Wednesday, December 2, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #2: Natalie Wardlaw

Calling an autobiographical cartoonist "honest" as a virtue tends to be a misnomer, because how can one possibly know just how honest a person is in describing their own life? For that matter, is it even possible for a person to tell their own story objectively? As noted elsewhere, a better descriptor is "open," which gives access to many intimate details and their context, and "closed," which carefully smooths out one's narrative or else simply omits contextual details. Neither is an inherently better or worse approach. "Honest" also tends to be a substitute for words like "intimate," or "bracing," especially when the author is open about sex, trauma, mental illness, and/or substance abuse. In that regard, autobio is a way of working through that process.

That is certainly true for Natalie Wardlaw, who started writing about trauma and abuse in virtually every CCS assignment. The best descriptor of her work is "fearless," or rather, the work of someone willing to confront her fears. Oblivion is a silent, beautiful painted art object. I believe it's appeared on Wardlaw's Instagram account, but that format fails to capture the intensity of the color as well as the downward-scrolling (spiraling!) accordion-fold format. It depicts a young woman (presumably Wardlaw) looking fabulous at the beginning, smoking pot and drinking. Then she literally walks off a cliff, spiraling downward as she encounters a man and later a woman who enable and encourage her substance abuse while trying to take advantage of her. 

She loses everything on the trip down, including her shirt and her dignity, as she vomits and urinates on herself. The final panel is the literal rock bottom, as she hits the ground and is left with a broken bottle, a keen grip on what just happened, and an important decision to make as to what to do next. It's a brief, visceral account of both the thrills and the inescapable price one must pay for addiction. People often cope with trauma and addiction by literally spinning a new narrative for themselves, but that narrative always encompasses exactly how they got there. This seems to be Wardlaw's main project right now in general, and the fact that she's not afraid to share her story in this way in public is both an impressive work of art as well as a way of acknowledging to herself that this happened.

No comments:

Post a Comment