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Creative Nonfiction


When You Love a Cartoon

Haillea Drummond

When you love a cartoon, you watch it several times. The first time was after your friend begged you time and time again to start it. Your social feeds are filled with people squealing about scenes you don’t have context for. You have no clue what the show is even about, but eventually, you click the button on your Disney+.

The show probably isn’t as good as everyone is saying, you tell yourself as you hit play on the TV. It’s on Disney Channel! They haven’t made a good show in a while, and you have a weird standard for shows. No show has felt right when you’ve been trying to get through the backlog of television you’ve told people you’ll watch. Your mind starts to wander as you try to watch, and suddenly the show is over. You tell whoever recommended the show that you liked it, even though you don’t remember anything about it. Very little has stuck to you, and it’s a struggle to answer the question “What is your favorite show or movie?” and make the answer feel honest. You want to find a show that makes you feel. You’re scared you’ll just waste your time trying to find one.

But your friend has introduced you to content that you love. She has good taste, and you trust her. Maybe you’ll like this silly little owl show.

The Owl House. It’s a funny name.

Slowly but surely, you fall in love. You don’t even realize you’ve binged through all that’s available in a week during the summer before college. You scream so loud that your brother jumps when you discover the show isn’t complete and episodes are airing now. As if the world is punishing you, you remember you don’t have cable to watch the new episodes, so you’re forced to wait. The time drags on, and when you finally get your hands on the episodes, you consume them like a woman dying of thirst in the desert. Then your first real hiatus starts, and you’re unsure what to do with yourself. You can’t stop thinking about this show, these plots, these characters, even as you’re trying to figure out how to be a college student. You think about the show on repeat, playing scenes again and again in your head, hoping that works as a coping mechanism for the hiatus.

It doesn’t register till after that you’re different. There’s before you started watching and after. Nothing is the same, and you rewatch familiar episodes because those other shows don’t make you feel this way. There’s a joy you haven’t felt in . . . well, years now, and you keep watching over and over while counting down the days to new episodes. An eternity will feel like it’s passed no matter what you do.

When you love a cartoon, you convince your friends to watch it. Someone else did it for you, and now you return the favor. You need people to talk to because you’ve changed. The back of your mind is filled with portals, witches, demons, humans, and the worlds they escaped to instead of whatever you used to think about. You can hardly remember other things you like beyond this show. Your brain chemistry has been altered, irrevocably and extensively.

Friends who watch it love it for a while, but most don’t have the same connection as you do. They don’t recognize that Luz is a people pleaser like them. They don’t share King’s desperation for love and connection. They don’t connect with Gus and Willow’s self-deprecation and fear of not being enough or Amity and Hunter’s fear of disappointing everyone around them. Your friends don’t look at the characters and get that twisted feeling deep in their subconscious that makes them realize “Oh, I’m like them.”

Your friends enjoy the show and theorize with you for a while. They listen to you talk for a bit, but they can move on and will find new things. Your friends watch other shows and find the same amount of joy in that new show as they did with The Owl House. They can forget about this show for a while and think about whatever else they want to, and that’s okay.

The same isn’t possible for you. You don’t know why you can’t move on.

You feel like you’re annoying everyone when you keep bringing it up, so you force yourself to close your mouth and listen to whatever they have to say, even if you don’t care. Even if your brain won’t allow you to store the information they give you properly, no matter how hard you try.

You try not to keep bringing The Owl House up, even if it’s one of the hardest things to do. How do you not talk about something that’s taking up the majority of the space in your mind?

When you love a cartoon, you can’t help giddily smiling when someone asks you any question that lets you bring the show up. You could talk for hours about the queer representation, how important it is and how happy it makes you. You could talk about the representation of chronic illness or the sheer amount of foreshadowing you only pick up on after several rewatches. Or about the never-ending theories circulating through your head about what could happen, how they could fix things, and what the hell happened to Caleb. That last one is ever-evolving with every new episode and plagues you the most while the show is still unfinished.

