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Mother's Mouth

Mother's Mouth back

Dash Shaw


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Clever, playful and powerful book about middle-aged Virginia, her current lover, her childhood sweetheart, and her mother lying close to death and lost in the label-less limbo of Alzheimer's.

So many different devices are used to make subtle connections, and I'd be very surprised if Dash doesn't eventually make his way close enough up to the Chris Ware level so that one of his works becomes Page 45 Comicbook of the Month. There's a sequence, for example, in which the mother's motionless face is shown in profile over and over again, the back of her head resting against a pillow, her skin dark and leathery. Above her are a series of black and white photographs, showing family, friends and a lover. Some of the places and faces have XXXXXXXX typed across them, and above and below it reads like this:

"Jude was so good at flying kites.
She had a ball of string like a mile long and
she could keep it up in the SKY for hours and
hours, even if trees were all around.
XXX told her she should be a pilot when she grows up.
Mom said an astronaut. But she worked at a grey banks
for years until she married XXX who
wasn't a pilot he worked at the bank too
and had green eyes."

The XXXs are where her memory fails to make its connections, the gaps are her struggle to think coherently or recollect, and although I couldn't show it, the "grey" is inserted above the rest of that particular line as if it was a description she only recalled later on.

The ground is used throughout as an agent of death or decay, or maybe even immortalisation in the form of fossils, I don't know. But there's a sequence returned to often in which Virginia is playing with her sweetheart, Richard, in the sandpit. Twice Shaw uses a series of four drawings at the beginning of the book and at the end. The first time they're accompanied by "Artist's Comments" and Plate One shows Richard being swallowed by the earth. The Artist's Comment is: "This is young Richard and Virginia. Richard died a shocking, tragic death. It may appear dramatic, but that's what happened. I wish I could change it." But that's not exactly what happened, and at first I was puzzled when, a few pages later, there's a drawing of Virginia's mother laid up in bed ("The nurses are so nice here. They tuck me in at night.") followed abruptly by a photograph of an sixty-year-old man kneeling on a rug in a room and bending over a travelling rug wrapped around a smaller form with only his/her hair protruding from it. Now, bear with me here... Towards the end of the book there's another sequence playing in the sand ("This is our house." "We're married.") and after making some drawings ("We can put these in our time capsule."), Richard takes Virginia to (a child's drawing of) his house where he introduces her to his mother who has a bottle in her hand. She sips it, and the word "bruise" appears over his face. She sips the bottle again, and a second "bruise" appears. And again, and again, until his face is obscured by the words. More pages of playing in the sand are followed by Richard telling Virginia "My Mom's calling me. I start seeing a therapist tomorrow. I got right after school." And then... then there's that second sequence of drawings, this time accompanied not only by "Artist's Comments" but by psychological analyses which grow increasingly worrying as it becomes clear that these are Richard's drawings of this house, compartmentalised, everyone in separate rooms, and of his mother, with very sharp teeth. How does it all fit together? A news report follows:

"A Louisiana therapist, Patrick Anderson, was accused April 6 of reckless child abuse resulting in a young boy's death during a "rebirthing" therapy session. He faces up to forty-eight years in prison. During the therapy session, the 6-year-old boy, Richard Lambert, was wrapped tightly in a fleece blanket and pushed on to simulate birth. This was done for over eight minutes until the child died of suffocation."

The same photograph then appears on four consecutive pages - the one showing the man bending over the tiny bundle in the travelling rug...

There are so many more stories and connections woven in here than that, of course, and my words have in any case almost certainly failed to fully convey how clever - and devastating - Dash has been. As the pieces fell into place there came that same sense of wide-eyed awe and satisfaction that I drew from the last ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY with the four tenement buildings. Shaw's not quite there yet - I'd have considered more editing to sharpen it up - but he's not far off, and yes this is very far from a straight-forward narrative, but it's worth the trouble it will take you to piece the experiment together.
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