Song For Sharon Illustrated

by Nathaniel Barlam
February 14, 2013

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. This page is meant to be read during the short instrumental intro of the song. The lyrics begin on the next page. I drew this page and the final page after the rest of the comic was completed, within the course of two hours. The image is not overly detailed because it is only meant to give an impression of the area the comic will take place in, NYC. If printed it would appear as the righthand page, as comics are published starting on the right page, so understand that the next two pages would appear together, and this order would follow throughout the comic.

Page 2, the first page I did. As you can see, the lyrics of the song are written verbatim, with the action following them. Through research, I was able to decipher a lot of the lyrics to the song, and found much of what she describes is based on real events. Because of this, I based the main character off of images of Joni Mitchell. It is a fact that Joni went to Mandolin Bros on Staten Island and bought a specific mandolin there (one that is actually the size of a guitar, oddly enough). BN Bridal is a real store on Staten Island that she may have passed on her way from Mandolin Bros back to the Staten Island Ferry dock. My comic is mainly an attempt to uncover meaning in the music's lyrics, so a lot of what is shown is based on speculation or my own imagination, but I don't think it detracts from the beauty of the melding of the music with the pictures.

Page 3. My depiction of Joni is fictionalized as I said, but I will refer to the main character of my comic as Joni for the sake of convenience. Here she is on the Staten Island Ferry, returning to Manhattan. Her actual location on the boat is a little undefined, but I figure that if she is near the back of the boat and on the left side of it, she'd be able to see the foamy water coming from the back of the ferry (which I suggest looks like the white lace of a wedding dress) and also be able to see the Statue of Liberty (which is shown later on).

Page 4. Here the song starts to show a stream of consciousness style in its shift to discussing Native Canadians. I cannot say why her thoughts shift (possibly daydreaming on the ferry) but my goal is to work with the music, not against it. So here I depict 3 children and three construction workers (with the assumption that these kids have grown up to work on skyscrapers), along with a view of Manhattan (since she wrote the song in the 1970's, the Twin Towers would have still been there, hence their inclusion in the skyline). It is historically accurate that Native Americans were used in the construction of skyscrapers because white workers would apparently get vertigo from the work. I'm not sure if the reasoning is sound, but nows not the time for debate.

Page 5. As mentioned earlier, Joni sees the Statue of Liberty from the ferry, so at some point in her return to Manhattan she was on the left side of the ship. The close-up of her face in the middle right panel is actually based on three different pictures of her, with the beret and sunglasses being added. As a sort of joke, I have her on Wall St. when she mentions bingo (take that society!) and I had other considerations for the last line, but chose to show a flock of birds for the sake of simplicity.

Page 6. It took me a while to think of a simple way to transition from her playing bingo to poker, but just showing the two in the same panel I think worked out well. The hand she is holding, with 3 Jacks and the King and Queen of Hearts, has a few levels to it. Besides being a fairly solid hand (three of a kind isn't too bad if you can bluff well) the King and Queen obviously implies a relatoinship (and in Pinacle would be called a "marriage"). Notice that the upper queen's face is more similar to Joni's, whereas the lower one is a typical Bicycle card face. Also, the patterns of the queen's outfit show up on the next page. Finally, the panel is an obscure reference to another song by Joni, "I Had A King" off of her first album. You should listen to that song too, but after finishing this comic. The people she is playing with are whom I imagine to play poker at a church, sweaty guys and cat ladies. So Joni doesn't keep very good company around.

Page 7. The visit to a gypsy (she is said to live on Bleecker St, but since this was thirty years ago I put her in a random building on the street) was an attempt to work with shadows. I wasn't entirely happy with it, so the last three panels I made lighter. The textiles hanging in her shop are based on the outfit on the Queen of Hearts. Joni has changed her wardrobe, because I felt there was no implication that this visit directly followed playing poker at the church. Time in this song is a bit fluid, but I tried to keep it orderly with consistent wardrobes, or obvious changes of clothes. The outfit she has on here is based on the cover of the album Hejira, although upon finishing the comic I realized that I was inaccurate with the outfit. I have her wearing a fur coat of sorts, but in reality she wore a fur cape over a black dress. It doesn't affect the comic at all, but I am a little annoyed I missed that.

Page 8. I am very happy with how this page turned out. The two top panels show Joni being left by her man in North Dakota (even though the lyrics imply she left him, I feel that the desperation she shows throughout the rest of the song, and the album in fact, imply that this isn't the case.) The bottom left panel works very well, leading your eye from the lyrics down the building to where it reads "Empire State." This really makes the skyscraper feel tall. The righthand panel then helps orient you, by implying the next part of the comic takes place on (or in) the top of the Empire State building.

