By Matt Gleason
Mental Health Association Oklahoma
What happens when you’re a teenager experiencing homelessness in an unfamiliar city & your sketches also happen to predict possible futures?
To answer this question, our very Rob Harmon, aka Robert Soul, wrote the graphic novels, “Ruined My Rhythm, Volume 1 & 2.” It’s illustrated by Luna Cooper, a teenager who brings to life the character of Maria Sanchez.
Maria is a teenager from Springfield, Missouri who escapes her foster parents by taking a Greyhound bus to Tulsa in hopes of finding her father. Unfortunately, in the process, Maria ends up on the streets and can’t bring herself to tell anyone that she doesn’t have a home. The graphic novel also takes on the issue of substance use.
As a MAP service coordinator, it’s Rob’s job to help people overcome homelessness and to connect with life-changing services in the community. The graphic novel was created before he began working for us about a year ago, but Maria isn’t unlike some people Rob has met and served.
Rob was recently featured in Preview, a monthly Oklahoma magazine, and has also been heralded by the Tulsa World.
Check out this Q&A with Rob!
As a graphic novel writer, how has the issue of homelessness informed your writing?
The average person doesn’t have to think about, “Well, should I spend the night in this abandoned warehouse right now? Is this my best option? If I get kicked out by the police, where do I go? Or is tonight the best night to sleep in the park?” Most people really don’t grasp that idea. I’ve worked with people who have told me countless stories about homelessness. It’s my honor to highlight a character who did live on the streets. It helps break the stereotype that people without a home don’t really need the money they are panhandling for, or they don’t want to work.
Maria is a teenager and so she represents the alarmingly high rate of teenagers who are homeless. Plus, she’s also grieving the death of her mother and struggling with the trauma of being in the foster system. There are great people doing a wonderful job of taking young people into their homes, but sometimes, unfortunately, the whole system is overloaded and a lot of bad things can happen.
If Maria was someone you could help at the Association, what steps would you do to change her life?
There are a lot organizations that definitely have ways to get teens back on their feet and stabilized after being homeless — I’m grateful the Association is one of them. I’m also thrilled Tulsa is making giant leaps towards helping end youth homelessness.
Why would you encourage someone to read your graphic novels?
The reason why I’m working in mental health is because I care about people who have been underrepresented — people who have not had a privileged life. It kills me some people are still wondering when they’ll get their next meal or find a safe place to sleep for the night. I hope the reader finishes the story wanting to know what they can do to be more aware of, and receptive of, people’s urgent needs. And I want people to take away the fact that someone may have a rough exterior but, in reality, they’re hurting, they’re lonely and they need somebody to let that exterior slide away as you reach out to them and see them as they really are.