“Being sixteen is officially the worst thing I’ve ever been.”
Sometimes, the only thing that makes adolescence endurable is the faint knowledge that somehow, someday, it’ll end. Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s excellent new graphic novel, Skim (Groundwood Books, 140 pp.), follows Kim (or Skim as she’s nicknamed) through a short period of her high school life. She’s chubby, flirts with becoming a witch, drifts apart from her best friend and falls for one of her teachers, Ms. Archer.
It’s alternately funny and sad, told through Skim’s eerily familiar commentary on adolescence. “When I was 16, I wanted to be a writer,” says Mariko (who also has a title in DC’s Minx line coming out this fall). “It wasn’t until I was 30 that I thought I could make a living.”
The brief scene where Skim and Ms. Archer kiss hasn’t generated as much commentary as Mariko expected, but that’s the point. Rather than descend into stiff character tropes and shrill identity politics, she introduces queerness in this context as, well, a matter of love. “I didn’t want to have a Degrassi moment,” says Mariko. “I didn’t want some screaming and crying coming-out moment. I wanted it to be something more internal. Skim doesn’t come out in this book. There’s so much hearsay in school — people get accused of being gay all the time. Things were so much different in the ’90s — nobody was out. When I was 16, it was all just possibilities — crushes I had, suspicions that never really panned out.
“I really like the idea of queerness without queer characters,” she adds. “I don’t want ‘the gay character,’ but characters who are just chill with those issues — where queerness isn’t everything. It’s there and affects the characters, but doesn’t have to be explained.”
Jillian, who also teaches at Parsons (The New School for Design) in New York, illustrates Skim’s life with fluid and flowing lines that belie their delicateness. “I keep the line vital,” she says. “My influences come from all over the place. People have remarked that there seems to be echoes of ukiyo-e (Japanese woodcuts), but I think that’s an oversimplification — creators with Japanese names, plus a half-Japanese character, equals Japanese esthetic influence. I’m influenced by a lot of Asian art, but also European comics, Expressionism, Impressionism and traditional illustration. You could argue that there’s a lot of Norman Rockwell in the work, too.”
She also takes great advantage of the medium, with striking contrasts between the large black-and-white fills. “My black-and-white work has definitely benefited from the restriction,” she says. “I tried to play within the confines of grey-scale: I used the black-and-white to draw the distinct differentiations between day and night [all scenes at night appear on the black background], present-day and flashbacks [flashbacks are in black-and-white]. One snowy scene appears as simple line drawings.”
The process of collaboration has worked well for the two cousins. “The idea of writing a narrative then having someone else build something around it felt familiar from working in theatre,” says Mariko. “What you write isn’t the final product. It’s funny — the most time I’ve spent with Jillian was on this comic. But we’re both very Tamaki in nature — chill and task-oriented as a tribe.”
“Our personalities are well-matched to work with one another,” says Jillian. She’s very chill and didn’t mind me visually pushing and pulling her story every which way.”
• Young Liars by David Lapham (Vertigo) — Lapham’s new Vertigo series will have to placate Stray Bullets fans, with that series being on permanent hiatus. The first issue looks great, with colours that pop, and the premise — a young woman who, after having been shot in the head, goes on a hedonistic rampage — works better than it sounds. It looks like Lapham has a definite end to the story in sight, but whether Vertigo gives him the chance to get that far remains to be seen.
• Showcase Presents: Enemy Ace by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert (DC Comics, 552 pp.) — These bang-for-your-buck DC anthologies have been pretty good lately (OK, really just the Sgt. Rock one). This huge tome of war comics follows the exploits of an ace First World War German fighter pilot. A little goes a long way with this stuff, but writer Kanigher shows a deft hand balancing the history and the pulp, and Kubert’s pencils, presented here in black-and-white, are gorgeous.
• I Shall Destroy all Civilized Planets: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks, edited by Paul Karasik (Fantagraphics, 120 pp.) — Hanks’s bizarre superhero comics were rescued from oblivion and topped critics’ best-of lists this year. Why? The art recalls newspaper strips from the ’30s and ’40s, all bold colours and exaggerated features. The writing is so arch and verbose that it supercedes what I suspect was Hanks’s innocent naiveté to become something that alternately transcends superhero tropes, yet distills the history of the genre.
Sometimes it feels like comics are caught between continuity ridiculousness and art-comic circle jerking. Hanks’s work reminds one why comics are, well, fun. I mean, how often do you see a giant tarantula attacking a herd of elephants, without a shred of irony ruining it?
• Diana Prince: Wonder Woman by Dennis O’Neill and Mike Sekowsky (DC Comics, 175 pp.) — Poor Wonder Woman. Diana, the Amazon warrior who will always be the female superhero, has been screwed around with so much that she’s both a feminist icon (curiously so, now) and a cipher for various writerly idiosyncratic and social ponderings.
She’s a hero, but to whom? She has surpassed comic continuity to become an icon, but of what — in a contemporary context — I dunno. After the recent travesties she’s had to endure — 52, Jodi Picoult’s reprehensible run — she’s more lost than ever. (Although Gail Simone is doing an admirable job picking up the pieces.)
So: back in the late ’60s, she was stripped of her powers and turned into a karate-chopping counterculturette. It all culminates in some strange tale of a pilgrimage back to Paradise Island. Boring.
Mike Sekowsky’s pencils are good, but don’t compare to the other genre-bending stuff of that period, like Jim Steranko’s art deco mishmash Nick Fury. Really, the book just shows how ill-served William Moulton Marston’s creation has been over the years.
• Lust: Kinky Online Personal Ads from Seattle’s The Stranger by Ellen Forney (Fantagraphics, 168 pp.) — Each week, cartoonist Ellen Forney illustrates a personal ad for Seattle’s alt weekly, The Stranger. How she transforms Hentai-loving “pirate wenches,” piss freaks and people who long to be fucked in the ass with another’s foot into such varied ads escapes me, but she does. Some are hot, some are funny and some show her technical acumen. The book also features interviews between Forney and some of the advertisers and an intro by Dan Savage. She dedicates the book to perverts everywhere, so here’s looking at you, Panty Bear — awesome.
Comments? Interviews or reviews you’d like to see? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.