Fat Farm: Memories of 6 East (Episode 2)

Max Airborne
Aug 20, 2021


By Max Airborne, 2019

Sixteen years after the first episode, came this second in a series of mini comics about my experiences as a fat, white, queer young person living in a psychiatric institution.

Content note: this comic portrays homophobia and psychiatric abuse of children.

This is a multi-page comic that was hand drawn in black ink on white paper, on wide rectangular pages. Image descriptions are in the captions after each scanned page. In some descriptions I use the pronouns ki and kin, gender-neutral pronouns offered by Potawatomi ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Front Cover. [A manatee faces you, buoyant in shallow water, surrounded by sea plants and gentle currents. The words “Fat Farm” float suspended in the water, shaped like old chunky 70’s driftwood. On the manatee’s chest it says “by Max Airborne, 2019.”]
Page 1. A banner floats across two frames, saying “memories of 6 east” and underneath, “episode 2, by max” Frame 1: I recently lost a best friend. [A vortex in the background. A smartphone shows the year: 2019. Rays emerging from the phone indicate sound is coming out. A pair of scissors cuts a string. A manatee looks dazed, with spirals for eyes, and a thought bubble that says “QUEER BAD ALONE BAD BAD BAD.”] Frame 2.: The cascade of events, feelings and reactions left me feeling hollow, frozen. So… familiar. [A giant dark cave swallows a tiny fat child, sitting, eyes wide and sad, arms wrapped around kinself.]
Page 2. Frame 1: Remember Bic lighters, the plastic, oval ones? [Image of a Bic lighter with a flame size control knob.] Frame 2: Wayyy back in the day before safety regulations (1979), they were adjustable. [A large arrow curves back to the knob on the lighter in panel 1.] Frame 3: You could really torch some shit. Frame 4: [Max at 13 with big, feathered Farrah Fawcett hair that catches fire as ki lights a cigarette.]
Page 3. Frame 1: [An odd building with three visible, connected tubular sections that have several stories, each of which contains multiple pairs of wide, oval shaped windows.] Frame 2: I knew I’d never actually escape through this plastic window. Wouldn’t break, didn’t open. One of 1000 perpetually astonished eyes in an endless tubular grid, poking out into the world. Frame 3: Nevertheless, on the East ward of the 6th floor, in a double room that held two teenagers, I was completely devoted to melting a hole in the window with my Bic. Frame 4: [Max, a short, fat 13-year old in jeans and a black t-shirt, leaning over a box heating vent, holding a flame to an oval window twice Max’s height, that looks like a giant eye.]
Page 4. Frame 1: I was obsessed. Could hardly wait for “quiet” time to resume torching the same blackened spot I’d been at for weeks. Frame 2. [Young Max looking furtively at the clock and the oval window behind the open door of a bedroom, daydreaming of the oval window in flames.] Frame 3: [Some oval windows from outside looking in. In one window there is a sea of ghostly faces extending back into the darkness.] Frame 4: Scratches on the window misted the view of Lake Michigan. I imagined an infinite ancestry of kids who’d been hidden away in this room, scraping their contraband tools against this once-clear surface, fighting the monster by scratching out its eyes.
Page 5. Frame 1: [Large text runs down both sides of the frame: “HELLO PUNKY.” In between, a doorway in which stands a skinny white girl in a scrub shirt, with arms crossed across her chest and long stringy hair pushed back off her forehead.] Frame 2. I was intrigued and terrified of my new roommate. Punky was older than me, already in high school, a tough city kid from Chicago. Frame 3. She bragged about her boyfriend. She wasn’t shy. Frame 4. [4 kids seated on the floor. Punky sits cross-legged, leaning against a bed, arms in motion as she regales the kids with stories. Two kids express wordless shock in response to Punky saying “He took my tampon out with his teeth.” Max’s face appears in the lower right corner, showing you ki’s side eye.]
Page 6. Frame 1: It didn’t sound like the ‘sex’ I knew — mostly blowjobs for icky boys down by the crick, the cost of a joint. Frame 2: [An outdoor scene, with trees, grass and a road with a tunnel underneath. Max is in the foreground, with messy hair, leaning over with hands on knees puking. Beyond Max is the tunnel, where a skinny boy sits smoking a joint.] Frame 3: [Max looking radiant, with rays coming out of a big hole in ki’s chest, culminating in a giant heart that contains Punky’s face.] Frame 4: I wanted to be like Punky. Even more, I wanted to be liked by her.
