August 14, 2014

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SPX Spotlight 2014: Anne Thalheimer and What You Don't Get

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

As any good horror fan will tell you, there are all kinds of monsters, and while Anne Thalheimer might best be associated with making Monster Hats, the personal demons she's fought--and fights--in her mind are revealed in her memoir, What You Don't Get, which was published last year.

Long-time zinester Thalheimer, who is the creator behind the Booty series, finally put together a long-form work, which begins with a life-changing trip to Germany just after the Berlin Wall fell and includes the most traumatic moment in her life, being on a campus when a lunatic with a gun decided to murder others.

Not "shooting." Not "incident." Murder. As Thalheimer notes in the book, the terms we use are passive, creating distance from something. That's impossible for her, and others like her, and so she uses the word that makes the most sense.

The moments where Anne discusses what happened and the aftereffects are some of the most difficult sections to read. When she talks about being at a Halloween party and someone is there as a "school shooting victim" (What the fuck?), the reaction is just empty. Given how much Halloween and costumes mean to Thalheimer (she once dressed as the chicken that stepped all over the Criminologist--now that's dedication*), I can only imagine how processing that must have been. In the text, she wonders if not reacting means she's healing. The fact that she doesn't know tells you what that must be like.

Though I suffer from my own memory of an event I can't forget as long as I live (while paradoxically, also like Anne, not remembering certain parts of it), I rarely talk about it. The fact that Thalheimer is frank and honest about this in book form, where anyone can read it, takes a ton of courage. Sharing on this level is incredibly difficult, even among friends, but we as readers are better for it. It may sound cliche to say that "people need to know they aren't alone" but it's true. Reading the stories of others, whether it's a discussion of their childhood, struggles with sexual identity, or trauma, has changed how I deal/share my own narrative.

That's why books like What You Don't Get are so important.

Anne comes from the zine community, and that shows in the book's style. Anyone familiar with her work in Booty will recognize the meshing of portions of hand-written text with illustrations. There are no set panels, and the pen-drawn comics range from headshots to representations to background scenes, coming and going as Thalheimer sees fit. Anne's representations of herself morph a bit to fit the time period, mostly in hair style and clothing.

It's a raw and personal style, unpolished on purpose and allowing the freedom of her creatively to shine through, which makes the personal sharing more powerful. There's no time taken to ensure every visual is just right--it's the one that works in that moment, to go with the feeling. That's not going to appeal to everyone, but it's how Anne works, and it's a style that fans of both comics and zines, such as myself, will find very appealing.

There are a ton of autobiographical comics out there right now. Being blunt, only a rare percentage of the people doing autobio comics create them in a way that is interesting to both themselves and to a perfect stranger. Even though I do know Anne outside of comics/zines, I believe that her work registers on a level above that of most autobios, because it speaks on a level that's not just "here's what happened to me." It's "here's what happened to me that might just have happened to you or someone close to you, too."

That's key, along with knowing how to be honest with the reader. Thalheimer isn't just relating events from her life. She's forming a story, a narrative--one that draws you in from start to finish. Booty, while often lighter in tone, has that feel, too.

You'll fine Anne Thalheimer, her cute-as-hell Monster Hats, and her excellent zine/comic work at SPX this year. Can't make SPX? She's got an Etsy store here.

*You either get the reference or not, I'm not gonna explain it to you.