It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a recommendation because the comics I’ve been reading felt too off topic for this blog. However I recently came across two suitable ones, the first of which is Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness.
MLEWL is an autobio comic that lays bare the author’s history with depression and social isolation, delving into its brutally disturbing details.
As is common to the genre, MLEWL employs a great deal of expository text but unlike “canonical” autobio indie comics that emphasize grotesque imagery and heavy, obsessive linework, MLEWL is drawn in a lighthearted, breezy style with delicate linework. On top of this, everything is shaded in baby pink, which gave me the impression that this comic was going to be adorable.
If you received a similar impression about this comic, you would be wrong. While the shojo-influenced style of the comic acts as an emotional buffer, the story basically pummels its reader with page after page of Kabi’s catastrophic thoughts, making for a reading experience that’s a little bit harrowing.
Were this comic drawn in a different style, the constant stream of Kabi’s neediness and self hatred would likely be overwhelming – as it stands, MLEWL makes it very manageable to get through the material. This buffering visual style, paired with the interesting analogies the author draws in observing her own thoughts, give the story the air it needs while maintaining a closeness with the reader – it’s a very different tactic from autobio comics employing grotesque imagery that draws you in visually, but repels you emotionally.
The light style also acts like a Trojan Horse, eliciting sympathy in the reader (she’s so cute!) in order to introduce the story’s more heavy and stigmatizing material.
This includes the protagonist’s near total lack of interest in personal hygiene, binge eating until she bleeds (above), her eroticized desire for her own mother, and hiring sex workers.
MLEWL is definitely unique and appreciated for its compassionate portrayal of sex workers. Kabi’s interactions with sex workers in MLEWL are the most extensive relationships portrayed and these forays represent N’s growing independence from her parents and increasing ability to interact with others intimately. Notably, despite her serious psychological issues, Kabi is deeply concerned with how the women she hires are feeling. As such, MLEWL has one of the most humanized depictions of sex work I’ve come across.
We might contrast this with Chester Brown’s Paying For It in which the sex workers ‘ faces are obscured (in order to protect their privacy – although Brown could have just drawn them differently) and in which Brown himself is retreating from intimacy, displaying a far more transactional approach – at one point, he decides to have sex with a woman who was visibly upset because he’s already paid.
Finally, this is one of the better manga translations I’ve read. The English reads as very natural and the sound effects have not only been translated, but completely redrawn.
Overall, MLEWL is a great autobio comic tackling difficult psychological issues in a unique and sensitive manner. I picked up my copy at Page & Panel in the Toronto Reference Library.
Since it’s been so long, here are a couple quickies until my next review (Yes Roya by C. Spike Trotman and Emilee Denich):
A remarkably insipid back cover for the filthiest manga I’ve read in awhile. pic.twitter.com/wOdP3xvjzW
— Kawai Shen (@kawaishen) October 9, 2016
A Girl on the Shore by Inio Asano – The blurb on the back about “an intense teen romance” suggests that the publisher had no idea what they had on their hands or that the copy was written tongue in cheek. This masterfully rendered comic follows the escapism of two teens coming of age in a stifling small Japanese town, whiling away their adolescent malaise by literally fucking the shit out of each other. n.b., This comic is explicit and when I write literally, I do mean literally.
Paid for It by Joe Matt – The simple conceit of this comic takes Chester Brown’s art from Paying for It and changes the dialogue to present a situation in which Brown is the prostitute. It’s rather amusing and the short length of the comic is perfect.