Field Guide

Jacob Guajardo

He is known for leaving his critically acclaimed comic series, Field Guide to the Land of Steare, unfinished. He is known for stunningly rendered landscapes—forests and mountain ranges. He is known for being left handed. He smeared ink on panels and left it that way when the issue went to print. He painted beautiful splash pages featuring extinct animals taking giant shits. He gave his characters fleshy, purple tongues. He’d not anticipated the outrage that came with purple tongues.

For months we collected footage for a documentary about his life.

This is what we found:

He seemed like he never knew the right thing to say. Once he left an important interview after the interviewer asked him about boxers or briefs. We found out after, because we could see his backside as he bent to gather his things, briefs.

Once he made an interviewer laugh so hard that she couldn’t catch her breath.

He is known for being not all bad.

He sat with closed fists in every room we filmed him in. We had to remind him to relax. We shot a lot of scenes in their study. The study is where Fjörd’s mother read her Bible on Sunday, and where he and his boyfriend slept while she died in their bedroom.

His boyfriend, Chuck, rubbed his shoulders and whispered in his ear. Fjörd would smile.

We learned from his fourth grade teacher that he drew cleavage on his women. The teacher warned his mother that the cleavage drawing was indicative of a bigger problem. His mother was known for cussing out his teachers. The fourth grade teacher remembers his mother saying, “You’re just jealous that you don’t have a rack like that!”

Fjörd says, “I was known having too active an imagination,” he pauses and chews his tongue. He says, “Whatever that means.”

We polled the people in his hometown and found that his childhood went something like this: he kissed a girl behind her house and cried when he didn’t like it; he had limp wrists; he crossed his legs like he was wearing a skirt.

He is known for his collection of female action-figures. The collection is renowned. His mother spent hours on the phone with Hasbro ordering them special from their warehouses. This was before you could ship overnight from Amazon.

He is known for the trial. The events of the trial are all public record.

The record states that his mother had noticed that he’d become distant—that is, more distant. She’d snooped in his room and found drawings—accurate drawings—of a man with lots of body hair and a huge dick kissing a boy who was big for his age but not big enough to be kissing a man with such a huge dick.

The man coached a soccer team. Fjörd was the MVP.

In his testimony, Fjörd said that the man made him stay after practice because he needed special attention.

After the trial the man had to register as a sex offender but did not go to jail for the maximum sentence because there had been insufficient evidence.

 Fjörd shifted in his chair when we asked him about the trial. “After the trial,” he said, “everyone called me a little fag. Even though,” Fjörd said, “there had been insufficient evidence.”

We interviewed his lovers and found that the abuse did not inhibit his sex life. He is known for having a good time. He is known as a great lover.

He laughed when we told him this.

We learned from his high school friends that he’d been suspended for watching gay porn on a school computer. The suspension had been indefinite.

Fjörd told us his mother, known for cussing out teachers all her life, had cussed out these teachers too. “He’s the only faggot in this goddamned school,” she’d said. “And we don’t have the internet!”

“Can you believe that?” Fjörd asked us.

The superintendent lifted the suspension provided he met weekly with the school counselor.

He was known for meeting weekly with the school counselor.

He won the blue ribbon at every High School Tri-Valley Arts Conference for four years for his work in watercolors. He was known for his acceptance speeches: Fuck the mainstream, Fuck the patriarchy, Fuck God, Fuck Faye Dunaway.

It is unknown what his beef had been with Faye Dunaway.

“Let bygones be,” Fjörd told us.

We acquired a few of the ribbon-winning pieces from the high school: framed watercolor paintings of renaissance soldiers mourning fallen brothers; queens leading armies of women into battle. When we showed them to him he made a retching noise. He pointed out the flaws: the scale was off, the colors weren’t true.

Chuck hung them in the guest bathroom.

He received a full scholarship to a college to study art. The college was an hour away from his mother.

In college he added an umlaut to his name.

When we asked about the umlaut, he shrugged and said, “I was umlaut of ideas.”

He is known for once stealing his paintings back from a gallery the night before a show. The custodial team found the collection later in the dumpsters. We could not recover any of the pieces. The college newspaper reported it as a theft before Fjörd wrote a letter to the editor explaining his general disinterest in exhibiting the pieces for public consumption.

He told us they weren’t that good anyway.

He is known for a fully illustrated Field Guide to the College Penis. He showed us the pen and ink drawings, flipping through the pages and stopping to show us a particularly veiny member. We learned through some of his subjects—names and fields of study appeared next to most of the illustrations—that to appear in the field guide was an honor. There was one guy who asked that his penis not appear in the field guide and this was the guy that Fjörd was known for loving the rest of his life.

Chuck Everly is known for his orange hair. He is fluent in Spanish. He told us that he remembers saying to Fjörd, I will not be your manic pixie dream girl. He said, “I am the star of my own show!”

They are known for being hard to see away from the other.

It’s been suggested that he became a changed man after he met Chuck Everly. It was Chuck who suggested it.

Chuck was always in the next room. We were constantly reminding him to turn his mic off.

Fjörd won a coveted prize for his senior art show. “Fuck everything I ever said,” he said.

Chuck said to us a few months ago, “Only I know what it feels like to be loved by this man who is so good at holding brushes steady.”

They were known for the comic shop they opened in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They sold their comics at a lower price than other places. Fjörd was known for sometimes giving you a little something extra—a free comic or a button.

Chuck said Fjörd called his mother every day.

Fjörd said it was more like every other day.

Chuck said, “He’ll never exaggerate in his favor.”

He was known for saying, “I have this great idea.”

