Sunday, October 12, 2008

Achsa W. Sprague

I Still Live is a comic I drew this spring. It is the biography of a nineteenth-century Vermont spiritualist (read: talks to ghosts), Achsa Sprague. My theory about comics and serendipity rang true throughout the production of this graphic novella as coincidence after coincidence led me through Achsa's spell-binding story.
I set out to find Achsa's grave, which happened to be a 45-minute drive from where I was living.
My sweetheart and I drove around for hours without finding her grave site--even though it was right under our noses. We found other ancient, beautiful, secluded cemeteries, but no Achsa. We started fighting and decided to call it a day. The next weekend we set out again. This time we found the cemetery, some 50 feet down a road we had driven past several times the previous weekend. When we realized it was Achsa's birthday, it seemed fitting that we had arrived a week later than we'd planned. We sang her happy birthday. The year's first snow floated down. A raven croaked in the distance--I'm not kidding.
That day, November 17th, also happened to be my grandma's birthday. In fact, she was born exactly 90 years after Achsa. Then, exactly ninety years after that, I was singing happy birthday in an ancient cemetery. I sensed Achsa was reaching out to me.
I felt the presence of her spirit as I stayed up til 4 in the morning nightly, frantically trying to draw all of the pages by my deadline. "Just get done what you can," people said. But I felt driven, possessed. Achsa was a workaholic in her day after her recovery from debilitating sickness. I could feel her pushing on me hard.
"If I could do it, you can do it."
Achsa was a poet (as well as abolitionist, spirit medium, trance lecturer, marriage and prison reform activist). I have heard much comparison between poetry and comics--both have elbowed into their own niche in the literary world, both evoke imagery in a way that deposits them somewhere outside ordinary literature. I imagined that Achsa was knocking at my back door because she figured she had found a kindred spirit--I knew this as truth. And I just couldn't ignore her.
p.s. Her epitaph reads, "I Still Live."
There is something about creating a comic about a historical figure, or doing any sort of research or art project on a used-to-be-living person, that inherently invokes the spirit of that person. Anyone else had similar experiences?


Henry Chamberlain said...


Congratulations on winning the Xeric. I don't see a contact email for you. If you were to send me a copy of your book, I would be happy to review at the Comic Book Bin where I regularly write reviews. I plan on reviewing all six of the latest grant winners.


Annie Murphy said...

Hi henry, whoops, I didn't know that my email was not up on this blog. I thought there was a contact button or something. Not too sure of the ins and outs of this blog business yet. My email is, and yeah sure, you can review my comic. Where do I send it to?

ellengwhite said...

You had mentioned on the serendipity thing, relating common experiences, so I'm going to. I haven't actually invoked a historical figure as in creating a work based on them, but because my existence has not been fully in the world, as in able to function within it, or on the other hand egoless, spiritual, and serendipitious either.(but I've had some huge moments of that) It's been very important for me to make friends with the serendipity as much as possible, my life has been full of a similar serendipity, and only in that, has anything meaningful or worthwhile transpired, so I crave it as my union with everything good. I can't say the same for the rational stream of cause and effect events which usually leave me starving for any kind of remote happiness, or fearing for what little I have. It's pretty clear that I, nor anyone else, is really a physical being.

One clear example is I have this one friend, and she always weaves into my life, almost as if she is an imaginary best friend, I always wondered if my parents thought that is what she was, because the stories about my friendship with her were far too "coincidental" (I showed them pictures for that reason, because I thought it might surprise them that she was real (lol), and even a few weeks ago, she showed up when I was free of the rational cause and effect insecurities that surpress that. There's more to the story...But yes, that relationship with Ascha Sprague I can relate to.

Melody Often said...

This sounds amazing. I look forward to seeing this in person. I heard through the CCS newsletter. Congratulations! Sounds provocative, touching and intriguing.