Tag Archives: Swamp Thing

Golden rose, the color of the dream I had.

Golden rose was the color by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 1990 Golden rose, the color of the dream I had
Not too long ago
Misty blue and lilac too
A never to grow old.

– jimi hendrix, One Rainy Wish, 1967

Robert Johnston Sawyer photographed by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum in East Hampton July 1986 porch

Robert Johnston Sawyer photographed by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum in Montauk July 1986

When someone gifted dies young, the loss reverberates through a lifetime.

Berlin, 2016: It’s 30 years this month, but in this city of graffiti and skateboarders I dream of him constantly, and the grief still kicks like a mule. The history of my life broke open at that point. I go weeks without thinking of my first husband, but I think of Rob every day. Robert Johnston, who was intending to change his name back to his mother’s, Sawyer.

So to me he was Rob Sawyer, my great love at nineteen. He was twenty.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum and Robert Johnston Sawyer atCrosby St May or June 1986His talent, his love for his family, his sadness.

I remember his artist mother, just returned from a trip to Paris with her third husband, bringing him bandes dessinées, all of us gathered in their Crosby St. loft around her. I am older now than she was then, unimaginably, and I hope will be as third time lucky.

Robert Johnston Sawyer on swing in Montauk July 1986

I once showed a picture of him to a Millennial friend. “Wow, he was a classic 80’s bad boy!” she said.

Huh, I said. I mean, he rode a motorcycle and wore a leather jacket and he was an art criminal- but I never once thought of him as a bad boy. I always thought of him as pure goodness, the boy who was so much better and truer and kinder than I deserved.

Robert Johnston Sawyer photographed by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum on Bleecker St 1986 skatingAlso, compared to some of my other boyfriends, with the drug dealing and guns?

Rob’s life by when we got together of making art, going to art school, spending time with his family, hanging and drinking with his downtown friends and skateboarding seemed relatively low-key. He was in Fine Art at SUNY Purchase, painting delicious ice-cream pastel still-lifes, and taking photographs too. He had taken some experimental drugs at school, and that worried me, but who hadn’t?

Robert Johnston Sawyer photographed by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum in West Village May 1986Of course there were dark days when I first met him, when I was fourteen and he was fifteen.

He was a serious graffiti writer, not just getting up, but an artist who had keys to the 6 Yards. He had spent much of the years from fourteen to eighteen out all night, his messenger bag rattling with cans, creating full-car t-to-b burner pieces of extraordinary beauty. His sister Cecile, who I loved deeply, took me in when I ran away the first time, at fourteen. That was when I met him, at the Crosby St. loft in the Winter of 1981. His bedroom was completely covered in graffiti, a gallery of color.

His tag was “Scribe”, which is objectively brilliant.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer in Tribeca May 1986 beersOne night we had blue margaritas at a restaurant on 8th Avenue.

We came home drunk. We were always drunk, unless we were drunk and high. He was the first boyfriend I had who was just always down to get as drunk as me, ALL THE TIME. We lay in bed talking for hours, as we did sometimes. I would ask him questions about being a boy, like “Have you ever been in a fight? What did it feel like to you?”

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer at SohoZat May 1986 Betsey turquoiseThat night he told the story of his friend who had touched the third rail, back in his writing days.

He told me about how when they found his friend’s body the rats had been eating it. He was crying and I remember the heat in his cheeks, the way it felt to hold him to me, like it was yesterday. He hadn’t had anybody to share things like that with, as close as he was to his family. It was a terrible night, being open to his pain like that, but it was beautiful too.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer on Bleecker St. May 1986 Betsey turquoise in ivyPeople we knew were always dying in those days.

One time we were standing outside the office of my Upper East Side gynecologist, after I’d taken a pregnancy test. “If you’re pregnant, I’ll marry you and we’ll have the baby”, he said lovingly. “If I’m pregnant, I’ll have an abortion!”, I said, shocked and outraged at his presumption over my body and my choices. He was the son and brother of women who’d gotten pregnant and married very young and cherished the children who resulted; I was the daughter of a woman who’d had two illegal abortions, then later fought to have two carefully planned children despite her husband’s resistance.

