Sunday, December 11, 2016

Thirty-One Days of CCS #11: J.D. Lunt

J.D. Lunt came to cartooning later in life, and he's been quite upfront that expressing himself through comics has been a way of dealing with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Without going into too many details, Lunt revealed that it came as a result of years of working in the mental health industry and one debilitating case in particular. However, as he discusses in one of his minicomics related to the subject, Watching The Stick, his PTSD was triggered in part by unresolved traumas from earlier in his life. This is both a personal and instructive comic, as Lunt details what's involved with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming). This is a form of trauma therapy whose goal is to help the patient process trauma by moving it from its perpetual home in short term memory into the part of the brain that processes long-term memories. It involves following the therapist swing a stick in from of the patient for a couple of minutes, paying close attention to the end of the stick, and then talking about what one is immediately feeling at that time.

In Lunt's case, it unlocked some remarkably detailed memories of being a child and going through various traumas with his mother. The therapist also worked with him in moving him into a mental space after she asked him how he wanted to feel, and his reply was simply: safe. Lunt compared that question to the Biblical quote of Jesus asking a blind man if he wanted to be healed; in many ways, it's a loaded question, one where there's a lot of responsibility in answering yes. Lunt's bluntness is refreshing, as the last thing he wants is a comic where he's feeling sorry for himself, because "it seems both exploitative and predictable in a comic", as he has illustrations of comics like "Neurotic Boy Outsider" and "Mama's Boy" below that caption.

Lunt's drawing skills are rudimentary at best, and it's clear that the subject matter of these comics is hard for him to sit with, as there are a number of misspellings. That said, it's clear that the training he received at CCS had an impact on him, as his page design and composition is striking and his storytelling skills are strong. Looking at Comic In October, this is a comic where Lunt clearly slowed down and worked hard at making the visuals in the comic a crucial part of the overall storytelling. From the wrinkles on his forehead (with the rest of his face obscured) when he's triggered by the sound of frightened children to the way he faded out the presence of birds but left little cross-hatchings that his dog could sense and sniff, Lunt piles on details that reinforce this comic about his birthday. The comic is in the vein of John Porcellino, as Lunt thinks about the poetry of Dylan Thomas and how much it's meant to him, the ways in which a walk with his dog is not only meditative, it's a therapeutic activity, and what poetry itself means to him and what lines of poetry should mean. It is a comic about presentness without stating that that was its purpose, as Lunt identifies and is willing to sit with his emotions during the walk.

Monk Funnies takes the accumulated wisdom of Buddhist monks, Catholic monks and jazz musician Thelonious Monk and puts it into comics (and comical) form. Lunt asserts that it's too easy sometimes to overlook the wisdom of ascetics and assume it's all doom and gloom. Indeed, he notes how the effect of a good zinger is precisely the kind of short, sharp shock that can lead to enlightenment. It removes the questioner from the expected path they thought the answers to their questions laid upon and instead forces them to think laterally. That's why the Monk quotes were so great, because an artist like him has more in common with monks than one might think. Lunt identifies the ways in which he was attacked by society for his intelligence and unwillingness to bend with the status quo, but I would also add that the artist and mystic are two sides of the same coin. It's just that the artist expresses their understanding of transcendent experiences through their medium, while the mystic can only talk about it in terms of paradox, koans, jokes and other methods designed to recalibrate the mind. That's because enlightenment eludes language, and getting people to think differently gives them the potential to find that transcendent experience on their own. Visually, Lunt stays within his lane, adding a bit of weight to some panels with greyscale but keeping things simple. That allowed him to really get in some expressive, funny drawings in, like the faces of Monk and a reporter after Monk gave him a zinger, or an acolyte's expression when he gets whacked on the head with a stick by his master.

The main reason Lunt has quickly improved is that he clearly works very hard at his craft, as cranking out several minis like this would indicate. He took on, along with fellow CCS alum Kelly Swann, the co-editing duties of the anthology When I Returned. This comic falls under the new CCS designation Applied Cartooning, as it deals directly with education and medication in a very practical way. The anthology's theme was to match up CCS students and alumni with willing veterans from the local VA Hospital to see if they wanted to tell their stories about what it was like to return from service. The results were raw, bracing and honest, as each artist clearly worked hard to do each story justice. Jeff Lok, ordinarily a humorist, did a story straight from the perspective of a veteran named Vince that incorporated Lok's cartoony and slightly grotesque style with the matter-of-fact narration of the soldier. Without judgment, the story simply relates how things slowly went from good to bad to much worse for Vince, as he was sent to an active front in Iraq and slowly lost touch with his wife and family before incurring serious conditions by the end of his stay. There's no moralizing, just the facts.

Kotaline Jones & Ben Wright-Heumann teamed up to tell Thomas Marino's story. Or rather, they tried to get him to talk about his experiences but soon learned that Marino was a talented artist who did years of daily diary strips, several of which they reprinted here. Some of them are utterly banal, while others are absolutely shattering as he drew in a style that very much approximated the craft and style of an average newspaper strip. Mike Crosier's strip is about an officer who was an engineer that helped build weather satellites. Here, the difficultly was less about leaving behind a nightmarish experience and more about leaving behind a life that he was proud of and finding a way to move on from that. CCS alum Iona Fox teamed up with veteran Mike Rodriguez, each doing comics about their own interpretation of a conversation that they had.. Fox's stylized, cartoony line is wonderfully angular and idiosyncratic, while Rodriguez (a graduate student at Dartmouth) prefers a more naturalistic approach. Rodriguez's perspective, that there is no such thing as transition, only adaptation, is fascinating because he asserts that once you are turned into a soldier, there is no coming back.

Lunt and Swann took on the most harrowing story, which was that of a soldier named Kevin. He declined to talk about his time as a vet but did open up about a time when he was sexually assaulted by two men. There's a devastating set of panels where he says that after the experience, he spent the next 33 years getting as high as possible as a way of self-medicating--all the while drifting from city to city. When he had to go to the hospital for a leg injury, the admitted him for detox and he got into therapy. Eventually, he stopped isolating and avoiding the public. Lunt and Swann's approach is pretty basic, letting the details of the story unwind with minimal fuss. That said, their selective use of close-ups and the way they were able to unspool the narrative was impressive, as Kevin himself was a remarkable subject because of his openness. Wade Simpson's WWII story from his grandfather has beautiful Alex Toth overtones with his varied line weights and use of black & white. It's about how even the brotherhood that surrounds being a soldier cannot begin to compete with the reality of the horrors and senseless, mass death that one could encounter. Singing "White Christmas" while praying that bombs from your own side didn't destroy your POW building may have been briefly life-affirming, but it didn't make up for the fact that every other building got destroyed. All told, this was a well-constructed anthology with a number of different styles and storytelling approaches. What could have been didactic or repetitive instead let the reader draw their own conclusions, especially since there were so many points of view represented.

No comments:

Post a Comment