A big part of what makes Nicole Georges’s Calling Dr. Laura an excellent read is that Nicole Georges is a neat, weird human. She loves dogs, rescues chickens, works as a karaoke DJ, and makes badass needlepoint –at one point, she channels her complex emotional response to a long-coming breakup (the reader senses it coming long before the character comes to terms with its inevitability) into a wall hanging that reads “tell that triflin bitch she can have you,” which is accompanied by a cross-stitched zebra. I am personally in love with the protagonist’s overall aesthetic, which probably makes me a fairly biased reader. As you can see from the image above, however, the text operates in a style that is potentially appealing to many- there are generally clean lines and shapes, along with detailed character depiction. In some frames, the use of lighting to texture hair (you can see it here, but there are some frames that center the effect more) gives a strong realist quality to the text, along with good depth of image. What I’m most interested in is Georges’ decision to move between the more realist style pictured above, and a flatter, more cartoony style. For the majority of the text, the switch in styles parallels a switching in timelines between the present moment and the narrator’s (traumatic) past. Towards the end of the text that line is muddied, and the switch seems to have more to do with trauma itself, or perhaps a certain kind of working-through. It is worth noting, I think, that this text is memoir, and while I highly recommend it, it is also very personal, so might not be ideal for every reader.
So I put this text away for a few days until I recovered my usual, cheery demeanour, and then read the remainder of it in a single sitting. I’m still a little on the fence about it, though I do think it is interesting, and definitely worth a read. My thoughts about it are fairly disorganized (which is a testament to the text’s project), so I’m going to bullet point them.
1*Stylistically, it reminds me of Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School. This is a major plus, and has some wheels spinning in the academic part of my brain.
2*On the other hand, I found the extremely cluttered pages to be a little taxing. I spent a lot of time thinking about this, because it’s kind of out of character for me- Julie Doucet is one of my favourite comics producers, and her frames are equally cluttered. I think it’s because Chippendale’s gutters are virtually non-existent, which means that the space/time between moments and actions are more compressed. Combine this effect with the unusual reading pattern, and you get a fairly disrupted reading experience.
2a* A lot of my work is explicitly about form, so it was cool/useful to read a comics text that works so hard to get its reader to think about form.
2b* But sometimes the text was, in my opinion, ineffective. After a while, the unusual reading pattern began to feel ordinary. Additionally, the page-map labels were polarizing in their effectiveness. While “follow the trail of tears” was a poignant label (especially for how content-appropriate it is), “ready like anal leakage” was less so. I think it really works against the overarching project of form awareness at the heart of the text- anal leakage is the epitome of disorganization, far beyond the capacity of the comics form for disorganization.
3*There’s a reprieve section in the center of the text that depicts two full pages of twitter activity. This is my favourite section of the text- the account depicted is a real account, but there is no overlap in content between the two.
I guess I’m technically cheating at my own project here, as I’m reading Phoebe Gloeckner’s A Child’s Life and Other Stories for my academic work, but: I also don’t really care. Gloeckner is formally trained as a medical illustrator, which informs her work in interesting ways. A segment titled “Time out For Pain- three 3/4 views by Phoebe Gloeckner” interjects a brief narrative on the overlap between the medicalised nature of pain management, capitalist discourses of pain as a symptom of weakness/laziness, and drug addiction as a social stop-gap in place of good treatments for depression and anxiety that both references medical textbook illustrations by way of the framing (I’m thinking specifically of the 3/4 view here) and discourses that are woven through the remainder of the partially autobiographical (sometimes biomythological) text. This is not what at all what I sat down to write about, but it is the kind of writing that I really love: allow me to untangle how the observation I’ve just stumbled into relates in a meaty way to the book manuscript that I’m working on. The title caption “Time out For Pain” signals that the following segment’s content will in some way be concerned with pain. However, it equally signals that this turn towards pain is a change in course, presumably from the remainder of the text’s narrative. Which is kind of bonkers, because A Child’s Life is replete with images and iterations of pain: the various Gloeckner stand-ins experience sexual and emotional abuse, minor neglect, and the insidious kinds of trauma and abuse that are bound up in drug abuse (there are multiple depictions of drug addicts consenting to acts to which they might were they living a drug-free existence). Effectively, the segment “Time out For Pain,” then reflects on the manner in which the various traumas depicted in the text
are not treated as medically recognizable pain (at least, not at the time of writing- there are recent changes, I think, in this area). This is exciting news for me, as it presents a solid link to the work that I’ve done in a recent conference paper that looks at how Julie Doucet’s My Most Secret Desire is concerned with various kinds of risk.
I have spent six months trying to write a chapter on Julie Doucet’s My Most Secret Desire. In six months, I have produced 200 words. Today, I changed my text. I’ve written 300 words, and have successfully outlined a potential arc, including broad references to bodies of theory and specific texts/theorists. I’ve been working on it for fifteen minutes. This is text I’ll (now) be writing my second chapter on.
Can I have my six months back?