August 13, 2011

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This Isn't Working: Comics About Ex-Boyfriends

Written and Illustrated by Cara Bean, Caitlin Plovnick, Robyn Chapman, Liz Prince, Jen Vaughn, and MariNaomi
Paper Rocket Minicomics

What's one of the perks of being a creative type? The ability to get revenge or to cauterize an old wound through your medium, hopefully telling a good story in the process. That's the goal of This Isn't Working, and it ends up working out quite well.

I'm always intrigued when I hear about a new anthology, so I was excited to pick this one up a little bit ago. I only vaguely knew of the creators involved, primarily Liz Prince, whose work I am pretty sure I've seen somewhere else. This was a bit of a chance grab, because I wasn't going to be able to see it in advance. I was happily surprised with the quality, however, as all of the stories are quite solid which is unusual in an anthology format.

First up is Cara Bean, who uses the imagery of knitted thread to tie her tale together. It's a sad one, about a relationship that could never last, which ends tragically even if the breakup came much sooner. Her illustrations are pretty straightforward, and the four page story is tightly contained within the boundaries of the knitting.

Caitlin Plovnick follows with a more light-hearted three pager, sitting in for all those dreams we have about our exes. It's a cute story, but probably the weakest in the collection, with the most basic illustrations and storyline.

The publisher of the mini, Robyn Chapman, angst about her ex in a way that I think many of us do after a relationship is over. We look at things we should have tossed, we spend time not sleeping wondering what the ex is doing, and generally make ourselves miserable. It's an extremely familiar story for anyone who has an ex out there.

One of the perils of writing autobiographical comics is that sometimes, your lover becomes your ex. That's the case for Liz Prince, who talks about being together off and on with someone who is THE ex. She quickly and quirkily runs the reader through a brief history and ends by dismissing a what-if scenario just like they do in the superhero comics. A fun read.

Jen Vaughn steers things in a different direction, drawing a cautionary tale that doesn't specifically deal with breaking up, though I guess it contributed to it. I admit I had to read it twice to get the joke, but once I did, I laughed and laughed and laughed. I think the bag of peas nails the gag, and Vaughn's got a strong enough illustrative style to pull the whole thing off.

The last story, by MariNaomi, looks most like a traditional alternative comic in style, with start black backgrounds, rigid paneling, and a large number of narrative boxes. A co-worker finally wears her down in a relationship that was probably a mistake to begin with and ends up with what I consider to be one of the worst sins of dating, trying to change the partner's mind on something significant. Of course, as MariNaomi warns us, her next relationship was even worse!

I had a great time reading This Isn't Working, and I think anyone who's been in more than a few relationships will find points of comparison. It's only $3.00, and you can pick it up at Paper Rocket Minicomics, along with other books and biographical information on the creators involved. It's definitely worth checking out, as it features both strong female creators and also good storytelling, which is always a winning combination.