You can and will talk about these things happily until your treacherous mind murmurs to stop. “No one wants to hear about this. Shut up.” Most of the time, you do, because you’re right: no one cares this much about foreshadowing or a character who has had no actual screen time. Sometimes you keep going because it’s too late now, and you have to sit late at night cursing yourself that they probably think you’re annoying. Don’t do that again. You’re alone in this deep love. Try not to be actually alone.

It’ll happen again, even if you try not to. Because it makes you feel light and happy to start talking about this show. You feel good telling people about the amazing things you’ve found in The Owl House, even if you feel bad about it later. Even if you’re afraid, you’re happy when you get to say what’s on your mind. You wonder how long you will keep bringing it up after the show ends. Will you ever stop? Will the joy drain away one day?

When you love a cartoon, people don’t understand. They ask you what your favorite TV show is, and you tell them honestly, “Oh, it’s this show called The Owl House!” They’ll respond with, “I’ve never heard of that.” And for some reason, you feel obligated to tell them it’s a children’s cartoon on Disney Channel. The discomfort feels palpable sometimes because their favorite show is Stranger Things or The Office or some other mainstream, “grown-up” show with real people they can drool over that you’ve never seen. Of course, you don’t drool over The Owl House characters like that—they’re teenagers, for god’s sake—but the animation can be swoon-worthy sometimes.

It’s awkward because you don’t know what else to say without making things more awkward. No one your age wants to hear about this cartoon that has changed your entire being at this point. They’ve never had anything like that themselves.

People your age have hardly ever found a piece of media that has permanently changed who they are, for better or worse.

People your age have hardly ever related everything they can in their life to one singular show.

People your age have hardly ever just sat and stared into space, having an internal crisis about what will happen once something ends.

Who does that? It’s just a show.

You do that sometimes. Sitting on your bed, just wondering what will happen to you once there’s nothing left. Will you still be consumed by thoughts of “What now? What happens to Luz after the show ends? What happens to all of them when the show is over?” What do you do once there’s no more canon content, and you’re forced to supplement with fanon work that is so good but doesn’t feel the same? Fanfiction and cosplays are an altered version of the same drug, but it doesn’t always fit the same on the brain receptors you’ve molded to perfectly fit this obsession. Or maybe this show is the puzzle piece lost on the ground, and now that you’ve found it, you can finally connect the edges of your brain with it. And anything other than this exact piece will distort the puzzle ever so slightly and make it look wrong, even if it’s nearly identical.

Whatever it is, you’re sure if you told anyone about this function of your brain, they’d wonder if you need psychiatric help. If anyone has ever felt like this before, they’ve never said it out loud.

As far as you can tell, you’re alone in these feelings.

Your brain is a solitary confinement, built as a punishment for these thoughts that aren’t “normal.”

When you love a cartoon, you spend a lot of time waiting. The waits are always longer than the episodes feel like they can satisfy. Sometimes you’ll get so sick of waiting that even visiting a foreign country won’t stop you from watching the newest episode. So, you’ll lie on your bed and hope the Wi-Fi will hold out for the 25 minutes you need to catch up with the rest of your world. You wonder to yourself if your roommate thinks you’re strange for doing this, but you honestly can’t care that much at that moment. You can care later when your brain decides now is the moment to overthink. Right now, you’re probably the happiest you’ve been in a while, lying there in that bed in a country you love while watching a show you’re obsessed with.

There’s what feels like an even longer wait before episodes near the end. The first episode of season three comes out with only 2023 as a date for the second, and your body burns with more unanswered questions than you thought you could contain in a single brain. This show is the only thing keeping you sane through school, and “sane” might be a stretch. The first episode aired during midterms, and you just pray the 45 minutes of content are enough to buoy you through the rest of the semester without sinking like a stone. You’re struggling to focus on studying for your midterm exams when you’d rather be studying the events of the most recent episode. Really, it’s remarkable you passed those tests and turned your assignments in on time.

