Sunday, September 09, 2012

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

Art is hard. We know this because artists tell us so incessantly, and we're happy to agree with them, since it ends their complaints a little sooner than arguments would.

Of course, plenty of other things in the world are hard -- major software implementations are really gnarly, and finance, law, and medicine are full of difficult, complicated questions and details -- but art is uniquely, specially hard, because it's made by special, wonderful people who are in touch with both the cosmos and their own feelings, and all that connection makes them so, so fragile. This can be wearying -- but, sometimes, it's justified by the art that actually does come out of it.

Paige Turner is a young would-be artist -- indeed, for a long time in Page by Paige, we're not clear how young she is, until she finally goes to high school on page 45, and suddenly everything is a lot clearer (particularly for those of us who remember being teenagers or have direct contact with the angst of current teens). She wants to be an artist -- frankly, she's obsessed with a self-image as an artist, to the exclusion of everything else in her life -- and this entire graphic novel is somewhere in between a book of affirmations from Page to herself about that work and the story of how she became more confident and active in her art.

Page by Paige is an odd, obsessively artsy, relentlessly inward-focused graphic novel, something like a more specific, personal version of Lynda Barry's What It Is or Picture This -- there's something like a plot, as Page has just moved to New York from a small town in Virginia and makes some new friends (who are all budding artists of various kinds themselves), but the core of it is her self-examination and journey. And it's going to be most immediate and gripping to young artists -- young visual artists, cartoonists and painters, mostly, though maybe also poets and playwrights and singers and dancers -- who are working through the same feelings themselves.

So it is self-indulgent, the way teenagers are and have to be -- when you're building your own identity, that has to be the center of your attention -- but it's lovely and inspiring and energetic and inventive, and Page's enthusiasm is infectious, even for those of us who can't draw a straight line. But, if you're a curmudgeon about art, stay far away from Page by Paige, because it could give you a coronary.

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