Trembley recalls discovering a dead body in the woods 25 years ago, and subsequently uncovering truths about herself in her graphic memoir Look Again (Street Noise, Sept.).
Your narrative unfolds like a mystery. Did you consciously use your skills as a prose mystery writer to tell this story?
One of the things I learned while writing this book is that in a moment of trauma, when you think your life could end, your brain searches your file cabinet system for anything that can help you survive. In that moment, I think a lot of the tropes of mystery and detective fiction showed up in my brain: I’ve invaded a murder scene, there are bad guys here who are maybe going to try and kill me now. There was also the possibility of being considered a suspect. I think all that was due to a lifetime of being immersed in mystery narratives.
But the mystery eventually became: why did I act the way I acted? It turned out my reactions were wound up with shame.
Was the impetus for drawing the story to figure out the mystery of your psyche?
Exactly. I was just starting to work in comics and my goal was to write middle grade adventure stories. But one day, without planning, what I remembered of finding that man in the woods came out of my pen. I felt a profound mental shift. I thought, okay, I’ll do a memoir, I know this story, I’d been telling it for years.
All I had to do was draw the one sequence of myself, finding the body. It was a year into the project before I realized I had told multiple versions of the story through the years. I realized I’d frequently contradicted myself. I also realized I had cut things... why had I done that? And not even realized I had done it? In the traumatic moment, you act in weird ways that add to the concept you’ve had of yourself: you’re overly dramatic, you’re too sensitive.
My comics mentor, Tom Hart, said to me, “You’re rewiring your consciousness by doing this as comics.”
Has telling the story in comics form resolved this incident for you?
I have a new understanding of what happened. I no longer have a shrugged shoulders response. I’m more at peace, thanks not only to drawing this, but learning how traumatic memory often never becomes coherent. It’s not like mud or Play-Doh where it’ll cling to itself. It’s more like sand: each individual grain has an integrity, but sand just doesn’t cling together. You never know how something yet to happen will inform or reshape you. What’s alive in your memory will come to the fore when it’s relevant to you in your present.