I’ve always been fascinated by scars. Not the scar itself necessarily but the process of scarification, the relationship between the scar and the wound. The wound is covered but not made impervious – the softness, the hurt, still lies underneath.

This fascination is probably why I don’t feel self-conscious about mine. Not that I have any disfiguring ones so I suppose it’s infinitely easier for me to be comfortable with them. There are some wounds I have that I can’t forget. Even when they become near imperceptible. I know exactly where they are and often run my fingers over them to awaken their memories. Most of them are from my childhood so this always gives me access to parts of my brain that would normally remain dormant.

My childhood was rich and full of vivid somato-sensory experiences. I was constantly feeding on information (avid reader and TV watcher), interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and engaging in a wide range of activities all in the highly dynamic and vibrant environment of West Africa. Accessing those roots helps me centre myself – learning takes you in so many different directions, it’s nice to have something to anchor yourself to, a point of reference you can jump off from. My childhood is my cliff, not my childhood self but what that self was surrounded by, felt, and came to understand of the world – the knowledge not the individual, if one could separate the two.

I think it’s useful to regularly inject some of the carefree insatiably curious quasi-innocent nature of that perspective into my current thought process. I can’t exactly stop looking but I don’t want to be weighed down by the truths I want to uncover either.

Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People: A Broken Pencil review

Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People, Joe Ollmann, 242 pages, Conundrum Press, http://www.conundrumpress.com, $20.00

With his new collection of graphic short stories, Hamilton based cartoonist Joe Ollmann returns with his peculiar brand of dark humour and biting cynicism. Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People is anything but; we are thrown into a world where the boredom of living is replaced by the horror of living. Do not expect any heroes or knights in shining armour, just a ragtag collection of men and women struggling past their fair share of existential angst and, even if only for a short while, rising above it. 

You sense a bit of Ollmann in all his characters. His penchant for self-deprecation and self-reflection is made apparent in his short introduction, presented in the same style as his stories. His illustrations are rather rough and cartoony, quite fitting considering his rather capital A Absurd (think Camus) plots.

Loyal fans will recognize some of these tales from his older short story collections Chewing on Tinfoil and This Will End in Tears. His newest additions, “Johnny Pinetop” and “Otherwise, Arachis Hypogaea”, are just as representative his rather bleak vision of the human experience. The first follows Gary Bunet, less than mediocre cleft-lipped ventriloquist. The second depicts the life of Devi, a young southeast asian girl with a deathly allergy to peanuts.

These characters do not invite us to pity them. On the contrary, their acute self awareness reveals a sense of stubborn perseverance in the face unending trials and tribulations. They may be broken but they survive, a somewhat hopeful message in the midst of all this darkness.