2,000 Words of Amnesia

I found an old, small piece of myself last month that I didn’t even know I’d lost. And the tale of what I misplaced is a fable about mortality, the raw power of trauma, the whim of memory — and The Comics Journal.

This is what was unexpectedly returned to me: a 2,000-word article that I wrote more than 25 years ago for The Comics Journal that I can’t recall writing, that I never saw in print.

It wasn’t like the hundreds of articles I reported and typed in a frenzy when I started out as a punk reporter in rural New Hampshire. This was a magazine article written for a national publication (modest, yes) back when I considered every 250 or 500 words sold another brick in the potential cathedral of my career.

But there it sat — 2,000 words of prime amnesia.

The article lurks in The Comics Journal No. 94, printed on the cheap paper of its day that, in its dotage, carries the sweet reek of decaying pulp. My article was about Futuropolis, a Paris publisher then of vintage American comic strips like Segar’s "Thimble Theatre", Herriman’s "Krazy Kat" and Eisner’s "The Spirit".

And there it waits, on Page 56 of The Comics Journal No. 94. It bears my name, the words sound like me, but I don’t recognize it. And reading it makes me feel queasy, as if  I’ve stepped sideways and backwards into some Philip K. Dick mind-scape.

I retrieved this fugitive in a thoroughly modern manner. As I scanned the The Comics Journal web site recently I noticed the article index. I did remember an article on Will Eisner and the Angouleme, France, comics festival I wrote that appeared in The Comics Journal No. 89 — and I was thrilled to get the byline and the $35. I keyed in my name.

Up popped No. 89 … and the wholly uncanny No. 94. I clicked to Amazon right away, snagged a copy for three bucks — and that’s how the article ghosted into my possession. When I glanced at the cover (Moebius, Crepax, Kojima and more) then read the article, all it did was make my head hurt. It wasn’t until I saw the magazine’s date — October 1984 — that I finally understood.

1984, the year I turned 27, was a tough one. A manageable case of ulcerative colitis, diagnosed two years before, turned feral. I kept working — writing and editing — but in a colitis-induced fog.

When I think about 1984 I recall the betrayal of my immune system, of my body undone by pain and blood loss. Ultimately, in October, I ended up in the hospital — my lips blue, my ribs stark against skin as pale as skim milk. I spent six week in the hospital, got 27 pints of blood, and had my entire colon cut out. Then I convalesced at home for another three months.

What’s an article in the face of eternity … of mortality?

This is what I think happened. As sick as I was in early ’84 I soldiered on — a deadline is a deadline, after all — wrote my article, mailed it off and forgot about it as I worried about my health. Serious illness brings clarity, burns away the underbrush of your life.

I wasn’t fretting over my meager words and The Comics Journal. In October 1984 I grappled with the power of physical trauma and wrestled for my future. As for copies of No. 94, maybe The Comics Journal forgot to mail them to me, or they might’ve got dumped in the trash. But I never saw them, never got my memory — overwhelmed by sickness — jogged by their presence.

Then, as I recovered, I looked straight ahead. My wife and I were ready to start a family. I needed to write another draft of my first novel, there were articles to be written and edited — a career to chase once more.

I put 1984 behind me, save for the sharp memories from the country of near-death. And my 2,000 words about Futuropolis got abandoned, got stuck in that year. My memory — as traumatized as my body  — let that tiny part of me go, ceded a small death.

Staring at that Comics Journal article from 27 years ago now, I still feel wary, somehow unmoored in time. But, too, I realize, I’m looking at other unlikely survivors — article and magazine — from October 1984.