My characterization of America’s Founding Fathers is lifted more or less from the 1972 film version of the musical 1776, a rollicking reenactment of the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (I have not yet seen Hamilton, but I have had parts of the score sung at me when I least expected it.) I always think of Benjamin Franklin as being the kind of guy who could really show you a good time. He’s definitely the one out of the bunch you’d want to sit down and have a beer with. He was known as something of a lady’s man, too. The phrase “obnoxious and disliked” is used in reference to John Adams over and over again. Sometimes, you have to be obnoxious and disliked to get things done.
I’ve never applied for any type of disability, but The Man has 3 pins in his knee, which resulted in a medical discharge from the Air Force, and he did have a hang tag for many years. We only used it when we were absolutely out of spoons, but even so some vigilante once left a note on the windshield accusing us of not being handicapped enough. It’s not a contest, people. You don’t want what we have. Also, the picture on the sign is just a symbol: there are disabilities other than being a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair.
This was the hardest comic I’ve ever scripted. Fibromyalgia is a subject I don’t care to discuss much (see panel 2). Adolescence taught me to never expose any weakness. Whenever the subject came up, doctors dismissed it and no one sympathized, or cared, or, I suspect, believed me. Most people don’t know that I have a chronic pain disorder; I try not to let it dictate my life, and when it does, I try to make sure that it doesn’t dictate other people’s lives. But the reality of my life is that I do have a chronic pain disorder. Invisible diseases exist, and you can’t judge someone’s level of disability. Clearly, I’m better off than many, because I’m still generally able to hide the problem, but that doesn’t give anyone a right to question its existence.
If I bring it up in person, you better believe there’s a reason that information is being shared: I have limits. I only mention it here because of consumer demand for a continuing series of comics cataloging all the excruciating reasons I’ve failed to summit the heights of my potential. It’s all about telling the most horrible parts with brutal honesty. I’m not complaining and I’m not looking for sympathy. I just need you to understand that this is the truth.
Even though my first passion was always fiction, and my training is entirely in fiction, my professional success has almost always been in nonfiction. I don’t know if I’m substantially better at nonfiction than fiction, but people seem much more willing to pay me to tell the truth than to make things up. Since I started workshopping with the Owl and the Rabbit, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about creative nonfiction, specifically, how memoirs work. People want to tell their stories,and they seem to want me to help them do it.
So: that’s it. Whatever is the worst, the most horrible thing that you feel sort of uncomfortable discussing with even your closest friends, the thing that you would never want the world to know, that’s the stuff you have to mine up from the depths of your brain and polish into a princess-cut gem if you want to write a biography that works.
People ask that question sometimes, too, and the answer is because you lived through it, and if you did, someone else did too, and your story will validate them, or else someone else is wondering if they can live through it, and your story will give them hope, or else someone else can’t possibly imagine what you’ve been through, and your story will enlighten them. Surviving difficult, confusing, and/or embarrassing circumstances often provides you with the wisdom of experience, which you may then feel compelled to share for the edification of others. This is why we have literature.
All the stories in this comic are true. The one in panel 2 is, of course, the famous “No Wire Hangars” scene from Mommy Dearest, but the others are all details that other people have told me about their own lives, or their parents’ lives, with maybe a couple of my own stories mixed in. I didn’t draw any of the people the way they actually look, though, because while some of these are things that people might not want connected with their identities. (Except for the dog; that’s really what the dog that saved a woman’s life looks like, because come on, that dog is clearly awesome.) I did write earlier in the week that I was planning “one of those brutal personal comics about the most painful things that have ever happened to me” but I couldn’t settle on which brutal, personal episode of my life to wrench up from the darkness, so I chose an assortment of other people’s problems.
I had also planned for this one to have the most awesome artwork yet. I had it all storyboarded out and did the lettering in the early afternoon, but then I forgot about Parent’s Night at the Boy’s school, after which The Man talked me into started the director’s cut of Yentl at 9 pm, so I didn’t get back to work until after 11:30, so I just jammed through drawing all those people. Next week I’ll get more brutal.