Thursday, December 24, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #24: Lauren Hinds

One reason I appreciate Lauren Hinds' comics is because it's clear how carefully she thinks through her work. Writing mostly about teens and children, her close study of family dynamics and disciplined restraint in depicting the breakdowns of families and friendships gives her work an almost uncomfortably intimate quality. 

In Jeremy (published by Robyn Chapman's Paper Rocket Mini Comics), Hinds depicts a turbulent friendship between two boys from different backgrounds. Implicitly set in Hinds' home country of Trinidad and Tobago, it's told from the point of view of an unnamed white kid with a protective family and his best friend, a Black kid named Jeremy whose family mostly ignored him. It really does like like the journal a kid might make, with every page designed on lined paper as though the kid was drawing the comic on notebook paper. Each page has a single panel and cursive writing below, narrating the story. Hinds' figure drawings have the deliberate spontaneity of a child's attempt at drawing, only with much greater technique and understanding of how a page works. 

In telling the story, Hinds is careful not to pass judgment on her characters. Jeremy is clearly a lonely kid, but he made for a frustrating friend. The narrator had a number of memorable adventures with him, but Jeremy insulted him when he couldn't go out with him. Jeremy also got his ass kicked on a consistent basis by the white kids at their school, but he never backed down from them. The most fascinating part of the narrative is the mixed messages the narrator receives from adults. A teacher tells him to stop hanging out with Jeremy. His mother says that he's too smart to hang out with Jeremy. His uncle, however, tells him that Jeremy is much tougher than he is, and this is all part of the narrator's general low self-esteem. In Jeremy, he sees someone who seems so much more free, brave, and imaginative than he is. He doesn't understand the things his friend is missing in his life. 

Eventually, after a misadventure where Jeremy's bossiness turns into outright disregard for his friend's safety, they drift apart. Hinds reinforces this in an interesting way. There isn't a dramatic moment of conflict, just that awkward phase where one person tries to ignore another. The beginning of the comic is in full, lush color reflecting the vivid quality of the narrator's memories and experience of these adventures. As the story unfolds and things slowly split apart, the colors start to fade. They're reduced to spot colors before the incident where they are nearly attacked by dogs occurs, and when the dogs appear, the comic reverts entirely to black and white. What is unstated in Hinds' comics is every bit as important as the things she spells out.

The Quiet Family explores similar territory and uses the same kinds of narrative techniques. This time, it's a young girl who's curious about the Bedoe family that moves in next door, because they're so quiet. This comic is much more emotionally charged and less subtle than Jeremy, as it doesn't take long for Kessa, the narrator, to deduce that Mr. Bedoe is abusive in the same way her dad was. Whenever Mr. Bedoe saw her or talked to her, Kessa felt uneasy, and for good reason. He was eventually arrested for assaulting his wife, who was protecting her daughter from him. There is a real sense of mourning and lost opportunity in this comic; Kessa feels bad for the girl because of what she went through (knowing it was what she went through as well) but also because she mourns what could have been a close friendship. While this narrative is far more dramatic and explosive, Hinds still shows a great deal of restraint as an artist. There's tremendous tension, but Hinds opts against melodrama. Paired with Jeremy, one can see a potential collection of stories told in this vein. 

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