‘Mirror, Window: An Artbabe Collection’ by Jessica Abel

10Mar05

This collection is composed mostly of short stories from Jessica Abel’s independent comic series, Artbabe. A few of her journalism pieces are included as well. While I like several of the individual stories very much, these pieces do not form a good collection. As with prose short story collections, graphic short story collections should consist of stories with similar themes or images repeated throughout the selections. True, all of the stories in Mirror, Window deal with relationships in some manner, but the journalism pieces really don’t. Some of the stories seem to have been included simply because they are referenced in another story, regardless of quality or a comparative theme. The reader must read “As I Live and Breathe”—a rather uninspiring account of two people harboring crushes on each other trying to begin a relationship—because it introduces the characters of an untitled segment—a fantastic and subtle piece. The untitled segment could have been enjoyed without the set up. Does the reader really benefit from knowing these characters’ back story? Not really. The segment is so short and is so much in the moment that the backstory almost becomes burdensome. “He Said” is seemingly included because “Châiné” references the incident it features. But “He Said” is odd and unclear—is the main character a secret agent or just delusional?—and the description of the events in “Châiné” is sufficient.

Of the stories in this collection, “Châiné” and the untitled segment most impressed me.

“Châiné” – This story is probably my favorite and I found Abel’s artwork the most effective. The first panel of the story manages to set the tone with just an empty hallway. A broom and dustpan sit untouched—evidence of someone trying to clean up a mess. But the next panel reveals a drawer partially open, shirts hanging out—evidence of the true disarray of the main character’s life. Abel then reveals Paloma in pieces, starting with her foot, then the leg…. Abel keeps the frames very tight, trapping Paloma as she feels trapped in her career and her apartment. Anyway, I could go frame by frame, but if you’re interested just read the damn thing. The first really open frame of Paloma is when she drives into the pool at the hotel. The world from which Paloma is escaping—her apartment, her boyfriend, her job—seems to have a general evasive male presence. She retreats to be with her (female) friend, where she feels safe and, as the ending suggests, wants to stay.

Untitled Segment – This segment was the only piece that really challenged me as a reader. Abel has a knack for presenting recognizable characters, but she seems somewhat trapped in this comfort area of identifying with her readers rather than confronting them with something new. Anyway, I really like the contrast in this piece between the woman running gleefully and the man, refusing to run, spouting falsely chivalric palaver.

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