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?