Category: graphic novels

The Inherent Problems with the Present Tense

There’s no laundry left in my house to wash or to fold. No dirty dishes. No toys to put away. The kitchen countertops are sparkling clean. Every floor in every room has been swept. I even scrubbed the bathroom sink. The boys are taking a nap right now. I know when they wake up, they’ll start spreading the sticky, crumby mess little kids somehow create out of thin air, but for now there’s nothing left to clean here.
Obsessive housekeeping isn’t one of my compulsions. I count to and divide by four. I replay the last sentence I hear spoken over and over again until someone says something else. I don’t clean.
This is how I know I’ve gone into a tailspin. This goes beyond binge drinking and having mini-breakdowns while singing along with “Last Dance with Mary Jane” (both of which I’ve done in the last twelve days). Cleaning everything in my world as if never slowing down or sitting still will keep my mind off of what happened reads too much like a literary shortcut some pretentious tosser (the kind of tosser who was born and raised in the US, but who says things like “tosser”) would use in a New Yorker-bound story. And then at the end, the tosser would deliver “the big reveal” or “the emotional payoff” by having the housewife break down in tears when there’s nothing left to clean and finally let you, the reader, in on what happened.
This is what happened: My friend shot himself.
Now I’m going to jump back in time to give you a picture of the person who died, to make you understand why his loss should hurt so much. Another literary device used almost exclusively by tossers.
Casey was the first person at Pratt to be nice to me. Freshman Week, when I was drowning in homesickness, loneliness, and a growing sense of intellectual inadequacy, Casey absorbed me into his sphere. I don’t know why he even bothered talking to me. I wasn’t cool enough or smart enough to hang out with him or his friends. Maybe because I seemed like a stray and because Casey never in his life met a stray cat that he didn’t have a full conversation with.
However it happened, he and I got to talking about Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Casey said he had a comic I had to read.
That set the tone for the rest of our friendship. Comic books and graphic novels functioned as a faux glue, holding us together over the years. Even during the times we fell out over the real glue, one of us could email the other and ask, “What did you think about Incognito? The end of the war would’ve been a more natural ending point for Fables. I Kill Giants made me cry. Did you see this Francesco Francavilla joke?” and suddenly we would be back to normal.
I wish I could’ve told him about this tweet I saw the other day: “Cool Batsuit, Daredevil!” I know he would’ve appreciated it. Daredevil was Casey’s favorite corporately-owned superhero. (I have to say it like that, with specifics because he was also dead-set against the principals of the corporate comic book companies and preferred to buy creator-owned whenever he could.) He thought Daredevil would adapt perfectly for television—a blind lawyer who fights crime in the courtroom by day and on the streets by night.
I wonder where this post is going. It feels like it’s started to wander. But if you’re going to talk about Casey, you have to talk at least a little bit about comics. That might be the only facet of him that I can halfway capture. There were sides of Casey that I never saw, and sides of him that were so complicated that I can’t possibly put them into words, but I want to get as much of him written down here as I can, so that someday I can look back on it and not cry.
I wonder if that will ever happen, the not-crying.
What really sucks is that for all of his openhearted kindness and weirdly Connecticut brand of humor, Casey carried a lot of darkness and pain around inside. He didn’t think he deserved to get rid of it, but he couldn’t stand to let someone else hurt like that.
One weeknight, a few years after we graduated, Casey talked to me into the wee hours of the morning, until he had convinced me not to take the rest of the painkillers from my son’s birth and wash them down with the rest of the scotch in my house. “Don’t get down with the darkness, eden,” he said. There were other times, days when I begged Casey not to run his car headlong into traffic, nights when I tried to talk him out of hanging himself.
