The Contradictions by Sophie Yanow and published by Drawn+Quarterly draws from real life to reveal just how contradictory we can be. Coming-of-age stories show the complex time of discovering one’s role in the greater world and make a habit of putting things too simply. Rather, this is a time of making big choices, trying new things, and ultimately contradicting oneself. Just as Walt Whitman contradicted himself to present the multitudes he contains, these contradictions give a better look at the complications that are adulthood.
The story in The Contradictions picks up with Sophie walking the streets of Paris trying not to look like a tourist. She has essentially run away from college life, seeking an escape and yet applying to another college program. After being captivated by a fellow student, an anarchist at that, Sophie follows her on a hitchhiking adventure that is as contradictorily mundane as it is daring.
Sophie is full of contradictions, as is every character in the story. She struggles with veganism as a proper path yet loving cheeseburgers. She depends upon her parents for emotional and financial support, and yet she struggles to liberate herself from their seeming overbearance. The parents themselves are contradictory, having hitchhiked across Europe in their own young days and now trying to protect Sophie from doing the same. Her friends who seem so in control and audacious can become untrustworthy and tiresome. Other friends who seem boring at one moment make Sophie jealous with tales of the trip she bailed on. Even small characters who give them a ride comment that hitchhiking is dangerous and they should not take rides from people who offer.
A strong theme of alternative culture runs through The Contradictions, commenting on capitalism, corporatism, anarchy, and organization. Sophie experiments with shoplifting as a form of protest against supermarkets that throw out food at the end of the day anyway. Anarchists prove to be exceedingly organized, to the point of some groups creating their own structure and bickering with others. Throughout the graphic novel, philosophies, just like people, are shown never to be as straightforward as they are made out to be in the manifesto.
In its own delightful contradiction, the art in The Contradictions is beautifully simplistic. The entire work is in black and white, completely monochrome with no more than some crosshatching for a few shades. Yet, bold backgrounds and certain panels with novel angles make the style everything but dull.
In addition to its strong literary value and artistic flair, The Contradictions makes an excellent read for anyone who would like to study abroad or has already done so. It presents many of the shared experiences of going abroad, such as the racing mind of trying to look like a local, the fear of not finding a place to sleep, and the high costs of changing plans midstream. There are many of the repeating characters met on backpacking adventures such as the nonstop partiers, profoundly kind and generous hosts, and the inexplicable older guy full of tales of his own adventuring. Nothing awakens a new perspective like travel, and The Contradictions will spark that fire to go.