This video pans through the comic in time to the song.
Below are the individual page descriptions, and the thought process behind them.
[Ed note: We recommend viewing/reading this on Nathaniel's original page as it is formatted properly. We include the text-only below in order to make it searchable.]
Page 1/16. This page serves as both a starting and ending image, depicting Amelia Earhart's plane above, and Joni driving below. This was the last page done for the comic.
Page 2. The start of the comic proper, this would be the lefthand page and page 3 the righthand, were I to print the comic (and all pages after follow this sequence). From the start my goal was to illustrate the comic without almost any boundaries between images and words. Just as the grided precision of 'Song for Sharon Illustrated' mimicked the comic's location in NYC, so too does 'Amelia' mimic the feeling of driving on the open road, through vast expanses of desert.
Page 3. When dealing with the line "hexagram of the heavens," I researched and found that this is a reference to the hexagrams of the I Ching, a form of divination. Hexagrams are composed of six lines that are either broken or unbroken, and correspond to a description. This metaphor shows the brilliance Joni has when free associating imagery and meaning, a theme I tried to explore in my own interpretations in this comic.
I illustrated it as six unbroken lines, as they are jet streams, which would correspond to the hexagram for creative power, which I found fitting. Though to try and figure out the lyrics, divining some meaning from this hexagram could have seemed to be a false alarm to Joni.
The side illustrations show my attempt to consider the video pan through as another way of understanding the comic and song, as in the video I use them to create an animation. As there are only five images (including the bottom one), it isn't a fluid animation, but it was an interesting experiment.
The guitar Joni plays is based on the one she used in her 'Shadows and Light' concert film, particularly during the perfomance of 'Amelia' that is sublime. The car is based on the 1970 Dodge Challenger, of which I found a 3d model of online, and used as a reference as the car, modeled in the software Rhino, could be rotated around to match what view I wanted to depict.
Page 4. This page and the next have images that reference lines from the songs on 'Hejira.' I'll leave it to the interested reader to try and figure them out.
The jet at the top is not one of the images, that is just the jet thats drone could remind Joni of the numerous events depicted on the album's journey (or tell of ones to come).
Page 5. For the references, I'll give a couple of clues. First, there are two images that reference the longest song on the album. Second, The reference to 'Blue Motel Room' is on this page. The only reason I will identify it is because when I illustrated it, I thought the lyrics in that song said 'Dear Isabella, it's pouring rain,' when they actually say 'Here in Savannah, it's pouring rain.' This is my mistake.
The idea of these images, and the idea of holding onto memories through postcards and the like was one that here Joni meets with distain, as it demeans your life to the level of a travelogue. The charms also seem to harken back to tools for divination or ritual, another means of trying to know more than you really can. Another false alarm.
Page 6. As Joni is ambiguous to where she is driving in the song, except that it is some sort of desert, I took creative liberty to have her come to Monument Valley. I felt that the location's remoteness fit well with the song's themes, and through the movies of John Ford it came to epitomize the American West, which I feel this song draws some tonal inspiration from.
The postcard is to scale on the original page I drew, with the hand also more or less to scale. Page 6. As Joni is ambiguous to where she is driving in the song, except that it is some sort of desert, I took creative liberty to have her come to Monument Valley. I felt that the location's remoteness fit well with the song's themes, and through the movies of John Ford it came to epitomize the American West, which I feel this song draws some tonal inspiration from.
The postcard is to scale on the original page I drew, with the hand also more or less to scale.
Page 7. Here I took advantage of the open format of the comic by creating a singular image to illustrate this part of the text. The insert in the upper left is a stylization of the famous doorframe from John Ford's film "The Searchers." I felt the obsessive and isolated journey of that film's main character coincided with the deeper themes of the album, and especially the lyrics of this song. I also feel that the sort of free association here is prevalent in Joni's work, and references to movies in particular can be found on songs such as 'Shades of Scarlet Conquering.'
The idea of being told where to travel and how to feel when you get there recalls the individuality that would lead Joni to do a solo journey across the country, as she would hate to be told where to go, and if she actually went there would probably be disappointed by the site, another false alarm.
Page 8. It was difficult to decide how to illustrate this page, as I wanted it to give the feeling of night without relying on harsh shading. The use of washes worked well, as it darkened the page while it also weakened the linework, giving a feeling of fog almost. The moon underneath the words in the middle was actually a mistake, but I thought it gave the lower image a nice mood.
