Santa Barbara News-Press lovingly reviews MAKE ME A WOMAN

Make Me A Woman

Santa Barbara News-Press    |    Katie Haegele    |    November 10, 2010

Drawn & Quarterly, more than many publishers, understands books as objects; theirs usually feel like a perfect union of form and content. This, after all, is the house that put out that delicious box set 32 Stories, which reproduced a batch of zines Adrian Tomine published as a teenager. To showcase Make Me a Woman, a new collection of work by comics artist Vanessa Davis, the publisher created the perfect space - a tall, hardbound book, each page large enough to showcase her dotty, imperfect style.

The anthology, made up of previous publications as well as unpublished, unfinished sketches, includes both full-color comics that look like watercolors and raw-looking pencil drawings, some with the eraser marks still visible. Each style is appealing in a different way. The completed strips are lively, in bright colors and large shapes, and though her figures and objects are drawn with technical skill they’re also humorously awkward in a way that seems natural and unaffected. The pencil drawings have a rainy-day feel and are often simply a small group of unrelated thoughts and pictures.

The fully-realized pieces tell complete stories that push the narrative forward, helping to give us a sense of a full person behind the work - her family relationships, romantic travails, and childhood memories; her questioning, questing attitude toward Judaism and her own Jewishness; and the occasional hipster dance party. In both style and perspective these pieces owe a lot to the work of Lynda Barry, that other joyously depressive storyteller. But Davis is more meta, thinking and writing about the nature of her psyche and her work, asking questions about her own issues and whether acting "neurotic" has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a treasured Jewish trait.

This doesn't mean that the stories she's telling always make perfect sense. Some of them have an incomplete, disjointed feeling, either because Davis is an imperfect storyteller or because she assumes a background knowledge of her life or some other topic, which the reader may or may not have.

But there's a gossipy pleasure in collecting little scraps of information about her life. The book's scattershot, sketchbook feel has the interesting effect of making the reader dig for clues. The Harvard Club? Does that mean Davis went to Harvard? And what about Boaz, is he the Israeli guy she became involved with that one night? Are they, like, together now? And truthfully, this might be a more realistic way of depicting reality than any traditional storytelling style. Like getting to know someone in real life, it happens in bits and pieces. Altogether the person we meet in these pages is intelligent, funny, and slightly crabby - very human, in other words, and a rare writer whose company you enjoy.

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