The last time I came to Paris, I took about 500 photos of all the sites one is supposed to take while visiting Paris.  I am glad I have those photos because I only brought my prime lens with me this time—not the best choice for capturing Paris.  Here, for instance, is a very small part of Notre Dame:


So instead of the big sites, I am taking photos like this one:


I don’t know why he’s up there … but I like that he is!

Perhaps the highlight of the trip so far has been the visit I paid to Le Musée Fragonard, which is located within the Alfort Veterinary School.  The school opened its doors in 1766 and many of the specimens in the museum date from throughout the 18th and 19th centuries (and are still being used as teaching aids).  Like the skeleton of this two-headed darling:


One of the main ideas that the museum conveys is that body preservation and organ-casting is an art (in fact, preservationists like Eugène Petitcolon came to be understood as artists).

The primary reason I visited the museum was to see this piece:


Made by Honoré Fragonard in the 18th century, “le cavalier de l’apocalypse” embodies the crucial braiding of the pathological sciences, art, and narrative.  I spoke about it (and a few of Fragonard’s other pieces) during the the introduction for my dissertation defense.  Seeing it in person kind of blew me away.

Another set of objects that blew me away were a collection of preserved brachial trees from a variety of animals.  They were made at the beginning of the 20th century to aid in the study of tuberculosis.  Here is cat:


And dog:


And cow (left) and horse (right):


These inspired a series of drawings which I will use as templates for cut-outs when I get home.  There is a story that is developing among them—but I am not exactly sure what it will look like just yet.  Here are a couple:



One final photo.  The requisite “sitting in café” shot.  Note the appropriation of the ashtray:


Moving moving moving on

I haven’t had the chance to work too much on These Frames Are Hiding Places material over the last week or two.  I’ve moved into a new place (just a few blocks from my old one) and have been devoting most days to packing and loading and unloading and unpacking.  But now that’s all done, so I’m excited to get back to it.

Here is my lovely new workspace, complete with feline “helper”:

While packing up the old place, I encountered several of the trees that brought me to the collage-oriented work I’m doing here.  Most of them had nothing directly to do with my mom or my relationship with her.  They were more the outgrowth of a general feeling, emotion, sadness that her death had caused and that bled into other areas of my life.  I thought I would share a few photos:

More comics soon!



The Door

This strip was hard for me … partly because I was sick during much of its making (a stomach bug that wiped me out), but also because I’m getting into “the story.”  I’m having a hard time getting my bearings with the narrative—shaping the experience so that it reads clearly, as well as compressing emotions and events.  It’s not something that’s entirely comfortable, is it?  But I suppose that’s one of the issues I’m taking on here.  I didn’t compose that version of myself out of changing newsprint without reason.  It’s strange … becoming text.  Writing yourself into story but then letting that story take on a life of its own.

It’s funny, too:  I don’t think of “her” as “me” once she’s on the page.  In fact, I’m very aware of the things that I’m putting her through … and it gets to feel just a little sick and twisted.  I feel a little like I’m punishing her for what I went through—making her go through a grief that is so concentrated and intense.  I do want to be careful not to end every segment with her on the ground immobilized!  Good storytelling is hard.  Being honest with your experience plus good storytelling—very very very hard.

Sill, I am enjoying it all immensely (though I realized I prefer cutting to drawing!—at least this week I do …).


Here are four pages that I’ve been working on—in some ways. a translation of the introductory post (click on the first image to open up the gallery).  I’m trying to see if it will work to have my more “real” memories portrayed through drawings and then do the more magical/escapist/fictional/metaphoric/current narrative in cut-outs (and sort of have the two interweave).

I’m making the cut-outs from the morning paper.  I have never before been so attuned to the ridiculous amount of space devoted to the lamest ads—though am super tickled to be able to re-purpose the rich and varying shades of grey in them.  Really fun, too, to cut up photos of urban landscapes, politicians’ suits, and cloudy skies.  I’m taking my own photos of the process along the way.  Maybe will post some of them later?

