Well, for a twenty-page minicomic that is filled with embarrassing stories about childhood, cat police, imaginary adventures, and an opening page offering “free hugs,” artist Lauren Barnett definitely set herself up for a difficult task. One of her biggest pet peeves as a female artist is having her comics be called cute. “I think ‘cute’ is a terrible way to describe someone’s work,” she exclaims in one of the first frames.
Besides the political cry for gender equality in the artistic community in the first few pages, Secret Weirdo is an eclectic collection of stories (or rather confessions) about the artist’s endeavors as a secret weirdo. Barnett’s comical, autobiographical telling of her obsessive entrepreneurial ventures as a child, unusual birthday present request, sick day science experiment with a frozen egg, kleptomania, and more are interrupted by imaginative pages with the Cat Police and imaginary Adventures of Master Driver and Navigirl—alter egos perhaps?
What most attracts me to her style is the lack of pretentiousness in her art. The cover is a gorgeous abstract watercolor that is both lovely and haunting; the inside frames are made up of simple, flat, black and white line drawings, messy bubbles, and scribbled text that give it what one reviewer noted as a "draw now, ask questions later" style, almost as if she is making it up as she goes along.
While her comics might seem cute superficially, there is clearly a darker, deeper level to her appropriated cute imagery; her “adorable” childhood stories are intersected with short, anxiety-filled frames about adulthood: debt, apartment searches, the dangers of diet soda. These glimpses into her personal, intimate realm are quickly interrupted by embarrassed sarcasm, or more Secret Weirdo stories from childhood, because the reality is far too daunting to dwell on. It leaves the reader wishing for more of this darkness, but still leaving us with the knowledge that there is something else behind the 'cuteness'.
In short, even though the stories are oddly specific and personal, the ambition, sarcasm, curiosity, anxiety, and nostalgia of a child and young woman resonated with me strongly, and I recommend this minicomic to other adults and teens that can handle the occasional F-bomb and sarcasm. Also, although the styles and content are completely different, I enjoyed Secret Weirdo for the same autobiographical, humorous, deeply personal snippets of Erika Moen’s DAR! Comic, so if you like Barnett’s work, read some of this, too!