Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Virginia Paine's Milkyboots

Virginia Paine has been doing diary comics for quite some time, but she actually stopped after 2012 in favor of other work. At CAKE, she had a couple of other recent diary comics (all in her Milkyboots series) as well as an older issue I hadn't seen. Paine has always worn a lot of hats in comics. She's taught comics, she worked for Dylan Williams at Sparkplug Comic Books and later took over the company when he died. She chose to shutter Sparkplug last year after a solid run that produced several excellent comics, particularly from trans creators.

It's a shame that Paine abandoned diary comics when she did, because Milkyboots #14 reveals a artist who had become really good at them. While she was always adept at writing clearly about her emotions and relationships in a way that was involving to the reader, what changed was her clarity as an artist. She simultaneously grew more confident as a draftsman while mostly simplifying her line, giving her comics both immediacy and clarity. At the same time, her figure drawings of her friends (fellow cartoonists) are exquisitely expressive and naturalistic in a way I hadn't seen from her before. At the same time, her daily observations following a bad breakup are poetic, spare and shattering. There's a sense of flailing around in her observations, going from wondering about her ex to thinking about the things she drinks every day. Paine also writes about going to therapy and how having students as therapists makes for an odd dynamic at times, setting boundaries with her friends while appreciating how much they mean to her, her sadness about the death of Williams, and the ways in which she resonates with music.

Milkyboots #15 was originally a Patreon comic that picked up four years later. It reflects an artist who's in the midst of bringing Sparkplug to an end and trying to figure out her new path. There's a lot of frustration in this comic, as Paine has started to feel burdened by the concept of success and what it means. There's travel, a new girlfriend that she portrays far less intimately than she did the girlfriend portrayed in early issues of the series, and new creative plans. One always gets a sense of motion from Paine, even when she's grappling with depression and uncertainty. Despite the fact that she clearly drew these comics as quickly as possible, her line was bold and confident, even as it was sketchy and especially loose.

Milkyboots #16 was billed as the "food issue", and it was a simple, direct way of connecting certain food experiences with autobiographical experiences. The comic makes lovely use of spot color, using an open-page format instead of a grid. The coloring (from markers?) is vibrant without being intrusive. Paine recalls living in Bolivia as a child, eating flatbread, peaches off a tree and an especially delicious salad. That resonance of food and memory is a powerful one, all the more so when that memory is of something very simple but great tasting because of preparation and freshness. There are other travel memories, but there are also memories of being an adult with no money who was eating dumpstered food. She often depended on the kindness of friends, and the memory of that food donated also resonated with her because of both taste and her life at the time. This comic is in many ways more personally revealing than many of Paine's other comics, as talking about food is something that can only really be done directly, but the common experience of relating that experience makes the narrative a connective one. The consumption of food and the context in which we eat it has meaning and resonance, especially if food is scarce or not taken for granted. There's an easy charm about this issue that doesn't have any figure drawings in it, yet is as personal and revealing as any of Paine's other diary comics.

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