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Book Review: 'A Comic Year,' Meg Reynolds

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Meg Reynolds - COURTESY OF JACQUELYN POTTER
  • Courtesy Of Jacquelyn Potter
  • Meg Reynolds

Journaling can be one of the best ways to process thoughts and feelings. Funneling fears, anxieties, regrets, fantasies and little loose threads that occupy the mind onto paper makes them more manageable. It's how artist and poet Meg Reynolds chose to sort out the aftermath of a devastating breakup.

A teacher at Vermont Adult Learning and organizer of Lit Club, a regular poetry night at Burlington's now-shuttered Light Club Lamp Shop, Reynolds writes lyrical prose poetry and draws pen-and-pencil comics. She combines both in her graphic memoir A Comic Year. A feat of endurance, the book begins the day after the end of a two-year relationship and contains 150 pieces, one created every few days over the year that followed.

Reynolds opens her inner life to the reader with practically no exposition. At first, we don't know anything about her relationship with _____, as she calls her ex. We know only that the breakup was not Reynolds' decision. The lack of explanation implies that _____ simply fell out of love.

Over time, a clearer picture of Reynolds emerges. Despite having an active social life and loving parents, she's unfathomably lonely. She's hyperaware of her alcohol consumption, oscillating between acceptance of her dependence and resistance to it. At times, existing is all she can manage.

Sometimes Reynolds approaches her feelings like a molecular biologist, putting carefully collected emotional samples on slides and slipping them under a microscope. At other times, her mind feels like an antique store heaped high with trinkets, ephemera and bric-a-brac from her life with _____. Every few days, she finds a new artifact to dust off and display in her shop window.

Reynolds is down more than she's up. Her struggles with self-acceptance are magnified in _____'s absence. She tries dating but keeps coming back to _____, eventually moving into a fuck-buddy mode that destroys their friendship. She's self-conscious about her body, some days accepting her physical form and others obsessing over her perceived imperfections.

Reynolds' writing style may not jibe with the average reader's understanding of poetry. Arranged in complete, punctuated sentences and block paragraphs, her prose poems suggest mini essays. But they flow freely, rich with expressive language. She writes of the "truck-weight reality" of realizing she is still in love with _____. Hate, bitterness and jealousy are "snack food feelings" in which she sometimes indulges.

Some of Reynolds' drawings are sketch-like. On Day 67, for instance, when she depicts herself as a competitive breath holder at the bottom of a cylindrical water tank, the lines of her body have little form or detail. Other images are vividly realized, such as the human-owl hybrid seen on Day 141. The author's "solitary bird body" weeps under the crushing weight of feelings, its slick plumage finely segmented, shaded and textured.

A Comic Year by Meg Reynolds, Finishing Line Press, 164 pages. $23.99. - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • A Comic Year by Meg Reynolds, Finishing Line Press, 164 pages. $23.99.

On Day 172, Reynolds presents a collection of intricate larval caddis flies. The insects spin web cases, then solidify them with environmental materials to offer protection while they develop underwater — an apt metaphor for the two lovers' attempts at self-protection. Reynolds' flies encase themselves in gold, rubies and pearls — a nod to French artist Hubert Duprat, who raised caddis flies in environments full of gems and precious metals.

Another deft visual appears on Day 85, when Reynolds relays wise words from a friend about finding love: "She said, 'He is already out there, wearing a belt and drinking coffee and walking toward you. Just keep doing what you are doing.'"

In the accompanying illustration, Reynolds places herself and her meant-to-be at the ends of adjacent tunnels. Though they're right beside each other, separated by a thin wall, they can reach each other only where their zigzagging tunnels end. In cheeky defiance of her friend's advice, Reynolds claws through the wall, inching closer to the nape of her future lover's neck as he rests his back against the wall of his tunnel.

The best pieces in A Comic Year are those in which Reynolds cleverly marries her words and her art, the former reshaping and accentuating the latter. Some of her images resemble charts, orderly arrangements of thoughts and pictures. Others look like newspaper comic strips.

Reynolds is not always an easy protagonist to root for. Her most frustrating assumption is that she needs another person to be complete. When she attempts to focus inward instead of outward, she finds only a yearning for someone new on whom to fixate in _____'s absence.

Despite the implication of the book's title, its mood gravitates toward stark seriousness. Those seeking humor derived from pain and loneliness should look elsewhere.

Aside from presenting the brutal reality of depression, A Comic Year is also physically a tough read. Reynolds' printing is nearly microscopic, probably a by-product of the formatting of her originals for print. Her words often meander across the page in free-form, unjustified lines of text. Occasionally, the flow of those words is unclear as they trickle through her drawings.

The best thing about A Comic Year is that readers can appreciate it in multiple ways, absorbing the meaning of its art without reading the text and vice versa. And, because it's jam-packed with both words and pictures, subsequent reads are bound to reveal new details.

From A Comic Year

Universe, hey, if you are listening, I have a request. I heard once that you don't have a problem giving us what we want. When compared to nebulae and supernovas, this want is pretty small. I want to have sex. Please. I do. If there was any question, put it to rest. Send someone. Tell one of the guys I'm seeing. Just help me out here, please. And sure, maybe you are serving up some kind of involuntary celibacy to make room for my soulmate or whatever but you should know by now that that is not how I work. I've had enough. Give me the next eligible man or woman. They are going to wake up in my bed. They'll drink my coffee.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Drawn Out | Book review: A Comic Year, Meg Reynolds"