ADVANCE REVIEW: EmiTown Vol. 2A comic review article by: David Fairbanks
ADVANCE REVIEW! EmiTown Volume 2 will go on sale Wednesday, March 7, 2012.
Joe Keatinge's heartfelt introduction to EmiTown Vol. 2 really gives a better description of Emi Lenox (and EmiTown) than I can think of:
"She's a great artist now, she'll be even greater in the future."
It's a poorly kept secret that I am a pretty big fan of autobiographical comics. James Kochalka, John Porcellino and Liz Prince litter my bookshelves; over the course of about a month last year, I ran into Jeffrey Brown on three separate occasions (C2E2, Chicago Zinefest, and he spoke at my school). We had lunch and a nice conversation about comics (which was followed by my assurance that I was not stalking him). The autobio folks are probably what got me into the indie comics scene a lot more heavily, for which I'm incredibly grateful, though up until last year, I had never heard of Emi Lenox.
Then I saw a copy of EmiTown Vol. 1 at my comic shop, and you know how it is when you have a short week and need to make it up with something, right? Well, Emi's interesting style combined with the sheer size of the first volume sold me, and once I'd gotten home and buried my nose in the book, I didn't get up until it was finished.
There's a fluidity to her linework that reminds me quite a bit of James Kochalka and Brandon Graham, evoking more of the latter in the flat tones being used in lieu of coloring EmiTown. I feel like the mostly grayscale pages fit the tone better than if they were colored and probably keep the lead time on volumes down to just over a year (the events of EmiTown Vol 2. are from May 2010 to April 2011).
One of the things that Emi does that differentiates her from someone like Kochalka, who also does a daily comic, is that she seems to make it a point to cram onto the page anything at all noteworthy that's happened that day. She doesn't shy away from text when it's necessary, it is a journal after all, but there are whole pages with perhaps a few words on them to balance it out and let the art speak for itself. Sometimes everything on a page is connected, sometimes it's not, but each page is almost always entertaining or moving in some way.
The days that aren't necessarily for entertainment or to serve as a journal, however, are perhaps some of the most beautiful parts of the book.
Remember how I said "mostly grayscale" a bit ago? This was what I was talking about. Pieces from the works of others that inspire her frequently show up in colored caption boxes. I don't know that it's the intent, but the color almost makes it look like someone went through the collection and left little colored Post-Its with relevant tidbits of information (usually songs or, occasionally, a poem). It's something that I can't remember seeing anyone else do and it adds a little charm to a work that's already overflowing with reasons to love it.
It's also a neat little trick to get readers to identify with you, tossing relevant song lyrics or lines of poetry into your work. I'm sure it could backfire, but I really doubt someone would hate, say, Death Cab for Cutie, Mumford and Sons or the Magnetic Fields enough to have it affect their opinion of EmiTown.
The track list at the start of each month gives you a bit of a preview and also may foretell a thing or two if you know anything about the songs she references that month.
The measure of a good autobiographical cartoonist, though, is generally whether or not they know what to leave out. Sometimes the mundane can be good, but if you give the reader too many pages of "today I sat at home and watched television," most of them won't be coming back. Additionally, there's such a thing as giving too much. There are probably readers out there who want to know the minutiae of a cartoonist's love-life and would devour a 300-page adaptation of a break-up fight, but I doubt there are enough of them to keep a creator fed.
Emi straddles the lines of the mundane vs. the exciting and public vs. private as well as or better than most of her contemporaries, many of whom have been doing this longer than she has. She navigates the depiction of her romantic life like a pro: nothing too telling, while showing the good and the bad and conveying through the page the genuine uncertainty of whether or not a relationship is going to end.
Her sense of humor still lingers in those emotional bits, if only in the form of her pervasive cat soldiers. Whenever there is a potential conflict involving her love life, she takes up the role of general in a war where her soldiers are adorable cats in oversized army helmets and is a beautiful way to display the inner conflicts she has without just shoving a thought bubble over her head. The cats aren't limited to just romantic events, either, as they frequently show up on panel to be something of a conscience for Emi.
EmiTown can be emotionally raw and pretty self-deprecating at times, but she never seems to wallow in it. It's as if Emi made a checklist of all the different things that can go wrong or turn a reader away from an autobio comic and made sure to minimize or remove them entirely.
My only complaint after reading EmiTown Vol. 2 is the same as my complaint after the first volume: her website is really difficult to navigate when looking for a backlog of comics. I wish she updated daily like Kochalka does on American Elf, but that's probably just my desire to read more EmiTown coming through.
One of the biggest strengths of the book is that the times when it hit home for me were when it was reminding me that maybe I'm not crazy; when we see the little neuroses we have show up in others, it's a reminder that someone else has gone through the same crap we have and made it through to the other side. Emi Lenox is a stellar cartoonist and certainly one to keep your eye on in the future. Like Keatinge said, she's just going to get greater.
David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books, and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.