— Chapter Thirty One: Strike Two —
Comedy of Errors may also be purchased from Main Point Books in Wayne.
Whitney secured a modest advance of $3,000 for Stewart with the understanding that Stewart would also compose a foreword that would introduce the concept to those who had never been exposed to the cartoon, as well as provide talking points for reviewers unfamiliar with the series.
Also in Whitney’s presentation was Stewart’s concept of what the author called “a graphic novel,” based on the World War II book To Hell and Back. The editors thought the idea interesting, but the review board reported back that in order for the publishing house to take on a speculative project of that kind, they’d first need a visual outline. Whitney himself had difficulty understanding the concept since there was little or no history of any publisher, outside of the comic industry, producing and publishing a book of the type imagined by Stewart.
When presented with Whitney’s response, Stewart considered his options: hire a comic artist to produce an introductory draft of a chapter based on his own rough copy and sketches, or teach himself how to draw in the style of illustrators such as Jack Kirby, Milton Caniff and Bob Kane, who were instrumental in writing and creating the comic genre known in later years as “Dark Deco,”a style that featured dramatic shadows and with only highlights of white or lighter colors.
Because of the advance for the Kafka book guaranteed by Simon and Schuster, and dividends from investments in Whitney’s firm and income from licensing of the Kafka series in a small number of newspapers, Stewart made the decision to learn the craft by mimicking the style of the comic masters and then developing his own style, incorporating it into the creation of a presentation page of To Hell and Back to sell the project to the publishing house.
Since the story was a memoir about Audie Murphy during World War II, the rights to the story were owned by his widow.
With the assistance of Whitney’s attorney, Stewart drafted a contract with Pam for the rights to modify her late husband’s story and advanced her $1,000 from his own money, and promised her 20% of any future earnings from the sale of the book.
Though Stewart understood that Carol had been more sensible than he had been in predicting the long-term status of their relationship, he felt desolate when thinking about his loss of her, in much the same way that he’d felt when his friend Sharon had chosen Brian over him.
There were flaws that Stewart found in both relationships that he chose to ignore, believing that people could change over time. He should have been aware after dating Debra that the character and substance of a person doesn’t alter much between childhood and old age. Carol believed that she knew who she was, while Stewart always seemed to be evolving.
Carol was a realist, while Stewart was a romantic.
Stewart had strong beliefs, while professing to have few, while Carol was more pragmatic, admitting to finding happiness in a moment that meant little to her along the journey ahead of her. She’d often ask Stewart why he expected so much from life, a question that remained a mystery to him, since he hid his true desires from himself as well as from those around him.
In his momentary stumble from fame, fortune, and romantic bliss, Stewart was forced to examine the realities of his life from the starting point of a poor befuddled child to a talented, creative and innovative adult who had money invested, and a following of people who admired and respected him. He should have been able to relax for a moment to enjoy the fruits of his endeavors.
Instead, once he secured the rights from Pam Murphy, enabling him to create his graphic novel, Stewart set to work, outrunning his demons, and jumping into Chapter One with both feet, blocking his doubts about himself, his talent and his lost love of Carol with a flurry of activity.
In order to gain a sense of the setting of his book, he searched the libraries for photographs of battles, equipment and of soldiers who fought the battles on the Western Front. Parallel to his search for pictorial accuracy, he attacked the script and cut the copy from the book, eliminating descriptions and details that could be better described by visuals:
On a hill inland from the invasion beaches of Sicily, a soldier sits on a rock. His helmet is off, and the hot sunshine glints through his coppery hair. With the sleeve of his shirt he wipes the sweat from his face; with the chin in his palm he leans forward in thought.
Stewart found a photo of a beach in Sicily, and a rock, and then scanned through pages of books for a soldier to adapt to his character. He also kept at arm’s reach a stack of comic books to use as references from which to adapt his drawing to that of the soldier in the scene. He used his own left hand and arm for that of the soldier wiping sweat away.
Although the backgrounds were easy for him, the human form was not. He’d had no lessons in anatomy to guide him through the process, so each joint and fold of material was formed anew. He struggled with the three-quarter rear view of the soldier’s head and coppery hair, and had to find, adapt and mimic what he thought to be accurate while thumbing through photos of soldiers’ gear from multiple reference sources.
The initial panel took two days to complete in pencil, using scores of tracings before applying the image directly to the board. The scale of his drawing was 200% the size of the final 8” x 10”, and he then had to learn to draw with a speedball pen, one that produced a more fluid line than could be achieved with a technical pen that provides a single width per nib. He was well aware that it was essential to get the initial cell correct, because he knew that there would be hundreds of panels that would follow, all of them based on the style, accuracy and finish established on page one.
He soon realized that this endeavor was even more challenging than he had previously thought, but there was no turning back since without moving forward he would only prove himself to be the failure that he thought himself to be.
When the first panel was complete, Stewart showed it with great trepidation to his mother, first, for an assessment. She liked the graphic, but found the inking with the speedball to be “forced” and not fluid. So he started over, beginning with the character, showing her just the soldier before rendering in the background.
