gabby's playhouse

a gabby schulz & ken dahl internet repository

you can now get Sick


Thanks for your patience; Sick (the book) is finally done*:

Sick - Cover

It’s available to retail outlets for preorder from Consortium here — please let your local bookstore know if you’d like to read it.

I haven’t seen a copy IRL myself yet, but i have seen a grainy phone picture that… pretty much proves it exists?

I’m sure you will soon agree that this is not an easy book to sell — ostensibly (& please don’t tell the press otherwise) it’s a comic about the failings of American healthcare; in reality it’s a rambling jeremiad against the white race and western civilization as a whole. I am convinced it will be universally ignored/reviled/clearance-binned, for the simple reason that it doesn’t end on a high note, which breaks the basic rule of all narrative (and capital). So, apologies in advance for that! But still, i hope you’ll sift through the embittered logical cul-de-sacs and belabored watercoloring to find a shred of connection with what i’m trying to say about life. If not, i can only pray that my fellow citizens of empire will not indict or subtweet too harshly.

Some backstory: Sick began in 2011 as chunks of impromptu comic posts on this very website, when i started chronicling a mystery illness** i’d just suffered while living in Flatbush. I didn’t have a plan or an endpoint for the comic; like most things i draw, it was just compulsive depiction of a painful experience that left me a bit shaken and questioning a few of my life’s fundamental assumptions. Since i usually don’t have anyone to talk to about this and can’t afford therapy, things like Monsters and Sick happen, almost as a byproduct of me just trying to make sense of life.

But a few people let me know they really liked the Sick webcomic — enough people to almost shut down my website with bandwidth overload (Laughing Squid actually had to change their TOS because of it). Seeing that the story might, despite all expectations, have an audience, Secret Acres asked me to make a book out of it. And i thought, Well, that sounds easy enough; it was already mostly drawn. I just needed to tack on an ending… and make a couple adjustments to fit into its new paper format… and uh, maybe completely re-draw it… and watercolor it throughout…

After a couple years down this slippery slope, i not only developed a chronic, crippling shoulder injury, but also a suspicion that Sick was too self-indulgent and pessimistic to exist. Isn’t the world filled with people who have more to complain about than me? Given the privilege of a book deal, shouldn’t i be drawing something uplifting, consoling, blatantly escapist? Why pour another spoonful of tears onto the landfill of hopeless despair and pain that is modern life?

Unfortunately, by this time i’d already spent the book advance on rent. So, with a prolonged & extreme effort, millions of milligrams of ibuprofen, and the inhuman patience of Secret Acres, i finally managed to stitch a Book together out of the mess of Sick that had been festering in my lap for four years.

It’s immensely satisfying to be done with the book and have something to show for how i’d spent these last few difficult years of my life; but to be honest a large part of me wishes i’d just quietly burned the pages in an alley and paid the advance back. No amount of pats on the head from passion-project comics blogs or condescending nods from left-press listicles will counteract the damage this book is about to inflict on my personal brand. It is going to do to my social life what Monsters did to my sex life. Sick is just unremittingly bitter, brutally antisocial, and, worst of all, refuses to even give you the common courtesy of a happy ending. It’s polemic against existence, for fuck’s sake.

But what can i say now? I drew it, Secret Acres paid a sweatshop in Asia to print it, a frieghtliner burned hundreds of gallons of fossil fuels to move it to a storage locker in Brooklyn. The trees have been killed, the press has been alerted and the die is cast. I suppose i’m prepared to live with the consequences; i can accept that this is proof i’m a sad, damaged, irrelevant old man with few real talents, doomed to draw humiliating little cartoons about himself for as long as his failing body allows, at the expense of his own happiness and the world’s admiration; the facts show that whatever benefit i derive from this masochism must be more fulfilling than the wealth, health, love, respect, or good credit rating i would get from not drawing, and doing something useful with my life instead.

I guess i’ve always assumed it was important for an artist to reveal as much as possible about themselves in their art. I’ve stuck to that code to an almost pathological degree with Sick, mostly out of spite for the Western world’s rampant wall-to-wall hypocrisy & complacence, which has been a constant source of horror for me as a participant — and, i suspect, others, although most people are smart enough to keep such agonies to themselves, at a place and time in history where it’s career suicide for any sane person to speak their mind.

And i know my tactic of self-dissection-as-social-critique may be flawed. It has not won me much friends or fame so far. Now that enforced optimism is law, and google-stalking is standard practice among prospective employers and landlords, i suspect i’m really fucking myself over bigtime publishing comics this dark and antagonistic. There must be some small backlash growing to our present rah-team, third-metric, adult-coloring-book climate of cultural infantilization; still, Sick will be a real test of whether my vicious little navel-gazings are good for anything more than public humiliation, social exile, chronic pain, major depression and a $1k book advance every 5-10 years. But why complain? Most people get much less.

Anyway, i’ll leave you to be the judge of all this if/when you read the book. It’s supposed to “debut” either at this year’s MoCCA event in New York, or at the Toronto Comics & Arts Festival (TCAF). UPDATE: it is definitely debuting at TCAF, May 14th & 15th! (Which means i probably won’t be at MoCCA in person; Secret Acres will still have the books at their table though.)

