Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Escape from “Special” by Miss Lasko-Gross

On a recent trip to Rocketship I looked over the self-published shelf and saw many of the same books I saw during Lauren Weinstein’s reading. I don’t know if the ‘ship isn’t taking consignments or if the screen n staple crowd is taking the summer off but the selection tried the got-to-see-something-new (and buy) stance I have when I enter that store. Boo.

Sooooooo, I decided to check out the graphic novels. On the table a bunch of new titles I was interested in got a page-through (like Eddie Campbell’s Monsieur Leotard and Alex Robinson’s Too Cool to be Forgotten). Bill checked out Julie Doucet’s My New York Diary while J & L enjoyed the Jason spinner rack. Being indecisive often causes me to end up making mediocre choices. Choosing books by their covers, as it were.

And yes, Escape from "Special" has a great cover. There is something sad and beautiful about the curled posture of the doodling girl and the muted colors add to the feeling that this is a picture of a memory. The back cover blurbs describe a story that I really wanted to be good: a smart, weird girl, comics, horror movies and overcoming. The description of the art is this: “Drawn in a muted full-color palette, Lasko-Gross’s art, with its detailed backgrounds and expressive, clean-line character drawing, exquisitely conveys the volatile mix of…” I was thinking of pages that looked like the cover and when I flipped through all I saw was sepia-tone. Instead of the feeling of being gently nudged through time, I felt like I was trapped in a muddy pit with the main character Melissa. That feeling was only reinforced by the fact that Melissa looks very, very much the same throughout the book even as she ages, and yet a bit different each time she appears.

Melissa’s story is told through short anecdotes, many of which involve Melissa being persecuted by clues and/or mean adults for being herself—that is, truthful, precocious and weird in a cool little-kid way. She switches schools a lot and when she does finally make some friends, her idea of fun, like a game involving licking another girl’s tongue to guess what they ate that day or making her own horror movie charmingly called “Mommy Killed Daddy”, tends to end them. Her parents’ are portrayed as well meaning but flaky to the point of idiocy. No single event really stood out, even though Lasko-Gross includes some heavy stuff (the memory of her mother’s serious illness, her outrage at being sent to a therapist by her parents when she knows her mother was raped by a therapist, her middle school suicidal thoughts). Even Melissa, who is in every story, doesn’t feel like a real person by the end because the episodes of humiliation and epiphany are too numerous to have impact. Having gone through many of the same things as a preteen, this book should have been getting me where the getting is good. Fantagraphics editors, where are you?

Towards the end of the book a comic called “Cartoonists. How Do They Do it?” offers glimpse into Lasko-Gross’s development as a cartoonist. Her middle school self is in awe of how the professionals make the characters look exactly the same each week and control their stories for maximum effect. While her big Fantagraphics release should have been her entrance as a professional, it seems Lasko-Gross should still be asking herself the questions posed by her semi-autobiographical younger self. I hope she works it out before her next release, A Mess of Everything, which, despite the disappointment I felt about Escape from “Special,” I am looking forward to.

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