Page 7. Frame 1: When Punky asked if I’d ever done it with a girl… Frame 2: [Max with eyes poking up shyly from the bottom of the frame, “…yes,” I lied. Frame 3: There had been the girl I’d fallen in love with at boarding school. We hadn’t even kissed, but I’d confessed my love in a letter, which was partly how I ended up here on this psych ward. Frame 4: [A scene of a dorm room from the boarding school. Bunk beds, a teddy bear on the top bunk, a Pink Floyd poster on the wall of the lower bunk. A dresser with a cup, a chunky 70’s plastic comb, and a box of laxatives. The door to the room is open. A white woman (labeled “Dorm Mother”) with her hair in a bun stands in the room, wearing reading glasses attached to a chain around her neck. She is holding and reading a letter not meant for her, which she has unfolded. It reads “Dear ____, I love you.”]
Page 8. Frame 1: Later that night, Punky put my lie to the test. [A sexy close-up of Punky’s nose and mouth, as she says “So, sex with a girl…”] Frame 2: [“What’s it like?” A round bomb with a lit fuse floats above a bed, in front of the oval window.] Frame 3: On her bed, nearest the window, her words pounded inside me, echoing against the silence… She moved toward me and I recoiled, blurting out the last thing on earth I wanted to say… Frame 4: [Image of Punky and Max in front of the oval window. Punky reaches confidently for Max, Max leans back a little and says, “I’m scared.”]
Page 9. Frame 1: Punky was not scared. [Close-up of faces as Max gives in to Punky’s kiss.] Frame 2: Challenged to prove myself, we kissed… and kissed… Frame 3: …until we heard the distant knocking of the night nurse doing “lights out” rounds. I quickly retreated to my own bed. Frame 4: [Scene showing both beds. Punky sits on hers, her back to the oval window, leaning back on her hands, smiling with a look of both satisfaction and mischief. In the foreground, Max is in ki’s own bed, body under the covers, overwhelmed and terrified spirals for eyes, facing away from Punky.]
Page 10. Frame 1: My insides churned all night. [Max in bed with eyes closed, words swirling around on ki’s body: wanting, terrified, confused, wanting, wanting, wanting. Punky in her own bed in the background.] Frame 2: The next night after lights out, Punky came naked to my bed, wordlessly crawling under the covers, finding only anticipation and desire. Frame 3. [Scene of Punky looking down at Max in the bed with a sexy grin as she lifts the blanket to get in the bed. Max faces away from Punky, smiling.]
Page 11. Frame 1: Night after night we found each other. Frame 2: [Two hands with fingers intertwined, one grasping the other tightly.] Frame 3: [Punky with eyes closed, mouth open, hair falling forward as she hovers over Max’s ear.] Frame 4: [Punky’s small breast in Max’s mouth.] Frame 5: Until they found us!! Frame 6: [Under the covers, Max from behind as ki presses ki’s face in between Punky’s legs, hands grabbing Punky’s inner thighs.] Frame 7: We’d been absorbed in an illusion of privacy under the blanket. The night nurse tried to piece together what was happening.
Page 12. Frame 1: I could see the flashlight moving around the room… my empty bed… us under Punky’s covers… The eye came to life as the light reflected off the giant window. [Image of light hitting the oval window, a glare and a human silhouette.] Frame 2: Punky flew into a rage. Everything began to move very fast. Frame 3: [Image of an explosion.] Frame 4: I ran to the bathroom. [Max naked behind bathroom door.] Frame 5: Contraband dinner plates flew. [Image of a dinner plate bouncing off the oval window, just missing a man with a crew cut.] Frame 6: [Image of a plate shattering into many pieces.]
Page 13. Frame 1: [Image of Punky spinning wildly, with no discernible features.] Frame 2: Punky was a wild tornado of fury. Frame 3: More staff rushed in, got her in a “hold,”, and hauled her away, naked and screaming. Frame 4: [Image of a syringe full of liquid, with a drop coming out.] Frame 5: Alone in the room, I emerged from hiding, closed the door and put on my pajamas. I sat, numb for a moment, before I peeked outside. Frame 6: [Max in plaid pajama shirt and pants, reclining on the bed looking angry and despondent. In the background there are broken plates on Punky’s bed under the hulking oval window.]
