This is a series of posts about comics included in the forthcoming anthology comic “Identity” produced by Northside Comics.
The next comic in our series is by Andrew Larkin and is entitled Mother.
Can you give us a brief description of your comic and how it touches on the theme of identity?
Mother is a story about what happens when someone you love and look up to starts to fade away. In this story, a daughter is dealing having to be the primary care giver for her aging mother who has dementia. Our parents shape our personalities, and influence the people we grow up to be. What happens when that parent no longer knows who you are? For Helen, the daughter, her role in relationship to her mother is swapped; she now cares for the woman that once cared for her. Her identity as a daughter is called into question; her mother doesn’t recognize the woman she’s become, she can only vaguely recall the girl she once was. To her mother, Helen is a ghost from the past.
I wanted to touch on some of the complex emotions experienced by both mother and daughter. To the mother, the world around her is disjointed. The past becomes the present, and she sees things that aren’t real. Her experience can be blissful one minute (as she experiences a fond memory of her daughter as a child) to terrifying (as she realizes that her child is not there).
Helen’s emotions are more subtle and, at a deeper level, perhaps more complex. The stress of being the primary caregiver to her mother is taxing. She experiences anger and resentment, a feeling she may not feel comfortable expressing openly because, at the same time, she loves and cares for her mother. The line “some days I feel like it would be better if she died” may seem harsh, but it expresses the complexity of her emotions; Helen simultaneously wishes to be free of the burden of her mother, and for her mother to be free of the illness that plagues her. A wish for death is a blessing for both mother and daughter, but also something Helen resists because then the loss of her mother would be complete and final. This inner conflict manifests as a range of outward emotion, including exasperation and tears.
Ultimately, Helen’s question is one about identity; is she still her mother’s daughter, even if her mother can’t recognizer her for it? Can she be a loving child and wish death on her parent?
Where did you come up with the idea for your comic?
I was mostly inspired by my wife’s grandmother. She suffered from dementia, and I was really struck by how this impacted the family. I never knew my wife’s grandmother before she was ill, but I could see how hard it was for my mother-in-law to have to be, in essence, a parent to the woman that once parented her. I think it’s easy to talk about feelings like sadness in relation to a dying parent, but it’s much harder to talk about feelings like anger and resentment, particularly when those feelings are partially directed at a person you love. I wanted to tell a story that touched on that feeling of anger towards a sick parent that stems from having to be burdened, and how that feeling co-exists with a deep feeling of joy and satisfaction in being able to help someone you love.
What influences your work both on this comic and in general?
So much of my inspiration comes from reading a lot of Calvin and Hobbes. Bill Watterson is a master at creating these adorable characters that have the ability to comment on very serious things. His characters are relatable. When I was younger, I loved Calvin’s imagination and whimsy. As an adult I can begin to appreciate Calvin’s dad even more, despite my not yet being a parent. It made me realize that comics can be fun and serious at the same time.
For this comic, I was largely influenced by David Small’s Stitches. It’s an autobiographical story about how Small lost his voice as a child after having a tumor removed from his throat. The story is deeply psychological, and doesn’t pull any punches in terms of expressing the feelings of fear and rage that Small must have felt. In particular, I was impacted by the use of eyes in his illustrations. In Mother, the eyes are tied to each character’s identity. When the mother doesn’t recognize Helen, we see her as the mother sees her – without eyes.
Where can people find more of your work?
I have a Tumblr site, andrewlarkin.net, that has a lot of my recent work, with more being posted all the time. I also can be found on DeviantArt as riatstar.
The full comic anthology “Identity” will be available later this summer for purchase. If you can’t wait that long you can contribute to our kickstarter and maybe get yourself some unique swag.