Working

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I’m writing this after a long weekend at an art festival in Chicago. It’s the only one I participate in, because it’s one of the few festivals that still focuses on art and community, not beer and cover bands. The organizers keep it artist-centered, including things like the very affordable entry fee and helpful roaming festival staff who have come to my rescue more than once over the three years I have participated.

Before I go on I want to clarify that this entry is not meant as a complaint. I really love doing this festival, I am grateful for all of my opportunities, and I also love doing the “live art” thing that I’m going to talk about later. I am more putting this experience into context with the working reality that artists (and people in general) face.

For months now, I have been able to focus mainly on my art because of an outside circumstance that I had nothing to do with creating. Let’s call it Providence. I won’t go into details because I don’t want to, but I feel it is necessary to mention it because that is the first thing I would want to know if I were viewing my recent productivity level from the outside. “What the HELL? Does she have a JOB?” Good question. Yes and no. Right now my ability to focus on art is amazing, but like everything, that will change. So I am doing all that I can to take advantage of my current situation while it lasts.

That’s a long preamble to my point, which is that it remains incredibly difficult to make a living as an artist. I sure as hell am not doing it. Right now I am engaged in “building my brand,” I guess. Pretty much every art show and project I have done for the last several years has been, in economic terms anyway, more about marketing than about actually making a living.

You could argue that I am just a bad businessperson. And you would be right. But there is more than that involved here.

About a week ago, I went to a local bar after stretching three six foot square canvases for a new project (actually my friend stretched them, but even just watching her was exhausting). I was into my second mimosa when I started chatting with a guy who wanted to see my art and said he was a recruiter. I guess I should have stopped right there. But he reeled me in by saying that my website and work was a lot better than he had expected (I know what he means) and feigning interest in how I make a living.

I really didn’t have an answer for him except that “I don’t make a living as an artist, yet anyway.” Then he launched into recruiter mode. He kept saying, “I’m not an artist, but…” which I guess he thought excused all his lame clueless ideas. In artistic terms, anyway. The “best” example of this is when he suggested that I make prints of the collages that I construct out of old drawings, paintings and trash. Prints. Which cost money to make, when part of the point of those collages is that they are essentially free material for me. Flat prints, when another main point of my collage work is that it is a physical, textural object in this flat digital world.

Reader, I came closer to instigating a bar brawl than I ever have before. Especially as he accused me of being a “snob” when I suggested that making prints of that work was wayyyy beside the point. “Don’t you want to share your work with more people?” I just – I really can’t even begin with this line of reasoning. Also, like all recruiters, he was one of those people who don’t have a conversation so much as wait for you to catch your breath, so they can continue making a preconceived point that completely disregards your input. So I had two more mimosas and listened politely as he rambled on with his business ideas. I probably could have easily pushed him off his chair, but I restrained myself.

Anyway, yeah I’m being a hater. And we were at a bar, not a business meeting. He does have a point though, in that I have pretty much zero business plan for my work, for the comic, for anything. I am not being realistic.

So another buried point that I would like to make, is that of what activities human beings choose to do, and why, and what circumstances influence those choices. The great majority of us, Providence notwithstanding, have to work to make money to support ourselves. When you’re talking about something like art, personal vision and choice is the product that is being sold. The “work” part of it becomes romanticized and mythologized. I was talking at my festival booth this weekend to some amazing young gallerists I know. “Yeah,” I said, “I’ll see you later – I’m gonna go do this live art thing from 4 to 7.” They laughed. “Live art – you mean, working?”

So yeah, those gallerists GET IT. The “Live Art” phenomenon I guess is a way to make static art into something fun you can do at events. And honestly, I like it because many times I get antsy hanging around at parties or whatever when I could be working on my art. Best of both worlds! At this event, I was painting on one of those recently-stretched large canvases next to my friend Juan-Carlos, who quietly and methodically set up a table. Then he drew squares on it with charcoal. He mixed up some brown-black dirt stuff and silently began making small bricks out of it, and placed them within the squares. He did this the whole time I was there painting, and he drew quite a crowd.

Apparently someone asked him what he was making. Juan-Carlos shrugged and said, “it’s not about the product, it’s about the work.” I guess the guy muttered something under his breath about “communists!” and slunk away.

I love Juan-Carlos.

In conclusion, because I have to conclude sometime before I go off and work on another awesome project I am not making any money from: I have always been amazed at people’s ability to create and discover, and dismayed at how those abilities are corralled and sometimes killed by the necessity of making a living. Some of us have been able to thwart that system, at least for a time. I do think that economic necessity has helped to spur some great innovation, but I also think that people in general deserve the time and space to make choices based on other parameters. Without people thinking we are stupid.

