Wendy, Master of Art by Walter Scott, published by Drawn+Quarterly, shows the experience of art graduate school, that seemingly impossible pairing of rigorously structured academia and unbound creativity. It is a graphic novel that very much seems a literary novel in its episodes and sidetracks that all come together as we traverse a defining era of our lives.
The characters are the driving force in Wendy, Master of Art. Wendy is the mess inside all of us: hopeful and creative while suffering impostor syndrome, craving love while pushing people away, and escapist from worlds of her own making.
She is surrounded by a cast of delightful tropes, such as classic figures among the grad students like the jet-setting accomplished artist who is already showing internationally, the student wanting to be everyone’s friend while focusing on how pretty color is, the aggressive combater of oppression, and the constantly nervous white male wanting to over-apologize for everything, just to name a few. Her teachers speak another language of academic jargon. The point of view switches to show the perspectives of other characters surrounding Wendy, which widens and deepens the world.
Through the course of Wendy, Master of Art, we see Wendy try to grow and try to avoid it. She is caught up in her own insecurities and works to drown them with alcohol and cigarettes socially. A hilarious flashback shows how it was even worse in undergrad. Moving forward, she attempts again and again to become more dedicated to her goals. This seems like progress, but becoming so self-involved only depends the rifts she drives with those who try to support her. Self-realization as the onslaught of her final project wraps gives her a new perspective, but we see that no one is ever perfected.
Scott’s art in Wendy, Master of Art highlights the zaniness that is grad school. Its expressive faces and swooping limbs, along with the packed backgrounds, is reminiscent of zine style. Yet the dialogue is so realistic, it accentuates just how simultaneously wild and mundane the adventures of a grad student can be. Perhaps Scott’s most effective art is in the characters’ eyes, especially Wendy’s as they turn black while she inwardly drowns in confusion at trying to process all life throws at her.
The visual narrative medium suits the unfolding story well. Scott balances the pages well with layouts that allow the story to flow through smaller panels before the major emotional strike is blasted before the reader’s eyes in a large panel. A beautiful montage of full-page images showing the same setting with bare-branched trees, snow-covered sidewalks, and then birds and flowers perfectly transmits the passage of time. With such smooth pacing, along with the involved characters, readers will go through much of Wendy, Master of Art before realizing they have already turned more than a hundred pages. Then there is no stopping until the final page is read.