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A humorous approach to homelessness


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Ray Miller has been drawing for most of his life - he's been homeless for about eight years.

Five years or so ago, under the New York Street Bridge, he began a series of doodles that eventually morphed into a series chronicling his experiences on the streets.

His friend Jeremy coined the strip name "Homeless Homies" when he showed some of Ray's initial drawings to their camp: "Look, everybody, Ray drew a strip with all of us Homeless Homies!"

The name stuck.

The memory is bittersweet for Ray. He remembers Jeremy, a kid in his young 20s, who, after struggling with addiction and homeless, finally cleaned up his act and was ready to move home - wherever that was. Ray said when he last saw Jeremy that he had a bus ticket and was excited to leave the streets behind. The next day, Jeremy was found dead under a Downtown bridge. No one knows what happened, Ray said, but he suspected foul play.

One of the many harsh realities of homelessness - ugly death and no justice. Every year at Christ Church Cathedral on the Circle, a homeless memorial is held for people who died on the streets - 45 in 2012. Hard to find the humor in that. Still, Ray unearths plenty of unlikely material.

Ray Miller, taking a break from illustrating his cartoons, at Central Library. - REBECCA TOWNSEND
  • Rebecca Townsend
  • Ray Miller, taking a break from illustrating his cartoons, at Central Library.

The legendary rats that run the riverside and invest encampments, for example, have their own strip, "River Rats." In an early strip, the rats, introduced as super-breed of rodents escaped from a Downtown research lab, are beating up a cat.

Rather than rant about ubiquitous peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches offered through homeless feeding programs, Miller anthropomorphized "the signature sandwich."

Ray draws several other strips as well. "The Wild World of Mars" tells of a space crew abandoned on Mars after government cutbacks. "Our Pet Joe" chronicles the life of a human abducted as an alien pet. He's working with a local Christian group on a strip that asks whether God has a sense of humor.

He works weeks ahead on all the strips. Sometimes the challenges of living outdoors make it difficult to keep his artwork protected - rain, sleet, floods. He's lost some. But he is a regular at Central Library. In the serene setting of the stacks, he sets aside such setbacks, sits down at a table and keeps working.

Many of the people who move in Ray's circles find themselves in his strips. The sweet-hearted street person who, Ray said, "has been out here so many days he's lost his mind," but will take off his coat or shoes in the middle of winter to give to someone he sees in need? He roams the "Homeless Homies" strip as Homeless Helper.

"It's telling a story without pushing a pity festival," he said. "You have to figure out a way to do it without getting yourself crying or you might snap like Homeless Helper. You've got to put a twist on it, so they get the info and laugh."



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