June 11, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
I first read Paul Hornschemeier's graphic novel Mother, Come Home several years ago after Alina Simone recommended the book in her Note Books contribution. This story of a father dealing with the loss of his wife and a son his mother is hauntingly told in muted tones and graceful storylines.
Fantagraphics has recently reissued the book, which collects two issues of Hornschemeier's "Forlorn Funnies" series. Reading the book again, I appreciated Hornschemeier's attention to detail even more.
Entertainment Weekly wrote of the book:
"Paul Hornschemeier's graphic novella is deserving of the word masterpiece without reservation. The storytelling is a marvel of invention, the muted colors the hue of heartbreak, the tone full of understanding and grace but never maudlin. The shattering, infuriating, open-to-interpretation climax will haunt you for days, if not longer. The less said about this thing, the better, for it only leaves more for you to discover."
The first breath of Mother, Come Home came in a rain-pelted car in the parking lot of a Columbus, Ohio MicroCenter. My fiance had left me and moved to sunnier states (figuratively and Florida), I was realizing that my parents were approaching an ominous Elderly, and I was feeling all my carefully laid, self-serving, insular plans crumbling around me.
I was buying a USB cable, or something equally forgettable.
When I get tired and stressed, the best place to be is in a parked car in the rain. It’s a womb with a convenient steering wheel. I closed my eyes, and, being tired and stressed, began that stream of low-grade hallucinations that come every time my lids shut.
I saw a towheaded boy of seven or eight, wearing a crimson cape and a dime store lion mask. The boy was walking along a horizon of snow. The picture flickered, changed scenes, and I was looking at a man seated on a bed in an attic. The man was bearded, bespectacled, and without… something; a loss that was evident in his face. I “knew” (as I seem to inexplicably “know” the unstated realities in these hallucinated worlds) that the man was the boy’s father and that they had lost a mutual someone, recently. It seemed equally “known” that this mutual person would be the mother of the family.
I opened my eyes, wrote down a few notes on the back of a scrap of paper, and put the car into drive. I brought my new cable home and for the most part forgot about the boy, his father, and their loss. I went back to my insular concerns and tried to spackle things as best I could.
But stories you need to tell have weird claws. They make their way back up to the front of your skull, or wherever it is in there that gets the most attention. So eventually, years later, the boy, his father, and everything those few seconds had shown, climbed out onto more and more pieces of paper.
Sigur Ros: Gong
Mother, Come Home began – in any proper form other than that initial scrap of paper – as a screenplay, a screenplay that was ultimately aborted when I decided to move the project into a serialized graphic novel. Since its first publication, various movie and television creatures began sniffing around, but there was never much in the way or a real prospect. But one series of discussions with Mark Ruffalo (which ultimately fizzled out) got me back to drafting the screenplay, and piecing together a second-by-second breakdown of a trailer. The book itself had been mainly drawn to two sets of music, and one of those was Sigur Ros. It seemed only fitting that the trailer I was drafting was set to one of their songs.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Coffee (Arabian Dance)
The other set of music to which I drew the book was Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. And the Arabian Dance was always the song I came back to when thinking of these long shots of the lion-masked boy in the snow, or of the funeral procession to and from the mother’s grave.
The Microphones: Instrumental
In that initial vision of the father sitting on his bed, the camera is pulling in on his face, into his eyes, and I could see how much he has lost, to the point of it being embarrassing for me to look at him, feeling every bit the emotional tourist (a feeling that’s simultaneously palpable and ridiculous, given that the fellow in question lives in my head). When the light cymbals and piano come in around the one minute mark of this song, the camera has moved past the father, and is heading out the window toward the snow, giving us some sort of relief from the father’s suffocating grief.
The Kinks: Shangri-La
Thomas, the child protagonist of the story, spends most of his time by himself, physically or mentally, usually both. The swell from the tranquil, slowly-picked beginning of this song into the busier world around second 52 feels precisely like Thomas exhuming himself from his father’s depression, escaping into his world of faux-adulthood, of grandiose plans, of play born of an incapability to truly process everything happening around him. At 1:25 I can see Thomas catching his stuffed animal, fully engulfed in that more childish innocence behind the safety of his lion mask.
The Mamas & The Papas: Dancing Bear
For those moments that Thomas is surrounded by other people, there is a feeling of vibrating alienation. On the school bus, in the classroom, at the beach or zoo with his Aunt and Uncle. He is perpetually apart. As much as people are trying to connect, his world is ultimately without any viable doors, other than whatever tunnel remains between him and his father. So Thomas attempts, as best he can, to entertain and tolerate their gestures, for all the good it does. Painting a stone doesn’t do much for the stone. The voices and music of The Mamas & Papas strike exactly this mood: a story of a dancing bear sounding as sad as sad can sound.
Christopher O’Riley: How I Made My Millions
Early in the book, Thomas’ father is recessing further and further into himself. Ultimately he enters a mental institution to try to combat his worsening depression. The currents of this song from Radiohead, with all the instruments rendered in piano by Christopher O’Riley, seem to light the path the father takes within that institution. Reaching something resembling tranquility, whether or not the outside world or Thomas can understand it.
Sufjan Stevens: Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)
While I don’t want to say anything about the ending of the book and potentially ruin it, this is the perfect theme for Thomas, sitting in the grass, looking out to the empty powder-blue sky.
Low: Death of a Salesman
If there is a song for the “credits,” after the story’s end, it would be this. The characters of the song are different, but the themes of regret, of logic and control versus life and living, of passing something on even after it’s burnt, these couldn’t take you out of the book any more gracefully. I’d love to write a book as good as this song, but I doubt I have it in me.
Paul Hornschemeier and Mother, Come Home links:
also at Largehearted Boy: