“Something I find particularly wonderful is the fact that Shirley Jackson drew cartoons,” Rob Kirby writes in the introduction to the Shirley Jackson Project, a collection of comics responding to the writer’s work published by Ninth Art Press late last year. Kirby edited the collection, which incorporates work from comics and artists across the country, some of whom also contributed to his award-winning 2014 anthology QU33R. Others were artists he’d met at conventions. He thought “perhaps a half dozen alternative artists” would join him in making comics about the iconic horror writer’s work, but as he talked to people—and especially after he announced the project on social media—he was surprised how many people “revealed themselves as rabid Shirley nerds.” Four of those nerds are Portland artists: Annie Murphy, Josh Simmons, Asher Craw, and Lillie Craw. I talked to each of them to get a better understanding of this dense and beautiful collection, which oscillates between spooky personal narratives and dense critical theory.
Emphatic appreciation for Jackson is a running theme, as are personal hauntings. In some places, the Shirley Jackson Project could double as a ghost story collection. Murphy, an artist known for her occult comics and her own 2011 queer anthology Gay Genius, opens the book with an arresting painted autobio piece. “During the research phase,” Murphy said, “I found that people were mostly either total Shirley freaks, or had literally never heard of her. So I decided to take the narrative tone of a Shirley freak telling non-fans the most intriguing aspects of her life and works, mixed here and there with anecdotal parallels from my own haunted life.”
Lillie and Asher Craw were asked to contribute to the anthology together because the married artists had collaborated in the past on the finely drawn #Blessed, a delicately inked comic about a young gay deer, Party Twink, who lives in the forest with his American Girl dolls. For SJP, however, the Craws ended up contributing two separate comics about the recurring themes of buildings and food in Jackson’s writing. “We both were fascinated by different things in Jackson’s work,” Asher said. “So we were passionately trying to convince each other to make the whole focus food or buildings, but I don’t think either of our sections would have been as good or interesting if we hadn’t spent so much time trying to convince each other that our focus was the right one.”
Josh Simmons, of the underground comics series Happy and the longer graphic novels House and Black River, contributed endpaper interpretations of quotes from Jackson’s story Hangsaman. “One’s a bit closer to the sunnier perspective that comes through sometimes with Jackson,” Simmons explained. “It’s touching on a kind of manic, deranged, and adolescent hopefulness. The other perfectly summed up the kind of existential horror that is Jackson at her best, and which I try to express in my own comics.”