Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #132 by Drew Barth
Peeling the Layers
According to the cinematic touchstone, Shrek, onions have layers. They can be peeled until the core is reached. But then no one wants to talk about the skin. But we should consider the onion skin, particularly Edgar Camacho’s Onion Skin.
Broken up into four parts and multiple timelines, Onion Skin tells the story of Rolando. Having recently lost his advertising job due to a broken arm—gained by frustrations with said job—Rolando is in a funk. What does he want to do with his life? What has he already done with his life that was even worth it? How long can he sit in front of the TV eating chips before his savings run out? Luckily, as is normal, a food truck appears in his life. Nera, the woman living in the food truck, is also at an impasse. She’s never found the thing she wants to do and lives a nomadic lifestyle as a result. At a concert, the two meet up, start talking, and realize that in not knowing what they want to do with themselves, they know that they want to start cooking food on the road.
But Onion Skin isn’t just Camacho opining on the ennui of being in your twenties, it’s also a journey across Mexico cooking food and running from biker gangs. It’s also one of the most clever graphic novels in a while for its usage of panels and time. As mentioned, this story is split into four parts, but those aren’t chronological parts. The first handful of pages give us an in media res moment where we get at the heart of the story’s conflict that comes much later. We’re shown Rolando and Nera, but we know nothing about them. We are, however, already on their side as we smash cut to Rolando in a diner with his broken arm. And this isn’t the last time Camacho plays with the time in his story—almost every part has one of those cuts to help give us a broader context for a moment as we need it instead of just in strict, chronological order.
Onion Skin is graphic novel that you need to read. And food. The fact that Camacho hits that existential feeling of being continually stuck in a situation that only frustrates and infuriates, he never dives into that despair. There’s always some kind of light to keep things from getting too bad, even if those lights are impulsive repairs of food trucks. That’s what keeps the story flowing—we can’t wallow forever.
Get excited. Get layers.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.