The thing about Glitterbomb is that it reads so male. Not masculine — male. As in not by women, but about them. I say “them” despite being a lady myself because that’s the effect this comic has: it gives you an outside view, because it expects you to be looking in. The creative voice, the sense of god in this comic, is surprised to have discovered the corruption around women’s right to be whilst being looked at. It is not living it too, jaded, resentful, desperate. It’s not punk; it’s visitation. I feel like this is a story told in good faith, but… I know, man. I am aware. It’s hard to be a girl.
Kyoko Okazaki’s Helter Skelter, on the other hand, expects you absolutely to get in the car (loser) so the female experience can drive. It’s not truly THE female experience; it’s “a” or “some” versions of a recognisable style of feminine living. It’s an archetype easily mistakable for a template. It expects you (and I expect you, because this is the kind of media that I’ve taken for granted) to “know, man.” To be aware. Of what girls (are supposed to) like. The voice of god turns to you, as she drives (grip that dashboard!), and says “life sucks, right? Life’s like this and it sucks.” You read magazines; you love models’ imaginary lifestyles. You like clothes. You want stuff. Celebrity-is-real. Okazaki’s comic takes place inside the same pink shimmer palace you’ll recognise from Western TeenGirlia — a place where hair is your army, make-up your cabinet (and who among them can you really trust?). Boys are money and money is medals. And all alone, at the centre, sits the Girl King. The iron control that one must have over one’s image if one is to scale the castle walls and stare down at the screaming populace below is a kingly thing, for tragedy amongst queens is not noble. Look at Shakespeare. We cry when kings die, but queens probably deserved it. Liliko, Helter Skelter’s reigning monster, “deserves” adulation and presents and endless second chances. Okazaki’s characters exhibit masculinity — but not maleness. Men hardly figure. Where are they?
Helter Skelter follows top model Liliko as her glamour and constructed fame begin to break down; the revelation of the beast within the beauty. Helter Skelter is a treatise on beauty enabling beastliness. Okazaki speaks from within the arena of Image, basically. It’s the trees her characters can’t see the forest for. Glitterbomb squints at image from without, all “what’s that? Are you guys seeing this? How does THIS weird thing work?” Okazaki, as a woman, also speaks from within misogyny (that is, she must deal with it, because it aims to consume her and does subsume her). She rails against the women in there with her — why are we all standing on each other’s heads? Why are we all just waiting and watching while we drown?
She’s cartooning a protest, not a philosophical manifesto. Her failure of perspective, blaming women and never men, is forgivable, or artistically necessary, because misogyny is the forest she’s trapped in and she’s chosen to chop down trees in an attempt to escape it. Can you blame her? Can you? I can’t. But I can blame men writing from a position beyond misogyny — not that men are not endangered by misogyny (don’t be a sissy, etc), but because misogyny is coded to ideally avoid, not constrict, men. This potential avoidance is a position of some respite, and frankly it should be abandoned if one is trying to examine the monster. Throw off that cloak, and come smell its breath. Glitterbomb is about a down on her luck actress, Farrah, an early-thirties (?) single mother who can’t get a bit part, has a shallow babysitter, and starts killing rude entertainment executives (men) by accident. Fine, but — who were the men creating Farrah’s trap, before she landed in it? Who ruined her life before we saw it flatline? The colours let Glitterbomb, and Farrah, down. They’re nicely applied, technically competent, except that competency demands appropriateness and they are not. I am overwhelmed by beige and grey-teal. Fucking sad colours, Farrah, no wonder nobody wants to hire you–but I feel I’m not supposed to think that. Farrah’s inability to get paid is supposed to reflect on the industry, not on her blatant irrelevancy. That feels very male, too, to be glib.
Her outfits are boring. Her hair is in no kind of style. Her makeup’s the inverse of unique, if we’re supposed to assume she’s wearing some. Her eyebrows are always furrowed upwards, because she’s worried. All of these things individually could work, except…it’s the same for everyone else. All the women in the casting room look boring, and blandly nervous (it’s a job interview after all, but they all look timid in exactly the same way, not individually responsive). Brooke-with-a-stylist looks boring, atemporal, uninspired. Floppy hair in a made-for-tv messy updo, no panache. Why would any of these people get hired? What kind of show is this casting call for? The role is “Jackie, The Bitch,” so–a bad one, I guess. Tell me then: why do I care? Why am I in this nothing room with empty frames and empty backgrounds and sad worried women in sweatshirts, sitting with their shoulders hunched?
I WANT TO DIE. THIS IS NOT GLAMOROUS.
I appreciate that this is the point. But if a book about “image trouble” (trouble is bad, sad to read about) is not “pretty” (pretty is good, nice to look at), what do I actually get from the labour of reading it? Two negatives don’t make a positive. Yeah?
