[VIDEO BLOG] Unapologetically Me

Content Warning: Body/Gender Dysphoria, Child Abuse, Adult Abuse, Grooming, Bullying, Harassment, Disability/Mental Health Issues

FYI: It took me four days and 12+ hours of redos to record this.

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Hello, everybody!

Today is Sunday, April 18th.

I’m Jin Wicked, and this is “Obsessively Ambitious,” the video portion of my personal blog. I hope this finds you well.

It has been about half a year since I talked to you. A long time. Depression really sunk its claws back into me last fall, and I just did not have the spoons to dress up and put myself on camera for these last few months.

And I still don’t, honestly, but I want to talk to you today anyway. I feel like it is very important that the things I have had to say recently come from my mouth, instead of words on a screen. Then they can accuse me of libel and slander.

Please excuse me for writing this in advance to make things a bit easier on me.

Since late in 2019, I had been having chronic pain and other problems that eventually lead to a hysterectomy at the beginning of this year. That went well, and after I recovered, I had – as you can probably see – a double-mastectomy. I still can’t lift much, but after a minor setback, I’m starting to move and do things more normally again. I’m looking forward to getting back into the gym.

My mother died of breast cancer at age 59. I was her daytime caregiver for the last few months of her life, and it was an experience that left me scarred in some ways that will never fully heal. My family breast cancer risk is quite high, and the level of monitoring recommended was not doable for me. I got the whole lump-ultrasound-biopsy scare on my one and only mammogram. Once was enough.

And while I have always “performed” being a woman because I thought it was what I was supposed to do, inside I have always seen myself as more of an “it” than a “she,” or even a “he.” I hated having breasts, I hated what they reminded me of every time I looked in the mirror, and it feels pretty incredible to have the internal and external images of myself actually be in sync with each other.

At 41 years old, I finally feel like I belong in my own body.

In early 2019, I figured out that I have ADHD, and I started medication for that. It has been very helpful for me. But the more I continued to make progress in some areas, the more other problem areas began to stand out.

And it was near the end of 2020 when I finally connected the dots and figured out that I am on the autism spectrum, making an entire lifetime of confusion and struggle suddenly make a whole lot more fucking sense.

I have been “camouflaging” and trying to be something I am not all my life.

It is exhausting. I am exhausted.

Because I have spent so much of life consciously training myself to be accepted by, and meet the social expectations of neurotypical people, my autism diagnosis set off a lengthy process of figuring out which parts of “me” are really me.

It has also lead me to a place of self-acceptance where I don’t feel like I “need” Jin Wicked anymore. My diagnosis gave me permission to finally just be myself. I can improve my communication skills, I can hide my tics and stims, I can learn to compensate for mind-blindness, but I will never be neurotypical. No one is going to hand me a “Congratulations, you’re normal!” trophy if I sell a certain number of books or reach a certain number of Facebook followers. I’m not broken. I just am. So in some ways, I feel like the dog that caught the car. I found the answers I have been searching for since I was a child, and I asked myself – now what? And the answer that finally came was to write. I need to put my memories in order, and write my autobiography. I have to write; drawing is too slow.

And when I started to write, I had this horrifying realization, as my own words stared back at me – from about the age of three onward, I have been bouncing around like a pinball from trauma to trauma. I have been doing the best I could to “be good” and be what other people wanted, while nearly all the adults who were supposed to care for me failed to help or even made things worse.

I started getting my ass kicked by my parents as soon as I could speak fluently, and that’s been the story of my life since. Abuse, bullying, judgment, and nothing I did ever really being good enough. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. The times and places I have felt truly safe and able to be myself have been few and far between. Those who have wholeheartedly accepted me are lifesavers.

Parents: you can’t beat or discipline developmental disorders out of a child.

When I first set out on this path of trying to make sense of my past and figure out who I am, in 2014, I reconnected with a lot of people I had not spoken to in years. One of them was a man named Cory Strode, fifteen years older than me, who had entrenched himself as an “unconditionally loving” caretaker, guide, and mentor-type figure in my life. For years he was my main source of advice.

Which sounds like a noble thing, but if you are genuinely trying to help a young person that you know is emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and physically vulnerable – you should absolutely not have, or desire, sex with that person.

That is a predatory relationship dynamic at its core. And no healthy adult man should want a partner he has to parent. Who finds that attractive?

The Lion, the Witch, and the Audacity of this bitch...

Cory Strode, does "loving each other" include devaluing and smearing a woman who worked, unpaid, on a comic with you for two years, to mutual friends?

Cory Strode, does “loving each other” include devaluing and smearing a woman who worked, unpaid, on a comic with you for two years, to mutual friends?

As I neared my 30s, closer to the age Cory was when I initially met him, I started to feel exploited by this man. I got angry, and we did not speak for years.

In 2014, in the midst of a breakdown, I thought to myself: maybe I was wrong. This person was good to me. He always told me how much he cared and wanted to help me. So I returned to this toxic relationship, and I ignored my body when my anxiety skyrocketed and being near him made me uncomfortable. I allowed him to tell me who I was, and what was wrong with me, because he presented himself as acting in my best interests. Cory treated me like an investment, and like a merit badge, not a person. He wanted to be the one to “take me under his wing,” and congratulate himself for my growth and successes. He called himself my best friend, while pushing beyond acceptable “friendship” boundaries and often making inappropriate comments about being attracted to me.

And when he finally crossed a line and left me feeling horribly violated and unsafe in my own home, I got the good ol’ devalue and discard. I never knew her! She’s crazy! She’s a narcissist! I didn’t want those fucking sour-ass grapes, anyway!

The Lion, the Witch, and the Audacity of this bitch...

Cory Strode, does "loving each other" include victim-blaming and lying about your relationship history with a woman who you had sex with, when she was a vulnerable teenager, in 1999? And

Cory Strode, does “loving each other” include victim-blaming and lying about your relationship history with a woman who you had sex with, when she was a vulnerable teenager, in 1999? And “helped” by moving her into your home?

Cory and his friends, including “Krayz” Joe Rider and the world-famous Archie colourist Stephanie Cofell, have bullied, mocked, threatened, and lied about me ever since. Except that I’m the one that has openly acknowledged my faults, and who has been actively working to improve myself for over six years. Weird.

It has taken me twenty years, and returning to that relationship, to finally acknowledge and accept how I have been unknowingly groomed, manipulated, and traumatized by Cory Strode’s actions and influence on all my adult life.

In the process of getting divorced, I met and was in a relationship for approximately nine months with a comics industry colleague named Douglas Paszkiewicz. I was physically attracted to him in a way I had only experienced once before in my life. My enthusiasm was probably too much, but I’m autistic. When I am excited about something, I only go “to 11.” I badly wanted someone that I creatively meshed with, someone I could be a huge nerd about inking with, someone I could table at conventions and share expenses with, and someone I could quietly “be alone together” with while we worked. Someone who liked to dig around in thrift shops, and who lived the same lifestyle. Someone that would be an equal partner instead of treating me like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. We had complementary strengths and weaknesses; he comes from an old school 90s way of doing things, and I am a creature of the Internet. He even lifts, bro! His work instantly impressed me with its cleverness and unique visuals. Our humour and our art styles blended well. It was perfect. Logical. Everything was there.

Except Douglas wanted the “man brings home the bacon, wife waiting at home in pearls, with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence” deal. Not the life he was living.

And for nine months, Douglas controlled me with countless “rules,” forbid me from talking about him or our relationship, undermined my confidence at every opportunity, and utterly destroyed me with his anger and hot-and-cold behaviour toward me. Some days he would tease me with what he knew I wanted. Some days I could barely get a response from him. Things that were all right one day would make him furious the next. Nothing remained the same long enough for me to adapt. Ironically, I probably would have fared better if I had simply “been myself” and mostly ignored him to do my own work, like would have happened eventually anyway. I was devastated, and driven mad by my inability to make sense of him and the circumstances that lead to our breakup.

I continued to write to him, a lot, long after he told me to stop. That was unacceptable and wrong of me. It was also a uniquely bad reaction to how I was treated. My brain kept rehashing arguments and all of the contradictory things he said. I could not make his actions make sense. I could not make his words make sense. I could not understand: why? WHY?! I had never been so confused.

Why pursue a relationship with someone you learned is an autobiographer the night you met, only to spit fire when they try to include you in their work?

Why pursue a relationship with someone you learned within the first week can’t have children, when you want children, just to watch them torment themself?

Given those two things, why make declarations of love you know you don’t actually mean, and make promises you have no intention of keeping?

He was so, so angry. And there were times when I could sense the pain inside him, where that anger sprang from. I recognized the struggle of constantly being at war with yourself; I know it very, very well. I wanted to give him comfort, and maybe a little peace, if I could. Sometimes the way he held me made me feel like I was a life preserver thrown to a drowning man. And I know now I am making this about me, and my feelings, but when I couldn’t absorb any more of his anger and finally left him “like he said I would,” I felt like a monster. In a life of doing hard things, it is one of the hardest I things I have ever done.

Only a few months later, my father committed suicide, Cory “cleaned up” my apartment, and I got sucked into Steve’s drama. I found out from my ex-husband that Douglas contacted one of my friends back in Houston, and frightened her by telling her that I want to have sex with her fiancé. I started tracking IP addresses I suspected were related to him on my sites. I sent him a couple of Christmas cards wishing him well. I bought artwork when I learned he needed money.

In October of 2018, after accepting several hundred dollars from me over the summer through his online store and Patreon, Douglas published a blog with my emails and text messages portraying me as a stalker. You are welcome to look it up for yourself if you like, and make your own judgment. I don’t care. He had to censor the messages he posted to make himself appear more sympathetic, and avoid disclosing any of the things he did to keep me so distraught for so long. Most of Douglas‘s choices do not make sense to me in the context of a person who saw me as an actual threat. But I believe Douglas was afraid of me. I don’t understand it, but I regret it. I’m sorry I hurt someone who hurts so much.

I have not contacted him or looked at his website since October of 2018.

Soon after Douglas‘s blog was posted, a Facebook page and WordPress site appeared, using stolen images from my real social media, trying to terrorize me and ruin my reputation. Douglas had to have been involved on some level. I know he knew about it, because Steve called him on the phone and asked him directly. I have proof that Cory’s friend Stephanie participated, and Cory was sharing it.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Audacity of this bitch...

Cory Strode, does "loving each other" include deliberately spreading half-truths and lies in secret about a woman struggling to recover from trauma?

Cory Strode, does “loving each other” include deliberately spreading half-truths and lies in secret about a woman struggling to recover from trauma?

These people have consistently devalued and underestimated me, down to the arrogant assumption that I would not be able to identify them.

I was afraid for my physical safety. As soon as I could, I left my job at the time, which I have never financially recovered from. I had my locks changed. I filed police reports. I publicly ignored the pages, and I silently collected evidence.

These pages posted things meant to scare me, like ambiguously stating they had more stories to “expose” about me, or claiming to be in contact with my friends back in Houston, or that they were contacting conventions around the country about me. They contacted one of my clients with a neglected commission.

