Saturday, January 18, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #18: Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis

There are a lot of autobiographical cartoonists these days, it's true -- but they're doing very different things (art spiegelman vs. Joe Matt! Julie Doucet vs. Julia Wertz!), so that's about as useful as saying there are a lot of romance novels published.

Vanessa Davis is a relatively young (well, she's 35 now, but anyone younger than me still counts) cartoonist who works, as far as I've seen, exclusively with her own life as material. She hasn't tackled any big, book-length stories yet -- though her mother insists that's her long-term plan about halfway through this collection -- so Make Me a Woman collects a whole bunch of work (some color and some black & white; some sketchbook pages and some strips telling specific stories, up to maybe ten pages long) from 2004 through 2010, and the only thing it all has in common is that it's by and about Vanessa Davis.

That's enough: Davis has a talented eye for what moments will make good stories, and her color work in particular is supple, with a smooth, flowing line. (A lot of the black & white work here is from her sketchbook -- and the book also covers a six-year period -- so comparing the linework of b&w to color isn't terribly useful.)

There's a bit of the hanging-out-with-fellow-cartoonists here, but not a lot -- and none of the semi-obligatory stories about comics conventions, which are not missed. Instead, Davis tells stories of her everyday life -- a summer at fat camp as a teen, what it was like to go to a tiny all-Jewish school in West Palm Beach, parties and working and subway rides and long-term boyfriends and friends and her relationship with R. Crumb's work. And, of course, Davis cartoons about her family -- primarily her mother and older sister -- as they visit for holidays, squabble, remember childhood, go for spa visits, and just bounce off each other.

I know I'm making a bad case for this book: I'm discombobulated right now and can't focus correctly. (And you should see how many typos I'm making as I go -- the page is a sea of little red squiggles.) But Vanessa Davis really is a talented, interesting, neat cartoonist who tells great stories. They might be mostly stories about being young, Jewish, and female, but they reach far beyond that: after all, I'm none of those things.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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