Review: Unlovable Vol. 2

First, we’re going to watch a video:

Like every other former English major in the world, I love that song. I love The Smiths. I love Morrissey’s solo stuff a little less, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have piles of it.

Unlovable Vol. 2

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So do you remember how awesome you thought you were when you were 15? How you thought you were doing all of these totally awesome things and you were the coolest person alive? And then, as you grew up and go older, you realized what an idiot you were.

That’s exactly what Esther Pearl Watson‘s Unlovable is like (you may remember some of her work from the back page of Bust magazine). Purportedly based on a teenager’s diary that Watson found, it’s funny and it’s painful in that “this is too true and it borders on embarrassing” way. It’s hard to know if you’re laughing with or at the characters here. You’re actually probably doing quite a bit of both.

Named after The Smiths song, Unlovable Vol. 2 (Fantagraphics, 2010) follows the latter half of Tammy Pierce’s sophomore year in the late ’80s. She gets in fights with her brother, hangs out with loser guys and her best friend Kim, who is always looking to borrow a dollar and, later, develops a crush on a senior named Ken, who may idolize Morrissey a little bit too much.

Watson’s art is exaggerated and sometimes borders on the grotesque, but it’s funny and ridiculous. I love the close-ups of the faces of the characters, done in hilarious caricature. There are also plenty of fun non-sequitur pages of ’80s motifs, like Cabbage Patch Kids and Max Headroom. This keeps from feeling too mean.

I have no idea how much Watson embellished the details in the diary she found (nor am I completely sure I buy her story — but I mean that with love. It’s great if it’s true but it’s great if it’s not), but so many things are dead-on here — the mixtape of Smith songs Tammy gets from Ken (and that she transcribes the lyrics incorrectly), how much time she spends trying to impress idiot 15-year-old boys through make-up and outfits and the digestion of cliques (including The Smokers, The Rappers, The Thespian New Wave and The Invisibles). Even if this wasn’t specifically Tammy Pierce’s high school experience, I think that doesn’t matter — it’s actually all of ours.

It’s a chunky book with glitter on the cover and inside pages done in black, white and green. The drawing spill off the page. The design of this book is delightful and does feel like something a teenage girl in the late ’80s would love.

If you want to relive part of your teenage years without much sentimentalism, Unlovable Vol. 2 is the way to go.

Now we’re going to watch another video:

Yes, that’s Neil Finn covering “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” And yes, I’m including it just because I can.

Review copy provided by publisher.

I reviewed Hope Larson’s Mercury over at Geek Girl on the Street. I did link to it on Twitter, but since I won’t be reviewing it here, I just wanted to make sure I pointed to it in a more permanent manner. (Here’s the short version: It’s awesome and you need to buy it when it’s out.)

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