Prior to See You Next Tuesday, the only work of Jane Mai's that I’d seen was her first book with Koyama Press, Sunday in the Park with Boys. Tonally, the two volumes feel very different. Sunday is an unflinching though poetic look at Mai's extended battle with the dark depression she suffered in early adulthood (with said depression depicted as a dreadful, ever-growing centipede). The diary comics of Tuesday feature much more lighthearted, often humorously scatological riffs on relationships, sexuality, work, food, and self-esteem. Depression does pop up here and there, but sandwiched between all kinds of quotidian life stuff. The comics in Tuesday are done in a charmingly tossed-off style as opposed to the more formally rendered drawings of Sunday, but there's a spiky tension running underneath, born of a young adult trying to figure out her personhood in a noisy culture of confusing, often limited options regarding race, gender, and sexuality. Ultimately, Tuesday expands and fleshes out the more tightly focused Sunday. Another work, a minicomic called Sorry I Can't Come in on Monday I'm Really Really Sick (which I have not read), completes a loose trilogy.
Mai lays it all out at the beginning of Tuesday: “The following series of events is not presented chronologically and frankly time does not exist anyway I’m not even sure I exist TBH.” She also provides a "People Guide", which consists of the different permutations of Jane Mai to be found in the book: the first is a “blonde summer child,” the second a brunette “who dyed her hair to be Professional and still couldn’t get a job,” and the third is a pony-tailed version, referred to as "a crybaby shitlord with poor grasp of reality.” There are also a few friends: Evelyn, Greasy (“She is fashionable”), Panil (“not much is known about Panil”), and Stinky, Mai's dog. These characters are all very cartoony and really do look a lot alike; I found myself consulting the guide a couple of times. Mai has built up a bit of a cult of personality around her art and persona; the back cover blurbs amusingly focus not on praising her work but mordantly satirizing Mai. Bryan James O’Malley’s contributes “I could throw Jane Mai like a pizza,” while Maré Odomo offers, “I hate Jane Mai.”
In the introduction to a recent interview she conducted with Mai on TCJ, Annie Mok describes Tuesday as a "raucous collection of comics and scraps." “Scraps” is an apt description: many of these pages come across as little spur-of-the-moment exercises (in the interview Mai reveals she drew them on loose pieces of paper and not in a sketchbook). In her text Mai often eschews punctuation, which lends a distanced, stream-of-consciousness effect. Her line switches from scrawly and thin to a more directly appealing (and legible) bold line, while her persona alternates between bratty and vulnerable, and bewildered and snarky–all of which match her childlike drawings perfectly.
There are many laughs here, often about the goofiest occurrences. There’s a lot about bodily functions: passing gas, peeing, and pooping. There are also tales of nightmarishly overflowing toilets, riffs on the joys of overindulging in food, shopping for clothes, misadventures with friends, and general musing about sex and gender and the body. Not everything clicks: there are some pages that basically go nowhere and some panels that go past Loosely Rendered into Hard to Decipher. But despite the laissez-faire aesthetic of Tuesday, Mai generally keeps things on track, and the few duds easily integrate into the pattern of the rest of the collection.
In between the scatology and her unruly attitude there are meditative moments of introspection and grief. In one strip she examines the physical effects of heartbreak on her “Skin”: “It has scars and it is flawed. It holds memories.” There are also a few pages featuring only handwritten (again, unpunctuated) text–her most direct and pointed material of all. Here’s Mai at a low ebb: “Depression is fucked up because some people think like any other disease the end goal is to be cured but how do you get cured from depression I’m coping the best I can but I still gotta be sad sometimes I’m sorry I’m not your manic pixie dream girl. Let a bitch have some gravitas okay.”
Whether being sweetly vulnerable, humorously self-involved, piercingly critical, or just flat out crudely hilarious, the Jane Mai of See You Next Tuesday is fun to hang out with. Putting her idiosyncratic stamp on the familiar diary comics format, she spins it into something fresh, relatable, slightly weird, and so very, very Jane Mai.