Here’s a piece I wrote for the Comics & Cola blog about my comics collection. Special thanks to Zainab Akhtar for giving me the opportunity. (Here is a link to this piece on the Comics & Cola blog.)
The way I have my books shelved is chaotic. I’ve moved a lot, and by the time I got into the house I’m currently in, I was so tired I just shoveled books out of the boxes and into whatever crevice they fit. This means comics and theory and philosophy and poetry and art books and fiction are all bunged up against each other. However, I’ve been in this house a whole year now, so that excuse is flimsy. Now my excuse is that I’ve visually associated spines too much, and re-organization would mean utter confusion and I would never find anything again.
But I think that’s how comics should be! They should be next to poetry and novels and other books with and without pictures. I think partitioning books into whatever type we imagine them to be is stuffy, and juxtaposing them into interesting thought and idea categories is much more entertaining. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
“We need to forgive ourselves for how we felt in the past,” Rebecca tells me. Like holographic paintings belonging on the walls of an art museum, her presentation of Solid Sight flickers across the screen. The images are puzzle pieces, the passages borrowed phrases from various sources. Earlier in the day we had lunch and she showed me her studio; the unobtrusive set-up in her bedroom, her two desks relatively neat. Her room was mild and dark. I wasn’t ready for the evening.
Rebecca Mock is the second reader in the Bergen Street Comics event on the night of January 18, 2014, curated by Annie Mok. Unfortunately I missed Annie’s presentation, but I saw her curatorial hand behind the artists she had asked to join her. This was the first event where I finally felt comics belonged, to have the work presented by the artists themselves.
How would I feel if I were a dog and I were to die? Laura Knetzger reads the premiere of Comics For Dogs 3. Laura reads her work with a fiery spirit burning beneath her skin, her words numbing my heart like ice water. She started the evening with a few short comics, bright colors with words like poetry. But the whites and blacks and inky-grays of the longer Comics For Dogs work should have been a warning to me that this wasn’t going to be an easy art experience.
I start to cry as Laura continues. She speaks of a deep pain, but letting go. Forgiveness directed towards the universe. I want her to read it again. It was a night of appreciation. The artists have pinpoint intent. They stand with valor in this crowd; they are proud artists who present their work with the confidence of people who have sat alone and thought deeply.
I wipe my tears as Annie introduces Rebecca. The shimmering blue and red 3D images of Solid Sight have an evanescence that I missed in the paper form, and I become engulfed.
Earlier in the night Sam and I had dinner and talked about what we want out of a community. I like Sam. We talk about books and art and relationships. “What do I want?” is a question I ask myself a lot when I’m with Sam. What do I want?
O Horvath takes the stage. I have read their comic Spurt Of Blood before. But my experience of it holds nothing to the resonance of their presentation. They read the stage directions for their purposeful misinterpretation of Artaud; panel by panel the play unfolds on the screen behind them. The wrist of God is bitten and I start to cry again, in awe of my friend. I cry more during their second story, a short work for the lit and image anthology Witch Fingers, edited by Xander Marro. I watch our dream burn. I have to leave for air and miss Annie’s work.
Notes: Unquenched vigor. Truth. Quietness and chaos. Stories. Filter of art, speaking to truths, creating their own ebbed reality, bending around words and drawings. Untouchable and tangible.
During the questions after the readings Annie speaks of collaboration, and I see the room as it is, humid with intelligence and creativity.
We are a community and I’m not concerned with development. The support and love and validation are evident, self-evident. What do I want? The present is great and the future is great, our struggle is alone while simultaneously in our community, surrounded and intelligent. We are individuals with understanding for one another that puts hope and joy and inspiration into each other as we separate, until we see each other again, hopefully with more art to share and validate. This is a good place to be. A supportive group in admiration of one another and themselves, a petri dish of growth, the inspiration of seeing each other and telling our art.
“We are not alone.”
I have a habit that when I meet someone new that I’m really excited about, that I want to tell another person who made me feel really excited, so I’m writing a letter (initially) to tell you about this person, but also to tell you (you!) that you are such a great person to me. Do you get that, the intrepid desire to document a crush, crush being someone who excites you and you want to know more about, not necessarily a lustful thing? The need to write and create about this jar lid popping open with possibility?
People are so interesting, aren’t they? You’re so special to me _____, I feel so tenderly and sweet towards you. I like that you are a creator from a kind + honest place. That’s my favorite kind of person, the people who work + create, then share. I don’t worry about you because I know you’ll always be killing it. I have a predilection towards concern. Maybe it has a relationship with neediness. Possibilities open up when you have a crush, huh? Like the world feels endless. It is otherworldly and good.
How are you doing? Last time we spoke you were considering moving. Is that still on the horizon for you? I’m lying in bed writing this on a clipboard. It’s nice, cozy. I hope you are doing well, _____. I hope you are writing + playing basketball + making music. I hope you are happy. I hope your possibilities are limitless.
