Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series! For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo. You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.
I'd heard a lot of good things about Jess Fink and her work, but this was my first personal experience with any of her comics. After reading We Can Fix It!, this won't be my last.
Sometimes I think it's a rule that indie cartoonists have to look inward for one of their projects at least once. Some make it their career (Jeffrey Brown, Gabrielle Bell) while for others it's a thing that they do and move on.
I'm not sure which will be the case for Fink, but I love what she's done with the concept. Instead of the standard navel-gazing we see in such books, Fink has given it a narrative hook that allows for her message, when she's ready to tell it, to come through loud and clear.
We Can Fix It! begins with a humorous premise. Fink, having learned how to time travel and acquired a cool jumpsuit to go along with it, promptly decides to go back and time and relive her sexy times. Unable to stay out of her own way, Fink not only ends up performing the ultimate in acts of masturbation, she starts trying to make her past better by offering advice on how to best handle her sex life. It begins innocently enough, but when Fink gets tired of being, well, finked on, she starts to rebel.
Flustered, we see Fink go further and further back in time, trying to find a way to make her life better and change that which wasn't meant to be altered. It's both comical and tragic, with Fink's visuals setting just the right tone. By the time she's yelling at a very young Jess who can't understand why her mother has to be away so long (but from the perspective of an adult, Fink of course can), we as the reader are ready for Fink's central point of setting up the story the way she does: We cant' dwell on or change the past, and doing so can be very harmful.
Instead, Fink argues it's better to focus on the happy times and remember them with all your heart in your very own time machine. The rest of the book is spent doing just that, as Fink relives past exploits, like getting in trouble in art class or planning to make a comic. By the time she is reunited in the present, she understands the value of the past and how to use it better.
The message is very uplifting, though it might contrast sharply with the personal feelings of others. Fink states that head space is precious and it should only be used for good memories. While I agree that the past cannot be changed, I am a little leery of the idea of forgetting all the pain that got you to be the person you are today. [EDITED TO ADD: Fink correctly pointed out to me that her point wasn't so much "focus only on the good" as it's "hey, don't forget you have good memories, too." I missed that when I did the review, but on a re-read of that section, she is correct. -ROB]
However, that's only a small philosophical difference and doesn't impact on my enjoyment of this comic at all. Fink, who is no stranger to doing comics with sexual themes (she's been in several erotic comic anthologies and her first Top Shelf Book, Chester 5000, is a collection from her Victorian-era erotic webcomic), dishes freely about some of her exploits, such as reflecting on what a terrible job she used to do at blow jobs. That willingness to make fun of herself really helps the comic shine, and the overall tone, despite some serious moments, is very light. (This is a comic, after all, where time-traveling Fink shits on the head of a school bully to make her past-self laugh.)
Perhaps my favorite part is where Fink is trying to give her younger self advice on reading better comics (don't we all wish we could do this!), and in the middle of trying to improve her taste, gets caught right back up in Ranma 1/2. Some things just aren't easily given up, no matter how much your taste changes.
Visually, this is also a very fun comic. Though there's quite a bit of talk about sex, we don't ever actually see any, relying only on traveling Fink to know what is going on. It's an interesting choice, but I thought it worked. This book's main point is to talk about how we deal with our past, not to get a person thinking about sex per se. (However, if you'd like to see Fink doing just that, there are some samples on her website.) Fink does a great job of making herself look different every time we see her in the past, so that it's easy to keep track of her timeline, since the comic itself is non-linear. It might be the length or color of her hair or the size of her character's chest, but I thought that was a nice touch.
Her line work is very much in a non-realistic style. Characters get eyes that can be everything from mostly normal to Annie-like dots. Noses are rounded or sharp lines. There's a consistency of proportion and aren't exaggerated, but they can be changed to create a bigger visual impact. They're drawn in a simple style that gives Fink a lot of flexibility and I was extremely impressed by how steady the work was from start to finish. Though they certainly aren't real people in depiction, they come across as feeling very human. They move around their world easily, bending and twisting s Fink requires them to do to heighten a joke or provide an emotional power, such as an uncomfortable scene with her father.
I came away from We Can Fix It! extremely impressed. This may only be Fink's second book, but I certainly hope it won't be her last. Those who read personal memoir comics who aren't prudes need to get a copy of this right away, preferably at SPX. Jess Fink is a creator to watch, and I'm positive she's got a very bright future ahead of her.
Can't make SPX, and don't own a time machine? You can find Jess Fink on the web here, with a link to buy her books from Top Shelf (and a few rather naughty comic samples, too!).
Thanks to Top Shelf for providing a copy for review purposes.