A review a day: DAR! A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary
For the next few reviews, I must add a disclaimer: I totally love Erika Moen and Dylan Meconis. I wrote about meeting them in San Diego and how I was instantly smitten with them (I get smitten every once in a while; I figure it’s okay as long as I tell my wife, who usually rolls her eyes at me and wonders how much a friend of ours, who’s a divorce lawyer, charges), and now that I’ve read their comics, I love them even more. They, for their part, probably had to get electro-shocked after the convention so they could forget about ever meeting me, but that’s cool. I just wanted to let you know that, because although I try to be objective when I write reviews (and I believe I can be), I went into reading their comics pre-disposed to like them. Luckily for them (because, you know, I’m so damned influential), they create some damned fine comics. First up: Moen’s diary, DAR!, which you can find here. It’s two volumes, the first of which is 10 dollars and the second of which is 15 (’cause it’s slightly longer), and you should buy both. Because they’re awesome.
You might think that an on-line diary is terribly self-indulgent, especially when it’s collected and the creator charges money for it. Well, that might be true in some cases, but luckily for us, Moen’s is a special case. First of all, she’s in an interesting place, sexually. The narrative of the diary is how she, as a self-professed lesbian, fell in love with one of her fans … a man named Matt. This causes her no small amount of grief, as she struggles to reconcile her desire for women (which doesn’t really go away) with her absolute love and adoration of a man. Eventually she makes peace with it, marries Matt, and embarks on a life of wedded bliss. But it’s interesting that she’s torn up about it, and she goes a bit into the rejection she felt from the “lesbian community” because they feel like she betrayed them. It’s a surprisingly complex situation for something that is so raucous and raunchy (as these books are), and it’s fascinating to track Moen’s journey from confusion to acceptance. One of the best things a diarist can do is take you inside their own situation and make it as universal as possible. Despite never having taken a Kinsey test, I can’t believe I’m anything but a zero (unless my admitted man-crushes on Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves push me to a 1), so I’ve never had to deal with these particular emotions that Moen goes through, but it’s a measure of her craft that she makes us understand what this sexual confusion would be like. We’ve all been in a place where we pine for someone who dumped us and wonder if the new person is “the one,” no matter which gender they might be, so Moen’s situation is more relatable than we might think.
Moen also captures a lot of the angst that 20-somethings go through, even if they’re not in an artistic field or struggling with paying the bills, as she is. Moen begins volume 1 in 2006, when she turned 23, and ends it in 2009, and at the end of volume 2 she loops back around and gives us some of the stuff from her 20-22 years. She worries about her body image, she worries about her relationships (until she meets Matt, that is), she worries about trying to create meaningful art while working in data entry to pay the bills. Most of us can relate to this sort of stuff, and Moen does a nice job bringing all this stuff in while still keeping the tone light. What’s great about the two volumes is that in volume 1, she’s much more of an angsty mess, but by the end of it, she’s married to Matt. So volume 2 is less about them learning about each other and more about living with each other, and there’s definitely a more mature vibe to the comic (“mature” being a loose term, of course, as Moen never gives up the dick and fart jokes – and yes, I’m getting to them). The comic is a bit more about Moen stepping out into the world on her own and less about her place in that world. She grows up nicely throughout the course of the comic, and what’s so good about it is that she doesn’t make a big deal about it. The emotional markers we usually associate with coming-of-age stories aren’t necessarily absent, but Moen deftly makes them less of a big deal and instead focuses on details of her life to show how she’s changed. It’s quite well done.
Before you think this is a deadly serious comic, I should get to the humor, because this comic is hilarious. Moen has a natural talent for comic timing, and she’s absolutely fearless. This is one of the raunchiest comics you’ll ever read, because Moen has no scruples about putting all her foibles (and the ones of those around her) on the page. That’s another reason why we can relate to it – we might not be as brave as Moen in showing what goes on in private (and, in some cases, in public), but I submit that we all have odd things we do only in intimate situations. The difference is that Moen puts it all out there. I mean, the very first strip in the book (after the introduction, where she explains the whole “lesbian-in-love-with-a-man” dilemma) gives us all sorts of things that give her orgasms. The second one shows her playing with Matt’s penis (she makes funny sounds while doing so). Obviously, many of the strips are perfectly safe for work, but then she’ll throw in one about wet farts, or how she clogged the toilet, or what a “spit roast” means to a British person (“I thought we were talking about dinner,” says Moen), or how you should proceed with butt sex, or how she queefed day-old spunk back into her partner’s mouth, or what kind of vibrators you should get, or how she tainted Matt’s phone by putting it in her butt-crack, or what they should do with the tiny dollop of poop on the floor, or … well, I think you get the idea. Moen is so gleeful about sex that even the stuff that makes you a bit queasy is still hilarious, and she’s so good at making the gross funny that, unlike a lot of scatalogical humor (which I don’t like), it works well (the poop on the floor, for instance, turns into a mystery that they must solve!). You simply never know what Moen will put in this strip next, and that’s what keeps it wildly fun. I’m aware that some of the situations might be a tiny bit exaggerated (maybe they’re not, but I’m always wary of diaries where everyone is witty), but Moen’s personality is spot-on (from what I can gather from speaking to her for only about 10-15 minutes or so one time). Even if she were “making this up,” she has a wonderful ear for dialogue and a good sense of pacing, which makes each strip a little gem.
Moen’s art has evolved very nicely over the six years she worked on the strip. Halfway through the second volume, we get the early work, which is much more free-form, occasionally surreal, and angst-ridden. There’s some very nice parts – Moen’s quiet requiem for a friend who died at the age of 19 is beautiful – but it’s also more what we think of as “self-indulgent on-line diary.” Moen’s more interested in plumbing her innermost thoughts, and she also does a lot of experimentation with her artistic style. It’s very rough and often sketchy, with varying levels of detail. When she’s drawing strips dealing with her thoughts, she gets much more detailed, but when she heads to the external world, the details fade. She writes in volume 1 that she discovered the magic of Photoshop and her backgrounds got better because she was able to draw several and then re-use them, but even if she didn’t do that, her figure work gets much more confident as she moves along, and her facial expressions, a crucial part of a humor strip, become much better. Moen uses very few lines on her faces, so she has to make the ones she does use to maximum effect, and as you read through the book, she gets much less zany with her facial expressions and more subtle. It’s a nice change – early in the book, the humor feels broader, and while DAR! could never be called the exemplar of drawing-room humor, later in the book it feels a little more pointed. Of course, considering the last strip before Moen wraps things up with a look back deals with Moen and Matt Googling “Rich Ellis [their housemate] gargles cock,” perhaps “subtle” isn’t the word I’m searching for. But the art still evolves very nicely, and Moen showed me some of her new stuff at San Diego, and she keeps getting better.
As with all web comics, I’ll just post a few complete strips. If you laugh at these, you’ll like DAR! If you don’t, you probably won’t. I’m here to help you make up your mind!
I really can’t recommend DAR! enough. Steve Lieber told me that I would love Moen and Meconis (I’ll get to her work tomorrow and the next day), which was pressure enough (Lieber is an evil, evil man who will hunt you down if you look at him sideways), and then I did love them when I met them, so I really, really hoped I liked their work. I’m glad I did. You can read DAR! for free, of course, but why not throw some bucks her way! She gives you advice on how to keep your vibrator from jackhammering your clit off, after all!!!!!
Tomorrow: I just told you!