Saturday, April 9, 2011

Burnt Eyes

Afterschool Special was created in a point of turmoil. To be completely honest, I had given up the idea of making of graphic novel. My previous efforts had reaped few rewards. I was looking to possibly go off in a new direction or drop-out. In 2010, comics seemed a hopeless medium to me. Even my heroes seemed to be struggling unfairly. I told myself it would be unwise to suffer the same fate.

I had pieces of a new project, notes jotted down in sketchbooks that never quite seemed to fit together. A friend had mentioned to me something about a comics artist residency, maybe the first of its kind. On a whim I applied and was accepted. This gave me the motivation to pull my thoughts together and give it one last go.

The first color piece in this book was written in 2009 on The Long Island Railroad. I originally imagined this as an angry spoken word performance that I might recite at an open mic night a la Jimmy Reardon. So to quote a young River Phoenix: "I'm desperate!"

The theme of driving has been a sentiment that has persisted with me since I first started drawing comics. In fact, one of my earliest mini-comics from way back in 1998 was titled Drive and is quite similar in mood. I have always associated driving with the following: overpopulation, a lack of control, escapism and sexuality.

On the onset of puberty, I was in a terrible car accident where I was lucky enough to only suffer from a mild concussion. Still, years later, I am haunted by dreams of gas pedals getting stuck in overdrive and steering wheels that refuse to function properly. As a teenager, I looked forward to driving because it seemed like it would open up a world of possibility in terms of meeting girls. I had this idea that life with a car would be something akin to scenes culled from TV shows such as The Wonder Years that I grew up with. Driving would enable me to cruise the strip, visit drive-ins and head up to the elusive make-out point. Unfortunately, I was living in the past. What I got instead were traffic jams and the realization that the destinations of my youth had been replaced by generic chains and franchises.

In 2008, I had been living in Boston for three years and spent many an hour stuck in traffic while driving to work. I wondered if there was a way out, a chance to change, to become something different than what was expected of me, what I was born into. Looking out my window, I'd always wonder about those surrounding me in their adjacent vehicles. Often it was business men in suits. They always looked unhappy to me. With my fear of getting old, I wondered if this was my fate. And it scared me. I wanted out. This isn't so much a criticism of the previous generation or my parents, whom I love very much. Instead, it's the desire to transform while feeling trapped or fear of the inevitable. If only the fire could be extinguished and I could stare with bright open eyes once again.

My brief stint in Florida at the end of 2010 was the first time I had been surrounded by other creative people in years. Thankfully, that gave me the push I needed to continue drawing. Instead of returning home, I got in a car generously given to me by my dad and headed off into the unknown. This time, I thought driving would lead me to a better place. I was in search of freedom and the American Dream. Instead I ended up in Arizona, more lost than ever.

When I finished drawing these pages, I was broke and unemployed. It seemed like the final thing to do was to sell the car (sorry Dad). The money helped me stay footloose for a while in California. Eventually, I ended up on my own again. Back in Arizona, I settled into a job not so different than the one I had left in Boston and in a suburb full of old people not so drastically different than the one I had rebelled from in my youth. Some things had changed though. I now had a bicycle and a book that no one wanted to publish. You do what you can with what you have. You move forward from there.

When I tell people I've drawn some comics/books, they inevitably ask me what the work is about. I always feel it's quite difficult to explain so I shy away from answering. But it's really quite simple. These comics are about loneliness.

I'm ready to move on.

February, 2012

Afterschool Special will be released as a book in the summer of 2012.
This project has been funded via a Kickstarter campaign.
More details and ordering info to follow soon.

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