Recommended Reads: Skelly’s My Pretty Vampire and Roberts’ Sunburning

My Pretty Vampire
Katie Skelly
Fantagraphics

It would be easy to short sell Katie Skelly’s latest graphic novel My Pretty Vampire as merely a campy feast for the eyes, but its success lies in its smart execution. Skelly has cleverly played with sexy, mod, sci-fi tropes in the past with Nurse Nurse and Operation Margarine, but My Pretty Vampire shows her increased confidence and skill as both a storyteller and a visual artist. The story goes by quickly, and in some ways left me wanting more, but was entertaining and visually mesmerizing.

Skelly has set herself apart from the beginning with her mod, whimsical, and sensual style and pushes it further here, showing confidence in her line and effectively using color to set the mood of each scene. Keeli McCarthy’s book design is also excellent, complementing Skelly’s style and color choices nicely. The linework is deceivingly simple, but Skelly’s attention to composition is evident. She understands the power of the gaze, and uses it unapologetically.

In interviews, Skelly has mentioned that she is a fan of cinema from the 1960’s and 70’s, citing movies such as Barbarella and Valley of the Dolls as inspiration for her aesthetic. My Pretty Vampire is pastiche, an homage to these films, as well as French New Wave, psychedelic cartoons, manga, softcore porn, and vampire kitsch, to name a few things. Skelly thinks like a filmmaker and if you read the book with this in mind, My Pretty Vampire will reveal its prowess to you.  


Sunburning
Keiler Roberts
Koyama Press

Keiler Roberts’ Sunburning is all about balance. In this collection of autobiographical comics, Roberts balances motherhood, marriage, art, family, and chronic illness (in this case bipolar disorder, which is another act of balancing). What results is a smart, touching, and often laugh-out-loud read.

Roberts’ choices are deceivingly simple, but her ability to interweave the more mundane aspects of her day and her relationships into a fluid, insightful narrative is high-level comedic storytelling. Her skill shines in the witty and revealing banter she chooses to share with us, her sparse but tasteful use of exposition, and her spare but emotive linework which depicts her dry, deadpan delivery. Roberts is adept at using the people in her life, particularly her husband, Scott, and her daughter, Xia, both as characters in their own right, and as foils to her character.

What I appreciate about her writing is that Roberts is willing to reveal the less than stellar aspects of her behavior, a much needed aspect of balancing out an autobio character into someone that readers can relate to. Even if you haven’t experienced one of the identities that Roberts explores, Sunburning demystifies that feeling of enduring despite the ups and downs of illness and of everyday life. And the fact that it is so funny, makes the collection that much more delightful.


Katie Skelly is a New York City-based cartoonist whose comics include Nurse Nurse, Operation Margarine and the Agent webcomic series. She has written and lectured about comics for outlets such as The Comics Journal, The Center for Cartoon Studies, Fordham University, and The New School, and co-hosts the podcast Trash Twins with fellow cartoonist Sarah Horrocks.

Keiler Roberts teaches comics at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband, daughter and dog. The Comics Journal said of her third book, Miseryland, that she “captures human nature in all its quirky contradiction.” Her Ignatz-award winning autobiographical series Powdered Milk can be seen at www.keilerroberts.com. Her new book, Sunburning, has just been released by Koyama Press.

Whit Taylor is a cartoonist, writer, and editor. Her work has appeared in The Nib, Fusion, Pen Illustrated, and other publications. Her new graphic novel, Ghost Stories, will be published by Rosarium Publishing in 2018.

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