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(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.

3 Responses

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  1. BillR said, on October 18, 2017 at 9:46 am

    I’ve watched my parents, my wife’s parents, and a younger brother as they’ve died, and been physically (f not entirely emotionally) present as two of them breathed their last. It doesn’t get easier. I hope this is helping you as much as it is helping me.

  2. Jasey said, on October 18, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    The last panel was perfect and captured exactly what you and Jim Keefe intended. I am not alone; you are not alone.

  3. Mollyscribbles said, on October 21, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    This is . . . right.

    It seems like every depiction of death by natural causes has the character able to say comforting words, give closure, interact in the last days before finally fading. When my father’s time came . . . he had dementia. It had been some time since he’d even had a look of recognition in his eyes when he saw me; we’d given up hope of him remembering names much earlier. He couldn’t do any of the things he loved before. Couldn’t talk. Couldn’t focus on anything. Didn’t respond to much of anything. It felt, at the end, as if he’d died earlier and his body was only now catching up. I didn’t feel the need to say goodbye because I’d said it the last time he was able to return a hug at the end of my visit.

    Though an absurd moment came when I realized the nursing home was playing “Only the good die young” on the stereo.


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