They mocked me for grieving my relationship with Douglas, as if I should feel shame for caring about someone. I am not ashamed of loving someone. Even if he didn’t want to be with me, I wanted Douglas to be fed and have a roof over his head. I wanted him to be okay. I wanted him to know that someone appreciated everything he puts into his work. Did I go about that in the correct way? No, I did not. Did he treat me well? No, he did not. I can regret my actions, but I will not view love as something to be ashamed of. Don’t put your hangups on me.

These pages made the mistake of posting things that I couldn’t be gaslit about, like accusing me of stalking my ex-husband. Let me call him up! “Hey, Matt, am I stalking you?” “No, why do you ask?” Not all divorces end in hatred, sorry.

Once I felt confident I was not in any physical danger, it all became funny and extremely pathetic. These people were cowards, hiding behind a bungled attempt to remain anonymous, projecting everything they hated about themselves onto me. They were advertising their own fears and insecurities on a 50ft billboard. None of it was about me at all. That was a watershed realization for me.

And then I felt an overwhelming sense of pity for them. How meaningless and miserable does your life have to be that you feel the need to run a stupid-looking “hate” page and hide your names like a bunch of chickenshit middle-schoolers? Even at my lowest, I have never felt the urge to do something that dumb. Calling me stupid, while leaving personal info in the images uploaded. Eventually, I quit looking at all. They kept the smear campaign up for about a year and a half.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Audacity of this bitch...

Cory Strode, does "loving each other" include attempting to defame, discredit, and humiliate a woman you harmed so that you can avoid accountability?

Cory Strode, does “loving each other” include attempting to defame, discredit, and humiliate a woman you harmed so that you can avoid accountability?

In early 2020, I was finally ready to speak out, and I posted a blog about my relationship with Douglas. I named names, and posted screenshots of the abuse and harassment directed toward me. In late 2020, yet another effort was made to control and gaslight me. Cory’s friend Stephanie had a lawyer send me a demand letter threatening to sue. They accused me of fabricating the messages she sent me, along with the other evidence I gathered. They accused me of lying about things I know happened. Threaten all you want, but I’m done being bullied.

I feel bad for the lawyer. He seems like a genuinely good person.

Cory, Joe, and Stephanie have a lot invested in writing me off as crazy.

I am an honest person. I have never disputed the validity of the messages from me that Douglas posted. I personally find him to be a bit paranoid, and I disagree with his conclusions. He seemed to often find malice where none actually existed. Not just with me, but others. Regardless, I learned to live with what I had done, and I never dreamed of purposefully harming him by denying reality.

I am on the autism spectrum. I am often too blunt or too honest, and make observations that people do not want to hear. I frequently stick my foot in my mouth, and say well-intentioned things in the worst way possible. But I’m aware I do this, I don’t get defensive about it, I’m always willing to explain myself, and I don’t say things to intentionally hurt people. I become fixated on ideas and topics I am excited about. That does not make me dangerous. I habitually “camouflage” to navigate a world of neurotypical people. That does not make me fake.

I have ADHD. I struggle with executive functions, like keeping my apartment clean, being on time for appointments, and prioritizing work. That does not make me dishonest or lazy. I am easily distracted, and have poor “working memory.” That does not mean I am uninterested. I often get lost in my own thoughts. That does not mean I do not care about yours. I need you to say what you mean, and explain yourself when I have trouble understanding. Sometimes I need to be told things more than once. Sometimes I echo things back to confirm I have heard you correctly. None of these mean I am not listening. I am trying, I promise.

I have OCD. I get stuck in Hellish cycles of destroying and remaking my own work over minuscule “flaws.” I get paralyzed in anticipation of these cycles. I hate touching prepared food with my hands, and I eat things like pizza – sometimes even sandwiches – with a knife and fork. I own ten pairs of identical pants, and I wear nearly the same outfit day-to-day. I bite my lips, chew on cables, and pick apart the stuffing in pillows. Everything I own has a particular (though not usually obvious to others) order. I hoard food when I can, after living through hurricanes on the Gulf coast and periods of going hungry. I keep emergency medical supplies and small tools with me. I repetitively check doors and locks because of traumas other people have inflicted on me. This often means checking and re-checking doors a dozen or more times, until I am behind schedule or late. These behaviours are odd, yes, but they mostly harm only myself.

I have Depression – mostly due to the anxiety, fatigue, and isolation caused by my other conditions. I have been fighting to maintain the will to live since I was a teenager. Most often, this has manifested as losing my appetite, forcing myself to eat, sleeping too much, and being unable to enjoy things. I’m not bitter, envious, or resentful about those that are better off than me. Happiness is not a zero sum game. But I have lost about 8lbs since November, not including 2lbs of breasts. Over the course of this pandemic, it feels like any naive hope I had that humanity would ultimately work together for its own benefit has been completely shattered. I have no idea how we will overcome existential threats like climate change, when we cannot even stop shooting each other for a single day. I have never sincerely wanted to harm another person, no matter how badly they hurt me. I don’t take any joy from the suffering of others. Depression does not make me psychotic.

I have PTSD. I had to push through feelings of being physically ill to write about my relationship with Cory. I had to fight the urge to throw up in order to scan and post his photos. I wrote what I wrote because the pain of holding everything back finally became greater than the pain of writing about, and possible consequences of telling, my story. This man was a fully-formed adult, with higher education in psychology, an ex-wife, and a child closer to my age than he was when he met me — a needy teenager with a background of abuse, undiagnosed developmental disorders, no adults I felt I could trust, and no life experience outside my parents’ home. He knew exactly how vulnerable I was. Despite claiming to care about me, he consistently prioritized gratifying his own ego, and thinking with his dick, over my actual well-being. I wasn’t “too crazy” for Cory when I looked up to him as a source of advice and guidance for almost all my adult life. I wasn’t “too crazy” for Cory until I gained enough genuine independence and maturity to say, “What you did to me? Not okay.” I’ve been with plenty of men I wasn’t actually into, and had plenty of sex I didn’t actually want, in my life but nobody — nobody — has made me feel fetishized, objectified, and dehumanized like Cory Strode.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Audacity of this bitch...

Cory Strode, does "loving each other" include making up fake stories where you are the innocent hero, gaslighting and further traumatizing your victim?

Cory Strode, does “loving each other” include making up fake stories where you are the innocent hero, gaslighting and further traumatizing your victim?

None of my disabilities excuse the abuse and hatred directed toward me. I have lived a full and emotionally-rich life in spite of them. Most of my suffering has come not from my disabilities, but by how I have been treated by others.

I did not ask for, or make a choice, to be autistic. I have known something was “off” about me since I was a child, and I have spent my whole life trying to fix it or fit in. I am used to eating crow. I have developed a taste for crow; it’s easier for me to swallow than empty, candy-coated lies. Lies don’t nourish growth. Lies don’t nourish improvement. Lies don’t accomplish anything but comfort, and I don’t particularly enjoy being comfortable. I don’t owe people that harmed me my silence. I don’t owe anyone’s tissue-paper ego, fake public image, or desire to “just move on,” anything. I’m not perfect, but at least I’m genuine. I stand by my statements. I have been open about my personal struggles since I began drawing autobiographical comics in 2003. I have been doing my best to be a good person in a world I, more often than not, do not understand – a world that sometimes feels suffocating in its cruelty, hatred, and callousness.

It is exhausting. I am exhausted.

At the moment I am taking some time for myself to digest everything that has happened, posting mostly on Patreon while I recover, and continuing to work on both my autobiography and first art book. When I am eventually ready to put my hat back on, it will be because it is who I am, not who I am hiding.

Thank you.


The Worm Turns

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the colleagues, friends, readers, and everyone who has been so supportive regarding my previous post. After a few more days of thought, I decided to go ahead and name the individual I was writing about. With that being said, here are the images I omitted from the previous post — that I would otherwise have included. Enjoy.

Me by Douglas Paszkiewicz

Jin and Baron Von Donut

Baron Von Donut Cross-Stitch

Birthday Cthulhu

Colouring contest entry:

Arsenic Lullaby Krampus

Colouring contest entry:

Arsenic Lullaby Krampus

Arsenic Lullaby VooDoo Joe

See you again soon, San Diego Comic-Con!


Long Time Comin’ #MeToo

Content Warning: Psychological Abuse, Harassment, Stalking

The greatest journeys in life are made of small steps, and leaps of faith.

While in the process of getting divorced, in mid-2015, I met a man:
Douglas Paszkiewicz aka Douglas Pasz, the creator of Arsenic Lullaby.

It was a comic convention after-party for volunteers/creators, in May. He was funny. Sarcastic. Guests overheard him walk into the room and ask who the single ladies were. He sat at my table. He was small, scruffy, and wearing an old olive drab jacket. I love jackets. I was drunk. Very drunk. He caught my eyes as soon as he sat down. I popped up from my chair. “That is the greatest jacket I have ever seen!” I blurted out. Our eyes met. He looked up at me over the frame of his glasses, as a wide, toothy smile crept across his face. His eyes never left mine, as he slipped around the table and into a chair next to me. Suddenly, there was no one else in the room except us. I leaned against his shoulder, and wrapped my hands around his arm. “Hello, Doctor Venture,” I slurred, stroking his chin whiskers, and popping Chex Mix into his mouth from the snack bowls. His lip curled. “Why does it have to be that character …?!” he replied. “What’s your favourite musician?” I asked. “I like Lady Gaga!” “Someone has to,” he said. I furrowed my brows. “What’s your favourite Pink Floyd song?” He thought for a moment, then quietly sang a few bars of Wish You Were Here.

Drunk sketching together at the party.

Satisfied with that, I later inquired, “Do you smoke?” as I pulled two cigarillos from my satchel. “Sure,” he responded, standing up with me, transfixed. We went outside into the brisk Minnesota evening, leaning against opposite brick walls and puffing away. “I don’t know exactly what I’m doing here, honestly,” I drunkenly rambled. “Uh-huh,” he responded, staring at me with his cigarillo hanging off his lip. “I just had an early mid-life crisis, and decided to start all over,” I continued on. “Uh-huh,” he responded, still staring. Our conversation continued in this manner until the cigarillos burned out, and we shuffled back inside. We passed the rest of the evening drawing together with Sharpies on the paper tablecloth. He looked at me at one point, and laughed. “I should marry you right now,” he said. “You’re ticking off all my boxes.” Hook, line, sinker.

He asked to stay the night in my hotel room. Flattered, I declined.

"Notebook" 21 May 2015

We texted throughout the night and morning, and so I arrived somewhat late to the convention the next day. I was drawing a picture of Doctor Venture with the words “Wish You Were Here,” when he appeared at my table and began thumbing through my photocopied mini-comics. I blushed ferociously and hid behind my hat. We chatted a bit, then he returned to his table, which I later visited in turn. Near the end of the convention, someone from a neighbouring table took a picture of us together, which Douglas told me that night, “Looked like a couple that had already gelled together as a team.” I dreamed of being half of a creative duo, and was over the moon from his attention and enthusiasm.

