These images on the page (whether digital or a literal piece of paper) -- are they some deeper sign of the psyche in turmoil? Should we worry when dark images emerge? Are these warning signs, threats of danger, a cry for help? Or is there just something to black ink on white paper that brings out the darkness?
I'm informed here by Rob Schrab's introduction to Jhonen Vasquez's Johnny the Homicidal Maniac anthology. Or influenced. Let's go with influenced. Schrab writes of violent comics in general and JTHM specifically, "Take a deep breath, give your monster a high five and put him away. You've just used an evil fantasy to keep you civilized and sane."
It's true. In my doodles and nascent attempts at comics, I always find a surreal sense of the macabre bubbling up. At best, it is only wierd. More often -- and perhaps more often of late -- those images can take a decidedly darker turn. If I draw a flower, I feel compelled to draw thorns. Lately those thorns form on tentacle-like roots, and more often than not seem to be seeking to skewer the offensive nose that would dare to stop and take a sniff. It's an old pattern. As a student in those liminal and strained middle school years, I would create elaborate assembly lines of torture and death for my teachers. Not that I hated my teachers. Not that I ever wanted to wear a black trenchcoat or bring a firearm to school. Never even close. But something about that illicit use of the margins of my notebook for dark fantasy made the regimented life of school tolerable.
Big surprise. Now I am the teacher, although in the halls of academia more than grade school (inasmuch as there is a difference). And yet I still doodle and draw. I take minutes in meetings and transcribe their content. Would that I included the marginalia drawings that often accompany them! Aye, that would make for an interesting meeting with my dean. Prior to digital transcription, my notes are often darkly illustrated manuscripts. And then, of course, when I should be grading or working on a paper, I often retreat to a world of scrawled line-work and black ink on paper. If my homicidal creations raise a bloodied axe, the only thing I am killing is time. Dark thoughts, perhaps, as I commit a kind of slow professional suicide through a not very ambitious use of my precious time.
But my time is precious -- to me, specifically -- and it seems to be slipping away faster and faster with each passing season. I think these doodles are a kind of cry, but not for help. More like a howl at the moon, a reminder that in the depths of overwhelming administrivia, there is always something else I would rather be doing. Not something grim, necessarily, but something pleasurable in its grim subject matter, something transgressive and inappropriate, something at once neat and messy. An indulgence, perhaps, an abandoned talent that won't go away (not that I really want it to). A fascination that flirts with relevance in my professional life, but often as not retreats to the safety of avocation, of escape, of much needed release.