I wanted so badly to convince him that he was more good than bad. I bet a lot of people wanted that. We just couldn’t. If someone ever got too close to that truth, Casey would either ignore them or tell them something awful in attempt to push them away. I don’t think he ever realized that those confessions just underscored how amazing it was that the light in him could shine through in spite of the world’s attempts to destroy it in the worst possible ways.
Maybe that’s where this post is going. One of Casey’s favorite complaints was how unfair it was that he’d made it to his twenties without ever manifesting superpowers. But he did have a superpower—that goodness inside of him refused to lay down and die, even in the face of insurmountable evil.
I think under normal circumstances, I would want to get some distance and perspective before I wrote about something like this. I’d want to see what new light six months would cast on his decision to leave. It would be nice not to feel this—whatever this is. Even though I knew somewhere deep down that it couldn’t end any other way, I hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t. Like, seriously, Casey? The expected unexpected? That’s literary wankfiction and we both know it. You should’ve turned into a zombie or gotten eaten by a T-Rex.
More than anything, I feel like I failed Casey. I thought we were both going to make it out of the dark. I thought somehow, by the grace of God, we would both be okay. I thought if I prayed hard enough and loved Casey enough, that if I was a good enough friend to him, if I convinced him that he wasn’t alone…
If I’m completely honest, I’m angry with God. I know Casey doesn’t hurt anymore. I know he’s finally able to enjoy all the things that were stolen from him in this life. And I know this is an irrational and selfish and short-sighted way of looking at things, but right now it feels like God put Casey in my life and in my heart just to tear him out.
I can’t keep writing this. Mostly because I can’t stop crying. I think I only have a certain amount of real emotion I can express and feel each day—thus the obsessive cleaning—and Casey’s death has put me well over my limit for the next several years.
In the last few months before his death, Casey and I had broken down to an email every couple weeks, punctuated sporadically with godawful jokes by text. The last text he sent me was, “What does a fat nerd call his stomach? Middle Girth!” I sent him, “That was worth the weight.”
I keep seeing and reading things I wish I could talk to him about. Then I remember that I was going to email him the day before he killed himself to tell him I started reading The Shining (one of two King books he gave me because he thought it was ridiculous I hadn’t read them yet) and finally saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier,but I put it off. The next morning I got the call. How’s that for a lesson in not procrastinating?
This is maybe one of my favorite stories about Casey. It makes me laugh every time, so I think it’s a good place to end this monstrosity of a post.
One day in studio (I think it was junior year), Casey was asked to start the workshop on my story. This came immediately after he slammed another classmate’s story for everything from poor verb choice to illogical sentence structure. Everyone had tried to contradict Casey and tell him he was being too harsh on our classmate’s story, that he was nitpicking at technicalities, that he wasn’t even acknowledging the positives. Eventually he just said, “Fine,” and sat back in his chair. Not in that way people do when they mean “I agree with you” or “Okay, you have a point.” He did it in that way people do when what they really mean is “I know I’m right, but you wankers won’t see reason, so fuck it.”
So, on the heels of this, our professor asked Casey to start my workshop. Maybe our professor did it to see if Casey would take the easy way out after having been forced to defend his last critique until he was exhausted. Or maybe our professor just enjoyed the last fight so much that he or she wanted to see what would happen with this one. Other than inter-studio tension, there can’t be that much interesting in the world of teaching writing to pretentious undergrad douchebags.
As Casey shuffled my manuscript to the top of his (always coffee- and food-stained) pile of papers, you could feel the anticipation hanging in the air. Everyone was preparing to jump all over the first thing he said.
Casey looked down at my first page and sighed. “Where to start? Well, aside from the inherent problems with the present tense—”
“I love you, Casey,” I interrupted.

