by Janine Carrington
So the question has been put out there: What do we do to honour those who have gone before us?
August 16th 2017: Enter me.
I am what I call a Comicographer or a comic biographer. A comicographer is an artist that illustrates people’s lives by way of comics. So when I read this question I took it to mean what do we, in the year 2017, do differently in this regard with a special emphasis on the words 2017 and differently. I am fascinated by life stories and I believe every life is phenomenal and everyone has a story. When this topic came up I was on the brink of answering this very question. My father, Martin Daniel Carrington, died almost exactly two years before the call for submissions for this issue. When I heard about this call I was just about finished working on the first of many projects designed to honour the deceased. So my response was easy. To honour the one who had gone before me, I had created a thirty page graphic novel called Carrington.
The process that lead to this response begins with the reasons why I’ve chosen comics as my preferred medium. To me, the main objective in honouring the dead is to share their stories. Comics are an extremely powerful medium for sharing because they are so effective at delivering a message.
And why are they so effective? It’s because they seem so innocent.They lure you in with this siren song of beautiful imagery interspersed with short bursts of text. In terms of reading stuff, really, what could be more pleasant than that? So, you don’t just dip a toe into these literary waters, you cannonball right in because the water looks so safe and inviting.
And the next thing you know,
You’ve been hit on the head and lanced through the heart with a message that you totally get right away whether you agree with it or not. And how could you not get the message? I mean, if a picture is worth a thousand words and comics are pictures accompanied by a thousand words… well, you do the math!
So with your head spinning you stumble away, energized or introspective or pensive or intrigued or upset or unsettled or intrigued or… well the list could go on forever. Bottom line, whatever you feel the outcome remains that you go about your business newly enriched after having willingly yet inadvertently entered into the world of someone else. This is the power of comics and this is why to me, in the year 2017, when we’re bombarded with so much information, honouring the dead means embracing this beloved medium to share the story of a phenomenal life.
So, with that reasoning firmly in hand we move onto the graphic novel called Carrington. With comics as my weapon of choice I did my best to create the best damn Carrington that I could. My first task was to capture the spirit of the man. Carrington is prefaced by a short comic vignette called Be Happy that perfectly sums up his character. Based on a true anecdote in it I up play his character strengths (he was jovial and passionate) and downplayed weaknesses (he had a terrible temper).
My second and very easy task was to showcase his talent. Carrington is full of my father’s paintings as he was a great and prolific artist The graphic novel acts as a gallery for his work.
The third item on my Carrington to do list was to romanticize his survival and resistance. My dad came of age in a time of heavy racial tension. I tried to make his actions and reactions to the complications of “negro” life in the 40s 50s and 60s as big to the reader as they were to the him. My goal was to make his descendants proud of their genealogy by encouraging them to believe in an ancestor who was a quasi-superhero. Dashing, charismatic, strong and intelligent. Solving problems using skill and wit and charm. No better medium than a comics for that.
My fourth task was to get his message across. In writing the story I sought to explain his point of view in that special way specific to comics using the mighty thought bubble. Thought bubbles expose readers to the logic that is often be obscured by action. And in this case, in a way that wasn’t possible when my father was alive
And my last task was to make Carrington into a platform for documenting his life. This of course involved creating a timeline and collecting photos. It also involved unearthing surprising facts.
Being able to illustrate his experiences in chronological order gives us readers insight into what he had to deal with. Through this we also learn how to deal with certain situations and how we have it better or worse.
All valuable information
Once all that was done, I was left with this great true story. Now what was I supposed to do with it? Of course it was time to call upon our good old friend technology. We are lucky enough to live in a world that has made the miracle of self publishing a reality. Specifically for the comicographer it means joyfully roger rabbiting through a magical land where producing any number big or small of professionally bound books is a reality. For People of Colour it means no longer needing to rely on large white owned publishing companies for the content that we consume and suffering the indignities of poor, mis and non representation. It means access to content that includes the truth!
So Carrington, a true to life tale of adventure, love, happiness, conflict, integrity, passion, miracles, struggle, joy and all of that stuff was taken to the printers.
Be Happy, the introduction to Carrington, was actually a printed card and that we gave away to touched memorial service attendees, sympathetic neighbours and everyone who offered condolences.
Carrington the new version is currently being re-written to incorporate some interesting facts that surfaced after the original edition was created. It will be printed and distributed and will be available on Amazon.com shortly. All proceeds going to the Alzheimer’s Society Canada.
Next up was the digital realm. A tiny silver 16gb standard and micro usb keychain houses the following files: Images sized for Facebook and Instagram, A PDF version of Carrington and a PDF of Be Happy and hangs jauntily beside my keys and lucky mermaid charm.
Now with the quasi superhero Carrington soaring out into the world via print and social media, it was time for his memory to find a prominent place in my home. It was my duty to invest time and thought into creating something beautiful that would be his new physical representation. So, as is the practice of serious comic collectors everywhere, I put my new comic in a box. Not a morbid box, like a coffin or an urn. I set about creating a box you’re not afraid of. A magical box that’s full of wonder. A box that you could imagine a cool benevolent spirit coming out of when you open it. And when the box is opened you share what’s inside. You say things like “Here, take a comic home you can read it on bus” or “Here’s a card, give it to your mom for me” For Carrington I made a simple box that fit his spirit. I called this box in homage of the language of the country where it was made “La Caja” (spanish for “The Box”).
So now with the legacy of Martin Carrington, artist, athlete and entrepreneur cheering me on from a prominent place in my home, I’ve taken to the metaphorical streets with the aim of making a living creating this box and story for anyone who is game. In the future, I see a society where every home has a version of “La Caja” in the same way they might have a family portrait.
I also envision a society with “La Caja” files on every device. Where anniversaries of deaths are commemorated by posting comic illustrations on social media platforms. Where the unveiling of “La Caja” is a reason for families to come together. I see little children who know and like the story of their ancestors as much as they do the characters of their favourite YouTube heroes.
The lives of our dead have never been better.
To support, donate on the La Caja Comics fundraising campaign !
Janine Carrington is an artist born in To- ronto, Ontario who specializes in illustra- tion. Taught the basics of drawing at an early age by her father and continued her artistic education at the Etobicoke School of the Arts. For the moment she is based in Costa Rica updating her portfolio with pieces inspired by travel, beauty, love, work and family.