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In the Key of G Minor

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 20, 2017

I don’t profess any breadth of musical knowledge whatsoever. (I am, however, painfully well aware of my own limitations as a singer, which is why unlike my brother I never took up an entire three-hour car ride to our relatives as a kid belting out “Hotel California” with such particular emphasis as “They STAB it with THEIR steely KNIVES but they JUST can’t kill THE beast.”) But a quick internet study a few years back taught me some very broad strokes about musical keys. D major often signifies triumph. E major is rambunctious. And G minor is discontent and/or unease.

Portraying a sense of disquiet is never exactly the most inviting approach. And we knew going into this storyline that it would be only a matter of days (well, minutes) before some readers would be using the word “Funkyverse” to describe current Sally Forth. For those who don’t frequent specific online communities, “Funkyverse” is another way of saying. “For the love of God, lighten the f*** up already!”

But the obvious truth about light is that it does cast a shadow, and to avoid the shadow is to deprive an object of its weight and substance. Of course, wallowing in shadow only prevents one from experiencing the joy that is far more common and accessible than our brains will sometimes allow us believe. It’s a balancing act. Certainly right now Sally Forth is casting an eye more to the shadow behind it than the sun in front. But in moments of grief that is precisely what one does. You reflect, you wonder what you could have done to prevent the current situation even though almost every time you could have not prevented or foreseen it, and you find yourself in a grey area. You know you will need to—you will certainly have to—move forward, but you can’t quite look back into the sun because right then its light is too harsh, too revealing, and frankly too much for you to take in. We will of course step out of the shadow. We won’t wallow. But without occasionally acknowledging the shadows life can cast I believe the strip would risk becoming immaterial, insubstantial. That can certainly be read as a ridiculously self-aggrandizing statement of “THIS IS IMPORTANT AND WHAT WE DO IS IMPORTANT” but really, we want the people of Sally Forth to feel real and recognizable, or as much as they can when one character can launch into a monologue about how Star Wars would have differed if R5-D4’s motivator had not malfunctioned and Uncle Owen had not traded him in for Artoo. (The answer is not much, except that the Empire would have won and Luke would still be spending his days on the farm, killing time writing slash fiction about Jawas.)

And rereading the above paragraph I am reminded of the following scene in The Simpsons:

So today, in the key of G minor, we have Ted regretting he had not spend enough time with his dad as he copes with just how much his father’s condition advanced in his absence. I live only an hour away by train from my folks, so I saw my dad frequently and the changes, though very upsetting, never came all at once as a shock. But there were relatives for whom a period of time away resulted in an entirely different wave of emotions. I do not presume to talk for them. But I thought it important to address that aspect in the strip, since so many have experienced the situation from that perspective.

Also written in G minor (well, technically G-sharp minor) is Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” a comeback song after her disco successes. Like today’s strip, it’s about longing and regret, as it tells the story of restroom attendant Onetta Johnson who is overwhelmed but keeps moving forward. The music video for the song more emphatically ends the tale on a note of resilience. And yes, the song reeks of early-80s Giorgio Moroder synths. And yes, the video shoot seems to have started with the director shouting, “We only have an afternoon to do this, people, and it’s already 3 PM!” But it’s still a great song, and for those who are understandably finding our current story to be a bit too much for three panels placed between Sudoku and a tire ad in their paper, perhaps this will give the necessary small uplift.

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Linus Has His Moment

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 19, 2017

It’s All Right, It’s Okay, You May Look the Other Way

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 19, 2017

When we were with my dad on his first (and last) day in the Palliative Wing the nurse asked me what kind of music my father would like to listen to, since they had a small CD player with speakers in each patient’s room. I was still in shock, still trying to call various people, and still dealing with the unrelenting volume that comes with Italian relatives that I think I uttered something along the lines of “What did you ask about cheese?” So the staff chose Andrea Bocelli, and the moment the music started playing I finally snapped back to awareness, thinking, “This has to be the kindest, most thoughtful example of ethnic profiling ever.”

The music was ostensibly for my dad, but like a funeral or a wake it was also very much for those who had come to visit and grieve. And equally as important, asking us to choose the music was the nurse’s extremely empathetic gesture to allow us a sliver of control in a situation in which we had none, to let us do something for my dad when we really couldn’t do anything at all but be there.

All of this comes in to play over the past two Sally Forth strips. Hearing the music chosen by the staff is what snaps Ted out of his shock. Demanding what music should instead be played is Ted’s way of both trying to do something when he feels can’t do anything for his dad. And by speaking up for his dad, by saying what his dad would prefer instead, he can give his dad a voice and so still emphasize he has not left yet.

Yes, my dad loved disco. Even though he was in his 40s when it the disco era began, my dad loved to dance and so this became the soundtrack from here on out. Sure, he listened to all kinds of music, but disco made him both happy and energetic. So he would play the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack over the outdoor speakers when we were on the patio. He would play it in the car, resulting in speeds that are not recommended on suburban roads. And he played it in the open garage as he silkscreened his line of softer pornographic t-shirts. (In case the sentence itself didn’t clearly indicate, the link is to a post both endearing yet decidedly mature-audience in content. It also involves Bugs Bunny.)