I think survival mode may be killing us.

Why Take the Train?

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I am nearing the end of an epic 3 week trip with Amtrak (FYI: they are not paying me or giving me discounts for writing this). Several months in, I am still trying to figure out exactly what to do with this blog; but my general rule for now is to write what I feel like writing about. So I will write about why I chose to take the train, and why I will likely do it again.

It’s Not a Plane

I go through phases of paranoia for various things, and right now I have a vague paranoia of flying. You can quote all the safety statistics you want. Like my boyfriend says: “I never said it was a logical fear.” Also, you have the airport lines and the security and all the current cost cuts that make planes feel more and more like a flying Greyhound Bus. So, if you’ve got the time, I think the train can be a viable option.

However Though

Be aware: while taking the train CAN be cheaper than flying, that’s definitely not the rule. It also takes, obviously, way way longer to get where you’re going. This trip, I bought coach passage on three of Amtrak’s most scenic routes (and one blah one) for a total of just under five hundred dollars. That’s pretty good, I think. It also ended up being roughly five full days of travel, and I can’t really sleep in the coach seats. So it can be an endurance test as well.

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Comfort is Relative

So yeah, the seats. Coach seats are huge – like the size of first class plane seats, maybe even bigger – and they recline back pretty far AND have a little footrest you can extend. And on the scenic routes there is a lounge car with bigger windows, tables and outward-facing seats. You can purchase sleeper cars or “roommettes” (yeah what?) for more money. Like WAY more money. I would have paid several THOUSAND dollars for sleeping accommodations on the routes I took this trip. Oh, I guess you also get food included with the sleeping cars and it’s vaguely better than the stuff they serve otherwise. I mean maybe? It didn’t really look like it.

The food on the train is priced how you would expect it to be priced for a captive audience. There is also a dining car with sit down hot meals, but it didn’t really interest me. You can also take a bunch of your own food. I did that initially, but by the third trip I just didn’t feel like carrying all that around anymore. Turkey sandwiches and beer for me!

And also: regardless of whether you can sleep in the seats, it is essential that you take a neck pillow and some sort of blanket. They can sometimes go crazy with the air conditioning, and really, you need the neck pillow. Just trust me.

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People Talk to Each Other

People talk about the Echo Chamber a lot right now, especially during this election season. When you travel the slow way through such a great expanse of territory, you’re going to meet a lot of different people. I hung out with a lot of different folks, and occasionally we even talked about the upcoming election. We kept it civil. I heard opinions and thoughts I had not considered before. It was refreshing.

One night on the Zephyr, I hung out for several hours with two young people in their mid twenties. We rambled about all sorts of stuff, and had some meaningful conversations about generational divides. The young woman asked me if I ever got resentful of Millennials and their fancy cameras calling themselves videographers after doing it for like a month. I said yeah sometimes, but people who are new to it can also bring fresh ideas; and I told her a few stories that illustrated that.

Later I sat silent and listened to her and the young man talk about growing up with the internet. Once she shared how excited she was to discover this “hot coffee dispensing machine” at one of the train stops. It was totally new to her, the idea that you could get one cup of hot coffee out of a machine. “Like a Starbucks only a machine. The coffee isn’t very good but it’s cool.” I realized, again, how different generations have totally different points of reference.

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It’s Sort of Old School

Amtrak currently has this seventies patina that I kind of enjoy. Like flying, it can also remind one of a Greyhound Bus at times… but I think in a more charming way? I assume they are running on a pretty tight staff, so stuff like cleaning the bathrooms doesn’t happen very often. But yeah, get over it. The staff I have encountered are funny and sweet and long suffering. One cafe attendant played loud gospel in his car at all times, and sang along with it. I didn’t mind (he was a good singer). Another cafe guy announced some sort of bingo game for free non-alcoholic beverages down in the cafe car (he said he got lonely). He said “Spell my name, Alberto, with items you have with you.” So, A for aspirin, L for lipstick, B for bum knee – people got creative.

