Make Me a Woman: Vanessa Davis

If there is a post that I am going to get hate mail about, it’s probably this one. It’s not that I didn’t like the book. I did, a lot in some ways. I like Davis’s drawing style, all elbows and knees optional. So reminiscent of Lynda Barry and I am a huge fan of her. (I took a writing workshop with her once, and when you read your work out loud, she would crouch down in front of your desk so she was a bit lower than you, listen attentively and then say, forcefully and somehow encouragingly, “Good, good!” That lady is more than alright.) Her work is less cluttered than Barry’s and definitely more realistic looking, but still, all those rubbery joints made me so happy.

And I like the mix of pieces in this collection, a variety of full-colour stories several pages long, stand-alone drawings (usually of a woman or women looking hot or rocking out somehow), and diary comics done in pencil where you can see the erased lines. I like seeing the various stages of her work, the various levels of her comics, and as a diarist, I am pretty charmed by her doing diary stuff in comics form. I am tempted to try that myself, but my drawings all end up looking the same. Years from now, when I looked back on my journal, I’d wonder which big-headed, dot-eye person was which. 

But the content got to me after a while. Except for the stand-alone drawings (and hell, maybe them too), these are all autobiographical pieces. Moments from her day in the case of the diary comics, narratives of events in her life and her thoughts in the longer pieces. And I guess because a lot of the longer pieces were published in Tablet, a Jewish magazine, most of the work Make Me a Woman has to do, in one way or another, with being Jewish.

And with that hate mail remark up there, you’re probably expecting me to get all anti-semetic at this point. But don’t worry. I don’t really care that she’s Jewish. Or writing about Jewish things. It’s more a general attitude I have towards religion as a whole. Reading this book was sort of like having a conversation with someone I just met, maybe at a party, who seems really intelligent and kind of awesome. She’s fun and cool, and we are talking about all the things. But when we are talking about the best kind of toques to wear, she says something like, “Well, I always look to Santa for hat advice.” And you are wondering if she means that? Or? But it keeps happening. She tells a story about finding five dollars in her coat pocket, and adds, “Definitely left for me by the Tooth Fairy.” No matter how valid or interesting the other things she’s saying are, the constant mention of imaginary creatures kind of makes everything else out of her mouth less credible.

Because (and this is where the hate mail starts) I just find the idea of believing in any god of any sort completely baffling. To me, it is like believing in the Easter Bunny when you are a full-on grown-up. Sure, it is fun to believe in the Easter Bunny because hey! All that chocolate! But eventually, we move out of our parents’ houses and discover the odd connection between not living with them and the distinct lack of hidden chocolate on Easter.

And fine? I guess? If you’re happy with whatever Easter Bunny you’re living with? After all, I have to tuck my feet into my sheets at night just in case. I don’t actually think a monster will grab my tootsies, but I still tuck them in. The problem for me and this book is that the Jewish thing comes up all the time, everywhere, in every context, and every time it does, I end up having the above conversation with myself. Which makes it very hard to take a book seriously.

What I found interesting was that I was reading Aline Kominsky Crumb’s Need More Love  at the same time, which, being a memoir, is also autobiographical, and Crumb is also Jewish. But her Jewishness did not make me have these lengthy conversations with myself, since it always seemed peripheral, like the basis of her entire self wasn’t her religious identity. (My objections with that particular book have to do with how unwieldy the physical object itself is, and how badly/awkwardly written the non-comics parts were.) And again, I know that most of the long-form comics in this collection were for a Jewish magazine, so I’m sure that’s why Judaism was so central to so many of them. So I’m not holding it against Davis or anything.

I just wish I had read something by Davis that didn’t focus so heavily on her religion (and yes, I get that Judaism is also a culture and a heritage, but that culture and heritage are based on belief in a mysterious being who wants you to slice off bits of your kid’s bits). I like her drawing style a lot, and spent too much time admiring her curvy ladies and carefully drawn freckles. And her voice has a definite naturalness to it. She manages to pick out just the right moments to draw and adds something real to them. The way she depicts her relationship with her sister basically cracked me up. But it’s like my hypothetical conversation with the Santa believer. The underlying and ever-present talk of religion kept me from really falling in love with this book.

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