1. Lower your expectations. 2. Move back home to Ohio. 3. Realize your sister is now married to the Grim Reaper. 4. Lower your expectations MUCH MORE. That’s the fateful flowchart suffered by Elbridge Hanawalt, hero of Death in the Family—the latest Hennessey/McConnell comics joint now available for free on Tapastic and the Tapas app.
I am one of those comics writers who can’t draw. Well, to give you the whole story in a nutshell, I was born with an almost world-historical capacity for illustration. Destined to be up there with the greats, I was. But in a tragic turn of events, my usually intrepid, young and earnestly save-the-world anthropologist parents—while on a daring field work mission deep in the Guatemalan Highlands—accidentally unleashed the Mayan jaguar war/fertility-goddess Ix Chel from her Thousand Year Sublimation in the Quetzeltuanguán Viper Temple. And in order to save the soul of the unborn child that Ix Chel revealed my mother to be carrying (gasp! so that persistent morning nausea wasn’t just the bad kak’ik they’d eaten in Santa Cruz del Quiché the week before!), my illustration talents had to be sacrificed to Ix Chel and duly distributed among her high priests. …Many of whom, I’m happy to report, have graduated from top art schools in Latin America. Oddly enough, they found me on LinkedIn years later. And turns out they are doing great work for, among other corporate clients, Aerolínas Sosa, the #2 domestic airline in Honduras.
In light of this misadventure, in the early aughts I started casting around in earnest for artists I, as a fledgling comics writer, could work with.
Thanks to the then very 2004-ish, “Web 1.0” alumni portfolio and message board of the Rhode Island School of Design, I found Aaron McConnell. We have been collaborators ever since.
It has been a satisfyingly solid run. Three of our nonfiction graphic novels were published between 2008 and 2015. They are all still in print. The U.S. Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation was a Village Voice “Best Book of 2008” and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation was a Library Journal “Best Graphic Novel of 2013.”
The general readership’s priorities being what they are, our third and most recent, The Comic Book Story of Beer, squeaked onto the New York Times bestseller list.
Now with Death in the Family, we would like to show you some of what we can do outside of the charmingly niche-y world of graphic nonfiction.
And it’s hard to think of a better platform to do this than on Tapastic, the energetic and crackling-with-potential online comics community. Big old thanks to Tapastic for making the debut eleven pages of Death in the Family a staff pick!
Death in the Family was born in part of my abiding affection for a certain scrappy Northeast Ohio metropolis I married into, and which I think deserves as much psychosocial exploration and tribute in comics as it has had in the world of rock music.
Death in the Family, which will be serialized on Tapastic, is the story of Elbridge Hanawalt, a twentysomething Midwestern nobody who has taken punches all his life (this first punch dealt by the hard luck of being born and raised in Summit City, Ohio) and still somehow manages to have a chip on his shoulder. (As well as no small amount of dandruff. Especially during the long intervals when Elbridge has no pityingly sympathetic female acquaintance on hand to police his choice of shampoos.)
Elbridge has dared to try to leave Summit City and break in to a glamorous yet notoriously competitive creative field. But as we’ll see, this bid to break away from his plebian pedigree blows up in his face. Elbridge is left feeling he has nothing to live for. And lacking the stones to throw himself into the surging Pacific and end it all in an instant, he opts for a far slower and much more painless suicide alternative. This amounts to moving back home to Ohio to stifle what little remains of his ego with a binge diet of cheap beer, near-toxic junk food, and endless hours of Judge Judy and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air reruns.
Maybe Elbridge’s mind and body will hold out long enough to witness the final corkscrew rotations of his economically depressed and culturally stagnant hometown’s downward spiral. And he along with all the shuttered tire factories and vacant outlet malls will be unceremoniously bulldozed beneath the topsoil.
But back in Summit City everything—and nothing—has changed.
Elbridge’s Goth bombshell sister Gerry has turned out to have eloped with the Grim Reaper, who feels very much at home indeed in as dying a place as Summit City. And so Death himself has moved in. He and Gerry are amorously cohabitating in extremely tight quarters with Elbridge’s broke and brokedown, pill-popping, megachurch-attending, green bean casserole and layered Jello salad-gobbling parents.
After an uneasy start, Elbridge and “Grimbo”—the preferred nickname of the skeletal rider of the pale horse—find they have a lot in common, and a passionate bromance blooms. The two are seldom further apart than one can pass a vape pen.
But does Death have more in store for Elbridge than happy hour well drinks, increasingly intricate discount fireworks skirmishes against garbage can-raiding backyard raccoons, and day-long multiplayer mode tournaments of Goldeneye on a Craigslist Nintendo 64?
Let’s just say Elbridge has an interesting summer ahead of him. And more to lose than he first thought.
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