When I Was A Kid: Childhood Stories by Boey. Last Gasp, 2013. 9780867197583.
Each of the one or two page stories of Cheeming Boey’s childhood in Malaysia in this comic collection is drawn from his blog and starts with “when I was a kid.” While Boey is an accomplished artist, he uses simple shapes to depict himself and his family. I was amazed at how expressive he could make a drawing of himself with only a line or two for eyebrows. The stories are funny, not sentimental or saccharine (he remembers being more upset that his mom put their dead dog in the trash can than that it had died). They convey a sense of place down to how crunchy snacks were (not very, it was pretty humid). (In fact he was astonished at how crunchy chips were when he moved to San Francisco.) The stories might not be as polished as the greats (Kampung Boy, The Greatest of Marlys) but they are just as evocative of childhood.
It’s All Absolutely Fine: Life Is Complicated So I’ve Drawn It Instead by Ruby Elliot. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 9781449480424.
I saw Ruby Elliot’s comics passed around online, posted and reposted by people who felt the same way she does about coping with life and body image issues. They were funny and rang really true. This book is the first time I’ve read her heavier comics. 24-year-old Ruby Elliot has dealt with a lot in her life: an eating disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and self-harm. She has been in some really dark places and survived. This isn’t inspiration porn, this is about feeling both emotionally raw and annoyed by having to struggle to just get through daily life. It’s frustrating. It’s demoralizing. Yet it’s also funny and hopeful.
Elliot’s voice is really strong and I’m looking forward to seeing her work as she matures. I think she’s going to be a world-changer (if she isn’t already).
My other favorite graphic novels on mental health issues: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, Marbles by Ellen Forney, Cat Rackham by Steve Wolfhard, and Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham.
Our Cats Are More Famous Than Us: A Johnny Wander Collection by Ananth Hirsh & Yuko Ota. Oni Press, 2017. 9781620103838. 416pp.
Collects Johnny Wander books 1-3, plus some bonus strips.
Like a lot of great art, the best diary comic strips look effortless. They’re just little slices of daily life, right? But there’s a huge amount of art and skill that goes into setting the tone and telling of each. Johnny Wander tells stories of daily life in a light but not-too-sweet way: the rental house held together by spackle, the curry that came to Yuko in a dream (recipe included), and the ongoing conflict between Yuko’s love for real coffee and Ananth’s love for tooth-rattlingly sweet coffee drinks. I got to really like all of the characters: Ananth and Yuko, their roommates, their friends, Yuko’s parents, and (of course!) Ananth and Yuko’s cats. Comics fans might recognize appearances by Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman, KC Green, and Rich Stevens.
This is a collection I’ll want to keep on hand. Reading Johnny Wander always makes me happy. Keep it with your emergency kit.