“Much better!” she said. “But keep practicing on your line work before committing to the page.” She also added, “I don’t know why you need to show the entire page as one piece instead of cementing down the elements separately; they won’t show in the printed piece, and you won’t need to redo an entire board if you make an error.”
Stewart couldn’t admit that he thought of each page as a perfect piece of art. Even to himself the process was irrational. But he did add his hand-drawn copy separately, cementing a thin sheet of Strathmore paper below the art, after modifying the first paragraph of copy to read:
On a hill inland from the beaches of Sicily, our company takes a break. We sprawl upon the slope, loosen the straps of our gear, and gaze at the blue sky. It is my first day of combat; and so far the action has been undramatic and disappointingly slow.
He worked to the right, across the board, to begin the second panel, which showed a closeup of the soldier’s face in three-quarter view gazing out across the landscape.
And then Stewart began to learn to draw the human face, experimenting with multiple forms of expression, and one of the hundreds he would need to complete the book.
While Stewart drew, he listened to music from the war years, and thought about the soldier sitting on the rock and the girl he’d left back home. Then he pondered his father’s battles as they might have played out against the serene Pacific landscapes soon to be strewn with bodies of men like the young copper- headed warrior he’d drawn, just waiting for the drama of war to unfold.
A month later, Stewart headed to New York City to meet with Whitney. He’d brought his portfolio, inside of which was the sheet of double-weight Strathmore board upon which the entire first page of the story was executed, solely by Stewart’s hand, pen, brush and ink, including the title of the book elaborately composed in the upper left-hand corner.
Though no one but Stewart’s mother and father had viewed the completed set of panels, the copy had been reviewed by as many readers as possible, and installed separately with rubber cement and positioned into place in case of changes or corrections.
Whitney insisted on viewing the page prior to them heading out for lunch, and had never previously read Murphy’s memoir. The copy carried along a largely visual story that provided the viewer with insights into the feelings of each character, whether standing tall and cleaning a rifle, or composed and staring at his hands, or listening for the sounds of planes, bombs and munitions fired.
“How many hours went into the creation of this work?” asked Whitney.
“Far too many,” answered Stewart, “but I’m getting faster as I’m learning how to draw.”
“But you’ve always drawn...” said Whitney.
“Not like this. It’s taking me three times as long as the masters of this craft. Hopefully my version of To Hell and Back will enable those less suited for words to visualize the voice of the author.
“As much as I gain from novels, I’m inspired by 20th century illustrators such as Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth, who illuminated the stories of their day, visualizing the costumes, forests, mountains, snowfalls, struggles and experiences of the characters for children and adults alike to envision the scenes written by their authors. ”
Two weeks later, Stewart heard back from Whitney. The project was approved, and a modest advance provided.
Stewart’s graphic novel of To Hell and Back took the better part of two years to complete, during which time Stewart learned the craft of illustration, including the importance of depth of field, exaggerated perspective, graphic relationships and the challenge of creating visual impact. By being forced to slow down by the process, Stewart grew to appreciate the passage of time, the sounds of nature, and the quiet following a storm, and to recall them all while illustrating the pages of his book.
After the novel’s completion in 1975, Stewart felt as if he’d experienced the war as fought by Audie Murphy and the supporting cast of characters. In his foreword, written soon after the book’s completion, Stewart spoke of the future of the genre and how it might inspire children with ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and other reading issues to better appreciate the written words by augmenting them with visuals.
Sales of Stewart’s Kafka cartoon compilation went well and within a year of its issue found a place on The New York Times list of the Best Art Books of 1974. With the Vietnam conflict ended, the book took on new meanings for veterans and their families. Its prediction of Watergate, through the perspective of roaches, gave Stewart a following amongst academics, politicians and the news media, and helped establish him as a speaker on the environment, space exploration, and nuclear proliferation throughout the world.
Through the slow process of reimagining Murphy’s book, and the luxury of financial freedom that enabled him to take control of his life and his work, at the age of 27 Stewart was finally able, in his quiet moments, to put his life into perspective, with a prescience that few at such an early age have the chance to achieve.
The multiple processes required for him to use in executing each page of To Hell and Back allowed him the time necessary to assess his past and value the difficulties he’d faced as a student struggling with ADHD. He could stand at a distance from his parents and evaluate their natures and the ways that they contributed to their own downfalls. He grew to appreciate more of the subtleties about the people who disregarded him and those who guided him and cheered for him along his path and initiated him into different ways of thinking.
Though Whitney and Lear were high on his list, a majority of those who supported him were girls such as Sharon, Debra and Carol, each of whom made dramatic impacts on his life, as did Louise, whom he met while he was signing copies of his Kafka compilation at the Main Point Book Store in Wayne.
Louise was young and similar in age to Stewart when she asked him to sign a book for her mother, Karen. She was blond, attractive and had a beautiful smile, and hung back after he signed her book and waited while other customers left the store before coming over to him to ask a question.
