Monday, February 05, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #36: Underwire by Jennifer Hayden

Jennifer Hayden is a middle-aged New Jerseyan, telling stories here about her growing kids and family life -- so why did it take me so long to get to a 2011 book so close to my own life and experience? (I'm generally all over that stuff: don't we all love to be validated by art that reflects the way we see the world?)

Well, I did see her big graphic novel The Story of My Tits (spoiler alert: the story is cancer) a few years back, and I've had Underwire on my shelf at least since then. This book-a-day run gave me a good excuse to pull it down, and I realized this was a compilation -- it collects a strip she did for Dean Haspiel's ACT-I-VATE collective, strips done around the same time she was working on the big book.

So this book has thirty pieces -- a few of them are full-page illustrations (generally of what I'd call "goddessy stuff," which may be a consumer warning for some), but most are comics. The stories are mostly two or three pages long -- a vignette or moment of her life, or a whimsical dream -- but there's also a ten-pager, "Girls' Club," about a Christmas party and a night staying at the title club, where her grandmother made posters years ago.

Each story is a little slice of life -- Hayden focuses on domesticity, so it's about moments with her two teen kids and husband, rather than work or the wider world. These are about what it's like to be Jennifer Hayden, in the years 2008-2010, with a daughter who got amazingly sophisticated overnight and a son who's ready to go off on his own. A few are flights of fancy, but still rooted in that normal life. Not big things, no. But the stuff that good lives, and good people, are made of.

Hayden has a heavily-detailed, ornate style with a cartoony edge -- not a million miles away from Lynda Barry, but entirely its own thing. This is a small, quirky book of small, quirky stories -- but all lives are small and quirky when you look at them close up. It's just that most of us aren't as good at Hayden at really looking at them.

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