September 25, 2009

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Late Bloomer

Written by Carol Tyler
Illustrated by Carol Tyler
Fantagraphics

[Since she'll be at SPX this weekend, I figured I'd get this posted today.]

Fans of Robert Crumb and the comix genre may recognize Carol Tyler's name as one of the contributors to his Weirdo magazine. This is a collection of some of Tyler's work over the years, and the title is a reference to the fact that it took her a lot of years--and two really bad relationships--to get to where she is today, which I guess is a fairly successful independent comics creator. (I don't say that as a slight; I am guessing because I don't know how well she's done for herself. I hope it's well, because her stuff is quite good in my opinion.)

The selections focus mostly on her personal comix, which fits with her contemporaries, the Crumb family. It has the same sort of "everyone's drawn not-quite-right" look about it that helps show you that the author is not trying to take his or her self too seriously. She's also not afraid to draw crude things, as she shows a lot of poop and pee along the way when talking about scenes with her baby daughter. The stories themselves remind me of the personal reflection material that I've read. I feel like she's telling us the full story, not just one that makes for the best comic or puts her in the best light, which makes this even better than most personal reflection comics.

This is especially true of the last piece, "The Outrage" which I think is previously unpublished. I don't know that I could ever be that personal. We see her as a girl who questions what is often taken for granted (why do girls have to wear shirts?), a young woman rebelling against her parents, and the type of parent who tries, but doesn't always quite do things right--and isn't afraid to tell us of her failures.

Tyler's work features real life on the page, narrative essay with pictures. This is true graphic novel work, much as Fun Home and other recently published material. The difference is that this is pretty far underground--the land of the Griffiths and Crumbs and other comic outsiders and so more easily overlooked by the mainstream press. More's the pity for that.

If you're looking for "fun" material, this is not for you. There are funny bits, don't get me wrong--I liked the cover she did for one magazine with all the different types of men looking like cosmetic items, for instance--but the tone is rather serious. Taken together, we see how Tyler put her life together, often without the help of those around here. (It's hard for me to see how things work with Justin, the husband of her child, but I get the impression there were a lot of times she was on her own.

Tyler indicates this book is "a celebration of all us late bloomers" and I think that's very accurate. Those who feel like they've not gotten where they intended to be and feel powerless to ever get there should read this book, and those with self esteem issues can find comfort here as well.

Ms. Tyler is a regular person who chooses to use comix as her medium to tell the story of being a regular person with regular issues. She's quite good at it, and I wish my own library would buy some of her stuff, it's a shame that this is something I had to ILL to see, and I fear that Crumb is correct that the only way this book gets even a look is because his name is on the cover, too. That's a real shame. There's a lot of this material out there and I'm so happy to be exploring it.

Those who like personal narratives but aren't sure about the whole "comics" thing need to be looking for books like this. In fact, go looking for this book. I liked this collection a lot, and I'll definitely keep my eye out for more of her work.