Blood and Drugs
By Lance Ward
Birdcage Bottom Books
This SPX debut comic by cartoonist Lance Ward builds a narrative around Alcoholic Anonymous’ 12 steps by following Buster, the actual creator behind Blood and Drugs, a shambolic, self-published comic that has drifted into obscurity and legend. Buster’s entire life fell apart thanks to drug addictions, and Blood and Drugs was his attempt to chronicle his downfall in real time.
Blood and Drugs is also Ward’s effort to make some narrative sense out of Buster’s misfortune. In the beginning, the Blood and Drugs we hold in our hands goes over the territory its fictional counterpart, bringing us into the more recent present where Buster is living in a group home and spending his Sundays in a church in a recovery group going over what exactly went wrong in his life. He’s trying to pull himself together, but so is everyone else around him and short tempers abound, especially in context of trying to push back self-destructive cravings.
His comic Blood and Drugs is the seagull around his neck, punishing him for ever being created by haunting his emotions, as well as invariably being mentioned and causing Buster much frustration, and even sometimes unexpectedly appearing even though he thinks all the copies are destroyed. It’s the events of his past following him around as he tries to make amends, and not only that, but as an autobiography in real time, it’s also the thoughts, attitudes, and emotions of his past giving themselves an embarrassing presence when he least wants them in evidence near him.
What becomes evident is that the group home is its own kind of purgatory and if Buster is ever going to move on, it’s going to be through his own efforts, not through those that have been assigned to him. And when he finally gets the opportunity, there’s a hint that redemption may not be such an impossible goal after all and that happiness is not permanently blocked off from a person’s experience.
With a stark and messy cartooning style dominated by thick black lines that have a life of their own, Ward does an amazing job of not only depicting the world that Buster lives in, but representing his emotional state of disarray. It’s a jarring representation, but it’s a controlled, meticulously thought-out one that becomes apparent when we finally get a glimpse of Buster’s original Blood and Drugs comic, in which the chaos of his life and his state of mind come spilling out into the xeroxed page. It is exactly that, mostly filled with blood and drugs, two substances that his despair and rage are reduced down to.
Strangely though, the original comic becomes more coherent even as he sinks down further and his life goes out of control, eventually circling back on specifics within the horrible story of his downfall that we heard at the beginning of the book. It’s this that brings it alive and cements it as something more than just a story. This is Buster’s life. He lived it. He put his pain down on paper for everyone else to experience.
And that may be what Ward’s comic is about more than anything else. Near the end, Buster’s ex-wife berates him for not telling the whole story in his comic, but that’s okay. It’s his story, it’s his pain. It’s his recovery. But Ward acknowledges the people Buster does need in making his way back to life. It’s not a selfish endeavor, but a community one. It’s just he has to find his community and the rageful framing of his life within Blood and Drugs is part of washing his old life away.