Thursday, December 5, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #5: Sam Nakahira

Sam Nakahira is a young but prolific cartoonist who has already published a lot of comics heading into her first year at the Center for Cartoon Studies. That includes a 100+ page graphic memoir/journalism and several minicomics as she seeks to find her voice as an artist. This is still very much a work in progress, especially from a visual perspective, but all of the building blocks are there. Much of her work to date centers on different aspects of being a fourth-generation Japanese-American. A Japanese Doll is a sparse and poetic meditation on how Americans went from having a friendship doll exchange in the early 20th century to virulent hatred when Pearl Harbor came around. Patriotism quickly mutated into racist jingoism, with a twisted fury turned on Japanese-Americans; this comic notes how the way in which there was a run on destroying these dolls reflected the ways in which Japanese women were thought of us quiet and subservient.

Nakahira's anger is even sharper and more pronounced in Not Your Oriental Fantasy. Here, she calls out the ways in which the fetishization of Asian women is little more than a control fantasy; again, there's that passive doll imagery. Nakahira talks about the trend in America in the last century of Japanese war brides and the idea that they'd be passive, but Nakahira instead notes their powerful agency. They were willing to walk away from their home country, and they were willing to walk away when things got dark in America. Nakahira's use of shadow and imagery is powerful in this comic, viscerally supporting her ideas with a few key images on each page. That clarity of layout was essential in getting her points across.

Disconnection is about a college friend who was otherwise intelligent but was unable to perceive racism either against her (as someone of East Asian descent) or in general. It's a function of privilege and being unable to see how that privilege warps one's worldview. Nakahira admits at the end that she wasn't really sure where she was going with this comic other than to voice frustration with this person on paper, and it shows in how the visuals didn't really add much to the story.

The Astrologer is a different kind of experiment for Nakahira, as she eschews her simpler storytelling techniques and opts for a more poetic and visually dense style. This is fiction about an astrologer who's fading further and further away from reality and her family. Some of the images, especially on the first few pages, are striking in the way Nakahira blends foreground and background images. The shadowy form of the astrologer blending in with the shadows of the night sky is especially beautiful. The more mundane images at the end feel stiff and bland in comparison, and part of this is because Nakahira doesn't quite have a grip on body language and how bodies relate to each other in space.

Her most ambitious comic is Bill's Quiet Revolution, a work of memoir and journalism that delves into the grocer Bill Fujimoto, who was one of the source suppliers for the California Cuisine farm-to-fork revolution. The story begins with Nakahira eating with her mother and openly wondering about how much culture she's lost and how much has suppressed thanks to Japanese people being sent to concentration camps in the US. That was a zero event that affected the lives of every Japanese-American person in the United States at the time and one that still resonates today. In particular, her mom noted that it wasn't uncommon for Japanese-Americans to deliberately distance themselves from their culture; in their case, it meant identifying with Japanese-Hawaiian culture.

That was the background that led Nakahira to discover Bill Fujimoto, who inherited and expanded his father's business as a produce grocer in Northern California. The fascinating thing about the practice is the intersection between capitalism and art. For Fujimoto, the goal wasn't to simply sell as much stuff as possible. Instead, it was to sell the right things and knowing what that meant. In many respects, he was a produce critic and editor, which meant that he was constantly looking for new and interesting small farms and for the freshest, most interesting produce. It meant understanding weather, soil, and many other trends. What he didn't realize is that he was at the center of not just a local food revolution, but the beginning of a trend that would extend not just to restaurants, but to daily living.

Nakahira breaks the story down into his background, his relationship with small farmers, and the mutually beneficial relationship with restaurateurs. Those chefs were looking for ingredients that set their food apart, and Fujimoto's artisanal understanding of food gave them exactly what they needed. There's a scene where a customer is amazed at how good a simple chicken and vegetable dish was, and the chef correctly gives credit to the source. Fujimoto advised and encouraged small farmers to be bold and try new things, and locally-sourced food has been the backbone of both the farm-to-fork restaurant movement, it's had an influence on larger chain stores. Freshness, flavor, and health became as important than mass production and convenience. Nakahira interestingly ties all of this into his Japanese background, even if he didn't come out and explicitly make this connection himself. The work ethic, the craft, and the tradition went back years in America,as many Japanese immigrants set up farms.

