Medium Large

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


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).

Just Keep Moving, Just Keep Moving…

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 14, 2017

So, when I mentioned earlier that despite the current narrative Sally Forth would still be a humor comic, I should have added that would take a few days to happen.

That’s because what I remember most right after we found about my dad was movement. Everyone immediately got up, everyone knew instinctively what needed to be done, and everyone called everyone else. It is all blur, a series of fragmented thoughts and dialogue, and that is what I hoped to capture in the above strips. This is why we do not see Ted sit the family down and tell them what happened. Doing so would have only slowed things to a crawl the very moment when they ramp up tenfold. Plus, given the length of Ted’s dad’s illness (as well as my own dad’s), the moment he would have said, “Terry called” (just like when I said “The hospital called”) everyone would know. And so the exposition came as it did for me and others in my family—through calls, through quick planning, and through action after action after pause for breakdown after action.

As I said in the previous post, I in no way perceive my experience as a universal one, or my reaction to it as something everyone should relate to or understand. When the news broke I did as Ted did—I went into automaton mode and quickly and constantly did everything I thought needed to be done, fearing if I stopped for a moment I would just collapse and be of no use to anyone. Others may react differently under such circumstances, and each reaction is right and proper to them.

On a lighter side note, when I finished writing the Forth’s summer trip to Tanaka Kaiju World (remember when this comic at least tried to be funny and joyful?) I realized that the family seemingly made no plans about who would look after their pet, Kitty. Naturally, it would be assumed someone was feeding the cat and trying to see if she was hiding under the sofa or bed, but it still felt odd. This may be because a little over ten years ago I wrote a story arc in which Kitty went missing. She was gone only for a few hours, but since it took three weeks of comics to get that narrative across some readers thought 1) the cat had been missing for almost a month and 2) apparently the Forths change their clothes only at the start of the next lunar cycle. The result was copious hate mail, an invitation to be cursed out on a pet radio show (which is exactly how the show’s producer pitched it), and a rather vituperative message from a bat conservatory. So we have Sally asking Jackie and Ralph to look after the cat, not only to remove any lingering doubts about the well-being of Kitty but also to show how information about a tragedy is conveyed in its first few minutes.

And I promise, at least tomorrow’s strip will have some humor in it. Or at least showcase just how well Jim Keefe draws unending TSA lines at the airport.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 13, 2017

When Life Goes Sideways

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 12, 2017

And so here we are. Regular readers who look at today’s strip and have seen this a long time coming—especially after it was perhaps inelegantly foreshadowed—may be thinking, “So are we looking at weeks of no humor and all heartstrings?” Non-readers who come across today’s comic may be thinking, “Hey, it’s that unfunny Sally Forth strip being unfunny again.” And both perspectives lead to the same question, “How much of a downer is this going to be?”

We’ll get to that. But a first a note about the above strip.

Today’s phone call occurs in the middle of a completely unrelated story arc (“Ted vs. Leaves: Episode XXXIV”) because such calls always come out of nowhere, even when you’ve spent months steeling yourself for that eventual ring. Mine happened at 4:30 in the morning, proving that dramatic movie cliches originate from somewhere. But it is still a narrative cliche. And having a character wake up in bed to a call doesn’t capture the true tonal shift that happens in real life, no matter what the time. And whenever my thumb is wet I can’t access my phone’s ID button. Add all that up and we find Ted, in the middle of the day, in the bathroom, both surprised and knowing exactly what is happening.

Why the wet thumb joke? Because for better or worse this is going to hew very close to my own experiences, with my dad, last year at this time. (Well, not too close, given that Italians can be quite loud and argumentative.) Now, I know that when a writer says they are going to be “real” they may mistake that with “grim” or “humorless” or “everyone is now an alcoholic.” So for those who will be more than kind to read our strip for the next few weeks and either fear or understandably feel they know every narrative beat coming, it is only fair I tell you a little of what to expect.

First, what you won’t see: A miracle recovery, a mention of angels, someone saying “He looks so peaceful,” a deathbed sudden and total reconciliation, the steadfast belief my own experience is universal or even understandable to all, and the feeling that one can every properly and completely say goodbye to another, especially a dying parent.

Second, what you will see: Hours defined by the exact same hallway and vending machine, realizing no matter how much you say you will always feel it is too little too late, the fucking surrealism of purchasing a casket for your parent, knowing the use of Google is at times both absolutely necessary and inappropriate, the use of pop culture to both express and encapsulate emotion (and finally the reason why pop culture became so important to Ted throughout his life), and disco. Lots and lots of disco, to the point the reader will actually be asked to play a particular song.

And yes, humor. Dark times not only necessitate humor but at times engender it (without the humor itself being dark.) This is a humor comic strip by design and definition. And so most strips during this story will have humor, not out of nowhere or the feeling there must be a punchline but from the very character and situation (resulting in one particular line that I believe is funny and know is true but may bother people by its directness).

I will be posting about Sally Forth throughout this story line. I won’t over explain anything or ever say, “This works because it happened to me so just accept it” because what strikes true to one will not strike such to another. Instead I’ll post a few asides, a few happy memories, and link to a particular Taxi scene that if you know Ted and you know what he will say you already know what to expect.

To anyone who wishes to opt out of reading Sally Forth for the next few weeks because they don’t wish to be sad, because it is too familiar and/or fresh and so is painful, or wants their humor strips to focus first and foremost on the humor, I understand completely. To those who stick through it all, I appreciate it immensely. This may not be an easy comic to read for a few weeks. This wasn’t an easy comic to write (my blowing our deadlines in the process). But if you have connected with the characters to some degree before, if you can relate to what is happening now, and you like Donna Summer even a little, you may very well make it through after all.

Oh, and there will still be a Halloween trick-or-treat Sunday comic, just with an understudy playing the role of Ted.

Thank you for hearing me out.


%d bloggers like this: