In the fourth instalment of our feminist review series, we’re taking a look at Megan Speers’ Wanderlust and Marta Chudolinska’s Back+Forth. These are perhaps more akin to Shelley Peterson’s books than to the ones in my last posting as the heroines are young women on the cusp of adulthood. Like Peterson, Speers and Chudolinska explore issues associated with growing up.
Don’t forget, you now have the opportunity to win a copy of one of the books discussed here. Just leave a comment at the bottom of the page to be entered. Your comment can be about anything. You can further the discussion by adding your own insights or simply let me know what you thought of one of these stunning graphic novels!
Contest closes Friday, August 3rd, so start those comments coming!
In the introduction to Back+Forth, George A Walker says something very true about place: “Many of us change our physical location in search of something different or just to change our surroundings and perhaps … change our minds” (Back+Forth 8). It’s a common belief that changing our physical location will lead to newfound mental clarity. How many times has a friend of yours “gone away” to get over a bad break up? Likewise, how many times have friends of yours come home from a trip claiming to have “found themselves” while away? What is our obsession with place, and why does it impact our lives and the way we think about ourselves so greatly?
In Wanderlust and Back+Forth artists Megan Speers and Marta Chudolinska delve into those very questions. While these graphic novels appear to have very different focuses, they actually have a great deal in common. Wanderlust deals with the desire to escape, and Back+Forth deals with the urge to settle down, but both deal with issues of place and feature young women seeking to identify themselves through the space they occupy.
Wanderlust by Megan Speers tells the story of a band of punks in Sault Ste Marie. Since the punks are unwelcome in many public spaces, they seek to create private spaces instead. Speers depicts the many different ways punks are forced out of space, showing common authority figures abusing the kids. Bosses, landlords, police officers, and the Nazis—the ultimate figures of authority—are all featured. In the panels below you can see how Speers uses space to discuss issues of identity and freedom. Here a punk is remembering an unsavoury run-in with two police officers. As the panels progress, the memory of the officers’ abuses takes over the page, almost obscuring the punk completely. Speers depicts the police officers impinging on the punk’s personal freedoms just as they impinge on his space on the page.
In reaction, Speers’ punks create their own spaces. Across Sault Ste Marie there are several well-known punk hangouts: a back alley, an elderly man’s house, and a stoop behind a shop. But the best place by far is a clearing on Whitefish Island in the nature preserve near the city. Speers describes this place as wild, and it is a place where the punks can be wild too. On the outskirts of the city and far from the strictures of society, the punks feel they can be free.
The book ends optimistically as the heroine skateboards along the boardwalk and back home. She is under the shadow of Sault Ste Marie’s International Bridge, which connects the city to far off destinations such as Detroit, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Miami. While we may feel the heroine’s freedom will always be slightly limited in the Sault, the presence of the bridge promises new escapes and freedoms in the future.
Back+Forth by Marta Chudolinska alternatively features a young woman stuck between two cities, desperately seeking a place to belong. It is impossible for her to identify with any one place while she is still missing the other, and the book oscillates back and forth, literally teleporting the heroine between two separate locations.
When the book opens we see the heroine sleeping, enclosed within the four walls of her Vancouver bedroom. She is small, depicted in the upper left corner of the frame, engulfed by the space around her. This first frame foreshadows the trouble space will cause her throughout the narrative.
In Wanderlust we saw punks searching out new places they could make their own, but in Back+Forth the heroine’s searching only leaves her more isolated. In Vancouver she travels to Wreck Beach, where she looks out at the waves. Here she is depicted as small and slightly off-frame, drawing attention away from her as an individual and toward the environment that overwhelms her. Similarly, when the scene switches to Toronto, she is dwarfed by the skyscrapers and ominous row houses. Megan Speers uses the domination of space to depict discrimination, whereas Marta Chudolinska uses the abundance of space to represent isolation and loneliness.
Perhaps most poignantly, Chudolinska is also able to depict feelings of isolation and loneliness when the heroine is among people. Chudolinska often depicts the heroine facing away from others in the frame, as when she takes public transit or settles in at a cafe for a snack. Even in the most intimate of relationships, the heroine is depicted as alone.
Freedom is only possible for the heroine when she rejects place as an identifier. Waking up in Vancouver again after a fight with her boyfriend in Toronto, the heroine looks out the window to check where she is. Vancouver. For the first time her attitude is not blind acceptance. She does not get up and go about her day. She does not ride the bus to the beach or go to a coffee shop for a snack. She crawls back into bed and pulls the covers over her head. This time when she wakes she is in a new location altogether. By accepting herself exactly as she is, she finds herself in a new space, a space where she is no longer confined by location. It is only then that she is able to move forward.
Speers and Chudolinska show us that we need to keep moving forward. As we move from childhood to adulthood, we often crave a change of scenery to heighten the sense of our new maturity. We move away for university, get an apartment in the city, or blow our summer savings on a trip to Europe. As editor Walker points out, we often seek to change our surroundings as a means of changing our minds. But Speers and Chudolinska don’t explore travel as escapism, rather they explore travel in terms of space. They look as space as a means of grappling with the issues of identity and isolation that plague us as we begin the treacherous journey from childhood into adulthood.