Skip to content

Comedy & Tragedy: How Humorous Illustrations Help Tell Difficult Stories

November 19, 2019

In addition to visuals for marketing and social media campaigns, I do editorial illustration.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Some of my most interesting assignments are for The Rumpus: stories that relate difficult personal journeys. I like the challenge. And I think my humorous style works to advantage.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Why?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Because comedy and tragedy complement each other. The best playwrights know this. Jerome Lawrence, best known for Inherit The Wind, put it this way:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

The best playwrights– Tennessee Williams, for instance– will puncture the most serious moment with an outrageous laugh. The audience delights in it.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

They need the relief. They need laughter– or what Norman Cousins calls “inner jogging”– for the joy of life.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The more an audience laughs, the more it feels.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Shakespeare knew this– there’s comedy in his most serious plays.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

I did 5 illustrations for a first-person essay titled, My Body Is A Bill To Pay. It’s about a young woman who graduates from college with $130,000 in student debt, and her ongoing struggle to pay it off.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Here are excerpts, along with the illustration each inspired.blank vertical space, 16 pixels highblank vertical space, 24 pixels high

My identity changed when I opened that envelope. I stood in my dusty kitchen, pantries bare, blinded by all those zeroes in the sum I owed.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I received that first bill on the day after I graduated. I was living off a few spoonfuls of peanut butter a day, working multiple jobs, paying rent myself.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

After this first one, these student debt bills were sure to arrive on the fourteenth of every month…blank vertical space, 16 pixels highMonopoly game parody woman eating peanut butter to save money pulls Pay Student Loan Debt card from Community Chest cop with handcuffs ready to arrest herblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The student debt bubble started before I got to college and persists today, but I also had the distinct bad luck to graduate at the start of the 2008 Great Recession.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Before the recession, student debt amounted to $671 billion in the US. It has since risen to $1.5 trillion according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The degree I earned should never have cost $130,000 before interest. It certainly hasn’t helped my earning potential…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I have always been paying. There is no one else who will pay the monthly bill for a cool thousand dollars. Every month, no exceptions.blank vertical space, 16 pixels highhangman game with stick figure hanging on gallows words revealed to be Student Debt which young woman is saddled with can't pay offblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I worked, sometimes three official jobs (meaning I was on the books, paying taxes) while juggling other ventures: cleaning houses for cash, freelance writing for earnings over PayPal…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

My body rebelled—I had stomach bugs, coupled with weight gains, upper respiratory infections, and on-the-job sprains and bruises without legal recourse.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I once cracked my ribs (working at a food co-op) trying to move a plastic tub of organic kale from one fridge to another… (but) I finished that shift and clocked in the next day.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

(At the) food co-op, I spent most of my time threatening to call the cops on leering older hippies who wouldn’t stop hitting on college-aged volunteers.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

One bandana-wearing degenerate would rattle the gates after hours, slip dollar bills under the door, then insist I had just sold him chocolate so I’d better unlock the gate to hand him his goods…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

That is the phenomenon of having to hold on to a job you hate but cannot afford to quit.blank vertical space, 16 pixels highyoung woman carrying tub of organic kale at food co-op pursued by ball and chain old hippie leacher student debtblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Then after months of nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, I gave in to dental pain so excruciating I couldn’t sleep for a week… a wisdom tooth I had been too poor to get pulled was infected, and the infection was spreading…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I maxed out a credit card to pay for that extraction. There was just enough credit left for the antibiotics. Nothing left for the painkillers…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I wrote a suicide note and downed too many pills. It didn’t work… It was then that I knew there would be no easy out.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I had to keep working and keep paying because my stubborn body wouldn’t die, and as long as I had a body I had a bill to pay.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

credit card with face open mouth tooth extracted max out card to pay dentist bill no money because of student debtblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

With a stitch still in my gums and my latest attempt to quit smoking a failure, I met a friend of a friend at a bar… He read my physical and emotional numbness as cool…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I introduced him to basement shows and dive bars… I let him shop for a new subculture because being rich and successful can be so dull.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I became an outfit for him to try on and discard at the end of an evening… I would sell out anything, if I thought it would get me free of debt in the end.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

He earned and saved for our future wedding and then he wanted to break up. I wasn’t interesting any more. Only starving, nihilistic girls on antibiotics could be fascinating…blank vertical space, 16 pixels highblank vertical space, 16 pixels highbride standing on heart left at altar fiancé in top hat flying off with his money won't help bride pay off student debt

blank vertical space, 16 pixels highThe story ends on a semi-hopeful note, along with a warning:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Reader, I have achieved it—an entry-level staff job at a university. Cadillac health insurance, holidays off, vacation days I accrue with no plan on spending. Because I don’t have the money to travel.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I earn a salary and more than half of it goes to student loans. The other half goes to rent, groceries and my used and failing car— a requirement for the job.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

So often I feel defeated by the dissonance: I was encouraged to earn a degree to strengthen my future job prospects and to take steps to enjoy financial independence; instead I find myself ensnared in the morass of student debt…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I’m tired now, too tired to keep up appearances. So here goes:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Attending university ruined my life! Avoid student debt like the plague!blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *    blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, editorial, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images are different, like your brand needs to be.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Questions? Send me an email.blank vertical space, 40 pixels highRecommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Angela Zimmerman, Editor-in-Chief, Crawdaddy Magazine

blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

blank vertical space, 40 pixels high