Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Quest: Year One

The format Ramsey Beyer chose for her diary comic, Year One, will be familiar to any fan of these sorts of comics. She lists Jeffrey Brown, Liz Prince, Ben Snakepit and others as influences, and one can see her mixing and matching their storytelling styles while in the process of developing her own. Her line is spare and cute, but not as cute as Prince's line. Indeed, the way Beyer draws teeth and open mouths adds a touch of the grotesque to the proceedings, echoing Joey Sayers a bit. What makes her a bit different from some of her autobio/diary comics-making peers is her thoughtfulness and self-reflection. Indeed, the entire project was a deliberate experiment not just to do a weekly autobio comic for a year, but to document her move to a new city (from Chicago to Philadelphia) and examine her feelings regarding the move. Beyer's ability to shift between whimsy, romance, art and the search for connections made this a unique snapshot for a person of a certain age running in certain cultural circles.

Romantic relationships are unsurprisingly a key aspect of this comic, but Beyer's approach is an interesting one. Like the best autobiographical cartoonists, Beyer gives the reader little in the way of background detail regarding her romances and friendships, providing the reader only with information in the moment. Diary comics are about life as it's lived, not one's winding backstory. In the course of the story, we learn that Beyer is seriously dating a couple of different guys long-distance in an open and straightforward fashion. This takes the "drama" out of her romantic life in narrative terms but adds a layer of something that's far more interesting, given the hurdles one must leap when trying to negotiate emotional terms with more than one lover. Beyer admits to being unsure about the concept of marriage but is refreshingly open to any and all ideas and freely admits to being uncertain about her future beyond her twenties.

Most of the comic is about the perilous balance between the naturally antisocial life of a cartoonist and a woman who left Chicago because of her inability to create many meaningful connections. Moving to Philly in part was a way of testing herself to find a way to reach out to others. Those connections are important not just because of her desire to reach out to others, but to actively participate in punk/DIY culture. One can really see the Ben Snakepit influence at work here, because his comics are as much a chronicle of his life in the punk community as it is about his own unusual living situation. For Beyer, going to zine & punk shows is part of her total ethos and aesthetics as a human being, both as participant (for the former) and spectator (for the latter). Beyer balances these weightier matters with "dialogues" she holds with her dog, which serve the purpose of adding a little comic relief while allowing her to put her own thought process in the spotlight.

Beyer is working more in the mold of Brown in the sense that she's not looking to be funny or add punchlines to each of her weekly vignettes. She mercifully dials down the cutesy factor when talking about the men in her life. She's matter-of-fact about her beliefs in interests without being dogmatic about any of them. Working in real time meant that she got noticeably better as the book goes on, making her line thinner but more confident and her figurework more convincing. I often speak of artists needing to get better in public; Year One was Ramsey Beyer's way of trying to get better both as an artist and as an individual. I hope she continues to explore form and formats as she continues her cartooning career.

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