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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

















I’ve been working on a graphic novel–or graphic novella really. I’m on page 27 of a planned 40, so maybe that’s just a graphic short story? Either way, one of the characters (I learned while writing/making the story images), is a painter. I realize that’s a terrible idea (like a short story about someone who writes short stories), but I’m now committed to it. Worse, as I started the third chapter (they’re only ten pages each), I found that I needed/wanted to include some of the artist’s paintings.  Or I think they’re her images. They might only be my cartoon representations of her paintings–the same way any cartoon image only marginally or indirectly represents its subject.

Cartoons are metaphysically weird that way. When Calvin’s cartoon head pops off in surprise, we don’t think his head actually popped off, right? That’s just how cartoonist Bill Watterson draws him for dramatic effect? But is he drawing Calvin’s experience of himself or Hobbes’ and the viewer’s experience of Calvin? Who is the filtering and so image-shaping consciousness that makes an image not literal?


In my story, the husband of the painter is looking at the paintings she left on the easels in her studio before moving out. It’s not a happy marriage. I know that the same way he should know that and how the reader-viewer knows it: by looking at her paintings. They’re not happy either. The figures inside the canvasses seem contorted and trapped.

But if my images are cartoon representations of her paintings, whose cartoon eye do they reflect? I’m not in the story, so am I drawing a version of what the painter sees when she paints or am I drawing what the husband sees when he looks at the paintings through his own biased unhappiness? Either way, I’m drawing an image of an image that also represents someone’s mental state.

I’m also (even more weirdly) “painting” in the now proudly defunct  Microsoft Paint. Why? Because I’m too lazy and techphobic to upgrade to something made in the 21st century. But I also like how the extreme limitations of the program have forced me into really odd creative corners that I don’t think I would have ever found if I were using a more functional tool.  Also, since cartoons simplify reality, a simple tool feels right.


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