Mental illness doesn’t run in the family so much as it line dances there.
I find “Taking Care of the O’Learys,” achingly beautiful, in the way that audiences are taught to look at life while watching Our Town, except with moldy potato water buckets and inebriated bondage. Barb could leave—other women might, like the wife in “The Yardman,” —but she has a moment in which she’s wholly open to love, and in letting it in, she understands that it’s paired inextricably with the general weirdness she’s been resisting, and that it’s not just doable, it’s actually wonderful. The madness isn’t anywhere near the worst thing that could happen. Losing your family is the worst possible thing. She wouldn’t really leave anyway. She’s the kind of person who keeps washing the floor even though she knows she’s done her utmost and it needs to be replaced. But she did need to be reminded of how much they loved her. It’s a happy ending with madness.
To heighten the implied creepiness and Barb’s sense of terror of the first part of the story, I decided to flip black and white, and only use a very few colors. Probably the colored parts will look less awesome in print form but they looks amazing online: blue tarp, green mold, red, orange, and yellow fire. Quite pleased with this one.
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.
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.
“Shotgun Wedding” is a pure example of flash fiction, not just due to its length, but to its form. It’s the story of a single moment of revelation, which, in my view, is the point of a flash. It reduces a story down to the climax, takes a massive web of understanding and compresses it into a tiny dot: this moment, in which one person has to let go of another.
The love between the sisters, and particularly of the big sister, who is the first person narrator, for her more vulnerable sibling, is really beautiful. The little sister is both the embodiment of feminine perfection but also the odd girl out in the family, too magical and delicate to exist in the world where everyone else lives. She’s balanced by the strength of her sister’s determination, and the sense of responsibility the narrator has always felt to protect her like a precious treasure. In the space of the story, the dynamic has just ended. The little sister has her husband as a counterweight now, but the big sister is going to be reeling backward, as you do when you’re pulling hard at something that suddenly gives way.
But time, to my way of thinking, is infinite in both directions. The moment in which the big sister was a teenager standing at the window with a shotgun protecting her family will always exist, as will this present moment of release.
There’s a fun balance in the pinky-pinkiness of the little sister’s world and the metallic shotguns of the big sister’s. It was challenging but entertaining to draw. Took me forever to get the little sister looking over her shoulder right.
Sorry about that shady looking butterfly. I was on a schedule.
Thinking about this lately. There are people who make a deep dent in your heart while they occupy it, and you can’t buff it out when they go. I guess I’m fortunate to only have a few people like that; with one or two exceptions, I’m still friends with everyone I’ve ever dated or hooked up with, although sometimes it takes a while to get past the hurt and rekindle a friendship. I don’t burn bridges. I don’t hold grudges (too much).
I still have those size 4 jeans. Damn, my ass looked good in them, for the 15 minutes of my adult life I wore a size 4. Unless American really does descend into anarchy and there’s no food and I end up in a camp for dissidents, I do not anticipate ever stuffing myself into them again, but some small part of me still holds out hope. The pot did get tossed, although not without a lot of anxiety. Like, I took a photograph of it, and I had to squelch the urge to go rescue it for the next couple hours. Fortunately, we left town so I didn’t have an opportunity to grab a broken pot (which was old when I acquired it second-hand in 1992). A lot of memories in that pot.
So, if that’s how I feel about a busted, perma-scorched, avocado-green pot with 2 broken handles and all the teflon scratched off, you can imagine my difficulty releasing people from my life. I love hard and deep. I’m like the puzzle box from the Hellraiser movies. It takes a while for me to let people in, but I never voluntarily let them out again.
The redemptive power of produce.
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.
So, yeah, I imagine Belle looks a lot like Kristen Chenoweth.
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.