Fjörd told us that Chuck listened and always knew the truly great ideas from the ones that belonged back in his mouth.

They were known for the apartment they rented that everyone called Dainty Crocket. Carved along the crown molding were dainty floral patterns that curled in toward themselves. Chuck looked up what to call this design quality and found the word crocket. He explained at a housewarming and the name just stuck.

He was known for the room in the apartment that he dedicated to his female action figure collection. He dusted that room like he was at an archaeological dig.

We tried to get the new occupants of Dainty Crocket to show us around. They declined and locked the door behind them and closed up the blinds.

Fjörd laughed and took us to dinner.

He was known for taking care of his mother when she got ill. We learned from the nurses at the oncologist’s office that he brought a sketchbook to her appointments and would draw his mother as she received chemo treatments. He moved her into his apartment. When Fjörd was out getting groceries one afternoon, Chuck showed us Fjörd’s fully illustrated Field Guide to My Mother: a collection of pencil drawings. Chuck said, “He’s going to kill me for showing this to you.”

He’d drawn his mother in her nightgown ordering costume jewelry off HSN. He’d drawn her in the drive-thru at Wendy’s, and licking her finger to flip the pages in a JC Penney catalog. He’d drawn her in the garden pruning tomato plants, and in her reclining chair playing Tetris on a handheld.

Chuck told us that Fjörd would sit up at night and watch his mother sleep in their bed, a pencil in his hand, ready to capture the slightest movements of her exhalations.

Fjörd said she’d wake up and say, “Waiting for me to respire?”

When Fjörd gave us access to his old journals, we found this passage and asked him to record a voice-over: Aug 5, Mom called and said to look out my window at the airplane skies. She said, Airplane skies is the time of year when the skies are so blue and clear and cut up in every direction with exhaust. He wrote, I wish I’d inherited my mother’s heart for detail.

We learned that he cussed at his mother’s funeral.

“She loved me so goddamn much,” he recalled saying. “Fuck this hole in my art,” he’d said.

Everyone heard him say heart.          

After his mother’s death, he sold the comic shop and sublet their apartment to move into the house his mother left him in the town where he’d endured the trial.

We visited the comic shop in Grand Rapids and learned that its new owners sell comics at full-price, had done away with free buttons. Outside, a long-time customer pleaded with Fjörd to come back. Fjörd happily signed a copy of Land of Steare, but said he would not be returning to the series.

Chuck told us after his mother died Fjörd stayed up late and started working on the comic. Chuck said, “I would find him asleep at his desk and drooling on his pages.”

He said Fjörd was always saying, “I’m onto something big!”

He often said, “Maybe I should just give up.”

He is known for becoming an overnight success. He sold the comic to an independent publisher and the critics called him the next big thing.

He is known for the critically acclaimed series, Field Guide to the Land of Steare. Steare had underground oceans, synthetic star systems for their underground cities, and birds that sparkled like shards of rain-slick glass. In the land of Steare the dodo never died. He is known for the protagonist of the series—a boy who wears skirts and goes on adventures. The boy’s name is Vaca. Chuck told him that vaca meant cow in Spanish. Fjörd liked the idea of a boy named cow wearing a skirt and mapping the land of Steare.

He let us into his studio where he showed us preliminary sketches for the first pages of Issue 1.

We said, “These are worth so much money!”

Chuck showed us a stack of letters he keeps in a drawer in the kitchen. They are from a long stretch of time when Fjord was away on a promotional tour for the omnibus edition of Steare. I love you, I’m in Milwaukee and I love you, Fjörd wrote to him in one of the letters. Chuck stuffed the letters back into their envelopes and shut the drawer.

Chuck said, “I don’t need this movie to be about me.” Then he looked into the camera and said, “I wrote to him saying, come home soon, I miss the sound of you putting pencil to paper.”

That had us all crying like faggots—his words, not ours.

He left the series at To be continued….

We were scared to ask him what we made this movie to find out.

Fans wrote in asking for an explanation.

Chuck dealt with the shit-storm. He is known for being level-headed. He met with all the important people. He assured them that Fjörd was fine.

The important people did not care that Fjörd was fine. The important people are known for being greedy and for hating Vaca’s skirt. They knew that they must appeal to a wider audience to stay in business. Comics are not videogames.

The important people suggested a videogame tie-in for the franchise.

Earlier this year, Fjörd won an award in the category of best on-going comic series. Chuck took the stage and accepted on his behalf. He said, “Fuck you all for what you did to him.”

We got it on tape.

After the ceremony Chuck said, “I think that was the right thing to do.”

Fjörd gave him a big kiss later when we showed him the footage.

We didn’t know what we’d planned to find, but this is what we found.

He decided to hold a press conference. He felt he finally knew what to say.

The press conference was held in Rosa Parks Circle—an outdoor ice-skating rink in the winter—outside the Grand Rapids Art Museum. We spent all day shooting stock footage, and setting up our shots. We printed release forms and interviewed patient fans. Their issues of Land of Steare were pristine in plastic sleeves. Some bragged about their rare variant covers.

At the press conference, he took the stage. He endured the cameras’ flashes. He said, “There has always been a logical place to end these field guides. When,” he said, “the subject says no. When,” he said, “the subject dies off. And,” he said, “when you’re afraid to give away all of a thing’s beauty.” The crowd thundered like a snowstorm in Steare.

He took no questions.


Jacob Guajardo is from St. Louis, MI, not MO. He currently studies fiction in the MFA program at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Passages North, Hobart, Midwestern Gothic, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. He is an aspiring harpist and definitely a Miranda.