I ate once in the cafe car and met the young daughter of the assistant conductor. She was maybe eight years old, an outspoken tomboy, wearing a cardboard conductor hat like a Burger King crown. She really latched onto this charming young rock climbing guy sitting behind her. They had the type of stream of consciousness conversation that can happen between a chill adult and smart kid. She kept telling Rock Climber that he should get a job on the train. “You get all your meals for free!” She picked up her dessert. “You get cheesecake!” When her father and his colleagues came down for their meals, the topic turned to politics. The daughter kept coming up with made-up candidates and saying who she would vote for. She said, “If you were running, and you were running, and Sylvester the Cat were running, I would totally vote for… not the human.” I gave her internal spirit fingers on that one.

Sometimes people along the route wave to the train. That’s cute. We also got mooned several times. The first time I saw it was on the Empire Builder, the route that goes along the northern part of the country from Chicago to Portland. Two older dudes were in a boat in the middle of a mountain lake. One guy was standing up with his back to us, bending over slightly, pants down. His friend sat, holding his fishing pole, laughing his head off. The whole picturesque scene could have been painted by Norman Rockwell (and I wish it had been). I thought it was adorable.

On some of the trains, Amtrak partners with the Park Service to provide historic narration and even entertainment in the lounge car. On the Empire Builder, we had an acoustic country trio playing some really nice tunes. On the eastbound route of the Zephyr, we had a fantastic narrator named Jack. Jack must have been about eighty years old, with solid historical knowledge, firm opinions and a perfect Western grandpa deadpan delivery. He warned us about the possibility of moonings:  “Every now and then you’ll see someone showing us his backside. But it’s a little chilly for that kind of activity today.”

That's Jack on the left.
That’s Jack on the left.

You Look Out the Window At Your Country

I’ve done a fair amount of traveling outside of this country, but not a lot within the borders. For various reasons, now seems like the right time for me to do that.

I told my young train companions that I liked looking out the windows at the country. The young woman piped up immediately: “But that just makes me angry though! Because I want to get out and wander around. And really see it.”

She’s right. And I think I might do more of that.

Daring and Paranoid

A beautiful nonfunctioning fountain. Plus symmetrical fire extinguishers.
A beautiful nonfunctioning fountain. Plus symmetrical fire extinguishers.

It honestly feels more and more stupid to write about art or vacations or anything other than desperate measures right now. But I have a blog and a deadline and other people are writing about desperation a lot better than I am; so I guess I’ll talk about California, because it’s nice here.

I’m staying with friends in Half Moon Bay, a community about 45 minutes outside of San Francisco. The place is in a collection of really charming, refreshingly non-uniform houses that look like they were thrown against the side of the hill and stuck there. It’s an easy ten minute walk to the ocean. The GD ocean.

Whatever, the Pacific.
Whatever, the Pacific.

Anyway it’s an “easy” walk if your knees are good. Mine aren’t, so this morning I gingerly made my way down the winding, steep incline, past the charming houses which are lousy with aloe plants and lemon trees, myself awkwardly weaving back and forth across the streets with a distinctive halting, cautious gait that must make the causal observer assume I am hobbling to safety after surviving alien abduction. Now I am at a cute cafe.

Nature here is pretty aggressive. You get the impression that if anything happened to the people, Nature would easily reclaim the place after a long weekend. The laid back California lifestyle is a stark contrast to the evidence of constant natural upheaval. Earthquakes, landslides, the tide. Maybe the calm attitude and the wild nature is a necessary yin and yang kind of thing. Maybe people here are just at peace with forces greater than themselves, because the terrible is so beautiful.

Downtown San Francisco seems to be just itching for a fight it can’t win. I am no structural engineer, but it sure doesn’t look to me like any part of that city was designed to withstand earthquakes. Chicago has gargoyles hanging off of buildings, San Francisco has buildings hanging off of cliffs. The highways here are like ribbons thrown into the air. Apparently some of them were designed by a race car driver. Really it looks like the earth opened its mouth and ate the city in 1906, and after a few years people shrugged and came back and rebuilt the city among the very teeth of the planet.

It’s possible we just thirst for danger.

I’m not sure whether I am getting more paranoid or more daring with age. I remember a certain confidence of youth, when I did stupid things either because I lacked a real concept of mortality or I had complete trust in my caretakers. Now I have a better understanding of both mortality and the limited control we all have over our circumstances. So paranoia is one option, but so is shrugging your shoulders and building a home in the mouth of the beast that birthed you.

I’m sure I could work this back around to the upcoming election, but I’ll let you do that on your own. Daring and paranoid are words and ideas that are going to stick with me for months to come.

Necessary Work

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I started my train trip a few days ago, and I spent the last two nights “sleeping” in a reclined coach seat on an Amtrak train. Yesterday I arrived in Portland, where an old friend took me in and set me up in the quaintest (seriously the absolute quaintest) little guest cottage on her neighbors’ property.