Nakahira's research and attention to detail are excellent. Nakahira's reportage is top-notch, both in terms of doing the legwork on the grocer scene but also doing the work with regard to secondary sources that provided facts, figures, and dates. Adding her own personal story to the mix was an interesting move that paid off, though I wish she had been a little more specific at the end when she was tying together his ancestry with his expertise. Nakahira has a real talent for humanizing a particular topic while providing a deep well of knowledge for the reader to draw from. She made the reader care about Fujimoto both as a person and as a trailblazer, and his humility, in particular, shone through. Visually, Nakahira is absolutely rock-solid in terms of layouts and storytelling. She made the story visually interesting and compelling. Again, her weakness is in character interaction, and her figures, in general, are a bit stiff. She's not quite mastered the nuances of facial expressions either. Her line is functional and did the job, but there were times I wish there had been more visual flourishes that really made the food snap on the page. All of this is just a matter of time, repetition, and drawing from life. All in all, Nakahira has the makings of an excellent memoirist and an even better graphic journalist.                                                                                       

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #4: Anna Sellheim

In her autobio work, Anna Sellheim can't help but spill some ink on every single page, metaphorically speaking. In her latest collection, Everything's Fine: Let's See Where This Goes, Sellheim expressed some anxiety that a comic about her growth as a person and happiness with her boyfriend might seem boring or precious. In the hands of a different artist, that may well be true. For Sellheim, as her therapist noted, even positive change and growth is stressful, and if there's one thing this artist is good at depicting, it's how she reacts to stress. Sellheim is not so much an oversharer as she is a compulsive truth-teller; she can't help but get at the root of what's wrong with her as bluntly as possible. That includes trying to correct herself when she feels anxious about things for no reason.

There's a hilarious scene where she discusses the difference between having a meltdown and a freak-out with her boyfriend; the former is due to depression and the latter is due to anxiety. In either case, Sellheim has to balance the weight of guilt for dealing with mental illness while being in her first romantic relationship. Dealing with being loved and accepted no matter what is a scary thing unto itself, especially because Sellheim clearly doesn't feel like she deserves love and acceptance. And yet, as her therapist pointed out, she's doing the hard work of therapy, she's not sabotaging her relationship, she's maintaining total & open honesty, and she has a support system for herself as well. In moments of panic or sadness, it's hard to see progress, but that's what therapy, and to a certain extent, this comic is for. The comic is personal, sweet, intimate, funny, and an inspiring example all at once. Sellheim's quirky character design (wherein she reduces figures to essential and sometimes symbolic elements), her frantic lettering, and her bright use of colored pencils give the visuals of her storytelling their own unique rhythm that works in concert with her personal anecdotes.

Three Terrible Dogs sees Sellheim writing about something much cuter: her three awfully behaved dogs. No one can point out the ways in which having dogs is awful like an actual dog owner, because that behavior is always forgiven because of their emotional importance. This comic is interesting because Sellheim uses a more naturalistic style in drawing people, in part because she wanted to draw the dogs as naturalistically as possible too.  #saveTucaAndBertie originally appeared online but was redrawn and expanded upon. It ties into a running theme in Sellheim's life: there are times that she becomes upset about something because it's symbolic of a number of deeper issues she's been angry or afraid about but was unable to express them.

In this case, it was Lisa Hanawalt's Netflix show Tuca & Bertie getting canceled. Sellheim came to enjoy the show after being uncertain early on, but its cancelation triggered an avalanche of emotion surrounding sexism, misogyny, racism, and virtually every other injustice. It's about coming to grips with one's own experiences facing injustice but also having empathy for others and their experiences. Once again, there's a liveliness to Sellheim's line that stands out in her simply-drawn figures, especially with the red, blue, and green in her comic callbacks from the Tuca and Bertie show. Everything may not be fine in Sellheim's world, but she's working on it with her relentless exploration of art.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

31 Days of CCS #3: Amelia Onorato and Daryl Seitchik

It's tough to describe Amelia Onorato's oeuvre sometimes. Something like feminist-fantasy-fairy tales sort of gets at it, with a strong undercurrent of horror and frequent use of historical fiction tropes. At the same time, even her grimmest stories have a whimsical element, and they are always humane above all else. Regardless, her minicomic Churn is yet another fine example of her mind at work, combining many of those elements. This time around, the setting is the Massachusetts Bay colony in the 1600s, and there is a love triangle between a blacksmith named Prosper Smyth and "sisters" Remember Goulburn and Obedience Bright. (Those names just slayed me!) The gimmick here is that Remember, a young native woman, is in love with her adopted sister Obedience, while Obedience loves Prosper--and he loves them both!

