Unloveable by Esther Pearl Watson has to be the best contemporary comic strip. Yet, neither Bobby nor I had heard of it until we stumbled upon the box set at Meltdown Comics a few weeks ago. It’s bright neon covers were winking at me, trying to be sexy, but very obviously failing. Nonetheless, I was taken by it: the intentionally bad diary drawings, the scrawled and scribbled words, and the terribly unattractive main character, Tammy Pierce. I didn’t quite “get it,” but I loved it. I knew I had to buy it.
The comic follows the over embellished antics of a 1988 suburban Texas high school sophomore. She tries to smoke, thinks every guy is attracted to her, and is terrible at shaving any part of her body. One would think the story of some suburban high school girl in the eighties has been done before. And, yes, it has been done before time and time again. Yet, what Watson does is somehow find a strange world that has yet to be traversed, regardless of time period: it crosses the lines Ghost World drew and that Freaks & Geeks clarified, but it views it through the eyes of a more confident Anaïs from Fat Girl. The result is a brilliant and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” account from a high school wannabe who thought she was–and wanted to be–it all. It’s brilliant: the comic anthology is the best piece of literature that I have read since the last time I read any sort of book in its entirety (which, honestly, was in 2009).
The reason why it is so great is because of Watson’s eye for humor and pop culture (both then and now) as well as the source material. What Watson does with the comics is project them through a 1980s lens, while also placing modern pop culture atop of it. When reading it, I was shocked and not surprised (because it was brilliant!) that the entry portrait of main cool-girl villainess Cassie Smallwood looked surprisingly like a modern pop culture villainess. The comic also pays plenty of attention to things of the then, dropping homages to Teddy Ruxpin, Scrooged, Crocodile Dundee, Aliens, Smokey the Bear, Big, Grease 2, and many more: it is a visual, comedic, and pop cultural cornucopia.
Yes, Unloveable is the story of the worst teenage in the world (or, at least, of 1988). But, it’s based on a true story: Watson found the diary of a girl in a gas station bathroom and used it to create the comic. The result is spectacular, raw, and brilliant. Even though taking place in the eighties, it is so “now.”
I devoured the eight hundred or so pages in twenty four hours. I highly recommend the collection and feel that its booger and glitter covered gorgeousness demands to be on your bookshelf. Or, the least you could do is ask it to prom!
No? Not interested? TOTALLY LAME-O.