Author : Nicole J. Georges
Genre : Comic
The paralysing phobia hit me when graphic memoir Calling Dr. Laura by Portland-based zinester and artist Nicole J. Georges fell into my lap. I just wasn’t sure how much obscure irony and organic wholesomeness I could take, on top of the self-absorbed navel-gazing mush.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate graphic memoirs – Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Starapi’s Persepolis rank high on my list of favourite reads – but the daddy issues of the I-generation somehow simply do not evoke the same excitement in me.
Well, now I’ve got my own confession to make: Georges got me at “chocolate peanut butter cups” with her graphic novel.
This vegan treat popular among Georges’ androgynous Portland set is as hipster-pretentious as it gets in this memoir, and everyone loves chocolate peanut butter, in any form. Despite its Oprah aura, Calling Dr. Laura manages to stay tart and tender without drowning us in an outpouring of oh-poor-me-me-me whining. In fact, Georges’ frank and self-deprecating voice even makes this graphic memoir fun.
The intimate tone definitely works here – the familiarity makes reading this memoir feel like sharing childhood stories with a good friend ... er ... while chomping on chocolate peanut butter cups.
Yup, those chocolate peanut butter cups. All Nicole wanted with the sweet snack was to lure her crush, symbolically named (Verona) Mauss, into her love shack.
But Mauss gives her more than a baking misadventure: notably, a date with a psychic who sends her on a journey in search of her father and, inevitably, herself.
Part coming-of-age and part coming-out story, Calling Dr. Laura paints a poignant picture of a life slowly spinning out of control after it is exposed as a lie.
When we first meet Nicole, she has just moved to Portland from Kansas City and is struggling with stray chickens and dogs while exploring her artistic pursuits and sexuality.
Her life is sent into a further tailspin when a birthday palm-reading reveals that her father, who she thought died when she was two, is still alive. Hurt that her whole family conspired to keep it a secret, Nicole turns to radio talk-show host Dr Laura Schlessinger for advice.
However, as she slowly learns to untangle the web of lies about her family, especially the “unsolved mysteries” that have plagued her since childhood, Nicole discovers a new her – the person she had been aspiring to be as an artist, daughter and grown woman.
What Georges does best is to capture the sensibility and mood of Portland, amazingly without giving one any hipster allergies.
Interestingly, while her search for her father drives the memoir, it is her conservative but colourful Midwestern mother who takes the central role.
As Georges flits from the present to the past in her 20-odd years of life, we get glimpses of their complicated relationship and how it shaped her other relationships, especially with other women, from sisters to girlfriends.
The understated but kooky artwork creates the perfect canvas for this sensitively written memoir of a young woman coming into her own. Georges etches the flashbacks of her chaotic childhood in a simplistic, even naïve style. Like our memories, the details of the past are fuzzy, with only the main players in focus. The illustration of her present is more detailed, with more intricate backgrounds and faces.
A pleasant surprise – to me at least – is the toned-down confessionals. Georges eschews the conventions of memoirs by not dredging the depths of her family history, and even self-consciously asks in an aside, “Is it TMI (too much information) to tell you ...?”
Georges takes another creative risk by refraining from blowing up her father, or the search for him, in her story. Somehow it works though, as it makes her reconciliation more momentous. And when she finally discovers the answers she has been searching for – plonked in the epilogue to boot – her almost flippant remark that “that was it, the anticlimax of my whole parented life” serves more emotional punch than any weepy reunion.
If there is anything to gripe about, it is the titular character Dr Laura. She does play a pivotal role in Nicole’s search but despite the marquee status awarded to her, Dr Laura only makes a cameo appearance. It would have been fun to see her acerbic and domineering character creating more havoc for Nicole.