It’s not that you’re ungrateful for the prolonging of the show. It’s probably good for you that these episodes aren’t coming out within a week of each other. Your brain won’t explode from content overload if you have to wait months instead of days. But when you’d heard the news about season three only being three special episodes, you thought your heart was breaking a little inside. You’re grateful you have this show for as long as possible, but this show is a drug, your mind has formed an addiction to the high, and you’re not sure how long you can successfully keep the withdrawal at bay.

What’s more terrifying is the thought of it being gone for good, and that day ticks by ever closer. 

You’re not even sure what the countdown says.

What will be worse: the waiting or the end? Only time will tell, and time is your worst enemy.

This show has taken time, so much time, from you. You invest the time that’s money you don’t have and wonder if your return on investment will be worth it in the end. It has to be. It will be if you have any say in it. This love, this obsession, that you harbor can’t be a waste; you won’t recover if it is.

You want to feel a release instead of a loss when this whole thing is finished—it ever really is done in your head—but you don’t want to let go. Can you have both? Is it possible to accept this loss from your life but mourn it still? Or are you destined to live this life haggard and strangled from the hold this show has on your soul?

When you love a cartoon, you’re scared of what it means. Why do you feel like crying over not being a chosen one? Why do these lines about not being good enough resonate so deep in your chest? Why are you so scared to pick a favorite character? And why is the answer because of what it will say about you? There is no safe answer you can think of for “Who’s your favorite character?”

Why? Why? Why? Why?

Question after question. That’s all you’re becoming now: a vessel for questions, questions, questions. You don’t want to answer most of them. The answers are too real, too much, too exposing of the dark, vulnerable parts of yourself you’d rather petrify than see the light of day.

You already question every single thing in your life, but it’s a relief to focus on something you know. Something you can control for once. You can control the thoughts surrounding this show most of the time until the questions start spiraling; you can’t control the answers you’ve been avoiding.

You should answer your questions. It’ll help. It should help. It’s got to help.

When you love a cartoon, you’re scared, but a good scared. Unfortunately, it’s easy to focus on the bad things: the discomfort, the confusion, the impatience. The brain works like a microscope sometimes, focusing on the bacteria infecting the sample. The whole picture is so much more than that.

In the big picture, there is a show that inspires you. You want to do things because of it, and it’s been a long time since you’ve really wanted to do something. Whether it be analyzing every frame for crumbs of foreshadowing, making your own palisman staff, or making your own stories. Ones you hope will do the same for others as The Owl House has done for you. A story that will make you love characters and simultaneously fear for their futures while cheering them on, give you the representation you need or want to see, tell stories and give lessons that you need to hear, even as an adult. Make a story that will help people understand more about themselves than they thought a silly little story could. Create a community that people can find comfort in, even if they just watch from the sidelines.

In the big picture, there is a show that helps you connect to parts of your brain that have been short-circuiting and causing damage with the electrical shock. The trees that hold your memories are scarred and burned, and you’re still working out why and what to do now. You can address those problems easier when you see them in other people, even if those people are animated. They give you the tools to get the vocabulary to ask the important questions in your life. The ones that aren’t thinly veiled by a cartoon. You can get help if you want because even if you don’t understand, you have a start. It’s a good start.

It’s absolutely terrifying, but there’s something. And that . . . isn’t all bad.

That’s what happens when you love a cartoon. A beautiful story made by amazing people will make you laugh, cry, and understand more than you ever knew you needed to. Of course, not many people will get it, but when they do, well, you weirdos should stick together. That’s the magic in this realm: the power that our creations hold over other people and what they can do when we tell people. It’s a powerful tool for all of them. For you. For us.

You may have no idea what the future holds, but it would be so cool if this show was in it. It’s not perfect, it’s not “normal,” but you think you like this person you are now because of what this show has given you. And maybe that makes the rest of it all worth it.

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