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I’ve been rewatching My So-Called Life on Netflix streaming.
When that show first aired, I was just the right age for it (a freshman in high school to Angela Chase’s sophomore) but now, I see very different things in it. I love the beautifully troubled Rayanne more than I used to — I think she probably became someone amazing — and whereas the teenage me found Jordan to be mysterious and intriguing, I now see how ridiculously unworthy of Angela he is. Also, poor Brian Krakow.
Now, while talking about My So-Called Life is plenty of fun (as is the ’90s fashion. Let’s bring some of that back!), I think really, stories about teenagers are really just a matter of perspective.
Ivy is an artistic senior looking to escape her life in small-town Maine. She lives with her hard-working single mother and has fallen in with the other misfits at her high school if she really doesn’t like them. After meeting a trouble boy at an art school fair, Ivy tries to take her life into her own hands, with mixed results.
Oleksyk’s art is approachable and open — Ivy’s short hair gives her a punky edge while her nondescript facial features make her someone who doesn’t stand out. You went to high school with dozens of girls like this. Maybe you were one. Ivy’s friends, while a bit more distinctive, still look like people I knew (or at least knew people who were like them). It makes the story feel intimate and personal as well as universal.
Still, the dramatic turn — Ivy runs away with Josh after being suspended for school — feels a little false. It’s not that I don’t believe teenagers do this, but nothing in Ivy’s character really seemed like it was something she would do. The adults feel pretty one-dimensional. Ivy’s math teacher has it out for her for no real reason I can discern, and Ivy’s mother’s anger toward her feels misplaced. I can understand that Ivy’s mother wants a better life for her daughter, certainly, but I think she’s presented as being overly harsh toward her daughter.
But like I said, it’s maybe a matter of perspective. Oleksyk’s sympathies are with Ivy through and through, so of course the adults are going to be against her. Of course it’s a reasonable thing that Ivy would run away and that Josh would turn on her once they slept together. It’s a teenager’s world — everything is mostly black and white. People are good or bad and there’s not much in between.
The gray washes and Oleksyk’s strong lines do give Ivy the appropriate mood and her ability to express emotion both through quiet images and exaggerated drawings is admirable. She also composes beautiful pages, with borders closing in her characters or isolating them in open spaces. I have no complaints about her abilities as a comic artist.
I will love to see what Sarah Oleksyk does next. I just hope she leaves Ivy behind.