Douglas Paszkiewicz and Jin Wicked

Douglas wanted to see me in person again before I returned to Texas, and drove three hours to meet me for lunch at a tiny family restaurant in La Crosse, WI. We sat and chatted for an hour in his car afterward. He nervously kissed me. Our chemistry was electric. He told me a little bit about his ex-wife. He confessed that he liked Taylor Swift. His hands had a subtle tremour when we touched, which he assured me was not because he was nervous. They just do that.

When we finally parted ways, as I was getting out of the car, I asked “Should I draw you?” “Uh-huh,” he replied. “Will you draw me?” I then asked, “I’d like that.” “Okay,” he replied this time. I had only driven a mile or two toward the route home when my mobile phone rang. I pulled over at a rest stop. He was flustered. I reassured him. “You seem like you have your head on straight,” he finally said. “But you know, you know there’s always something better out there.” I reassured him again, and we texted constantly throughout my trip home.

"Walk" 28 May 2015

Shortly after my return to Houston, he called one day to talk. “Well,” he said. “There’s three things I need to tell you — one, I’m pretty conservative, but I guess not socially. And two, I’m religious. And three, I want kids. And I’m not sure why I’m telling this to someone I’ve only known for a week.”

“Well,” I told him. “I’m pretty done with politics right now. And I am an atheist that enjoys Catholic Mass. But I can’t help you with the kids. I was sterilized a few years ago.” He laughed. “Well, my friend is an atheist, that’s okay. And it’s not your fault I’m 41 and I haven’t had kids yet. I’m so crazy about you already!” He joked, “Part of me wants to tell you to pack up your things and move here right away, and after you get here we’ll figure it out. But I’m trying to be an adult for once in my life.” He never asked me if I would want that.

“You know I’m broke,” he said another afternoon. “I can’t pay for everything like your ex-husband. Everything I own comes from the thrift shop.” “That’s all right,” I replied. “I have virtually everything I could ever want here, and it hasn’t made me happy. I want someone that can make me laugh.”

Another call. “Now, four women have told me that they loved me in the last ten years,” he explained. “Two of them cheated on me, and two moved here to be with me, and it was a disaster. But,” he continued, “on a scale of, like, white to black, their ‘issues’ were India ink. And yours are only grey. The ‘kids thing’ still bothers me, but we just need to find out if we’re compatible.”

“I keep dating women much younger than me,” he said. “But not, like, illegal or anything! Do you believe in Fate?! I’m not sure if I am supposed to repeat this pattern until I get it right, or what. I just don’t know.”

It was around this time that the random flickers of his anger and deliberately ignoring me began when, overwhelmed by my thoughts and frustrations with expressing myself, I occasionally wrote long private messages to him.

It was June of 2015. A phone call — I was sprawled upon the floor, aside the elliptical machine I had used to shed 50lbs over the previous several months. “I won’t be able to talk very much this month. I’m getting ready for San Diego Comic-Con,” he said. “I want to go to Comic-Con!!” I exclaimed. “Sweetheart, sweetheart,” he carefully answered. “You’re not going to Comic-Con. I’m going there to sell comic books, and we would just be off fucking in the bathroom.” Aghast, I faintly squeaked out, “…but I’m a professional.”

His words rolled around like burning-hot marbles inside my skull.

"Cookie" 31 May 2015

He gushed over my selfies and video messages. He would sporadically dwell on “getting to know” me better. He captivated me with narratives and tales about how Important and Influential he was. But the special treasures were the times, often late at night — he would send me photos of a picture he was working on, speak about the comics industry, or explain a technical aspect of the work he was doing. At last, someone speaking my language! My heart would soar.

One evening, during his all-consuming preparations for San Diego Comic-Con, we had a conversation where the “kids thing” was brought up again. Being extremely distressed, I wrote a heartfelt message about my perspective, and asked if he could spare a few minutes to discuss it. He became irate, and an argument ensued which ended with him declaring to me, “You know, I really want to like you — but you’re kind of an asshole!” And he believed that the reasons that I was leaving my ex-husband were bullshit because, “He didn’t even beat you, or cheat on you, or do any of the other stuff guys usually get up to. What did he do wrong, just gain a little weight?!” He shamed me.

"Angry" 19 June 2015

Eventually the subject of my divorce was off-limits, because he would become too angry on behalf of my to-be-ex-husband, and we would only fight.

The one time I told him, “You can’t talk to me like that!” I was quickly scolded into submission. I began mental gymnastics to turn his labelling of me as an asshole and crazy into running jokes, to help myself feel better. I started to talk more poorly about myself. I started to internalize his judgement.

“I’m easy to please,” Douglas said one night, in response to my fretting and need for reassurance. “Just do what I say, and don’t do what I say not to do.”

The Queen of Assholes

“Look at me, I’m the Queen of Assholes!”

In spite of all this, I was still smitten, and I had barely thrown my belongings into my apartment in Saint Paul before driving even further to see him again. The texts overflowed with his excitement and mine, as I got closer.

We met up in a nearby parking lot, where I drove in circles around his car, before we parked and fell into each other’s arms on his couch. “Bring something to work on, so you can stay longer,” he had told me. And what followed then after was a week of us quietly working together — painting, drawing, inking. Late nights listening to Coast to Coast AM. My heart would flutter when one of my jokes landed, and I’d see his shoulders shake with laughter. He’d come sit and watch me work for brief moments of time. He’d hold my ink work close to his nose, examining everything in fine detail. He understood the amount of effort.

He lived in borderline squalor — walls and cabinets lined in old rusted junk and broken tools, and who-knows-what. A huge part of his diet was donated meals left-over from a catering company where one of his friends worked. He poured some Tang powder into a refilled soda bottle, and stood shaking it up at his sink one night. He glanced back over his shoulders at me, and said, looking down at the bottle, “The things you do don’t seem so strange, until there is someone watching you do them.” I had never felt so happy in all my life.

"Portrait of an Illustrator at Work" 6 September 2015

We kissed goodbye in the rain, and terrified, I sent a text as I pulled away in my truck. “I think I love you,” it read. I was chastised for saying “I love you,” via text, especially for ruining the first time it was said between us.

“What the Hell — I love you too!” he said on the phone later, quickly followed by “DAMN IT, why did I say that?!” After a few more minutes, he said, “Well, we are pretty great together!” Thus began the hot-and-cold teasing.

The distance between him and myself was about six hours by driving. When I made the decision to leave Texas, I moved to Saint Paul, where I already had several friends at that time and had lived previously. I rented a two-bedroom apartment, so that I would have a bedroom, a dedicated office space, and if he ever chose to join me he could utilize the living room as his office. Two can live cheaper than one alone, per person, and my pragmatic mind recognized potential in pooling hotel and travel expenses while doubling sales at shows. That would, however, require accepting me as an equal partner.

I offered to help with his website. I offered to help market his work.

I would go on to visit him a few more times, which followed a clear cycle — he would be indifferent to me visiting, then would contact me more frequently, until he’d reach actual excitement by the time I arrived at his door. He would grow distant in the same predictable way, as time drew near for me to leave. Often he would mostly ignore me while I was there, once even leaving me to visit the zoo by myself, asking, “Why would I go there with you?!” His mother took a liking to me immediately, much to his frustration, and my delight. I had an inexpensive slow-cooker and food containers delivered to his apartment. I would stop at the Pick ‘N Save down the street and load up my truck cab with groceries, fill his fridge, and spend a day making pasta sauce, taco meat, pot roast, and other food to freeze for him for after I’d left. I cooked while he sat and worked to the sound of a crackling old radio and rattling A/C unit.

When I accidentally spilled a plastic box full of cotton swabs in his bathroom, he referred to them as “tiny trophies” because they were name-brand Q-tips that he had procured with a coupon. When we grocery-shopped together, he referred to good deals as “a pound of food for $X.” I had never heard anyone speak like that. How long had he been living that way? I wondered.

"Tiny Trophies" 2 April 2016

About a month after I moved to Saint Paul, a grudge between the comic book convention and him caused him to write a lengthy, public, and theoretically-damning exposé before the fall show. I sat on his couch looking at him, as he stood, deflated, in the centre of his apartment. “Don’t publish it,” I urged him. “IT NEEDS TO BE SAID!” he insisted. “Come to the show. Stay with me. Let it go,” I pushed. “I should be there!” he exclaimed, his eyes bulging out at me. “I’d make at least a thousand bucks! I could even have sex!” he gesticulated. “More than once, even!” I retorted, then his arms dropped to his sides.

He posted his vitriol, and has been trashing the show ever since. The reason he was originally angry was because the convention purchased a plane ticket for an artist’s wife, after telling him they wouldn’t. Probably to shut him up.

There had been Rules almost from the beginning, but the fight over the fall convention and the ensuing drama caused us to briefly break-up. He went on a vengeful tirade about women on his Facebook account, during which time I was blocked, until I persuaded myself back into his good graces and all the posts were deleted. This is when THE RULES really ratcheted down. “I don’t want to be in your cutesy comics!” he would growl, whenever I — you know, tried to do what I do. He found out I’m an autobiographer the night we met.

THE RULES were: Don’t talk about him identifiably. Don’t name him. I was not allowed to talk publicly about being in a relationship because it was too easy to figure out who he is. Don’t draw him, ever. Don’t text message him about any “important” topics. Text messages may not be longer than two sentences. He will not respond to messages that break the rules. NO GIFTS allowed, except food. Never move or touch his stuff. Don’t leave ANYTHING at his apartment. Heaven help me the day I put a drawn map to my apartment on his desk!

"Couch" 16 September 2015

Anytime our relationship became too stable, the “kids thing” would come up again. I begged him repeatedly to just allow us to enjoy the relationship, and see where things went. To enjoy each other’s company, and be happy in the moment. But that was not possible, and being yanked back-and-forth by his hot-and-cold routine eventually began to wither my spirit. He would explain his distance and cruelty as trying to “protect” both of us from being hurt. “Pain,” he lectured me, “is bad. And you should do anything you can to avoid it.”

His agony over not having a family, both in private between us, and in public through his writing, eventually started to drive me crazy with guilt. I was the one asking him to give up a family for me. Adoption was unacceptable. But then if we broke up, I would be abandoning him like the “others,” and doing exactly what he said I would at the beginning of our relationship. I was stuck.

"Scar Tissue" 28 April 2016

He claims to be an “open book” to his followers, but much of the biographical material he shares is partially or completely manufactured. He became furious with me when I believed a story he told on his podcast about a daughter in a recurring dream was true, and let him know I had found it touching.

Things ratcheted down even further. If I was upset about something he had done, it became me accusing him of hurting me. If I accidentally broke a RULE and he blew up, it was me deliberately causing drama. If I said anything sort of critical, it became “You’re only nice when you get what you want!” A sweet, “Don’t let me go!” from me at the end of the night’s call resulted in telling me that he felt like vomiting, he had felt so manipulated the entire following day. Any money laid out due to him, was me attempting to make him feel guilty. I was simultaneously treated like a child and condemned for not being an adult.

He behaved in ways to exacerbate my difficulties with anxiety — deliberately, even when I begged him to stop and told him it would reduce the behaviours he did not like, such as texting him too frequently. He set me up to fail.

