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Dead and Deader
I drew a dead guy in a cartoon recently, in my 4/2/15 Deep Cover, and the experience has stuck with me. I’m not feeling remorse, exactly. His death was necessary to the creation of my cartoon; he had to die so that I could get my point across. What I am experiencing is more like a sense of loss at his passing, as if I had failed him somehow.

I’m not certain what put me in this mood, but I did see some paintings around the same time by a young artist named Sarah Honan. Using photographs from morgues all over the country, she has painted the likenesses of women who had died without a next-of-kin, without a history, and without a name… Jane Does, in other words. They are collected in Blink., her showing of the paintings. The pictures are grim and haunting.

My dead guy was not a real person like those Jane Does, but like them, he neither had a story nor anyone to remember him. He was composed only of a few sketchy lines, and he was mostly obscured by other elements in the drawing. I’ll bet that most people who saw the cartoon didn’t even notice him lying there. He is dead, though, just like the women. In a way, his fate is even lonelier than theirs. Not only is he dead, he has never lived at all. You don’t get much deader than that.

I do feel some responsibility for the dead guy. I created him, just as Dr. Frankenstein created his monster. I have to answer for what he does and what happens to him. I haven’t drawn a lot of dead people over the years (unless you count graveyards). I can’t remember them all, but most were probably bit players like this guy. None of them had a history, either, and no future except as corpses in a cartoon. Even so, I bear a responsibility for them, too.

I am not certain what my duties are to my dead guy. I sentenced him to death and executed him; perhaps I could give him a backstory… a life to go with his death. So here goes: since the cartoon is set in the Middle East, I say that he was a young Muslim caught up in the cycle of violence that seems to sweep endlessly through that region. He was probably killed by other young Muslims.

The women in Sarah Honan’s Blink. all seem to have died violent or ignominious deaths. “I thought of all of the victims of sexual and physical abuse, of women deemed disposable by society, ” she says. “I realised how much they had to say about women all over the world.” Honan wanted to give those women a voice and a legacy.

My dead guy was a willing participant in the violence that killed him, but he is no less a victim than those Jane Does. His imaginary death makes me think of all the real young men deemed disposable by society, as are all casualties of war. In my cartoon, he is a character playing one of those young men.

I feel guilty in having used him so roughly. In doing so, I’ve treated my own character as disposable, and that seems wrong — as if I were taking the real deaths in the Middle East lightly. I should have used more care in drawing him, perhaps, but I can’t go back and change it now. I guess I’ll just have to do better. The next time I draw a dead guy (and there will be more of them — life is cheap in the comics), I promise to give him the artistic respect he is due. That ought to be my responsibility as a cartoonist in any case, and he deserves better as a stand-in for all those real John Does.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee