REVIEWS

D*P* D**L*R

A collection of minicomics by M.S. Harkness, D*P* D**L*R is aggressive, confident work by a cartoonist whose obvious affection for boldness and speed conceals a methodical structure and pacing. Comics that in other hands would have allowed for an exercise in crude mark-making so as to complement narrative tempo here play out with an eye towards broader legibility--this, more than other comics playing in the here-is-some-gnarly-shit-I'm-into genre, is a comic that won't seem foreign to a broader audience less willing to engage with obfuscation.

The three stories here all seem to be drawn from Harkness's life, or at least, from how Harkness chooses to present her life to others. (Harkness uses the same stand-in throughout, an angular character who also served as lead in her previous book, Tinderella.) Opening with a fast paced karaoke take on SZA that sees its protagonist tearing through enough life experiences to fill a whole shelf of comics from more sedate storytellers, this first tale features a bukkake sequence, a boot-removing assault as response to street-side cat-calling, a jail-bound musical, and a monster truck rally that makes it to outer space. Harkness shows no loyalty to any particular layout, going from one-page splashes to jam-packed micropanels, often toying with the style in which she depicts her lead. The flexibility allows for odd flourishes that give the story a wry humor that might not otherwise come across with the song lyrics that stand in for actual text.

The best part, by far, is the assault. After being offended (or annoyed, the comic doesn't explain exactly what is said) by a couple of guys, our lead removes her thigh high boots and beats one of the aggressors mercilessly, not stopping until she ends up in the back of a squad car. It's a great bit of panel-to-panel simplicity, fast, mean, and--when the face of the victim's friend surfaces at the base of a panel, like pizza floating in a toilet--funny. 

The other two stories are more traditional comics fare--Harkness describing a pet cat, and her adventure getting high at an anime convention--with the main thing distinguishing them being Harkness the character. In both comics, she's an aggressive narrator, describing a life that seems wrung out with experience, and the brazenness with which she operates makes for a far more exciting experience than the base narrative descriptions above might imply. Autobiographical comics have a certain setlist of tricks they often return to--an overplay of sincerity, a tedious lust for banal cliche presented as unique and therefore praiseworthy--and while Harkness cruises through some of those tunnels, there's a genuine flipness to the way she describes events that have had most of their specialness boiled out by decades of repetition. Here, as before, it's in the speed: her description of past sex work is tossed off as an aside due to a coincidental hotel visit, and her cat stories consist mostly of one-panel nuisance descriptors, with zero acknowledgement that most cat comic fans crave consistent reminders that, joking aside, the narrators love their creatures so. In all three stories, Harkness excels at showing how its the accrual of little truthful moments, more than any particular instance of forced drama, that determine how a reader clambers up a story's face. Good stuff.

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