Normal teasing turned into “jokes” about choking me, locking me out of his car in the snow, shoving me face-down onto the floor, and having sex publicly in front of children. He “jokingly” referred to me as an emasculating bitch.

“You just want us to be together!” he chided me. Well, yes, of course? “You’re pushing all my buttons!” Every conflict was about his boundaries. His needs. He complained about me telling him that I missed him. He complained about me telling him I loved him. Toward the end of our relationship, he switched to straightforward gas-lighting. Didn’t do it. Didn’t say it. Didn’t promise it.

By the holidays I was a wreck, and everyone was starting to worry.

Christmas season came, which he infamously makes a public show of shitting on every year. After creating some art for his birthday, since I was not allowed to give him a gift, I spent days completing my entries for his annual colouring contest to help promote his comic. I carefully studied his usual palettes, and chose colours and shading to compliment but not overwhelm his fine lines. My first entry, he posted almost immediately, which drew comments from others about the work “looking like a couple who had been dancing together for 20 years.” Chuffed, I was working on the second entry when he asked to call me a couple of weeks before Christmas. There was silence on his end of the line until he shouted, “I LOVE YOU!” and in the middle of my confused, “Whaaa-?” he followed up with “BOMBS AWAY!” and promptly hung up on me.

Pressed for an explanation afterward, he told me that he had been thinking, and decided that he was, indeed, in love with me. “Does that mean you will come visit me for Christmas??” I hesitated. “Yes, I can come for Christmas!!” he answered, and I was elated. The next two weeks leading up to Christmas were filled with giddy “good morning” and “good night” texts, promises about our relationship becoming “Facebook official” and no longer a secret, promises that he would name me the “winner” of his colouring contest to introduce me as his girlfriend, addressing me by Jennifer Paszkiewicz, and teasing jokes insinuating that he may give me a ring. For three days I cleaned, pre-cooked meals, decorated, and did everything I could think of (no gifts!) to provide him the greatest Christmas possible, and allow us to make the most of the time together.

He showed up at my stoop Christmas Eve, several hours late, and frozen due to the heater failing in his decrepit old car. I brought him inside, took his coat, and he kissed me, awkwardly mumbling “I love you,” without looking at me. We got briefly reacquainted, and afterward, I served up a dinner of home-made lasagna. He had requested I find a small Midnight Mass service, so we ended the night in church. He wanted to leave half-way through the service, and on the way back, complained that the service wasn’t “joyful” enough. I tried.

After getting back, he promptly fell asleep.

His favourite lemon cookies, home-made!

I woke him up around ten in the morning Christmas Day, with a hot breakfast on the table. He thanked me for the food, but complained that I didn’t let him sleep until two or three. He then got out the Christmas tree he had brought with him, and proceeded to spend most of Christmas Day looking to replace broken bulbs on the tree and hanging ornaments. He used my record-player to listen to a few albums he had brought. (I bought him a record player a few weeks before, which resulted in a lecture about boundaries and he forced me to return.) The rest of the evening we sat around watching Netflix.

My Christmas present.

My Christmas present.

The day after Christmas, he scheduled a lunch date with two friends that live here in Saint Paul, Steve and Al, whom I did not know at that time. I was not invited or included. He came back happy to show me the Christmas gifts they had given him. While he was at lunch, I discovered my gift from “Santa” under the tree; two copies of the prints he had made for Christmas, some original sketches, and the original art of the single drawing he made of me. I adored his work, and was genuinely thrilled to receive it all. He then asked to use my computer, and passed at least two hours composing an email coupon/sales newsletter for his mass emailing list, while I needled him gently for a scrap of attention.

"Nap" 29 May 2015

The following morning, he packed up his things and left in a hurry.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day seemed to drag on for an eternity, as I waited patiently for all that he had promised to me. In the early weeks of January, my “winning” second colouring contest entry was dropped, unceremoniously, in one large photo post with a number of other entrants. I found out I did not win the same time as everyone else, when he shared the results in a public blog post. Nothing he had promised me came to pass.

Naturally, I was devastated. I attempted multiple times to explain to him how much this had hurt me. He was angry. Extremely angry. In the nine months we were together, I never received a single sincere apology from him. In this instance, the most I got was, “I should not have set those expectations.”

“The other judges,” he said, “would not go along with choosing your work.”

I changed my Facebook status to “In A Relationship.” He raged.

I asked to visit him soon, to discuss it in person. Denied.

Our last real conversation. A phone call — I cried. I begged. I bargained. Why couldn’t anyone know we were in a relationship?! “You’ll be JEALOUS of other women posting on my page,” he answered me. I already saw other women posting on his page. That didn’t make any sense! “Why would I be jealous?” I asked. “Because you’re A WOMAN!!!” he shouted into the phone.

“Besides,” he continued, “do you want me getting into fights with men flirting on your posts?” “I wish you would!” I shot back. “Yeah, well, that’s no good!! And you don’t know how many men are giving you money only because they want to fuck you!” I sat in stunned silence. “I wish you understood,” he later added, “how heartbreaking it is for me to have never had any children, and to watch the door closing on that. I don’t know if I can live through another Christmas… wanting what everyone else has, without killing myself.”

“I wish you understood,” I replied, “how heartbreaking it is for me to see you unhappy, and I am unable to give you what you want.” I felt helpless.

“What’s important? Do you want to be a Dad? Or do you need to point at a baby and say, ‘I made that!’?” I asked him, genuinely. “NOBODY WHO WANTS KIDS WOULD SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT!” he roared back. “You say that you want to give me the world, but you can’t even do what I tell you to!”

No progress was being made and finally, out of absolute desperation, I cried, “This is like talking to a brick wall! I can’t do this anymore!” “What does that mean?!” he snarled back. “Are you saying that this is over?” “That’s not what I want!” I answered. “But I don’t know what other choices I have! You don’t talk to me, you don’t listen to me, we rarely see each other!” “Well maybe if you texted me more than just mush, I’d answer!” he snapped back, fuming. “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t…” I started to break down.

“Well, that’s not a decision you make on a whim,” he finally said, now calm.

“I’ll talk to you later,” he finished. And he hung up.

He came down with a fever the next day, and spent the following week quite sick. He posted regular updates joking about his death, while the cumulative damage of the previous nine months and the way things just abruptly ended sent me into an anxiety-fueled tailspin. I felt angry. I felt guilty. I felt relieved. I was overwhelmed by my confusion, and sent dozens, possibly hundreds, of text messages. Angry. Begging. Bargaining. Pleading. Trying to make sense of how he had treated me over Christmas and afterward. What did I do???

When he had recovered, he sent me a brief message to let me know he was better. “I am sorry,” I said. “There is nothing to apologize for,” he replied. “We are simply not compatible.” Just like that! No tears. No remorse. No sorrow. I offered break-up sex. He declined. No bad blood? Sure, agreed. But I was still angry, confused, and hurt. “And YOU need to learn how to treat people,” he scolded me. He asked me to search for his toiletry bag in my bathroom. He let me stay friends on his Facebook account, but informed me I was not allowed to comment on or like his posts. More rules. Do not name or write about him. Do not tag him in anything. Do not post photos of him. He untagged himself from our only two photos. Then came the inevitable “I told you so!” I was soon blocked.

I felt like a toy, broken and thrown in a trash bin. I felt less than worthless. I felt erased. I felt voiceless. I felt invalidated. I felt powerless. I had not only been cast aside callously by someone that I loved, but someone whose work I had deeply admired, and who I had looked up to as a colleague.

Troubled by the constant talk of suicide, I messaged his closest friend I knew. I asked the friend to look after him. “I will, thank you” he assured me.

"Marry Me" 4 May 2016

I began drawing a comic about our relationship in clear defiance of his RULES, but I was persuaded to stop by my friend James, and again I felt powerless.

I felt so alone and undesirable. I ached to prove him wrong! I started dating a coworker. When that decision turned out disastrous for me, I signed up for dating sites and began casually going out with anyone I found attractive and interesting. This was actually one of the better decisions I made at the time! In spite of a few short infatuations, I got to see a lot more of the Twin Cities, and virtually all of the men I spent time with were kind, understanding, and respectful. I began to rebuild my sense of self-worth, and I remained friendly acquaintances with several of them. But Douglas’s words still haunted me.

Between my anxiety, grief, and untreated ADHD, I was not able to control the impulse to try to contact him. He asked me to stop, but he had done so in the past, and had always eventually given in. I sent him hundreds of messages; some angry, most heartbroken. Some merely long letters full of my thoughts. Many were responding to arguments we had had that I was unable to move past. I begged for an honest conversation. A reconciliation of friendship. Something that would help me make sense of what had happened. I got only silence.

Because I wanted a conversation, I never made any attempts to circumvent the social media where I had been blocked. I did not especially care what he was doing — indeed, there were places he never bothered to block me at all. It was hard enough to see him return to grumbling about the quality of women he dates and his poor romantic luck on his website. I wanted so badly to talk and write about what I had been through, but I was afraid of him.

"Naked" 17 March 2016

I met Al, formally (he was there the night of that initial party), at an envelope stuffing for the comic book convention. From Al, I learned that he and Steve were at the lunch I was not invited to on the day after Christmas. When they asked Douglas why he was in Saint Paul, he only replied, “I’m visiting a friend.” I felt erased all over again, but was grateful that Al listened to me. Al had me frame a drawing he had commissioned from Douglas. I texted Douglas a photo of the complete project, stating I had taken great care with framing it.

Framed Arsenic Lullaby original art from 2016.

My mental condition had deteriorated so badly, due to our relationship, that I eventually sought out professional help. My therapist actually encouraged me to “keep the lines of communication open” and offered me nothing in the way of actionable strategies to control anxiety. I stopped going after a while.

My attempts to contact Douglas had mostly tapered off by mid-2016. I sent him a small package with a greeting card and a sealed bag of his favourite candy before the 2016 convention. It was returned unopened. I stayed as far from him as possible at the comic convention. He briefly made his “appearance” at the party where we had met a year before. He kept his back to me, grabbed his free drink, and then quickly darted away. His suit fit like a pillowcase, and he looked painfully thin. I sat and watched all this. Al gave me the gift he had intended for Douglas, a miniature bottle of Crystal Skull vodka. Steve asked Al to introduce us.

“That’s Doug’s ex!!!” Al told Steve. “Doesn’t that violate the bro-code?” “She’s crazy,” Steve replied. “If anything, Douglas will be happy for me to take her off his hands.” He finished, drunk. “I’m gonna fuck her.” Steve sat next to me and began chatting. I spied Douglas’s name and several text messages I could not read, shining up from the screen of Steve’s mobile phone on the table. Suspicious, I did not mention it, but instead talked about my work.

The final day of the show, Douglas had unknowingly parked his car across from my new car. He is similarly late, so we probably arrived within minutes of each other. Both cars sat together, alone, facing in exactly opposite directions in an emptied-out section at the back of the lot. I left a small paper on his window, saying that I hoped he had a good show. Afterward, I sent him a short email stating the same, and that I hoped he was getting enough to eat.

