Last Saturday Vijith and I went to the Mini Zine Fest at Pete’s Candy Store, and it was a pretty delightful afternoon during which I sipped Adult Arnold Palmers (they were called Sweet Tea Sparklers, really, but the combination of sweet tea vodka, lemonade, and soda water pretty much makes them able to be called either) and bought a ton of comics and zines from creative people all over the NYC metro area. I had a lot of fun talking to some of the vendors about their creative processes, how they got into what they’re doing, etc., and during one conversation, with the artist John Curtis Jennison Jr., I started babbling about how I got the notion in my head that I Would Never Be An Artist—in third grade. This year, the art teacher decided that every student in my class would be eligible for the Art Club, held during lunchtime. Every student except one: Me. It was partially because I wasn’t very good; I remember distinctly trying to make a papier-maché horse that, when finished, looked like cups and a styrofoam ball spray-painted silver because, well, those were the materials I used. But there was also a bit of Tall Poppy Syndrome afoot; I always stuck out like a nerdy thumb, from the first time I was sent down the hall so I could be in a more “appropriate” reading group (I was in kindergarden; I read with the second graders) and throughout my curve-ruining elementary school days. At the same time, though, I had incredible social anxiety that definitely manifested itself because multiple older boys on my bus route loved to menace me on the way to school, and probably bubbled up because of the aforementioned academic segregation; this resulted in me staying home because I was “sick” a lot and taking lunch in the school nurse’s office more often than not. So this weird power play, which also coincided with me being the first person in my class to have to wear a “cami vest” (do those t-shirt/bra hybrids still exist by that name?), only amplified my fitting-in-related anxiety, and I got turned off from doing any visual stuff that didn’t primarily involve text because why bother if I sucked at it and would never be good, right. (The drawings of me that I’ve used on my web sites over the years were by friends.) Eventually I started taking pictures, but that was about as far as it went.
Anyway. I, somewhat buzzed off one cocktail and not much in the way of lunch, told John this whole thing and he seemed genuinely touched by my story. That day, in addition to his coloring books, he was selling magnets on which he’d hand-drawn pictures; he had a couple of blanks with him, and he proffered one to me along with a pen, and invited me to draw something. I was pretty flummoxed by this request, and I thought for a long time about what to draw; I punted a bit, drawing a picture of myself being surprised and confused by the request, complete with thought bubble, in part because I was pretty sure that drawing a replica of the sweaty PBR cans held by so many other patrons would be a bust. He was utterly sweet when I gave him back the finished product, and I puffed up inside and thought about cracking open Lynda Barry’s What It Is, which I bought at Word long ago but never used as a manual. Then I bought a magnet with an octopus like the one in the image above and the Dirty Boys Adult Comic Book, which came with crayons.
2012 has been a long, hard, weird year, but that moment of generosity was definitely one of its high points.
(Reading his site, I learn that he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in 2010. He is a good person who was nice to a weird, nervously babbling woman just because, and this makes me angry. He is on Tumblr too. Hi John, if you see this. Thank you.)