“Debut” lends this mess a sorely needed dash of glamour, but in reality it just means i’ll be standing next to the physical books for the first time in public — an easy target, stomach in knots, straining to live down the intense shame of revealing to you this grating depiction of my interior.

*In the fine tradition of Chris Gaines, Bruno Radolini, Sascha Fierce, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, and dozens of other artists going against every grain of common sense in regards to profit, Sick‘s author credit is Gabby Schulz (me) — not Ken Dahl (also me), as with Monsters. Confusing? Yes! Annoying? Yes! Unnecessary? Yes! I just got tired of using my silly pen name from when i drew political cartoons in the mid-’90s in Honolulu. People grow. People change. People become irrelevant, and inconsistent, and too self-referential. People overthink their personal brand. People fuck up their Art Career and get a minimum-wage retail job just to survive.

**Not having health insurance, i’ve never even been sure what the book’s eponymous illness was caused by. My health has been steadily and generally deteriorating for years, physically and mentally; doctors and the internet have supplied few answers. At this point i’m ready to chalk it up to generalized EWS (End-of-the-World Syndrome, a collection of extreme mental stresses and potent environmental toxins that heavily erode the health of the most privileged citizens of the “developed” nations).

32 Comments on “you can now get Sick”

  1. Thank you so much for finishing this book. I can’t wait to read it. The first online parts you posted did a lot to break through the illusions I was holding onto, and I thrashed around resisting what you had to say for a while before understanding the truth of it.

    • oh man, as another illustrator all the caveats and apologies above apply especially to you. I don’t pretend to know more than anyone else but i hope the whole book resonates the same way because it gets WAY more dismal toward the end and i am concerned it is going to alienate 100% of people who open it

      • For whatever it’s worth, I think it’s important to write the literature of the collapse of a civilization. You know those letters and diaries they find of failed expeditions or shipwrecks? Those are really fucking bleak, too. Or, Jesus, I mean, think about the literature of slavery, of the Amerindian genocide, of the holocaust or the gulag or whatever you want to name. People do read those today and think about what it signifies. The bleakness of the work itself isn’t what horrifies people. There’s almost a voyeuristic perverse glee that draws people to that stuff. The horror comes from the Twilight-Zone realization that the planet was Earth all along. It’s not some long-finished nightmare that was endured by the noble people of the past (poor things), it’s live coverage of the shit happening outside the fucking window.

        The insanity of our culture right now is that the worse things get, the louder we have to turn up WHPY Radio: ALL HAPPY ALL THE TIME! Are you REALIZING your DREAMS?! Are you A CREATIVE with a STARTUP?! And then it feels like total insanity to just point at reality and say, “Look at this fucking shit.” It’s totally crazy-making.

        If you’re expressing the fucking truth, then you are doing your job as an artist. Full stop.

        • haha “WHPY Radio”

          i’m behind all these statements hardcore and i wonder if maybe i am the only person on earth who is and i wonder how i’m going to get paid over the next few decades that i might still be alive

  2. Well the Penguin Classics reprint of Thomas Ligotti’s first two books did better than everyone expected, so maybe American dismality is having its moment?
    Regardless, I’m so very very excited to read this come summer. Congratulations!

    • At some point the Playhouse was getting a surge of traffic because someone posted the Sick webcomic on a Ligotti message board (which was flattering; i’m a fan of his Conspiracy Against the Human Race [although i skipped the section where he just reviews Lovecraft books]). Clearly my unrepentant bellyaching has positioned me for my moment in the (black hole) sun, if we can get the third-metric white rich on board with the malignant uselessness of existence (although that’s also what most of western civ has been constructed to distract us from so we’ll see).

      • The young, moneyed, and white seem to devour every aesthetic eventually, maybe they will with this one soon enough to fund you a relocation? Fingers crossed, sorta?

  3. Some of the greatest stories ever told are bleak as fuck and I love them all the more. Cause the reality is, that a huge amount of people in this world are living lives that are unnecessarily deprived and bleak (You know this already but yeah :p). I resent a lot of films these days because everything these days has to be shoehorned into this shit idea that’s all worth it after all, that there is light at the end of the tunnel, it gets better. For a lot of people, no, they struggle and struggle until they die. There are creeps out there that don’t want those stories told, and it always feels like horrors are building up on horrors when they succeed in stamping those voices out. Like for instance Erin Brockovich made a tonne of money for her and her law firm when the actual victims in that class action got a pittance. The story the public knows is that the justice system finally worked for the people and lawyer that just cared too much finally got her chance!!!

    I could list off all the masterpieces I’ve enjoyed that had such sad endings. Endings where things are futile and unchanging, people that are cast about like boats against the current, bourn back ceaselessly into the past…:P The Great Gatsby would never of been great if Gatsby had lived neither would of Nights of Cabiria if Cabiria had been given the life she yearned for neither would Midnight Cowboy if rizzo had lived to see palm tree’s slip by his window. End of the day bleak stuff provokes thought and critical thinking in me.

