Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thirty Days of CCS #5: Bailey Sharp

Bailey Sharp is another Australian CCS alum, and her comic Plain was part of the Minicomic of the Month club along with Ben Juers' Shirley. Plain tells the story of Pen, a shy young woman who is insecure about her looks and her standing with the opposite sex. Her best friend, Violet, is loud and brassy, and represents what Pen would like to be but doesn't have the courage to do so. The result of this, as alluded to after Violet chatted up a guy she had a crush on and essentially dissed her friend, was a smoldering but unexpressed anger. Then Violet gets them both into a car accident, and the result was that Pen's face was horribly scarred.

Going from "plain" to scarred had a fascinating, transformative effect on Pen. When the guy she liked, Pete, gave her a pitying speech about how she still looked beautiful, she challenged him on it by asking if he was going to kiss her. She started jumping in on conversations regarding sex with strangers. She turned around a clerk staring at her by telling him that she was going to take some candy, and then she did it. She hooked up with a band and danced in a music video (and then live), not especially caring about the motivations of the band or the effect she had on the audience.

This is a fascinating exploration of the ways in which appearance, especially for women, has such a powerful grip on our culture. It's also about how socially transgressive it can be to be a person whose appearance is so strikingly different, but also about how freeing it can be if this power is seized. There's a powerful scene where Violet, wracked by guilt for turning her friend "into a monster", is baffled and angry that Pen seems to be minimizing the accident. It's obvious that she WANTS the guilt and wants Pen to depend on her and allow her a chance to work off the guilt. Pen's stunned response is "I'm not angry because of what happened to my face. I've always been angry". Sharp just shows that the accident allowed her to discover and use her voice freely for the first time in her life. Sharp employs a spare line that suggests form instead of overemphasizing it, and this was key in keeping the focus on Pen's emotional scarring moreso than the physical scarring. I am eager to see what future episodes of this comic bring, and I'm hoping it's collected by Pikitia or another press with good taste.

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