The Squirrel Mother

Former Seattle cartoonist returns with a new collection of her maturing art.

Since self-publishing the first issue of her feminist zine, Girlhero, in 1991—which won raves from girls around the country and even mainstream mags like Sassy—former Seattleite Megan Kelso has made significant contributions to the world of indie comics. Her new collection explores the pains of adolescence, not unlike Debbie Dreschler's The Summer of Love, but with a slightly larger scope. The 14 previously published vignettes in Squirrel are radically unique in tone and graphic style, combining highly personal stories with quirky interpretations of American history. Kelso's characters—some with autobiographical inspiration—hang around and shoot the shit like kids do, but they more often get abandoned, heartbroken, or embarrassed. Yet the most emotionally resonant pieces here don't concern children at all. "The Pickle Fork" follows a heartless antiques curator and her effect on an old widow's romantic dreams. "Green River" examines Kelso's surprising feelings about its namesake killer. As for the historical strips, "Fuck the Troops" puts the current Iraq war through a 19th- century prism, while the life of Alexander Hamilton is reimagined through a girl crush in "Publius." The best thing about this mixed-bag anthology is the record it provides of Kelso's evolution as an artist in the five years since she moved to New York. From large, somber two-tone panels to intricately detailed black-and-white drawings, her sense of what's right for a given story is sublime. In "Meow Face," she combines the two techniques in a way that cinematically highlights or de-emphasizes the objects in each frame. Squirrel would've benefited from some more explicitly unifying theme for the collection; though I realize the beauty in comics lies in "show, don't tell." These stories—almost all in color—are predominantly melancholy, however, linked by mood if not content. You may not want to read them over and over, but you will want to comfort Kelso when you're done.

 
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