I didn’t think I was going to like Tomboy as much as I did. I ass-u-me-d that the gender and age differences between me and writer/artist Liz Prince would be too far apart. And that, well, that this might be like some other graphic novel memoirs in which the artist gives a little TMI. But no.
Tomboy, “a graphic memoir”, centers around Prince’s desire to dress like a boy. That is, her fight against society’s expectations of how a girl should dress. And that’s key, because I think we all dislike at least some of society’s expectations about us. Or, at least, those of us that read graphic novels maybe?
For the record, Prince likes boys. She just likes to wear boy clothes, like a baseball cap and jeans, and her younger self (like, really younger) goes into deep despair at the thought having to wear a dress. Tomboy follows her up through high school (with some fastforward glimpses of her adult self) as she finds her self, her identity, which means, as it does for all of us, finding people she fits in with. As she says about mid-way through, the book is maybe really about friendship. “Why is it hard to be friends with both boys and girls?” Which you might ass-u-me to be a problem more for teenage girls, but I relate to that problem, still, in my 40s.
The artwork in Tomboy is playful, and even cute, though some of the things that happen to Prince are not: no surprise to many of us the level of violence and hatred given out by mean teens of both genders to anyone that doesn’t fit it. Still, she copes with a sense of humor, and creativity, and another big message I take from this book is the value of creative outlets for children, for people in general, to help deal with, and think about, the weirdness of life.
Prince’s sense of humor is what stays with me after reading it, and I mean both the verbal humor—like jokes—but also the visual humor, the child-like way of portraying her younger self, and others. Interestingly, the art is in black and white, and yet the world she shows—that is, the Real World—is anything but black and white. Much as television and other media might like to portray men and women as each looking a certain way, there’s a whole spectrum of how one can dress. And that’s ok.
That’s what Tomboy is about: being ok.