Throw in a monster who takes on the appearance of the person you desire most, and you have a formula for some solid horror soap opera. There is a scene where Obedience kisses Remember (for "practice", not knowing how much her sister desired her) that triggers a tragedy and then some bold moves on the part of the protagonists. Onorato knows how to draw a tense action scene, but the ending surprised me at first, before I thought about the humane core of her work. No one ever considers why a monster does something, and that proves to be a major plot point here. Once again, it's Onorato's attention to detail that makes the story so effective.

Daryl Seitchik may be best known for her quasi-autobiographical Missy comics, but I remember her breakthrough being a surreal mini called Sub. It was an exploration of her subconscious, partly by way of her childhood, but it established early on her interest in exploring symbolic and surreal ways of exploring ideas. That was certainly true in her sole graphic novel to date, Exits, but it's much more pronounced in her more recent work. For example, Waiting For Ariel starts off with Seitchik in an "after-life bar", waiting for someone named Ariel. Seitchik's line looks simple on the surface, but then you blink and she uses this interesting broken-line technique that fractures pages and panels like a broken mirror.

This is a story about running the gauntlet, about death in the tarot sense: transformation. Indeed, the Daryl character walks around the afterlife with an infinity sign over her head, like she was the Magician from the tarot. It's reflective of infinite possibilities, even as she clearly had unresolved ties with the material world. There are hints of unresolved relationships, unresolved gender questions, and a fundamental unwillingness to let go--to fall. A false fall finds her in her childhood room, berated by Matryoshka dolls, until she realizes that she possesses the agency to ignore them. What she has to accept and embrace is her childhood self: memories, experiences, and all. Once she comforts her childhood self (an essential element of all therapy and self-actualization is self-love, and self-love starts with going back and loving one's self as a child), she's able to finally meet Ariel. This is a supernatural lion being, showing her the ocean that represents possibility and infinite growth.

Seitchik emerged fully-formed as an artist after just a couple of minis. Her voice, her intellect and most of her technique were there from the beginning. What's different about her work now is that she's pushing the limits of that technique and expressing herself in new ways. That was true in Waiting For Ariel in terms of her daring and original use of line, and it's certainly true in the first issue of her new series Follow The Doll. This is firmly in the category of "revisionist fairy-tale" that interestingly also uses Russian religious and folk imagery. There's an ornate quality to that kind of imagery that lends itself to visual depiction, from architecture to clothing. Seitchik's use of color is spectacular and something I haven't seen from her before, but the watercolors at play here form the backbone of the story's narrative.

This issue follows a young girl at a time when her long-suffering mother has died. Her mother left her a doll that occasionally spoke to her. In the wake of her death and her father subsequently and quickly marrying someone new, the girl finds her entire view of the world in ruins, especially her belief in god. After a fantasy sequence where god (as a sort of Emperor tarot figure with a flaming sword) appears in the sky and she kills him with snowballs, the doll simply tells her, "There is no man in the sky." When the doll later throws itself on the fire, it reappears, Phoenix-like, flying across the girl's house. Her father thinks it's evil witchcraft, the work of Baba Yaga, but the girl suspects otherwise. What is the doll? The dawning of the age of reason, or the symbol of personal renewal? Is it the essence of the relationship between mother and daughter? All the girl (and the reader) can do at this point is to follow the doll.

Monday, December 2, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #2: Gilmore Girls Fanzine and Doug Catches Up

A time-honored CCS tradition is creating fanzines for favorite TV shows, bands, and other pop culture. It's a very CCS thing to do, as it's collaborative, it's project-oriented, and it provides a fun way to blow off creative steam when not working on one's thesis. Considering that all of the equipment needed to whip out a comic is available at their fingertips in CCS's amazing lab, the urge for a project like this can be satisfied quickly. It also seems like fellow Keren Katz is at the center of a lot of these projects these days, be it comics or wacky dance performances or musicals. One person can mean a lot to a community as a catalyst, and Katz is truly a miraculous walking whirlwind.

Most of the fanzines from CCS have been about shows I don't know. However, the Gilmore Girls Fanzine (edited by Katz and Jess Johnson) is very much in my wheelhouse as a show I both love and love to hate. Of course, living in a small, quirky Northeastern town like White River Junction makes it easy to relate to the small, quirky setting of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls, with its vast array of cranks, weirdoes, dreamers, and artists. The heart and soul of this comic is Jess Johnson, who edited it but also provided a lot of interstitial material to bind its stories together. There's a funny segment imagining Lane, the childhood best friend of Rory, one of the main characters in the show, going deep into different kinds of manga to read in the same effortless, encyclopedic way she knows about rock. Johnson even ties this into Lane joining a comics circle in the same way she joined a band in the show.