    I’ve rambled and I’ve probably repeated myself from previous comments left on this site. Long story short, I know bleak isn’t what some people want, but I do and I think the world needs it too. Hope it doesn’t have the the adverse effects on your life that you’re predicting though :c Looking forward to having a signed copy in my hands ^_^

    • Yeah there are def plenty of examples of radical or pessimistic art & philosophy throughout history — however i think in our lifetimes that trend peaked with the modernists. In fact i’m sure the theory could be made that postmodernism itself is an attempt to combat the reality of industrial capitalist civilization’s horror by plunging us into a purgatory of distracting illusion from which there are no plans to ever emerge. Because within the last 100 years the point has been made, definitively, that at the end of it there is no redeeming justification to civilization, and humanity has squarely proven itself to carry the seed of its own doom within its breast.

      So we’ve untangled any hope of narrative or definitive truth; we’ve realized every compass we’ve devised to find our way through the darkness has been worse than useless and has only led us further into confusion and danger; we’ve disproven god and human dominion, and shown beyond doubt that all our high ideas are just the shoddiest little language games we play while dancing a stupid, meaningless dance of violence and greed and ignorance. Civilization was a mistake and it’s too late to turn back to what we’ve destroyed to get it.

      So what’s left? If the pomo cogdissers have a point, it’s only this: knowing that salvation will never arrive, and the enlightenment project our whole psyches are based on is bullshit, maybe the only thing left to do is indulge ourselves in a candy daze by any means necessary and let the world crumble into ruins with the least pain possible (for the lucky few of us able to get the drugs, buy the biggest door locks, and ignore the smell of smoke).

      The days of rewarding artists for pointing out the faults in our society are firmly over, if only because on some level there’s nothing left to say — everyone on some level already knows shit’s fucked, & to say so now is redundant. Capital rules, and no one’s interested in paying for pain in a world where that’s already an unlimited resource. In fact, it’s interesting to note that that sort of literature, cinema & art flourished at precisely the same points when our culture(s) were most opulent and comfortable.

      Then again, maybe it’s all cyclical. Maybe the doom is bound to come around eventually. The market’s capable of putting a price tag on anything.

      BUT, in the meantime, i’m glad for the few people who are already interested in what i draw, and i will be happy to sign you a copy of my little cartoon book!

      • (((sorry for the late reply, been AWOL))) ahaha, oh jeez, well I agree with what your saying. Maybe should of looked at the grander picture when I used those examples or typed my comment >_> Lol, well, I’m happy your willing to sign the book for me though :D I can hold it while my city slides into the sea :3

        • no one should ever look at the grander picture! sorry for seeming like i was dismissing your compliments… i should have books to send soon!

      • SPX, yes! It would be good to see you there.
        Congratulations on the completion of Sick. That cover is terrific, although it does make me a bit apprehensive. What horrors lurk within?
        I often wonder if indeed “everyone on some level already knows shit’s fucked.” Is everyone that aware? If so they hide/deny it so well that I see no signs of their knowledge.

        • Thanks!

          I think for most people the realization is more of a vague lizard-brain sense that something’s very wrong out there beyond their netflix, and that everything depends on them never looking for it too closely.

  4. As the previous messages , congrats on finishing and publishing this book !

    I’m reading your blog since a few months and actually read the Sick webcomic only one or two weeks ago .
    I don’t usually judge my opinion to be relevant enough to be posted on any comment section but as i read the comic i felt so much similarities with what i experienced when i was an heroin addict , i mean the intimacy of the story made me time travel to 2 years ago when i started the weaning (i just google trad this , not sure it’s the right word..?) ; so i felt that i had to say something like “hey thanks for doing this , as someone who’s living among relatively sane and normal people (but it’s not a sign of good health to be adapted to a deeply sick society blah blah..) and even though during the rare moments i achieve the supreme goal of being happy, whatever that means, i feel like i sold my soul for this and it’s not real solid happiness but a construction based on a superficial and shallow base , it is nice to virtually encounter other western world with minor issues -comparing to war zone inhabitants , third world countries children or genocide victimes -non exhausting list – beings that lived or are living something similar to me” .

    Anyway thanks and i hope i’ll be able to get one example from France by a way or another !

    • thanks, that’s good to hear you sympathize. Someone has already expressed interest in printing Sick in French so hopefully it will be out sometime in the next couple years!

  5. Well, well! I found myself reading James Altucher’s blog today for some reason, and it suddenly occurred to me yet again that I never saw the end of Sick. And now here it is! And I even had plans to attend TCAF!

  6. I discovered “Sick” sophomore year of college and it changed the way I saw the world. After years of checking back on your website and reading all your daily comics, I thought maybe “Sick” would remain as part of the past, a blinding white, beautiful, ugly epiphany. I thought, because it worked so brilliantly on the Internet – with its endlessly scrollable pages – that it would be too difficult to alter for publication as a book.


    I’m so surprised and so excited and thank you so so much.

    • i’m glad you’re excited! the bad news is i’m convinced it looked better online, and that making a book out of it was a huge mistake! but it’s too late now! i should have some for sale on my website sometime within the month…

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