The Man in the Blue Suit
James Harris snuck up on me when I was distracted by other things. I gradually became aware of a tall man in a blue suit who often smoked a cigar. He was a writer who sometimes worked as a bookseller and he lived in New York. I could never quite recall his age or the details of his face. He went by Mr. Harris or James and informally as Jamie, Jim, Jimmy or just plain Harris.
He must have been present at the Autoptic Festival in August 2015 although I never saw him. I had just finished drawing Time Capsule and was worried over printing issues when I ran into Hannah Blumenreich there. She mentioned that she was making a comic for Rob Kirby’s anthology The Shirley Jackson Project: comics inspired by her life and work. I am a huge Shirley Jackson fan. Hannah offered to get me in. I said no.
Rob Kirby and I tabled side-by-side at Rain Taxi’s Twin Cities Book Festival a few months later. He said he was happy that I wanted to do a comic for his anthology. I almost rolled my eyes, imagining Hannah sending the email I had told her not to write. If I had rolled my eyes I would have spied Mr. Harris seated across the aisle selling books.
But my mind was elsewhere. I was selling advanced copies of Time Capsule. I bit my tongue about not having the time to do a comic and we discussed the possibility of my doing a silent take of The Tooth from The Lottery and Other Stories.
The months passed quickly. I had taken over as Associate Publisher of 2dcloud and I was overwhelmed with work. It was during this time that I looked up The Tooth online and found an article that went into detail about its character Jim. He was a tall man with a cigar and he wore a blue suit. I got chills as I paged through The Lottery and Other Stories and realized that he appeared in over half the stories. I found him peppered throughout all of Jackson’s collections and two of her novels, tucked into sentences with just a mention of his name or the appearance of his blue suit.
I had gotten invited to Mannheim, Germany to lead two let’s make zines workshops. This was in support of …and other stories at zeitraumexit where my originals from Time Capsule were hanging. It was mid-May and and I would fly out in mid-June. My comic for The Shirley Jackson Project was due immediately upon my return to the States. It was crunch time.
I stopped opening my mail and put aside all of my 2dcloud projects. I searched for Harris online — blue suits, fedora hats, hidden faces. As I penciled and inked, I heard the voice of Jim, murmuring to me gently, gently. I felt the soft touch of his hand on my shoulder whenever I nodded off at the drawing board.
Rob Kirby was a wonderful editor. He was full of encouragement and Shirley Jackson gossip. Every Friday I would send him the past week’s work and wait for him to tell me that I had surpassed my page limit. I knew that Hannah had stopped answering Rob’s emails and had only submitted a few sketches. Had I made a deal with James Harris? My 10 page story ended up being 24 pages. Hannah never turned her My Life with R. H. Macy comic.
I flew to Germany with a nagging feeling. I had finished the comic, I was happy with it. But there was something else. The scent of cigar smoke. An uptick in the number of blue suits in the streets. A sudden realization that my favorite Bob Dylan song The Man in the Long Black Coat was about James Harris.
I didn’t tell Rob, I didn’t tell anyone. But as my plane landed in Frankfurt I knew that my next graphic novel would be about James Harris.
Maggie Umber is a cartoonist and Co-Founder of 2dcloud. You can follow the making of her graphic novel The Man in the Blue Suit on her Patreon page.