I’ve never read a comic made by an attendee of the Center For Cartoon Studies before. This isn’t due to a conscious aversion— it’s not like I pick up a book, see CCS in the artist’s bio, and put the book back down— but more like somewhere along the line whatever lessons get instilled at the school gives the students’ work a whiff of traditionalism that lacks appeal. At a cursory glance, at least, I haven’t seen anything that feels fresh and revelatory and compels me further. I admit to a prejudice: the whole idea of a graduate school for comics strikes me as oppositional to a certain countercultural self-sufficiency that seems integral to successful American art. I’m aware that this assumption and my lack of engagement with the work the graduates produce is mutually reinforcing. I’m also skeptical of the value of MFA degrees for writing, and while I would probably avoid reading such work if I could, at this point they’re ubiquitous, and I have certainly absorbed so much of the value system instilled there that I can’t begrudge anyone going to its source to learn that system consciously. As more schools develop comics programs, and more great cartoonists end up teaching in some capacity, the more my bias will seem reactionary and retrograde, and it would behoove me as a reader to move beyond it as soon as possible.
Mary Shyne is a CCS graduate. The conflict that lies at the emotional core of her book Get Over It is between protagonist Leslie and her dad, who opposes her going to college, because this puts her on a life path closer to her mother’s, who divorced him, and away from his working-class lifestyle. The title of the book is something Leslie yells at her father in a moment of conflict. That conflict is made literal through the book’s sci-fi/fantasy conceit: Leslie can see manifestations of people’s emotions, which appear over their head like little monsters, and it is these beings, termed “miasma,” that dictate human behaviors. A university student has developed a technology that can externalize these creatures so they can be fought in combat; if defeated, the problem is fixed, trauma undone.
The conceit has its problems; the emotional logic it’s founded on seems essentially unhealthy. Still, even at a glance, the conflicts between humans and miasma is visually rendered in an appealing way. The book is printed in black and orange ink. These two colors are nicely balanced on the page. The orange is used as line art itself, not just an accent color used for shading, highlighting the miasma and the technology used to fight it. While Shyne is a contributor to the online political cartooning publication The Nib, this two-color printing scheme suggests the power of working for print, a lesson well-learned in comics school. The book’s chapter breaks indicate it’s a collection of minicomics, a manageable working method its likewise important to learn.
The book’s premise allows for a demonstration of acting skill which is, frankly, a bit much. While it’s useful to depict characters who have recognizable facial expressions and body language, the story’s conceit has it so at any given moment there is more of that to depict. At the same time as humans are acting out their emotions, there are also monsters acting out the same ones, crowding the panels while conveying the same information twice. As visually appealing as the orange and black look together, it reads like you’re watching a film where a narrator’s voiceover tells you what’s going on every step of the way, though here that narration is presented on a visual level, cluttering panels with an effect that’s vaguely entertaining but feels meant to be consciously admired rather than seamlessly read, though both the drawing style itself and the small size the book is printed at seem designed more for readability than marveling at.
My college experience, and likely yours as well, was determined as much by the peers I was around as the lectures I received. Young people speak in a symbolic code as distinct as any world storytelling tradition. Shyne’s style is indebted to manga, but also suggests the cartoonist is someone who grew up reading Scott Pilgrim and Octopus Pie, then ended up in a milieu with other people who had internalized something from those works about how hip adults behaved. Leslie’s character design has the half-shaved/half-swooping haircut straight off a poster about gender roles popular in both punk houses and R.A. dorms circa 2005. The book’s cover has Leslie standing in front of a bicycle; such bike-punk signifiers will help the book find its ideal receptive audience more than any design class based on color theory ever could. The characters’ broadly cartooned gestures are occasionally decipherable only if you’re conflating emojis with human behavior: when a college student expresses her satisfaction at being proven right and stretches her arm out to look at the back of her hand, while talking on the phone it seems like it is meant to enact the “painting fingernails” emoji she wishes she could text. Close contact with cartooning students can also lead to bad habits being learned by osmosis. This comic uses sound FX not to depict sound as onomatopoeia but instead to spell out what a person is doing, which is something you probably pick up on being an okay shortcut if you’re around a lot of amateur work.
While the story’s visual metaphor is easily understood, and gives Shyne a lot to work with, the mechanisms of the plot render it more complicated than it needs to be. For instance, while it might make sense, hearing about the premise, to assume the protagonist fights their own miasma, in this book Leslie fights other people’s emotions. This means the story is less about personal growth than it is about having to deal with other people’s baggage, and how that affects how they interact with you. This is interesting because I feel like traditional notions of a literary arc are more self-focused, but perhaps that is kind of bullshit because people do have to negotiate with other people’s nonsense, and a self-help framework attributes blame to the more self-aware figure. However, it also makes for a weird read. When Leslie fights these monsters, if the monster does damage to surrounding property, this will magically be fixed if the monster is defeated. This creates a sense of stakes as things spiral out of control, however, the underlying logic of “I need to fix EVERYTHING by taking care of this problem immediately in front of me” is both an essentially foolish and untrue way of thinking and, when visualized as comics, creates a convoluted fictional mythos that feels fake and confusing. When you get to the end, and it’s all unpacked, it’s as exhausting to read as it must be to believe in.
It turns out the classic educator’s paradox applies to comics school as well: You can lead a cartoonist to a finished book, but you can’t make it meaningful. Despite the freshness of the visuals, once parent and child are reconciled the reader realizes that what the story has actually been about is something they’ve seen in movies many times before. A few pages after that, the book ends on a note setting up a sequel, by way of a cliffhanger I cannot imagine anyone giving a single shit about. You might be interested in seeing what Shyne does next, but that curiosity does not extend to the characters presented here. By the end of the book, I was Over It, and there wasn’t that much to Get.