He laughed—everybody did—but I meant it. I still do. I love you, Casey. Thanks for never pulling any punches. Thanks for trying to make me a better writer. Thanks for introducing the phrases “literary wankfiction” and “pretentious tosspots” into my life. Thanks for being my friend. I could go back and tighten this post up, fix the problems and try to string a unifying theme through, but I don’t think I will. Sometimes it was really funny to do the opposite of what you considered good writing. I love you.
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Afflictions Eclipsed by Glory

Most of you (assuming there are enough people who read this blog to split them into a majority and minority) know that I have two little boys who will be starting preschool over the next couple years. I don’t want to talk about what happened Friday. I don’t want to think about it.  I don’t even want to know that it happened, so I sure as heck don’t want to write a blog post about it.
Right now there’s nothing I want more than to curl up with one of the comic books my friend lent me and get lost in a nice, brightly-colored alien war where little kids don’t get shot to death for no reason.
In the last post on this blog I told you writers can’t ignore or hide from the disturbing, painful, sickening things that happen in our world. The coward in me wishes I hadn’t told you that because here are the facts: Babies are dead. Parents are dead. People across the country are sick, hurt, angry, and sad. We don’t know what to do with this.
Friday night, my sister-in-law said, “I told [my son] that the world isn’t going to end this month, but now I don’t know. I don’t see why God wouldn’t just swoop down and take us all out.” A lot of my friends and family have been saying how much they wish the Mayans had been right about the date of the apocalypse. I’ve been saying it, too. Can you imagine what a relief it would be to be done with this whole mess? Unfortunately, the end of the world isn’t coming on Mayan Apocalypse Day.
“[God] should kill us all with an [assault rifle],” my sister-in-law said. “That would be appropriate, don’t you think?” 
What my sister-in-law understands that some people don’t is that we’re all humans. If one of us massacres a hundred others, we all share the blame. I know it goes against the grain to admit that. Whenever some great injustice or tragedy happens, our first instinct is to separate ourselves from the perpetrator. To say, “This gunman was mentally ill. That dictator was power-hungry and sadistic. That group was part of a sect that practices a radical form of our religion mutated to fit their own beliefs. He/she/they are not like me.”
The truth is that gunman, that dictator, and that group are humans just like we are. We have the capacity in our hearts to as much harm as they did. You can swear you don’t or split this into a hundred different semantic arguments, but evil is in you the same as it is in me. It may come out in different forms, but none of it is helping make this world a better place.
The good news is there’s something we can do. In the previous post on this blog, I told you that I didn’t know how to respond to tragedy or even the pain of living every day. You have to feel it, you have to face it, and you can’t hide from it if you want to be a writer. But now I understand that you can have peace in spite of it.
  
One of my favorite songs says, “If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” To me, that’s the real relief.

Goal-Oriented

The first thing I need to say is how much fun I had going on vacation to the Lake of the Ozarks. I’m so thankful to the Marshalls for taking us! I was there for a whole week and didn’t even get sniffed by a piranha (that I know of), so my incredibly shaky faith in swimming in murky water is restored. Also, since Josh was around all the time and there were plenty of opportunities for me to work while on vacation, I finished SINES, my graphic novel script, based on the original non-graphic novel Snappy, Intriguing, and Not Entirely Stolen. This SINES–like most second drafts–is a great improvement on the first one, not to mention the first non-short-story manuscript I’ve finished in my life (not counting that book I handwrote on notebook paper in junior high). So, you know, good for me.

But we’re home again and recovered from vacation, so it’s back to the old grindstone. If you follow along with my blog (which seems unlikely), you’ll note that I’m a very goal-oriented person. My life revolves around making goals. In fact, in any given day, I come up with 8-10 new ones based on whatever I’m interested in at the moment. (I don’t worry too much about accomplishing the goals. I’ve never been motivated by achievement and it seems silly to dwell on what might have been.) Lately, my goal has been to learn to draw.

I started out thinking I would draw a weekly web-comic to post on ElfshanxComix so I could measure my improvement, but that doesn’t seem like something that will materialize in the near future if it hasn’t already. I was pretty well ready to give up on drawing things when I got the idea for a creepy card for Josh. I sat down today and made this:

That was fun. And I really liked the reaction I got. (Where achievement doesn’t motivate me, attention and adoration does.) All of which leads me to believe I’m more likely to learn how to draw if I do things like draw a series of creepy cards for Josh. My title ideas include “Morbid Love Publishers,” “Bleeding Heart, Inc.,” and “Only Hurt the Ones You Love Productions.” That reminds me of that series of greeting cards/signs I made when I was a kid published by “Running with Scissors, Inc.”