Nostalgia is Always Out to Break Your Heart

Behind the house where my great aunt once lived is a hillside cut like an unfinished, ancient pyramid, with a zigzagging concrete path descending alongside concrete walls. At the bottom of the hill, beyond the slabs, steps and potted plants was an expanse of green with three tomato gardens and a shed. It looked like the monumental dream of a farmer who moves to the suburbs after a life-altering glimpse of Lombard Street, San Francisco.

This is the best I could do without photographic evidence.

This is the best I could do without photographic evidence.

I remember the house itself as a good place–albeit one bereft of toys and video games. My grandfather would visit there often, and sometimes I’d go. There, surrounding the coffee table piled with National Geographic magazines, the sextagenarians would chat while the poodles and I meandered about, equally oblivious to all but a few words (our names, and the names of our favorite snacks).

I thought enough of that place and those visits over the years that in 2005, shortly before I left Michigan for Columbus, I sought out Great Aunt Emily’s latest address and visited her again. She didn’t remember me, but trusted that I was her brother’s grandson and invited me in.

The place was very new. If there was a garden in back, I didn’t see it. Emily and I sat at the dining room table. Her husband Don, who had suffered a debilitating stroke not long prior, sat in the living room behind us.

Emily and I chatted awhile, as a visitor and host must. She talked a little about her daily routine and her help around the house. I must have told her a few things about my future plans or my past decade, but I don’t remember what. Don sipped on orange juice, chuckling at Andy Griffith reruns from the view of his wheelchair.

I was quite sure I’d never see them again, but sat a moment on the periphery of their lives before learning that we didn’t know each other well enough anymore for it to matter.

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This is a fanciful bit of topography.

Some time ago, I drew a comic strip that documented the changes in the 2 1/4 acre landscape where I grew up. I pondered awhile about whether these changes stirred me. The answer, of course, was that they didn’t and they did.

(So befitting a blog. This blog. Every blog.).

This is an image of where I work. It is a library. Once upon a time it was–and still is, maybe–a fallout shelter. I reversed the dark and light elements of the symbol thereof. In reality, it is there beside a slanted parking lot, across from a local produce market, and cater-corner from an even more singular fish market, founded by a man named Gus Angle. There are bricks amid the pavement where one ought to cross from market to library.

Some of that is depicted here. I’ve taken the liberty of drawing ventilation fans where there are none (or are they knobs like those that protrude from the front of a stovetop?), and tubes and dots or ducts where one might, in reality, stumble upon a tiny butterfly garden. I can’t say that this topographic portrait is emotionally true, even, for it looks like a cargo vessel adrift over a sweltering planet, beset with unnecessary bricks when the feel of area is, in reality … municipal. Halls and courthouses and walls speckled with barred windows and old pipes.

I wanted to offer an impression of these places using the visual vocabulary that seems to have marked my work for the past couple of years. Walker Percy once wrote (something like) about how a sense of a place is as palpable as a unique bird that perches on your shoulder–exceptional. Many places I’ve been were never so spectacular; it is only time and habit that rendered them into birds whose shape I can sense.

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Victorian Juice

Victorian Juice

I drew this gentleman and thought, “If he’s floating in the air, why does his chair have feet?” Then my wife said, “Maybe it can land.”

The fate of this poor fellow is bleak. His brains will be harvested for smoothies, delectable to only the overlords who strapped him to the seat he occupies.

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Out of the Loam

Sometime last year, my sketchbook soaked up some water while rooming in my backpack with my daughter’s bottle. The back pages—then unmarked—acquired warps and waves.

This circumstance has yet to affect the things I draw on those pages, except when I put them on the scanner. There, they cannot lay flat. There, the undulations make slight shadows. Perhaps it adds a bit of literal depth to my otherwise very two-dimensional work.

And about the work: I suggested to a friend that he and I draw something about a “looming loam,” a silly bit of alliteration which, in my mind, conjured up Golems or other Terrible Things. Monsters made out of earth and rubble and clay. I did not achieve much of that above. Just a burly man on a stool, meticulously carving out—or injecting the nectar of life into—a gaunt, giant body.

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When the Subdued Raincoat Party Brigade arrived on the scene, it was all over for the Muted Umbrella Jamboree Posse.

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Muse in Neglect

Lola Schlaeft

This is my muse. She and I haven’t been in touch lately–not since Springtime, really. While I was visiting great lakes and the finer recesses of nearby ballparks, she was busy turning the arms of her sofa into pocketed treads. While I endured the pleasures and rigours of playing host or running on sidewalks, she drained cup after cup of lemon-lime soda through a straw and transformed the cardboard and plastic detritus into something almost pretty to look at.
While I was wondering when I was going to ever see a movie again, she started looking something like Franka Potente in cheap footwear, except without The Running.
I can’t say why that is, only that I hope her appearance here, however disheveled, means that I get to draw again.



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Comic Book Slide Show, or, On Reading Digital Media


Last week, I read a comic book via my smartphone for the first time. It was about a character called Atomic Robo. I enjoyed it. The application which filtered my reading experience presented this comic one-panel-at-a-time–that is, I read one panel, and swiped my finger to bring up the next.

It’s a strange way to read a visual narrative normally taken in by multi-paneled pages–but not unlike the strangeness I felt when I read a novel on the Kindle for the first time. The novelty of the experience raised the same vaguely formulated questions concerning the ‘units’ of the work and the pace at which I digested them.

Without the heft–or even the view–of an entire page, is reading a comic book one panel at a time like reading a novel that only has one sentence or paragraph printed on each page? While I read a comic through a digital medium, is my perspective of the work closer to that which the author intended, or am I merely trading the physical limitations of a page for those of a handheld screen?

My answers: more or less, and I don’t know.

I do know that when I read a novel on a Kindle, I’m much more likely to read to the ends of chapters, whereas otherwise I’d not bat an eye at putting the book down after arriving at the end of any given page. On a Kindle, I can’t sneak glances at what the bulk of the remaining text on the page before me looks like (judging, I guess, whether it will read fast or slow), and I can’t flip over a few pages to see how close I am to the end of a chapter (I suppose I could navigate forward a few sections of text, but I’d probably lose my place and the click of the Kindle’s buttons annoy me). I don’t mean to say that it betters the reading experience–only that it changes the number of plates it comes served on, so to speak.

Similarly, while my digital reading of Atomic Robo prevented me from taking in the arrangement of panels across whole pages, I lingered over the individual panels with greater scrutiny–analyzing each the way I might a photograph or a painting on a wall. My awareness of “composition” came forth in the (forced) absence of any habits I might have had about reading a comic book (or reading in general).

Not that my thoughts are terribly deep about the matter. I’ve no doubt that Scott McCloud has already been paid to write about this.

Still, the drawing above didn’t come out of nowhere. It happened because I stared at a panel in Atomic Robo and wanted to draw a picture with a large something in a foreground and a bustling cluster of little somethings in a background. It happened, in some fashion, because I wouldn’t see the next panel, ever, until I swiped the present one away.

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