Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir
I’ve enjoyed the previous comics I’ve read by Liz Prince, such as Alone Forever. Those were collections of strips, though, short moments of humor or observation punctuated with a certain cynicism. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir is her first long-form work, in the popular autobiographical comic genre. And it’s fascinating, mainly due to her honesty about her gender struggles.
As a four-year-old, Liz refused to wear dresses, preferring baseball caps and sneakers. Her parents were generally accepting; it was schoolmates that caused problems, fellow children who more strongly wanted to enforce gender norms. They teased her for playing with “boy toys”, action figures. Her neighborhood friends, all male, turn their backs at school when surrounded by other boys.
In the modern sections, Prince is clear about not judging — she says early on that there’s nothing wrong with being “lovely and pink and frilly and dainty” — it’s just that she wanted the same courtesy of acceptance. She wanted to be left alone to be the tomboy she’s always known herself as. Being a tomboy “was a lifestyle that [she] took very seriously” from playing Little League to not quite fitting in at Girl Scout camp.
Even though she can now look back on key moments and recognize the humor in them, the pain is clearly memorable as well. Unfortunately, the attitudes of others poisoned hers. She thought girls were dumb, so she wished she was a boy, because they were “cooler than girls.” Soon, she was an outcast, not fitting in with either group.
Prince’s conversational, loose art style gives the work the feeling of the author talking with the reader, sharing memories and explaining her attitudes. Her sketchy look seems simple, but her unpretty figures are well-drawn, with a good sense of motion and flow. Tomboy is a book that fundamentally challenges basic assumptions about proper behavior, demeanor, and look. I can imagine a lot of teens empathizing or even excited to find something that so well captures the uncertainty of trying to chart one’s own identity in the face of societal expectations.
As she gets older, Prince gets crushes on boys, although her individuality usually makes the outcomes unsuccessful. It makes for an entertaining read, though, leavened with sympathy and lightened by the occasional understanding, accepting friends. It’s a tough story, but not a pathetic one. Surviving bullying made her more sure of who she was, and eventually, she finds her place as an artist. She’s funny and direct and tells good stories that also make a great argument for accepting others as they are.
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir is due out at the beginning of September through the direct market and can be ordered from your local comic shop with Diamond code JUN14 1295. See a preview at the publisher’s website, or read an interview with the creator, or find out more about her writing process. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)