Aaaaand We’re Back!

Man, I gotta tell ya, of all the ways I figured I could ring in my 31st year on earth, I had never expected the absolute shit show that has encased the entirety of my September.

So, the last month got particularly ugly. (If my admittedly bitchy last entry is any indication.) On top of the loss of my father at the beginning of September and all of the inherent stress that came from that just got compounded by the sickness that hit me harder than a drunk driver in a Buick. As resistant as I am to going to a doctor after seven years lacking insurance, after about four days of spinning and being unable to leave home, I finally gave in and went to one of the walk-in clinics at Walgreens. After that, I came home with a couple hundred bucks lighter with a gaggle of pills. Took those for a couple days to no real effect and broke down and made an appointment to an ENT doctor. After getting my hearing tested and being told what I already knew (I’m dizzy and pretty deaf) they prescribed me with some steroids to go on top of the rest of the pills I had. I started taking those for a couple more days, still no effect, so I went for a follow up with the ENT, who told me that they didn’t know what was wrong with me, but they had three options left for what to do to me.

1) An fMRI to check and see if I might have a brain tumor. (Which they admitted wasn’t very likely and would have cost me at least a grand without insurance)

2) They could inject steroids directly into my ear drum, which only had a 1/3rd chance of doing anything productive with my hearing loss or the vertigo.

3) Go with my original plan to stay home and wait it out like I had already planned before I dropped a thousand dollars on tests and meds that did sweet fuck all to help the problem.

My lividness with the situation aside, I stopped the medications all together, almost as an act of defiance and, under the advice of a friend, went out and got my “New Age” on, getting my first experience with acupuncture. The way I figured it, it’s a new experience, it might help my ear, and really, what’s another $80 on top of the pile of cash I already flushed down the crapper, anyway? So, I made an appointment and got my prick on. The whole experience was interesting, getting needles stuck in different areas in my back, arms, legs, hands, feet, and some centralized attention around my dead ear. I walked out of their office feeling no better from the vertigo, but my mood was amazing. All the tensions that had built up in me just went away for no discernible reason other than the fact that the turning my body into a pin cushion had unlocked something really pleasant within my mind and body. I walked around that day, still dizzy and a quarter deaf, but walking on air for several hours.

This feeling went on until a couple of hours after I got home, when I found myself thrown into the most disgusting, ugly, bile and excrement filled rage I’d felt in the last two years… And I couldn’t tell you why or what was making me feel this way to save my life. I went from the soundtrack to Singin’ In The Rain to Black Flag’s Damaged like a snap of your fingers. I paced around the apartment wanting to put my fist through the wall for ABSOLUTELY NO FUCKING REASON! It was bizarre and the fact that I couldn’t figure out why I was so pissed off just served to make me angrier. I went and jumped in the shower and started doing some deep breathing, racing through my own head, trying to figure out if I was going crazy or if maybe, just maybe I did have some kind of brain tumor pressing down somewhere on my brain’s limbic system. The hypocondria began to spiral out of control when the answer finally hit me out of nowhere.

In my trademarked bullheadedness, I decided to go cold turkey off the Prednazone prescription (of which I’d been taking six pills a day of for a solid week) and it dawned on me exactly what was going on in my frezied brain.

I was having ‘roid rage!

‘Roid rage is a real fucking thing and I was experiencing it.

I’d been on steroids before as a kid when I was recovering from my second surgery. I don’t recall the dosage, and I don’t recall any incidents of irrational anger for no reason, but then, I was 7 years old and on a myriad of drugs. There’s not much from that time period that I remember. The only reason I had no desire to use them now was because they caused the small, but still massively annoying gynecomastia (AKA: “man boobs”) that I’ve had ever since and won’t go away, no matter how many push-ups or butterfly curls I do. So it was with great hesitation that I went downstairs and took a smaller dosage of the pills. I managed to ween myself off of them within the span of another four days.

It’s been about a month since labrynthitis has knocked me flat on my ass and pretty much made me useless for a couple of weeks. Luckily, the extreme dizziness and puking into a bowl until I had nothing left in my body to throw up ended within the first 12 or so hours of it happening. The unfortunate part is, the vertigo has persisted for the entirety of the last four weeks and still hasn’t completely cleared up. Worst yet, the loss of half the hearing in my left ear still hasn’t improved and it’s pretty likely that the loss will be permanent. The thing that gets my hopes up about the possibility of regaining most if not all of my hearing is the faint, tinnitus-like bit of high-pitched white noise that I hear in the ear whenever I’m sitting somewhere quiet. It’s pretty much exactly like that running gag from Archer.

