“Being sixteen is officially the worst thing I’ve ever been.”
I was not fond of Mariko Tamaki‘s story for Emiko Superstar for the Minx line. It just struck me as false — oooh! Secret suburban lesbians! Roughly sketched performance artists! It felt like an adult’s conception of what a teen girl would find “edgy.” Some of the emotions were there but it didn’t strike me as being genuine.
But I still decided to give Skim a try, though. And I’m glad I did.
This is probably one of the most realistic portrayals of what it’s like to be a teenage girl anywhere — film, prose, comics, anywhere.
Kim, called Skim by her friends (because, as she puts it, she’s not) is a slightly overweight, half-Asian Canadian teenager attending an all-girls Catholic school. She and her best friend Lisa are studying Wicca. She is, for the most part, a non-distinct teenage girl. She’s not a cheerleader. She’s not popular. She’s not entirely an outcast — she’s just sort of there. She’s both too smart for her own good and innocently naive.
After a classmate’s ex-boyfriend kills himself, the school is covered in a veneer of sensitivity as Kim also develops a questionable relationship with drama teacher Ms. Archer. In someone else’s hands, this could cross into the territory of melodrama, but in Mariko Tamaki presents these events as just being a part of Kim’s life. The highs and lows are just matter of fact. Both the pain and the joy here are very real.
Jillian Tamaki‘s art is one part ukiyo-e and one part hyper-real caricature. It follows the shifts of Kim’s story from dreaminess to unfortunate reality. The changes are done subtly but beautifully and illustrates the forever-fluctuating life of a teenage girl.
I don’t really want to talk too much about the story, because for me, part of the joy is the way it unfolds. On the other hand, what happens isn’t as important as who it is happening to. While Kim isn’t always likable — she can certainly be bratty and selfish — she’s easy to relate to. She shows what it’s like to be a teenage girl.
Why the comics in the Minx line (even Mariko Tamaki’s one) couldn’t be more like this, I don’t know. I’d put this in the hands of any teenage girl I’d meet, or in the hands of anyone who wanted to know what it’s like. This is probably the best — or at the very least, the most surprising — graphic novel I’ve read this year.