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Illustration Pulls You Into The Story And Keeps You Reading

February 12, 2018

I enjoy doing editorial work for The Rumpus. The stories are usually first-person essays that recount difficult experiences. I do 3 or 4 illustrations for each. They’re always an interesting challenge.

A thumbnail image placed next to the title attracts attention. The illustrations break up long stretches of text. They advance the story while providing eye relief.

The latest essay: Hearse and Home: How Stephen King Saved My Girlhood.

The author recounts her harrowing life as a teen, living in an apartment above a hearse garage at a funeral home. Her stepfather, a mortician, is controlling, abusive. The girl reads to escape. She discovers Stephen King, and reads Carrie in a single day. The stepfather is enraged when he catches her reading a King novel.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The next day, the stepdad dragged me… down to the library to “have a talk with those people.” The stepdad aggressively accused the librarians of malfeasance for checking out “this trash” to “just a kid.”

They listened like good public servants, but then explained to him that a public library is a public institution that guarantees the freedom of the press and the freedom to read, inalienable rights promised in the United States Constitution.
They explained that any publicly available book in the library could be checked
out by any member of the public who held a library card.

The stepdad tried to argue this point, but they said there was nothing they could
do. Rules were rules…blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
rumpus illustration undertaker father disapproves daughter's reading Stephen King drives hearse through puddle splattering public library with blood as in famous Carrie movie scene

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highThere’s no escape from the stepdad– except possibly when the phone rings…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Even the phone in our apartment was censored. It was part of a switchboard of phones with the main hub down in the funeral home. This was so, if there was a
call in the night to pick up a dead body, the stepdad could answer it.

This meant two things: one was that we girls (which included my mom) were
unable to call anyone without the stepdad being aware of it. When we did make
calls and he noticed the light on the phone indicating it was in use, he’d always
pick it up and listen. Every time. But it also meant that us girls secretly pleaded skyward that someone would die. Someone’s death was always our freedom.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

rumpus illustration daughter with abusive undertaker father feels trapped like caged bird when phone rings hopes call for father to pick up dead body so she can be free

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highFor punishment, the stepdad spanks the girl with his belt. He cross-examines her every day.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

(He’d come) bounding up the stairs to our apartment and burst through our front door all bug-eyed and frantic… The first words out of his mouth were, “Girls, did
you talk to any boys today?”

“No,” my sister and I would answer in unison, no matter the real truth. We knew to stick to the script.

“Are you lying to me?” he’d say, every day.

“No,” we’d say in unison.

Sometimes the interrogation continued, sometimes not. But it always ended with, “Do you love me?”

“Yes,” we’d say, in unison… (but) inside, the stubborn little girl observer-self waved
a stiff middle finger at him.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

rumpus illustration abusive father beats teen girl with belt asks do you love me she says yes thumbs-up but thinks no giving him the finger

The girl returns to the library to retrieve the Stephen King book her stepdad had confiscated.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

One of the two librarians from the day before, the young woman, was there. I put
it on the counter and asked, “Do you have to tell anyone if I check out this book?”

She looked at me with a cross between pity and kindness and said, “Nope. That’s private information.”

After checking out the book… I went home (and) immediately went to my room
and put my contraband in my underwear drawer—the last remaining place in my whole, shrunken world where no one else went.

And for the rest of the time I lived in that place, that’s where my Stephen King
books remained. All of them.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
rumpus illustration author stephen king caricature head popping up from teen girl's dresser draw where she hides her books

blank vertical space, 16 pixels highGloria Harrison, the author of the essay, sent me this kind note after it was published:

Dear Mark,

You recently created illustrations for Hearse and Home – my essay about funeral homes, interpersonal violence, and Stephen King. The drawings you created for that piece are so spot on and yet not too morose. They’re perfect. Thank you so, so much for adding pictures to my words. You’re very talented.

All the best
Gloriablank vertical space, 16 pixels high

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About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. I create images that get content seen and shared.

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Questions? Send me an email.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2018 2:27 PM

    Goodness. What a story. Your illustrations are very evocative.


    • February 15, 2018 10:17 AM

      Hi, Laura! Yes, quite the story indeed. Certainly made my own teen angst seem like very small potatoes. Always good to see you, hope you’re new year’s off to a great start. I know I’m overdue at your blog, and I’m calling a taxi now… 😊 🚕💨

      Liked by 1 person

  2. RKLikesReeses permalink
    February 13, 2018 6:33 AM

    The horrors in real life are always much worse than fiction. There’s no magical escape hatch, no “deus ex machina” to swoop in and give relief. That’s why, I think, reading about real life can be so difficult. Your darkly humorous illustrations bridge the gap between real life and fiction, spanning the two worlds in a way that allows the reader to take a breath – to break, however briefly, from the pain. They’re art in its purest form, showing us the world in ways we can bear to see it.


    • February 15, 2018 10:32 AM

      Hi, RK. Yes, I hear you: reading a story like that is like getting hit with a punch. It really staggers you, and you realize how lucky you’ve been, and how others have had their lives blasted at a young age.

      I really appreciate your perceptive analysis of the drawings. I don’t think too much about the drawings while I’m doing them. It’s more instinctive than anything else. But I think you’re right: trying to depict the situations in a physically realistic way wouldn’t work. A more conceptual approach with, yes, dark humor, allows the reader to tap into their own psyche and “see” the author’s experience in their own way.

      Thanks, as always, for your kind support and insightful comments!

      Liked by 1 person

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