Wednesday , August 17 2022

Comic Review: ‘My Perfect Life’ by Lynda Barry from Drawn+Quarterly

My Perfect Life by Lynda Barry, published by Drawn and Quarterly, collects the ongoing the story of Maybonne Mullen first seen in the comic strip Ernie Pooke’s Comeek in 1989 and 1990. Continuing from where the previous collection, Come Over Come Over, My Perfect Life follows another year as teenaged Maybonne tries to navigate her universe of family, school, and philosophy. The narrative is sprinkled with the fashion of the Seventies, complete with slang and Maybonne’s little sister, Marlys, constantly singing her own renditions of hit songs.

My Perfect Life is told as an epistolary story, frequently with Maybonne writing letters to her friend Brenda or writing out her private thoughts. The comics beneath the large text illustrate her words, such as displaying the social pressure to avoid her locker partner, Corinna, who has a “hee-haw accent” even though Maybonne does not want to be shallow herself.

While sometimes artistic, the images often portray a more visceral perspective of the world. Maybonne’s fervent internal monologue on praying for true love at the end of mass is hilariously juxtaposed with Marlys telling jokes and bugging her to get a move on until Maybonne loses her patience and screams. These images can also foreshadow events, such as a teacher looking over her shoulder while Maybonne writes, leading to the next comic complaining of getting detention for writing letters in class.

Throughout My Perfect Life, Maybonne reflects on the world and her life in it. She comments on her teachers, describing her history teacher as looking “like she has an eternal headache” and having her mind blown that her homeroom teacher actually likes being called “Sarge.” Boyfriends are a constant topic of discussion with relationships blossoming and withering as Maybonne speculates on the actual nature of love as opposed to physical expression. Despite these struggles, Maybonne tries to hold onto the beauty of the world and, when she has an inexplicably good mood, wishes, “Dear God please if I could only just remember this feeling when I am next depressed!”

Along with the ongoing strip, My Perfect Life includes an interlude in “The Most Obvious Question,” a graphic novella telling the story of Maybonne’s Christmas vacation. She decides to take a bus back to see her mother despite her grandmother denouncing the idea since “she never did you no favors.”

Maybonne fakes calling her mother to say she would be excited and decides to deal with any fallout upon her arrival. As an incurable dreamer, Maybonne simply wants to recapture the joy remembered in her childhood before her parents’ breakup, even though real life pans out in a much darker way.

The art in My Perfect Life continues to experiment, often with images that transcend two panels. Rather than having a single, thoughtful close-up of Maybonne beneath the narration, two panels of narration are carried through two extreme close-ups, each showing one half of her face, for an even greater depth of thoughtfulness. The backgrounds and faces are filled with textures to show the grit and wrinkles of the world while motion lines and shadow images to highlight the vivacious nature of Marlys’s dancing.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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