July 8, 2018

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Dare to Disappoint Growing Up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci

By Ozge Samanci
Published by Farrar Straus

Creator Ozge Samanci uses a blended art style to tell the story of her life growing up in Turkey, a nation that doesn't get huge attention in the United States. An independent thinker, Ozge sometimes runs afoul of both her family and accepted norms in this engaging memoir that portrays life for a young woman in a country with different pressures from the usual, American coming-of-age story we're used to seeing in comics.


While Samanci does an amazing job telling her life story, with little details like how her uncle's cigarettes always ashed long or the multiple love interests of her popular sister, she also shows us what it was like to grow up in Turkey. Whether it was the way the government portrayed itself as being heroic (and her adult comments countering the propaganda) or how she remembers an extremist principal's wife as nothing more than eyes under clothing, we see the world Samanci experienced, through her eyes. And while some of it is quirky, there's the ever-present fear of violence: A teacher, branded a terrorist, is murdered in front his child. In a terrifying illustration, Samanci shows multiple gallows to visualize for readers the 15 people murdered by the government over 2 years for alleged crimes. On the same page, there's a visual of police bursting into a home, looking for evidence of crimes and using torture to get it.

I can't imagine growing up like that, but it's everyday life for far too many people, both outside of the United States and within in. Seeing Samanci balance this with normal fears (What do I want to do when I grow up? How do I keep up with my successful sister?) is really a testament to the fact that no matter what's happening on the grand scale, we also need to live out our lives. It's a lesson we really need to live right now, given the terrors lurking around every corner.

I could go on about the little touches that make this a lengthy, but worthwhile autobiography, but the thing that really stands out for me beyond the detailed information (caption arrows to provide details on clothing!), is the art style itself. When I say the art is blended, I mean exactly that. While most of the story is told in thin lines and figures who are almost flat (yet still detailed--you can tell a lot about a person in Samanci's life just by looking at the clothing, hair, or facial expressions she's given them), there are multiple instances of using other items alongside pencil work, such as this example below:


I don't know if those are real pebbles to represent the ones she had as a kid or a really good modelling of small stones, but either way, it makes the image stand out and focus the reader on the visual aspects of the book, not just the extensive text.

Even when using traditional mediums, Samanci breaks up the art with pages that look like a serious version of the Family Circus at times:


Here's another example, this time combining a grid-break panel with a series of grid-like story beats that highlight how Samanci uses selective color to highlight parts of her images, a recurring theme in the book:


It's really phenomenal work, reminding me a bit of the French style but being very much her own work. I don't know why, for example, she opted to color a cardboard box in these pages, but it means we study it, notice she's left some packing tape on it, and realize that Samanci's art contains depth and should be lingered on, not just glanced at while we move across the captions.

I'm not sure who pointed me towards this comic, which I otherwise might have missed because it came from a publisher who doesn't do a lot of graphic books. It's a great story with distinct art that mixes mediums, colors, and styles and reminds us there's a lot more to autobiographical comics than the ones by the usual suspects, as good as those are. Check it out if you can find it. I know I'll be looking for more by Samanci in the future. She's got a great eye for the comic page!