Page 9. This page was hard to create, as I wanted to show the importance of Joni finding solace with Amelia Earhart without too much drama. The solution I found was for her to place the picture of Earhart on the front passenger's seat, as if she was a co-pilot. This comfort is important, as the lyrics focus mainly on lonely thoughts of a distant and lost love that would haunt someone who had hours alone on the road. And here she changes the view of her words, as the 'false alarm' becomes a comforting thing; a reprise from the hurt her distant love has left her with.
Isolation is a key theme in the song, and to solidify this in the way I related to the lyrics, I chose to include almost no other people in the comic except for Joni, so the inclusion of an image of Amelia Earhart gains further weight. This is starkly different to 'Song for Sharon,' where while she is lonely as well, since she is in NYC she would also be constantly surrounded by people.
I tried to make sure the hand here is of a similar size to the previous page that had a hand holding a postcard, though on this one I have her thumbnail cracked to show the toll of venturing out on your own for a while.
Page 10. In this page, I wanted to show Joni moving from simply lonely thoughts to also getting tired while driving. The references to dreams in the song start here, so in the lower right corner I tried to show her as beginning to fall asleep.
The plane shown is based on the one Amelia Earhart flew on her fateful last trip, with the division between sky and sea done to give both posibilities equal weight.
Page 11. This page was hard to imagine, as I wanted to show Joni falling into a dream, imagining herself as Icarus. I think overall I succeeded, as a reader would start by seeing the top image of her flying on machined wings, then see the lower ones progressively anchor it back to being a dream, or a false alarm.
I would have liked to have some imagery showing Joni pull over to fall asleep, as it'd be dangerous to keep driving, but in this page I have her pulled off the road, so I think it is implied.
The actual mechanism of the wings is left ambiguous, as it is a dream, though it is akin to the wax and feather devices from the Greek myth of Dedaelus and Icarus.
Page 12. In this page, the logic of a dream has taken over, as the sequence of images becomes difficult and nonlinear. Joni flies in a lounging manner, strumming her guitar and contemplating in a deeply introspective way. Then, as she flies through the clouds, up towards the sun, her guitar (and music) plunges to the earth. The last image of her breaking through the clouds is a nod to Matisse's work 'Icarus'.
Page 13. This was one of the hardest pages for me to illustrate (I feel like I keep saying that), as I wanted to show both the wings breaking (akin to Icarus flying too close to the sun), the crash into her lover's arms, and then the image showing her dream ending. I accomplished this pretty well, with the third image of her falling (the one between the lyrics 'I crashed into his arms') based on a famous painting of the Flight of Icarus by Jacob Peter Gowy.
The lover she is crashing into is the only other person in the comic besides Joni and Amelia, so I wanted to make his presence more dreamy by not showing his face. He is a loose self portrait, as so much of the comic is based around my own personal reflections on it (as it means a lot to me), and shows how through this work I really empathize with the thoughts she expresses in the song. Though as it is only a dream, the joy of her reunion is another false alarm.
Joni is then shown in a similar pose waking to the sunrise, the rational harsh light of the truth.
Page 14. When trying to find the motel Joni is referring to, I couldn't find one in the US called specifically 'The Cactus Tree Motel,' so I reworked the lettering on a sign for 'The Cactus Motel.' Since their sign has a cactus tree in it, I feel maybe she thought of this motel with an incorrect name in real life.
I also thought it was funny to have a sign saying 'Color TV' in a colorless comic strip.
The cactus tree is a symbol present from Joni's first album (i.e. the song 'Cactus Tree'), so in this comic I included some as one of the few items decorating the otherwise barren desert landscape she drives through.
This is one of my favorite pages, as I feel the illustrations came out well, especially of her showering.
Page 15. The final page of the song proper before the outro. The geometric farms depict a real area of Kansas I found randomly on Google Maps. I felt it was a good area to draw, as the town that is in the middle of the illustration is Kismet, KS. As Kismet means fate, it seemed to match the theme of random divination that Joni explores in this song thoroughly. Using Google Earth, I was able to estimate an elevation for the view of the farms that would be similar to how it would look from the height of a plane flying at around 39,000 ft.
The jet streams here turn into clouds that seem to be lifting the bedside table off the ground, and the image of Amelia with it. This dreamy end I think is in line with the way the lyrics conclude, as Joni seems content to bask in things that when she wakes will be written off as more 'false alarms.' But while she dreams, they are an escape, like how the lush farms the jets can quickly travel to (or over) contrast with the bleak terrain of the desert.
The outro then plays with the lower image of page 1/16.
If you read all of this, cudos. I hope you enjoyed the comic, and thanks for taking the time to appreciate it.
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