I didn’t know, that July morning, that I was late because I was doing so much more heroin than I ever had.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer at Crosby St. May 1986 Betsey turquoise window“Any old time is a good time to stop drinking the suttee-flavored Kool-Aid of survivor’s guilt.”

I recently found that written on a scrap of the Oakland Tribune Food section from 2007. I must have believed it when I wrote it; why have I made so little progress since then? He would not have wanted me to marinate in this corrosive fluid; he fucking LOVED me.

Practicing his signature for returning to his mother’s name.

And, he LOVED ME. He wrote it on my bed, which was all tagged up, too.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer on Bleecker St. May 1986 Betsey turquoise in tubeHe loved to photograph me.

He was always bringing me little gifts. He slept with me at the apartment I shared with my mom on 20th St. every night, but he would go home to Crosby St. for an afternoon to pick up clothes and hug his sisters. He’d stop in the Village on the way back to buy a cigarette lighter with an Alphonse Mucha print on it or a pair of huge baroque shell earrings from a street vendor.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer in Tribeca June 1986 Betsey lilacsWe fought and made up; we fought fiercely, like siblings.

I woke up slowly, in the air-conditioned chill of my tiny bedroom, his arms snug around me as always, his long body spooned behind me as always. Reached for glasses, cigarettes, turned in his arms to nuzzle his cheek, downy with soft golden beard. We talked of the usual for a little bit, the catch-up of what I’d missed in the blacked-out parts of the night.

Then a shock came through me like a blade, as he said, “You hit me last night.” “What??! Why?” “You said you loved me and I said I didn’t believe you.” I was overwhelmed with remorse, and more, fear that it was true. I desperately reassured him. “I know,” he said, “I know.” “I was just drunk.”

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer in Tribeca May 1986 Betsey rosesReading comics together was our great joy.

We would go to the comic store every Thursday and come back with our stacks.

The new Swamp Thing, Vol. 2 #52,  was the first thing we read from the Thursday pile.

Shoulder to shoulder at the dining room table, “Now? now?” to turn the page.

Abby and Alec were in New York. 

It was so intense we could hardly breathe. My mom laughed at us.

The July issue of Swamp Thing was called “Natural Consequences”.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer in East Hampton July 1986 rosesHe always put his skateboard in our fireplace, at an angle.

He wore the same sneakers Kyle Reese wears in Terminator. He liked The Three Stooges. He had read “Ulysses”. We hung out with my ex Tom, who had been my boyfriend before Rob, and Stefan, who had been my boyfriend before Tom. I called Tom “Babe” and Stef “Honey” and Rob “Angel”; all three of them were “Sweetheart” when I needed someone to pass me an ashtray.

In mid July we went to his family’s cottage in Montauk and had a dream weekend getaway of bondage nights, photoshoot and fried clam days. We went to Tom’s birthday party at his family’s house in Connecticut; Rob and I made love on the lawn under the stars and I got 45 chigger bites on my right leg alone.

We went to see “Labyrinth” at the theater in East Hampton with Stefan and then hung out in the graveyard drinking.

Rob’s remains were interred there just a few months later, under a stone with his tag. His mother is amazing. She also has a tattoo of his tag; it was still illegal in the city in those days, but I referred her to Mike Bakaty, the father of one of my high school lovers.

We would go uptown to score smack, then hustle over to Riverside Park to watch the sunset.

I would make omelets for breakfast. We drank Becks, constantly. We listened to T-Rex all the time.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer in Montauk July 1986 roses outsideWe got yelled at in Manic Panic cause he was buying me bustiers and he came in the dressing room to look.

He loved my Betsey Johnson dresses, my garters and stockings and four-inch vintage heels. He put ice cubes in his beer when it wasn’t cold enough – and it was always hot, that summer in New York. He was going to summer school at the New York Studio School; I was going to summer school at Parsons.

At summer school I reconnected with my oldest friend, Victoria, and Rob and Victoria and I became a pack, a family unit, for the last weeks of his life.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer at 20th St. June 1986 fireplaceWe went to Rye, and he met my father.

Rob could drive, and my mom let us use her car whenever we wanted. Rob was the only partner I ever took to meet my father. On the way there we pulled over to the side of the road to try and get a YIELD sign to go over my bed, but the bolts were rusted shut.