It’s weird trying to formulate arguments on issues that are self-evident to me. I don’t know who I am supposed to be talking to. I feel compelled to speak to artists who seem clueless, who repeat destructive oppressive behavior in their work and words, but for my own sense of safety I’ve cultivated a life that eliminates them. A point of view that completely overrides their work and their images, to the point they almost don’t exist for me, and are strange illusions I have. Glimpses on a screen before I close the window, big blank spaces when I’m glancing around the convention floor. So who do I want to talk to? Myself? To try to sort out my thoughts? And if I am indeed speaking to myself, if the audience I’m working on is me (as if in a journal), must I formulate arguments in the first place, about things that are self-evident to me? Coming full circle.
Being anti-oppressive is a big goal for the comic convention we are forming here in Providence. I’m excited to be part of a team that’s dedicated to doing everything we can to be inclusive and exhibiting zero tolerance for oppressive behavior and artwork. We have talked about making sure our intentions are clear and to the forefront of our show. And maybe that’s why I’m in such a conundrum, trying to think about how to argue for and against things that appear self-evident. Because I want to make my stance clear too, for people who are looking for it.
Art allows you to do literally anything, and when people use it to reinforce oppressive systems that are already in place, it’s not only intolerable, it’s downright unacceptable. I want to be talking to people who also believe that.
It’s strange to watch someone who has mistreated you and people you love over the course of years, it’s strange seeing them talk about surviving their own abuse, and being praised for it. Is praise the right word? Maybe it’s just weird seeing it, knowing the other side. Human experience is multidimensional.
I still have coffee. It’s lukewarm. I’m at the airport waiting to board my flight to Detroit. It’s snowing heavily outside. I want to write about starting the new year, and the way I want to make art now.
I want to be calmer. I want to look at Twitter less. I want to write more one-on-one, because I think it would help me focus on bigger ideas. I want to think more. “You think a lot,” Kevin says. I want to write more about it, though. And I’m not a very good writer, so that means I need to practice.
I want to make art like the poems Ross and Cory write. I want to be a poet. Cory has a Masters. Ross works at a desk. I want to be more relaxed. I think relaxing will make better art, more interesting. I want to make comics like poems, but not even… just art.
Ross and Cory were so positive and supportive. Ross lives in Minneapolis and Cory lives in Tucson. I live in Providence. Kevin lives in Cleveland. Dispersed, sitting in our studios, writing and making things. How can I get that way on my own? Maybe I should stop reaching out.
Some sketches from my journal, some positive sketches I drew right away after hanging out with Ross and Cory, because my heart was racing:
I hung out with my friends and they are poets, we hung out in this living room and talked about relationships with people and art and meaning and skimming the surface off of things. (When art is no longer a truth but a husk of what was true.) Ross writes poems about people and reads them directly to their face, or maybe over the phone, without telling them that the poem is about them. (Ross leans over to me, our heads almost bumping together, and says “I want to read you a poem.” He is looking for a link off of Facebook, and he reads me two Frank O’Hara poems, shouting into my ear. One ear listens to the bar and one ear reverberates with “Having a coke with you.” When the poems are finished he pulls back grinning, and Whitney Houston is blasting “I wanna dance with somebody.”) “Are you drawing everyday, now that you are at your parents’ house?” Ross asks me over the phone. They, Cory and Ross, write everyday, and share their poems with one or two people or not at all.
Review of behind every young girl’s arse… written by Sophia Foster-Dimino from the Notable Comics of 2013 post on the Comics & Cola blog:
“Cathy G. Johnson is a cartoonist living and working in Providence, RI – where I went to college (we bonded over PVD at a con once) – and I think the first comic of hers I read was “Her Name Was Prudence,” a story about relationships, literature, sex, communication… beautifully rendered in graphite. I’m generally a big fan of comics done in pencil, especially if they sort of mimic vision in motion by blurring out peripheral details, and hint at process by showing semi-erased leftovers.
I’ve read many many pages of comics this year but Cathy’s black-and-white 9-pager behind every young girl’s arse… has really stuck with me, and I’ve thought about it regularly since I first read it. Her rough pencils perfectly evoke a pitch-black night, with a fire throwing thick shadows over contorted forms. The story is brief but it hits like a heavy hammer – full of monumental desperation and rage. Even little meta-details – like shadows of other pages showing through the paper – or a format-breaking list of potential “reactions” that could easily be Cathy’s own, in her sketchbook – drive home the raw weight of this narrative. The story is bookended by two contrasting images of a naked woman, and since I have reread this story countless times in the past few months, I have compared those images again and again. My experience of this comic is cyclical. It feels like a colossal turning wheel.
behind every young girl’s arse… is published in tandem with the also excellent Until It Runs Clear in a single zine, for sale online. Her incredible watercolor webcomic Jeremiah was also collected and published this year.”
Quote by Nina Power, from She’s just not that into you:
“What, ultimately, would it mean to let the Young-Girl speak for herself and not through the categories imposed upon her by a culture that heralds her as the metaphysical apex of civilization while simultaneously denigrating her, or even the categories that Tiqqun mobilize to take her apart in a subtly different way? Behind every Young-Girl’s arse hides a bunch of rich white men: the task is surely not, then, to destroy the Young-Girl, but to destroy the system that makes her, and makes her so unhappy, whoever ‘she’ is.”