Friday, March 30, 2012

Three Flavors of Autobio: McNinch, Mari Naomi, Fawkes

This column looks at three different sets of autobiographical comics. One addresses being in relationships, one addresses being alone, and one addresses being part of a family.

Sleep-Deprived, Not-so-butch, and Sister Spit Tour 2011 Diary, by MariNaomi. Self-described "oversharer" Mari Naomi has made a career of talking about the history of her sex life in terms both moving and witty, and the first two minis here are further examples of the sort of stories found in her book Kiss and Tell. The latter mini is an account of the artist going cross-country with poet Michelle Tea's group of artists, poets, and writers to read and perform excerpts from their work. Being a first-time published author made the experience nerve-wracking but exciting, and her diary of the event was funny in that the trip was entirely sex-free, which is a bit funny considering that sex and sexuality are the dominant concerns in that book. As one might expect from a scribbled road diary, the images here are small, cartoony and frequently sketchy. Mari Naomi makes up for that by adding flourishes like a pair of birds hanging out at the bottom of each page cracking jokes and commenting on the proceedings, as well as other decorative elements. It's an interesting account of the ways that community can form in a short span of time given cramped quarters and intense activity.

Not-so-butch is less a comic than it is a sparsely-illustrated zine, but it's a wonderfully attractive package that is highlighted by MariNaomi's self-deprecating wit. She's a fine raconteur who has a way of framing specific anecdotes in a way that allows for a smooth narrative flow. This zine is about her first couple of attempts at finding a girlfriend after yet another man had broken her heart, and the disastrous results that ensued. The artist describes herself as sexually aggressive with men but shy with women, and the power struggles that resulted were both amusing and predictable. Sleep Deprived is one of her longer "Kiss and Tell" comics, but it's as much about her battles with bedbugs as it is a troublesome relationship. To put a finer point on it, the parasitic insects (literally sucking her blood away) were not unlike the emotionally parasitic man she wound up with. Naturally, when she finally fully committed herself to the relationship, he grew distant and eventually broke up with him. This was obviously an unsettling experience and the result is an unsettling zine, as she relates the lack of sleep from fearing bug bites is what eventually drove her batty.

You Don't Get There From Here #21, by Carrie McNinch. McNinch has been doing autobiographical zines and comics for something like two decades now, and the current incarnation of her autobio takes the form of daily, three to four panel strips. With no context, he plops the reader straight into her life and daily rituals. Like Jesse Reklaw's Ten Thousand Things To Do, the act of writing a cartoon diary becomes a kind of therapeutic release where one can discuss one's problems in public without immediate fear of judgment or shame. Such discussion is always in the context of walking a dog, eating Indian food, going for a run in the desert and finding ways to enjoy the small, poetic moments in life. McNinch alludes to a former drinking problem and how it continues to tug at her even now that she doesn't drink; an injury to her shoulder that's been a cause of frustration; her feelings of being depressed, both generalized and because of the change in season. I love her loose, cartoony line and delightful self-caricature, as they are perfect matches for her bracing honesty and unflagging sense of optimism.

Oh No! Children!, Dust and The Terrible Story of Kinyras and Myrrha, by Glynnis Fawkes. Fawkes, among other things, is an archeological illustrator who has spent time at ruins, drawing layers of strata. Her comics are largely autobiographical reflections on being a mother, an artist, a wife and a professional, and how she balances (or doesn't balance) her various demands. Her line is loose and sketchy, emphasizing the hint of line rather than the fullness of line. In that way, she's quite adept at depicting bodies in relation to one another--especially with regard to her and her children. That's especially important because this approach de-emphasizes the cuteness factor of depicting children and instead focuses on actual closeness. With two children at home that she's in charge of, it's clear that she learned the brutal lesson that a second child is not twice as much work, but ten times as much work with fewer respites. Oh No! Children! is funny and knowing, and certainly doesn't spare her children her frequently annoyed stance on their behavior. Her son in particular is a giant handful, constantly looking to push buttons and expand boundaries. He's also hilarious and sweet, even when he's annoying and provoking conflict with his younger sister.

Dust is a series of short stories that focuses on Fawkes' adventures overseas and how important that time is to her, the incredible amount of difficulty she has in finding time to get comics work done, her feelings about her actual work and whether it's worth it, and ruminations she has while cleaning. I admire Fawkes' honesty regarding the direction her life has taken as a mother, and how it's satisfying in some ways and limiting in others. It's obvious that Fawkes is happiest in ancient cities filled with ruins, yet even those cities are less than ideal in many ways, apart from being separated from her family. That restlessness pervades all of her work, and she's not willing to provide easy answers for her readers. Finally, Kinyras and Myrrha is an adaption of a story by Ovid that is especially lurid. Ostensibly a myth about how the myrrh tree was created, it's about a young girl who is only attracted to her father, despite the consequences that forbidden love entails. When she manages to bed him (unbeknownst to him), she demands punishment from the gods, and so she gets turned into a tree as she gives birth to Adonis. Fawkes manages to keep tongue firmly in cheek while relating this story, even as its subject matter is especially salacious and scandalous.

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