— Afterword for “Comedy of Errors” —
Comedy of Errors may also be purchased from Main Point Books in Wayne.
I was inspired to write about a boy named for a mouse by stories of individuals who became successful despite their misfortunes and mistakes, deficits that could have easily consumed them, but instead made them strong and successful beyond their wildest expectations.
Stewart Little learns early in his life that he can’t best the bullies by fighting them, and he can’t meet the expectations of teachers, bosses or co-workers who prioritize accuracy over inspiration. But he has his own distinct skills and over time figures out how to use them to his advantage.
Much of Comedy of Errors is based on my childhood, teen years and adulthood ending in my early thirties. Recollections by others of my parents and grandparents before my birth are as accurate as I can present them, as are the stories of the girls I knew and the awkward moments I encountered growing up.
Like Stewart, I attended Temple Technical Institute, from which I earned an Associate Degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology.
As a teen my social life revolved around my involvement with St. Giles Church, where I became a member of the choir and the theatre group, as well as a church school teacher and a youth advisor.
From ages three to five I lived with my parents in a rented home in a development in Havertown, Pennsylvania, that was located behind the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corporation, a company by which I never was employed in any capacity.
Although I’ve done cartooning off and on throughout my life, I never became a cartoonist by trade, nor had any of my panels selected for publication by The New Yorker. Instead, I followed a path into graphic design and illustration and owned and managed an advertising and design business, which is still in operation.
From kindergarten until the first half of second grade, I was enrolled in Montgomery School, a private elementary school that my father had attended. When he could no longer pay the tuition I was transferred to Broomall Elementary, a public school, for the remainder of second grade.
I lived with my aunt when my parents separated for a time, and was enrolled in Glenside Elementary School and remained there until January 1956, when we moved to North Philadelphia and I finished the third grade at Simon Muhr. It’s during that time that, like Stewart, I lived in a roach- infested backroom apartment that spawned my lifelong fear of those insects.
After moving from the city to Upper Darby, I completed my elementary education at Stonehurst Hills, and then attended Beverly Hills Junior High, at which time my learning deficit kicked in. I stumbled my way through twelfth grade and graduated from Upper Darby High in 1965.
Like Stewart, I spent the first summer following my first two semesters at Temple Tech working in the school’s co-op program at Stein Seal Company, with my only noteworthy accomplishment being the disassembly, relocation and reassembly of the blueprint machine to a loft above the engineering office.
Other parallels in Stewart’s life and my own include being reprimanded for kissing a girl in second grade, and the banishment from the home of a second grade girl I liked when I was nine, after accidentally saying a bad word while creating a name for a plastic dinosaur.
As Stewart did in Chapter Five, I invited a girl I knew at school to a dance at my church, but I never trampled on her feet, as Stewart did. That embarrassing moment happened in the school gym in ninth grade, when I asked Ronnie, one of the popular girls, to dance.
I never met John Hay Whitney, Norman Lear, nor either of their wives, but I would have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to attend the New Year’s Eve party at Whitney’s boathouse home and to dance with Cyd Charisse and be seduced by a young Cybil Shepherd — but those episodes were all invented from my imagination.
In October of 1983, I almost died after two operations to repair an exploded bowel, and endured a five-and-a-half week hospital stay before being released. I survived and married my wife Barbara, with whom I’ve spent the last thirty-nine years.
And then, of course, there’s Carol — a girl of my invention who I still don’t quite understand. She’s a blend of several women I’ve encountered, but she most closely matches my wife, who possesses Carol’s rugged self-reliance, knowledge of her own needs and desires, and who has a clearer view of reality than do I.
Although the character of Stewart has certain similarities to me, he’s a much-improved version of me and is the kind of person I’d like to be when I grow up. With his thoughtful financial planning, I am sure that the investments he passed on to Carol, Gary and their children were considerable, and under Carol’s management may have grown to fund many worthwhile causes as well as provide financial assistance to families living on the margins of society.
Stewart’s Kafka series would have taken on new meanings for readers today, predating by more than 50 years our climate issues, our inability to manage global affairs and our nuclear capabilities, and the inability to construct a world where humans can peacefully coexist.
As an artist and designer of graphic novels, Stewart’s work would have been valued today as high art, and his two completed books, prized for their faithfulness to the original works by Murphy and Ellison, as classics. As was often true of other creators who died early, Stewart’s original unfinished sketches for Take me as I am, the story of the short life of the actor James Dean, would have expanded Dean’s legacy as well as united the two in history and in art.
But is this novel really a comedy? My editor maintains that it isn’t.
Shakespeare interpreted the comedic play as the depiction of amusing people or incidents in which the characters ultimately triumph over adversity, which is analogous to Aristotle’s interpretation of comedy in his Poetics as being about the “fortunate rise of a sympathetic character.”
Does Stewart’s death diminish that comedy?
Stewart didn’t self-destruct, and his talent never got in the way of his humanity. Stewart was faithful to his art, and treated others fairly. Towards the end of his life he began to reap the rewards of his success, and to smell the roses, but perhaps a bit too late.
He didn’t fade into obscurity, and he never lost the love of his life: Carol. By bequeathing the major portion of what he had to her and her children, he enabled her to profit financially and to grow into the role of a philanthropist- — if she chose to do so.
No one can predict the future, but if one can accept the concept that we’re alive as long as one person remembers us, Stewart will have a long life ahead of him.
— George Rothacker