Natalie Wardlaw zeroes in on Rory's romantic life and all of the horrible men she dated. She turned up the angst and even the undercurrent of physical threat presented by her Stars Hollow boyfriend Dean, based on a scene where he tangled with a bad boy at Rory's private school.  Rachel Ford's funny story digs in on the small character details and makes fun of the way that Lorelai, the mother of Rory, pretends to be humble but secretly revels in her relative glamorousness in town. Julia Alekseyeva talks in all seriousness about how seeing a bookish girl on television was very important to her as a teen, and she longed to have the same kind of relationship with her mother that Rory did with Lorelai. Pop culture and simply having the feeling of being seen can have a powerful effect.

Of course, funny strips by Emma Hunsinger and Kat Ghastly balanced that devotion as they imagined what the show was like, having never watched it. Ghastly imagined that cannibalism eventually would become a plot point. Isabel Manley and Ortal Avraham both get at the heart of the show: that putative protagonists Rory and Lorelai are both self-centered narcissists in the same way that Lorelai's mother Emily is. The tenor of this fanzine is at once loving, devoted, skeptical, and mocking: a perfect description of the Gilmore Girls fanbase. Now, pardon me while I start my essay on why Rory and Lorelai were the real villains of the series...

Kori Michele Handwerker and Pat L's Doug Catches Up is less a fanzine than it is fan-fiction, imagining an older Doug Funnie returning to his old town of Bluffington years after he had moved away. Doug was an interesting cartoon in the way that it addressed pre-teen angst and issues in a direct, honest manner, even if its visuals and details were absurd and cartoony. That's lost a bit in this black and white comic (although the cover preserves it), but the creators otherwise remain true to the spirit of the show. Doug has a long talk with his former bully, Roger, where he reveals that he's bisexual and engaged to another old friend of Doug's named Chalky. The entire comic has a tone of gentle forgiveness, understanding, and self-examination. As Handwerker notes in the afterword, the comic isn't a manifesto about the true nature of the show's characters or about forgiving bullies; rather, it's a logical extrapolation of how some of the kids might have turned out and dealing with issues that are more openly spoken about in today's culture (like coming out, or coming out as trans and using different pronouns). The artists really nail the visual style of the show to such a degree that this could easily serve as an updated version of the show.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

31 Days of CCS #1: Mary Shyne

Kicking off my annual feature on the artists of the Center For Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT, we have Mary Shyne's Get Over It. Shyne is a fairly recent graduate whose stylish early chapters of this book caught my attention last year. Shyne stands out because of her strong character design, attention to background detail, and firm understanding of how to draw frenetic action. The high concept of the comic is that a bike delivery woman named Leslie, who works for her father, can see the anthropomorphic emotional projection of everyone around her. When she happens upon some equipment at a college lab she was supposed to deliver food to, she realizes that the equipment makes these "emotional miasmas" solid...and punchable.

The high concept is clever but complicated, and Shyne explores this complexity with a couple of clever devices. First, the comic is in black and white, and while Shyne uses a fairly thin and fluid line, her dense use of spotting blacks and high level of background detail make the panel-to-panel reading of this an intense experience. However, to depict the miasmas, she uses the clever trick of drawing them all in red. It's a fantastic contrast, especially when there's a transition between the miasmas being invisible to everyone by Leslie to them having actual corporeal qualities and wreck the streets of New York. The depiction of speed and motion is also a crucial part of the narrative, as the comic is very much an ode to bicycle delivery and the ways in which the city becomes a kind of angular, high-speed adventure. Shyne does this through the use of Dutch angles, grid-smashing page layouts, high-impact splash pages, and visceral body language that bends and stretches with the action.

Shyne matches the visual complexity (yet fluidity) of the visuals with a complex layer of plot and emotional themes. There are a couple of emotional locked-room mysteries that steer the narrative, but Shyne hands out subtle clues from the very beginning of the comic without overplaying her hand. What's especially clever about them is that as Shyne unravels them, the mysteries surrounding them melt away in ways that seem obvious in retrospect but are tense in the moment. The lab tech whose equipment started Leslie down this road went through a brutal break-up, but when her ex is someone surprisingly close to Leslie, the mystery deepens. As the narrative stakes get higher when a piece of equipment disappears in a taxi, the emotional stakes similarly rise as Shyne reveals the final layer of the story: this is a comic about a father and daughter.