I am writing this in the early morning while sitting on the cottage porch. Earlier I said hello to the goats and the guinea hen, all of whom were completely unimpressed with me. The garden in front of the cottage, like the cottage itself, is neat as a pin and well-appointed, without being ostentatious. The people who own the farm have already been up for hours. One of them even made me a nice cappuccino and brought it to my door.

I grew up in Idaho. I didn’t live on a farm, but plenty of my friends had a rural existence; this environment feels familiar and comfortable to me. It is a little like going back in my own timeline. So I think it makes me more reflective even than rural environments generally do for most people.

I get a solid and comforting peace when observing necessary work being done. It helps that it’s a perfect day, and I’m not the one doing the work and worrying about  funding, preparation and potential pitfalls. From here it looks organized and satisfying.

When I look at this neat and orderly farm, and listen to the animals (human animals too) contentedly going about their business, it’s hard to imagine horror going on anywhere in the world.

I really think that everybody everywhere just wants to do their necessary work. We do way too much unnecessary, destructive  work. I hope we can figure that out.

Yep. Goin’ On A Trip.

I recently set up a three week train trip, where I will meander across a large part of the country and visit friends all along the way.

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I’ll be purposefully vague about how I am affording this (even though it is costing a lot less than I expected), basically because I don’t want to go into it. Suffice it to say it fell into my lap. I didn’t earn it. I have the time because I’m a freelancer with pretty much zero responsibilities for family or a regular gig.

Weird? Very weird. I want to acknowledge that while many people would love to do something like this, it’s simply not possible for most regular working people. So there will be no travel shame here.

That said – whoa, I am really looking forward to this. I have wanderlust. I got to travel on my parents’ dime a lot when I was younger; then I was out on my own and way too broke, and sad about it. Now I am more wily and a lot more spontaneous (and lucky), and back on the road again.

I have been a big fan of international travel. I like going to other countries mostly to see other ways of living. Recently I’ve realized that my own country is pretty gigantic, and there are still different ways of living right here. Maybe not for long. So I’m focusing for a while on running around the U.S. and looking at it.

I mostly prefer traveling alone. It really brings out your character in its purest form. I’m not saying I always like what I see, but that’s part of the point. It becomes clear what you need to work on.

This train trip idea started because I have not been able to get an artist’s residency. So I’m like, screw it – I’ll do my own. I’ll have a lot of time on the train to do research, write and draw. On one of my stops, I am spending a week doing nothing but hanging out and writing.

We’ll see how this goes. I think it’ll be great.

Keeping Regular

“Artists have good days and bad days, Ms. G.”

That was thirteen year-old Ernesto, one of my after school comic book design students from several years ago. He was (and I hope, still is) a prolific and creative artist. One day I was razzing him a little for not working on his story as hard as usual. Then he made that statement above. I was like, “You’re right,” and I left him alone.

When Freaks’ Progress went live almost a year ago, I knew I was gonna have good days and bad days. I promised myself I wouldn’t let perfection get in the way of persistence. I knew that there would be days where I’d look at my page and be like WHAT THE HELL IS THAT, but I’d post it anyway.

Here’s an example.

WHAT THE HELL IS THAT.
WHAT THE HELL IS THAT.

SERIOUSLY.

The thing is a mess. The composition is lousy; it’s not really clear what I’m trying to do with the rambling type behind the girls; the drawing is kinda crap. But fine, it advanced the story.

Then there are some pretty great pieces, like this.

Ahhh.
Ahhh.

Admittedly this is more of a splash page than anything, but still – it reflects the style and mood I am aiming for. I really like it.

Here’s one that I think is fairly decent both in storytelling and art.

Okay, this is cool.
Okay, this is cool.

This page in particular brings up another issue, though; and it’s one that I need to focus on: READABILITY. I think that in many of my pages, it’s not terribly clear how a viewer is supposed to read them. Top then bottom? Left chunk then right chunk? Many times I realize it when I’m drawing, then just shrug my shoulders like, “Does it really matter? They’ll figure it out.” Sometimes I think it might be interesting if a person reads it “wrong” and gets a different spin on the narrative. But really, I need to get a handle on that.

The webcomic is a twice a week thing. Later this year, I want to increase that to three times a week. I think I’ll leave it at that, because I have other stuff to do. But I am amazed at how fast I am getting. “Fast” is a relative term; it still takes me a certain number of hours to complete every page, and right now I have this miraculous schedule that allows me pretty much complete freedom in managing my time. Even so, I don’t have a regular posting time; pages show up sometime on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And occasionally, they don’t show up at all. So there are bugs still. But it’s an upward trend.