Fortunately, I’m not completely deaf in that ear, I’d say I’m at about 30 to 40% of what I’m used to on my left and I’m trying to strengthen the possibility of the hearing coming back by listening to music and especially lots of audiobooks with only the left headphone going. Then there’s the unintended plus sides of the hearing loss, like having an easier time ignoring bad music blaring out of some asshole’s car when I ride around with the windows open. Also, I can (and have) used it at times as a more reasonable excuse to ignore people or requests for things I’m in no hurry to do. Furthermore, now that I’m off the drugs and not sleeping away 80% of my days, my brain is firing back up and I’m back to writing. Wrapping up production on The Zipper Club in the next couple weeks after all these setbacks, writing more entries for The Long Odds here, and preparing an outline for my first year of participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ll be writing a little more about that in the next week or so and give everyone the all the information they’ll need to follow my progress across the month of November.

Every cloud has a silver lining!

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Behind The Zipper Club – Crafting A Symbol

I realize I’ve been a little more lax on my posts this week, but I’ve been working very hard on research and straightening out information for all of the posts I’ll be throwing up in the coming week as I dive into the events surrounding my second cardiac surgery. The one that turned my life around and has kept me going ever since. Today, after a couple days of conversation with my Zipper Club collaborator, Brenda López, I wanted to share a little something cool we’ve been cooking up on the road to getting the book into everyone’s hands by October/November.

A comic called The Zipper Club has gotten me a fair share of confused looks and cock-eyed stares when I mentioned the fact that it was for kids. People hear a term like “Zipper Club” and apparently their minds go immediately to images of BDSM and squeezing into leather gimp suits. When I tell them the book is for kids, I’ve gotten a couple of audible gasps and menacing glares. With my sense of humor and some of the awful directions in which it leans, initially, I guess that’s a fair judgement for those who know me, (My previous blog entry’s illustration had a pretty horrible gag playing off of a classic Jim Steranko illustrated Incredible Hulk cover, fergodsakes) but some of the clearly judgmental reactions I’ve gotten on occasion have hit me like a punch in the gut.

So, in the interests of keeping the weirdo crowd AND the uptight crowd from getting in an uproar, I figured we would need a plain and simple little piece of iconography to go right there on the cover of our book that will sell people on the title and the good and wholesome messages that Brenda and I are trying our best to convey. The icon idea came to me a lot easier than the cover image did when Brenda and I were knocking our heads together, trying to come up with just the right thing.

It came to me one sleepless night while lying awake in bed. So, I drew it out in a way that only A Badly Drawn Boy could do and came up with this…

That’s the idea, plain and simple. I’ve seen a couple different motifs on the “Zipper Heart” in the last little while, but every one of them I’ve seen so far was the romantic, “Valentine” version of the heart, which is all well, good, and cute, but this book is about the human heart, the strongest muscle in the human body. The point that we want to put across with The Zipper Club is about finding strength, no matter how weak or inferior we feel. To me, that cutesy little of fluff image just didn’t seem to cut the mustard for what we sorely needed.

After finishing the piece, and in the interest of uniformity, and because Brenda is clearly the owner of the more skilled set of hands in our dynamic duo, I passed my design idea onto her, to get her take on it and this was her initial response, nailing it right on the first try.

And for good measure, she shot me a colored version as well…

The colors came out great as well, but we got to thinking that maybe it would look better in a more naturalistic set of tones with a bit more variety to the colors and shades. With that in mind, Brenda’s second attempt knocked it out of the park!

I’m so in love with what Brenda did here, that we’re looking into the idea of putting together Zipper Club related merchandise centered around the design. We’ll start small with t-shirts, but I’m thinking it would be pretty cool to come up with Zipper Heart shaped backpacks and purses and so forth. (That’ll be a ways away, unless some kind soul wants to hit the “Donate” button over there and give us a little cash injection. 😉 ) I’m even thinking very strongly about getting a slightly altered version tattooed under my left collarbone in the not-too-distant. (Sorry, mom.)

Hope you guys dig this little peek into our ongoing artistic process. Brenda and I are having an absolute blast bringing this book around the bend towards home plate. We hope everyone who has and will order a copy will enjoy it as much, and ultimately “get” what we’re trying to say with The Zipper Club. I’m already in the process of writing next year’s annual which will pay off a number of the things that we’re setting up in year one.

A Badly Drawn Boy

When I tell people I work in comics, the first question they ask if I’m an illustrator. In all the years since I have started, I concocted a stock answer to this question, which I have used hundreds of times ever since.

