Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Resurrection with Toons

Page from "Vacation on the Moon"
A little over a year after I made it, "Vacation on the Moon" appears this week in print in Palooka 2.  That's actually amazing turnaround.  For a short abstract(ish) comic I made in the wake of a visit home, more therapy than an honest attempt to make art anyone would want to publish, that work has gone farther than I dreamed possible.  But then, I guess our best work comes from dark places and serves other purposes than "just making" something.

The "therapy" part worries me, though.  I've spent much of my career cautioning folks about engaging in therapy publicly.  Beware, I tell the neophyte public speaker, of going places with an audience you are not ready to go -- they are not paid to listen and be kind.  To the experienced performer recently enamored of confessional narrative and the chance to air personal pain, I remind: there has to be something more to your story than just what concerns you; it needs to reach a broader audience and speak to some level of shared experience.  Even if therapy is not a "scare word," we should at least remember that, for it to work, all parties involved should be aware they are entering a therapeutic context and consent to the "treatment" -- we record this wisdom with impressive concepts like "norm of reciprocity" and "expectancy violation."

"Light," a one page comic.
So what of my little comic?  I made it in the week after a summer visit to my parents with my partner.  Those visits are always hard, all the harder for being such a cloyingly sweet concoction of pleasures and pains, memories and loss.  Yet there was a new specter last summer, coiling in the shadows and conversational pauses.  My mother seemed, well, different and not quite all there.  And my father, separated from her for nearly twenty years but still a good friend, seemed to be disappearing into his own isolation and the consequences of limited human interaction.  It was a visit about being (and trying not to be) horrified at what age is doing to my earliest loved ones; it was a visit about struggling to be present, to be visible as I am in the face of those with failing eyesight and faulty memory and too many preferences for who they think I am (or should be).

"Crepuscular Avuncular," some recent digital art.
Returning from that trip, I buried myself in ink and pages.  Words came reluctantly, but images flowed.  Inspired by abstract comics and poemics, I wanted a language that resisted narrative and certainty but could still be (productively?) about something.  Mostly, though, I was flailing in a kind of despair, reluctant to get out of bed, uncertain about pretty much everything.  So was born "Vacation on the Moon,"  and after a few pages it caught a kind of momentum that is hard to describe but beautiful to experience -- a "high" one could spend a lifetime chasing.  It moved quickly from sketchbook to digital processing to finding a suitable publication venue.  With the relatively quick news that it was accepted for publication, I felt something in me shift, perhaps waking, perhaps reminding me it had always been there.  This is, in part, what art (visual, verbal, tactile, etc.) is for -- not just in the making, but also in the sharing.

A little over a year later and those pages seem even more prescient.  My mother is now diagnosed not with Alzheimer's but with vascular dementia.  She now lives in an independent living facility with in-home care, though getting her there was no easy task.  The dementia and its complications came on her with a vengeance in late fall, and the holiday season required a difficult family intervention.  So much of the conversation in the family was retrospective sense-making, looking back for signs and wondering if we could or should have intervened sooner.  I look back at "Vacation on the Moon" and see in it the pre-tremors of a major quake, full of harbingers and warnings.

"Klexmur, Alien Reporter," a weekly comic originally
published at the now defunct Black Magpie Theory.
I look in the back of Palooka at my cheeky bio and wonder who that guy is.  It points readers to this blog if they want more.  And yet, this blog hasn't really been a home for my musings and art for several months.  I've been around.  I've found Tumblr and its preference for short-form ("micro") blogging and reblogging.  I've participated on more than one collaborative blog -- I had a weekly comic strip on one (that is now shifting to another).  I was the primary coordinator for a social media performance/art event that, ultimately, landed me in the pages of ARTnews this summer.  In other words, I've been keeping busy...just not here.

Recent "Self Portrait"
I think that is about to change.  It is time to come back to this blog and let it be a home for art and contemplation.  Maybe also to let it be, in some small and responsible way, a kind of therapy.  But rest assured, I know that these confessions must reach a broader audience, speak to some sense of shared experiences.

Let me know if they do.

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