It's a story about resentment, and fear of abandonment, and loneliness. It's a story about unresolved trauma and how it was not only revisited on Leslie but on others around him. Shyne cleverly reflects the many complex layers of feeling with a literal fistfight with a monster, complete with acrobatics and lots of property damage. There are no monsters, there are no heroes or villains. There are just people, many of them with feelings of betrayal that never healed. This is a story about therapy (in its most visceral, outrageous form) and how healing can begin. That said, Shyne never abandons the mechanics of the original narrative. As a result, when we reach the end, there's a surprise reveal that opens up the possibility of a sequel. This is a confident debut for a skilled artist with a sophisticated understanding of fast-paced adventure storytelling and a lot to say about difficult emotional relationships.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

On The Passing Of Tom Spurgeon

Critic, writer, and show organizer Tom Spurgeon died on November 13th, 2019. He was fifty years old. He loved comics. Comics loved him back. What follows is a series of personal anecdotes, thoughts, and memories of Tom.

** Most people in creative fields are lucky to have a single successful avenue for expression. Tom wound up having five in his lengthy, expansive career. He was one of the best-ever editors of The Comics Journal and in general a long-time champion of minicomics in particular. He fulfilled a dream when he wrote the syndicated comic strip Wildwood. He wrote an excellent biography on Stan Lee and helmed a history of Fantagraphics, that while troubled in its final execution, was superb in the portions that he wrote and organized. He launched the single-most-important comics blog and news site, The Comics Reporter, and kept it going through thick and thin--though rarely in a way that he was satisfied with. Finally, he became Executive Director of Comics Crossroads Columbus (CXC), a remarkable show in partnership with the Billy Ireland Library at Ohio State. Let's unpack some of these.

** In my opinion, Tom is the greatest comics critic of all time and its second-best interviewer (behind only Gary Groth). He matched his catholic tastes as a critic and reader with a relentlessly searching and demanding critical acumen that celebrated excellence and hated mediocrity. His willingness to go deep and celebrate comics in all its forms is what made him unusual. You were just as likely to read about an editorial cartoonist or an EC artist as you were about a French alternative cartoonist or someone from Fort Thunder at the Journal or the Comics Reporter. His reviews were often grumpy and curmudgeonly, but he never went for cheap heat. He was direct and sometimes harsh, though he was willing to change his mind from time to time. He was perhaps the earliest advocate of comics-as-poetry in the form of Warren Craghead.

His Sunday interviews at the Comics Reporter need to be collected. He went far and wide and went deep with so many comics veterans and up-and-coming cartoonists. I was lucky enough to be interviewed twice by him, once for art comics in 2012 and once to discuss Acme Novelty Library #19. In both instances, it was clear that he clearly delved into what I wrote and pushed me in interesting directions. He was demanding. When a story arose, he wanted documentation, names and dates. As much as he knew and wrote about and documented, you could fill a hundred books with the gossip and unsourced data that was in his head that he chose not to print. Tom had a powerful sense of integrity and wasn't afraid to get into conflicts because of it.

** Indeed, I chuckled at the number of remembrances of Tom today that contain some variation of "Tom and I didn't always see eye to eye..." or "We argued all the time". However, those anecdotes were inevitably followed by an affirmation of the respect and love people had for him. For Tom, comics was too important to not take criticism seriously, even if it meant hurting feelings. That didn't mean that he didn't care about people.

Indeed, The Comics Reporter was the single biggest nexus for connecting cartoonists and writers in need with a network that could help them. I can attest to this personally, as Tom not only posted notes with regard to financial crises that I've faced over the past decade, he also personally contributed on more than one occasion.

Tom did piss people off, and recently. He had a tart tongue and knew how to zing people. Of course, his most popular target was himself. Tom was famously self-deprecating, and this wasn't a pose. It was something he struggled with, I believe. At the same time, when Tom gave you a compliment, it felt earned. He said nice things about me all the time on TCR, and "hearing" compliments is something I struggle with. But when Tom said it, I listened and took it to heart. At the most recent SPX, when he congratulated me on the slate of programming and gave specific comments on certain panels he liked, it was the most profound compliment I received in a weekend full of overwhelming thanks and praise.

** Let's talk a little more about The Comics Reporter. In an age of twitter, facebook, Instagram, and other forms of social media that make it easy to connect writers and artists with an audience, that site's influence was less pervasive. In its heyday, and pretty much up until he went to work for CXC, The Comics Reporter was required daily reading. A link from Tom meant that you were going to get read. I was incredibly grateful to Tom when he started linking my work at sequart.com because that's when my writing started to get taken seriously. When sequart died and I started my own blog, I asked Tom for some industry-related advice, and he was kind enough to give it to me.

