Review: Gingerbread Girl

Gingerbread Girl

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Annah Billips is an unreliable narrator in Gingerbread Girl (Top Shelf, 2011). Of course, she’s not really the only one who’s unreliable here. In their graphic novel, Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover play with identity, sanity and what makes us who we are.

Annah, when she first introduces herself to readers, is in her underwear and says she’s a tease. She says she dates both men and women but is reluctant to label herself as bisexual. Annah may be slight manipulative — she tells readers she’s made two dates and she’s going to go out with whoever shows up first — but Coover draws her in such an adorable way, it’s all too easy to understand why she gets away with it. Annah is presented as someone who thinks she’s more seductive than she actually is.

The bulk of the story involves Annah’s belief that her father separated her Penfield homunculus from her brain and created a sister, Ginger, from it. Annah’s been on a quest to find this sister, who is, more or less, the keeper of her physiological senses. Annah’s story is not only told by her, but by her more-or-less girlfriend, Chili; Annah’s other date, Jerry; a fake psychic, Alphonse Spectra; a doctor, Greg Curling; and a few others — including a couple of animals and bystanders.

It all sounds pretty metaphorical but that’s part of Tobin’s and Coover’s purpose here. We all divide ourselves into pieces, and it’s ultimately the people who love us despite our fragments that are worth it. Is Annah crazy? Did she really have a mad-scientist father who made a sister out of a part of her brain? Does it matter?

While Coover was clearly the artist here and Tobin the writer, the book feels like a true collaboration. Coover’s art does carry the story — her characters, especially her women, are cute and appealing and the black, white and sepia tones give imbue the book with a mysterious and shadowy quality. Tobin’s dialogue is playful and he doesn’t shy away from the absurd. By putting some of these points in the mouths of pigeons or petty thieves, it keeps the story from feeling overly serious even when it is.

Maybe in the end, people who are who they are. You can put up with the fact your girlfriend is possibly crazy and a tease because you like enough other things about her. You know enough other things about her. Maybe, in the end, we’re all still growing and changing and that’s all that matters. And I like that’s what Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin had to say. I’d love to read more about Annah (she is a tease, after all, so you want to), but I’m happy to know her in whatever way this book allowed me to.

(You can read the whole book here at Top Shelf’s site, but it’s a really lovely book to actually physically hold and read.)

Two notes that are only tangentially related to the book:

  • I was planning on making the switch over to Powell’s partner program anyway, but since Annah and Chili both worked at Powell’s Books, this seems like an appropriate time to start.
  • And since I did buy this at Big Planet yesterday, I feel completely justified in linking to the “The Alternative Endings to Laika Show” just in case you happened to miss it when I linked to it about 500 times earlier today.

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