I am already feeling the pressure of having to produce a small comic booklet in time for the Comica Comiket comics festival in November. After the deflating and disappointing sales performance at the Alternative Press Festival, I have realised that to pull some more people in, it is sometimes necessary to have more than one book for sale, especially if that sole book is by an unknown artist (me) and not extremely cheap. So I thought a cheap (2 or 3 quid) mini comic might be in order, and drew ‘Ash Wednesday’ for Emanata as well as for this comic, but that story was hastily written and drawn, and I didn’t feel it was up to my usual standards. Still, the Emanata staff sent me very positive comments about it and I felt encouraged by the reception.
Feeling somewhat pessimistic about successfully plotting another short story in time for press by mid-October, I became vaguely inspired by a telephone call with my mother where she detailed a recent disquieting dream she’d recently had. Various acquaintances and contemporaries of hers had fallen ill or passed away this year and so the content of the dream didn’t surprise me too much. I thought I had the germ of an idea for a dream story, which I found easier than others to construct and write, since dreams were usually surreal. I took the gist of my mother’s dream, incorporated a few “horror” elements of my own, not outright cliched-horror but a rather more personally disturbing horror, such as a disembodied wailing voice echoing around a dark hospital corridor. It might have been one of the recurring nightmares I’d had when I was younger. I didn’t have any problems building the tension in the story nor in whisking the reader from page to page, but I was completely stumped for an ending. Dreams always end with the dreamer waking up, but a possible (but cliched) twist might be for the dreamer to realise he/she isn’t really dreaming. But that ‘twist’ has been done to death, I thought, so my dreamer had to wake up with a lingering, unsettling feeling that the dream might cross over into reality at some point soon. The dreamer was insecure about his life, about his wife in particular, and her relationship with his best friend. I was insomniac one night, and at about 2 or 3am while my restless but exhausted mind ran the gauntlet of mysterious dream endings, I thought I had an appropriate final panel, one that didn’t end with reassurance but had a sort of portentous doom about it. I didn’t question this ending but instead, felt delighted about my early-morning epiphany, and then set about diligently drawing and inking the comic, 2 pages per day, in a sort of inspired frenzy. Hardly ever since ‘The Card Players’ have I worked almost daily on a comics project!
But upon rereading it after finishing the final page, it feels like it might fall a bit flat after all. A bit of a high school story, perhaps, with too little of the disquiet I’d intended to leave behind in the mind of the reader. I am undecided whether to submit this story and ‘Ash Wednesday’ to press because I am not sure of its true merit. It doesn’t quite stand together with some of my stronger stories in ‘Painting Stories’ and I’m afraid it’s not necessarily the best advertisement for my work, although I am quite satisfied with the artwork and feel that I have improved in that area. Anyway this story has also been submitted to Emanata for online publication in its next push – maybe then I’ll find out if readers will connect with it. I haven’t shown it to very many people at all and so other people might think differently, I’m often the harshest critic of my own work!