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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/14/2004 Archived Entry: "Graphic novel review: "Canvas""

by Alex Fellows
Fantagraphics Books

Reviewed by Jane Seaton

I wonder if Mrs Kent Sr buys superhero comics for those bittersweet moments when you recognise yourself in a story. 'That's SO what it feels like to be Superman's mom!'. After all, you can't share those self doubts, those little guilt trips, with your girlfriends when your son's big secret is that big. You'd need make contact with some comic writers if you wanted a friend who really understood.

But I'm going to have to revise my long held assumptions about graphic novels. It's no longer about battling Evil, saving the American Way of Life and having a space capsule buried under your barn. 'Canvas' is firmly set in the kind of world I inhabit, drinking in the kitchen while my children party. It's also a novel dealing with parental angst and teenage alienation that is more powerful because it packs the narrative into a graphic format. By the end, I was barely registering that the heroine's parents are a pig and a frog. Or is he a frog? He looks more like a trash can to me. Maybe this is a novel about parental alienation and teenage angst. Maybe Fellows is simply using the conventions of fairy tales in a new format.

Canvas (no, I don't know why she's called that, but the author's online strip is called 'Blank Slate' - draw your own conclusions) is on the other side of the teenage fault line from her oh-so-normal pig-and-frog parents, but using light touches, Fellows leaves us in no doubt that Canvas is her parent's daughter. He makes and breaks connections between all his characters with great economy, and Canvas struggles in the shifting web. The adult (and sub-adult) world at once fascinates and repels her, while childhood still seems, like a warm sleeping bag or a trashed bedroom, a nice place to be - sometimes.

When another emotional and experiential gulf threatens to open between Canvas and her friend Alison , she panics and takes uncharacteristically decisive action. Since this is a 'graphic novel', the action was graphic too. It took me a moment to adjust my expectations and decide that the explicit illustration is justified. Canvas is coming to terms with her body, with other bodies, and with a shift in her perceptions as she too moves across the fault line into adulthood.

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