Honest Sequential Self-Image(s)

"When I Was A Mall Model" from Lipstick Press

It feels like it's been a long time since I've reviewed something out of the mainstream. Hell, it feels like it's been a long time since I reviewed anything...

Years ago I discovered a mini-comic while I was on vacation with my parents here in NYC at Jim Hanley's Universe (that great store on 33rd St in Manhattan). I picked it off the shelf of mini-comics because its cover is shocking and brilliantly well-designed. That mini-comic was Monica Gallagher's "boobage". My poor mother was scandalized. Well, you know, a little bit. But I was shocked to discover that it wasn't just a comic about boobs with an eye-catching cover, it was an honest presentation of some human truths about growing up as a woman in America that, as a male, I had never fully understood. I didn't think much of it at the time other than: I should share this with the women in my life. But it grew on me. In fact, my opinion of it grew with each person I showed it to. Women and men of all kinds are pleasantly surprised by it almost without fail. It does what all good art should: Clearly shows us something about our world we didn't see before.

[At left, a page from Monica's first autobiographical comic "Survival of the Fittest: Middle School Popularity Camp" available in its entirety online for free here.]

But I'm not here to review "boobage" [or "Survival of the Fittest"] because it is a few years old now and in an attempt to keep myself honest I've been restricting myself to reviewing things published within the previous three months.

What I am reviewing is Monica Gallagher's latest mini-comic: "When I Was A Mall Model"

In the years since her older works, Gallagher has grown as a visual artist and lost none of her honesty as a writer. The faces of the characters are more striking and well-composed, the figures well-proportioned. As the stories she's telling are beginning to catch up with her adult-self, I am beginning to recognize the woman I have met in the drawings of the girl she used to be. Her line-work is gorgeous and strong in many places.

Her cartooning choices have also grown by leaps: a roller rink's decor is called-up in our collective memory simply by a single Seventies-style wall-fixture against a blank background, two swooping lines create a naked buttocks. (Yeah, that's right. I said it: BUTTOCKS. Deal with it.)

The story is great because (like in "boobage") it starts with something so simple that it appears to be the beginning of a story-track we have seen many times:

1-Girl has dream of success in specific field
2-Girl gets discovered in chosen field
3-Girl becomes big success in said field

But we all know that the truth of human existence is rarely so clean -so Hollywood- and what Gallagher gives us is that true, human version of the story.

Instead of an immediate and persistant dream of a modeling career, Gallagher depicts herself as a girl in her late teens who wanted to be a model when she was 10. It was a dream she'd decided to give a pass on, but suddenly gets sucked back into. The following pages show us the awkwardness and embarrassments of being a seventeen-year-old struggling female model.

The story self-consciously (in both senses of the word) lays bare an anti-Hollywood, realistic structure. Gallagher allows us into her inner hopes and self-doubt, the rising and crashing of her emotion as well as her self-image (another element from "boobage"). The mini-comic ends with her being denied entrance to an elite modeling agency (It's actually called "Elite." God, what an industry.), told that she's "too 'edgy' for Chicago, but not edgy enough for New York", and deciding to leave modeling behind. She had tricked herself into thinking, as we all do sometimes, 'I just need someone to see me under their nose and they won't be able to miss my natural talent!' The prospect of years of future hard work for something she didn't really want was enough good reason to end her time as a model.

Lucky for us she made the decision to pursue digital art and visual storytelling instead!

While it may not be Eisner-winning material, "When I Was A Mall Model" is another wonderful and straightforward autobiographical comic from Monica Gallagher. Each is better than the last. In the opinion of this writer, Gallagher is on her way to being among the stronger autobiographical comicsmiths in America.

You should look it up and purchase a copy so we can all continue to see new work like this from her! Here's a link to her online store (with a list of the 'brick-and-mortar' stores which carry her stuff), where I'm sure it will be available after her current signing tour ends.

No comments:

Post a Comment