These two graphic novels are a study in the contrasts of the indy, creator-owned, original graphic novel movement. On the one hand, in "Not My Bag," we see a graphic novel of nearly meaningless scale: the story of a retail employee who discovers that parts of life are more important than being a retail employee. It's tough -- I worked retail for seven years, and I know how much good stories about life behind the cashier can both inspire creativity and make someone a hit at cocktail parties. But the subtexts in this story (about the value of fashion, about fashion and identity, especially sexual identity, as the narrator is one of the rarest in fiction, a gay male) are ignored. While this is a fine afternoon read, one that turns the pages for you, almost, that's about all it is.
"Nao of Brown," on the other hand, is an immediate case of reach exceeding grasp. The graphic novel is filled with possibilities -- with the biracial identity of the narrator, with the mental/emotional challenges faced by the narrator, with the stroke which overcomes her partner. Filled with possibilities that it never quite fulfills. Just like "Not My Bag," this novel reads quickly and is beautifully drawn, but in the end, and unlike "NMB," it feels inauthentic: these characters are flat, their problems are genuine but their responses feel forced by the structure of the story, rather than springing from the core of their being as humans.
In different ways, I am glad to have read each. But I am not, I fear, likely to reread either.
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