Posted by: Abhay Khosla on October 4, 2009
DAR: A SUPER GIRLY TOP SECRET COMIC DIARY, VOLUME ONE by Erika Moen—
I read a collection of Erika Moen’s journal webcomic DAR. I don’t know if it’s available in stores; it was an impulse buy from the internet. I was trying to find something the Savage Critic website’s own Mr. Douglas Wolk had written, and instead found his appearance on something called the Erika Moen Show.
The Erika Moen Show is a video-podcast where Ms. Moen sits on a dimly-lit couch with various comic/webcomic luminaries, and proceeds to ask said luminaries a variety of questions, with the help of the disembodied voice of Ms. Moen’s off-screen husband. If you’re interested in how the internet is rewriting the cartoonist-audience relationship, “video-podcasts set on couches of female cartoonist plus a disembodied husband voice” might be kind-of a mind-blowing window into the future for you.
The book is a collection of one-page journal comics. I could probably end this right there, and 100% of you would be just about 100% right on whether or not you would like this comic, based solely on that description. Me? I tend to avoid that sort of thing, journal comics. For the obvious reason: I’m fanatically self-centered. I don’t read blogs by acquaintances; I don’t read twitters from friends; I’ve got a mirror, and I’m looking at it, and guess what? Handsome’s looking back. <Wink>. In conclusion: Me. Catch the fever. Have extra long pleasure.
I hadn’t read a journal comic in a while, years maybe, so I enjoyed DAR enough just as a change of diet. I’m entirely disqualified to criticize it in any knowledgeable way, to compare it against other journal comics, the James Kolchaka thing, or Jason Marcy or what have you. I can compare it to numbing comics where Namor the Sub-Mariner throws his wife’s severed head through a window at a bad guy— is that helpful for anyone? In a different mood, I’d have thrown DAR in a corner and forced myself to swear on a Bible that I would never again drink and internet-stalk Douglas Wolk. But that didn’t happen, so hello, bottle of Maker’s Mark and Google Image—our time is now.
The webcomic seems primarily to be about how Ms. Moen formerly self-identified as a lesbian or queer or what have you, a lady what has sex with other ladies, but then ended up marrying and having sex with the disembodied voice. It’s a set of strips from that transition from lesbian to married-to-a-dude lesbian (or whatever the proper terminology is there…?). Am- Am I supposed to review that part? Now, the Savage Critic website will review a human life for your amusement! All will be judged, all will be found wanting! Mwah-ha-ha! Spin the wheel of fate! Hurrah: everybody loves parties!
The good episodes of DAR are about sex. Moen employs the same circular-headed cartoon characters with dot eyes, the same cute-driven style that Jeff Brown or Dave Heatley use— all of them softening their sex comics with a certain amount of adorable. Which sounds like a good idea, unless you start dwelling on Stephen Jay Gould too much.
Stephen Jay Gould was a popular science writer in the field of evolutionary biology. And as a bit of popular science writing, Gould posited in an essay entitled “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse” that the reason cartoon characters were popular was due to neoteny.
As explained by the International Cognition and Culture Institute:
“Gould … proposes that the reason why we find Mickey Mouse attractive is due to our innate attraction for all things baby-like. Gould dwells on Konrad Lorenz’s theory of neoteny. Neoteny is the set of facial characteristics peculiar to babies. The theory states that, in the course of evolution, our species (and many others besides) have evolved neotenic features for our youngsters, in order to tap this innate mechanism that attaches us to round faces, big eyes and soft features – what so many languages have a word for: the cute, the kawaii, the mignon, the moutik. Gould spectacularly illustrated his point with the ontogeny of Mickey Mouse, who evolved, in a somewhat spooky trajectory … from a real character with features and peculiarities to a big simplified balloon of niceness.”
So, if you dwell on that paragraph too much, there is something just wrong and creepy about autobiographical sex-comics, wronger and creepier than your garden variety hentai even. Hentai’s typically about, what, a teenage schoolgirl having sex with a softball team, and the softball team is her brother-dad. Which is gross. But autobiographical sex-comics? Maybe they’re basically about babies getting sexy with other babies. Eew! If Stephen Jay Gould is to be believed anyways. I’m just the messenger here…
Sure, it doesn’t gross out everybody. There’s a fetish called paraphilic infantilism, and that fetish is about primarily heterosexual men characterized by their sexual desire to wear diapers and be treated as infants / toddlers. And to be careful about this topic, Wikipedia says paraphilic infantilism is NOT the same thing as pedophilia, so if you were worried about that—you know, you can sleep well at night knowing that the diaper people usually just want to have sex with you, and not your children. Good night and sweet dreams. In fact, Wikipedia says a whole mess of things about paraphilic infantilism that I’d like to unscrub from my brain—where do I sign up for that? Is there a Wikipedia page that explains how to do that? I don’t want to know about the diaper people anymore.
But notwithanding Wikipedia, at the end of the day, I’d still rather see Moen’s baby-people have sex than a Greg Land photo-person have sex. Does that make me a diaper-man, internet? I hope not. I’d really rather not be a diaper-man. Really: not cool, Greg Land.
The more bothersome thing about DAR is the lack of editing (is it okay for me to complain about lack of editing?). Or what appears to be a lack of editing. One that particularly stands out: a comic advising web-cartoonist Dylan Meconis to check her Flickr Favorites because Moen and an unidentified woman in a cowboy hat played a no-doubt hilarious prank on Meconis’s Flickr account that Meconis hadn’t actually noticed– a comic with no noticeable conclusion whatsoever. I wonder why this or a number of other comics (con reports, comics explicitly about the challenges of doing autobiographical webcomics, etc.) needed to be preserved in print, but I suspect there exists fans of the webcomic who would have been more put-out had it not been collected than passer-by’s such as myself. Hell, editing lessens pages.
Moen’s website seems somewhat frustrating– is there a table of contents or a quick way of navigating through the strips that I can’t seem to find? Is there a reason that “clicking on a strip takes me to the next strip” isn’t a standard feature of webcomics yet as of 2009– was there a debate on how webcomics should be navigated that “clicking on a strip takes me to the next strip” somehow lost? For the book, Moen’s craft isn’t quite as polished as it appears to be now—her line only becomes remotely pleasing sometime in mid-2008, late in the book. Looking at the webcomic now, the backgrounds– a problem spot in the book– have thankfully improved since then: at least, there’s hints a ruler might have been purchased at some point. Or maybe Moen’s further along whatever learning curve needed to take place with a brush; or maybe Moen purchased Manga Studio; maybe the first letter of every word in the last sentence of the previous paragraph spells out the word “Help”; maybe every essay I write has hidden pleas for help that you’ve all just been ignoring; oh god…
Anyways: Horror-dildos. Anal sex. Shrunken balls. Strippers. Tits. Vibrators. Most of all, Queefing. Unfortunately, the comic is not always in this vein, but these are all honorable and worthwhile topics for comics– DAR’s not long on ambition, and your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for “harmless cute”. But: wouldn’t anything more than “harmless cute” for a comic about queefing be the wrong way to go? I think they’re topics that work best in comics for that very reason. A short story would be too profound. Richard Ford would write about some unemployed single father holding a horror-dildo in a motel parking lot; the horror-dildo would symbolize middle-age disappointment. And a movie, a horror-dildo just isn’t enough to build a movie around. The horror-dildo would need a character arc. Or there’d be a scene where Shia LeBouf went to Dildo-Heaven to meet the God-Dildos. The horror-dildo would dildo in super-slow-mo for no reason. I don’t want to watch that.
But comics? A horror-dildo is just right. So, that’s (1) your mom’s butt, and (2) comics. Congratulations, comics. Let’s have cupcakes! The cupcakes symbolize middle-age disappointment.
However, eating lowers pessimism. <Wink>