Having crossed and recrossed Flannery O’Connor’s enduring literary wake a number of times in my life, I was intrigued when I ran across a book that detailed her more-than-passing interest in cartooning. (You can see a few of the cartoons here.)
It’s of course hard not to read O’Connor’s cartoons through the lens of her later success as an author, but as I worked my way through the book I became convinced that she had the eye and ear for cartooning, if perhaps not the signature flair. This in turn made it all too easy to suspect that what she first explored in cartoons she later explored in her evocative stories, but as soon as that thought formed in my mind I recognized it as belonging to the domain of the critic and slowly backed away.
What I was left with, then, was an appreciation for what she had created at a certain point in her life, and how that aspect of her creative life informed rather than confirmed anything else I knew about her, which was admittedly not much. That in turn reminded me once again that so much of what we think we know about anyone is only a facet, and what a horrible, self-aggrandizing conceit it is to think otherwise.
Flannery O’Connor’s pursuit of cartooning was as sincere as anything she is widely known for, and that sincerity shone through by the time I finished the book. She wasn’t interested in throwing off a few cartoons to widen or monetize her brand — which had yet to be defined — but was driven to do so internally, as part of who she was. If that reality collides with the conception of who O’Connor was as an artist, let alone as a person, that only confirms such conceptions are inherently flawed.
If you’ve ever enjoyed an O’Connor short story I encourage you to give the book a read. We are, all of us, more dimensional than our successes and failures, by which I do not mean to imply that O’Connor was a failed cartoonist. She wasn’t.
— Mark Barrett
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