It was only through suffering that Anaz could finally scour from him the pretenses and mud caked over his true self. And so, to help him hurt, I fleshed out the world of Anathest. Anathest, oddly enough, got its origin in a (nerd alert) Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I had created for several of my friends to play through. It was just one of several nations within the continent of Fallow, almost all of which included their own miserable story of suffering. And while the campaign never really went anywhere (life), I knew the world we had created had stories within it. Many.
Yet, fantasy stories about magic and monsters are only interesting to me if they reveal something about people in our world. That was the heart of why I wrote this story. It was also maybe a bit therapeutic. I found myself at a point in life where I was trying to figure out what terms like "Dad," "Husband," "Spiritual," "Director" and "Man" are supposed to mean. Some of those terms fit me well. I struggled with others. In my struggle, I found myself turning back to Buddhism in a way I hadn't in a long time. I was raised Christian and I love Jesus Christ with everything in me, but like the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, I recognize that Eastern philosophy has an incisive way of revealing truth. When I was sixteen my father gave me a copy of the Tao Te Ching and said, "There are some good things in here. Use what you can and discard the rest." I poured over that book, befuddled and frustrated, yet sensing an underlying awareness that I longed for. As I struggled with labels and trying to find my own definition, Anaz's story began to take shape in my mind.
Then there was the execution part. I had written and illustrated a short story many years ago that was interesting, but when I say it's a short story, I mean short. Like a couple hundred words. This, by comparison, has over 20,000 words. Being a fan of comics my entire life, I've been playing around with the idea of illustrated stories. Not sequential panels, but children's stories for adults. Think Conan the Barbarian illustrations. Here was an opportunity to build out a world both in written language and visual language. If a challenge is just an opportunity in disguise, this opportunity became a challenge...and there was no disguising it. What started in 2014 is only now seeing daylight.
Yet, the effort was worth it. The truth of what I was trying to talk about, the struggles we have with self-worth and pretense are something all of us can relate to. Anaz's story was one I felt needed to get out there because I'm positive I'm not the only one who wonders if the labels he's wearing are the right ones.
I don't know what else to say about the story. I hope you enjoyed it. But more so, I hope it got you to think. I'd love to hear some of those thoughts. Feel free to email, Facebook, Instagram or whatever you'd like. Let's talk!
Kaleb Schad is a Creative Director working at a branding and advertising agency in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He was born in Wisconsin, but moved to western Montana at the age of 2 where he grew up learning the value of hard work and loving creation. He moved back to Wisconsin as a teenager where he learned that the hard work was just beginning and that creation is (almost) as amazing in the flatlands as the mountains. He lives in Green Bay with his wife, two sons and two dogs.
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