This summer I am also starting to create longer comics for print. I have three minicomics now; they’re short, quarter-page size books. For each of them, I took chunks of stream-of-consciousness narratives I wrote down over the years, and then refined them into the short little stories. It was frankly pretty easy, in that the concept and writing was already done.

For my next printed pieces, I am focusing more on character development and complex narrative. And, you know, better art. So the longer printed pieces are my next challenge. Hopefully that discipline affects my webcomic work as well.

Research: Understanding A Blind Character

I’m in a constant state of research for Freaks’ Progress. Whenever you try to write about an experience that is not your own, there’s always this backing up and reconsidering a choice; then backing up again. And again.

Hazel, one of the main characters in this comic, is blind. I know next to nothing about that experience. Recently, through a friend, I met a blind sound artist who is anxious to connect with like minded people. His name is Andrew Slater, and you should really check out his own comic work and music at his website.

Andrew and I met at a bar. Through his comic I know that he isn’t “completely” blind, and I even know a little about what his type of blindness “looks” like (again, check out his comic). That was very helpful. We’ve all set up meetings with people we haven’t met before, where we say “I’m the short white girl with the bleach blonde hair, what do you look like..” but hold on, not this time. I got there a little early, and watched the door so I could go introduce myself to Andrew when he arrived.

He said right away that he loved how Hazel was drawn to the Speak ‘n’ Spell (check out this for a brief rundown on circuit bending). He said, “I want to get one of those in the hands of every blind kid in the city,” and told me that there are really very few (like maybe pretty much no) sound art programs for the blind. He is also having difficulty, strangely I think, finding other visually impaired sound artists. He just created The Society of Visually Impaired Sound Artists, and you can read the manifesto by clicking the link.

Apparently art education for the blind involves stuff like classic paintings rendered in 3D, or sighted teachers describing visual pieces of art. Andrew thinks both of these approaches are wrongheaded to say the least. I am already considering a scene where Hazel provides choice commentary about having to feel up the Mona Lisa.

I also have no idea about how the blind are generally educated. Many schools specifically for the blind can be very limiting. Andrew said yeah, put Hazel in public school, and make sure Lupita has her back. It’s what I was thinking anyway, so that’s good. Andrew educated me about computer and reading aids available through libraries, assistance programs, or built directly into apps and software – all of which I intend to explore and address in the comic. Of course, funding for a lot of this type of assistance is currently threatened throughout the country. I intend to address that as well.

We had a long conversation about how young blind people are frequently taught helplessness and dependency, to the point where they have little to no social skills. I remembered a blind student I saw once when I tutored at a local community college. She seemed to be naturally boisterous, but her note taker was incredibly patronizing, cutting her off in the middle of her sentences, talking to me like she wasn’t there, describing her as difficult and apologizing for her lack of intelligence. I addressed the student directly, and tried to have a conversation with her about the writing assignment. She had some ideas; but again, her note taker interrupted and cut us off, making decisions for her. The student seemed to be used to it, and not only from the note taker. I think I recall that I told my supervisor about it; at least I really hope I did. That experience stuck with me.

I have a clear idea of Hazel’s background and her personality, as well as where she is going plot-wise. Now I have some interesting parameters to shape her story. And also, I am working on an addition to the site that allows visually impaired readers to enjoy the comic as well. That’s the thing about research, and sharing your work with people for feedback. You get a lot of ideas that you would have never had on your own.

Community Effort

Yesterday I took part in a fantastic community effort to paint a mural on a huge wall that runs alongside a neighborhood dog park. The mural project was organized by AnySquared, Artistic Bombing Crew, and the Logan Square Dog Park; and it was painted by artists and community members from all over Chicago (and some out-of-towners too). The wall is part of a highway overpass in the Logan Square neighborhood.

Sketch for my contribution to the Logan Square Dog Park mural
Sketch for my contribution to the Logan Square Dog Park mural

The wall is massive, roughly the length of a football field and over twenty feet high. The organizers asked several artists to paint “colossal dogs” as featured artists. The featured artists included “traditional” painters and graffiti masters. Other artists painted smaller portraits of the dogs of people who donated to the wall, and members of the community at large painted pets and flowers and all sorts of other things as well.

Outlining the piece using a projection.
Outlining my piece using a projection. Photo by Ona DeBalona.

