Review time! with Primahood
Tyler Cohen was nice enough to send me Primahood in the mail, and I’d like to thank her. DIY comics are pretty awesome, and Cohen has a lot to say in these few pages. What she does have to say and whether I agree with it is what made me think. I think I’m going to ramble a bit here, so bear with me, please. In the meantime, Primahood is in full color (very nicely colored, actually) and costs $6.50. It’s a bargain!
Primahood consists of two different kinds of stories. Cohen created a group called the Primazons, who are female beings with not-quite-human faces and who apparently don’t speak out loud … or at least Cohen doesn’t let us know what they’re saying. Throughout this book we get one-page vignettes showing the Primazons doing stuff. They’re doing fairly banal stuff – laundry, playing with their kids on a playground – but the fact that they have strange heads and are almost completely naked makes the drawings a bit off. I’ll get back to them. Interspersed with this is “Mamapants,” which describes Cohen’s adventures raising a daughter. I’m going to assume this is somewhat autobiographical, which is where things get complicated. Cohen and her daughter encounter normal things, and Cohen does something interesting by blending the world of Mamapants – presumably San Francisco in the 21st century – with the world of the Primazons. It’s not subtle, but it is handled well. So that’s the basic structure of the comic.
It’s difficult to review the writing portion of this book, because there’s none in the Primazon pages, and in the Mamapants section, the writing is very spare. Cohen’s art, however, is fascinating. The Primazon pages are on white backgrounds, and the figure work is exquisite. The Primazons are delineated in delicate reds, blues, and greens, and Cohen gives them a lot of personality even though they don’t speak and we often don’t understand their expressions. There’s a touching closeness between them, and it comes out in their gestures toward the others in the group and the way they interact. Once again, I’ll get back to what Cohen is saying with the vignettes, but in terms of simple artwork, they’re tremendous. The sections with Mamapants and her daughter are more substantial – the linework is heavier, it’s more colorful, and the characters more expressive. Cohen does some nice things with perspective – her “fierce” daughter leaps out toward the reader in one panel, and the action scenes (yes, there are action scenes) crackle with energy. It’s slightly cartoonish, more exaggerated than the Primazon sections, which is interesting because it makes the Primazon pages appear more “anthopological” and the Mamapants sections a bit more unrealistic. This is a good choice, because we’re more accepting of the Primazons based on how they’re drawn, while we’re more accepting of the Mamapants section because the subject matter is fairly mundane. When Cohen blends the two toward the end, there’s no reason to bat an eye at the odd faces intruding on the “real” world.
So why did I think so much about this book? Well, I’m not sure I get it, and that bugs me. I’ve often said I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, and usually I can hide that very well, but every so often, I just don’t know if I don’t get something or if the writer missed the boat. I looked at the pull quotes on the back of this book. They praise the book, which is fine, but because they’re pull quotes, they don’t go into too much detail about what actually is going on in this book. Now, these aren’t reviews, and I couldn’t find if the people quoted on the back of the book wrote anything else about it, but it appears they didn’t. So I’ll just assume they get it and I don’t. First, the Primazons. I’m going to assume that Cohen doesn’t really have anything deeper to say about them except that they’re female, almost naked, and live in their own society. Fine. The drawings are lovely, the emotions palpable, and I’m not sure there’s much else to be said. If there is, I don’t get it.
Then there’s Mamapants, which is more of a narrative. Again, I’m going to assume that it’s at least somewhat autobiographical, and Cohen begins it by getting pregnant and fretting about who her child will be. “It turns out she’s a tiger,” she writes. Cohen spends the book trying to explain feminism to her daughter, and that’s where the humor in the book comes from (I won’t spoil it for you, but there’s a very funny joke in the book that’s really, really true about raising a child). When Cohen begins to write about what “feminine” is, the book takes a slightly serious turn, and she leaves us with some good questions about what we believe about descriptions. This part of the book is very good. But I don’t understand why the fact that her daughter is “fierce” pleases Mamapants. You might think, “It’s good to be fierce,” and I agree – kids should learn to be their own people and stand up for themselves, which is “ferocity,” I suppose. But Mamapants seems to be very proud of the fact that her four-year-old daughter starts fights. Why? How is that a good thing? The daughter also beats on Mamapants (or she tries, not very successfully) earlier in the book, because, as we’ve been told, she’s a “tiger.” Cohen shows other kids fighting, too, so it’s not just her daughter. The daughter fights because the other kid insults something she’s making at a birthday party, then cuts in line in front of the daughter to get cake, then gets the last chair in musical chairs. Are those reasons to fight her? I would think not, but maybe I’m a bit of a wuss. That’s certainly possible. It’s a tough world, I guess.
This is why Primahood made me think so much. I have no problem reading stuff that looks at the world a different way than I do, but when it’s presented without comment, I don’t know what to think. Am I missing the point? Is the entire thing ironic, because Mamapants (Cohen) forged a “feminist” life and didn’t compromise, but now she sees her daughter not compromising when maybe she should? I didn’t get that from the way the fights are presented, but it could be. I don’t know. I do know that Cohen is a very interesting creator, and I would like to how her art progresses as her daughter gets older and she faces other challenges. I didn’t love Primahood, but I did like that it made me think. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did!