As many of you reading this may know, Liz Prince, the author of Tomboy, is also a contributor to Razorcake. I’ve also known her for a few years outside that and have enjoyed her comics. They’re witty and usually involve pop culture references I appreciate.
Her latest work, Tomboy, is a graphic memoir that recounts her experience growing up as a girl who loved baseball, skateboarding, worms, jeans, and baseball caps. She sure as hell didn’t like dresses.
From a graphics perspective, my knowledge of the field is limited. But Liz’s artwork is playful and free of clutter. Its simplicity matches the feelings many have of pre-adults: innocent (although there is a drawing of boobs during a sex-ed class—somewhere there’s probably going to be a teen boy masturbating to that) and endearing. And even though this is a graphic novel, the focus isn’t so much on the drawing as it is on the importance of the story. And it is important.
Liz Prince isn’t a lesbian. She’s not bi-sexual. She’s a female who likes to wear clothes and participate in activities often attributed to the male gender. Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 1990s, that was a difficult concept for people to understand. (Unfortunately it’s stilla hard concept for many people to grasp.) Liz endured the verbal slings and arrows of bullies, both male and female, as well as the occasional physical abuse from those Neanderthals. In addition to this, she physically developed a bit later than the rest of her peers, adding to her own confusion as well as that of others’.
Throughout the book, Liz introduces us to new characters who played an important role (for better and for worse) in her life. She shows the trouble trying to make friends when she was younger and the difficulty in dating in her teen years. Most importantly, Liz explains to the reader about gender norms, how they’re introduced to us in our culture and what that means. And she doesn’t do this in a preachy way, but in a manner that breaks it down into simple notions for the potentially untrained reader. And like many of us, she ultimately discovered a community in punk, DIY culture, and zines.
Although a press that specializes in books for older teens has published this graphic novel, the message is an important one for everyone to know. Nothing is blunted or sidestepped for the audience (cuss words are used!). Tomboy is funny and painful, but most of all it’s honest, and that’s seen by how the author puts herself out there, warts and all. There’s no better type of memoir than that. When the subject matter is compelling and can help others, it’s all the better. –Kurt Morris (Zest, 35 Stillman St., Suite 121, SF, CA 94107)