'Likewise,' A Wry Comic About Growing Up Gay
If phoniness is still the plague of adolescence, Ariel Schrag's obsession with truth-telling would make Holden Caulfield proud.
In The High School Comic Chronicles of Ariel Schrag, her four-part series of autobiographical graphic novels, the 29-year-old cartoonist moves year-by-year through her life as a gay teen in 1990s California, tackling puberty, friendship and coming out along the way.
Schrag is something of a prodigy; she won a book contract at age 17 and turned out the first two books of the series — Awkward and Definition — while still a student. The third book, Potential, was nominated for an Eisner Award and is in development as a feature film directed by Rose Troche of The L Word.
Now, Likewise, the series' long-awaited final chapter, follows Schrag's literary doppelganger, Ariel, through her turbulent senior year in high school — during which she endures her parents' divorce, an excruciating college application process and a torturous unrequited love affair with a willowy straight girl named Sally.
In a confessional style that's part Robert Crumb and part Judy Blume, Schrag explores teenage sexuality in a frank and often heartbreaking way. Sally genuinely loves Ariel, but their physical relationship consists mainly of Ariel pining in the dark during sleepovers, her affection returned grudgingly and full of guilt.
In terms of both narrative and visuals, Likewise is the most experimental of Schrag's work. Ariel attempts to rein in her obsession with Sally by reading Ulysses, and the book's first half is told in an engrossing, appropriately Joyce-ian stream-of-consciousness — one composed largely of sex-related daydreams, sex-related angst and a preoccupation with recording every detail for the in-progress comic. Later, as Ariel's Sally-centric world is pulled apart by her departure to college, the drawings become more manic, shifting between careful shading and scrawls.
Taken with the rest of the series, Likewise benefits from the decade of distance between subject and adult author. Like Holden watching his sister on the carousel, Schrag steps back and lets her character find her own muddled way with humor and compassion.
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