Jason Douglas Talks Mental Health in GN 'Parallel'

I got a chance to talk with writer Jason Douglas about his graphic novel, Parallel, out through Source Point Press. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did!

AN INTERVIRW WITH JASON DOUGLAS

Anthony Pollock: Let’s start where it all began for you. What’s your earliest memory of writing?

Jason Douglas: It is funny to me that this is where we are beginning.  I think this answer might say a lot about, or give a clue or 12 as to the origins of the universal and hopefully relatable themes of Parallel concerning time slipping away from us, procrastinating, and, certainly, my own stubborn nature.

I have a very distinct memory from kindergarten where the class had a “Bring Your Favorite Toy/Game To School” day.  You were allowed to spend your entire free time/play time that day with your item or explore the amazing things other children brought, but only after you had completed the arduous assignment of writing your full name a shocking two whole times on that classic wide ruled landscape lined paper many of us remember with dread. 

I have no memory of what I brought that day, but I do know my pal Robby had arrived with the most magnificent wooden train set (before the days of Thomas The Tank Engine) that I had ever laid eyes on.  I was transfixed, and immediately distracted from the task at hand.  Robbie was done writing his name (did I mention that you had to write it twice?) and was setting up on the floor near where I (and my still very blank paper) sat. 

This was in the days of half day kindergarten, so I was on the clock here.  I proceeded to spend the entire time refusing to write my name, longing to be on the floor, and thus accomplishing nothing.  It honestly summed up my attitude toward writing specifically, and school work in general for many years.  It probably lends a little bit of insight into why writing my first comic reminded a dream and not a reality for so long.

Anthony Pollock: What’s more important – the structure of a story or running with an idea?  

Jason Douglas: While the answer to this question may vary writer to writer, creator to creator, I think comics (at least my experience writing them) lend themselves to an absolute need to balance both.  In comics I feel it is no easy task to keep these two essential elements mutually exclusive from each other.  The one rarely works as effectively it could/should without the other interwoven as part of what you are trying to accomplish.  

Comics contain the best elements of prose and film, of the visual and the cerebral.  In writing Parallel I found myself thinking of both elements simultaneously, hand in hand each and every scene, each and every page. The raw emotion idea of, “What would you be willing to risk of your own mental and physical well-being for a second chance” manifests itself in several tense and heightened scenes in the story. 

However, as the emotion of those scenes build to their conclusions, I needed to be aware of the pacing (panel numbers and sizes) and when the reader sees and reads what (page turns). While I can’t really speak to how anybody else pursues the process, I know that both ideas are on my mind at all times.     

Anthony Pollock: What facets of your life do you draw on for inspiration?

Jason Douglas: The old saying, “Write What You Know”, has passed into the realm of cliché for a very good reason. It is, for the most part, very good advice. That is not to say that I have any real life experience with parallel worlds, or parallel versions of myself tempting me with a life unlived but always desired like Landon in the book faces (at least no experience that I will be revealing here), but that does not mean that I can’t relate to the themes of stagnation, regret, the passing of time, and deferred dreams. 

I think you can learn a lot from research (all the professionals in Parallel– Doctor, Detective, and Psychiatrist were vetted by, and consulted through real life analogs in those lines of work), but when it comes to the core themes of your story, the human part of it, the more you “know” about that, the more deeply you can feel and or relate to those ideas and themes, the more (I think) they can successfully be communicated through your work. 

Graphic Novel Parallel - out through Source Point Press

Anthony Pollock: Your Graphic Novel, ‘Parallel’, deals with a lot of themes. Dare I call them issues. Did the theme of misdirected suicide via mental illness come from something you’ve experienced personally?

Jason Douglas: Mental health, the pursuing or not pursuing of it, how it is perceived by the self and by others was certainly something I had on my mind and I wanted as subtext, and occasionally an overt theme in Parallel.  I like that Landon (the protagonist) does get help, but I also like that it is not a simple solution.  He is not magically “cured”.  

I think my favorite aspect of that aspect of the book is that while you get the idea that most (if not all) people in Landon’s life (those depicted and even those not) probably hold the opinion that he has “lost it”, that he has mentally broken in some profound and acute fashion.  Visions and voices of an alternate version of you offering a life unlived if only you would just…? 

Yet, when he lays on the couch in the office of his doctor, there is not judgement, there is not invalidation of anything he is feeling, seeing, or experiencing (she never comes out and says, “These things are NOT real”).  I think that is a pretty positive message to anybody who feels alone or isolated in their feelings and thoughts of depression, regret, or even self-harm.  There are people out there who can help, and will listen.

Anthony Pollock: One other interesting theme of ‘Parallels’ is that one event could reshape your entire life. Was it always a plan for you to touch on the What If in the book? 

