Written by Neil Greenaway & Cachet Whitman
"I've lost some close friends and family to addiction. Watching them lose the struggle has made me feel frustrated, impotent, anxious, angry and depressed, so I can only imagine how they felt. "Bottoms Up" is my attempt to humanize addiction through real stories told by actual addicts."
J.T. Yost in "A Word From the Editor"
In May of 2017, Birdcage Bottom Books (an independent publisher out of New York) held a Kickstarter for a new anthology graphic novel called "Bottoms Up - True Tales of Hitting Rock-Bottom". The campaign described the book as:
"...an anthology collecting real stories of bottoming out from alcoholism, drug dependency, sex addiction, body dysmorphia, pornography addiction and more. These stories have been adapted into comics by a team of incredibly talented and diverse cartoonists."
The idea behind the book was simple: addicts from all walks of life were asked to contribute stories of the time that they hit rock bottom. The stories could be credited or anonymous (at the authors discretion). These were then handed off to different artists who added pictures to the words and created a "graphic story". I hesitate to say comic - as not everything in this anthology is necessarily a comic, but they are all powerful examples of graphic storytelling.
The list of artists involved with the project includes several stars of the indie comic scene as well as several people that I had never heard of (but was glad to discover). Some of the artists to participate were:
- Josh Bayer
- Haleigh Buck
- Kevin Budnik
- Josh Burggraf
- Max Clotfelter
- Peter S. Conrad
- Nate Doyle
- Rachel Dukes
- Chad Essley
- Mike Freiheit
- Tatiana Gill
- Danny Hellman (back cover)
- Jordan Jeffries
- Gideon Kendall
- Victor Kerlow
- Brendan Kiefer
- Sara Lautman
- Lizz Lunney
- Daniel McCloskey
- Chris Monday
- Fred Noland
- Adam Pasion
- Ben Passmore (front cover)
- Simon Petersen
- Summer Pierre
- John Porcellino
- Gillian Rhodes
- Matt Rota
- Kevin Scalzo
- Holly Simple
- Karl Stevens
- Michael Sweater
- Meghan Turbitt
- Noah Van Sciver
- Elaine M. Will
- Jess Worby
- George Wylesol
- J.T. Yost
The crowdfunding was successful and ended up earning $3,075 more than the intended goal. My copy arrived in early October.
Also from the kickstarter campaign:
WON'T IT JUST DEPRESS THE READER?
I won't sugar-coat it: There are a lot of harrowing stories included in BOTTOMS UP!, but I've tried to balance it out with some levity (every addict has got at least one funny story). Both the story-tellers and the cartoonists adapting their stories are a diverse group, so there is a natural variance in both tone and style.
I have never dealt with REAL addiction. I have seen it in my family members and my friends - bosses and co-workers - but it was always several steps removed from me. I toyed with hard drugs for a while after high school, but got out before there was any real damage done (I heard a comedian recently call this being "White-Boy Addicted"). So when it came time for me to discuss Bottoms Up: True Tales of Hitting Rock-Bottom, I found myself lost when looking for the right words to use. These stories are powerful, beautiful, and graphic - but they also touch on pieces of the human experience that can be uncomfortable to talk about even for those who have lived them. And for those who have never found the bottom as it is described here, such depths can seem unreachable.
In an effort to see the feelings behind these stories a bit more clearly, I reached out to five of the creators who worked on the anthology: two who had adapted an anonymous story (Karl Christian Krumpholz and J.T. Yost) and three who had chosen to illustrate stories from their own lowest points (Adam Yeater, John Porcellino, and Noah Van Sciver). I asked all five of them the same two questions:
1. How did you come to be a part of the anthology?
2. Why is the subject of addiction important to you?
After I spoke to the creators, I reached out to my friend Cachet Whitman - an amazing artist who has been very open about her own struggles with addiction - to see what she thought. Here is what they had to say.
1. I harassed J.T. enough so that he finally said he would put me in. I also bribed him with kickstarter giveaways.
2. I have battled with addiction in some form or another my whole life. Whether it be food, drugs, love, collecting junk or even making art. We are all junkies for something.
Noah Van Sciver
1. J.T. Yost asked me if I had any comics or a story about the worst time of my life. I immediately thought of 2012 when my life fell apart and I had to move in with my mom and her cat Marigold. It was the end of a 6 year relationship and all I could do was think of suicide.
My comic is about a night in particular during that period when I had lost my mind and went to a club to see a local band play their farewell show just hoping to see my ex there but instead feeling like everyone hated me.
2. Doesn't really apply to me since addiction wasn't a part of my story.
1. J.T. asked to me to be a part of it, he needed a few pages to fill it out, and I suddenly had a quick one pager spring to mind, so I whipped it up for him. I don't often contribute to anthologies.
2. My comic is not about addiction, just about the lowest point of my life, which I documented in my recent comic "South Beloit Journal" from Uncivilized Books. I was twice divorced, heartbroken, alone, and living in winter poverty in a gritty small town in Northern Illinois. It seemed an appropriate memory to serve up for J.T.'s anthology.
Karl Christian Krumpholz
1. I first found out about the anthology through Kickstarter. Since the subject matter about addiction, drinking, etc sometimes plays a part in my own comics, I was interested in the project and donated to the Kickstarter fund. There was already a list of cartoonists that were to be a part of the anthology, so I had thought that the book was complete. It was only when J.T. (the editor) announced that additional artists had joined the anthology that I reached out to him to ask to be included. 'An Introduction to Alcohol' (my latest comic) had just come out, Birdcage Bottom Books was carrying it, so J.T. already knew my work and how I dealt with the subject matter. When I reached out, he was literally putting together the TOC. My addition to the collection got in just under the wire. I am very happy to be included.
