Today’s review is a first for Okazu. Our Guest Reviewer, Jen, has made many dozens of comments here, but this is the first review she’s written for us. I’m thrilled beyond belief to introduce you all to such an original thinker, and funny, funny gal. Take it away Jen!
Forgive the stream-of-consciousness writing style of this review, as it wasn’t done in one sitting… despite the act of sitting itself being enjoyed thoroughly both times.Just finished Ariel Schrag’s DEFINITION, and the sequel POTENTIAL.
These are auto-biographical comics of Ariel’s experiences in school as an “omigod I lust after girls YAY ME!” lesbian. On the plus side; she wrote, drew and published at such a very young age. Attended comic cons to sell her wares, too. I am quite impressed.
Over the course of both volumes (earlier and latter works available) we marvel as Arial’s illustrative skill grows in parallel to her own character as she slowly (awkwardly, painfully, insert negative yet faintly nostalgic buzzword for teen experience HERE) wades her way through adolescence the way almost all of us did: Teens; you don’t live them, you merely survive them.
POTENTIAL is the perfect title for volume #2, as we are now quite familiar with Arial’s emotional highs and lows from the childish misadventures of DEFINITION, and now we hope for nothing but the best for her as she bravely does all she can to turn crushes into genuine sexual relationships with all the “you are my soul mate” type of sincerity that comes with such leaps of faith. And with that, the positives of these books begins to drain (“drain” now redefined in my vocabulary. That shows you the emotional attachment I now have to Arial by proxy.)
On the negative… well there’s a few, but it’s probably just me. Stepping back, volume #1 was mostly recurring tales of problematic family life, disturbing sweet-sixteen experiences and “let’s get drunk and see what really horrible things can happen to me and my girlfriends” type stories. These were her “Gee I must be bi” years, so she’s still actively seeking a boyfriend, all quite unnerving as Arial draws herself and those around her far smaller and vulnerable than a true sixteen year old would be depicted.
This mostly continues into POTENTIAL, where despite the “Yes I am in fact gay and it’s time to DO something about it” proclamation in the opening chapter, her strategy remains drinking heavily/doing drugs and then hoping something real good happens (guess the odds). It’s hard to empathize with someone who keeps doing that to herself (even though all her friends think this plan is a winner… and hey, “that’s what you do in school, right?”).
That brings me to my problem with most “comix”, that being they’re not fiction. Fictional Yuri stories *can* be created with in-depth characters and a story structure with a satisfying ending. With real life you get recurring awkward experiences with real people possessing frustrating/unexplainable behaviours that just leave you unsatisfied.
Add to the fact that the story is told quite openly with all sexual and emotional car wrecks recounted in detail, there’s a sharp sense of voyeurism I got from this. I didn’t get that with Alison Bechdel’s FUN HOME, but then that’s in NO way a fair comparison. Arial is chronicling her romantic/sexual encounters (not what you’d call happy nor enjoyable), coupled with her family life (ditto) in real-time with no real retrospective narrative. It’s not a comfortable read in any way.
My opinions on comix as a publishing sub-genre notwithstanding, I still wanna meet her and have her sign the books. That’d be awesome.
A quick visit to her website tells us that these and other works are currently being adapted into a movie, and that when not story writing for THE L WORD, she’s working on more self-publishing and is one year younger than me.
…excuse me while I wallow in a quick Marimite/chocolate combo before sleeping it off and enjoying another day of admin at a job I hate. -__-
Art – 8. Varies wildly in quality and style, but expressively loveable all the same.
Story – 7. Better to have loved and lost and had your heart shredded over and over and over and it keeps getting worse oh God than never to have loved at all.
Characters – 6. Filtered through Arial’s eyes, but all sufficiently messed up to be believably human.
Yuri – 9. She tried. She honestly did. Poor thing.
Service – 4. Girls having lotsa sex, all thoroughly devoid of any enjoyment whatsoever…could that possibly matter?
Overall – 7
Erica here: One of the reasons I wanted to publish this review, particularly, was Jen’s comments about the autobiographical nature of “comix.” It put me in mind of Takeuchi Sachiko’s Honey & Honey, and also Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home right away. I’m all for using Takeuchi’s phrase “comic essays” to categorize these works which are *clearly* meant to be read as non-fiction autobiography, rather than as a “graphic novel.” I encourage you all to help disseminate this genre label of “comic essay”. ^_^
Let’s all thank Jen for the fabulous review!