Now, my dad didn’t hate Andrea Bocelli. He would sit through whatever concert footage PBS would show during pledge drives as he and my mom waited to see the next episode of Poirot or Inspector Morse. But he found it all a bit dull. Yes, he liked Luciano Pavarotti in an era when I think all Italians legally had to in the 80s, but he never liked it when he covered pop songs. And my dad didn’t exactly rush to the movie theater or stop flipping channels when Yes, Giorgio came out or aired.

As for disco, I will say mentioning a song by name in the context of the current storyline proved an absolute minefield given just how many of the genre’s most popular titles inadvertently mention death or illness—”Stayin’ Alive,” “I Will Survive,” “Night Fever,” and so on. “Night Fever” was a particularly hard one to skip because I do like the song and it was to serve as the outro music at the very end of this entire story arc, but I thought better of it. In fact, I had written a strip in which Ted, trying to say what song his dad should be listening to, rattles off those very three titles only to realize what he is saying and ask someone to make him stop talking. And it was in the second to last draft of this week’s script (yes, I do a few drafts and not just ramble on the paper as some may think) when I was still wresting with how wrong that would sound. And so it was in the shower (sorry for that image)—where along with walking several miles a day I do my writing—when inspiration struck and I ran out naked (REALLY sorry for that image) and made the changes. I think being able to do that may be one of the perks of working from home. I mean, sure, I guess you can run naked to an office job, but that would have involved me hauling ass for several blocks to BusinessWeek. And true, if that were the case why wouldn’t I just take the subway or a cab instead? But taking public transportation naked seems all too predetermined, deliberate, and completely insane. Whereas just running out naked is far more immediate, extemporaneous, and would lead people to exclaim, “Now there’s a person on the go!”

Let me conclude by addressing a few comments that have come up the past two days. Some have mentioned that during their own visit to a Palliative Wing they never encountered any music or cd player, and so the very situation presented in the strip is patently false. All I can share is what I experienced. As I have said before, just because it happened to me does not make it universal. But because someone else’s experiences differed does not make what is shown here false.

Which brings us to a very important point—to have a story be approachable by many I believe you have to be singular in its telling. If you flatten it out too much—if you avoid personal experiences, brand names, a unique perspective—the story becomes so bland as to almost become unreal. But if you go all in on the detail, a strange thing happens. You don’t distance yourself from most readers simply because the minutiae differ from what they recall. Instead, you give them something tangible that they can hold, study, and relate to. It’s like when you share an anecdote with a friend and they respond with “Oh, that reminds me of when…” It let’s someone react, respond, and return to a moment in their own life. In the end, not every story should be a mirror. But every story should be a passageway.

A Note about the Current Sally Forth Story

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 18, 2017

While we have been fortunate enough to see that the positive responses to our current “Sally Forth” storyline far outweigh the negative, I do want to stress that we know that this will not to be everyone’s liking. And people are absolutely in their right to share their feelings about it, pro or con. And I thoroughly understand if someone wishes to skip the comic during this story, which is of course their choice. But to those who say it should not be done—that we were wrong to every address this story and that comics should only be light or pleasant because that is how you understandably wish to start your day—you are standing in the way of others for whom it appears to be helping and who choose to use it as a platform to express their own grief. That, and that most importantly, is why we believe why this arc should be done.

Medium Large Comic: Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 18, 2017

(Silence)

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 17, 2017

I originally was not going to write anything about this particular strip because I’m not sure there is anything to say that isn’t conveyed in Jim Keefe’s final panel.

I will, however, say that I believe this is the first time I’ve ended a Sally Forth strip on a silent note. And I will also add that such is not a particularly easy thing to do, even though some may see it as an easy way out because, hey, no punchline or wrap-up. (Or simply be surprised that a Sally Forth character stopped talking at length for a moment.) I don’t mention “not a particularly easy thing to do” as a means of articulating my arm so as to pat my own back. But ending a comic on silence is abrupt. It’s not easy for a casual reader to come across because without an ending one can’t move on to the next comic below so smoothly. And ending it in this manner can be jarring to say the least.

And I bring up the concept of jarring to the readers because I want people to know that we are in no way showing Ted’s dad lying in the hospital for shock value. We are not trying to be bold, be grim for grim’s sake, or make a thoughtless grab for your attention. But to not have Ted’s dad present throughout this story—and for those who do not wish to see a character in such a condition, it’s only fair to say you will see it throughout the narrative—I believe would be remarkably dismissive of the father. He would no longer be a person but a point of conversation, an unseen entity, gone before he has really left. This is a strip about loss, and to experience loss you have to know exactly who you are losing. To accept it, to properly say your goodbye, to allow yourself to grieve, you have to look at loss directly. To experience an almost unthinkable absence even when the other person is right there, right before your eyes, is one of the hardest gut punches your soul will ever feel and sadly most likely will experience more than once. Ted has to see his dad for his loss to become mourning to become acceptance to become the memory of the person when they were still alive. We have to see Ted’s dad out of respect to both the character and the grieving process.

