I am completely satisfied with this comic. The fruits, the vegetables, the script, the visual juxtapositions, and the layers of symbols. The story is more hopeful than some of Bonnie Jo’s work; that’s why I used the mason jars in the last panel, even though they were destroyed by a fire. For that narrator, they were an aspect of home, and even though her house burned down, she’s still creating this sense of family out of these men, so that a camper, a garage, a tent, and a garden become a home.
This one was hard! There aren’t a lot of visual symbols to work with besides Thomssen’s perception of Belle as a physical being, and cutting down to the bones of the story required a brutal touch. There’s love and there’s domestic violence and there’s terrible childhood memories and there’s self-medication. It’s about a guy who tries so hard to love but he can’t seem to get it right. She tries to tell him that she’ll never really let him love her, but she’ll keep taking from him. He can’t hear it anyway. They’re both so out of touch. They’re both broken beyond repair.
I spent way too long drawing those liquor bottles in panel 2. The Cuervo isn’t mentioned in the story but the other brands are, and I needed one more bottle to fill the panel properly. The juxtaposition of the “We can change” quote in panel 4 and the implication in the story about Belle keeping the change and never tipping the bartender was unintentional, but now it pleases me. The image in the last panel could have also been Belle sitting in Thomssen’s living room with a broken window behind her and the snow blowing in. She’ll still be wearing canvas shoes with no socks and Thomssen’s sweater with no coat because she doesn’t know how to protect herself from the cold.
Loneliness, or fear of loneliness, is probably the number one reason people make regrettable choices when it comes to marriage. People like Mary Beth figure that out, and accept the loneliness rather than make the same mistake twice. People like Harold double down on their mistakes, try not to think about it, and commit ever more intently to a course of action. Harold knows that he will never leave Trisha, even though she’s a sloppy drunk who’s in love with his best friend, even though there’s a girl who loves him more and is probably better for him waiting at the farm store. He’s made his choice and he won’t hurt Trisha. And then there are the Trishas of the world, marrying in haste, repenting at leisure, and not really having any degree of self-reflection about it.
And Pauline, of course, will probably always be lonely. Why didn’t she say something to Harold before he married Trisha? Fear of rejection, right?
For a while I had trouble pulling visual symbols out of the story; I didn’t want to draw Harold and Pauline kissing in the farm store. The best image is the memory of Harold and Pauline walking home in the blizzard, holding hands and still wearing their skates. Lucky me, I didn’t read the passage correctly the first time and spent quite a while drawing their skates slung over their shoulders. But they wore their skates back to Pauline’s house, where Harold has been living because his dad is not OK, and took them off in the mudroom. Ultimately, the story is called “Winter Life” and all Harold is thinking about is the spring, even though for Pauline the most important moment was the winter. But Harold loves his garden the most, he can’t wait for growing season to begin, and this year he’s going to get a jump on it with cold frames. He’s shopping for ice melt. What happens in winter stays in winter.
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.
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.”
I probably don’t say it enough, but this guy keeps me going. And, of course, he has substantially more hair on his head than his namesake character is drawn with in Dragon Comics, which is a bonus, but it’s not the most important part of a stable marriage. Knowing that someone always has your back is a much bigger deal. It’s a huge deal, and it’s not easy to always make that work. It’s a lot of effort to make it work most of the time, and effort alone is no guarantee of success, so a functional marriage, in this day and age, is kind of a big deal.
This picture was taken on the Marin Headlands; that’s the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. As air travel has, since 9/11, become increasingly uncomfortable, unpredictable, and invasive, I’ve gradually come to a point in my life where I would rather spend days in a car than hours at the tender mercies of the TSA/FAA. So The Man drove me to San Francisco. From Tucson. That’s 13 hours door to door. On the way back we had a little extra time so we spent 2 nights in LA, but he still drove the entire way. He’s my hero. I am very grateful to have found him.
You know how I sometimes let my husband write my comic and then I just illustrate it? This comic was not my idea. It was not my idea. It was his idea. The Man’s. The Man thought of this. Not me. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Happy Valentine’s Day. I guess we’re not exchanging gifts this year for financial reasons, so this comic is our gift to each other.
I wanted him to pose for the reference photo with me but he refused.
You have no idea what goes on in other people’s relationships.
This would have have been an insomnia comic if he hadn’t come up with this idea. I had a couple scripts in varying degrees of completion but none of them were going to get finished before I passed out from exhaustion. Good thing he’s sometimes timely. And funny. And I love him. Happy Valentine’s Day.