Review: Calling Dr. Laura

calling-dr-lauraMost families do have some kind of secret, but they’re mostly little ones. Most don’t involve a long-believed dead father still being alive.

Portland-based zinester and artist Nicole J. Georges was told just that during a visit to a psychic. Her graphic memoir, Calling Dr. Laura (Mariner Books, 2013), deals with the aftermath as she journeys through her family history and her own place in the world. And yes, her story does involve her calling into the Dr. Laura Program.

Georges is pretty frank about herself and her honesty makes her incredibly likeable and fun to follow. She’s sweet and sensitive — a vegan who’s happy to take in abandoned chickens and care for her beloved dogs — but she does show that her caring nature lets people take advantage of her, including a couple of girlfriends. The intimacy works for the story — it feels less like reading a comic and more like listening to a story being told you by a friend.

Georges structures the book beautifully. Scenes that take place in the present feel cinematic with close-ups of faces and complicated ink-washed backgrounds. She renders flashbacks to her childhood in a much more open style. Everything is a bit looser and less detailed, as memories often are. While Georges hops around between present and past, the differing styles make the transitions clear. All the details and memories feel relevant.

As much as Georges’ search for her father drives much of the book, it’s actually her mother that is at the book’s core. Their complicated relationship — from Georges’ chaotic, stressful childhood to the present — seems to inform most of her relationships with other women, from sisters to friends to girlfriends. It’s even important she felt the need to call Dr. Laura for advice rather than a man.

In the end, Georges does find the answers she’s looking for, but she gets a lot more than that. She gets understanding — not only of the other people in her life but also of herself.

It’s almost impossible to finish Calling Dr. Laura and not want Nicole J. Georges to be your new best friend. It’s a beautiful, powerful book by an awesome woman.

Nicole J. Georges, Cassie Sneider, Monica Gallagher and Sally Madden will be at Atomic Books in Baltimore, Md., from 7to 9 p.m. Feb. 21 (tomorrow!).

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