Tag Archives: women

Gorilla Girl

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Civilization is overrated.

“Gorilla Girl,” raw with emotion and rich with meaning, offers a protagonist who may consider herself a member of the animal kingdom, but is a great deal more self-aware than a lot of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s characters. She knows, at least, who she is and what she wants to do, and she recognizes opportunities when they arise and seizes upon them.

I’ve read this story many times in the last 15 years and I can’t believe that only as I found myself stuck on how to present the scenes at the circus did I see the parallels to Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, a book that had a profound influence on me as a young adult. Of course, Harry Haller, as a young man, has voluntary ties to his middle class upbringing and is torn between his 2 natures. Our Gorilla Girl, young and without male privilege, is moderately tied to convention by love of her mother but primarily by the lack of mobility and freedom offered to young girls. Her crisis may be less pronounced due to her temporal environment, but more pronounced due to her gender. Her struggle is not whether to give the beast reign or to settle down in a comfortable bourgeoisie existence, but only when and where to give the beast reign.

My first thought in tackling this story was to highlight my immediate reaction that it should be read as a universal tale of female rage, that all Americans socialized female contain within themselves this exact anger, the despair at being restricted by virtue of gender, the sense of alienation by an oppressive civilization that imposes a dull domesticity on a vibrant animal nature, but then I’m not sure if that’s me projecting. Clearly, not all women bristle against the edict to be beautiful and well-groomed and mannerly and acceptable/approachable. Some of them seem happy to become the thing my mother so desperately wanted for me, the thing that neither I nor the protagonist could hope to emulate, let alone assimilate. After Jill from “Boar Taint,” Gorilla Girl is the Bonnie Jo Campbell character with whom I most relate, although I have found other—ahem—outlets for my animal nature and made a truce with objective reality. I leave it to the reader to choose: is Gorilla Girl an anomaly, a freak who can only thrive in the carnival, or is she ubiquitous, an expression that all women carry with varying degrees of comfort and ease?

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Circus Matinee

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Her hair is meant to be “lightning struck,” which is possibly up for interpretation. This is how I interpreted it. 

Flipping back through the previous 2 volumes of Bonnie Jo Campbell comics, I was struck by something Bonnie said in conclusion, that she wrote her stories to inspire compassion in readers, to make them care about the marginalized folks that she most often writes about. She wants her characters to be seen, especially those types of characters who we often don’t really see.

Big Joanie is the kind of person that it’s easy not to see clearly, to dismiss for being big and fat and ugly, with bad skin and bad hair, and in the case of most of the men in this story, to sexually objectify because, not in spite, of her lack of conventional attractiveness. “Circus Matinee” puts us inside of Big Joanie’s head, where we can see her being overlooked and objectified and we get to see her reaction to it. She’s used to it. She accepts it. She anticipates it.

But also, because it’s all she’s ever known, it’s all she ever expects.

This is the story of a moment. The tiger is out of its box, and now, so is Big Joanie. In that moment, she chooses not to obey, not to remain sightless as she has been made in the past, as the hapless, sexually objectified mistress in the cheap seats remains in the moment. Big Joanie says “fuck you” to men who tell her what to do and what to see. When Big Joanie chooses to see, the reader can’t not see her. We’re cheering for her.

The tiger and the snow cone pictures came out pretty well. The feet in panel 2 remind me of drawing Carl Betcher’s feet in “Multitude of Sins” from Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. I felt gross about drawing young Big Joanie in panel 5; in my first draft she was fully dressed, but that doesn’t reflect the text and doesn’t make sense. I left her the one pant leg, small comfort. Big Joanie’s face is based off the actress Dot Marie Jones, who always turns in the kind of performance that does make you look, and see. The adulterous businessman in panel 4’s face is based off convicted felon and poster boy for casual evil Martin Shkreli.

Boar Taint

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Can you tell that I’m pleased with myself? Can you tell that I’ve never seen a feral boar hog?

Jill is probably the Bonnie Jo Campbell character with whom I most strongly identify, because we’re both idealists who believe that, armed with only our advanced degrees and our own sense of self-righteousness, we can accomplish anything. Also, we both swear we’re only going to eat one square of dark chocolate a day. And then we both become overwhelmed with self-loathing when we fail.

I ended up cutting out more of “Boar Taint” than I intended, particularly the parts of the story that involve Jill’s awareness of being a woman surrounded by men, and of her concern for the Jentzen woman, who appears to be the only female in a household comprised entirely of men, who, presumably, are all inbred cannibal cultists. Speaking of which, those inbred cannibal cultists came out great. (Note: the text does not ultimately support the cannibal cultist theory, but it does give you the sense that Jill is walking into Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes right up to the point where she drives off with the boar hog.) Also, the panel in which Jill’s husband (his name is Ernie, and the story also lets us know that he and Jill are really in love and spend every night humping like rabbits) tries to gently explain to her that nobody is selling a high quality stud pig for 25 dollars looks pretty sweet.

