Page 45 Review by Stephen
Liz Prince likes who she is.
She's always liked who she is. It's just others who've had a problem with her being a tomboy. And you know what school's like, right? Here comes one heck of a reminder!
Funny, thoughtful, thought-provoking and at times very poignant, what struck me above all about this is that kids wouldn't have complexes if they hadn't been given them by others.
In a sequence which reminded me of Hope Larson's CHIGGERS not simply because it's set at summer camp, Liz suddenly becomes painfully, heart-breaking body-conscious after hearing two girls bitch about - sorry, judge - another:
"Did you hear that Dakota actually got naked in the shower?"
"So gross, and afterward she put on a bra even though she has no boobs. Like, dream on."
If you don't go to boarding school then something like a girl scout camp is the first time you might shower and dress communally. Prince's preference for boys' clothes had caused her to be singled out for years, but not what lay beneath them.
"I knew that girls made fun of each other, but talking about someone's body like that seemed so wrong. You can't choose your body! I was suddenly aware that I was under-performing in ways I didn't even know existed."
Immediately she starts showering in her swimsuit because obviously that's how you're supposed to shower (thanks, girls!) but also, in an effort to avoid others judging her body's lack of development, she begins swimming in a t-shirt thereby drawing attention to it.
"It is conspicuous," she writes above a drawing of herself in a very baggy t-shirt sporting the slogan "I AM NOT COMFORTABLE WITH MY BODY". The only thing that could have been worse would have been her boys' tightie-whities falling out of her rolled towel or kit bag. Obviously that's what happens next.
Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Since the age of four at least, Liz Prince has been a tomboy: "a girl of boyish behaviour", and of course "boyish" is or should be subjective but alas, we haven't as a society quite got there yet. Liz didn't just prefer boys' clothing, she refused to wear dresses but when you stop to think about it, that's pure aesthetics.
A dad recently told me his son's favourite colour was pink. The dad found it charming if anything, and irrelevant at heart which it is: any colour is an aesthetic preference that says nothing about your gender, sexuality or algebraic aptitude for solving complex quadratic equations. But he confessed - with embarrassment - that it was a concern to him how others would react. No need for embarrassment: that is pure paternal love and completely understandable because, as a society, we have quite got to the bloody obvious yet!
Anyway, as well as the clothes Liz happened to like a great many sports which for no very good reason were and still are, to a ludicrous extent, seen as the exclusive province of boys. Also, the toys. There's one screamingly funny episode in which Liz and her mate Tyler terrorise the playground with their twin set of watches in the shape of emergency vehicles complete with very loud, requisite sirens, honing in on whoever's to hand in a pincer movement with their arms outstretched:
"You're under arrest!"
"And on fire!"
What isn't so funny is what happens to their friendship when Tyler becomes the first boy ever to develop a crush on Liz. It is, in its truest sense, tragic.
Which is, I believe, where sex education comes in, and the irony that the gender boundaries come down (instead of girls thinking boys are icky and v-a-v, classroom crushes are ignited and the chases begin) then go straight back up again when it becomes clear that any such overt affections are one more flag-waving "target me!" for further teasing and worse. Still, who here hasn't stalked a be-crushed one, artfully positioning yourself in the place most likely to meet them by complete accident?!
"Dare I drink from this anointed fountain?" ponders young Prince once so-sporty Caleb has sipped from the water font, so rendering it the equivalent of Lourdes.
The art of all this is that although Liz Prince has a specific story to tell about having the outrageous temerity to, you know, not like all things flowery and frilly, its incidents and even issues will all prove so painfully yet (hopefully by now) hilariously familiar.
The hilarious is due in no small part to the cartooning with bashfulness, embarrassment and pleased-as-punch pictured to perfection - along with one poor lad's bugged-out eyes in a necklock. There are diagrams like 'Ye Olde Social Ladder' so that you know (but also "know") your place, plus faux diary entries and oh god please shoot me now.
The style seems on the surface to be a combination of Jeffrey Brown, John Porcellino and the UK's Andi Watson, but it isn't any of those individually. It's far less abstract than Porcellino, much less dense and intense than Jeffrey Brown nor as precise as early Andi Watson, but fans of all three - who are legion here - will embrace it to bits. It is crisp, clear and emotive and playful as hell.
It's also a much, much longer, less episodic and more focussed read than anything Prince has attempted before (ALONE FOREVER, most recently) and so shifts her standing from the effortlessly engaging and entertaining to the cream of the comicbook crop.
One final note. Liz is incredibly lucky to meet a woman called Harley. Harley spies her potential and encourages Prince's creativity just when it's needed the most. Later she will meet Maggie who will introduce her both to zines and to a scene which will finally make her feel comfortable. Prince pays tribute to both these women and I love that. She also records one conversation with Harley which puts a second reading of this firmly into perspective.
For all that young ladies like Liz have endured because of our obsession with the woefully superficial as opposed to what it is really important - what lies underneath - it is still much easier for girls to wear boys' clothing than it is for boys to wear girls'.
What even the fuck is up about that?