When artist and CCAD professor Eric Clift-Thompson released his first queer vampire zine, Vampthology, he didn’t anticipate that the stories within would make readers cry. But the explorations of community and queer and trans identity through vampirism struck a chord with readers.
Now, Clift-Thompson is preparing to release his second zine in the series, In Memoriam – also the title of his new solo exhibit at WitchLab. The exhibit features linocut prints and other artwork, along with copies of the zine, and kicks off with an opening reception at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 3.
While In Memoriam is a sequel to Vampthology, it also works as a standalone, focused more intently on the sense of loss that Clift-Thompson experienced following the 2021 death of his grandmother, Donna. The pair were close, Clift-Thompson said, and she practically raised him after his parents’ divorce. Later, when the artist was outed, several members of his family distanced themselves, but not Mamaw Donna.
“When I came out, it’s not something she really understood or was excited about, but she never stopped loving me the way she did before,” Clift-Thompson said. “That’s not true for most other people in my life. After losing my dad in that regard, it was so important for me to have my grandma.”
The sense of loss that echoes in the zine stems not only from his grandmother’s passing, but also from the way members of the queer community can find themselves abruptly cut off from friends and family members after coming out – something that isn’t always done voluntarily. This is a reality Clift-Thompson understands intimately, having been abandoned by many in the rural Ohio town he grew up in after he was outed.
The coronavirus also forced the artist to consider the idea of loss in a different way. After developing chronic lung issues in the wake of a COVID infection, Clift-Thompson said he started to question how his own death might be viewed, and if lives like his even mattered to those who continued to move through the world as if nothing had changed. “Being disabled and being queer, and especially through the pandemic having that feeling of I might be gone, and people don’t mind … was something I was thinking about subconsciously,” he said.
But while myriad touchpoints influenced the writing, the heart of In Memoriam can be traced directly to the artist’s grandmother, whose death resonates most strongly in a poem delivered by a vampire who talks about seeing their last sunset, and who craves to see it again.
“I feel the same way [about my grandmother], especially thinking about how the sun is almost like the center of the universe," Clift-Thompson said. "When I was a kid, we were so attached that my world revolved around her. Part of losing that center of gravity to my world is like, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’”