My father gave us a handful of cash, and we went to Rye Playland, and rode on every ride, and the rollercoaster twice. All the time in the world.

We went everywhere together, did everything together, for less than 90 days and nights.

Anything I needed to do, he went with me. And I helped him through getting his wisdom teeth out! He protected me, and I have never been protected again, or allowed protection.

Suz and Ian tribeca summer 1986 by Rob SawyerComics were the center of our exhilaration, and of my ambition.

He supported me like no one else ever has. He drove me to the airport for San Diego Comic Con on July 31, after a July of incredible adventures. He was a person of loyalty and bravery, and to love someone like me took nerves of steel. It didn’t help that I’d slept with Rob’s best friend (above, reading the new John Byrne Superman) right before Rob, or that I was also really close to Chris Claremont.

Robert Johnston Sawyer photographed by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum in Montauk July 1986 lawnIt seems impossible that someone so full of love and talent and kindness and anger could go from the world in one night.

But he did, the weekend I was in San Diego for Comic Con. My friend Sheepdog had introduced Rob to crack, and Rob bought a personal stash of heroin for “while you’re away”, and he overdosed on a hot summer night at his family loft on Crosby St.

Suzanne Forbes With Cecile Sawyer Rooftop 1986 by Victoria Aronoff

Suzanne Forbes With Cecile Sawyer Rooftop August 1986 by Victoria Aronoff

In August Alec was dead too.

Rob’s sister Cecile and I were photographed by Victoria on our roof in Chelsea, sad goths in humidity.

Rob’s mother put together a beautiful show of his art in the East Village, but I was too messed up to go.

I had been attacked in San Diego, and the events happening simultaneously created a nest of trauma that I couldn’t understand for thirty years.

All his friends blamed me for his death, with reason, as I was the person who gave him heroin for the first time. He had asked others, but I was the one who did it with him.

His mother and Cile were kind to me, and I am forever grateful. Their kindness absolutely saved my life.

In September Abby returned home to her empty house, as I had returned to my empty bedroom, and we grieved together.

These violent delights have violent ends

And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,

Which, as they kiss, consume.

I wrote the draft of this post in July 2016, when the poison eggs of my 1986 PTSD finally hatched.

It was a spring and summer of terrible pain and grief, and then it stretched into years of finally feeling what happened in the first days of August 1986. The Kavanaugh hearings were the last straw, and I started EMDR therapy with a gentle and loving Berlin trauma therapist. It helped so much.

I began unbinding my grief for my loss, his family’s loss, and the world’s loss of this beautiful boy.

It has not ended. It is part of the fabric of who I am, today, in a gentler way than it was the last thirty-plus years. He is never forgotten, always in my heart.

I put his tag in the first comic I ever drew.

As well as in several later ones, and in the most detailed painting I ever made.

The painting at the top was made in 1990, when I made several paintings to try and process Rob’s death. It has T-Rex lyrics written all over it in silver Pentel ink, which has proved remarkably archival. Much like this love.

This painting had never been photographed; most of the photos have never been published online. Until now, no online record of them existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

I am so grateful to my Patrons on Patreon, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

Huge bead embroidery project finished: my Green Woman bead embroidered corset.

Beaded Green Woman corset by Suzanne Forbes June 2017Wow, this was a big project!

Green beadwork corset by Suzanne Forbes in our library May 2017Green beaded corset by Suzanne Forbes May 2017This bead embroidered, velvet leaf-covered corset is the second to last of the now-finished project “kits” I brought in the shipping container from the Bay Area.

(The Golden Jubilee insect carriage was the very last of the dozen or more projects! They’re all done!! I am amazing!! Sometimes both life and art are long!)

Bead embroidered green woman corset by Suzanne Forbes June 2017I saw Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephen’s EcoSexual wedding clothes exhibited at Femina Potens gallery years ago.

I got the idea of a pagan-y, Green Woman kinda Ecosexual corset.

Sexecology postcard by Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens

Sexecology postcard by Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens

Then cosplay exploded in the media, over this past decade, and so many people did amazing Poison Ivy corsets.

I enjoyed them so much, and decided to take my own pass at a leafy, viney, flowery corset.