The next evening, I got news that my estranged father had killed himself. He never recovered from the loss of my mother, and he had his finances drained and life ruined attempting to please the woman he was with after her. I had two lines on my phone, because of the aforementioned disastrous coworker relationship. I texted Douglas from both lines. “If you ever want to kill yourself, and you have nowhere else to turn, please know I am here for you,” it said. More-or-less. I don’t recall trying to contact him nearly as often after that.

Steve and I grew closer, especially after an extremely traumatic incident that occurred between myself and ex-friend/colleague Cory Strode. That was the end result of a questionable and, originally, romantic and sexual relationship with him that began when I was only 18-19 and he was in his mid-30s. Cory Strode has a degree in psychology, and was aware that I was emotionally and psychologically vulnerable at that time in my life. I confided in him about my troubled family relationships. He presented himself as an influential person with connections in the arts and comics industries, an accomplished writer, and published an email Daily Show-like newsletter with a small fanbase under his publishing name, Solitaire Rose Productions. He flattered me, and told me how different, mature, and special I was. He flew to Texas so we could see each other in person and have sex. He moved me into his home when I asked for him help. While scared and away from my parents’ house for the first time, he bought me expensive flowers, showered me with attention and gifts, used me to antagonize his ex-wife, and we briefly resumed our sexual relationship. As I aged closer to 30 myself and gained more real life experience, my perspective on this relationship began to change dramatically, and I felt taken advantage of. In the process of bringing up these issues with him initially, we stopped speaking for several years.

When I reconnected with Cory Strode in 2014, I was in a vulnerable state again, and actively trying to resolve traumas related to past relationships. I was in a place of confusion and profound self-blame. I denied my own gut feelings, and apologized for “accusing” him and “saying mean things,” both his phrasing — and he made a great production of having graciously forgiven me many years ago. It was only after spending time with him physically in Minnesota, as a grown adult, that I was able to fully recognize the level of anxiety and discomfort he caused me. He treated me with an almost fetishistic regard; acting like my personal servant, cheerleader, mentor, therapist, and rescuer, and maintaining boundaries more appropriate for an intimate relationship than a friend. He told me he had made the decision that it was, “His job to love me unconditionally.” He would tell me about memories I could not recall from when I lived in Minneapolis in the past, and that it was, “His job to remember things for me.” His treatment of me encouraged me to be/become dependent on him. My personal victories started to feel more like opportunities for Cory Strode to congratulate himself. I felt paraded around like his show pony at conventions together. He repeatedly told me I was, “becoming the person [he] always knew [I] was.” On one occasion he literally teared up at my frustrations with Douglas, telling me, “any man that [I] turned [my] attention toward was the luckiest man alive.”

Mere weeks after my father committed suicide, and while still coping with the damage my relationship with Douglas wrought, I asked Cory Strode to make a few meals I could easily reheat. He regularly offered to help in any way possible, and also nagged me about my food choices. His response to my request was to let himself into my apartment for almost an entire day while I was at my job (he had “emergency” keys), fill my refrigerator with at least $200 worth of food, much of which I could not eat before it spoiled, and spend all day cooking and cleaning. I had severe physical privacy and trust issues stemming from childhood that he knew about. He cleaned my bathroom, which he had done once before while I was passed-out drunk, and then humiliated me about afterward on an episode of his podcast. He stripped and washed my bed linens, and all my dirty laundry, including intimate items like my underwear. He put almost everything he cleaned, including my clothes, back in the wrong places. He left mints on my bed pillows. He left two long, handwritten multi-page “love” letters on my bed and my dinner table, which I could only read a few sentences into before tearing up and throwing them in the trash. I found out about this on my way home from work when he texted me, while driving. I told him explicitly that I did not want to see him, and when I arrived home and got out of my car, he immediately walked around the corner crying and shoving my keys at me. I had a total breakdown, and did not feel comfortable in my own home for months. It was the closest I have ever felt to being raped. Violated. When I later tried to explain to him how devastating this was, he argued “other people” thought what he had done was sweet, and that they found the mints “funny.” He repeatedly insisted that he had told me his plans, but I would never have consented to what he did. I tried to remain friends with him because I had made a promise, but I could not. The last time we spoke directly (via text message), I asked him to acknowledge that his relationship with me when I was a teenager was wrong. He replied “I hope you find peace,” and blocked my phone number, presumably. I wrote a terse and professional post about leaving his podcast. He later approached me, while crying, in person at a convention, but I had to immediately leave the area.

I did not speak publicly, in any great detail, about what happened between Cory Strode and myself, until the incident described below where I “unfriended” and was messaged-then-blocked by Stephanie Cofell. That provoked a response.

It is also noteworthy that I strongly suspected I had ADHD in 2016, but Cory Strode told me that, since caffeine does not make me “sleepy,” I did not have it. Due to his experience in the mental health field, I did not question him.

Thanks to Douglas’s emotional and psychological abuse and Cory Strode’s “help,” I could barely order lunch without over-thinking and second-guessing myself.

Douglas treated me like trash. Cory Strode treated me like a Merit Badge.

It was Al’s genuine friendship that helped me begin to stabilize.

Salve, featuring Steve

Steve was in an existing long-term, toxic relationship when we met, which he ended. Then he resumed. Then he ended again. Steve had a serious problem with alcohol when we met. A serious problem. He was also let go from his job of ten years a few months after we met. As an older man with a limited skill-set, he has struggled to find and keep steady employment. Much of the flowery language I have used discussing our multiple break-ups, especially where the cause was pinned on my “issues,” was my attempt to save him the embarrassment of the real reasons we parted. Steve has been 100% alcohol-free since November 2018. Steve now has a healthy relationship with both his ex, her family, and me. Steve is working again. Steve is a fiercely good and loyal person. But stable, he is not. I have been doing my best to help him without becoming an enabler.

In September of 2016, my ex-husband, Matt, who I have remained on cordial terms with, helped me out by getting me a plane ticket back to Houston and letting me stay in his home. I needed to attend a court date for an issue related to my dad’s estate. While in Texas, I had a strange falling out with an engaged couple I knew. Matt told me that Douglas had looked up the fiancée of one of my friends through my Facebook page, and messaged to tell her she should watch out because I wanted to have sex with her fiancé. The incident had confused and frightened her, and she brought it to Matt, who instantly recognized Douglas’s name. I made my Facebook “friends list” private after that.

Around this time, a woman/friend on my Facebook page realized that we had both dated Douglas — referring to him as “Satan” and “a sociopath.” She told me that I had been lucky to get out when I did. She had her own stories, but they are not mine to repeat. I was not ready to identify with her anger.

I mailed Douglas a plain off-the-shelf Christmas card wishing him well, including brief hand-written Bible quotes about forgiveness, in both 2016 and 2017. I wrestled with forgiving both him and myself for what had happened.

Sometime in 2017, I started to become suspicious that I was being watched, possibly for instances of breaking THE RULES. There were several occasions where Steve came to show me things Douglas had posted, mentioning himself or the comic book convention. (I did not ask Steve to do this.) I would later find hits from Milwaukee on my website on the same, or immediately following days. Most of my traffic post-2014 is on, and from, social media, so the direct traffic stood out. I ear-marked the IP addresses, and I started to compose my blog posts with this in mind. I probably emailed Douglas shortly before the convention.

At the 2017 comic convention, I offered Al one dollar to go talk to Douglas while wearing one of my T-shirts. Al happily exclaimed, “I’ll do it for free!” and did it. I then attached a speaker to my pants, played Never Gonna Give You Up, and proceeded to dance and twirl up and down every convention aisle, effectively Rick-Rolling the show. When I got within ten feet of Douglas’s booth, he got up and hid behind his banner. I emailed him later to apologize, and tell him that I had only hoped he would laugh at me. Then, I think, nothing for a while.

Most of 2017 I spent fighting to get my foot further in the door of the comics industry, especially after being threatened with being “blacklisted” by Stephanie Cofell, a close friend of Cory Strode. This woman in my opinion is self-important enough to monitor and regularly edit her own Wikipedia entry. She was, in my opinion, upset because I had never come apologizing and grovelling back to her and Cory Strode. She is barely an acquaintance, and the only wrongs I have ever done to her were deliberately not speak to/snub her as I left a show, and unfriend her on Facebook. Her messages are below. I have never lied about my age once, and in my opinion she is the main source of “talking” about me and attempting to ruin my reputation locally. She blocked me before I could respond to her.

Stephanie Cofell Facebook Message

Click for larger image.

Stephanie Cofell Facebook Message

Screenshot of this message taken on 2/7/2019 with profile picture.

Stephanie made sure to send me this message twice — once to my personal profile, and once to my business page. Click here for a screenshot of this message in my Facebook business page Inbox taken on 11/11/2020.

I tabled at a lot of local shows in 2017, determined to not be sidelined.

In 2017, if I remember my timeline correctly, Douglas initiated a public slap-fight on Facebook with old friends of mine in the web comics community. My friends, who have tabled at San Diego Comic-Con for years, took issue with his long-winded bellyaching about how much work SDCC is. Douglas insulted their work and status as professionals, then attempted to humiliate them using his blog and mass emailing list, much like he had done to the comic convention.

In early 2018, feeling pretty thoroughly done with a lot of people’s bullshit, I decided to finish losing the last 30lbs I wanted to lose. I went on a low-carb diet, documenting my weight loss, while completing my colouring book, a new 40+ hours illustration, and its music video. Shortly before the comic convention in 2018, a mutual friend on Facebook posted about Douglas’s car being broken into and heavily damaged. He was soliciting help (read: store sales) as a result. I had a small emergency fund, and knowing his situation, I hoped enough time had passed that he might accept money from me. I purchased a piece of artwork from him, including a note that I did not expect anything, but wanted to help with his car. And that I would love to see him if he felt amenable to it.

A few weeks later, I received the artwork, as well as extra freebie stickers! I framed the drawing and emailed him a photo to thank him, along with a few sentences about Steve and Al. I also sent photos of the prints he had given me for Christmas in frames. I posted a photo of the framed art, and solicited my readers to purchase something from his web store. I re-shared a link from another mutual friend to his Patreon page. I had originally set up his Patreon account for him before I moved to Saint Paul, while we were together.

Framed Arsenic Lullaby original art from 2018.

Framed Arsenic Lullaby prints from 2015.

Pictures I emailed to Douglas after purchasing some of his artwork.

Since he accepted the first order, I subscribed to his Patreon, and purchased a few prints that I wanted along with his books. Subsequent packages from him included lots more freebies — sketches, mini-comics, buttons. Around this time I also became aware of increasingly suspicious traffic on my websites. I did some further digging, and narrowed down 3-4 specific IP addresses in his geographic area, with a pattern of visiting the same targets. This traffic was focused on my blog, photos of me at conventions, my Patreon and Etsy store, a conservative politician I had photographed, and a handful of repeat YouTube videos. The traffic stretched back into 2017, as far as my records went. I set up push notification alerts for the IP addresses, and waited. I did not have to wait for long.

Arsenic Lullaby sketches by Douglas Paszkiewicz.

Arsenic Lullaby sketches by Douglas Paszkiewicz.

