Friday, August 17, 2012

The Boy In The Yard ~ Part 2 (rerun)


Enormous threatening thunderclouds loomed overhead cracking at the seams with their leaden cargo.
Peter heard a rumbling and then the rustling of leaves, then the soft vibrations of millions of little shockwaves like tiny jack-hammers. The pounding increased.


He soon felt the icy trickle of water running around his body like the dull edges of hundreds of pocket knives tracing his arteries.


Peter was reminded of his thirst. He struggled to open his jaw but only succeeded in taking in a mouthful of mud. He sucked out some precious moisture but discovered it difficult to spit the dirt back out. He lay there breathing through his nose with ever increasing difficulty. He tried to move his hand but couldn't. It felt like something was biting it. He couldn't even turn his head to look. Peter's mounting fear was soundtracked by his own heartbeat thundering in his ears.
Suddenly the comfort of the ditch, the peaceful solitude, the intriguing secrecy, the connection with nature, all at once ceased to please him. He feebly attempted to struggle free, but Earth had too firm a hold.


His muscles exhausted, Peter was nothing more than another gravel in God's Sidewalk.

A tiny insect frozen in the Amber of Time.

Just then he heard a familiar voice, calmly speak his name.


At the restaurant, Billy gleefully hammered away at a game of 'Smack-a-Rodent' as Mom and Dad awaited service from a teenage waiter with bad skin. The animals popping up out of the holes suddenly reminded Billy of his absent brother. He put the mallet down and joined his parents in the booth. The meal finally came and consisted of Billy's most favorite things. French friesKetchup, and Pink Lemonade
"Who's the chef, Picasso?" joked Dad. His attempt at humor went unnoticed. Billy seemed oddly quiet. "What's the matter boy? Are you sad because your brother's not here?" Billy thought for a moment but didn't respond.
"Your sister will be home and she'll fix him something to eat. Don't worry too much about him, enjoy your Ketchup." 
Mom attempted to get some response with, "I like your banana-hat son". Billy checked the watch then hesitantly spoke.


"Dad, what happens to… people… after they get buried?"
Mom stopped mid-bite and looked at Dad.

"Well, where did that come from? Uh, like Grandma, well she's gone on to a better place. She's happy and peaceful and now she can be with Grandpa and Uncle Claude. It's just a necessary thing, not really good or bad, just necessary. It's happens to everybody. Young and old. I'm sure Grandma is much happier than before. She was very sick and no one could help her anymore. Now come on, finish your fries, so we can order…d-e-s-s-e-r-t".
Dad's words seemed to comfort Billy. He no longer felt the pangs of guilt and confusion.


"Dad, can I go play some more video games?" 
"Of course, that's why we're here." 
"But don't go too far. The dessert's coming soon," cautioned Mom. 
Later the dessert arrived and they all really enjoyed their cheesecake, to the sounds of circus music and recorded monkey screams.


Once inside, they never let you forget you're eating at Monkey Meal Emporium.

Time passed. Too much time.


They arrived home to find a note stuck to the refrigerator door.
Dad read it aloud. "Dear Mom or Dad, Gone to a movie, be back late. Jen". 
"That girl needs to be put on a leash," Dad moaned.

"It is Saturday and it's not past her curfew. Besides at least she's spending her own money and not ours," Mom defended.
Billy plopped down on the couch and turned on the television.
Mom went upstairs and after a few minutes returned.

"Honey I can't find Peter. I took the dinner leftovers up to his room and he's not there. Jen's note didn't mention him eitherI'm starting to worry."

Dad said, "Hmmm, if he's still out playing this late, he's gonna be grounded for a week when I get my hands on him. That boy knows no responsibility."
Mom pleaded, "Doesn't he know he makes us worry so?" Her face was wrinkled with concern. Dad's was red with anger. He stormed out into the front yard.
Mom pulled a notebook from a drawer and began calling neighbors.

Billy sunk deeper into his pillows. He checked his brother's watch.

7:43 Then he checked the clock on the kitchen wall. He never could read that kitchen clock. It had pictures of fruits and vegetables instead of numbers. He decided if Peter didn't come back right now then they both would be in big trouble
He snuck into the basement and grabbed a flashlight. He shined it out the window onto the muddy mound. "Still there," he thought to himself.

He dashed across the wet grass and grabbed the shovel leaning against the shed. It seemed not as heavy as before. He ran to the mound.

He began whispering to his brother as he pushed the shovel into the soft Earth. "We went to Monkey Meal Emporium and we brought you back some fries and a fish burger and a hat. Dad told 'em it was my birthday so I could get a free ice cream banana bargeThey believed him! We had cheesecake too. Mom saved you a piece of hers 'cause she couldn't finish it. I didn't tell Mom and Dad where you were I promise." 
The more Billy dug, the more mud poured back into the hole. The far-off sound of Dad's voice could be heard barking Peter's name. Billy dropped to his knees and started pulling out handfuls of mud and rocks.

