I first started drawing when I was a kid, staring up at popcorn ceilings, trying to make sense of the symbols I saw there. I created comics about a fox that lived in the midst of the shapeless blurs of styrofoam. I don’t draw foxes anymore. Instead, I draw people I’ve met, making them ugly as sin and arguably very realistic.
I set a challenge for myself at the beginning of this year: draw the four horsemen of the apocalypse as people I know and hate for one reason or another. I’ve never paid much attention to religion, but the four horsemen have always tickled my fancy. I think of them as misunderstood animals that God couldn’t tame.
There is a white horse, who is the antichrist. A red horse, who is war. A black horse, who is famine. A pale horse, who is death. At one point they thought the white horse was Christ, but I don’t know anyone godly enough to make them into His only son. The antichrist will have to do.
The antichrist, then, is a small boy, six or seven years old, with gleaming white fangs and deep black eyes. He holds a flaming cross in his left hand and the mane of a brilliant white horse in his right. The boy is someone I knew in first grade, although now I forget his name. He bit my hand every day at recess, and so he is the antichrist.
War is an old high school acquaintance of mine who was a JROTC fanatic. I can see his face crystal clear, all buzz-cut and baby-face. He wears a blue jacket and trousers, a white dress shirt, black socks (always black socks), and oxfords. It is only when I add a bomb modeled after Fat Man in his hand that he starts to look like a true horseman, staring down at the Earth which he is about to destroy from a blood-red steed. I feel bad for him, this child I knew who is now an apocalyptic figure. But he scared me when I was 16, and so he is war.
A girl I knew in college is famine. She left halfway through our final senior semester because she was anorexic, among other things. “I know what I’m doing,” she said to me. A month ago on Facebook, there was a memorial post for her. I don’t hate her for how she lived. I hate her for dying. She sits side-saddle, beautiful as the day I met her, on a black horse floating just off the ground. In her hand is a food scale and on her body is a windswept white nightgown, similar to the one she wore in our dorm. She always said she wanted to be immortal. I don’t think there is any better way than paint, and so she is famine.
Death is my boss, because who else could it be? An ugly man of about fifty, who hits on the young women he employs and shits on the young men. He rides a sickly green horse in his disgusting blue pinstripe suit, carrying a whip instead of a scythe to make sure the souls he rules stay in line. There is a gravestone on the ground beneath his horse’s feet, and he looks down his nose at it like it’s the assignment I gave him a week late. He is who I hate (fear) most of all, and so he is death.
I apologize as I paint, creating a ritual that reminds me of AA. I apologize for rendering their lives in such a simplified, undignified, prideless manner. It is a pointless exercise in disdain and talent gone to waste. And so, despite her wishes for immortality, I burn famine. Then death, then war, then the antichrist. I inhale the smoke, and I hope to tame the animals that God could not.