Speaking of Ozymandius
(When a Barefootz Story Went Off The Rails)

It’s been tucked away unpublished in my studio flat files for over forty years. I’m talking about a Barefootz story I drew in 1978 called “Speaking of Ozymandius.” At the time, clocking in at thirteen finished pages, it was the longest comic book story I had ever drawn. Embarking on the 210 pages of my graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby was still more that ten years in the future.

I’ve mentioned "Ozymandius" in passing in several interviews over the years, and sometimes I've even let a panel or two be excerpted in that context. But until now I’ve never offered the thirteen completed pages of my misshapen brainchild for inspection by strangers. There’s a simple reason for that: the story has no “entirety”! It is and will always remain something of an embarrassment to me, a narrative fiasco that, despite much effort, I was never able to wrestle into submission.

You can’t exactly call it an unfinished work, because that connotes a story that begins promisingly but drops off a cliff at some point. “Speaking of Ozymandius” has both an undeniably intriguing opening, and also a well-executed conclusion. What’s missing is a big part of its middle section!

How long might that middle section have been had I finished it? It could have been five pages long, but might easily have rolled along for twenty pages or even more. But finishing those pages was a doomed endeavor because I could never figure out how to steer my middle narrative so that it would arrive at its foregone (and already drawn) conclusion.

If I had just drafted a script in advance, I could have avoided this creative contretemps. But shortly before launching the project I had read an interview with R. Crumb in which he said he would sometimes start a story and let it unfold spontaneously page by page, untethered to any expectations about where it would end up. I found that assertion interesting and decided I would give Crumb's improvisational process a try myself. So I set things in motion and allowed the story to tell itself, absent any rational levers of control.

That Crumb could come up with riveting tales using that process will surprise no one. But for me, alas, things progressivelywent haywire.

To add an extra wrinkle to my sad tale, I found myself early in the process visualizing my story’s ending with such clariry that I three caution to the wind and drew its two final pages ahead of time.

This was a big mistake. I swore never to let myself do that again.

Which isn't to say that there was anything wrong with the ending I committed to paper. On the contrary, I love it to this day. It was a very meaningful denouement for me emotionally, and in retrospect I can see how it precipitated an important turning point in my creative development.

If only I had had the storytelling chops to organically arrive at that damned pre-determined endpoint.

But I was no R. Crumb, sad to say. Few cartoonists are.

A time came when I could no longer avoid facing my inadequacies. With much regret I surrendered to the inevitable. Into my files of fiascos it went, never to be concluded, yet never to be forgotten.

Until now.

Why post a failed story on my web site these four decades after abandoning it? Well, because I have never stopped digging some of the story’s drawings, if I do say so myself. And since I dig them, I have long had an enduring itch to share them. After all, sharing art that I like is one of my main reasons for having a web site.

Maybe you can enjoy seeing what I did as a thirty-four-year-old cartoonist still trying to find himself. Maybe the glimpse "Speaking of Ozymandius" provides of my state of mind in 1978 will resonate for you, and you'll understand why it turned out to be my beloved Barefootz’s swan song.

But more on that later. For now, read on.


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