Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Fungirl by Elizabeth Pich

It shouldn't be surprising when we get cringe comedy from a woman - we're more than a decade past Bridesmaids, after all - but it feels like one of those doors that keeps having to be kicked open, that the audience tends to forget women can be just as messy and weird and horrible as men. Today, I have a book that kicks that door open, rips it off its hinges, chops it up for firewood, burns it down, dances on the ashes, and then falls over, awkwardly, to get bruised and covered with schmutz.

Fungirl is, to use the idiom of my youth, cringe to the max, a collection of strips that I think originally appeared in zines or anthologies or online or (waves hands wildly) somewhere and then were collected into this big book in 2021. It's by Elizabeth Pich, also known as half of the team behind the webcomic War and Peas - the art style here is very similar to War, whatever that means.

Fungirl herself - she has no other name here - is the blank-faced woman on the cover. She's young, probably in her mid-twenties - the familiar "old enough to know better and young enough not to do so." She's bisexual, vaguely self-deluding, hugely impulsive, and lacking in any social graces - a cringe comedy protagonist, to be short.

She lives with a roommate, Becky, who used to be her girlfriend, for maximum awkwardness potential. Becky has a steady boyfriend, Peter, who is one of those quiet, feminist, unassuming men who work well in comedy about loud, abrasive, thoughtless women.

Fungirl is already obsessed with sex, so to get the "death" part of the cringe-comedy yin/yang, she gets a job at a mortuary, where she is no more appropriate, low-key, or unassuming than she is in any other facet of her life.

This is a collection of stories, more or less - Pich doesn't use titles here, though she does have vignette-style "photo" pages in between stories - all coming from the core premise of Fungirl: she's a hot mess who causes problems but is loveable enough to always be forgiven. It's all comedy, so it tends to circle back: nothing much changes in Fungirl's life or relationships, except to facilitate the next gag or set up this particular story.

Fungirl is wild and manic and uncontrolled, and she's a hoot to read about. I see there are a few shorter, later books about her, so I wonder if the (very small, very tentative) personal growth we see in her at the end of this book will continue. I'm ambivalent about that: a character like this can't change too much and stay the same character, but on the other hand it's all the same joke if she doesn't change. Either way, I want to see what Pich does next: she's fearless and funny and draws in a neat crisp cartoony style that makes the boobs and blood and flailing limbs all that much sillier.

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