Pictured above are images of the free original artwork that he sent me with my orders over the summer of 2018, while I was allegedly “stalking” him. He accepted about $400 from me through his online store and Patreon.

Later in the summer, a mutual friend, Crystal O’Rourke, privately suggested a new social media site she had seen Douglas using because she thought I might be interested in it as well. Clicking through out of curiosity, I was able to read his posts there. Most of them were recycled years-old blog posts that I recognized, but I also found him complaining that his A/C unit had died, and whining he was miserable due to the heat. I went to his web store and found a piece of artwork that I could afford, and purchased it. Enough to cover a cheap A/C unit.

“I believe in you,” I wrote in the message box.

In the following days, the “Douglas” IP addresses lit up like a Christmas tree.

I mailed him a piece of “VooDoo Joe” fan art on one of my promotional sketch cards, and a print of a traditonally-inked piece I was especially proud of, which he did not reject this time. There was a Post-It that said “I miss you.” That summer, he accepted enough money from me to nearly pay a month of his rent.

Douglas was brought to Saint Paul as a guest to the fall comic convention, after missing the spring show due to an emergency. The convention does not usually bring in guests for fall, but made an exception for him. I privately thanked the management for the gesture, and I offered to anonymously cover his travel expense if the convention could not, since I was unsure if he had a working vehicle. I deliberately stayed far away from his aisle on the convention floor, though I believe that Steve, Al, or both told him that I missed him, and that I would be happy if he stopped by to say hello to me.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, when I never saw Douglas.

During break down after the convention, Al informed me that Douglas had posted on Facebook that he was being evicted out of his apartment soon. While we were together, he had been concerned about new landlords possibly wanting to merge his apartment with the unit immediately next to him. I had recently given Steve the boot again for being unable to pay his share of bills, and that night, I sent Douglas a bit more money with an arrangement/offer of a place to stay if he had nowhere else to go. It was, as stated, a good chance to pool resources.

I made an offhand comment about getting married, a reference to something he said the night we met. It had made me feel incredibly special at the time. In retrospect, it is probably just a line he uses as a matter of habit.

The following morning, I went to the convention hotel to meet some out-of-town friends for breakfast before they headed back home. I drove a full circle around the hotel, checking for Douglas’s car, in case I needed to be mindful to avoid him. Not seeing it, I went in and sat down at my friends’ table. Then Douglas walked in shortly afterward, and the hostess sat him nearby. I did my best to pretend not to notice. He ate quickly, then rushed up and left without even looking at me. He seemed slight, and for the first time, I was not afraid.

After some time had passed, suddenly it hit me like a hurricane how incredibly fucking stupid I had been for the previous three years. THEN the anger finally came. THEN the spell broke, and it sunk in; I finally, really internalized the way he had treated me wasn’t my fault. It always was, it always is, about him.

Impassioned and overwhelmed by it all, I impulsively hammered out one last email, full of three years of repressed anger. The salient points:

– I am done giving you any kind of attention.
– I know that you have been monitoring and watching me.
– I realize now you never liked me in the first place.
– You cannot control what I draw, say, or write. It is my story.
– Your previous girlfriend has been in contact with me and hates you.
– No sane woman is going to put up with your shit.

This was the last time I have ever attempted to contact him.

For about two weeks, nothing happened, and I finally felt unburdened. The “Douglas” website traffic immediately stopped, and I eventually blocked the IP addresses I had identified and associated with him.

But it was not long until it was my turn to be the target of one of his scathing blogs. He had saved nearly every single text message, email, and other form of communication I had ever sent him. All of my pain, all of my angst, all of my futile efforts to understand how I was treated, had been plastered up on his blog and emailed to thousands of people. He had spent hours editing in black bars on my texts to “protect my identity,” but that also conveniently censored anything that explained why I was upset, or that made him look poorly.

He titled it with a #MeToo hashtag, MEN ARE VICTIMS, too! He spun a narrative that made it sound as if I were in the bushes outside his window, when I live six hours away, in Saint Paul. I work the equivalent of two full-time jobs, plus a part-time job including volunteering. I passed on many, many opportunities to confront him in person. I never threatened to harm him in any way.

If he felt threatened, why never even a warning from the police?
If he felt threatened, why did he never talk to Steve or Al about it?
If he felt threatened, why did he take my money and send me extra stuff?

No doubt, it was wrong of me to continue to contact Douglas after he asked me to stop. I was motivated by trying to resolve what I had been through, and I felt sorry for him as a struggling colleague whose work I admired.

I have apologized too long for simply being myself. I am out of apologies.

Far from feeling humiliated, I felt oddly empowered. The idea that this person that I had lived in fear of for three years was, actually, afraid of me gave me an entirely fresh perspective. Every time I asked for authenticity and got lies. Every time he belittled or condescended to me. Every time he tried to control me and destroy my self-confidence. Every time he attempted to gas-light and make me doubt myself. Every time he raised his voice in anger. Every time his words said “come” while his actions said “go.” He was afraid of me.

Feeling freer than perhaps I ever have, I pulled all his original artwork, prints, books, signed sketch covers, and sketches. I tore them to bits, then I fed the bits one-by-one into my cross-cut paper shredder. I could breathe again.

Shredded Arsenic Lullaby art and books.

Shredded Arsenic Lullaby art and books.

When his exposé blog post failed to set the world on fire, two or three days later an “anonymous” Facebook page and a mirror WordPress blog appeared to tell the “truth” about me, borrowing language from a popular alt-right activist group and stealing my images to confuse my readers. They managed to find a comment I had missed from one disgruntled client with a commission I had forgotten, and began messaging the client about it. As soon as I became aware, I refunded the client’s money, and I completed and shipped the commission at my expense. I have since changed my commission policies, and I continue to address my production issues since my diagnosis and starting medication for ADHD.

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

My last email. I was not mad… I was furious. Three years of repressed anger, and finally breaking free of his lies that I had believed about myself.

And when I could not be controlled at all anymore…

They attempted to intimidate me by posting blatant falsehoods, such as stating that I was stalking my ex-husband Matt also (The ex-husband that bought my plane ticket?), conventions from all over the country were thanking them for sharing Douglas’s blog post and pre-emptively banning me, and that people were beating their door down to tell multitudes of stories about how I had ripped them off or wronged them. The blog claimed to be in contact with my friends from my hometown of Houston, something I already knew Douglas had done when he terrified the friend of my ex-husband by telling her I wanted to have sex with her fiancé. They also attempted to shame me for monetizing my older content and work effectively, and offered educated and detailed psychological analysis of me including “narcissist,” “psychopath,” and “not very smart.”

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

I searched all my records and could not identify this “customer.”

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

Poster that appears to be from a CentraCare Health facility.

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

They meticulously searched through years of this blog, cherry-picking screenshot “evidence,” including posts I had written while aware I was likely being watched, and mocking me for grieving my relationship with Douglas.

It was never about “truth,” it was about intimidating and devaluing me.

Central to the content (except for the poorly-spelled messages I believe were written by Douglas himself) were screenshots of petty and spiteful messages from Stephanie Cofell, who had been one of the loudest voices trying to convince me that Douglas was abusive while we dated. She also did not apparently realize that her real name was embedded in the EXIF data on the mobile phone images uploaded directly to the WordPress blog. I saved the original files in the event I need to seek a lawyer and/or a restraining order, or other legal action.

"Anonymous" messages by Stephanie Cofell  downloaded from the Jin Wicked Veritas WordPress blog.

Click for larger image.

"Anonymous" messages by Stephanie Cofell reposted on the Jin Wicked Veritas Facebook page.

"Anonymous" messages by Stephanie Cofell reposted on the Jin Wicked Veritas Facebook page. (Bottom right.)

I believe “the parties” in this message refers to my experience with Cory Strode. “Some lady” — Stephanie according to the EXIF data — is identifying herself by referring to her perceived standing in the local comics community. She also is making defamatory assertions about my mental health and motivations.

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

Dave Cofell was Stephanie Cofell’s folk musician husband. They were frequently guests of Cory Strode’s “Solitaire Rose” podcast network. When a Facebook user visits the same pages repeatedly, Facebook’s algorithms utilize that to determine the pages are “related” and suggest them to other users. Above and below are two samples of Facebook demonstrating a high volume of traffic between the “Veritas” page, the Dave Cofell page, and the “Kray Z Comics” page. At the time of these screenshots, the “Veritas” page had few likes and little engagement, implying an extremely small number of individuals were viewing it.

Similarly, a Google Image search for “Jin Wicked Veritas” returned multiple images of Dave Cofell from his Facebook page among the results.

Google Image search results for "Jin Wicked Veritas" on 1/13/2019. I have circled the images directly associated with Dave Cofell. Note the large amount of results for other musicians.

Click for larger image.

Google Image search results for "Jin Wicked Veritas" on 1/13/2019. I have circled the images directly associated with Dave Cofell. Note the large amount of results for other musicians. Like Facebook, Google’s algorithms have determined these results to be relevant to one another due to the same person(s) repeatedly viewing these pages. Also note the relatively few Arsenic Lullaby images.

Harassment and intimidation on Facebook.

Stephanie Cofell, close friend of Cory Strode, was there at the con after-party where I met Douglas. According to statements made to me by Cory Strode, she initially loathed Douglas for “hitting on her” even though she is married. After threatening me that she “was not someone [I] wanted to make an enemy of,” implying she had the power to have me blacklisted from the comics community, and — I believe — spreading lies and rumours about me, she then seized upon Douglas’s blog post. She wrote the “Veritas” page was “doing the lords work.”

It is my conclusion, given the evidence I have accumulated, that she contributed heavily to the Facebook page, and launched the WordPress blog, determined to destroy my career. The “Jin Wicked Veritas” WordPress blog was still active in summer 2020, and went offline around the same time as the 23 June 2020 update to this post, when I added names and screenshots.

Review left in early 2018 on Cory Strode’s podcast where I guest hosted. Cory Strode’s friends have repeatedly turned the trauma I experienced from him into a running joke and/or a reason to attempt to ruin my career and reputation.

Krayz Joe Rider joking about what happened to me.

Right is comments on the left post; the screenshots were taken at different times. The censored name is Joe Rider. He deleted my comment about what happened.

A local follower on my Instagram account tipped me off that “anonymous” was spamming the Minneapolis Craigslist “Arts” community with listings about me. The posts had big headlines like DANGEROUS and DO NOT HIRE and included long rambling messages with HUGE FONTS and COLOURS and links to Douglas’s blog and the Facebook page. They were flagged and taken down quickly.

Harassment and intimidation on Craigslist.

One of the multiple postings about me on the Minneapolis Craigslist.

As I have already mentioned, I did legitimately feel threatened for a period of time. I had no way to know who else other than Douglas Paszkiewicz, Stephanie Cofell, and possibly Cory Strode were involved, and with the recent flare-ups of violence against women inspired by men like Eliot Rodgers, I felt very justified being concerned for my safety. I started carrying pepper spray and a safety whistle regularly. I filed police reports with any information I could confirm. I had my locks changed, because Cory Strode at one point had his own set of house keys. Comments were posted mocking my retail day job, and these individuals knew where I worked. I switched to a 6AM-2PM schedule through the holidays. I abandoned the established, well-paying job I enjoyed for a career as a Home Health Aide, out of an abundance of caution for myself and my coworkers.