Tom went to bat for a number of creators in a multitude of ways. Anytime he went an editorial route, his opinions were incisive and well thought out. He didn't just report the news; he was an educator. He was crucial in making sense of the past fifteen years of comics' expansion and boom time. Tom had grand plans to expand it further that never came to fruition, much to his own frustration. He was down on himself for what he considered to be TCR's mediocrity, and I told him that even in this more vestigial form, he was still conveying more information than anyone else. Tom felt that burden of imagining a project and it never appearing quite as one hoped. But he did it anyway.

** Tom somehow wrote Wildwood while writing a biography about Stan Lee and freelancing for the Journal. He kept up The Comics Reporter while writing his book about Fantagraphics. That he wasn't able to finish it the way he wanted turned what should have been a classic into something that was highly self-congratulatory. Tom had a way of getting at the facts of what made something important with no patience whatsoever for frippery or self-promotion.

** I think the project that he was simultaneously proudest of and most troubled by was CXC. It is unbelievably hard to put together a comics festival. There are a lot of moving parts, especially when you're working with the grinding gears of a college bureaucracy. He seemed constantly weary when I saw him. However, the joy in his eyes and the genuine emotion in his voice when he was able to bestow the Emerging Cartoonist award (which includes a significant cash prize) showed exactly what comics and the people behind them mean to him. It meant a lot to him to give Katie Skelly, Kevin Czap, Kat Fajardo, Keren Katz, and Carta Monir both recognition and financial support. What a marvelous list that is: cutting-edge, diverse, and possessing the same kind of community values that Tom did.

Still: I know that Tom got blowback about any number of issues. Logistics proved difficult at times. I know that he did his best, but I also know that like everything he ever did, it wasn't quite like he pictured it. It doesn't matter, though, because what he did, working with a lot of different people, was still warmly received by so many people.

** Tom Spurgeon loved comics. He loved its shitty history and calling it out. He loved what comics is becoming now, and he loved what he saw as its future. He used his influence and power to lift others up, especially later in his career. Even his meanest reviews were never personal, even if some seemed dismissive. The targets of negative reviews tended to forgive him because of his sincerity and advocacy. He helped a lot of people in a multitude of ways, including me. I modeled my approach after his. He never steered me wrong. Without his example, his advice, and his direct help, I wouldn't be writing today. He loved comics, and comics loved him, and so did I.

Friday, November 8, 2019

mini-kus #79: Powerpaola's I Couldn't Stop

Ecuadorian-Columbian cartoonist Powerpaola's debut, Virus Tropical, was an excellent childhood memoir and heralded a run of such books by women. Her autobiographical contribution for the always-excellent mini-Kus series,(#79) I Couldn't Stop, is about an evening of portents in Buenos Aires. Her style is totally immersive, from the first panel depicting a full moon in the sky with probing eyes to the transition to a close-up of her own eyes, then distancing the reader with a pair of goggles. The entire comic depicts a kind of push-and-pull with the reader and with her world, as she found herself needing to get out and see people and connect with them in part because she had been working on a comics project about sex abuse.

There is an unsettling momentum with regard to fate in this comic, starting with a reference to the horoscope and continuing on to losing a supposedly protective bracelet, a warning from a friend about being on a bike, and seeing a cop wave a gun in the air in public. Along the way, she is almost defiant about rejecting and ignoring these omens, as she desperately needs to move, be active, and see her friends. The gray wash she uses adds to the dark mood of the comic, as well as her curious blend of naturalism and cartoony and almost grotesque character design. She seems to get what she needs with regard to defying fate, connecting with her friends, and even finding hope for change with regard to abuse and horror.

However, after that final portent of the cop waving a gun around and then sharply saying "Don't criticize me!" when people call him on his recklessness, she is defiant in going home on her bike, despite her friends begging her to go with her in their car. The result implies almost a kind of hubris on her part, that she may have managed to find a way to cope with the horrors swirling in her mind, but she ignored her safety in other, more basic ways--and she paid the price. The comic cuts off right at the point of her getting injured, with no further context or explanation. Given the warnings she gave the reader and that she herself ignored, no further explanations are needed. This is a grim comic that's nonetheless filled with moments of light before it spins off into the abyss, all told with a powerful sense of humanity.