“Excessive Sorrow Laughs: An American Prophecy” is an example of graphic prose, and was inspired by William Blake’s America: A Prophecy– an illuminated manuscript with apocalyptic overtones which resists hero-worship and the concept of an intervening God. Blake’s America: A Prophecy, completed in 1793, was the first in his collection of illuminated prophecies. Europe: A Prophecy was completed in 1794, and The Song of Los, divided into Africa and Asia, followed in 1795. The collected pieces are referred to as the Continental Prophecies or the Lambeth Books, after Blake’s printing studio, and were each executed in a style which Blake referred to as illuminated printing. Unlike his previous work, where individual prints were colored by hand, America: A Prophecy was engraved on 18 plates, and painted before printing in Blake’s home studio.
“Excessive Sorrow Laughs: An American Prophecy,” completed in 2015, is a 14-page graphic narrative project which attempts to resurrect, from the archives, the idea of a “vision” made visible on the page. The new version takes its title from a proverb by Blake—“excessive sorrow laughs, excessive joy weeps,”—and is the creator’s interpretation of a modern apocalypse, exploring the theme of humor in the face of sorrow. As Blake has done in America: A Prophecy, I examine man’s role in creating/denying his own demise in the absence of an intervening God. This modern interpretation integrates verse, as Blake did, into the illustrations, replicating the concept of an illuminated manuscript, or graphic narrative. The original pages, like Blake’s, were hand written, penciled, watercolored, and inked before printing. While America: A Prophecy focuses on Blake’s concern about revolution as an act of man (and the American Revolution in particular), “Excessive Sorrow Laughs” reimagines the Apocalypse in an age of Starbucks and Monday Night Football. The vision is one of lost religion, misplaced faith, denial of death, hubris, and collective social behavior.