Kyoko Okazaki draws beautiful waifs sick from being so beautiful all the time, but she also draws hors d’oeuvres boys and plain-handsome men and plainer women and older women, mean women, and old men and… tables. Tables that look good.
Everything that she draws looks good. It looks aspirational — a student’s shit jeans can look dreamy just because Okazaki drew them. A crocodile can look like the best friend you’ll never have because Kyoko made him so. I grew up in TeenGirlia, right? I read comics because they are entirely visual affairs. I want to be dazzled. I want nice things. I want my smart shit to come packaged in glory. Yes, image matters, and yes, that can cause people to put the heavy compress on themselves and others.
But that doesn’t
that cultivated image
It doesn’t mean that beauty is evil or that arranging things to be attractive is inherently corrupt, tricksy, or fake.
I think Glitterbomb errs on the facile side of the industrial beauty argument because it shows us face after face of TV-attractive women: women with comic book woman faces. They’re faces with no definitive difference. You could tell’em apart, mostly by hair, but only because there’s nobody else there. (Watch a film with Rob Lowe and Ian Somerhalder playing brothers holed up in a cabin together and you’ll spot the differences between them, but give them both a low key role in a film about someone else and you’ll be left blinking at the credits all “Barney and the guy with the piano were two DIFFERENT characters??”)
And it — the script, the voice of the art, whatever — doesn’t do enough with that to make it anything more than a classic case of comic book sameface. (To be fair, Helter Skelter also creates confusion with two thin characters with a short black crop who have similar roles in relation to Liliko. It’s a problem, but there’s so much more to the comic that in Okazaki’s case, it’s not an overwhelming one.) The homeless man who Farrah meets on the beach has the same smooth skin as any of them. It has more grooves in some panels and a different bone structure, but the colour is applied identically and the lines suggest the artist is working from a sweet smooth face in putty and adding signs of degeneracy to it. His hair is thick and puffy, which does not suggest the common consequences of homelessness, be it grease or long-term abandonment of grooming.
Yes, Okazaki’s Liliko is obscenely perfected (that’s Helter Skelter’s entire premise, right there), but her lines also allow every other character to appear delectable in their ordinary, fallible human bodies. Glitterbomb’s beauty is entirely in the doe-eyed faces of… everybody. Glitterbomb is, without flagging any awareness of this label, aggressively normcore. And, guess what–that’s also an image. Glitterbomb’s aesthetic communicates a value set. Double bed with plain sheets. Single lamp on otherwise empty lamp stand. White t-shirt bra with wide band. There has been no joy taken in the illustration of any of the clothes these people wear. Farrah’s babysitter wears Daisy Dukes because she’s young and hot and predictable enough to think she should meet agents. Farrah and her toddler son have exactly the same haircut because–actually, I have no idea why.
The comic is telling me that Farrah has the right to live, should be able to get work, that no, the world is wrong and she’s just trying to live in it. But she’s not trying? She’s not interestingly trying. She’s doing the minimum, in a specific fraction of the world. Sure, it is hard. Everyone deserves to live. But does everyone deserve to be a protagonist, at all moments of their life? Farrah appears to have no friends (why). The people she meets at work are not nice, which could be blamed on industry or could be blamed on those people being nasty. Possibly ageism is the real villain of Glitterbomb (of Hollywood?), but honestly I think the old business bastard who cops it in sequence one has it on the nose: Farrah’s not “too old,” she’s just not fabulous. In the absence of explanation or insight, the listlessness of this fictitious woman offends me. Why does she deserve to get bloody revenge on people who tell her she’s boring? She is boring. What’s been so painful in her life that we can forgive her her murdering? Fucking tell me, please. The comic exists to tell the story of this person, but it seems like this person is not worth the production — her beach accident is. So Glitterbomb picks its focus by measuring the horror of a single accident and how it warped the normal woman it happened to.
Tabloid much? Are we supposed to agree with everybody who evaluates Farrah as not interesting enough to keep in business without some sensational glitter to her personal brand? Is Farrah’s sea monster death tongue the “glitter bomb”? Is she designed for derision, before happening upon something marketable? Wouldn’t that be rather cruel? It would be in opposition to the memoir essay in the first issue, which recalls the pain of being invisible in the entertainment world. So I don’t get it. What’s the message here?
With Okazaki’s Liliko, “why are we looking” is never a question. Liliko is not sympathetic and I did not find her struggle engaging, but she was clearly motivated and a dynamic force. She had goals and muscle. Farrah flops along and gets monster powers by accident. She’s not monstrous — neither is fame, in this book. Fame just wants to be interested. So do I.