I also bring up jarring in relation to those within the strip. When you enter the room of a loved one in this condition, your mind only allows yourself two options—freeze or cry. Because when you first see someone who is still alive but will never be able to communicate with you again, that very separation between you and the person is far too much for your brain to handle. So it protects itself and you by creating a mental workflow chart that only allows two very primal reactions. I was speaking to a friend today about his recent chainsaw accident (and I do not write the phrase “chainsaw accident” lightly). He said that when it happened his mind went dark. It shut off. He has no recollection of the moment it occurred because the brain knows (there’s just something odd or meta about the phrase “the brain knows”) no one could see that and still react when it becomes necessary immediately afterwards. It protected him. And yes, there are so many ways our brains seem to deliberately cause us self-doubt, prevent us from what we can actually achieve, and make us feel bad at the worst moment. But sometimes they step up to the plate and do what’s right by us. (I do wish to add my friend is on his way to a full recovery without loss of any limb.)

So what made landing on a silent final panel possible? That would be Jim Keefe. I am extremely fortunate to be working with two unbelievably talented artists, Jim and Mike Manley with Judge Parker. Their tremendous skill is not something I ever take lightly. But it is something I occasionally take advantage of, perhaps unfairly. I have not always asked Jim to draw the easiest things, whether it’s hundreds of people screaming in panic as their neighborhood blows up, two giant kaiju whipping each other with commuter trains, or this very last panel. But I knew when I wrote this script Jim would capture everything I’ve been rambling on and on about these last several paragraphs with a few expressive lines. He captured everything that needed to be said. And he did it without saying a word.

PS: The next three days are part of a mini arc, so I’ll post again on Friday.

Happy Global Cat Day!

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 16, 2017

Medium Large Comic: Monday, October 16, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 16, 2017

They Have to Have a Casserole Dish around Here Somewhere…

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 16, 2017


Like the Forths and Ted’s brothers and mom, our family’s stay at the hospital after Dad was moved to the palliative wing lasted from early morning to late afternoon. During that time I tried repeatedly to buy my mom some breakfast or lunch, since I knew she hadn’t eaten and could use a different place to sit other than in the hospital room or hospital hallway. But my mom kept saying she didn’t want me to spend so much money on sandwiches because hospital food is too pricey and she could make something for us when we got back home.

Of course, that line of thought was completely ridiculous and absolutely, thoroughly understandable. After all, my mom was just trying to maintain some level of normalcy, keep doing what she would do on any other given day. I was looking after Mom just as she was looking after me. This is the emotional transactions of family, especially in times of grief.

Mom eventually had a ham and cheese sandwich.

Seriously, Sign up for TSA Pre-Check

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 15, 2017

Let’s not kid ourselves (or, given how obvious it has always been, I should stop implying otherwise)—Ted Forth is for the most part just a whiter version of me (even in winter, when my skin turns from brown to olive to a lighter shade of Gamora). Sure, we don’t have the same number of siblings (I have one, who moonlights as Alice’s youngest), we don’t live in the same proximity to our parents (I’m just an hour away by LIRR and happened to be at my folks’ house when the rehab center called about my dad), and we don’t dress at all the same (about 98% of my wardrobe consists of hoodies and graphic tees…oh, and pants, in case that needed to be said).

But these are all superficial differences. And sure, the similarities can also be described as equally superficial (love of Star Wars, Micronauts, kaiju, 70s Saturday cartoons, holiday TV specials, and, well, that list can go on and on). But both of our thought processes are sifted through pop culture or at least some sort of media. After all, I’m working through the pain of losing my father by way of a comic strip (hijacking newsprint space and reader’s time and/or patience in the process), which is certainly self-indulgent but absolutely necessary for my grieving process. And in the coming days Ted will take a similar approach to address his own loss. So there is no denying Ted is essentially me. And the fact that Ted is, well, not exactly a strong role model (or to some even an adult) is a deliberate decision (or an unconscious and inescapable one given my own level of “maturity” that I will pitch as “deliberate”). I don’t like perfect characters. And I (this is where I will try to be delicate but no doubt fail spectacularly) do not care for avatars that are essentially the writer wanting all the hurrahs, all the achievements, and all the allowances that in real life would have caused someone to bitch-slap them a long time ago.

But let’s conclude on a far more important note—I greatly appreciate all those who have bravely shared their own stories and pain with losing a loved one, both here and on Facebook. We all need a community, we all need to know we’re not alone, and we need to know that someone is listening. You have been exceeding generous to hear me, in these posts and in the comics, and I will always listen to you.

Oh, and really, if you travel more than once a year sign up for TSA Pre-Check. You go through the line so quickly you realize you didn’t have time to shove your phone, keys, and for no reason the $4.27 you have entirely in pennies into your carry-on before hitting the airport scanner.

PS: For those wondering, yes, the Forths are allowing Hilary to skip school for a little while (it will feel like several days but will be a week in “real comic time”). But when she comes back to class her fellow students will have moved on to multivariable calculus and partial derivatives, causing Hilary to have to repeat the seventh grade for what will feel like the eighth year in a row (really, it took forever to even get out of elementary school).

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