It’s often said that there are few life experiences more painful than when a parent loses a child. Cartoonist and educator, Tom Hart, has taken that pain – a grief no one should ever have to endure – and created a comic that everyone should read with it.
Hart is perhaps best known for his popular Hutch Owen series (collected by Top Shelf in 2000), which cleverly satirized advertising, consumer culture and the dot com excesses of the 1990’s and early aughts. Also an accomplished teacher, Hart and his wife, fellow cartoonist Leela Corman (Unterzakhn, Schocken Books, 2012), opened The Sequential Arts Workshop, a non-profit organization offering instruction in comic art, graphic novels and visual storytelling, in Gainesville, Florida at the beginning of this year.
Hart and Corman left New York City to set up SAW at the end of 2011 but just as the couple was settling into their new life in Florida, incomprehensible tragedy struck. As Hart eloquently and ruthlessly details in his new auto-biographical 28 page comic about that time, RL Book 1, the couple’s two year old daughter, Rosalie Lightning, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep on November 17th, 2011.
Making a comic about the experience is something Hart feels compelled to do, describing the work in progress as “cathartic.” Unable to refer to the comic by his daughter’s given name, Hart says, “I’m just calling the book “RL” right now. I can’t bear to have her name mean something other than her right now.”
After Rosalie Lightening passed away, Hart “spent most of the first 5 or 6 weeks desperately and furiously writing. The (above) first chapter is almost exactly what I wrote in the first couple of days. (I’m) still working through those notes. There’s still more from that time. A few dreams yet to come that are harrowing, and more trying desperately to figure out why any of this could have happened.”
The final book, which Hart anticipates “will be 200 pages” and “(will) probably (be) put (out in) little 20-30 page units whenever there are some, will mostly detail the few weeks before our moving to Gainesville, Florida, the couple of months after moving, and then the 6 weeks after losing her. I need to recount the series of events leading up to New Years Day, 2012 when I felt l like I understood that I had the permission and need to move forward.”
Moving forward is something that Hart and Corman have done admirably and with inspiration. In setting up The Sequential Arts Workshop, the two have created a “terrific community and school at SAW.” Hart describes “Gainesville (as) warm, affordable and creatively vibrant as hell right now.” He goes on to say that the school’s “single-year program is as good as any single-year program in comics in the country. We have students at SAW working every single day with our amazing instructors. Every day they are getting better, engaging more and more with the creative community and getting a first-class education.”
In addition to a comprehensive curriculum, SAW will feature several extra-curricular workshops which are open to the public in 2013, including week-long workshops with cartoonists John Porcellino and Ron Rege Jr. and an art show to celebrate David Lasky and Frank Young’s graphic novel, The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.
While continuing his teaching duties at SAW, Hart will be finishing up How to Say Everything, an instructional book of essays and exercises about “coming up with ideas, on working from your personal obsessions and images and ideas to create meaningful comics,” that is currently 90 – 95% complete. He will also continue his work on RL. Below is a preview from RL, Book 2 (click to enlarge), which Hart points out is “not finished.”