Tamaki, Mariko & Jillian. Skim.

Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2008.

It’s been my experience with graphic novels that, usually, either the art is really good but the writing is a bit lame, or vice versa. There are exceptions (like Neil Gaiman’s work), but not many.

Tamaki’s writing in this exploration of the life of a teenage Goth-girl who wants to be a witch is first-rate, elegant, and sophisticated. Her sister’s visualization, however, just doesn’t work very well, not for me.

Skim — who is called that, naturally, because she’s a chunky kid, and because she’s “different” and maybe too bright — has a rather pushy best friend with whom she hangs out at their private school, mostly because you have to have a friend, right? But she really prefers to spend most of her time alone. She also really likes her English teacher, Ms. Archer, who is regarded by both students and other faculty as a freak (“I’m a bit of a freak myself,” Skim notes), and begins going to visit her at home. And you know where that’s heading, right? It gets complicated.

Meanwhile, there’s Katie Matthews, whose boyfriend, the one who had just dumped her, commits suicide. Katie’s friends gather round to lend support (and revel vicariously in the tragedy), but Katie’s not having any of it. And then Katie and and Skim sort of discover each other.

Skim comes across as a real person, and one with whom you can easily empathize, and the small events of her life (which seem big to her) are completely believable. The shifting dynamics of relationships in one’s teen years are also well handled. But to my eye, the visual rendition of the girls in the school is just strange. None of them even looks quite human. Maybe that’s the artist’s point, I don’t know, but that part of the book just doesn’t work for me.

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