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Advance Review: Fantagraphics’ A Mess of Everything Makes, Well, a Mess of Everything

Written by: Ashley Cardiff, Special to CC2K

ImageRemember how interesting it was to be a teenage girl?  Remember all those fascinating conversations you had with other teenage girls while you were stoned?  Remember how interesting it was to be outraged by Starbucks and consumerism and the patriarchy and Urban Outfitters?  Remember how your friends had totally interesting problems, too, like eating disorders and giving OTPHJs to bass players at house parties after one too many malternative beverages?  Remember using phrases like “the System”?

Did you every think that your feelings of vague alienation and not being pretty were worth turning into a graphic novel?  Of course not, because being a teenage girl is only interesting to teenage girls.  From a now-outsider’s perspective (and speaking as a former one), I can promise you that teenage girls are some of the least interesting creatures on Earth. Predictably, this is at odds with all their self-righteousness and verbosity.

A Mess of Everything is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel by “Miss Lasko-Gross.” Yes, the origin of the pen name is found in the book, but the explanation does little to excuse it.  This is apparently a sequel to some kind of “critically acclaimed” ode to adolescence released in 2007, called Escape from Special (sample Amazon review: “AND THE AUTHOR'S ABILITY TO LAY HER EMOTIONS OUT FOR ALL TO SEE WAS AMAZING, AND COURAGEOUS”).  At best, it’s the self-absorbed scrawlings of a one-time teenage girl, a girl that no one’s had the decency to sit down and explain that the life of an upper-middle class Jewish girl living in some anonymous all-white town with caring, communicative parents is about as fascinating as folding laundry while listening to Dashboard Confessional, and then writing about it.  At worst, A Mess of Everything is objectively awful.

The story follows a few years in the life of a boring dumpy girl named Melissa (…Lasko-Gross).  Melissa struggles to land meaningful friendships and do well in school, because her parents taught her to be an individual and that’s like, always at odds with stuff.  We are never given a single reason to like this self-centered precocious little shit (maybe because she wears a Bikini Kill t-shirt?) and I found myself reading through wondering when she was going to say something that I didn’t find stupid and obnoxious.

So, we readers are dragged through the usual motions of being a rebellious teenager: first, Melissa falls in with a bad crowd, and starts shoplifting and smoking weed and not-inhaling Camels.  Then she forges a bond with an equally unstable, insecure and unlikeable teen named Terry, who telegraphs her anorexia and in case we’re as stupid as these characters, a peer of theirs announces “Terry’s totally anorexic” a page or two later.  The friends mill about drinking coffee, crushing on boys and being café Athiests.

After fifty agonizing pages of Melissa and Terry getting stoned and hating their bodies, they start fooling around with the aforementioned boys.  But the boys totally don’t love them for who they are.  Terry’s damaged goods, so she acts like every other portrayal of a wounded sensitive adolescent in every other story ever about upper-middle class white teenagers and starts maybe letting loser guys stick it in her (maybe).  Melissa is sort of angry about this because she’s not all hot and skinny like Terry and nobody wants to touch her, so she settles for drawing comics and playing Street Fighter with a guy who may or may not have prematurely ejaculated during an aborted make-out session a few panels earlier (seriously). 

Now, I’ll give Miss Lasko-Gross a little credit and say she probably realizes that all the indignant talk of politics and consumerism and misogyny is uninteresting and, on numerous levels, hypocritical.  At one point, Melissa and her friends mock some faux-grunge girls for carrying Hot Topic shopping bags and not actually liking grunge and then engage in a completely un-self-aware discussion of Nirvana’s earlier work.  This sort of juxtaposition communicates that even though Melissa is more authentic than the interchangeable scores of jocks and cheerleaders she ridicules, she’s also just as confused, clueless, and impotent as they.  But who wants to read 223 pages about boring assholes? 

There have been plenty of excellent comics about disaffected, hyper-articulate teenage girls, wandering listlessly through suburban wastelands (Ghost World screams to mind), so the problems with A Mess of Everything go considerably deeper than the subject.  First off, the structure: the novel is comprised of a series of short two and three page vignettes, seemingly chosen at random to reflect those fractured moments and interactions of teenhood.  One particularly valuable snapshot along these lines is called The Turd, which centers around Melissa as she uses a public restroom… only to find herself fishing her own excrement out of a broken toilet to avoid everyone discovering that she clogged the coffee shop bathroom.  I guess we’re supposed to find this relatable.  I thought maybe she should lay off the diuretics. 

The other major problem is the art.  It's terrible.  I really can’t spend more than a sentence or two on this.  It’s really, really bad.  It’s like if Alan Moore took a couple weeks (instead of ten years) to make Lost Girls, and instead of depicting all those engorged labias and ruining your childhood memories with colored pencils, he just drew some flannel and your awkward years.  

There’s probably a market for this.  Maybe if you were a self-indulgent teenage girl who had an Akira poster in your bedroom and shaved your head to look like Lori Petty in Tank Girl, then this is your jam.  If you cherish those memories of getting stoned with your friends and talking about how, like, you always related to Lucifer because he was, like, kicked out for being different, then you might find this comic really sophisticated and insightful.  Frankly, I don’t want to be reminded of what assholes kids are, regardless of whether or not Melissa’s drivel resembled my own. Being a teenager girl was barely interesting to me, therefore I have no idea why Miss Lasko-Gross thinks her deeply average experience was worth sharing with the world.    


2.0 out of 5. 

Author: Ashley Cardiff, Special to CC2K

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