics education just looked a lot different in the ’80s. The Man is pretty good at math—he can do calculus—but he doesn’t know how to teach little kids like I do. So sometimes the only way for the Girl to get her homework done is for The Man to explain it to me so I can explain it to her. I wasn’t sure how funny this joke was, but I told it to one of the volunteer moms and the librarian at my library and they both laughed.

Presumably, knowing algebra is something of an achievement, because I still scored in the 66th percentile on the math section of the GRE despite being, of course, a liberal arts major. That means I’m better at math than 66% of all people who have, or are about to have, completed a bachelor’s degree and hope to attend graduate school. This tells me that most people must not know any math at all.

There’s also a little joke here about the kind of helicopter parents who would call the school to challenge the basic curriculum because their kid didn’t like it, because these people exist. They are not uncommon today, but that’s another thing you didn’t see too much of in the ’80s.

Natural Disasters

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Status: I’m just drawing a human placenta here. 

The world is a terrible place to bring a child. It’s full not only of sharp and hot objects, but also of dangerous plants, animals, geologic and meteorological phenomenon, and, most corrupting influence of all, human beings. I don’t actually understand how anyone over the age of 30 can even consider it. I get being young and naive and optimistic, or being a kid who doesn’t fully grok birth control, but surely by 30, most reasonable people have become cynics, no matter how much love they have in their hearts. Our world is inherently dangerous, and more so if you happen to be a completely helpless and dependent organism. And yet my Facebook feed is constantly full of babies and sonograms, even though I turn 42 this November and have a number of friends who are grandparents. My cohort keeps creating new humans, on purpose.

I’ve been to parties where people brought gifts of baby products to a pregnant woman, but I’ve never attended one of these weird-baby-themed-games kinds of baby showers. It sounds demeaning for everyone involved. Most likely, anyone who actually knew me would know better than to invite me to such a gathering, but it’s always interesting to see what “normal” people think is normal.

While I share the narrator’s belief that the world is wildly dangerous place, I’m not afraid of babies breaking. I’ve worked with many babies in my life. Babies are actually more resilient than adults in many respects. A lot of new moms seem overly cautious, in my opinion.

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.