“I just write them. I can’t draw to save my life.”

This is a semi-untruth. If someone were to come and put a gun to my head and say “Draw me a sad clown eating a bowl of cereal with the milk of his own tears or I’ll pull the trigger”, I’d put a pencil to paper and draw the least anatomically correct, flat looking, and undetailed clown possible, but I’d at least try and make it funny looking enough to keep my gray matter off of the downwind wall.  I would think it would be enough to save my life because if a gunman had sense of humor enough to tell me to draw a clown eating cereal lubed with its own tears, their sense of humor was in my wheelhouse. Clearly, if I thought I absolutely couldn’t draw, I wouldn’t be centering this blog around some of the goofy crap my brain cooks up and scrawls out regularly. I may never be good enough or have the patience enough to figure out how to professionally draw a comic on my own, but maybe I’ll take that plunge some day. I’ve learned not to say “no” to almost any possibility, and in the last year, I’ve begun to take that notion to further and further extremes. My confidence in my artwork has never been huge, and even these days, it’s only slightly bigger than “never been huge”.

As a kid, drawing was something I really loved to do. My time spent in and out of hospitals made me an avid comic book reader, and I always envied the guys who got to draw them.  The iconic characters, the vivid settings, the outlandish storytelling, the crazy action that the special effects of even the best of the 1980’s flicks just weren’t able to touch. All of it! That crap was better than candy to me, and I wished I could do it as well as the guys who were paid what I thought were “the big bucks” for bringing these epic stories to life. I wanted to be one of them, really badly.

My wonderful mother was nice enough to encourage, or perhaps just humor me in this endeavor. She was there stocking me to the gills with art supplies, a few cartooning lessons, and an unwavering level of support which has run strong through every other “pie in the sky” dream I’ve had ever since. Slowly, I began to hone my skills as an artist in ways that only a boy with hands so rickety that they could screw up a straight line even with the assistance of a ruler could do. I went on for a couple of years drawing crude story books and comics until I found myself under the tutelage of a rather draconian at art teacher when I reached middle school. A typical day in class would sound something like this.

“What are you drawing, Ward?”

“A picture of my dog, Michelangelo playing laser tag!”

“Your form is all wrong!”

“B-but…”

“No! It must be done like this!”

Obviously, I’m dramatizing a bit, but you get the picture. When you’re young and you are told you’re doing it wrong pretty much every time, you can become easily discouraged. I put away my pencils and shoved that dream into a drawer next to my dream of being made an honorary Ninja Turtle and moved on to wanting to be a baseball player despite being too terrified to swing at a damn ball.

In the years that followed, I would make sporadic attempts at picking up the pencil again. In an ill-advised move, I very nearly considered drawing the entirety of my first published graphic novel , Love Buzz, all by myself. Thankfully, I realized what a horrendous idea that would’ve been and I went about seeking out artists who could do the job properly. That’s how I ended up finding Michelle and Dave for the task.

Simply put, I stopped caring. I embraced the fact that my art is nowhere near professional, but that my hands and my warped brain can sometimes communicate to come up with something so silly that people can’t help but laugh, no matter how bad it looks. I even got the wild urge to try and include a personally drawn sketch with our Zipper Club crowd funding campaign and it turned out to be one of the most popular items we sold. What’s more, it now technically makes me a “professional artist”. I chuckle to myself every time I hear the words leaving my mouth, but it’s true. I’m even thinking of including hand-drawn sketches in The Long Odds store as well as offering t-shirts of some of my more far-out drawings.

Sure, the anatomy is wonked all to hell, the coloring style is pretty strictly flat, and I still can’t draw a straight line if you had a gun to my head, but something about what I’m doing amuses people, and I’m done ignoring that. I’ve learned that if you embrace your weak points just like you would your strong ones, you’ll live a lot less stressful a life. It becomes one less thing that someone else can use as ammunition against you to make you feel small.

I had written myself off as an “artist” due to all of those experiences over the years. Fortunately, I discovered my knack for writing and telling stories as a teenager and began pursuing it with the same stubborn sense of tenacity that kept me from going crazy as a sick kid and angsty teenager. That became my creative outlet, while the art became something I had written off for a long time. Fortunately, I’m thankful for the half-joking idea I had that made me offer my own sketches through our Zipper Club IGG campaign, and even more thankful for the number of people who were awesome enough to plunk down money to actually buy some. I can’t promise the work you’ll buy will be Norman Rockwell, or even Rob Liefield, but I can promise it’ll at least elicit a light chuckle. If you’re going to do something badly, at very least, do it with style. You might have some fun in the process.

