I'm at the Main Library, picking up two very different comics.
First: Bill Griffith's INVISIBLE INK: My Mother's Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist. But his dad's just as secretive--his family, history, experiences in the war... all blank to his son. Like many veterans, he wouldn't talk, and left no clues after his early death in a bike crash. In contrast, Mom's "secret" is open & well-documented; both she & her lover wrote copious letters and journals--even novels borrowing scenes and themes from their affair!
As Griffith's explores his parents' strangely loud secrets, I hear echoes of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and Are You My Mother? But there's a difference. Bechdel's parents were artists at core; but despite Griffith's subtitle, that "famous cartoonist" isn't. You ever heard of Lawrence Lariar? Not me. He wasn't famous, even in his day---just profitable. He did whatever'd sell, not what'd last--certainly not what HE cared about.
Griffith speculates--if his mom had married Lariar, would the hack have been not just a stepdad but a mentor? If so... might he have suppressed or commercialized Griffith's own crazy, creepy, personal, underground style? Would Zippy the Pinhead have ever been born?
Mentors don't just nurture; inevitably they also selectively squelch and prune. If the mentor's less than the student, that can be deadly.
But for good or ill, Lariar stayed distant, and Griffith followed his own path. Ironic that his art's just as ugly as Lariar's--just way more expressively ugly. Catches how it feels to grow up sure you're ugly. I recognize it--I was taught all men are. Griffith goes further--his women are ugly too. All bodies awkward, heavy, our souls draped in slabs of sagging meat. Griffith can capture an austere beauty now and then, but it's impersonal--architectural. Empty train stations have a lonely charm. But people? People are a blot on the landscape.
Interesting. He's married to Diane Noomin, whose cartoons have also reveled for 40 years in human tackiness and ugliness.
Picture her Didi Glitz & his Zippy, crossbreeding... yow!
Second: some My Little Pony comics, for kids--since humans stop identifying with unicorns about the same time you hit puberty and lose your ESP and peak language abilities. But I'm an Aspie--basically a lifelong closet unicorn (with opposable thumbs). Or at least not a grownup human. So I find Jeremy Whitley's stories as rewarding as Griffith's or Bechdel's. They're just sung in a different key--the key of fur.
Bike home with a contact low. Too much exposure to beaten-down people left me... hung over? Ugh.
Still, it explains some of my reluctance to socialize. Have I been protecting myself?
Our band, The Krelkins, rehearse. A short focused session. On Fight to Win, Nic & I try somewhat different instrumental sounds; on Migrate through Fire, Ross tries mallets to get a more tribal hand-drum sound, like the hooves of the creatures pounding as they dance. I like that. Catches a little of the feel of the original dream. No, My Little Pony didn't turn me into a furvert. I've always dreamed of nonhuman folk--meeting them or being them.
Just before bed, exhausted, I seek something light to read that won't haunt my dreams. Not Griffith, too grim--My Little Pony, I think.
As it turns out, I thought wrong.
I'm touring another world. The continent I'm on has green coasts but mountains, deserts, and treeless prairies inland. It may be an alternate North America or Equestria--definitely alternate, for the natives aren't human or pony. Equine, furred, tailed, yes--but bipedal, upright. A short horn on the brow. Reared-up unicorns? Hands and hindpaws, not hooves. I find them exotic, graceful, sexy...
...at least along the coasts. When I travel inland, the people look beefier, puffy as if borderline ill, and mentally half asleep; only a few have that alert, slender unicorn grace I saw by the sea. The inland minority who do look gracile are often smart and ALWAYS artistically creative. Driven artists. Why? Innate, or because the majority aren't? Does art-drought cause thirst? Or is it biological?
"Ours can dance CAGED!"
"Well, ours can sing with WEIGHTS piled on!"
"Well ours can tell the Legend of the Inland Sea while hanging UPSIDE DOWN!"
It's to the point where competitions are abuse, really. Torture on stage, as much as art. "Artists have always suffered for their art" they rationalize. Well, yeah, art is hard work, but... chains? Cages?
Mascot: just Masoch misspelled? No, this inland torture-show isn't masochism or sadism exactly. The artists aren't choosing pain, nor are the clans hurting them because they like causing it. More like Kraft-Ebbing fantasies, where no matter what you do or say, you always lose. These are powerful clans; say no to one, and another will snap you up. You can't hide out in farming or business; you're visibly different. Everyone knows you're an artist, BORN to suffer. They pretty much draft you and toss you onstage. In chains. No one even profits; it's just competition and prestige-seeking gone too far, gone wrong.
The gracile ones who can, flee early to the nearest coast. There, gracility is normal. A majority's lean, active--and creative. Unchained. You're no longer special--but after seeing your cousins in cages, anonymity looks good.
Are these two unicorn types subspecies, or is it dietary? Slender by the sea, puffy & dull inland... Could it be iodine? Remember humans far from the sea often develop goiter. So I hypothesize IUB (Inland Unicorn Bloat) is an equine whole-body response to iodine deficiency. It does fit! Of course I'm biased to consider the gracile form as healthy and the robust one as ill--I grew up as a creative but nervous skinny noodle in a world of thugs (and I do need a lot of iodine). Even here, as an alien tourist, I'm so obviously their artist type that I worry I'll be kidnapped, chained, and put on show.
I meet a young researcher--gifted, willowy, dark-coated, adorable (sort of Twilight Sparkle's mind in Princess Luna's body, though biped not quadruped of course). She was born in the heartland, but escaped to a college on the coast before the town bosses could trap her. She's hypothesized, as I did, that may be diet, not genes. This Twilight-Luna is studying many trace nutrients, hoping to track down the cause of the bloat--and undo it. I urge her "Focus on iodine!"
For if Twi-Luna can create artists and scientists with a mere pill, proving chunkiness is illness... she can break the torture-tradition at last.
NOTES IN THE MORNING
Only after sketching did I recognize the source of these stage-performers in chains and weights. I read of them decades ago in one of Kurt Vonnegut's harsher stories, Harrison Bergeron (a name I always took to play on Percheron--a massive horse-breed like the inland unicorns in my dream). In the tale an American cult of equality helped the clumsy, ugly and stupid raise their self-esteem by putting handicaps on the talented: warts on beauties, chains on runners, blindfolds on painters, weights on dancers..
Sweet Celestia! At least we haven't dumbed down our America.
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