Page 9. On the observation deck of the building. Nothing in the song implies that she visited the building, but I felt that it coincided with the themes the lyrics explore here. Joni is looking at the crowd on the deck, but as the families go back inside (it's cold enough for snow to be on the ground, after all) it becomes apparent that she was staring at a couple which is romantically tangled (notice how their hands descend down each other's lower backs). She then looks over the edge of the skyscraper, saying she accepts the changes of growing older and still not living happily ever after, but the implication is that at one time her thoughts on the subject depressed her deeply (and still do, to an extent).

Page 10. A sudden event breaks the drifting Joni was stuck in. I used the perspective of the final panel of page 9 in the top panel of this page, as a sort of transition. The wording of the person who committed suicide is interesting. She's referred to as "A woman I knew," which doesn't seem to imply they were great friends. But the next lyrics imply that they knew each other well enough that Joni would be upset to hear about it. I don't know why I had the cop be the person to be heartbroken by the woman's suicide, but I figure it'd be dramatic. Also, cops need love too.

Page 11. Although this would be the next day, she refers to this scene as happening yesterday, so the next page I guess is a couple of days after the woman's suicide (hence her composure in those scenes that is not prevalent here). The place she is staying is loosely based on the rooms in the Plaza Hotel, because it is the most likely candidate to have a view of Wollman Rink in Central Park (which the song mentions later). Notice the window she looks out of in the hall. A little later on, it is important to be able to identify it, as distinct from other windows in the hotel room.

Page 12. This scene I felt would take place (as I mentioned above) a couple of days after the woman's suicide. I felt that the wording of the lyrics implied that these friends of Joni actually came to her to try and console her, not just in relation to the suicide but how it made Joni view her own status in life. Their suggestions seem to be safe ways to find stability in life, and while Joni is looking to get married, I think she wants passion more than children. The character referred to as Mama I styled off of pictures of Joni Mitchell from more recently (and for a woman her age I think she actually looks great) while the other two are based off of friends of mine. I used a lot of people I know as references for extras throughout this comic to give it an air of authenticity and realism that is hard to achieve through imagined peoples. Since I know them in real life, I can better orient the kind of personality I wish their characters to have.

Page 13. As you can see, Joni's wardrobe is different in this scene than in the one on page 11, but changes again in the last panel. I did this for several reasons. The first is that it shows how much time she is spending contemplating her current situation. I have her at the window she looked out in the hallway (as apparent by the chair, curtains, and flower, which we assume she moved to the table to more easily look out the window) earlier, which seems to signify it has a particularly good view of Central Park. Also, the change of clothes implies a change of time, which justifies not having to show her three friends leave the apartment, which is economically important to the comic. Her response to their suggestions seems a bit sarcastic, but it is hard to tell, so I also wanted to leave their reaction to her response ambiguous. You can decide if she acted in a way that could insult them, as they only wanted to comfort her, or were they pushing on her life choices that showed they didn't really understand her as a person? Either way, her thoughts turn from mourning to her own self doubts of finding love...

Page 14. This page was difficult to map out, because of formalities I needed to follow for the comic to make sense. I needed to show Joni as she is in the present so you could then identify her in the past as a child. I also needed to show the church (one I based off of a real church in Maidstone, Saskatchewan) to engage with the small town she had been a child in. And finally, I wanted to organize the panels so the bride wasn't shown until the last panel, as she isn't mentioned until the last line of the lyrics. I accomplished all of this, I feel, through some smart hierarchy and organization, all while distorting the locations to give a sense that this was a memory. Backgrounds are intentionally minimalist, as I thought of things that she would have remembered being a child at a wedding (one of many that she claimed to have attended). I still set the memory in winter, to play with the theme of snow that the rest of the comic has. I feel the atmosphere of fallen snow and birsk air lends itself well to the song's theme of isolation and lonesomeness.

Page 15. Continuing with the minimal backgrounds of the previous page (an idea I attribute to the philosophy of Thornton WIlder when it came to minimal set design, as seen in Our Town) I feel I am able to focus the story well on the loneliness Joni feels she felt, even as a child. The imaginary prince is based on Prince Charming from Cinderella. I doubt Joni would have seen the movie, living in such an isolated town, but it had come out around the time Joni would have been living in Maidstone (I'd estimate my depiction of her is between the ages of 5 and 7, because at age 8 Joni Mitchell contracted polio, and would've been unable to attend weddings) so it is plausible that if Joni was daydreaming of princes and kings, she could have been drawn to the one from Cinderella.

