The Austin Chronicle on The Freddie Stories and Susceptible

Under the Covers: Drawn and Quarterly? Fantagraphics? A Few Recent Releases?

The Austin Chronicle    |    Wayne Alan Brenner, Shannon McCormick and Erika May McNichol    |    May 10, 2013

Lot of amazing comic books and graphic novels and compilations of sequential art – or whatever label you wanna tag the stuff with – coming out lately.

...The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry

Do you remember your childhood? At least enough to render it, with all its intricate personal details, as a series of comic strips? Lynda Barry does. That is, she remembers her own childhood, or at least she renders it or a fictionalized version of it (and that of siblings and friends) so vividly, with so many intricate personal (poignant, embarrassing, gnarly, seemingly crazed but perfectly logical at the time) details, as a series of comic strips –

(Perfectly logical at the time? Like when you did that thing with the ants and the cookie crumbs and the garden hose because you'd just seen a movie about General Patton and because Operation: Patton Ants was also less risky, paternal-beltwise, than setting your sister's remaining Barbie on fire?)
– as a series of comic strips that capture the core of being that age, at that time, in those circumstances.

She renders it in such a precise way that it hurts.

("Circumstances," yeah. In the Roast Beef Kazenzakis sense of the word.)

These are The Freddie Stories that Barry conjured for her altweekly-disseminated Ernie Pook's Comeek back in the '90s, presenting "a year in the life of the youngest member of a troubled, often dysfunctional family." Yes, dysfunctional – in a manner unknown to the rumored happy families that are all alike, with the youngest family member here, Freddie, AKA Skreddy 57, helplessly alive with funk and fantasy and terror and sorrow, galvanized (in that electrical-wire-in-a-dead-frog's-leg-muscle way) by the sheer immensity of existence and the relentless array of facts it offers for cataloguing, almost failing to survive the repressive and bully-bludgeoned journey to adolescence. These strips, along with many left out of the collection's earlier iteration, are offered in a beautifully made hardcover edition from Drawn & Quarterly. And, note: Even these strictly black-and-white scratchings of Barry's skilled and lyrical pen are presented against lined fields of color.

"When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you." Good old Freddie Nietzsche said that in another context, but he could've been talking about this presentation of a sort of larval abyss that can be as harrowing as the adult phase some of us carefully avert our gazes from. We recommend you look into this one from Barry and D&Q, see if your mouth isn't occasionally (maybe nervously) laughing while your memory-haunted heart breaks over and over and over.

– Wayne Alan Brenner

....Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée

Geneviève Castrée recounts her upbringing in Quebec, in the autobiographical, coming-of-age piece, Susceptible.

Goglu is the unplanned outcome of young love and a summer romance in Alberta, and details her childhood and adolescence with, mostly, her mother, who flounders with the basics of parenting. A likable but disengaged father, 5000 miles away in Vancouver, serves as a constant spectre in Goglu’s life; many of the sequences where her mother has overlooked or neglected some critical aspect of raising a child (such as getting shit-faced at a New Year’s party with Goglu along, or leaving her to get ready and take herself to school at a young age, or getting shit-faced in front of Goglu’s friends) emphasize his absence. More than a few recollections in Castrée’s book evoked an uncomfortable feeling, like the times you end up with front-row seats to the spontaneous argument between your best friend’s parents. When Goglu’s mother gets stoned and corners her in the basement – despite Goglu’s attempts to avoid her -- you can almost smell her dry mouth and stale breath as she tries to assuage her own insecurities with her daughter.

The self-taught artist renders her story through lovingly executed panels and an interesting narrative, but the book left me feeling empty. Castrée seems to write the book as an exercise in self-reflection, but I struggled to make the jump to connecting with the larger theme of nature vs. nurture. Is Goglu railroaded into the life that her mother lives: irresponsible, self-absorbed and complicit in her lack of forward movement? Castrée seems to point to yes, that she indeed is, in the opening sequence of the book, but leaves this open at the book’s close.

Susceptible was an uncomfortable and emotionally unsatisfying book, personally, but perhaps that’s the point. Castrée translates many of the recollections from her native tongue into English, which left me wondering if something was simply lost in translation. In all, Susceptible was a nice way to mark an evening, but failed to the deliver the lasting ruminations on its content the way other autobiographical works in this medium have.

– Erika May McNichol

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