"I didn't break your watch neither. Dad says it's fine." Billy, panic stricken, dug frantically with all his strength. Like a machine he dug the Earth. 
"Mom and Dad are looking for you and if you don't come out Dad says you'll be…" Just then the flashlight rolled down into the pit with a thud. 

It's beam illuminated a small crinkled piece of paper. It was a note. Written in a scratchy handwriting Billy did not recognize at first.

It read:



The idea for this story came to me on April 24th (1998) as I lay in bed trying to sleep. Most of my creative ideas come either during this relaxing time or in the shower or driving for some reason. My bedroom window overlooks a field and a wall of trees (scanned photos of these trees were used in the story) (I did not yet own a digital camera at this time) and I suddenly had the strange desire to know what it would feel like to be lying out in the field that night. Then I thought it would've been more comfortable to be under a "blanket" of dirt. Then the whole weird story of a boy who enjoys this sort of thing just came together...a boy  prematurely seeking the welcome comfort of Mother Nature's Womb. I actually went out, sat in the field with a notebook and wrote the whole story the next day. I've been looking for some way, through my art, to deal with the loss of my mother since her death almost four years ago. I don't think this story is it, but that desire  is obviously evident in "The Boy in the Yard". It was originally titled "The Boy Who Lies in Ditches" (doesn't exactly roll off the tongue).

The biggest trouble was finding a suitable ending. I wanted to stay away from a heavy-handed morality tale yet include elements of one. I wanted it to be fantasy and yet be rooted in real life events and familiar characters. I wanted the visuals to begin with open blue skies and comfortable settings and then slowly get creepier and end at night with a panic-stricken child clawing through the wet mud with a failing flashlight. (Maybe I'm sick but that's what I wanted.) I certainly don't think anyone reading my story is going to go out in their backyard, dig a hole and jump in, but at the same time I didn't want to over glamorize this behavior. I wanted to have Peter, who to be fair is not an entirerly likable person yet not completely cold-hearted either, to go through an unpleasant experience when the dire consequences of his actions become apparent. Yet in the end, surreal and ambiguous as it is and as our own "endings" may prove to be, you get the feeling that he's happy and content, wherever he "is".My older brother used to "mummify" me as a kid (that's what I called it anyway, laying in bed with arms tight at my sides and legs together, he would push my blanket tight around my body tucking it under my sides so I could not move), and later I did ask my mom to do it and she thought it was kinda weird but would do it anyway. I researched the names and discovered that the name I first chose, Peter, means "rock" (perfect for a boy who lies in the dirt) and Billy means "guardian" (also ironically appropriate). The name Dutch actually means "ditch" but I didn't want to go that far. 
The visual style of using clay models for the basis of the images was an early decision based on my interest and admiration for Tim Burton and Henry Selick's stop-motion animation work. The character design of Peter in particular is very reminiscent of "Nightmare Before Christmas". I created only one body for the two boys since they are so similar anyway. I used a modeling clay called Plastalina. It's cheap, never hardens and comes in a variety of nice colors. I used only ivory though, deciding to do all the coloring digitally.

I sculpted one head for each boy and first placed Peter's head on the body and took some shots from different angles, then I switched heads and did the same for Billy.

Since the puppet had no skeleton, the tiny clay legs could not support the weight on the large body and head so they had to be later added digitally. The whole model stood, if it could, about 6 inches tall. I photographed the clay puppet with a macro lens outside in sunlight on a deck. Just as I was nearing completion a gust of wind came along and blew the puppet off the deck railing, ending my photo session with a thud and a sour mood.
Nearly all the posing of arms and facial expressions was done digitally, because it was simply easier than constantly remodeling the puppet then taking a single shot. Background photos were taken of dirt and sky and, of course, a shovel. I cannibalized a few furniture catalogs to get some of the background elements as well. Each image took anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours to complete in Adobe Photoshop. I used oval-shaped windows for the images simply because I liked the idea and I don't see it done often.

 To force depth into the images, you'll notice that in most images I placed objects in the "background", the "middle ground" and the "foreground" and used varying degrees of motion or Gaussian blur. 

I consciously hid the faces of the parents from view because I wanted to truly focus the story on the two boys and keep the parents 'generic'. I kinda like how the image of Billy standing with the shovel as his brother comes up out of the ground (pearing through his hands - from Peter's POV) almost looks like he has large angel wings sprouting from his back. I guess you have to look at it a "certain way" to see that though.

At the end of the day, I'd say the comic turned out about as well as it could given my schedule. Sometimes (usually) the visual style of a work changes from conception to finished product and this one was no exception. Originally I envisioned the images to be more painterly and rough around the edges, still computer composites but more 'dirty' and abstract. However, the more I played with them the 'cleaner' they became. They now almost look like stills from a Rankin and Bass holiday special. The first line in the story is taken from a song called Nature  Boy written by Eden Ahbez. I'm fairly happy with the final product and hope you got something out of it and will come back to see my other work. Thanks. 
- Darren Wheeling (May 29, 1998)

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