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Friday, March 4, 2011

Comic Book Memoirs About Kissing Boys and Shaving Legs

Posted by on Fri, Mar 4, 2011 at 8:14 AM

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MariNaomi's Kiss & Tell is subtitled A Romantic Résumé, Ages 0 to 22, which is to say that it's a memoir of youth, told entirely in short stories about the author's relationships with (mostly) men. It's kind of a frustrating read for that reason. Important events in her life—she ran away from home for a summer after a fight with her parents, for example—are pushed to the sidelines and used only as fulcrums to launch another boy into the narrative. But that's kind of the point: After just reading a book about the dawning and evolution of MariNaomi's sexuality, we know almost nothing about her as a person; we have a few anecdotes about a bunch of guys who are ciphers to us, arranged in roughly chronological order. Casual readers looking for a straight-ahead comics memoir might come away from Kiss & Tell feeling frustrated—I'd suggest Julia Wertz instead—but if you're looking for an artfully constructed book about how we develop as sexual beings, you'll be riveted. MariNaomi's art is cartoony and prone to blocky blacks and simplistic backgrounds, kind of a mixture of Marjane Satrapi and Wertz. You want to call it "deceptively simple," but it's not, quite. It is simple; it tells the story and gets the job done, but not much else.

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Vanessa Davis's art is, in fact, deceptively simple. She draws in a noodly, Lynda Barry-like style, full of details and scribbles and words. Make Me a Woman is a collection of short stories about the awkwardness of her teenage years, told in full-color strips, black-and-white strips, and outtakes from Davis's sketchbook in a variety of art styles. Even those sketch pages, which often feature a single cartoon in the center of a blank page, somehow feel claustrophobic; the lines all somehow point inward, as though Davis's art wants to slink away, slump-shouldered, because it's too embarrassed to be seen. Davis owes a lot to Barry (and to Aline Kominsky-Crumb, too, although Davis is a much better cartoonist) but she has her own sensibility, a self-critical distance from the stories. Is it simply generational? Does it have something to do with Facebook or what the fuck ever else cultural critics have said has changed us forever as a species this week? Maybe. But I think it has more to do with Davis as an artist: She's confident, at least, when it comes to putting awkward lines on paper. She's such an assured storyteller that her awkwardness becomes the reader's awkwardness. Davis is a young artist at the very beginning of her career, and this book is a solid first step for an artist who could very well become a Robert Crumb-level talent.

 

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