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.
After spending some time in the world of YA, it's time to turn to arguably my first love in terms of the indie comics world, autobiographical comics.
Though I did not start following her work until a few years ago, Mari Naomi quickly moved into my must-read pile when I started reading her short and honest stories when prepping for the first time she was under the SPX Spotlight.
It's actually those stories, originally appearing on TheRumpus.net, which make up the bulk of the comics collected here, in which Mari weaves in and out of her life, talking about her friendships, relationships, family, and anything else that comes to mind that might be interesting to her readers.
Which is the true grandfather? Mari's not sure, just as I'm not sure which version of my grandmother I'll remember--the vile, cruel drunk who manipulated my mother nearly to the grave or the woman who took me downtown, considered me her own son, and never failed to protect me when I most needed it against my own parents? I don't know, and neither does Mari.
That's what makes an autobiographical comic stand above the rest--the fact that you can immediately connect. When you combine it with Mari's illustrations, which range from making her grandfather a benevolent dragon, a spiral-eyed racist, and a sitcom pop-pop alongside versions of herself that go from cute child to mature adult to a slowly dying kid that ends up as nothing but a skull, the effect is so powerful as to almost cause a physical reaction.
Dragon's Breath itself move roughly chronologically through Mari's life, starting with stories of her childhood and progressing to just a few years ago. Time bounces around a bit, and the comics themselves were not written in this order. That means a 2011-written story might appear after one from 2012. For a different creator, this might be a bit jarring, but Mari's style shifts based on the story (one is done on a black page with white linework, for example), so it's not as noticeable.
Before I finish, I want to touch briefly on the art itself. I love the fact that Mari works hard to make herself look different as times goes on (presumably to match the way she appeared during those times). She also does a great job with contextualizing her stories. While she is more than willing to use white space for effect, we also get details that range from a vision of a cave to what it's like to encounter someone in an odd place, or show a tree she associates strongly with a memory. We really get a good picture of what she's thinking of when we shares her memories.
Make sure that you stop and see Mari, she'll likely be at the 2D Cloud table, and may have her 2012 book about her romantic life, Kiss and Tell, around, too.
Can't make SPX? You can find Mari on the web here.
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