Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Love Shoplifts Us Up Where We Belong

Posted by Don MacPherson on November 11th, 2008

Token original graphic novel
Writer: Alisa Kwitney
Artist/Cover artist: Joelle Jones
Letters: Steve Wands
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Minx imprint
Price: $9.99 US/$11.99 CAN

The cancellation of the Minx line of graphic novels aimed at younger, female readers strikes me now as even more unfortunate news, as the Shelly Bond-edited brand has brought us yet another compelling read. Former Vertigo editor Alisa Kwitney lulls the readers into an expectation of conventional, by-the-numbers storytelling, but she ends up taking her audience down an unexpected path later on in the book. Like most of the other titles under the Minx banner, this one is a coming-of-age tale, but it doesn’t come off as derivative or repetitive. To be honest, though, it wasn’t Kwitney’s name that drew me to this book. I’ve been waiting for a chance to take in Joelle Jones’s artwork again since I first saw it in the excellent 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, penned by Jamie S. Rich and published by Oni Press. Though I think I favored her work on that project over this one, she still offers some strong visuals here.

Shira Spektor’s life isn’t what she’d like it to be. Sure, the teenager loves her dad, her grandmother and her elderly best friend Minerva, but she’s looking for more from life. She’d like to be accepted by his classmates (she’s not). She’d like it if her father were paying more attention to her than his secretary (he’s not). And she wants to fall in love and discover the world of sexual intimacy (she hasn’t). Her frustrations lead her to break her pattern of her good-girl tendency to play it safe… and they lead her to a boy whose mysterious and attractive nature leaves her dizzy.

Jones clearly has a great eye for anatomy. She seems to capture the natural lines of the human body with seeming ease. Her style is a looser one, but the sketchy linework converges to create convincing figures and backdrops. Shira is perfectly proportioned. She’s not a rake-thin, supermodel type, but she’s stunning in a way that one can believe she doesn’t even recognize. The artist portrays Shira as voluptuous, but she doesn’t vamp her up, doesn’t oversexualize her. Occasionally, Jones resorts to cartoony exaggeration to convey the reactions (or overreactions) of some of the characters, and Shira’s grandmother is always depicted as more of a caricature than a character. But overall, the visuals are attractive. I think if there’s one thing Jones conveys better above all else is tenderness between two characters. That stood out in 12 Reasons, and it stands out here.

I’m a bit puzzled as to why this story is set in 1987 (as the back cover attests, not that there are many cues in the book itself). I suppose it’s to avoid possible plot holes that could be created with common 21st-century communications technology, or perhaps it’s best there are biographical or cultural elements to which the writer wants to stay true. Either way, it doesn’t really matter, as there’s something of a timeless quality at play in the storytelling. It could be happening today, 20 years ago or even 50.

As I made my way through this graphic novel at first, I was disheartened by what I found: a cliched teen melodrama. Or at least that’s what I thought I’d found. Earlier scenes are so by-the-numbers and afterschool-special in tone that I think Kwitney must have intended them as misdirection. There was no moral about the pitfalls of shoplifting to be found at the end of the book, nor any Happily Ever After, Cinderella-like ending. The book completely transforms into another entity by the end of the book, completely shedding its conventional clothing for something subtler yet a little more daring.

For me, this story is about making mistakes and how making really big ones can be exactly what someone needs to do and should do. In this plot, Shira has finally reached a point in her life at which she has to discover herself, at which she has to venture out of her safety zone and do what was previously unthinkable. She makes the transition from Daddy’s Little Girl to Woman, at least begins that transition. I’ve always believed that testing boundaries and breaking the rules are vital parts of growing up, of replacing one’s parents’ boundaries and rules with one’s own. That made this story an easy and engaging read for me. 9/10