Creativity Magazine

Comedy & Tragedy: How Humorous Illustrations Help Tell Difficult Stories

By Mrstrongest @mrstrongarm

In addition to visuals for marketing and social media campaigns, I do editorial illustration.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Some of my most interesting assignments are for The Rumpus: stories that relate difficult personal journeys. I like the challenge. And I think my humorous style works to advantage.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Why?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Because comedy and tragedy complement each other. The best playwrights know this. Jerome Lawrence, best known for Inherit The Wind, put it this way:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

The best playwrights– Tennessee Williams, for instance– will puncture the most serious moment with an outrageous laugh. The audience delights in it.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

They need the relief. They need laughter– or what Norman Cousins calls “inner jogging”– for the joy of life.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The more an audience laughs, the more it feels.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Shakespeare knew this– there’s comedy in his most serious plays.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Comedy & Tragedy: How Humorous Illustrations Help Tell Difficult StoriesI did 5 illustrations for a first-person essay titled, My Body Is A Bill To Pay. It’s about a young woman who graduates from college with $130,000 in student debt, and her ongoing struggle to pay it off.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Here are excerpts, along with the illustration each inspired.blank vertical space, 16 pixels highblank vertical space, 24 pixels high

My identity changed when I opened that envelope. I stood in my dusty kitchen, pantries bare, blinded by all those zeroes in the sum I owed.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I received that first bill on the day after I graduated. I was living off a few spoonfuls of peanut butter a day, working multiple jobs, paying rent myself.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

After this first one, these student debt bills were sure to arrive on the fourteenth of every month…blank vertical space, 16 pixels highComedy & Tragedy: How Humorous Illustrations Help Tell Difficult Storiesblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The student debt bubble started before I got to college and persists today, but I also had the distinct bad luck to graduate at the start of the 2008 Great Recession.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Before the recession, student debt amounted to $671 billion in the US. It has since risen to $1.5 trillion according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The degree I earned should never have cost $130,000 before interest. It certainly hasn’t helped my earning potential…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I have always been paying. There is no one else who will pay the monthly bill for a cool thousand dollars. Every month, no exceptions.blank vertical space, 16 pixels highComedy & Tragedy: How Humorous Illustrations Help Tell Difficult Storiesblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I worked, sometimes three official jobs (meaning I was on the books, paying taxes) while juggling other ventures: cleaning houses for cash, freelance writing for earnings over PayPal…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

My body rebelled—I had stomach bugs, coupled with weight gains, upper respiratory infections, and on-the-job sprains and bruises without legal recourse.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I once cracked my ribs (working at a food co-op) trying to move a plastic tub of organic kale from one fridge to another… (but) I finished that shift and clocked in the next day.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

(At the) food co-op, I spent most of my time threatening to call the cops on leering older hippies who wouldn’t stop hitting on college-aged volunteers.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

One bandana-wearing degenerate would rattle the gates after hours, slip dollar bills under the door, then insist I had just sold him chocolate so I’d better unlock the gate to hand him his goods…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

That is the phenomenon of having to hold on to a job you hate but cannot afford to quit.blank vertical space, 16 pixels highComedy & Tragedy: How Humorous Illustrations Help Tell Difficult Storiesblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Then after months of nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, I gave in to dental pain so excruciating I couldn’t sleep for a week… a wisdom tooth I had been too poor to get pulled was infected, and the infection was spreading…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I maxed out a credit card to pay for that extraction. There was just enough credit left for the antibiotics. Nothing left for the painkillers…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I wrote a suicide note and downed too many pills. It didn’t work… It was then that I knew there would be no easy out.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I had to keep working and keep paying because my stubborn body wouldn’t die, and as long as I had a body I had a bill to pay.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Comedy & Tragedy: How Humorous Illustrations Help Tell Difficult Storiesblank vertical space, 16 pixels high

With a stitch still in my gums and my latest attempt to quit smoking a failure, I met a friend of a friend at a bar… He read my physical and emotional numbness as cool…blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I introduced him to basement shows and dive bars… I let him shop for a new subculture because being rich and successful can be so dull.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I became an outfit for him to try on and discard at the end of an evening… I would sell out anything, if I thought it would get me free of debt in the end.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

He earned and saved for our future wedding and then he wanted to break up. I wasn’t interesting any more. Only starving, nihilistic girls on antibiotics could be fascinating…blank vertical space, 16 pixels highblank vertical space, 16 pixels highComedy & Tragedy: How Humorous Illustrations Help Tell Difficult Stories

blank vertical space, 16 pixels highThe story ends on a semi-hopeful note, along with a warning:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Reader, I have achieved it—an entry-level staff job at a university. Cadillac health insurance, holidays off, vacation days I accrue with no plan on spending. Because I don’t have the money to travel.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high


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