The ways in which people express and compartmentalize their loneliness is comic artist Yumi Sakugawa’s thematic trademark. Her viral mini-comic I Think I’m In Friend Love With You, a neatly drawn love letter seemingly drafted especially for the world’s most introverted, is perhaps the work she’s most known for. But her latest, Never Forgets, is an exploration of a more abstract strain of alienation, the sort of bodily disconnect that forces a woman to efface herself to become a more admired, “true self.”
Never Forgets follows Ellie, a young woman who has undergone a completely face-altering cosmetic surgery. Newly carved into, as defined by her hyper-chatty Valley Girl-esque BFF BriBri, a “beautiful super model,” she plans a trip to see her parents. It’s there that she unveils the results of her transformation, of which her mother and father know nothing, and reveal the complications of erasing the face you were born with.
In this black and white comic, Ellie isn’t drawn to look like a traditional girl. Instead of recognizable human beings, Sakugawa opts to populate the world of Never Forgets with animals and possibly human forms. Because of this, the reader is left to understand beauty on Sakugawa’s terms; Ellie is now more attractive because people say she is, which is maybe all the reader needs. And because this cityscape is filled with mouse-eared figures, the comic’s narrative seems to exist in an otherworldly dimension, one where tiny armies of gem and paint-yielding bears run nail salons.
Throughout the comic, Sakugawa showcases the social media practices most people use to enhance the imagery of their daily life. The comic opens with Ellie taking an iPhone photo of a cup of coffee with what appears to be a cute cat-shaped marshmallow floating inside, which is later left discarded on the table, uneaten but its prettiness encapsulated in her digital photo. Two pages of the comic are dedicated to a scroll through Ellie’s Instagram feed, which starts as a documentation of her surgery but eventually hones in on the comments section. Amongst the warm wishes resides a warning: “Are you sure this is what you want to do or something that has been planted into your head as a ‘need?’” The comic has a dismal ending, which upon first read left me wanting more conflict in the finale of the story, but it’s these final pages of this mini-comic that imbues Ellie’s surgical decision with an inarguable coldness. What Sakugawa seems to ask her readers is, in an era where making and tweaking our own self-images of beauty is the norm, how far are we willing to go to forget what we start as?
“I don’t feel like I changed who I am,” Ellie explains to Brie. “I got sculpted down to my true essence and I don’t have to hide myself from the wo--.” Though she’s cut off before she can say “world,” her remark stifled by BriBri’s loud excitement over getting a new manicure. Because even with a brand new face, there will always be another pretty process to undergo, another alteration to Instagram, all for a constant stream of approval and disapproval from a following ready to tell you who you really are.