Jason Douglas: Honestly, I think the question, ‘What If?” is a simple and efficient way to start the brainstorming for a lot of storytelling.  It can be a basic jumping off point and catalyst to get your writing flowing. And, while I do not think there is any direct influence here (certainly not stylistically) one of the three Marvel Comics mail order monthly subscriptions I had as a kid was the early 90’s version of What If? (Those comics, along was Amazing Spider-Man and Silver Surfer arrived in my mailbox each month neatly folded in half- delighting the reader in me, and horrifying the collector in me). 

Speaking specifically to the “One Event” ripple effect idea (choices, regrets, the infinite possibilities of different paths), my thoughts never stray too far from Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken.  My day job for the last 20 years has been that of public school educator, and for the last seven 8th graders and I have explored and dissected that poem (they find a lot of resonance in it being at a crossroads in their lives as well).

The idea that each and every choice we make (and there are countless, big and small each day) leads to a new path and a new us, that we cannot come back to those original choices once made (we may come to similar choices, but they will be further down our chosen path and will be different as they are being made by a slightly different us informed by our original choice from out past), and all we can do is what the narrator does in the last stanza of Frost’s poem… We can recall, ages and ages hence…  We made a choice, and THAT has made all the difference.

Anthony Pollock: Almost anyone who’s been in an unhappy relationship could see themselves in this book. What are your thoughts on that?

Jason Douglas: Yes, but I am going to push back a little bit on the question as well.  I think the stagnation that Landon finds himself in can be interpreted literally (his marriage, his job, his deferred dreams) or figuratively (any depression, any malaise, and lost opportunity/regret).

One of my hopes was, regardless of the conceit of this story being steeped in Sci-Fi (and the ability for it to be enjoyed and consumed as a parallel worlds sci-fi story, or tangentially artistically noir book, or a thriller with tension building throughout the book), to allow as many people as possible to relate to Landon as our character. 

If you get there through a current or past relationship that is empty or hollow, or because you have woken up after several years and you realize time is still moving forward and the infinite time to make your dreams comes true seems a little less achievable… well, that is how you relate.  The great irony of these universal themes is that they are universal, the vast majority of us experience them in one for or another and yet they present as solitary, we feel very alone in our personal experiences of them.

Anthony Pollock: The character ‘Clare’ is the catalyst for your protagonist’s unhappiness. Is she an avatar for an old relationship?

Jason Douglas: Clare as the catalyst is certainly one way to look at Landon’s situation. However, using her as an excuse, or as a place to lay blame, not only robs Landon of some of his agency, it excuses him from being responsible for his own life and the decisions he has made in it. I have received a decent amount of feedback as of late that readers end up feeling a lot of sympathy for Clare in the second half of the book. 

As far as her being an analog to a relationship in my life, I see her more as another extension of my own faults and shortcomings (the same as Landon, the same as, I think, most characters that most authors write- there is always a little bit of you in all of them).  My wife is also very keen on me pointing that out as well! 

Anthony Pollock: As the writer, did you always want the book to go for a black and white look? Why ditch the colour?

Jason Douglas: When I wrote the first half of Parallel a few summers ago, it was in a self-contained bubble.  I had no publisher, no artist, no real vision of what the next step was beyond the idea that time was passing, my dream was not getting any closer, and that I needed to get this story down.  Inside that mindset, I probably envisioned the pages in color, but that had a lot less to do with the storytelling and more to do with my frame of reference and the vast majority of comics that I consumed. 

The decision to make it a black and while book came from above.  Travis McIntyre (EIC, President, and Co-Founder of Source Point Press) made the call.  It ended up being, in my opinion, the absolute best thing for the story.  Once Adam Ferris became attached to the book on art duties it became clear that he had a talent with drawing ambiguity, nourish mood scenes, and several techniques with greys that accentuate the themes, and build the tension. I love the starkness, the lack of color leaves you nowhere to hide!

Anthony Pollock: Where can people find ‘Parallels’ and what are you working on right now?

Jason Douglas: Parallel is available for you to pick-up, read, and enjoy right now.  Diamond has shipped copies to Local Comic Shops.  If your shop does not have a copy for you just ask them to order one using the Diamond Order Code: FEB20 1983. Otherwise, head to www.sourcepointpress.com.

I currently have a pitch, character bios, research, story beats (for 4 issues), and completed issue 1 script or a new project about a super powered teenage girl in post WWII small town Michigan, where she has to face the realities of women being pushed aside in the workplace after the solders return home and the struggles of being closeted about abilities that would clearly label her as different and dangerous.

It is inspired by my late grandmother and by the hundreds of students who have passed through my classroom over the years who, even in the 21st century, still face discrimination (subtle and not so subtle) based on what makes them different. Later this summer, I am partnering up with Pete Milne to craft an old fashioned scary story deep in the woods, cut off from the modern world!  


WHERE TO FIND JASON DOUGLAS

Jason Douglas on Instagram

Parallels by Jason Douglas