“So how do you now feel about roaches,” she asked, with a quizzical glint in her eye.
“I’m still very much terrified by them,” answered Stewart, shivering at the thought. “But I haven’t had to deal with them since I moved to Springfield.”
“So, you write about them, draw them, are emotionally attached to them, profit from them, and hate them?”
“From what I gather, many women feel the same about men these days.” he said while packing up his books and disassembling the table he’d brought with him.
“As you can see, I’m finishing up here,” Stewart said. “If you’d like to discuss it more, or would just like to talk, I’d be glad to buy you a drink.”
“I’d like that very much,” she said, lifting her purse to show that she wore no ring of engagement or marriage.
The discussion they had went well, during which she revealed that her name was Louise Waring, and that she was a newly hired English teacher at Radnor High School, 24 years old, and had a mother who was a big fan of Stewart’s Kafka series throughout its run in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Stewart spoke of the graphic novel he was working on, and his thoughts on the future of books in general. She told him about a novel she had started writing about a girl who inherits a vast amount of money, a blessing that only brought her heartaches. Their drinks extended into dinner, at which time they scheduled a date for the following Saturday night.
Stewart walked her to her car and received a kiss on the cheek and a wave as she backed out of her parking space.
He spoke with Carol about her the next day, and was encouraged to pursue the relationship.
“Did she say if she was the rich girl she was writing about?” asked Carol.
“I don’t know, but I’m picking her up at her parents’ house in Wayne for our date. I’ll find out then.”
“Sounds promising,” responded Carol, who was two months pregnant. “Bet she’s not as good in bed as I was.”
“I’ll let you know.”
It turned out that Louise wasn’t wealthy but enjoyed many of the same activities and interests as Stewart, including jazz and classical music, reading and ballroom dancing. Within three months of their introduction, Stewart and Louise were engaged, and then married three months later.
With the money he earned as a cartoonist and profits from his investments, the couple purchased an 1890 shingle-style home in North Wayne and planned to start a family, but just prior to three years into their marriage they divorced. What Louise had failed to reveal about herself when they met was that she had been having an affair with a married man who didn’t want to divorce his wife. A year after Stewart and Louise were married, the man’s wife divorced him, and soon after he contacted Louise.
Stewart was shocked when Louise brought up the affair at dinner one evening, and was even more astounded when she told him that she’d responded and that they had met for lunch.
Louise tried to explain, but in the middle of her explanation, she revealed that she might still be in love with the man, who now, with his wife having sued for divorce, wanted to rekindle his relationship with her.
Stewart was obviously upset, and an argument ensued and escalated to the point that Stewart walked out of the house and drove to his rented apartment in Springfield that he now used as his studio.
Stewart called Carol from the studio and told her what had transpired. Though she was eight months pregnant, she offered to meet him for coffee if he needed to talk. Gary, Carol’s husband, knew about Carol’s previous relationship with Stewart and wasn’t jealous of the friendship that remained between the two. Carol and Gary had even agreed to ask Stewart to be the godfather of their son and the child expected within the month, despite the fact that Stewart was neither Catholic nor a member of any religious institution.
“I thought that we were happy together,” said Stewart, as he and Carol split a bagel and had coffee at Frank’s Coffee Shop the following afternoon. “It seemed to come out of nowhere... almost like it did when you told me you were seeing someone.” Carol wasn’t sure how to respond, since she had made a similar decision nearly five years earlier.
“I’m not sure I’m the appropriate person to advise you,” said Carol. “You seem to be able to fall in love with a lot of people, and assume you’re compatible with them. Louise may have been looking for love, and you were willing to provide it for her, but it seems she never got over the married man.”
“From what I gather, he’s a wealthy guy,” said Stewart. “She told me this morning that I could keep the house, as if she was dismissing me, or firing me from my job.”
“Did you really love her, Stewart?”
“I thought I did. It wasn’t the same as with you, but it was always good.”
“Could the problem have been partially because you didn’t love her enough? I often wondered whether you cared for me, Stewart, especially when you gave up so easily after I told you I was seeing someone.”
“I couldn’t force you to love me.”
“No, but if you would have tried harder, the outcome may have been different.
“At the time, I think you loved your career more than you loved me.”
“I knew I’d never keep you if I didn’t make something of myself,” answered Stewart.
“And you’ve done that...in record time. Haven’t you?”
Stewart remained silent and thought back to how tortured he was by his loss of Carol, but also how he immediately dove back into his work to keep moving forward.
“How should I handle this... situation?” asked Stewart.
“I think you should first evaluate how much you really care that she wants to leave. If you do... let her know that you don’t want to lose her, and ask if there’s anything you can do to change her mind. If you don’t really want to stay with her, be as accommodating to her needs as you can be, and keep as much stuff and money as she’s willing to let you hold onto. Then wait for the right girl to come along.”
“Despite what you may think, Carol, I believe the right girl is with me right now, even if she isn’t my girl.”