When I was asked to be one of the featured artists, I decided right away to paint Hazel and her service dog Zorro. As of this writing, Zorro hasn’t shown up in the comic yet; but he’s coming up later in Chapter Two. This mural piece is about 20 feet square, give or take, easily the biggest thing I’ve ever done if you don’t count giant video projections.

Underpainting, adding color, and lots of random flowers for community painting.
Underpainting, adding color, and lots of random flowers for community painting.

Logan Square is, as of this moment, still a fairly diverse Chicago neighborhood. But it is gentrifying at the speed of light. The community paint day was a fantastic cross-section of residents, working together to create something lovely and lasting. Of course I had to stand there and wonder why we can’t just do this sort of thing with each other all the time, for all the problems we face as a community. Simplistic? Maybe. Or maybe not.

A small section of the wall in progress. This is maybe like one quarter of the full length of the wall.
A small section of the wall in progress.

Hazel and Zorro, and the rest of the wall, will be finished by the end of the summer. It’s going to be just beautiful. I hope it can be more than a symbol.

Knowing Your Place

As I work through my research and personal reflection for The Flaw (a story about Andrea and Allison, a set of conjoined twins who are main characters in Freaks’ Progress), I’m thinking about how self-acceptance is a radical thing.

First, to contextualize: More and more people are proclaiming and owning their true gender, their race, their identity. This is good.

But here, I want to refer to that weird phenomenon – you know where people become agitated when they aren’t sure about a person’s gender, or specific racial background. There’s an anxiety in the air until they figure it out. Sometimes they get angry. They heatedly ask, “What ARE you?”

This question isn’t asking for pronoun preference. It isn’t about the “unknown” person at all; it’s about the person who is freaking out because they can’t immediately categorize another human being.

Recently, I was talking a with a friend of mine who is transitioning, and I asked, “So  what does it matter to people whether they immediately know what gender a person is?”

She said, “It’s really about making sure you know your place.”

For some reason that hadn’t hit me quite so clearly before. She’s right of course. If we’re indoctrinated from an early age with a sense of either innate superiority or inferiority on account of our gender, race, personal appearance, ability or disability – it’s baked into who we are. It’s so powerful precisely because we can’t see it.

Consider this idea in context of the recent story of a horrible campus rape, the one where a star Stanford swimmer molested an unconscious woman in an alley. What the hell made him think this was something he could do? And what in god’s name made the judge think the lenient sentence was appropriate, and made the swimmer’s father defend that sentence?

“Knowing your place” applies, obviously, to race as well as to gender. There are countless examples of law enforcement treating people of color in a profoundly different way than they treat white people. I’m editing a video right now where an Englewood high school class discusses their daily interaction with the police. It’s stunning.

A statement that is nothing new, but needs to be said again and again: The power structure is very interested in perpetuating itself. The endurance of that power structure rests on everyone knowing their place. Breaking out of that place threatens the status quo.

Bringing my thoughts back around to the story I’m working on: it’s a story of conjoined twins who accept themselves, and refuse the “corrective surgery” which will either severely cripple or possibly even kill both of them. They say no. Because the surgery is not about them. It is about the people who cannot handle their existence.

Research

Since I can remember, I’ve written epic stories. There has always been some long running narrative going on in my head, with multiple noble but flawed characters explaining the world to me through their particular experience. The characters in Freaks’ Progress are the most current manifestations of personalities who have been with me for decades. Their names, quests and provenance have changed as my understanding of the world develops over time.

There’s probably a name for people who do this. Or maybe it’s just a slightly more formalized version of what everyone does, which is to comprehend the complexity of the world through stories. It doesn’t have to be Game of Thrones level stuff. It can just be neighborhood gossip. And I think that people who only read nonfiction or do hardcore scientific research are reading and writing stories, too. It’s what human beings do.

I won’t claim to be any sort of expert in the topics I address in this comic, but I will say that I learn the most from the people I’ve met who are living the struggles. It’s easy to simplify conflicts, probably necessary when you’re trying to quickly communicate a problem or push for a particular solution. But people living in any given difficulty each have their unique way of dealing with it. I am most interested in those individual stories, because I believe that those very specific details can help us to understand issues much more deeply, and also, perhaps, to begin to find surprising solutions.

Many characters in my comic are living with challenges I have encountered through my work, conversations, and just living. Some of the problems are things we all deal with, but haven’t recognized because we have not quite yet seen the threat clearly. All of these problems will affect every one of us, sooner or later.