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The Sparkling Trout Beneath the Bank: Douglas on Laura Park

Douglas Wolk

The MoCCA festival was a few weeks ago, but the thing I kept pointing people toward there is the same thing I’ve been showing off to friends back home: a self-published, 28-page minicomic by Laura Park called Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream. This is apparently her first print comic, although she posts a lot of her drawings and comics on Flickr. (I’ve been looking at her Flickr page every so often since I got the mini–there’s a lot of stuff to go through there.)

Do Not Disturb is really just a collection of miscellany–a bunch of one- and two- and four-panel strips and sketches, with one story-like thing in the middle of it: six pages of a little fable called “How Does Your Garden Grow?,” which cuts off in the middle with a “To Be Continued. (Sorry!)” There are some bits about Park herself, mostly about her relationship with her cat Lewis; there are a couple of illustrated recipes; there’s a one-page jam with Julia Wertz; there’s a great little drawing of herself as a child, captioned “I spent a lot of afternoons making eucalyptus bark masks.”

I’ve kept coming back to Do Not Disturb, because Park’s artwork is such a joy to look at. She’s got a Steven Weissman-like gift for big-headed caricatures (especially for her self-portraits–squat and moody, with downcast eyes, all her features taken care of with a few brisk dashes), but she’s also got a really striking way with rendering tones and shapes and backgrounds, and she adjusts her technique for almost every piece. Plus she’s really funny when she wants to be. I’ve been grinning every time I look at her piece about “the terrifying spider that lives in my bathroom.”

There’s a certain kind of cartoonist archetype that Park sorta fits into: the kind with a fondness for old-time music (the title of Do Not Disturb comes from a Carter Family song, “The Winding Stream”), an extensive sketchbook, and a reflex of self-deprecation that sometimes crosses the line into cruelty. That last thing is the only part of Do Not Disturb that bugs me; it’s a bad habit she shares with Chris Ware and Ivan Brunetti, and in all three cases they’re so talented that it becomes functionally the same thing as fishing for compliments. A line like “I’m wandering through the black hole of self-loathing, embracing my worthlessness and choking on the stagnant fumes of my profound inadequacy” is the sort of thing you can really only get away with once before it starts getting old.

“No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission (unless you want to review it, but that probably won’t happen),” says the copyright page. So much for that–! This is very good stuff by an artist I’m looking forward to seeing more from in the future. Maybe she’ll do longer pieces, maybe she won’t; a couple of people I’ve shown it to have said they’d like to see her do some kind of extended narrative, and I would too, but I’d also be happy just to have more collections of tiny pieces like this one. I have no idea if she plans to sell copies of Do Not Disturb at any future cons, but the email address she lists on the inside front cover is pancakemahoney (at-sign) gmail.com.

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