BETTING THE LONG ODDS – An Introduction

These are the words of a boy who should have died.

I’ve come to be known as a great many things across the span of my thirty year life. Comic book writer, outgoing heart health advocate, internet malcontent, real life malcontent, “that weird kid from high school who showed up dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl that time”, or even “Who the hell are you?” The odds are that if you’re reading this right now, you probably know me as any one of the things on that list. We all come to be defined by our deeds or attributes as our lives progress. It’s something that just can’t be helped because we simply can’t “get to know” everyone, so we often have to label them with our own snap judgments. Above all of these and any other words that might define me; the one label that I truly feel has defined me throughout my entire lifespan thus far is a single word.

Survivor.

I was born in 1982 with a congenital heart problem known as an endocardio cushion defect with a hypoplastic left ventricle, a congenital birth defect so rare that if you Google it, my name is pops up in literally every result. Until recently, children born with the defect were sent out of the hospital with their parents with it going unnoticed until the infant would die mere days later. Doctors have told my family that to their knowledge, I’m the oldest living survivor of my condition. This is due in part to the fact that not long after I was born, medical science advanced so much that my specific condition became identifiable and even treatable in utero.  However, when I was born, the prognosis for children with my defect was so bad that none survived. If not for a keen-eared doctor, I would have ended up as one of those statistics.

For many years, my health problem was something I didn’t like talking about, not because I was timid or ashamed of it, but because it  had become something I would have to talk about so much that the impact of my experiences didn’t hold the same weight for me anymore. They had just become words to recite to doctors at routine physicals or to politicians I was trying to advocate on behalf of the American Heart Association. With the recent success of crowd funding my latest comic book project, The Zipper Club with artist Brenda Lopez, I began to realize again the level of weight that my personal story continues to carry.  Just as I would like for The Zipper Club to become a handbook for teaching children how to deal with adversity in the face of health problems, I began to realize I had so many more stories to tell on the subject.  It helped to reconnect me with the power of a personal story.

Any way you slice it, writing any form of autobiographical work typically involves at least one or two degrees of a self-serving delusion of grandeur. Anyone who writes one of these things and tries to tell you otherwise is a lying goon, but I digress. I intend to try and keep this as low to the ground as possible and insert my own weird brand of humor and insight in an effort to break up some of the more tense entries. What I can promise is that this will not be a grueling, constant slog through my own personal sense of morbidity.  Though it will delve into a fair share of morbid topics from time to time, the central idea of The Long Odds, more than anything, is celebration of life from a guy with the odd perspective of being written off for dead several times before he got a chance to truly start living.

I’m a writer. Statistically speaking, we’re not the sunniest bunch of people who ever lived.  Like most who choose to pursue this as a profession, I deal with your standard depressions, anxieties, and the occasional feelings of inadequacy, but then again, who doesn’t? Unlike most stereotypes that follow writers, I’m not a drug addict, I only drink socially, have never smoked a cigarette in my life, and I’ve never entertained a serious suicidal thought.  My condition no longer requires my having to take any form of medication and hasn’t caused me a single problem since I was eight years old.  I exercise regularly and am working hard to expand the limits of what my body and my heart can take. I’m physically healthier than I’ve ever been, and I’m ready to see what life plans to throw in my path next.

What will follow in the weeks, months, maybe even years ahead will be an uncompromising introspective into the large and small facets of my life as it’s been, as it goes, and what I hope it can become as the seconds on the meter of my borrowed time continue to tick upward.  As unflinchingly honest as I and my admittedly spotty memory can recall (the rest, I’ll either find through research or will either come right out and say it may or may not be slight to total bullshit).

I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded at a great many things, but if being written off while lying in hospital beds throughout my formative years with stitches in my chest and tubes coming out of various parts of my body have taught me one thing, it’s that no matter how bleak an outlook gets, there’s no excuse to give up. My hope is that people reading this, no matter what their walk of life, whether suffering from health problems, or just chasing a dream that most of their family and friends shrug off as a fool’s errand,  that my words will speak to at least one of them on an intimate level and help encourage them to keep fighting until they’ve spent their last ounce of strength and then getting in one more punch for good measure.

When that “worst case scenario” hits, when somebody tells you that anything you want to do is impossible, even when the only person stubborn enough to believe in you is you,

Take the bet and roll the dice.

The win’s always bigger when you’re playing the long odds.