August 28, 2013

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SPX Spotlight 2013: L. Nichols and Flocks

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.

One of the great things about mini-comics is that that often deal with things on a very personal level. In some hands, they are visual zines, which is why there is often a bit of crossover between the two areas (Anne Thalheimer is a good example of this). The shorter format and lack of publishing pressure (even minis backed by Retrofit or Oily aren't expected to meet certain sales numbers) really frees the author up to say what's on their mind.

It also allows the reader a chance to connect on a more personal level. The intimacy of a mini-comic that deals with an issue close to the heart of the author and reader can make for powerful reading.

That was the case for me and Flocks, L. Nichols's story of dealing with her sexuality while growing up in an atmosphere that taught her she was sinful and going to hell for being queer. My own personal experience came later than it did for Nichols, but I can still feel the pain and fear on every page of her comic as though it were my own. Unless you have personally experienced it, trying to determine who you are when you have been told that anything other than "normal" is a ticket to hell leads to serious emotional--and in the worst cases, physical--damage.

Using a rag doll with buttons for eyes as her avatar, Nichols takes us through her early realization of being queer and the things she did to try and escape, like volunteering or getting more involved in the church. An attempt to be a part of a camp just leads to a first crush, and attempts to be heteronormative just cause more trouble.  As her parents get lost in their own world and blame it all on her being awkward, Nichols falls further and further into a deep well of self-loathing.

The story is brutally honest in a way you only get from the best personal mini-comics. Nichols really pours it own, showing the guilt as visual representations, such as condemning words or symbols raining down on her head. There is a total feeling of desperation here, driven mostly by the visuals. Nichols doesn't do a lot in the way of backgrounds, instead having the characters melt into the self-doubting/reflective text. It's a great effect that reminds me just a bit of how shojo manga will use symbols and visual representations that "exist" within the world to help the reader understand the feelings of the characters.

Nichols will have Flocks 1 and 2 at the show, with 3 set to debut at SPX this year. If you are all involved in the LGBT community, this is a must-read comic, just like Katie Omberg's Gay Kid series. But even if you're not, the power of the work shines through in this extremely personal series that was my #1 mini-comic of 2012 in a very competitive field.

Lots of people will be flocking to SPX. Not you?  That's okay, you can find Flocks at Nichols' online store.