November 17, 2006

Warning: Keep Out! This Means You!...Okay, Fine, Read It. See If I Care.

I can tell by some of the references to The Smiths and Morrissey that Lauren R. Weinstein's Girl Stories is inspired by the author's own past experiences as a teenager (evidently back around the time I was a teenager). However, this set of comic vignettes is told in a voice so authentic that if it didn't have that little twinge of knowing hindsight, I'd willingly believe it was written by someone going through those difficult years.

Being a girl gets really difficult and confusing (well, more confusing) from about age twelve onward, and the stories and snippets Weinstein relates in Girl Stories are like illustrated diary entries that bring that thorny time period to raw and colorful life: from "I Am So Cool" and "I Am So Cool II" to "Morrissey & Me," "Death by Volleyball," and "The Egging," we get a glimpse of the trials and tribulations of the fictionalized Lauren.

And so many of them are familiar trials and tribulations—the urge to try to fit in warring with the need to maintain your individuality, trying to hide your weird leftover childish habits from your friends, trying to figure out how the world works and where you sit in the grand scheme of things…by looking for a boyfriend and getting your belly button pierced. Well, okay, maybe those last two aren’t indicative of how everyone copes with the big imponderables of teenage life, but there’s always the gleeful schadenfreude of laughing at somebody else’s misfortunes.

The art style is as appropriate as it gets—active, at times jarring, and always hilarious, with the feel of something that's been doodled illicitly in the margins of class notes. It's not always great artwork—at times it gets a little sloppy—but that fits the style and intent of the book, I think, and often added something to the overall hilarity of the ongoing story of teenaged Lauren. And it was very funny, very cynical, and above all, very true. Nearly every snippet made me remember something I'd thought or done during school, or at least made me cringe with sympathetic embarrassment.

This one stands out because I haven't seen anything quite like it—it's got a Mad-magazine-meets-R. Crumb sort of feel to it, but it's most definitely written for girls, and probably wouldn't be as appealing to boys (although, who knows? They'd certainly learn something about the way girls think). Not every girl will relate—Lauren’s teenage self is brash, colorful, headstrong, and often acts out of insecurity—but even if you don’t see much of yourself in here, it’s easy to recognize others, to remember that you probably exhibited your own unique brand of stupid behavior, and to feel the catharsis of laughing about that time period that you spent so many years trying to forget completely.

This graphic novel has been nominated for a 2006 Cybils Award.

And, on a separate note, this is the second nominee I've read in the graphic novels category that was created by someone who is also a printmaker. This is very creepy but also heartening, because my husband and I keep talking about collaborating on a graphic novel, and we're both printmakers, too. Hooray for mass-produced, affordable serial art forms!!

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