A friend once described the experience of being a Smiths fan at age twelve. Listening to the lyrics of “Half a Person”—“Sixteen, clumsy, and shy, I went to London and I booked myself in at the Y…WCA…”—he felt a pang of recognition with that teenager. Precociously morose, he told me, “I felt so old for my age!”
Reading Lauren R. Weinstein’s comics, I feel a similar sympathetic pang – albeit from the far side of sixteen. It makes me think that the ageless adolescence of the sensitive, artistic, somewhat nerdy kid is a permanent state of being. You’re born with it; you never grow out of it.
Most of the comics included in Girl Stories chronicle the adventures and misadventures of “Lauren Weinstein” during her last year of middle school and freshman year of high school. What kind of girl is she? The kind of girl who, in kindergarten, tells all the Christian kids that the existence of Santa Claus is logically impossible. The kind of girl who repurposes Barbies with scissors, markers, and tin-foil outfits, in order to cast them in dramatic tableaux. The kind of girl who believes Morrissey is her guardian angel. In other words, she’s smart, creative, and strange—and so, inevitably, she’s also lonely.
Lauren’s life is shaped by the tension between wanting something and being smart enough to know it’s no good yet wanting it anyways. She wants to be popular and ends up an outcast (at least temporarily). She wants a boyfriend, but he ends up being a lame, skater dude. She wants her bellybutton pierced; it becomes massively infected.
Weinstein’s drawings are textured, exuberant and enjoyably sloppy. She conveys the terrible swiftness with which triumph becomes humiliation and has a keen understanding of the arcane social logic of adolescence. Her comics are at their best when expressing the higher registers of human emotion—anguish and glee.
The other comics collected in this volume are brief funny pieces about being a girl. Of particular note is “Am I fat?” in which Weinstein describes the double-helping of guilt she feels around food: guilt at eating and guilt at how ridiculous it is to feel guilty about eating. After the comic was published, Weinstein’s inbox was flooded with emails, many from girls asking her for dieting advice. Weinstein, devastated, wrote another comic in response pleading with her readers not to obsess over body image: “Imagine what we could do (and how much more fun we’d have) if we just focused on what we loved!”