The Lively Scribbles of Francesca Cassavetti

Posted by on May 10th, 2010 at 5:29 AM

Rob reviews three comics by British cartoonist Francesca Cassavetti: THE MOST NATURAL THING IN THE WORLD and STRIPTACULAR #1 & #2.

Francesca Cassavetti is one of the livelier autobiographical cartoonists I’ve come across in recent years.  Beyond her wry and self-deprecating sense of humor, there’s a looseness to her line that is endlessly appealing.  She’s at her best when the stories she tells have a strong narrative through-line, since that seems to focus her storytelling a bit.  For example, STRIPTACULAR #2 is mostly a travelogue comic about her experience at the Angouleme Festival with several of her fellow British cartoonists.  The episodic nature of this comic makes it a bit dull–it’s really just a journal of recorded events with a dash of humor thrown in.  What’s more, it’s obvious that the looseness of Cassavetti’s line is a carefully-produced product.  Here, it’s clear that her line was a bit rushed, though there were a number of lovely images.  The real problem was that her narrative voice didn’t have the firmness and control that I “heard” in her other comics.

Contrast this with THE MOST NATURAL THING IN THE WORLD, a hilariously brutal account of the decision, process and aftermath of childbirth.  Told in two to three page anecdotes that function both as ways to march the narrative forward and deliver a punchline at the end, THING is in turns laugh-out-loud funny and painfully honest.  Cassavetti takes aim at both herself and her husband as well as the outside world, but never takes a shot that’s unfair.  Indeed, a good deal of the comic deals with the sort of emotional instability that arises as a result of not only the biological aspects of being pregnant, but also the other ways in which it completely turns lives upside-down.  The utopian but delusional ideas she had about motherhood were gleefully mocked in retrospect, replaced by the sheer terror of the unending moment of a screaming baby depending on you for comfort.

Cassavetti captures the small joys of childhood well, but is quite frank in discussing in her resentment of her husband who gets to go off and work at a job instead of being drained of their life-force at home all day.  There’s a powerful scene where she simply breaks down, incoherent and weeping, as she feels that her sense of identity has completely slipped away from her.  The simple and attractive character design that she employed from the start was used to initially charm the reader, which made it all the more effective when moments of grief, anger and even madness slipped into the equation.  The book also has a surprisingly visceral quality, as Cassavetti is quite unsparing in her depiction of all of the various bodily fluids and other functions that must be dealt with on a daily basis–an experience that can be quite bracing for a new parent, and isn’t cute or adorable in the slightest.  What’s most remarkable about this book is the way she used an episodic approach to storytelling that nonetheless cohered into a focused narrative.

Cassavetti seems to be at her best when dealing with issues regarding family and aging in particular, as seen in the STRIPTACULAR #1 stories “Foreign Country” and “Party Politics”.  The “Aftermaths” bit in STRIPTACULAR #2 jolted an aimless story in a different direction, even if it was just a coda meant to provide a real life-shock in comparison to the dreamy world of comics conventions.  Cassavetti has a knack for transforming the most personal and intimate of anecdotes into solidly-built, thought-provoking  and amusing narratives.  The emotional content of those stories is modulated and by her breezy character design and remarkable ability to render gesture and body language in a way that’s immediate and powerful.  The simplicity of her line belies the sophisticated understanding of how she expresses the immediacy of emotional experiences.

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