The Minicomics of Virginia Paine

Posted by on August 2nd, 2010 at 5:48 AM

Rob reviews Milkyboots #9 and #10, The Warehouse On Poplar and Cannibal Corpse On The Turnpike, by Virginia Paine.

Virginia Paine is a young cartoonist currently enrolled as a student at the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) in Portland, OR.  She’s very much  the typical alt-cartoonist who’s trying a variety of different styles and storytelling techniques in an effort to find her voice.  This is especially true of her diary comics series, Milkyboots.  It’s not unusual for cartoonists to start off their careers with a diary comic these days, given their success both on the web and in minicomics form.  More to the point, they can force an artist to (theoretically) draw every day, even if they’re only relating mundane details.

The problem is that diary comics can get quite tedious very quickly unless the artist can come up with an angle that makes them stand out.  Jesse Reklaw used a rigid format and stuck to a daily format to reveal the rhythms of his life as well as matter-of-factly discuss his battles with depression.  Vanessa Davis goes the opposite route, using open, airy pages and chooses to tell particular stories with wit and verve rather than focus in on every small moment.  For someone like Ben Snakepit, the whole of his comics collections are greater than the sum of their parts.  Gabrielle Bell has such a singularly forceful but (if slightly detached) point of view that one can’t help but be drawn in by her stories.

Paine’s diary comics don’t stand out in any particular way.  Issue 9 of Milkyboots saw her trying out a number of new art approaches (especially in the way she varied the thickness and clarity of her line) but also saw her use the same sort of anecdote over and over again.  One gets the sense that she’s trying to get across the experience of living in Portland and how wonderful it is to be among a uniquely diverse set of friends and co-workers.

The problem is that she’s trying to do about ten different things at once, and with mixed results.  She’s trying to tell funny stories, but the gags at times feel hopelessly like in-jokes.  She’s trying to talk about her love life, but her depiction of her relationship with Olivia (who is maddeningly drawn to look exactly like Paine) is purely a surface examination.  She tries to talk about Portland, but any examination of other people is done strictly through her own lens.  One never gets a sense of who these people are or why the reader should care about them.

Part of the problem is her forcing her thoughts into single-page stories, and not being able to do it on a daily basis.  As a result, these one-page strips feel disjointed.  On the other hand, when she wrote slightly longer stories (like “Portland/ Dreamland”), her line seemed sharper and her point of view seemed clearer.  In particular, her battles with depression stood out when she was able to relate longer stories; I only wish she had chosen to take on what seemed to be a stressful family trip to Europe.  It doesn’t appear that she’s doing herself any favors by rushing her diary comics but not getting to do them more than once a week.

On the other hand, her The Warehouse On Poplar shows off all of her strengths as an artist: her sense of whimsy, her thin but bold line, and a slightly icy distance between reader and story.  This story of two sisters who discover a fantastical secret hiding place is a haunting account of intimacy betrayed and relationships lost forever.  I think Paine’s future lies in this sort of comic.  Even the quickie autobio story Cannibal Corpse On The Turnpike, an account of a car trip where loud music invades Paine’s dreams, was not only more attractive than her diary work, it captures a moment that lingers on for the reader.  Paine is clearly talented and motivated, but she needs to figure out exactly what kind of storytelling she loves best and is best suited for.

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