27 year old Annah Billips is quite a piece of work. She’s sort of an urban hipster, with her Riesling and art galleries. She rolls with an undecided sexual orientation and is quite the flirt. I was aware of Colleen Coover’s art from her hit indie series Small Favors, but don’t think I’ve sampled any of Paul Tobin’s writing before. The duo pair up for what is an intriguing book, if a little unnerving at times. What makes this book pop more than anything is the unrestrained style in which the characters systematically break the fourth wall, as narrators are handed-off in an endless succession throughout the book. For the most part, this makes main character Annah self-aware, and self-effacing, but she can also be just plain self-ish. It’s nice that Tobin seeds the story with authentic local Portland landmarks. And Coover’s pencils bear a cute dynamic with tons of panel variety to keep your eye engaged. But, despite her flirtatious ways, I found Annah to be a pretty unlikable character at times. Whether she is selfishly double booking herself for dates, no-showing on a date with Jerry and then lying about the time to cover her tracks, failing to commit to endearing Chili (a way more likable and emotionally mature protagonist), or simply tripping Leanna as she tries to stop a shoplifter, most of Annah’s actions, though explainable, don’t maker her particularly sympathetic. She’s the kind of character that is so trite she only works in comics, because if she existed in real life, nobody could stand her.
She attributes her unsavory actions to Ginger, her sister/doppelganger supposedly culled from her brain as some sort of homunculus(!). Though, we all realize this is probably just a cop out; it’s far more likely that this is a psychological defense created as part of her psyche receded from the trauma of her parent’s divorce during her formative years. We accept the homunculus bit as a sort of pseudo-scientific leap, but then are also asked to believe that this degradation of her sense of touch (tactile), also leads to her emotions somehow being dulled (mental). It isn’t terribly logical, but maybe it’s not supposed to be, in an effort to show how ludicrous human defense mechanisms can be. It might sound like I don’t like parts of the book, but the parts I did like, I actually loved. For example, the narrator hand-offs I mentioned above are immensely clever. It’s also impossible not to like Coover’s art. I just wish that Tobin had made the main character a little more likeable or plausible, or the finale at least a little more definitive. The subject matter isn’t easy, about childhood trauma shaping adult processes, but on top of the homunculus abstraction, the denouement is ultimately a bit inconclusive. It almost feels as if this is the end of a “part one” story in which there might be more to come. In any case, I think we’re led to believe that loving someone in spite of their hang-ups might be difficult, but also might be a necessity as part of being human. Accepting people as they are is the risk/reward gambit that so much of our experiences are based on. Grade A-.