Depression and my conceptual friend in the sketches of Robert Crumb.

Around 1995, a girl I had been seeing told me that my body was an “in the flesh  portrayal  of a Robert Crumb drawing.” I had no idea what she’d meant. I’d heard the name before, but my only exposure to comics at that time were old Superman, Asterix (in spanish!), or Uncanny X-men comics. She noticed my confusion and pulled out a stack of papers from her bookshelf. I thumbed through photocopies of drawings of thick-thighed voluptuous women in a variety of compromising poses. “Porn? You think I look like a dirty porn drawing?”

http://areaorion.blogspot.ca/2012/10/artist-spotlight-on-r-crumb.html

“Um…. I don’t know. Forget it.”

I didn’t forget it and for a while afterwards I went looking for Crumb comics online or in comic book stores. That’s when I stumbled upon a print of, “The Little Guy That Lives Inside My Brain.”

(You can find that print here: http://www.taschen.com/pages/en/catalogue/popculture/all/06341/facts.robert_crumb_sketchbooks_1982_2011.htm – Yeah for $1000 – which yes, it is worth it, I can only dream of owning that collection.)

I hadn’t really identified any of my own issues at that time, but something about that drawing really resonated with me. Looking back, I wish I had bought it, instead I just packed it up in my memory.

After having my children, I went through a very confusing time with post-partum depression. I talk about those days whenever I can because I believe it is something that is still too misunderstood. However, when I was going through it back then, I had no idea that I wasn’t alone in feeling that giant cloud of rage and paranoia.  I thought I was going insane (Not like the other times I believed I was going insane, like when I was a teenager, which I believe I was, but really, who doesn’t go through the insane phase then?), and that the distorted reality in my brain was far worse than it actually was. The world is better off without me, I thought. Many thoughts of being a bad mother and a horrible wife zipped through my brain every day. It took a long time to get to the other end of that black cloud. When it had dissipated I realized that those few years had gone by in a blur and that I had failed to truly appreciate the first few months of my children’s life.

I delved right back into life again trying to make up for it.  I truly believed that I was a stronger person for it. I didn’t know, however, that my life had always been life of the depressive. Depression doesn’t just go away. It waits. I go back and look at the Little Guy above and think of depression as being a room full of all the insecurities and bile that we harbor for ourselves. You find yourself confronted with all of your mind’s detritus on every wall and even if you scale it up to the ceiling, you find an endless supply of closets and drawers full of insurmountable internal negative agendas. You fall quickly and scamper to the driest part of the room and cringe at it all.

One day you end up finding a door out and it is all sunshine, expansive fields, thoughts of progress, and a heart filled with new hopes and expectations. You don’t walk, you run around like it’s the best thing ever and your friends and family shout, “Look at you! You’re out! See? All you had to do was walk out that door.”

That just isn’t the truth.

They don’t realize you are tied to that room, and some are able to cut that tie, but for others it’s a constant struggle. That no matter what you do, something, somewhere will boomerang you right into those cramped quarters again and you don’t know why or how you ended up there. You just end up being there. Something threw you in there, locked the door and threw away the key. Unfortunately, sometimes you escape it with self-injury, self-sabotage, drugs, or worse yet, suicide. Other times, you compound your conditions with other disorders like insomnia, OCD, eating disorders, alcohol, and the list could go on and on. Sometimes, you just wait it out.

http://biblioklept.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/picture-1.png

Personally, I find windows or crawlspaces under or over closet and drawers in the depression room. I mean, I’m given a bit of an advantage here because I have to keep my head above water for the people that depend on me: my kids. They rarely see that side of me and whenever they do, they understand. They know the “otherness” I feel, not just because of their autism, but because we’re as honest as we can be with each other. I’ve found the best way to avoid that repression I grew up with them is to just let them speak, no matter how tough the subject could be, that as a family and as friends, we’re there for them, no matter how confusing the thought could be.

I used to think I was weak or too delicate because I had my insane moments. How do I end up in that room and why do I let myself get dragged in there? It’s taken me a long time to figure out that I’m not alone. It’s taken me a long time to figure out that the reason I’m still here is because somewhere I find the strength to find the windows, crawlspaces and doors. There’s a brave face mask some depressives find, some call it Smiling Depression. Comedians often are the most honest about it. They talk about every day life, make fun of it, make fun of their conditions and say,  “This is me. You can’t really do anything about it, because hey, this is me.”

That’s kind of how I keep up with the every day. I’m not saying it’s an effective way, (Then again, what is?), but it’s a way out for a little while. And I appreciate when I’m out. The sunshine and all that, that’s wonderful and I’ll take in as much of that giant field when I’m out of it. There are times I even forget that the room is even there.

Anyways, I speak of Robert Crumb because I’ve been rifling through some of my own collections of his work, Chester Brown‘s, and Julie Doucet’s while illustrating. I’ve learned far more from them than I ever did while taking art in school.

From Brown’s I Never Liked You. http://www.unlikely.ws/blog/nuncamehasgustado_versblogdef.jpg

I find my newer drawings (as yet to be posted. Repression!) are more honest, fluid and maybe, a bit more “porn-y”, for lack of a better word. As I look at the sketches, the word “porn-y” suits them. It’s not just nudity or subject matter. I’m trying to portray a reality that I usually don’t let myself express. In the search for who I am as an illustrator and a writer, I find the subject matter is becoming darker and more “me.” In the past, I’ve found that I’ve started something with the full intention of being honest, and end up tacking on the pretty, more comforting colors or package up a story with a big red contrived bow for an ending. I can’t do that anymore and it’s confusing, frustrating even. The little man in the little room is coming to life and it’s scary and relieving all at once.

From Brown’s Ed The Happy Clown. http://vfxhack.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/edthehappyclown.jpg

From Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte: http://jumpedonthebandwagonlate.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/laylah-ali-and-julie-doucet/ (I am the world’s worst housekeeper. Truth.)

And hey, it’s me. I can’t really do much about it, but keep my head above the sinking point. For now, even if I’m down, I fully acknowledge, this is me.

p.s. Many thanks to http://www.brainpickings.org/ latest posts on Crumb and Bukowski for inspiring the train of thought that went into this post.

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3 thoughts on “Depression and my conceptual friend in the sketches of Robert Crumb.

  1. Pingback: R. Crumb and depression » » Murray J. Brown

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