Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s Small Press Review Column
As noted last week, for the next couple of weeks Tiny Pages Made of Ashes will be devoted to books the Comics Bulletin Crew picked up at SPX 2016.
MY DEAD MOTHER
By Clara Jetsmark
Published by Uncivilized Books
“There was a wild fire and my mother got trapped in it. After they wrapped her in bandages, she asked me to go find this man who could help her. The man was old and could barely see or walk. He performed a ritual to save my Mother. But … he messed up… When I woke up he had saved her head by attaching it to mine.”
Such is the narrative conceit behind My Dead Mother, the new book from Uncivilized Books by Danish cartoonist Clara Jetsmark. My Dead Mother is a beautifully rendered, surreal and complex story of female empowerment that is as poignant as it is humorous. It delves deep into the ludicrous nature of gender constructs and expectations through a tale of Loas and anthropomorphic beasts steeped in the tradition of magical realism.
Herein, Agau, the main character, a bookish young woman with dreams of bettering herself through her own efforts and education, literally carries her dead mother’s animated head on top of hers; it admonishes and complains unceasingly. Agau not only has to deal with the kvetching of her mother’s head, but also with the “normalized” gender roles as embodied by her best friend, as well as the various ineptitudes and expectations of the men she encounters.
In My Dead Mother, it is only when women carve out a path for themselves that actualization occurs and the cycle of dependency is broken. Yet Jetsmark is never thematically heavy-handed in her book. She uses the elements inherent in comics to make her point and relies on her deft and tight cartooning to allow her motif to unfold. There is as much a clarity to her tight lines as there is to her storytelling. In the midst of such a daring narrative, one that could easily become bogged down in the preciousness of the idea, there is an undeniable confidence in Jetsmark’s art which transfers to the book’s easy readability.
The edition I picked up at SPX has already sold out, but there is another two color offset print run edition in the works in time for Comics Arts Brooklyn (CAB) in early November.
This is apparently Jetsmark’s first publication and, if it serves as a launching point for her as an artist, great things are ahead.
— Daniel Elkin
YOUR BLACK FRIEND
By Ben Passmore
Published by Silver Sprocket
Deftly composed in Your Black Friend, Ben Passmore’s pages are charming, serving to ease you in to the sometimes-uncomfortable-but-always-necessary message at the heart of the book.
You’ve probably seen pages of Your Black Friend’s original black-and-white version that ran on the creator’s Patreon page, shared on Tumblr and such, but the new color version that Silver Sprocket debuted at SPX feels definitive. The cool hues mimic those of a horizon at Magic Hour, yet flat and slightly desaturated, adding more weight to the ultimate message.
Reading Your Black Friend, at times I felt like someone close had a hand on my shoulder, friendly-yet-stern, explaining in no uncertain terms why they are constantly on guard. It is brutal honesty in slightly subdued expression, because sometimes it’s hard to check your own experience. It’s natural to feel the need to empathize, to relate on a personal level. This story reminds that sometimes it’s impossible, and the only thing you can do is listen and learn. It’s humanity laid bare, informative of a struggle that seems inherent in black existence.
Passmore writes about an experience wholly unique in the universal language of comics. It’s entertaining and comical and heartbreaking, everything an eye-opening experience should be. Some of what you might learn probably won’t be new to you. But it’s a reminder of the unjust norms many people face every day. Many comics aim to make an impression. Few leave the impact like Passmore’s Your Black Friend.
–Joseph Kyle Schmidt
I FEEL WEIRD #2
By Haleigh Buck
With the subtitle, “A Comic About Depression, Anxiety, And Hopefully Getting Over It” Haleigh Buck’s latest release, I Feel Weird #2, deftly walks the tightrope strung between the too-personal overshare and the detached, ironic joke smirk that tend to be the two platforms upon which auto-bio comics about mental illness rest. Much like the previous issue, I Feel Weird #2 is confessional and relatable, always “talking with” and never “talking at”.
In issue #2, Buck’s art has grown even more powerful. Her pacing has grown more sure, allowing the panel layouts to provide the emotional beats, holding back when necessary or exploding across the page in radiating lines. She is able to perfectly capture the claustrophobic electricity that screams in the brain during an anxiety induced panic attack, as well as the thick, inky fog that envelops in the midst of depression.
The majority of issue #2 is taken up by “Psychotherapy Session One” which details both Buck’s understanding of her own suicidal ideation as well as the seeming ineptitude of her therapist, who relies on a computer program to designate a Personal Healing Tree to get to the “literal root of the treatment” Buck needs. The story is somber and heartbreaking as Buck talks about herself and how “it just feels like the entire planet is screaming and the volume has been slowly going up, but I’m the only person who seems to be able to hear it!” Her confessions combined with her art choices resonate and echo while holding up a mirror at the same time. It’s also a story of frustration and desperation dealing with a system that is so obviously under-serving the people for whom it was designed to help.
When I shared this story with a couple of my students who are battling with depression and anxiety, it led to an animated conversation about shitty therapists that seemed to be a great release for them and led to multiple high-fives.
And this is the purpose behind Buck’s work in I Feel Weird. As she writes on the back page, “my hope is that this comic will help someone out who needs it.” As desperate as Buck becomes at points in the pages of this book, it is still a work of art that points towards hope, a way out, enough of a healing to allow a person to live their life.
Through the very act of creating a book like I Feel Weird #2, Buck expresses optimism in the future and extends a hand to everyone else who could use a little help getting off the ground.
— Daniel Elkin