Babyfat by M. Dean

Created by M. Dean
Published by M. Dean

Babyfat by M. Dean begins with a wedding: Roberta’s whirlwind Las Vegas betrothal and marriage to Pepe, a young man trying to avoid Vietnam through marriage deferment. We’re sucked into Roberta’s dreamlike fantasy, examining what she wants her life to be as she figures out who she is and where she’s going versus the cracks in the facade of her desires.

At its core, the 20-page, full-color comic is a story about the struggle between wanting to grow up and what growing up actually entails. Roberta is ready to take the next steps in her life: get married, move out of her parents house, get a job, start her life. But nothing is what she had expected or quite what she wants it to be. The piece is an examination of playing at adulthood.

The interiors are composed of a grid of panels: delicate and thoughtful linework and seductive color choices depicted in detail at 8.5 x 11. Dean’s palette of pastels are eye-catching, splashes of red, blue, and green. A number of motifs are emphasized through color, alternatively highlighting naive hopes and sexuality, the harshness of reality, personal growth, modernism, and the steadfast grip of the past. The grid helps the story breathe and sets the pace. It reflects mirrors, a kitchen floor, the vast expanse of the desert, a torn letter. It illustrates the passage of time as well as no time passing at all, forcing the reader to luxuriate in the moment shown. In its use, the grid nearly becomes a character itself.

The story is told in looping cursive, narrated by our protagonist’s inner thoughts and musings. It alternates between this inner dialogue and short vignettes with her would-be husband, coworkers, friends, and family, each scene displaying the difference between what Roberta expects and the solidness of her reality. 

I believe Dean’s greatest achievement in this piece is the absolute sense of time and place. She taps into the feeling of the decade, as if she’s reached through time and pulled you into the sixties. The advertisements, the clothing, the music, and all the small background details put you right where Dean wants you to be. The clothing choices are a lovely touch, marking not just the time period but also the passage of time.

The story Babyfat tells is small in scope and beautifully quiet. It’s internal and fleeting, but it’s also deeply familiar. It’s a striking, compelling piece that captured my attention entirely since the first time I’ve read it and every time since. I’m eagerly anticipating Dean’s first collection of short stories titled I Am Young from Fantagraphics this fall. Keep an eye out!