Page 14. Frame 1: They’d taken Punky to a room beyond the nurses station where the kids couldn’t hear. Nearly every door was cracked open, kids peeking to see who was “acting out” this time. [Scene from the round common area. All bedroom doors are open with kids in the doorways, peeking out. Doors are in a semi-circle around the room, and are numbered 3–8. Max stands outside room #5.] Frame 2: [Image of Max as if dreaming, head underwater with hair floating, eyes closed and air bubbles rising up from Max’s mouth. Frame 3: I shut the door and got into bed. A dull numbness sunk in. I laid still and quiet, pretending to be asleep when the nurse came in to check on me.
Page 15. Frame 1: [Face of a skinny white man in side view, with pointy, pinched features — pointy nose, thin lips, thin pointy hair, sharp pointy teeth and bulging eyes, screaming “WAKE UP YOUNG LADY!! GET DRESSED & GO STRAIGHT TO MY OFFICE!!] Frame 2: Dr. RatShit was my first human contact the next morning. Frame 3: I noticed that: (1) his eyes protruded just like the building windows, (2) Punky hadn’t returned. Frame 4: [Image juxtaposing Dr. RatShit’s face with the outside of the building. His eyes are open wide, his small tight mouth is closed in a frown, his unibrow forms a V. The windows of the building have eyeballs, and look ominous yet calm. Two birds fly overhead.]
Page 16.Frame 1: [Scene is an office with diplomas on the wall. Dr. RatShit’s disembodied face is a rageful vampire, He screams, “I thought you were done with that gay fantasy, young lady!!!” Max’s face looks mildly surprised, while ki thinks to kinself “I never said that.”] Frame 2: “You’ll be in a solitary room until I can be sure you won’t be forcing yourself onto any of the other patients!” Frame 3: [Image of tiny, fat Max sitting despondent and alone in the corner of the frame, engulfed by darkness, and the lone thought, “Forcing myself?”] Frame 4: Listening to Dr. RatShit relate the tale Punky had spun for them, about how I’d forced to have sex with me, a wave of sadness moved through my hands and then through the rest of me.
Page 17. Frame 1: [Scene of the office from above: a cramped box, Dr. RatShit sitting behind a desk while Max’s body sits in an armchair.] Frame 2: I floated up and gazed down at myself, the doctor, the tiny, square room, so tiny…. Frame 3: I followed myself as I wandered back toward my room to gather my things. Frame 4: [Scene from above showing part of the office, the door swung open into the hallway, and Max walking briskly away. There are two pay phones in the hall.]
Page 18. Frame 1: I watched myself notice Punky in the common space talking to some girls, them laughing, me looking away. Frame 2: [From above, Max walks past a seating area where girls are lounging, laughing. Punky is saying something indiscernible, except the word “homo.”] Frame 3: [Max, clothed and on ki’s back in a small bed, looking sad and defeated.] Frame 4: Inside the single room, I regained contact with myself, my body on the bed, my head on the pillow.
Page 19. Frame 1: [Map showing the common are encircled by rooms, and an area marked by a large eye, labeled “Nurses Station.” Arrows show the old room and the new room only a few doors apart. Frame 2: it was smaller than the double room. Everything else was the same: the wide wooden door with a smooth rectangular handle, tiny bathroom, and scarred, concave oval window opposite the door. Frame 3: Even the view was the same. Frame 4: [One big, scratched-up oval window.]
Page 20. Frame 1: Leaning against the box vent beneath the window, I reached into my pocket. I wrapped my fingers around the smooth, familiar shape. I pulled it out… Frame 2: [Image of Max in front of the window, hand in jeans pocket.] Frame 3: [Close-up of Max’s hand holding a Bic lighter, thumb on the gas, flame coming out the top. The window lies suggestively beyond.] Frame 4: …and began my escape.


Back cover: [Two images of present-day Max, fat with double chin, shaved head, folded cuff knit beanie, round glasses, a t-shirt, jeans with rolled cuffs and slip-on shoes. In both images, Ki sits on a stool. Ki’s large torso is shaped like a giant heart, shoulders forming the top arches and belly hanging down below ki’s shirt forming the bottom of the heart. On the left, ki is smiling, heart looks full and arms rest on thighs, appearing to hold the heart belly. On the right, Max’s torso has been wrapped tight with four rounds of thick rope, ki’s heart and arms restricted into an hourglass shape. Max’s face looks pained and tight. Between the two Maxes, the caption “Open/Shut.”]



Max Airborne

Aquarian artist and agent of collective liberation. Co-founder of Fat Rose, Fat Lib Ink and FaT GiRL zine of yore.