While reading Lauren Weinstein’s “Mother’s Walk,” the latest entry in the ongoing monograph anthology series Frontier, it occurred to me how rare it is for a comic to offer this kind of portrayal of childbirth and motherhood.
Oh, we’ve had comics about parenting before. Keiler Roberts certainly comes to mind, as does Lynn Johnston, Guy Delisle and let’s not forget Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott’s Baby Blues. But these comics tend to document the frustrations and foibles of parenting (albeit often from a humorous perspective). I can’t, however, recall any cartoonist that documented the process of becoming a mother with such love and warmth while avoiding any cheap sentimentalism.
In looking over some of my past reviews, I find that “cheap sentimentalism” is something of a sore spot with me. I tend to mistrust any work that offers trite adages or suffocates their story in a cloying gloss over the genuine pain and messiness of life. And comics about raising children tend to dollop that gloss on in big heaping ladles.
But Weinstein is simply too good a cartoonist for that sort of nonsense. Anyone who has been following her work since the release of Inside Vineyland in 2003 should know that her self-deprecating, wry sense of humor would simply not allow for the sort of greeting card saccharine that greets us in, say, Rose is Rose.
In “Mother’s Walk,” Weinstein details the birth of her second child, her mind racing back and forth in time while in labor, detailing the flurry of events that led up to the baby’s arrival (including a somewhat comical – and graphic– sex scene involving the co-editor of this very site).
Many of Weinstein’s thoughts and concerns should be -- if not familiar, at least relatable to most readers: troubles with parents, troubles with a sick pet, troubles with your spouse, fear of disease, fear of screwing up and just a general fear of what the future will bring, especially in our current era (as well as frequent reminders that it could always be much, much worse).
Weinstein delineates all this in her loose, rough style that veers sharply between sharp realism and grotesque cartoons. Eschewing traditional panel layouts and borders, she lets one image flow effortlessly into the next. Special mention should also be made of her shift in background colors, from white to blue to black (in the middle of the story, in the midst of her most intense labor pains) to red as the child is born and then to a fleshy-pink, perhaps to underscore the new life that’s arrived.
There are so many pitch perfect moments in this slim book and I don’t want to ruin any of them for you (though I will perhaps unsurprisingly note that Weinstein’s first daughter, Ramona, steals the show entirely). Despite the the absence of much of a plot beyond “woman gives birth” this is a comic that deserves as few spoilers as possible.
I have two kids that are almost fully grown now. My daughter is a junior in high school, my son a sophomore. Soon they will leave my house and start to from a life independent of me. I try to think back to those formative days of their childhood and much of it is a blur. So much of your time parenting is spent being frustrated at your children or yourself (often at the same time). Perhaps I disdain sentiment because I felt like I had little time for it. Or perhaps it’s because so many of those awful cliches are often 100 percent true.
No matter. We need more stories like this, told so thoughtfully, with such grace and acceptance of the messiness of life, and the profound joys that can come even when everything around you seems rotten. This book is a rare gem. Treasure it.