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 skated 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.
As I recall, there are a couple of pieces of American Salvage that appear in Bonnie Jo’s second novel, Once upon a River, which is apparently being made in a movie even as we speak, and the events of “Family Reunion” are a big part of Once upon a River, which I guess means that in short order we’re going to have a feature film in which a teenage girl shoots off the tip of her rapist’s weapon.
I guess America is seriously ripe for this kind of honesty in cinema. If more rapists got their dicks shot off, maybe there would be fewer rapists in the world.
It’s really only a couple of pixels, but it did seem like a kind of far-out thing to draw. Then again, so are gutted deer and spit roast pigs. And this is the 4th comic in a row that features a gun.
In the story, Marylou finally recognizes the violence that was done to her through the metaphor of a gutted deer. The word “rape” doesn’t appear in the story, and there’s no particular recollection of the actual event, although she describes the details of the moments before and after. The pig makes a vile, but apt metaphor as well.
Selective mutism is a not completely uncommon response to trauma among children. There’s a certain degree of power in willful silence. The way Marylou experiences the world, jumping back and forth between current and past events, is also a result of trauma. In illustrating the story, I jumbled up the images, quotes, and captions, too. Everything is mixed up. But Marylou has a moment of clarity at last. It’s a satisfying ending, the kind of justice that we so rarely see in the real world.
Yesterday’s comic being so busy, I wanted to get back to a simpler style, but, having already decided to only draw the animals mentioned in the story, rather than any people, I sort of got carried away with their various textures. Still, this took less time than any other story out of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters so far.
In the story, the narrator doesn’t answer her mother when her mother asks her where she was, but the reader knows that she was at the women’s clinic, getting an abortion, because having a baby at 47 when you’re already a grandmother several times over and your husband is a dog and you’ve been working on your PhD thesis forever is bad idea. I totally feel this one. It’s such a tremendous relief–throughout the whole story she is thinking nice things about being pregnant and having a baby, but she’s also thinking about everything she’ll lose, and more to the point, all the complications that come with sexual reproduction and the raising of an autonomous individual who feels like they’re part of you but makes independent decisions you don’t want them to make–and when she makes the choice that’s for her, not her husband, or her daughter, or her mom, it’s like a wave of possibility washing over the last page. And there’s the sweet parallel with the silkie walking away from her nest (isn’t that a fluffy silkie I drew?) except chickens are kind of dumb and don’t have tons of potential besides eggs and meat, and the woman is really smart and still has a lot of things to accomplish in her life.
I’m bummed I couldn’t find a good picture of a love dart sticking out of a slug. But that’s a love dart, zooming toward the slug (magnified for clarity). Sexual reproduction is really complicated. And ridiculous.
If it doesn’t make sense, read the book.
This comic was a lot of fun to draw, although after I drew it, I realized that Marika should have been wearing a lab coat, not scrubs. But that’s a minor point and I don’t think it detracts from the overall theme. Here’s another character who just loves too much, just like yesterday’s comic, except that Marika is (apparently) a virgin who’s never had real relationship, so she pours her love into people and places and things that don’t even know her. It’s a sad story to me. At least the protagonist in “Somewhere Warm” has a her ungrateful daughter back in the end, and a military son, and a tabula rasa grandbaby. Marika, it seems to me, is going to end up with a pink slip. Her awakening is unlikely to make up for whatever would happen in panel 7 if the story kept going.
I love how the burned boy came out, and the window with the cardboard sign. Panel 5 has to be my favorite, even though every time I have to cut an idea for space, I get a little sad, and even in that panel I ended up leaving a lot of the material out. If you haven’t read the book, the crazy homeless guy is referred to as the Lightning Man, having been, as far as anyone can tell, hit by lightning preceding what seems to have been his first visit to the hospital. When human being are hit by lightning, they can exhibit Lichtenberg scars, fractal-shaped burn marks created by electricity. Lichtenberg figures are observed most commonly inside insulation materials, but they can form in solids, liquids, or gases, so it’s not strange that electricity etches upon human flesh. The background of panel 5 mimics the shape of a Lichtenberg scar.
Being obsessed with lightning, I’ve always thought this would be a wicked tattoo.
This is rather a personal subject for me, but Bonnie Jo keeps referring to these comics as literary criticism, and, the human brain being what it is, it’s impossible for a critic to not inject themselves into their interpretation. So I drew my own sister in panel 1, and myself in panel 6. That’s the real reason I didn’t draw this one last night: it’s not a comfortable subject to dwell on. A sighted person can never understand what it’s like to be blind, and a person without chronic pain can never understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain.
And I guess a person with chronic pain can never understand what it’s like for their loved ones to cope with their chronic pain. But this story explains it pretty well.
This is probably the most detailed BJC comic so far, illustration-wise. Everyone’s hair is on point. I went insane withe those dirty dishes. It helped that I started early and didn’t stress out. A couple hours in, the Bear called me up and he ended up coming over to hang out. I can’t think of how many nights I spent at his place watching him work, so he didn’t mind watching me, and he was very helpful in taking the source photo for the last panel. Usually I spent 15 minutes setting up the shot–a lot of time spent finding the right height for the camera, and a thing to hold it at that height–and then have to take a dozen photos to get the picture. But his help eliminated the setup, and he got the shot on the second picture. Artists helping artists.