Shuffling through the ruins of a summer

In this scene, the main character stands on a busy sidewalk beside a slender tree. He looks down at the scattered ruins of a summer of expectations. “How should I have prepared for this?” he asks himself. “What do I do now?” He feels relief and that surprises him. This is a new beginning. A fresh start. Unlimited opportunities. However, this is also the first time in his adult life he is unemployed. And without an automobile. Adjusting the strap of his laptop attache, he walks up Lexington Avenue to catch a bus. The feeling of relief is quickly replaced with a deep, consuming despair. In this scene, the crowds of tourists walking down College Street talk loudly and trample the gathering leaves under their shoes as the main character weaves his way toward Pritchard Park. He doesn’t hear them, only hears the sound of his own boots on the sidewalk and wonders where will he be a year from now.

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Ma Rainey, don’t sing them blues no more

There’s a story behind this image that wants to be told. It’s a reminder that seasons and people transition. Loyalty tested against the panes of transparency. Everything goes sideways when turning the corner and down the street of uncertainty, when faith and doubt pressed up against a steamy autumn window and all they see is loss. It’s a story still worrying the line. Still blue enough, blue enough, still bluer than Ma Rainey singing “Bo Weevil Blues.” It’s a story where the clarinet sweeps back and forth, sweeps low and easy, sweeps in a song looking for a place to stay, sweeps in a song saying “don’t sing them blues no more…” Don’t tell me ’bout the job you lost. Don’t tell me ’bout your broken down car. Ma Rainey, Ma Rainey, “don’t sing them blues no more…”

Yes, it is true

Instagram montage

Scenes from a story unfinished

A very observant reader and friend asked of this week’s post: “Is this story related to the teases from other photos?” Yes, they are all teasers for scenes from a narrative non-fiction book I’m writing. Some of the chapters have either been sent or are in the process of being sent to journals and magazines for publication. I am waiting on editors at this phase in the process.

For those who missed it, here’s the sequence so far: There is a story behind this photo, What hides behind this foggy morning photograph?Sisyphus tears down the mountain in a Chevy, and this week’s There’s a story… about double red doors….

Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction Continued

I had tea not long ago with the writer of a very nice article about Asheville blogs. I didn’t realize he was such a comics aficionado. Over tea, he presented me with the idea of illustrating non-fiction narratives and personal memoir. I illustrated a 14-panel story about our meeting. The drawings are quick suggestions of setting and characters. I didn’t want to get too realistic.

Brian commented: “Such an exercise cannot help but broaden and deepen your writing… This is really fascinating. Taking everyday situations, finding the drama, illustrating them – you’re developing a wealth of back-story. I could see one of these scenes popping up under a bigger story… I don’t think you’re wasting time on this project.”

I hope he’s right in regards to the exercise assisting my writing.

Narrative Non-Fiction Comics is not new. Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor was famously made into a movie. Jessica Abel’s journalistic comic Radio: An Illustrated Guide records the making of a This American Life show. Joe Sacco’s books “Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95” and “Palestine: In The Gaza Strip” are journalistic graphic novels.

Eddie Campbell’s Alec McGarry stories offer extensive inspiration in the genre of autobiographical comics/graphic novels. Alec McGarry is Eddie Campbell’s stage name (or rather comic page name). That is like Samuel Clemens writing an autobiography in which Mark Twain was the main character.

I must confess I’m enamored by that idea, but not as a narcissist. In the arena of stories, the most compelling tales are true, personal accounts–narrative non-fiction. Also, persuasive arguments are often won by personal example/experience. That’s what makes Elie Wiesel’s book, Night, so riveting–he was there. He survived Auschwitz, Buna, Buchenwald and Gleiwitz. He has first hand experience.

I know, I know–I’ve just sprinkled a lot of names throughout this post like confetti. Mark Twain I am not. Nor have I the life experiences of Elie Wiesel. I don’t know if I really want to follow in Eddie Campbell’s footsteps, either (he reveals all areas of his life–i.e. no trouble drawing himself nude which unnerves me–but maybe that helps him gain perspective on his own life).

I have a sketch of an idea of where I want to go with narrative non-fiction comics. This is what they call in Corporate America the development stage. It’s what I call drawing 1000 black lines before presenting a finished drawing.

Previous post on creative non-fiction comics: [1]

Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction

pencil layout

A few years ago I illustrated a four-page comic version of a poem by Nate Pritts. To my knowledge there aren’t too many literary comics that tackle the idea of visually representing a poem in comic format. Not that my four pages was ground breaking. It was good exercise for me and provided the kernel of expanding comics into the literary realm.

You’re probably familiar with the publisher of Great Illustrated Classics. However, comics as a whole tends to be marginalized as tights-and-capes adventures at best or adolescent porn at worst.

comic page layout

A couple weeks ago, another comics aficionado presented me with the idea of illustrating concert reviews, interviews, non-fiction narratives and personal memoir. I jumped at the opportunity and began sketching out ideas immediately.

The biggest challenge for me was the limitation of the form. Illustrating a concert review requires a simple plot: I went, I saw, I reviewed. But will anyone read something that simple? I thought about adding a bit of narrative. In other words, tell a story about people who attend a concert; include brief backstory, dramatic tension, climax and conclusion.

inked comic page

Last weekend I began with two pages. The story was simple: my meeting with the other comic aficionado/publisher.

Backstory: artist has been trying to publish his comics for over ten years.

Tension: interviewer loves artist’s work and desires some new samples.

Climax: artist feels intimidated by the task but accepts.

Conclusion: artist begins a new direction in creative communication–comics.