Shortly after the smear campaign started, Steve called Douglas, and asked if he knew about what was going on as a result of his blog. Douglas claimed ignorance. “You know, if something happens to her, it’s going to come back on you,” he said. An ice cold “I’ll think about it,” was Doug’s only response.

Barely a month after sharing his #MeToo blog about being a victim of abuse and stalking, Douglas published an essay called “In Defense of Hank Pym — The Wasp Had It Coming,” defending a comic book character physically assaulting his wife. He teased this essay to his mass emailing list by stating, “By the time you’re done reading it, you’ll want to hit the bitch, too.”

In Defense of Hank Pym — The Wasp Had It Coming

I don’t know what made him this way, but his women issues are real.

I signed up for a small local convention, to see if anything happened — it was a show I had attended before, so the organizers knew me. After announcing that I would be there on my Facebook page, the guest coordinator forwarded me this message she received only a few days later:

“Please read [website redacted] from the bottom up. This female artist has been harassing and stalking a well known male comic book artist for over two years which we never hear about in the #Metoo movement and so he shared his story. He is afraid for his life and has recently moved because of this situation.”

They did not succeed in their efforts. I have no way to know how many other events might have been contacted in this way. Douglas was not invited to the 2019 spring show in Saint Paul, which I now help promote and organize.

I spoke to “Kray Z” Joe Rider in person regarding Douglas and Stephanie Cofell’s campaign against me at the fall convention of 2019, and he shrugged it off.

I redirected all the blocked IPs to the Saint Paul Police Department.

Jin Wicked and Douglas Paszkiewicz

I have waited roughly a year-and-a-half to write this entry. Even now, many people who ostensibly care about me have advised against going through with it. It is a kindly-couched way to be, yet again, told to sit down and shut up. I have had myself evaluated. I have been to therapy. I have started medication for ADHD. I have made significant personal growth and progress. And yet…

I have agonized over the nature of my work, openness of my own struggles, and the knowledge that Douglas relishes all attention no matter how negative it may be. I have considered that the harassment against me may increase. I have considered that I may be putting myself in physical danger. And yet…

The weight of feeling silenced has become too heavy, and is something I can no longer carry. I am not the only woman, or even person, he has hurt. But I may be the most foolhardy. My very existence was and is threatening.

"Flirt" 26 May 2015

Why did I tolerate so much poor treatment, in the first place? I do not have a good answer. He is charming, seductive, and I was emerging from years of an avoidant marriage and severe depression. I was losing weight, and he made me feel attractive. I left my marriage and Houston with dreams of being one-half of a creative and romantic team. Dreams die hard. I desperately wanted someone that shared my passions, like all the delicate intricacies of inking.

He has been nominated for a lot of Major Awards, don’t you know?

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…

Learning about what emotional abuse is, and recovery from it, has helped me profoundly to better understand what happened to me, stop making excuses for people who have treated me poorly, and to stop blaming myself for how I was treated. It is especially hard to accept when the abuse comes from someone you admire, look up to, and that has more authority, power, or influence than you. It has been an arduous battle to overcome fear and assert myself.

Learning about the aftermath of narcissistic abuse has also been helpful.

Healing is not a linear process. I am allowed to stumble.

Stars aligned at the last minute in the spring of 2019, and presented me with the chance to attend San Diego Comic-Con as a guest of professional friends. It didn’t seem real, even as I boarded the plane with my comics and portfolio. I allowed myself to indulge in a hushed and solemn moment of triumph, as I set foot on the convention floor wearing the same boots I wore when I drove across the country to begin my new life in Saint Paul. I slept on a couch, and walked until there were blisters on my feet. I have been most fortunate to be welcomed into a community of supportive colleagues and sincere role models. So many people have come together to help me back onto my feet. The dark clouds that have been hanging over me parted more with every passing day of SDCC — until I sat, relieved and exhausted, Sunday evening in the golden sun setting over San Diego Bay. When I return to San Diego Comic-Con, it will be as an artist.


A little more than four years ago, I began my life anew, with scant more than my name and a dusty archive of old work. Last summer I arrived in San Diego with a portfolio of 48 pages of mostly-new comics and illustrations.

Twenty years since I began this journey, and my life goes on. I have forgiven myself for compromising what little dignity and self-respect I was capable of. I have forgiven myself for allowing loneliness to put me into positions where I was abused, mistreated, taken for granted, or taken advantage of. I have forgiven myself for accepting treatment that I should have rejected.

I have forgiven myself for allowing other people to define me.

Taking care of people actively dying, and nearing the end stage of their lives, several nights per week does a real good job of keeping your “shit that actually matters” meter calibrated. People who defecate on themselves; who urinate on the clean clothes you just put on them while you are still trying to remove feces, all the while asking you the same few questions every five minutes. People who cannot walk. People who no longer recognize their own families. People who no longer have the ability to speak. People who do not eat.

These experiences have their way of instilling a profound measure of gratitude and perspective to one’s outlook on life. Things have been a little rough since returning from SDCC last summer, much of which I have already written about recently. A favourite resident was injured badly and bed-bound; her cries and shrieking in pain while being cared for triggered unwelcome flashbacks to the final week that my mother was alive. When this resident died, an avalanche of grief was let loose, and I wept so hard that my face bore its consequences for days. I went to her funeral. I stood in the rain. I stayed until the end.

Pain is a part of life, and to reject it, is to reject our own humanity. Each day I wake up able-bodied and in good health is a gift; an opportunity to do better and work for my goals. I am privileged in some ways, and disadvantaged in others. I will not, however, succumb to the forces of bitterness, cynicism, and ennui. I have fought so hard to get here, and I am still clawing up the ladder, rung by rung. I am doing the things and living the life that I have dreamed of.

Queen of Assholes

I forgive myself. I choose hope. My crown will outshine your darkness.


On 13 February 2020 I had a no-referral visit from one of the IP addresses I had associated with Douglas, and it was the last time any of his “identified” IP addresses have visited any of my websites.

This post edited on 23 June 2020 for clarity, names, and additional images.

This post edited on 6 August 2020 to add details about my “friendship” with Cory Strode that occurred contemporaneously with the other events described here.

In November 2020 I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

This post edited on 5 November 2020 to further clarify statements made about Stephanie Cofell, in response to a “demand” letter I received from her lawyer by email on 2 November 2020 threatening me with a civil defamation suit and potential criminal charges if I did not remove all references to her.

Click for larger image. My “Priority Mail” copy never arrived.

This post edited on 6 November 2020 to correct a “false” statement: changed Dave Cofell to Stephanie Cofell’s ex-husband. (August 2020)

This post edited on 13 November 2020 to add a screenshot and artwork.

This post edited on 21 November 2020 to add screenshots: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Update 28 November 2020: Joe Rider has blocked me on Facebook and is named in the lawsuit threat attempting to silence me, yet is perfectly fine with selling my books at a mark-up on eBay with the description, “Bought from Jin herself!”

Click for larger image. The first revision of this listing is from 01 July 2019, about three months before Joe claimed to know nothing about the Veritas page when I approached him about it in person at our fall convention.

It is about nine months after the first time Joe blocked me on Facebook, when Douglas published his blog post about me. At that time, Joe replied to Douglas’s Facebook post derisively with “My friend used to date this woman!” (Friend meaning Cory Strode; quote may be off a bit, recalling from memory.)

At the fall convention in 2019, Joe Rider seemed happy to linger at my booth and chat with me, as well as accept free copies of my mini-comics when offered. Joe briefly unblocked me on Facebook due to our volunteer activities for the comic book convention, then blocked me again at some point later in 2020.

Update 27 March 2021:Please see my new post for continuing updates about the actions of Cory Strode, Joe Rider, and Stephanie Cofell.

Additional images related to Douglas Paszkiewicz and Arsenic Lullaby, but not included here, can be seen in my original follow-up to this post.


Goodbye 2018

So far, I have managed to avoid the winter blues. Vitamin D, kids.

2018 has been a period of dramatic transition and progress. At the beginning of the year, I stepped down from management, and took a pay and hours cut to focus more on my art and comics. I finished FLIGHT, two new music videos, my colouring book, and I officially began Queen of Assholes. I completed more than fifty new pieces of original artwork, including the colouring book pages, Patreon requests, and a commission. Plus thirty or forty sketch cards. Also, I produced two Jin’s Kitchen videos, the Pumpkin Spice video, and launched my video blog. And some podcasts, blah blah blah. It is easy to forget how much one has accomplished, in an environment that demands fresh content almost daily, but this was my most productive year since leaving “retirement”.

I think I rebuilt my Art and Photo websites, too? It is all a blur.

After years of struggle, I seem to have at last gained control over my anxiety, insecurities, and obsessive and catastrophic thought patterns. Though I still suffer some physical symptoms like rapid heart rate, these last few months I have felt much less burdened. Maybe I am too tired. Maybe I have contracted a terminal case of give no fucks. I have things to do. A great many things. And life is short. One lesson that has really sunk in this year, is to keep away from people who are too eager to see the worst in themselves and others. Cynical and negative people. They cannot be lifted, except by their own actions. They will only drag you down. That was an exceptionally hard pill to swallow.

Sometimes, what feels like an act of kindness on the surface is actually being an asshole. And the thing that feels, superficially, like being an asshole, is the real act of kindness. These are the themes I am exploring in my new book. I am fundamentally a kind-hearted and honest person who has made mistakes while fighting my way through anxiety, depression, and the circumstances of my life. I woke up one day in 2014, stared in the mirror, and said, “I need to change.” I have been going through that clumsy process ever since.

The gym has been good for me. Focusing in on the physical body — becoming consciously aware of the muscles and their movements — creates a feeling of clarity and groundedness. My friend Damian, who is an exceptionally-talented artist himself — trains me. While working out, and frequently hanging around the gym afterward, we often have conversations about life, growth, learning, relationships — those kind of things. I have come to really treasure that.

Which brings me to my relationship with Stephen.

My relationship with Stephen is so entirely different from every other intimate relationship I have had, that it has literally changed my perspective of what a healthy relationship even is. I know from my own research that I formed an anxious-attachment style growing up. Most of my relationships have been a combination of emotional unavailability, on one or both sides, and some form of co-dependency. After two-and-a-half years together, Stephen is probably the first person I have been able to form an intimate, secure attachment to. I might even cast doubts on my ability to love another person at all before this point. (The ex-husband accused me of being a robot, although I was strongly attached to and emotional about my pet rats.) Even during the brief times we have split up, we have both unconditionally supported each other. No matter what, I have always felt safe, loved, and accepted by him. His complete and total unselfconciousness has helped me to feel comfortable in my own skin. I finally know what it feels like to be loved in a positive and supportive way. He has a tightly-knit, very loving family. I am sure that is no coincidence.

