This is a Story All About How My Life Got Flipped, Turned Upside Down


Sometimes I get hired because of the way I draw. Other times, it’s for the way I think. Once in a while, it’s for both. This job was a little different. I was hired because I was the story.

Long story short, In September 2009 I was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. At that point, my immune system was 100-times larger than it should have been and began attacking my internal organs. I was beginning to die. Luckily, I got better and a little over a year later I ran and finished the New York City Marathon in under three hours.

Right before the race, I was sharing the details of my story in the comment section of fellow illustrator and marathoner Tim O’Brien. This back and forth caught the attention of Kory Kennedy from Runner’s World. Kory got in touch with me right before Christmas and asked if I’d be interested in sharing my story in an upcoming issue of the magazine that looked at the intersection of cancer and running, both as a way to raise funds and a way patients use it to cope with the disease.

I said sure.

Kory pitched doing the story in a sequential, Harvey Pekar-esque sort of way. I was intrigued by the idea, but somewhat nervous since, I never work in that sort of way. The first few go rounds were a bit ho-hum.

There was also the issue of figuring out what was interesting to a larger audience of runners. There were things that stuck out in my mind that didn’t quite fit. Things like finding out that I had cancer via phone call while I was at a Mets game…
…Joking with my brother that I was going to be okay because I had beat Lance Armstrong and by the logic of the transitive property could also beat cancer…

…the intense pain of the bone marrow biopsy that felt like a spike going into my back…
…and the absurdity of the concept of fighting a disease that is part of your DNA.
Finally things started clicking. Running was at the center of my story, so maybe this will work with one giant runner at the center.

I liked where this was heading. It felt like my own work. I think earlier versions were a bit forced and clumsy, primarily due to me trying to work differently because of the format. Once I stopped things came much easier.

Fortunately, the staff at Runners World seemed to be as excited about the possibilities of this as I was. Editor Charlie Butler really helped nail down the story arc while Kory had plenty of excellent feedback on the format and composition. This project wouldn’t have been as successful without their expertise and suggestions. Thank you Runner’s World for helping me share my story.

* * *

On a somewhat related note, I’ll be running the New York City Marathon with Team in Training again this year. If you would like to donate to the cause please visit beatcancer.johnwtomac.com

June 06, 2011 by John W. Tomac
Categories: recent work, running, Uncategorized | 16 comments

Comments (16)

  1. Awesome project! You are now immortalized in print. Was it weird to do such a high profile self- portrait?

  2. John, this is awesome! Do you know which issue it is going to be in? Very well done.

  3. Nice dude… I love the anatomy of a story.

  4. I saw this at grams the other day its great!!! We love you and are so proud of you!

  5. This is amazing! I can’t wait to see and read it.
    You are an inspiration to all!

  6. Thanks, everybody. If you are interested there is a video on Runner’s World
    http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-243-588–13997-0,00.html

  7. That is an amazing and inspiring story. Great video and I look forward to picking up the July issue. Keep running and continue to stay positive!

    - DA

  8. That’s tremendous … then again your work always is … congrats!

  9. Nice work, my friend.

  10. Congrats, John! Great job! Finally they hired an illustrator who is also a runner! I can tell because you didn’t draw any characters with headbands and wristwarmers.

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