I made some sketches, and then I got consumed with my Winter Queen/Snow Queen/Mermaid corset embellishing projects. So I didn’t get around to the Green Woman project til 2014. I spent months ordering beads and velvet leaves and green metallic rhinestuds and green Swarovski crystals from all over the world.

I amassed a huge stockpile of green bling, and bought a discounted Orchard Corset 511 to use as my base.

Bead embroidered green woman corset by Suzanne Forbes June 2017The green corset was one of the projects I didn’t get to before we left, so I packed all the green jewels and beads and appliques and trims up in a “project kit” and boxed it up.

.beaded corset WIP Suzanne Forbes 2016I unpacked it with the other 400+ boxes last winter. Once my workroom was set up, I started opening project kits and finishing projects. I moved through them at a pretty decent clip! I made the leaf crowns to go with the corset early on, last summer.

I took out the corset and got started on it last August. First I created a bunch of beaded and crystal-covered appliques with some pale green leaf-shaped Venise lace.

I tacked the lace down to netting in an embroidery hoop, then embroidered and bead embroidered it. Then I added velvet leaves (bead embroidered too).

This took about a million years.

Which never bothers me. I like to do textile art slowly, to balance how fast I draw and paint.

bead embroidery appliques Suzanne Forbes 2017 1Once I had finished a bunch of appliques and had test fitted them on the corset, I modified the corset itself.

beaded corset WIP Suzanne Forbes 2016The Orchard Corset 511 is a reasonably curvy OTR, with a 10″ “hipspring” or difference between waist and hip; I just added a 2″ gore on each hip to push the hipspring to 14″.*

Bead embroidered green woman corset by Suzanne Forbes June 2017Otherwise the corset wouldn’t lace nice and parallel, and it would distort the embroidery and structure of the corset to have a big gap at the bottom.

Sloppily adding handsewn gores like I did is a good way to ruin the structural strength of your corset, but I knew I’d be adding thousands of stitches and layers over the gores. So I wasn’t worried.

When I’m done with one of these beaded corsets it’s basically a cuirasse, an armored breastplate!

Bead embroidered green woman corset by Suzanne Forbes June 2017It took several months to carefully sew the appliques to the corset, adding bead embroidery as needed to fill in gaps.

I used strong green nylon beading thread I got to make beaded fringe for a lamp in Berkeley in 1999.

I also used beading thread to make strings of variegated beads to sew down onto the corset in curving lines. Because I’m insane, I always sewed back through the beads on the string as I sewed them down, in case the thread broke.

And I think maybe I might want to lend the finished corset to a burlesque dancer or performance artist someday so it should be able to stand up to some abuse.

Bead embroidered green woman corset by Suzanne Forbes June 2017Bead embroidered green woman corset by Suzanne Forbes June 2017

swampthing-34 panel by Bissette and Totleben

Panel from Swamp Thing 34, “Rite of Spring”, by Bissette and Totleben

When I started planning it I thought it would be all greens, but since then I’ve learned A LOT about color, mostly through my textile artmaking.

So as I worked on it I decided to add oranges and pinks and burgundies and browns. There are even pyrite-colored rhinestuds all over it, though they’re subtle as hell.

The oranges and warm colors make me think of the love story of Alec and Abby in Swamp Thing, and the orange yams that they shared. It’s a story that’s very meaningful to me, and the best story I know about connecting with nature and The Green.

I’m not a huge nature person, but I love natural symbology and motifs. Working with these colors and shapes really nourished my William Morris heart!

I’m pretty thrilled with the finished corset.

I don’t know exactly what I’ll do with it yet. It feels like a work about nature, and pagan things, and fae things, appropriate to Midsummer. There’s a Midsummer costume party at House of Red Doors in July, and I might wear it to that. I might loan it out for photo shoots, if I found someone trustworthy who wanted to shoot it and they had a model who fit it. I might show it somewhere if there was a show it worked for. Who the hell knows, I just needed to make it, and I’m so glad it’s finally done, almost ten years after I started planning it!

I’ll get better pix of me wearing it soon, with the jewelry and crowns I made to go with it 🙂

*everything you could ever need to know about buying and wearing a corset is here on Lucy’s website. This amazing young woman has created a resource for the corset community that is beyond price. There is info about the relative measurements of OTR and RTW brands, a corset database to guide you in your purchase, and so much more. We love Lucy!