Stephen is not without his own troubles. He left shortly after the beginning of our relationship for issues he needed to resolve with his ex-girlfriend. It was a huge step forward for me at the time to experience that loss without anger or bitterness. Ultimately our attraction and bond pulled us back together. The rest of our conflict has mostly been rooted in finances. He lost the job he had held for about ten years shortly after we first got together, and has struggled to get back on his feet since, as older men often do in this economy. I am not able to support two people, when I can barely remain in the black month-to-month and feed myself. I have a small emergency fund, and when it is gone, there is nothing left. All of my parents and grandparents are deceased. I am on my own. I am constantly stressed by the delicate juggling act between my personal business and my day job. Still, I try to help others when I can.

Stephen is working again now, and we are doing much better.

When I began this journey in early 2015, after deciding to leave my marriage, I said I wanted the kind of relationship where both people are just as crazy about each other after ten years, as they were on the day they met. I cannot know what the future holds for Stephen and me. I do know that even after everything we have been through, growing individually, and together, we still lay around staring into each others’ eyes from time to time. I still think about how handsome he looks when I see him dressed in a button-up shirt and tie. In his arms is still my favourite place to be. It feels like home. Every challenge that has pushed up apart initially, has only brought us closer together, after we cleared it. And the man cooks the best steak I have ever eaten.

Sometimes messy, imperfect reality turns out to be better than a dream.

Merry Christmas to you all, and Happy New Year.


My Broken Heart

“It’s like getting shot in the leg. You learn to walk again,
but your gait is never quite the same.” – Me

In my early 30s, I received an endometrial ablation and tubal ligation for both personal and medical reasons. These procedures improved my quality of life immensely, and twelve years of continuous hormonal birth control use were a major exacerbating factor in my zombie-like depression. Perhaps ironically, if I had not undergone the surgery, it is unlikely that any of the past four years would have happened. I would still be in Houston, plugging away in Minecraft and binge-watching television shows, slowly eating myself to death.

Even as a child, I never wanted biological children — mostly stemming from a fear of pregnancy, but also, I struggle with the idea of creating more humans in a world of finite resources, and when so many existing children need loving homes. Adoption was always a “perhaps someday” option in the back of my mind, and I had myself sterilized without hesitation. About six months after discontinuing the hormone pills, I went out and got my first part-time day job in seven or eight years. I was (for lack of a better descriptor) almost autistic in my social awkwardness, but it was retail, and offered plenty of opportunity to practice conversation and people skills. I eventually moved on to another job for roughly two years, where I was promoted to management for the first time, and saved up the money I would use in 2015 to move to Saint Paul.

It was when I left this second job finally, in the fall of 2014, that I “woke up” and began producing my artwork and comics again. It was as if my brain had snapped back, like a rubber band, to the early 2000s. I reconnected with old friends and colleagues, and all the past feelings and unresolved issues I had been bottling up came back in a volcanic rush. Thankfully, most people were very patient and understanding with me during this process. By the time I left Texas, I had mended many fences and buried many hatchets.

In the years preceding my move, several of my friends in Houston had begun having children of their own. My feelings on the issue softened considerably. In the process of leaving my lifeless marriage and moving, I met someone I absolutely adored, who possessed all of the qualities I am searching for, and I could imagine building a life together with — but who also wanted children. We proceeded with an angst-fueled relationship, anyway. Open to adoption, and naturally optimistic, I felt some sort of solution could eventually be found. Him, less so on all counts. The hot-cold, push-pull nature of our interactions, combined with the feeling that I alone would never be enough, shattered my then-fragile self-confidence and drove me to the edge of madness. I was left cartwheeling through the first half of 2016, until a thoughtless invasion of my home and privacy later that summer finished the job of utterly breaking me.

It was Stephen who came into my life and offered the support I needed, in a sort-of fatherly way, to reassemble myself. Sometimes I wonder if I should be grateful. It is from the remains of this devastation that I finally discovered my own strength and my sense of true identity. I have been able to forgive both myself, and those that hurt me, though I hope to never see the person who violated me again. What happened to me has cruelly become a joke.

Sunday was… soul-crushing. I found myself, at breakfast on Sunday morning, accidentally seated near someone to whom I desperately wished I could say a thousand words, even if all I might actually manage was, “Have a nice day.” I looked forward and continued my conversation, trying to pretend I had not noticed, while every nerve in my body stood at attention and begged to close the few feet of space between us. I smiled and continued talking shop to my friends, until I was sure that he was gone. Then I finished breakfast, put on my coat, went to my car, and cried. I sat and cried, in the grey, cold light.

Sunday evening my best girl-friend Taya welcomed her new little boy into the world. I am incredibly excited and so happy for her, but I confess the photos have been difficult to look at. Sunday night I broke down. Stephen came over so I would not be alone. Helping Taya in any way I can might be the closest I ever get to being a mother, myself. Perhaps one day I will have a life-partner, and I can align the moon and stars into a situation where adopting an older child is realistic. Once I have gotten all the convention-hopping and travelling out of my blood, of course. I have tried my hardest to accept and make peace with all possible outcomes at this point, though it sometimes still hurts.

All I can do is adjust my crown, hold my head high, and keep working.


Jin Wicked is Sick of Shit, Vol 2

There is somehow, simultaneously, a lot going on at the moment, and a lot of nothing. I was reminded earlier this week of the need to choose your words carefully when I received a phone call the purpose of which, I am not sure. It seemed designed solely to anger and provoke me. I told this person I was drawing, but they insisted on interrupting me repeatedly, anyway. Inebriated rehashing and reheating of an incident that occurred earlier that day, and the rambling confessions that they knew deep down they would never keep their promises to me. Making flimsy excuses for how they had taken advantage of my forgiving nature and generosity, repeatedly, over and over… I could go on. Admitting you are a shitheel does not absolve you of your responsibility to do something about being a shitheel. And fuck, don’t then double-down on it.

But I remember, not that long ago, being the aggrieved and wounded party, grasping at straws desperately trying to justify both the incredible pain I felt, and lessen the guilt of the pain I had caused. I remember, so I listened.

“The thing I hated most about you — couldn’t stand about you, I think — but also had a lot of pride in, is that you are smarter than me.”

It is well-documented that many men struggle with intelligent and successful women. But here is the thing — your insecurity is not my responsibility to fix. Your insecurity is not a license to tear me down in front of mutual friends. It is not a license to act at times as if I do not exist in public or on social media. It is not a license to diminish the importance, value, or skill of my work. It is not a license to repay my debts last, disrespect my time, and treat me like one of your lowest priorities. It is not a license to criticize the efficient lifestyle I have created for myself. And if you care more about being perceived by others as a “fanboy” than visibly and vocally supporting the dreams of someone you claim to love, that’s your insecurity and your problem. I have to believe that there’s someone out there brave and bold enough to (however badly) sing together with me from the rooftops. If not, then I continue this journey alone.

My purpose is not to be your self-esteem booster, arm candy, trophy partner, salve for a wounded ego, or a proof of virility during your midlife crisis. I want an equal. I work harder than anyone I personally know. I am working eleven hour days at my day job (really), so that I can free more whole days for binge working on my art, comics, and other projects, and still sustain a certain level of income. I monitor every calorie going into my mouth and give up about six hours to the gym every week because I care about being healthy and looking my best. I relentlessly promote my work seven days a week in every venue I can find to be successful. I acknowledge my faults and work to address them. I have spent the past three years working on my own issues, anxieties, and insecurities, and I have no desire to go back. Resting on my laurels is not a thing that I do. There are always bigger fish to fry and steeper mountains to climb. If my accomplishments, growth, or success intimidate or threaten you, that is your insecurity to deal with. It is not a license to treat me poorly.

I say all this in the context of multiple relationships, throughout my life.

By all but the most conservative definitions, I am a Good Woman. I am caring, affectionate, compassionate, generous to a fault, honest, and loyal. I do not drink, do not use drugs, do not party, do not stay out late, and I will always let you know where I am, and who I am with. I pay attention. I will remember all your preferences and do things without having to be asked. I do not care how much money you make, as long as you pull your weight, and you work. I do not care about fancy houses, cars, or status symbols. I do not care about material things much, at all. Be able to make me laugh. Match my effort, clean up after yourself, and work to keep up with me. Really simple, but keeping up with me is not for the faint of heart. My vices are being a workaholic, a box of twelve cigarillos every few months, and bitching about television.

I feel like a fool. I feel like a fool for seeing the best in people. I feel like a fool for believing. I am tired. I am tired of crying. I am tired of meaningless words and broken promises. I am tired of my male “friends” who conveniently turn a blind eye and sweep it under the rug when it is their “bro” doing something wrong to a woman. I am tired of hearing “I want to help you,” and “I want to protect you,” from people who end up doing precisely the opposite.

I am tired of fighting to prevent the hardening of my heart.



Stephen and I have ended our romantic relationship, but we remain friends. He is a genuinely good person with a beautiful and caring heart, and I do not regret a moment of the nearly two years we have enjoyed together. We have supported each other through large transitions in both of our lives, as well as a period of mutual personal growth. From the beginning, our relationship has required tremendous amounts of effort and emotional vulnerability, while we each worked out our respective issues. I can honestly say we are both much healthier, well-rounded individuals today. But the suspicion has been growing stronger that this has run its course, and I am exhausted. It is now time for me to take care of myself, and for Stephen to take care of himself.

Jin and Stephen

Stephen is also sixteen years older than me, and dreaming of his retirement, while I have been building the go-go life of a convention-hopping nomad. We can, and will, continue to support each other as friends, but this is where our life paths start to diverge. When Stephen first found me, alone, and twisting in the wind after a traumatic experience, he said, “I want to teach you to fly.” That, he accomplished. But eventually I would have to stretch my wings.

Jin and Stephen

Right now, what I need and want most is to be alone so that I can focus on my new book. I am not an ideal partner — I need a lot of quiet time and a lot of near-solitude. Once the honeymoon period wanes away, realistically, I am going to be happiest with another industrious workaholic, and someone I can connect with on an artistic level. My work is at the heart of my identity. I feel the absence of a connection there, acutely. And it makes me sad. Three years ago, I left, with a dream of eventually becoming half of a creative team with a new partner. Someone I could deeply share all of myself with. Over the past few months, I have seen my dream in action, with the mutually-creative and supportive husband and wife team of Joseph and Kristina Linsner. It can be done. And I cannot allow loneliness, insecurity, or fear to lead me into a life of regret and depression for a second time. It is not fair to me, and it is not fair to Stephen. I am content alone. I am prepared to build my career alone. I am prepared to remain alone, if it comes to that. My work is my everything.

Soon, I will be removing the television set from my apartment and discarding the couch, as they only serve to remind me of the time I have squandered in the past. I want a quiet life of simple food, simple pleasures, hard work, and sacrifice. As long as I have food, health, and bills are paid, that is enough.

This hurts terribly, but the right choice is rarely the easy choice.

Someone once told me, “Pain is bad, and you should do everything you can to avoid it.” But pain is an essential part of life. Pain reminds us to appreciate the things we have in the moment, because loss is guaranteed, and life itself is a temporary condition. By embracing pain, and allowing it to travel through us, we are able to untangle the stranglehold of fear. And when we no longer fear pain and our own emotions, we are free to become our true selves.