God Bless Molly Crabapple

WeMustRiskDelight

Molly Crabapple‘s only peer as an illustrator / artist / journalist is the great Joe Sacco. The tone of their work is very different, though. Whereas Sacco’s reporting is dispassionate and ironic, Crabapple’s is emotional and argumentative. Sacco’s art – black and white illustrations – is famously detailed, and everybody, including the artist, has ugly faces. Crabapple works in colour as well as in black and white; all of her portraits and her scenes are exuberant; even pictures that convey mourning or disapproval are done with a Dionysian, fluorescing density. She hasn’t given up on life, anywhere.

This is from her wonderful piece called “We Must Risk Delight After a Summer Full of Monsters,” published by the irreplaceable Vice.com:

Journalism often feels like vampirism. Before Ferguson or Gaza, I’d been reporting from Abu Dhabi, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria. Before that, Guantanamo. Sources told me about repression and violence. A journalist on the disaster beat told me to be a funnel for this pain. “Let it go through you. Get it down truthfully. Move on.”

I could not.

Writing about others’ trauma bears no relation to living it. Yet I was a ruin more and more. The word “burnout” is dead from overuse. Constant exposure to pain burns in.

Quinn Norton once advised me to write about what I loved. Rage came more easily. I’d make my lines bloody, my words damning. I didn’t know how to write about happiness. What did it mean, the night I danced on the street in New Orleans? A brass band howled. I’d woven flowers into my hair, but they dissolved beneath the Halloween rain. My friends and I danced for hours. …

Power seeks to enclose beauty—to make it scarce, controlled. There is scant beauty in militarized zones or prisons. But beauty keeps breaking out anyway, like the roses on that Ferguson street.

The world is connected now. Where it breaks, we all break. But it is our world, to love as it burns around us. Jack Gilbert [in “A Brief for the Defense”] is right. “We must risk delight” in the summer of monsters. Beauty is survival, not distraction. Beauty is a way of fighting. Beauty is a reason to fight.

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