Page 16. This stanza comes rather quickly after the last, and was also one I found difficult to articulate through drawings. I still don't know what Joni Mitchell meant by "Golden Reggie," but interpreted it to mean one of her lovers. I decided that this memory didn't have to necessarily connect to the last one, so I depict her as a bit older, possibly around her late teens (before she had a child out of wedlock, that would later have to be given up for adoption). I was going to be more explicit with the idea that these two became romantically involved, but decided instead to just allude to it, giving the 3 middle panels an up close feeling. The white lace of the foamy water I thought could also be seen following the ice skates of her lover. The way he holds her hand in the left middle panel is similar to how her imaginary prince held her hand (hence "chasing dreams"), and the nylons underneath her jeans I only barely show (because the lyrics identify them for you). The coyote in the last panel watching them is a reference to another song from Hejira, "Coyote." This song identifies a lover of Joni's as a coyote, who's lifestyle is just incompatible with her own. The placement of the coyote also makes sense when you consider that this would be the lefthand page and page 17 would be the righthand.

Page 17. As you can see, while the coyote would be in the bottom left corner, the crow is in the bottom right corner. This crow references another song from Hejira, "Black Crow," where Joni compares herself to a crow that seems to dive after every shiny thing it spots (possibly Golden Reggie is one of these shiny things). I had many ways I thought of dealing with these difficult lyrics, but went with a more abstract approach. The lyrics don't entirely correspond to the drawings, but they do inform them, and allow the reader to derive meaning based on their own experiences (I'd hope). Along with the black crow symbolism, I think it works well. A side note is that since this and the last page I've based on more adult versions of Joni, it would follow logically that she has better recollections of the scenery around her. Hence the backgrounds are a bit more defined on the whole. Though the use of different outfits also implies that she has had her heart broken many times in the past.

Page 18. As you can guess, the top panel took a very long time to do. I wanted to organize the skaters (all based on people I know) so they seemed to be skating, but I also wanted them to be spaced in a way that readers could go and count all 29 of them (30, if you include my self portrait sitting on the bench in the back). The lower panels show the Plaza hotel and then Joni back at her window, justifying that she could have viewed Wollman Rink (which is in Central Park) from a hotel room. They also work with the lower panels on page 19 (which would be the righthand page) if you keep in mind that this would be the lefthand page.

Page 19. The lower panels on this page mirror the ones on the last, showing Joni from inside the apartment and the Plaza at night, respectively. The qualities of white orchids add to their use as a motif throughout her hotel room (you can go look them up on your own time) and the apple is a nod to the tree of knowledge of good and evil from the bible. Notice a flower from the orchid has fallen in the lower left panel.

Page 20. For all of the qualities Joni states Sharon has, I depict Joni herself lacking. I was originally going to show her eating an apple for the line about the "apple of temptation," but felt the lyrics worked on more clever levels. She is, after all, in the Big Apple (as earlier lyrics state) and the idea of a "diamond snake" seems to imply that what tempts her is material goods. Tiffany's & Co on Fifth Ave fit well, as it is known for its diamonds and ability to tempt all that walk past its window displays. Although, while in Tiffany's I have Joni seem more interested in the engagement rings than any regular bracelets or jewelry (you can make out her reflection in the last panel). As a side not, while she is wearing her fur coat in the middle right panel, in the bottom left I didn't forget about it. She has it in her left arm, because I felt it was the only way to show her trying on an arm bracelet. I'm not sure why there's no one working in Tiffany's in the background, but I'll just say I wanted the focus to stay on Joni.

Page 21. I have Joni walking through Central Park to end the comic. She has her mandolin, implying she might be moving on to greener pastures, even though she is still very close to her hotel room (the Plaza is visible in the middle right panel). The clarinet player in the top left panel would not be an uncommon site in NYC, but it also refers to Joni Mitchell's song "For Free" off of her third album. The close-up of the angel statue in a way also sort of references Mitchell's song "That Song About the Midway," which mentions a possible lover wearing angel's wings. This isn't as solid an allusion, but I did think about it as I chose the angel to be included in the comic. One might complain how the last panel fails to show any footprints, but I have a three point argument. 1, maybe she is drifting so much through life that it's as if she wouldn't leave any footprints or legacy. 2, in many previous scenes I left the floor white, but that didn't necessarily read as snow (although the snow at the bases of the trees seems to imply she is walking on snow). 3, it is annoying to draw footprints in perspective and I don't think it would add to the beauty of the comic, so drop it.

Page 22. This was the last page I did, on the same day I completed page 1. It is supposed to be viewed during the short instrumental outro of the song, depicting the scene from page 1 but at night. It is also not very detailed, but I feel that with the first page it makes a nice bookend. Well, if you read through the whole comic and my descriptions, I commend you for the time it took and I hope you enjoyed it, and will consider listening to Joni Mitchell more. Thanks!

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