Liz Suburbia's anthology comic Cyanide Milkshake is a mix of '80s alternative comics variety and '90s DIY punk ethos. She effortlessly blends romance, fantasy, rock, feminism, punk, autobio, dogs, and superhero gags into a surprisingly coherent package, held together by a singular visual aesthetic. The simplicity of her tools (Sharpies) is belied by her relentless work ethic. Indeed, Suburbia eschews the sort of ratty line that a lot of punk-inspired artists use in favor of the clarity that can be traced back to Archie artists like Dan DeCarlo and Bob Bolling. It's not surprising to see a blurb from Jaime Hernandez for this collection of comics, given that he drew from many of the same sources. It's a different kind of punk, drawing from the same frustrations with society but expressing them in a fluid, elegant, and witty manner.
Thee Collected Cyanide Milkshake is in turns silly and personal, slapstick and revealing, a hoot and a howl. Published by riot grrrl zine legend Janelle Hessig's Gimme Action, I can't think of a better match between artist and publisher. While working on what eventually became Sacred Heart, a sweeping punk genre book published by Fantagraphics, Suburbia used Cyanide Milkshake as her repository for every other idea. It was her personal laboratory to write autobio, pen an epic zombie romance story, write about her beloved dogs and their increasingly weird adventures, and make fun of Scott Summers from the X-Men. In every issue, Suburbia writes editorials that rail against defeatism, complacency, or the idea that the punk aesthetic and lifestyle is a mark of immaturity--something one grows out of when you get a mortgage.
"Hopepunk" is a term used by some science-fiction authors to indicate a subgenre of writing about brighter futures achieved through diligence and empathy. Likewise, for Suburbia, punk doesn't mean "no future" and alienation; rather, it's about community and reclaiming identity in the face of the dominant hierarchies. Cyanide Milkshake is the epitome of this "do something" ethos, both because creating instead of consuming is a positive action, but also because one never knows how one's creations might inspire others. This is a book I'd hand to every fifteen-year-old punk kid who needs a bit of inspiration.
The heart of each issue is the continuing serial "G.B.A" (or "Girl Boy Adventures"). The first episode sees a couple in a closed room trapped by hundreds of ravenous zombies outside. The response of the titular "girl", Kim, is to want to have sex. Her ex-boyfriend, Bruce, had been getting ready to carry out a suicide pact in advance of the zombies and is astounded that she can even think about sex. He quickly comes around to the idea, and that starts a whirling series of twists and turns that begins with their rescue and ends with them accompanying an aquatic race into outer space. Suburbia works through every genre trope one can think of wrapped around the ambiguous, difficult nature of Kim & Bruce's friendship. It's somewhere between romance, physical attraction, and comradeship in the face of overwhelming danger, and Suburbia subverts reader expectations in a number of ways. Commitment, personal choices, and killing zombies all go hand-in-hand here. The story ends as it begins: with Kim and Bruce having sex "one last time."
Suburbia's strips featuring Ulster and Penny ("The Best Dogs") are pure humor, imagining them getting up to all sorts of shenanigans. They get a job and hang out at a bar, go to a punk show, go on a crime spree, get abducted by aliens, and engage in a philosophical discussion about death. The rhythm of these strips is crisp and highlights Suburbia's panel-to-panel transitions as well as her ability to draw expressively. Her X-Men comics are funny, whether mocking the ever-emo Cyclops or relaying a touching and frank story about Rogue and her sexuality. Suburbia also jams her comics with fake ads, gag strips, and other assorted eye-pops. A strip about the ups and downs of an orange is especially funny, drawing on tropes from "heartwarming" dramas. "Hirsutism Baby" is another viscerally funny story about a woman whose hairy body draws a rebuke from a potential lover--until it makes its own needs known in a horrifying manner.
There aren't a lot of them, but Suburbia's autobiographical comics are excellent. There's a harrowing story about nearly being abducted off the street, the stress of the moment modulated by her staring at a rabbit as she waited out her would-be kidnapper. Suburbia recalls her childhood relationship with her younger sister and how their bond superseded their differences. In particular, there's a touching sequence regarding Suburbia's OCD and how her sister comforted her at night through a series of hand squeezes, until she managed to fall asleep. The anecdotes about her partner John are also funny, from his Bruce Springsteen impersonation to his reaction to Suburbia's kidding-not-kidding suggestion regarding trying out water sports. There's another (possibly autobiographical) strip about trying to pee standing up that has a perfect progression of mishaps.
The end of the book speaks to just how hard it can be to work non-stop on a project. In "No Identity", Suburbia gets serious, revealing that pushing herself to finish Sacred Heart broke her, as her lack of self-care led to depression and severe anhedonia. It got to the point that the thought of making comics was upsetting to her, and she preferred to live life for a while pursuing the most basic, visceral experiences: eating, sleeping, exercising, and having sex. The ending of this story had no end, other than hesitant attempts to get back in the game (like this) that are still limited, as she chooses to end the series with this issue. Happily, she's now doing the sequel to Sacred Heart (Egg Cream, published by Silver Sprocket and Czap Books) as a serial, and the first issue was recently released. Cyanide Milkshake marked the end of nearly a decade's worth of work for an emerging artist, and each issue shows an artist bursting at the seams with joyful, powerful, and clever ideas. It is a demonstration of a young artist getting better in public, unafraid to try new ideas in an effort to see what will stick.