Review: ‘Losing The Girl’
Losing The Girl
Graphic Universe; $29.32
Ages 14 and up
Writer and artist MariNaomi’s career as a cartoonist has thus far been dedicated to autobiographical comics, spread across four books published since 2001. Losing The Girl, the first book in a planned trilogy, marks her first official foray into fiction. It has the same level of intimacy and idiosyncrasy as a memoir, but because she’s making up a story rather than just telling one, she gets into the heads of multiple characters.
There are four protagonists in Losing The Girl, each a teenager going to school at Blithedale High. Each gets a chapter of their own, told from their point of view and in a different visual style than that of the others, with the first of them getting a second chapter, the last in the book, essentially closing the circle of the narrative by returning to the point of view it began with.
So who’s the girl who gets lost? Even that may depend on the character. Certainly one of their classmates, smart but unpopular Claudia Jones, has gone missing, and Nigel, the first of our protagonists, jokes that she was abducted by aliens. The few clues to her whereabouts that appear within this otherwise pretty straightforward teen melodrama suggest something strange, even outre, like a homeless lady that looks remarkably like an older version of Claudia, or the few uses of color in the book, which coincide with a scary apparition of Claudia.
On the other hand, Nigel loses a girlfriend, whom he is only dating for a few days before she dumps him. That would be Emily, who loses her would-be daughter when she has an abortion…and also loses her best friend, Paula. Brett, Emily’s crush, loses multiple girls as romantic partners, although none hurts him as much as the one he never really had. And Paula, Emily’s best friend, loses her when they essentially have a friend break-up over Brett.
So I guess lots of girls are lost in the book, and certainly all of the characters seem a little lost, but then, they are teenagers, and coming of age is essentially just a matter of getting really lost and eventually finding yourself.
While their conflicts and dramas are engaging, what elevates Losing The Girl beyond mere melodrama is its look. MariNaomi consistently uses a loose, abstracted style—sometimes it is about as abstracted as can be without devolving all the way down to stick figures but—as I said, each character has their own style, complete with the degree of shades in the black and white art. The boys’ chapters are full of grays, while Emily’s chapter is a very stark and bold black and white with no gray, and Paula’s is all very thin, wispy black lines on fields of bright white.
The result is that everything, even—especially?—the characters themselves, looks different in each chapter, which is fitting, as everyone sees people differently, and we never see ourselves the way other people might see us. So, for example, Paula, who is envious of Emily’s good looks, has a bigger nose and worse skin and hair in her own chapter, but in Emily’s chapter, the pair look identical, save for the style of their hair. Paula feels insecure about herself and admires Emily, and the art shows it, while Emily doesn’t even think about such things, and so the art shows that.
It’s not merely in matters of comparing and contrasting that MariNaomi uses the art to express her characters’ thoughts and feelings; even within each style the characters’ bodies and faces shift, twist, shrink, and grow, mirroring the chaotic emotions within them. It’s about as direct and potent a way to communicate the feelings of adolescent as is possible with pen and ink.
The publisher recommends the book for teens 14 and older, which is likely a reflection on some of the content, involving as it does sexuality and the aforementioned abortion, but it may also reflect the sophistication of the storytelling. Deceptively simple-looking, this is a genuinely complex comics work.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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