I’ve had a couple of dreams about my mom in the last couple of weeks—the first I’ve had since she died in which she wasn’t sick and that weren’t nightmarish.  Do I think that this creative process has something to do with the shift?  Yes—there seems to be something to taking the traumatic images and memories that have been hiding in my head and putting them “out there” for others to do what they will with them.  So here you are!

An Introduction

A little over four years ago, my mom died of, well, colon cancer is the easy way to describe the cause of death and will suffice for now.  I wrote about the months leading up to her death on this blog here, which I’m now making public again (though unless you’re feeling particularly masochistic, no need to read it!).  “This Particular Web,” though not initially intended for this purpose, became a place for me to write about what it was like to watch my mom die—both the more steady form of dying that took place over five months and then the more rapid and ridiculous forty-eight hours just before her body decided it was done, ended.  I found myself writing almost daily entries that attempted to put into words and share with friends what I was witnessing and feeling.  The story it tells is incomplete, of course; it misses many details and, looking back, idealizes quite a bit—particularly in terms of my relationship with my mom.  You give shape to words when you tell a story, harnessing a particular truth for a particular moment.  Perhaps because of that, as I was writing those entries, a small part of me felt like they were not just fulfilling a present need, but would be the basis of a future (and now a new-present) one.

When the person who brings you into this world leaves this world, you become uprooted.  A few months after my mom died, I stopped writing and found myself spending the emptier hours drawing trees.  Cutting them out of paper.  Making collages out of them.  I don’t think there is a single reason for why I chose trees.  My green-thumbed mom loved them, sure.  They’re also easy to make! ;-)  But, too, I felt metaphorically lost in the woods when she died—and happy and comforted, in a weird way, in feeling lost.  Working so closely with paper (itself a tree byproduct, I suppose) helped me to live with, if not to process, both the grief associated with my mom’s absence and the trauma of watching her painful death.  And then I began to think about translating the blog into a more visual narrative—into comics—with these trees that rooted me again.  Pause pause pause to commit myself to teaching, scholarly obligations, tenure application, etc.

Fast-forward to June 2011, Chicago.  I attended a conference on Comics and Medicine—an incredible and eye-opening experience for me.  My purpose for attending was largely academic, but upon meeting the absurdly talented and forthright and generous and big-hearted artists there and talking with them about their work on comics and medicine, I felt myself ready to return to my mom’s story.  I started by translating the blog entries using ink on bristol board and completed a little over thirty pages.  After attending another linked conference on Graphic Medicine and re-connecting the those amazing people from before plus more (I’ll get around to linking their blogs/websites on the side over there—they are in all ways wonderful and I heart them), I became inspired to take the story and the medium in a different direction—bringing into play the cut-outs and collages that began this journey.  I’m not sure what the end product will look like or how it will all come together yet (some of what I create will be stand-alone pieces—and likely I won’t post everything)—but the general plan is to use paper and ink to explore the trauma, grief, and mourning of having someone and then not having her (and then realizing that you never “had” her).  The plan, too, is that it won’t be a total downer (promise!), but will draw on the weirdness, light, love, and plain-old life that always weaves its way into sadness—possibly stories of paper dolls (I made those guys in the banner a while ago and am glad to have found a home for them), unidentified flying objects, and a cat that can move freely through time and space (cats must go somewhere when you’re away from home …).  So I will use this blog to post comics and write about the process.  Along the way, I’m hoping that a script for a graphic novel will come together.

The stories that come out of our more complicated life experiences (illness, pain, death, etc.) are messy, embarrassing, coarse, even deranged.  They need a medium like comics that vexes communication—words at odds with images, images cut off/fragmented, time stopped by blank space, complex emotions made up of simple lines, paper meaning as much as ink.  The way that the comics form frames its stories allows for an expression that highlights the hidden—those feelings and effects that we live, but for any number of reasons (personal, social, institutional, political … even semiotic) can’t put into words.  In other words, as I see it, these frames are hiding places.

Finally:  Feeling a little vulnerable about publicly sharing this material, BUT please let me know if you have advice/suggestions/feedback for me at any point (I will need help and I do have thick skin!).  Thank you so much.  There are a lot of words on this page; comics coming soon (I mean, now I have no choice!!).