Anyway, that’s a wrap on American Salvage. It took twice as long as Mothers, Tell Your Daughters but the illustrations are probably twice as good. I gave myself a deadline of New Year’s Eve to finish the 14 stories in this book, because then I wouldn’t have to change the copyright date on the bottom of my template. Deadlines are helpful. Next year, I’ll create the cover and some other supplemental material, and I understand Bonnie Jo wants to bring the print comic out in time for a literary festival in March, so look for Bonnie Jo Campbell Comics v. 2 in the spring. Fingers crossed, next year I’ll get my chance at Women and Other Animals. 

 

Storm Warning

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Do you think there’s enough blood in panel 2? I’m not sure there’s enough blood in panel 2.

This is the heartwarming tale of how toxic masculinity is purified in the crucible of life-threatening injury, and, combined with fear in the alembic of loneliness, transmuted into the burgeoning crystals of the ability to express actual love. What’s hilarious here is that Doug, upon realizing that he loves Julie, immediately tries to convince himself that he doesn’t really care for her, because, I guess, it’s not manly to have feelings? And then, as it happens, once he’s wholly dependent on her, he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he even likes or respects her. Only when he’s got less than nothing does he finally admits to himself that Julie is kind of a peach if for no other reason than she puts up with his ridiculousness.

I wonder how the story would have gone if Julie had been the one injured and Doug had to choose between nursing her through her convalescence or running away.

This comic was a lot of fun to draw. It took 10 days because my power cable broke and then I got the flu, and some of the images were pretty challenging, but I love the results. Probably the wounds would be worse in panel 2, but then it would have just been a cloud of blood, and that’s less interesting to look at. In panel 6, I realize that Julie is likely supposed to be wearing a jean jacket with no shirt underneath, but let’s say that she went home and changed before she came back. Probably, she left the bar still mad at Doug, then went home, then realized that she left a basically paralyzed guy alone in a lake house during the storm of the century and started to feel bad as she sobered up and then went back to babysit his crabby self. That’s love.

This is one of the happiest stories in the book, I feel.

I was telling my friend the coyote about how I had to draw a picture of a girl coming into a dark house during a power outage and he said, “That sounds hard,” and I said, “Not as hard as getting up early and wearing a tie 5 days a week for 30 years,” and I meant it. Hallelujah, making webcomics is the best job I’ve ever had.

Family Reunion

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I wasn’t sure if I was really going to draw that final panel, but I drew it.

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.

World of Gas

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I envy people with this kind of energy, but not people with 3 teenage sons.

Back in 1999, I felt pretty much the same about Y2K. What a lot of fuss. I worked that night; New Year’s Eve is a good time to make money. But people can always find something to get riled up about. There are still dirty dishes to wash at the end of the day. If you can’t identify with that, you won’t understand this story. The last panel could have been Susan washing dishes, but I drew dirty dishes for “My Sister Is in Pain” and it’s gross. Dishes are a pain and I have to do them at least twice a day. I love the idea of all the machines stopping for a while and people just shutting up.

That Pur-Gas logo looks sweet.

The Trespasser

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Can’t imagine what Google must think of me after some of the queries I ran to get source images for this comic. The worst part is that I didn’t get any relevant results for “cum stained mattress” and had to improvise anyway. 

When I told the Fox that I was gearing up to write volume II of Bonnie Jo Campbell Comics, he told me that after I finished the first one I swore I would never do anything like that again. I literally have no recollection of saying that. It’s probably like having a baby, where your brain blocks out the level of pain you experienced so you’re not too terrified to do it again. I’m not terrified at all. After spending 300 hours drawing 8 pages for Linda Addison, an estimated 56 hours to draw 14 pages sounds like a cakewalk.

It seemed important to keep the style consistent between the 2 books, meaning I’m back to hand-lettering, which is very time consuming, but didn’t take as much time as I remember it taking. At any rate, I realize that even reverting to conventions like drawing most of the lines with a massive weight of 4 pixels and making people’s eyes look like tiny dots in any face that doesn’t take up the whole panel, I can’t revert entirely to the style in which I draw last year, because I learned so much in the process of drawing the first book that no matter what I do, the drawings are going to look better.

Another thing I noticed as I wrote the text was that my brain let go of the idea of summarizing. I’m not telling the story the way I did with “My Dog Roscoe.” I think this is Linda Addison’s influence, because everything she does is about poetry, including her prose. This comic seems to have more poetry to it than the early comics in the last set. It’s about “The Trespasser” but it doesn’t exactly tell you everything that’s in “The Trespasser.” It seeks to communicates the feelings and theme of “The Trespasser.”

To my mind, it’s a story that functions through juxtaposition. There are 2 girls who never meet in person, but who are heavily influenced by the artifacts of each other’s lives, and we’re forced to compare and contrast the characters while they are comparing and contrasting themselves, so that dictated the layout of the comic. This story is really rich in symbols, too, and it was hard to choose which ones to use. In particular, Bonnie Jo spends a lot of time describing the objects moved by the 16-year-old, but I think the portrait of the 13-year-old with her gymnastics trophy surrounded by bronze animals gets at the heart of it. I didn’t realize that bronze figurines of dinosaurs and farm animals were common things to collect, but according to Google Image Search, they must be.

A lot of people think of American Salvage as being a more androcentric book, but this story feels connected to the themes of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the plethora of dudes who don’t understand women soon enough.