Monday, January 7, 2013

Drawn Out Storytelling - "Good News vs. Bad News" by Erin Barker illustrated by Thomas Boguszewski

At the Minneapolis Indie Expo in Nov. 2011, I hooked up with Drawn Out Storytelling:  A live show based in Brooklyn, New York which combines live storytelling and live music with live illustration.

By February 2012 I was illustrating for them.  The title of the show was "I hate you" - The theme was about animosity within families, and the story was Good News Versus Bad News (also called "Love and Baseball") by Erin Barker. "  In it, a daughter has to deal with hate and love in her own family when she learns the truth about her mother’s pregnancy.  Read the story in comic form below.

"When I was twelve my mom told me she had something she wanted to talk to me about. My mom and I didn't have a lot of talks. I loved her very much, but she was sort of an intimidating figure.  She was one of those very busy corporate working moms with the beeper and the pants suit and the rolley suitcases. She shouted important things into phones a lot and she was away a lot on business trips."

"But she sat me down in the living room and she told me that she was pregnant.
It was kind of weird the way she said it, almost like she wasn't that happy about it."  

"It'd been about eight years since my brother was born, but even I could remember how excited everyone had been, how everyone had suggestions for names, how all the grandparents flew in from out of town, and how a day barely went by that we didn't get some massive delivery – a big bunch of congratulations balloons or a giant stuffed animal."

"But no balloons came this time. Not even any cards."

"Still, I was very excited. I hadn't expected that I would ever have another sibling after my little brother.  And I was optimistic that maybe this time I'd get one who could catch a baseball."

"I told everyone the good news.  My teachers, my Girl Scout troop, everyone at church, our next-door neighbors, the kid who mowed our lawn.  And they were all just as delighted as I was."  

"After a while, though, I started to notice that when these people I told would inevitably congratulate my dad about the baby, there'd be a whispered exchange and then that person would say to my dad,
'Oh my god, I'm so sorry.'"

"And I didn't know what that meant.  Until one day when my dad took me out for ice cream.
When I was a kid, my dad was my best friend. He’s the type of dad who would read to us every night before bed and listen very seriously to my thoughts on the Roald Dahl masterpiece James and Giant Peach and the film version’s inherent inferiority. He was the one who taught me how to throw a baseball and at one point really believed he could teach my brother the same. The one who told my brother and me that Darth Vader had to wear that suit because he’d been injured in a car accident and so we’d better always wear our seat belts unless we wanted to end up like him. (Imagine my disillusionment when I saw the Star Wars prequels seven years ago.)"

"So, since my dad and I were so close, I could recognize his MO by now.  Every time he has bad news he takes us out for ice cream. Don't ever go to the Coldstone Creamery with my dad. Just don't do it,"

"unless you want to find out your grandpa died or your dog was put to sleep or your nanny was fired for stealing your mom's jewelry."  

"So we get our ice cream of doom and then my dad tells me, 'The baby your mom is pregnant with is not mine.'
And I can see him looking at me, to see if I, at twelve years old, understand what he's saying."

"As it turned out, I had conveniently just learned what sex was,

in science class at school, when my teacher forced poor Craig Burkin to read it aloud from our biology textbook. I still remember the exact words, as read in Craig's shaky, giggly voice..."

"Yes, the word jiggles was used. Even as a twelve-year-old, I was like, 'I really feel like jiggles is not the right word to use in this context.' Jiggles is a word that is neither sexy nor scientific. Probably the only place you should find the word jiggles is a Jello commercial.
But anyway the point was I did understand exactly what was going on here.
I can see how hard it is for my dad to say these words and I know that, as much as he didn’t want to tell all those other people, I am the very last person he wanted to tell.

Then he says, 'Do you know who the father is?'
And I realize with sudden clarity that I do know. That I have perhaps always known, but not admitted it to myself until this exact moment.
'Andy,' I say, and my dad nods."

"Andy was my mom's coworker, this British guy about ten years younger than her who would take her and me and my brother on little trips and buy us all expensive presents. He'd even, oddly enough, gone to church with us. I’d thought he was our friend.
I realized now that I had been wrong and that I’d been stupid not to realize it. And as a result not only had I failed to prevent this disaster – and like every child I truly believed in my heart that I could have, with a well-timed tantrum or the right number of slammed doors – but I had made it much worse for the one person who deserved it least, my father.

For months, I had been coming home and saying, "Dad, look at the awesome Lego castle Andy got us!" I’d been calling him to say, “Dad, guess what, I taught Andy how to play baseball!” never noticing the tense silence that would follow on the other line. Not to mention I’d publicly humiliated him by telling everyone in town about my mother's pregnancy. I was racked with guilt. And I was no longer excited about the new baby."

"Soon after this, my mother moved out and bought a house down the street from my father's, because the neighborhood didn't already have enough to talk about. My brother and I were supposed to go down there on some days when she was in town.
One weekend I got there and there was a cake on the table and my mother said to me, 'Andy and I got married today.  Do you want a piece of wedding cake?'"

"No, I did not want a piece of the cake of lies.

A few weeks later, I came over and was surprised yet again, this time by the presence of a strange pink baby, who I was told was my new sister."

"'Do you want to hold her?' my mother asked.
No, I did not want to hold her. I didn't want to look at her. This baby had broken my father’s heart. I loathed this horrible creature, and I always would, I decided then. I made a commitment in that moment to hate this baby, for the rest of my life, possibly longer.

There was just one problem."  

"I don't know if you've ever tried to hate a baby … but it's real fuckin' hard.
Because everything they do is fuckin' magical as shit.

And this was especially true for my sister, Emma, who had a little Pebbles Flintstone ponytail on her head.  Every night she refused to go to sleep until I'd come up to her room and sung her the same song, every time, "Shoebox" by the Barenaked Ladies, which is actually kind of an inappropriate song to sing to a little girl since it's about statutory rape, but she'd heard me playing it in my room once and that was what she wanted, so who was I to argue."

"And soon, I found myself bonding with my mother, for the first time in a long time, over our mutual love for Emma and our mutual hatred for the Teletubbies."

"Eventually, all my anger fell down like dominoes. After I forgave my sister, it was easier to forgive my mother. After I forgave my mother, it was easier to forgive myself. I never quite forgave Andy, but that was okay.
It turned out, to no one’s surprise, that his stay was only temporary anyway. He met another married woman with children and started going to church with them. And presumably started this story all over again."

"As for my father, I never needed to ask for his forgiveness to begin with. It was always there."

"Emma is fourteen years old now and she’s gone from Teletubbies to Twilight. Clearly she’s a girl with questionable taste. Probably in a few years she’ll be reading Dan Brown novels. But despite that, we’re still great friends, and because we have her, I can’t regret anything that happened."

Although, she never did learn to throw a baseball.


In choosing my style for this project I tried to channel Quentin Blake a little (Roald Dahl's illustrator).  I wanted to use a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment line quality so I drew each character over and over again until I could capture their look in just a couple strokes.  This gave it a calligraphic look that I'm very proud of.

Here are some photos from the show:

Here's a shot of Erin performing the story.
They sold some of the artists' books at the show.

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