2. Well, the idea of addiction, especially alcoholism, does seem to creep into my work. It was one of the driving forces in my relationship with my father, which I explored with 'An Introduction to Alcohol'. Also, it's a fact of life about living in the city, which I deal with in my weekly '30 Miles of Crazy!' comic. A lot of my stories do start in bars, and like most things in life, there is a dark side of the culture. I see it all the time: people not knowing where the line is, starting some sort of obnoxious drama, and getting tossed out. The story that I did for Bottoms Up! is a true story that I literally saw played out before me over months. I know the guy in the comic and one of my bartender friends described the situation perfectly. These characters on the street are also often our friends and sometimes, you have to know when to step in and cut them off for their own good.
I think I can combine both of those questions, if that's ok:
Although I am not an addict myself, I do have family members and close friends who suffer from various addictions. I have lost both family and friends to drugs and alcohol. I see Trump and the current administration paying no more than lip service to a serious epidemic of addiction in the U.S., and I think it's a subject that needs to be addressed.
Although there is less of a stigma attached to addiction than there was in the '30s when Alcoholics Anonymous was founded, I think it's safe to say the majority of those fighting addiction still feel a certain amount of shame in admitting to their struggles. After being moved by hearing countless stories of hitting rock-bottom by my friends and family, I thought comics would be a perfect medium to tell these stories and humanize what addicts go through in coming to terms with their addictions and, hopefully, keeping them in check. I collected stories in several ways: I asked friends & family to share their stories with me, I solicited through social media, and I set up a website to which people could anonymously send in their stories. Once I'd collected and transcribed these stories, I reached out to a curated list of cartoonists and asked them to pick a story that resonated with them to adapt. The cartoonists were also free to tell their own stories if they were themselves addicts. I asked that the writers remain anonymous (even if the artist was also the writer) to ensure there would be no repercussions, and so they would feel free to be honest and forthcoming.
J.T. drew the stories "Shot Thru The Heart" and "Down The Hatch" in the anthology as well as putting the project together and editing the final book. You can see more of his work at Birdcage Bottom Books, Facebook, or Tumblr.
Rock bottom is a place that, for several years, I became very intimate with. I was a heroin and meth addict. However, it neither started nor ended there, and there are often other variables that can bring a person to rock bottom. I had a boyfriend for a while, to whom I later lost my virginity, and we stayed together for just over three years. I was too naive to notice that he had an agenda for my life: to control every aspect of it. Over time he groomed and manipulated me, and all the common things that come with psychological abuse. Being with him was my first introduction to any drug. While he convinced me that marijuana and psychedelics are generally harmless, he was able to get me hooked on hard drugs, and heroin quickly became our top priority.
Through heroin, he lost a lot of his inhibitions and became much more violent and psychologically abusive. During the latter half of our relationship I was beaten, raped, literally brainwashed, forced to do horrible things against my will, driven to ruining my business and subsequently destroying my online reputation, and cut off from all contact with the outside world. I was essentially held captive. The worst of it happened when we were homeless, after we had drained all of our money on drugs and got evicted from our home. When I miraculously escaped from him later on, I finally weaned myself off of heroin, but went straight to meth full-time. I went through nine living situations and street-homelessness twice in just two years. Not a single one of those situations was safe. I endured constant emotional and physical abuse just to keep a roof over my head. Most of the people who let me stay with them were older men, and every time it was a case of biding my time until they were fed up with me and gave me an ultimatum: sex or the streets. I chose the streets each time (although I would not blame anyone for choosing the former). Through being so broke and homeless I had no choice but to quit meth. I had to focus on surviving. Fortunately, as I distanced myself away from drugs, the living situations I found myself in became less and less terrible and I landed myself where I am now -- a place I couldn’t imagine being any better, despite living with Complex PTSD.
This book touched a really deep part of me, and from the moment I started reading I simply couldn’t put it down. I can’t express how much it means to me that there is a book dedicated to the experiences of reaching absolute lows and suffering at the hands of addiction. These are difficult topics to discuss, and these are the things that have a difficult time reaching conversation. I’ve always felt a bit silenced because these sorts of things are deemed too “uncomfortable” to talk about. They may be disturbing, but the dark world of addictions and suffering is happening constantly around us, whether we like it or not. This book made me feel so validated and I’m utterly grateful for it. I hope it can make others who have experienced or are experiencing similar predicaments remember that they are not alone, and perhaps it can give hope and understanding to those who are less familiar with these topics.
This book will obviously mean different things to different people. I saw this as a powerful collection of cautionary tales - warning of the possible wrong turns a life can make. On the other hand, Cachet saw this book as a light at the end of a dark tunnel - recognition that the path she traveled was taken by others. The fact that we came away from the book with different takes on the meaning started a conversation between us that might not have happened otherwise.
The original printing of "Bottoms Up" has long been sold out at this point. However, after winning Best Anthology at the Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo's annual Dinky Awards - the book is headed back into print. You can pre-order a new printing of "Bottoms Up: True Tales of Hitting Rock-Bottom" on the Birdcage Bottom Books website, with new copies expected to ship out in August of 2018.